Hybrid Woman is an animal protagonist in a human world; in gesture and mass and across surfaces, her elephantism mingles with her humanity. Self-consciously large, imperiously buoyant, as “the elephant in the room” bumping her head on the ceiling, she asks that we relate to her. Securely animal, but a little comical and thus probably friendly because of her human attributes, she bridges the divide between us and the animal Other.
Her hybrid nature invites us closer even as it may repel us; she is legible if unintelligible. Hybrid identity can seem like a polarity as well as a duality. Anthropomorphism derives from a directional distinction: the human overlaid on the animal (Disney’s specialty). Hybridity refers to the heterogeneous in composition, the mixed offspring of two species or cultures whose identity may express shifting dominances.
Red Peter, the ape in Kafka’s story, “Report to an Academy”, who is kidnapped from his natural environment, wounded and imprisoned, discovers that, guarded closely, his only escape is a cognitive one. He must become human (while retaining his animal body) by learning to think like a human. In learning to rationalize, he loses his ability to understand his own past; his “escape” into human ratiocination erases any possibility of return, of sympathetic access to others of his own kind.
How humans “read” animals is subject to many filters. On one side, there is a wistful yearning to identify with or somehow embody the qualities of the wild animal. Animals are thus symbols, but it is a sympathetic reduction. At the other extreme, as lords of the Great Chain of Being, humans define their singularity and slash away any connecting lattice to their animal kin. This cognitive stance allows them to use animals as they wish. In either case, we do not read animals as they read themselves. We do not penetrate what it is to be them. We use words to render them illegible.
The empathetic leap, the opportunity to enter the consciousness of another is what drives many to read fiction and others to write it. We think little of imagining ourselves into the opposite gender, for example, and since both genders use words to describe a world as seen through human eyes, we will find some degree of success at it. But what does an elephant see, and how does the elephant translate experience?