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Creative Blooms 14: On Animal Rhetoric (Reconnecting)

From Animal Presences, by James Hillman, “A Correspondence with John Stockwell”

John Stockwell:
In several of your books you have characterized the turn to the East, the return to the land, the return to the primitive, and the turn to animals as wrongly chosen directions. You say that these ways fail to recognize that which is most alive and resourceful in our Western consciousness, namely, the archetypes/divine persons of first the Greek experience and then other Western experiences still alive in our own. You add that in turning toward animals, there is a risk of barbaric animality. As I understand what you are saying, it is because the absence of imagination, of images, psyche, the imaginal – the failure to give their due to the divine persons who are alive in our experience as Western people – is connected with the harm that is visited upon nature. We are like Ajax slaying animals because we are not sufficiently imaginal.
Our idea, however, as advocates for animals, is to turn toward the animal through caring, through appreciation, through respect and reverence for other living species, even through a recognition of our shared identity with other species. We turn toward animals as toward others having rights. We turn as humans do to one another, in the common community. We also turn as shapeshifters, exploring empathetically and imaginatively, and then ethically, this larger sense of kind. We return to animals, seeking to critique our present in terms of what we once were and, hopefully, will continue to be, even more so.

Will you comment?

James Hillman:
When I made those remarks against returning to animality, I meant only one thing: our becoming nonverbal, grunting goofs – “Animal House.” I was using the term “animality” in the usual, insulting sense: dumb, brute, wild. I was addressing that style of simplistic therapy that has given up on language as expression of soul and calls crawling and screaming “reconnection with the animal body.” When patients are urged to wriggle like a snake or hug like a bear, they are encouraged to be as ugly and violent as only humans can be. These therapies do not notice the beauty of actual animals and that reconnecting to the animal means getting to a more sensitive, more artful, and humorous place in the psyche. Thus, these therapies I was condemning in the name of finding the animal soul actually reenact our Western tradition’s contempt.
Besides, giving up on language betrays our own human nature. I think that the human form of display, in the ethologist’s sense of “display,” is rhetoric. Our ability to sing, speak, tell tales, recite, and orate is essential to our lovemaking, boasting, fear-inspiring, territory-protecting, surrendering, and offspring-guarding behaviors. Giraffes and tigers have splendid coats; we have splendid speech. Returning to animality, in your sense of “animal,” I therefore heartily endorse, as you know, for instance . . . my seminars [and numerous writings] . . . all of which have been aimed at evoking the animal as psychic presence. I have been trying to foster self-recognition of human being as animal being.
And I think we can protect plants and soil without being moralistic – our Duty, their Rights, our Guilt over ancient abuses . . . Reasons for this protective work? I can suggest three:

a) it is a devotion

b) it is practical common sense to maintain the eon-old biosphere

c) it extends the idea of soul, and the experience of animation, from our subjective personalism so that the individual human is less isolated and sick.

Of course, protecting plants and soil is also probably good for the plants and the soil – but I am confining myself to reasons why self-centered Western humans might support this protective work.


How might the haiku “foster self-recognition of human being as animal being”? How might the poet embrace “the human form of display,” as rhetoric? Quoted in Barnett’s journal essay, “Jenny Edbauer discusses ‘rhetorical ecologies,’ an ‘is-ness of materiality’”:

Writing . . . is more than a matter of discrete elements … in static relation with one another … Rather, writing is distributed across a range of processes and encounters: the event of using a keyboard, the encounter of a writing body within a space of dis/comfort, the events of writing in an apathetic/energetic/distant/close group.

