It Is Right to Draw Their Fur: Animal Renderings
by Dave Eggers
Reviewed by Kevin Carollo
I have no particular excuse for why so many of them are addressing God. It seems that when animals are alone on a page, the white space around them invites the presence of their creator, and when you put an animal and God together, it seems likely that pointed conversation would ensue.
-- Dave Eggers
In the beginning, there is nothing, just white space. Then comes the outline of the animal, and then the fur. Finally, Dave Eggers draws what he thinks the animal might be thinking. Eggers's ritualistic rendering -- done mostly late at night, all with the same kind of Sharpie marker, and employing a concentrated and contemplative procedure over and over to get to the heart of the animal's thought -- makes It Is Right to Draw Their Fur: Animal Renderings
nothing less than a form of ecstatic prayer, an astonishing and beautiful litany of an animal poetics that teaches us how to be more human, more thoughtful, simply more.
Eggers calls this project "ludicrous . . . a folder full of drawings of mammals by a forty-year-old man who should be doing other things with his time." But directly above this declaration hovers a small likeness of a rhinoceros solemnly declaring, "It is time you thanked us for deeds done in thy name." The ludicrous prayer of the animal speaks directly to the complex metaphysics borne out by Eggers's magic marker mammal menagerie. The rhino is addressing its Maker, but also all human beings, for we have indeed harnessed the majestic and solemn power of the rhino, only to render the rhino so perilously close to extinction.
Like the rhino's declaration, the animal thoughts articulated in It Is Right to Draw Their Fur
have more than a passing resemblance to Sufi mystic poetry, in that they allow the created to call into question the actions of their creator. The artist beckons such a quarrelsome dialogue, in fact, because in his wild kingdom, both he and the animals are supreme beings, the Beloved unto each other. Jewish theologian Martin Buber
construction comes to mind as well, in that the drawings compel the viewer to see through the reified world of relations that separate animal and human, and make a connection with the human "I" within the eyes of the animal "thou." Regardless of Eggers's self-deprecating dismissal, the cosmology proposed in this work aims at rearticulating the default binaries of human/animal and self/other. It seems utterly and ecstatically appropriate that this revolution should happen at the felt-tip end of a late-night Sharpie.
Following on the hooves of McSweeney's
books about giraffes and giant squids, the controversial Eggers/Spike Jonze screenplay for Where the Wild Things Are
, and Eggers's subsequent novel The Wild Things
, the animal renderings of It Is Right to Draw Their Fur
bespeak a coalescence of the author's pointed interest in the elemental and dignified aspects of life -- the "what is the what" of being an animal on this beautiful, dying, and fleeting planet Earth. The bibliography at the end includes a pride of French critical theory -- Deleuze
-- as well as a flock of animal texts from a herd of disciplines, all of which hint at the dynamic philosophical context in which Eggers envisions his ridiculous pastime.
The "folder" Eggers refers to is in fact a huge and pleasing portfolio with animal drawings on both sides. Inside the folder are a smallish-size book and twenty-some drawings of various sizes, every one of them ludicrous and puerile and sublime. On the inner jacket, a silhouetted flock of birds announces, "We are halfway to heaven. Does our pity feel like rain?"
Eggers's renderings arrive at an exceptionally charged moment in the 21st-century discussion of the nebulous relationship between animal and human. In America, omnivore critic Michael Pollan has curiously become rather mainstream, perhaps because he offers an elegant kind of approach to sustainable eating. Jonathan Safran Foer
's recent Eating Animals
is perhaps the most humane and provocative exegesis on the subject of why we eat what we do. We have been forced to look beyond Francis Moore Lappe's Diet for a Small Planet
and consider what kind of diet we should have for a dying one. Now we have reached the dusk of our era, the era in which "It's late and everyone else is asleep," and so Eggers's Sharpie comes out. A rodent proclaims, "Blessed be the incompetent." An unfinished dog declares, " Until everyone is finished, I will not be finished."
Though we are, in essence and in deed, just a stampede of ludicrous beasts, Eggers's furry animals are asking us, and God, before we vanish from the Earth forever, to reconsider what is truly important in life. We are not finished yet. We are looking at an animal ruminating about its maker, and we are one.
And now an ostrich -- or a crane, or a flamingo -- exclaims, "O my god, I thought there would be more of everything." Me too, bird, me too.