Experimental Animals (A Reality Fiction) by Thalia Field

Tank _summer 16_books _75

Hardback, 248 pages
Publisher: Solid Objects (September 2016)
Language: English 
Selected by Barbara Epler

“In this remarkable, phosphorescent flickering poem-novel Thalia Field interrogates history, morality, the nature of art, the cruelty of humans, the pain of animals, as well as the act of storytelling itself. It is set in 19th-century Paris and the awful household and laboratory of Claude Bernard, who tortures not only countless animals but also his wife Fanny. Field carries us into dark corners, into the blaze of glaringly sick experiments, but in every new play of light somehow new empathy shines.” —Barbara Epler


Paris, 17 February 1878: 
"Claude Bernard1 is dead! How to express all that this name signifies? Genius incarnate of experimental medicine? 
Creator of general physiology and the experimental method? Author of discoveries that have delivered the secrets of life’s mechanisms? Claude Bernard, in a word, is physiology personified; he is physiology itself."
(Medical Tribune)

Did you hear him say that to understand a watch isn’t to watch it but to break it?
Claude Bernard: “We give the name ‘observer’ to the man who applies methods of investigation to the study of phenomena which he does not vary and which he therefore gathers as nature offers them. We give the name of ‘experimenter’ to the man who applies methods of investigation so as to make natural phenomena vary, or so as to alter them with some purpose or other, and to make them present themselves in circumstances or conditions in which nature does not show them.” Slicing along the spine of an uncomprehending dog, Claude firmly holds the writhing animal in place, announcing: “Thus we open our book!” A hundred faces balance toward the stage; toward the scientist engrossed in his lesson.

To know the husband’s character, don’t they say look at the wife’s face? Hundreds of faces, come take your look – at this wife stuck in a torrid purgatory, gossips hungry for evidence of my every deed. Why? Because one person’s deed is another’s torment, and that goes for dogs, too. “Shush, Fanny,” the grimacers grumble, “why are you always so hot to tell doers from done-tos, or split deeds from each other?” Well, my husband Claude had his deeds, and I had mine, but it’s only my eye where history jabs its finger. A dog is not a book, and neither, by the way, is a wife: our pages sit blank – dogs’ and wives’ – our lives neither exactly forgotten, nor remembered. And don’t tell me how lucky for the historians that my husband unrumpled a few of my old letters and lists during a cleaning. A face knows when it’s been made up, and this wife stands smeared with a villainous countenance – and our daughters, too. So tell me, who wouldn’t parcel out confessions, given half a chance? Listen close. No flies get caught on a burning pot – and she goes safely to trial whose Father is a judge. 

[1] Claude Bernard was a 19th-century French physiologist who originated the term milieu intérieur, the principle which later came to be called homeostasis.