Edbauer describes a virtual rhetorical ecology, an activity instrumental to haiku as an international genre—and to you as a virtual reader, myself as virtual writer, in an “is-ness.” For Graham Harman,

Metaphor acquires unique potential for thinking the problematic relationship between otherwise autonomous [beings], [for instance humans and animals], and their presentations in language…. the metaphoric nature of language “is a process of digging away at this inwardness of things and attempting the ultimately hopeless task of bringing it to light.” Harman invites readers to imagine objects [including living things] as much more than just passive resources for human use and consumption. In contrast to this commonplace instrumental understanding, he proposes a different vision of objects—and indeed the world itself—that is highly dramatic and prone to exciting collisions … that don’t necessary need the consciousness of human beings to carry on as they do. (Barnett)

Harman writes, “Rhetoric has as much power as argument in establishing new paradigms in both science and philosophy . . . [f]or rhetoric deals with veiled background assumptions rather than explicit dialectical figures.” If as Harman states, “rhetoric is distinctive precisely because of its capacity to attune human beings to the veiled backgrounds and subterranean worlds constituting being and relations in everyday life,” the artful display of rhetoric as animal presence may be exemplified in the allure of haiku.

of the deep sea fish
misty stars
     — Fay Aoyagi, Modern Haiku 33.3
full bloom
in the forest’s genitals
respiration of gills
     — Yagi Mikajo (Gilbert & Ito, trans.,
between thighs
the birth cry stretches into
budding tree darkness
     — Yagi Mikajo (Gilbert & Ito, trans.,
cool autumn
the slow grazing of a horse
in a field of horses
     — Martin Lucas (“Animals”, ed. Jim Kacian, THF Per Diem Gallery, January 2012)
firelit cave –
the sketch of a buffalo herd
starts to move
     — Chad Lee Robinson (“Animals”, ed. Jim Kacian, THF Per Diem Gallery, January 2012)
With lines of light
the sun invents jaguars
in the gardens.
     — Norberto de la Torre González (“Animals”, ed. Jim Kacian, THF Per Diem Gallery, January 2012)
a glimpse enough lone wolf
     — Jim Kacian (previously unpublished)
the flying fox forever
folds into night
     — Kilmeny Niland (“Animals”, ed. Jim Kacian, THF Per Diem Gallery, January 2012)
about this moment
barks the dog
     — Jim Kacian, Six Directions (Albuquerque NM: Las Alameda Press, 1997)
how deer
     — Scott Mason (Kusamakura Haiku Contest 2008)
cherry blossoms fall –
you too must become
a hippo
     — Tsubouchi Nenten (Gilbert & Ito, trans.,
a wild boar
comes eats air
spring mountain pass
     — Kaneko Tohta (Gilbert & Ito, trans., A Haiku Life)
pet shop –
a little girl apes
the parrot
     — Jim Kacian (previously unpublished)
never touching
his own face
     — John Stevenson (???)
the horse knows the way my (sad/bad/mad/glad) life
     — Jim Kacian (previously unpublished)
one country fly became
a city fly
     — George Klacsanzky (Living Haiku Anthology)
a crocodile waits
in a monkey shadow
     — Adjei Agyei-Baah (Living Haiku Anthology)
with a flashlight
we search for spiders’ eyes –
the dark between stars
     — Lorin Ford (Living Haiku Anthology)
oppressive heat
a firefly steps across
the shadow of rain
     — Hélène Duc (Living Haiku Anthology)
litter the light birds
     — LeRoy Gorman, is/let (25/7/2020)
Mistakes were implemented as flight
less birds
     — Chad Cooper, is/let (25/7/2020)
fallen nest bumblebees reframe the question
     — Cherie Hunter Day, is/let (24/6/2020)
inside a bat’s ear
a rose
opens to a star
     — Eve Luckring, Roadrunner 11.3



Barnett, Scott. “Toward an Object-Oriented Rhetoric: A Review of Tool-Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects and Guerrilla Metaphysics: Phenomenology and the Carpentry of Things by Graham Harman” Enculturation 7 (2010) [].

Edbauer, Jenny. “Unframing Models of Public Distribution: From Rhetorical Situation to Rhetorical Ecologies.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 35.4 (2005): 5-24.

Hillman, James. Animal Presences, “Human Being as Animal Being,” A Correspondence with John Stockwell, Chap. 10 (Uniform Edition of the Writings of James Hillman, Vol. 9, 2008).

Latour, Bruno. “Where are the Missing Masses? The Sociology of a Few Mundane Artifacts,” Bijker, Wiebe E.; Law, John (eds.), