Trembling

Here is its crux; that in its trembling before an upraised hand the animal stands closest to human. For there, in a state of anticipation, it awaits the pain, and as a human is, is changed by that waiting. There is in that waiting perhaps the animal’s closest approximation of time, experienced not as a series of moments but as a tension screwing to an unbearable tightness. The body’s answer to the expectation of pain is blind flight into a wildness that is only the false conviction that whether it must ever experience pain is a matter solely within its own determination.

But when, its terror writhing atop its skin, the animal allows trust to turn its instinct to ice, to remain trembling in the shadow of the hand, it enters into the Risk. For the closed hand may contain instead grace. It may contain both pain and grace at once, though the hand is neither. What the hand really grants to the animal is an inexplicable term of reference, that is, that the animal’s pain and its grace are not solely of its own determination but of a negotiation with an outside agent. Though the hand’s behaviour is too complex for the animal to reckon, the animal accepts what in its limited understanding seems to be an order and attempts to behave accordingly.

That the animal does not flee when the hand gathers its power unto itself like a thunderhead is essential to the humanness of its action, but so too is the fact that it trembles. For though it accepts that the pain is not in that instant in its control, it must continue to understand what the hand may contain, and to apply continually that trust it has in its term of reference to its terrified body, or else it becomes something neither animal nor human. Likewise is it to meet the caressing hand, or the hand that holds a gift, without bodily anticipation.

For to meet either pain or grace without trembling is to live in an inhuman certainty that is the domain of those whose conviction is such that it defies the existence of their body, and of those who have been broken utterly:

  • The animal does not want to run from the hand because the handbreadth is the sky coming down, lowering the high pain onto its head
  • The animal comprehends no world where the hand does not feed and stroke before the animal even knows to want, and so its instinct to jump toward the hand’s grace atrophies
  • The animal cannot adapt itself to the hand’s terms, its constant presence, and so consigns itself to death.

And it must be a hand, for it is only humans that domesticate, and to be human is to be at all times in a relationship with the world that is not-one. An animal may have an instinct to submit to domination derived from interactions with its own kind, but an animal quailing before another animal of its own kind, even if it is subsequently killed, is still a relationship of one. Social animals share a purpose; the purpose of the hand and the animal is not shared, just as humans being able to conceive of themselves at the level of global species do not share a purpose.

An animal becomes near human by trembling in fear or hope before a human because it is forced into a social relationship with the inexplicable. But a human has no equivalent relationship, except in that what are recognized as their human qualities are formed in their body as a response to that same crux: that their daily pain and grace are not qualities of their will. We are made human by the shadow of other humans, of we, both singly and in such multitudes that they become like that great unknowable hand; and by nature, upon which we imagine we have set terms to mete out our own discipline and pleasure, that is, terms of order.

It is impossible for humans to exist in a state of nature because though we are from nature and are subject to it, we are not socially of nature. A person, perhaps alone on earth, is conscious of the Risk, and yet it is virtually impossible to choose other than to enter it. We must trust that the inescapable, inexplicable hand contains grace as well as pain. For though pain and grace are predominantly beyond our individual determination, we must attempt to understand the inexplicable terms of ourselves and of nature, however elliptically, that we may make good on what small wedge of agency we do have. And so come myth, and so ritual, so philosophy, so science, so art, comedy, poetry, politics, war, all the cloths and devices of our nakedness below and upon the sky.

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