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The Question of Evolution in the Buddhist Ecology of Thalia Field’s Bird Lovers, Backyard

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Abstract:

Thalia Field’s work, which she has described as an “ecology of questions,” inhabitsthe edges of genres, where she grows her verbal environments of researched materialanimated by her asking. Her most recent book, Bird Lovers, Backyard (New Directions,2010), spins itself from the twigs and strands and of terminologies ranging fromarchitecture to zoology as she tracks questions of language, behavior, and relationshipsbetween species. “Whose Umwelt is it anyway?” she asks in this extended study ofhuman behavior and the uses of language in how we interpret and shape the world forourselves and other life forms.Through this exploration of human contradictions and miscommunicationbetween species, Field makes a nest for an egg that is a question of possibilities—forBird Lovers, Backyard is also a kind of future studies for human potential, operating byway of past example, telling tales of what might amount to a “series of mistakes.”Kicking off this inquiry into what we might be, the book opens with an epigraph fromher young son that slyly functions as a kind of crossroads: “What if everyone in theworld wasn’t nice?” asks the child—a question that may serve as a hardnosed premisefor going forth into the world or as a challenge, a call to grow up.And here, for a reader looking, Field’s submerged Buddhist outlook catches thelight. For in her allegiance to an agile balance of “nichelessness,” Field keepsBuddhism—fitting its central idea of interdependent origination—as but one strand inthe weave of her influences. In the book’s third poem-essay “This Crime Has a Name,”which this paper will focus on, Tibetan Buddhist figures and ideas form a part of anecosystem that encompasses industrial design, biosemiotics, and Chinese logicianswherein she thinks through the displacement of sparrow by spaceman, asking whatextinction looks like and what our species might mean.

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