As we all know, professional eccentric Hector Spinkel (see here) owned a Bornean Whoolah Bird. This bird was trained to ‘recite “scientific” speeches’, which it did so dutifully, without so much as a shadow of an idea of what it was squawking on about. Off the cuff comments there were none: the bird knew three speeches, and this was all. It could not answer questions, or respond wittily to interruptions. It was, essentially, a living tape recorder.
Talking of ‘living tape-recorders’, I believe this same analogy was employed by Swiss writer Louise Margrêta when questioned over her own relationship with the animal kingdom. In this case, however, it was she that was the recorder – and not the animals. ‘I am a device through which animals speak,’ said Margrêta, memorably: ‘I have no creative talents whatsoever, beyond the ability to record what others have created’.
Others, in this case, referred exclusively to non-human creatures, whose ‘stories’ were collected in her 1997 work, Translations: an unforgettable compendium of absorbing, moving and frequently amusing narratives. Most critics credit Margrêta for the quality of the book, but she is loath to take it. ‘These stories were written by my pets,’ she wrote in the preface, going on to describe, in slightly tedious detail, the personal histories of said scribes, amongst whom we find four cats, three pigs, two dogs, two sheep, a horse, a cow, a goat and a nightingale. Later, with more grace, she recounts the manifold difficulties of her ‘art-form’. ‘Anyone who has attempted to transcribe a moo, a meeow and an oink will understand me when I say that it is a rather complex affair. Rather complex indeed’.
Well, yes: ‘indeed’ is probably the right word.