This review was written for and originally published by Bookmunch.
The premise of this essay by Daisy Hildyard is that every living being has two bodies – the physical body that can eat, drink and rest, and a body embedded in a worldwide network of ecosystems. Its purpose is to explore what the author calls the second body, and the alleged boundaries between all kinds of life on earth. It is not altogether clear if she is attempting to prove a conclusion she has already reached or to discover something new.
Her musings and anecdotes are wrapped around interviews with a number of individuals: staff working in a butcher’s shop; a criminologist specialising in wildlife crime; a PhD candidate working on micro biology; a senior researcher studying bio information; an evolutionary biologist. The author admits that she does not always fully understand the detail what these experts in their fields tell her.
There are repeated references to an Earthrise image which the author credits with making people consider the world as a single entity, something she appreciates herself when flying to a holiday destination. She also brings up climate change but does not make clear the point this raises, other than when she blames it for the flooding of her home.
“The river was in my house but my house was also in the river.”
To be clear, I make no argument against climate change but its inclusion in this essay comes across as a throw in.
There are mentions of the ordinary in her interviewees’ lives – opera, gaming, washing dishes – as if there is a need to prove empathetic aspects of the human condition. The author is seeking a definition yet fails to make clear the reasons for inclusion of certain subjects along the way.
She comes at the same points from numerous directions.
Each human being, as an entity, is made up of the same parts. However they look, when cut they bleed. The same could be said of other beings. Defining the boundaries between species can at times appear arbitrary. Each takes inside itself parts of others in food, air particles, water. A body expels skin, hair and other substances which are inhaled, absorbed or fertilise other living things. Around the world this process has an effect. Everything is in a relationship with everything else.
An individual’s impact on the world is consumption of resources and expenditure of waste, not what their life story may be. The human body replaces itself over time, shedding and renewing cells, yet each body is regarded as one separate being.
“This critical tradition speaks of psychology, the unfathomable depths of the individual, cultural identity and private individuality.”
There is symbiosis between cells, animals, people. Not everything acts purely in its own best interests. There is invasion, dependence and loss. Even amongst bacteria there is collaboration.
The author explores the boundaries between our first and second bodies as she seeks her definition. Interspersed with her commentary are musings on personal experiences, on Shakespeare, on death.
Any Cop?: There were interesting aspects but overall the essay lacked coherency and innovation. I expected something more than a somewhat rambling discourse on man’s place within the natural world.