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are without exception irresponsible. Which

sounds alarming and is, admittedly, an aberration

(perhaps not funny) of a more valid, thinkable notion,

that dolphins, wolves, chimps, etc., flip a switch

in us, casting klieg light on the frightening solitude

engendered by the very Fifties idea — I know —

that we alone are responsible for our own

consciousness. A friend, who’d taken work as tutor

to a high-school student, leaned over the back wall

of a booth in a pub and told me: of all the thumbnail

sketches he’d done for her, from Plato to Pascal

and beyond, this Sartrean concept of taking ownership over all

that you know, feel, and do, had proved the most opaque,

the singularly most inconceivable stupidity

ever designed to befall a girl, driving her to kick some shitty

desk chair in frustrated disbelief. Now, Reader, make

a face that’s meant to express some woeful sense

of pity and surprise, while feeling a cold sickness underneath.

That was my face. I was mumbling things so far from the truth

of what I felt, I could have been a clergy entering the manse,

touching tops of heads, asking how days went, seeking food,

while wishing one or the other end of this circus dead.

The sight of a pint glass didn’t cause me to vomit. I didn’t

reel, sweating and murderous, out into the street; but my mood

stiffened, grew intractable, opaque; I felt blue flashes inside

that were flares of all the moments I’d sought causality,

a why for each failing of character, somewhere outside

of myself, amounting to a web of reflexive sophistry

that reached back into the years of my life like illness

discovered late, or how rot sets into wood compromising

the strength of a structure by softening its centre. Rising

from my seat, I went and faced a woman whose caress

had eased my passage through some months I couldn’t pass

through on my own, she’d been more than kind, I’d

found I couldn’t love her at the time, and fled.

So I faced her, and apologized as best I could, given the mass

of people in the pub. ‘This is a poem,’ she said, ‘and that’s not

good enough. Around here, we don’t let art, no matter

how acutely felt, stand in for what’s necessary, true, and right.

Next time you face me, maybe leave you here. End quote.’

The Minds of the Higher Animals

Ken Babstock

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