Friday, March 1, 2013

Reading lessons

The notion that it was animals who taught us to read may seem counterintuitive, but listening to skilled hunters analyze tiger sign is not that different from listening to literature majors deconstruct a short story. Both are sorting through minutiae, down to the specific placement and inflection of individual elements, in order to determine motive, subtext, and narrative arc. An individual track may have its own accent or diacritical marks that distinguish the intent of a foot, or even a single step, from the others. On an active game trail, as in one of Tolstoy's novels, multiple plots and characters can overlap with daunting subtlety, pathos, or hair-raising drama. Deciphering these palimpsests can be more difficult than reading crossed letters from the Victorian era, and harder to follow than the most obscure experimental fiction. However, with practice, as Henno Martin wrote in The Sheltering Desert, "you learn to rread the writing of hoof, claw and pad. In fact before long you are reading their message almost subconsciously."
--John Vaillant, The Tiger

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