from Occulto 6: Life, released in November 2019
“The marmot is the stupidest animal on earth,” said the ethologist, “it stands still for hours on end, contemplating the sun.”
“The ethologist is the stupidest animal on earth,” said the marmot, “it stands still for hours on end, contemplating me.”
According to its author, Enzo Costa, this joke (translated here into English by me) first appeared in Tango, a satirical supplement of the Italian Communist Party newspaper published in the years 1986–1988. It was later included in a best-selling compilation of jokes by various authors, whose title in English would read “Ants also get pissed, in their little way”. The long-time and possibly inherent misunderstanding between the human and other earthly species has found a much more dramatic confirmation in recent news about climate change and its consequences.
Our journey through different lives starts in The Other City, where time, space, and many other things are measured, perceived and told from extraordinary perspectives and at unusual scales; and it continues by starting a book club where super-intelligent dogs, robots, caterpillars and cephalopods are particularly welcome.
While the Anthropocene is still waiting for its “golden spike”, we can turn our attention to the less sensational yet enlightening story of early-modern seasonal cod fishery in Newfoundland, and to its teachings about the complexity and long-lasting effects of human-animal-plant interplay. Or we can go for a “petrified version of scuba diving” through deep time, and learn from beautiful fossils about ancient experiments in the evolution of life, before we Cambrian bullies came along.
A new approach to study the living was tried in Vienna in the first half of the 20th century, in an institute known as Vivarium. The innovations introduced there, as well as some controversial aspects, represent a rich case study on modern biology as a discipline – how it developed, and how its history is (not yet fully) written.
The very process that enables all life as we know it on our planet, photosynthesis, is explored for the third time on Occulto’s pages, focusing on some of its most astounding – and often lesser-known, or not fully understood – aspects.
In closing, we narrow it down to individual (human) life, its dark sides and one way we have invented to deal with them: psychotherapy. Which we look at from an unusual, non-verbal perspective.
So much talk about life and we don’t even know what it is – there’s no consensus about its definition and origins. But what else can we do? Occulto is alive and so are you – let’s read it.