Relational ethics: writing about birds; writing about humans
Philip Armstrong points out that scholars in Animal Studies are 'interested in attending not just to what animals mean to humans, but what they mean to themselves; that is, to the ways in which animals might have significances, intentions and effects quite beyond the designs of human beings' (2008: 2). This essay asks: what are the ethics of representing birds in fiction? It promotes the model offered by Linda Alcoff in 'The Problem of Speaking for Others' (1992). Alcoff offers a set of 'interrogatory practices' for writers, including an analysis of our speaking position to expose any implicit discourses of domination at work, and, most importantly, a consideration for the effects of 'speaking for' on actual animals. Using Alcoff's interrogatory practices as a framework, I examine the ways writers have allowed for 'ethical relationships' between humans and birds in fictional spaces. I investigate the function of birds as metaphor in three Australian novels: Alexis Wright's The Swan Book (2013), Evie Wyld's All the Birds, Singing (2013) and Catherine McKinnon's Storyland (2017). In each of these, birds serve a symbolic function but are also given space to allow for their own experiences, voices, and knowledges. I will also reflect on the attempts I have made in my own novel, The Flight of Birds (2019), to grapple with the discourses of power at work and the impact of that power on the lives of real birds.