Friday, July 8, 2011

Point of View by Margaret Atwood

The “ant” section of Anthill has been written as if ants have not only emotions but some sort of narrative memory. Do they have such things in any way that would be understandable to us if we could for a moment share them?

There have been other attempts to write from the POV of ants… I’m thinking of the Ant section in T.H. White’s The Sword In The Stone, in which the ants are used as an anti-fascist allegory…  Is it possible to write from the POV of another species, really? Is that question by its nature uanswerable?

(I have a stake in this matter, as my first novel (age 7) was about an ant.)

7 comments:

Rachel said...

I love learning about your first novel. This picture of you as the young writer is lovely and I wonder if she would have gotten along with the young Ed Wilson. I went back to the Anthill Chronicles section of the book (my favorite part)to pay more attention to the POV. Much more emotion is evident in this section. I feel myself much more involved and at times, holding my breath.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it is possible to write as though we understand the motivations and feelings of other creatures. We project only humanness through our human-restricted ability to write. Trying to understand what animals are thinking is a recent cultural shift within the liberal worldview. The idea that we can translate for other creatures is interesting, But distinctive to our own human condition are our stories, responsibilites, and values and these makes no sense beyond our own species.

Cindy Samples said...

I think sometimes when we tell the stories of our refuges we attribute human qualities to the critters as a way of teaching. I think it helps to provide the emotional and intellectual connections to the resource that our visitors need so they can care for our places.

Margaret Atwood said...

I think that E.O. Wilson in his "ants"section is always careful to point out that the ants do not think like us. He describes their actions more than their thoughts. But it is also evident(from anyone observing them for long) that ants do have emotions, most of which are triggered by smell (chemicals they 'taste,' as it were). As indeed many of our own emotions are,though we aren't always aware of it. And emotions (such as aggression, fear, and so forth) can be deduced from observation of behaviour. An ant that is biting you is not a happy ant.

Cheryl said...

Thus the "Ant Chronicle," the story within the story, is not only a study in ant behavior but a tale that somehow makes the scientific observation a whole heck of a lot more fascinating and thus Dr. Wilson's interesting choice to write a story rather than another tome on ant science and in the exigency of the current environmental degradation he chooses a story to draw a parallel between humans and ants from which we can all learn some interesting lessons...is that all a stretch?

Anonymous said...

Love your childhood picture!!!

Anonymous said...

The Ants section of this book made me consider how closely aligned human behavior is to other species, in this case ants. I loved the inspirational, scientific approach to preserving wilderness in Anthill. I think Wilson has created an extraordinary character in Raff, a small town Alabama boy who likes to hang out in the Nokobee Lake wilderness. I loved the setting, loved the complex Southern history, absolutely loved the ants section, and appreciated the optimistic yet realistic point of view. Human life is so similar to an ant colony, wow, who knew? Excellent book. Margaret, I love all your work, you are the best, thank you for moderating this discussion!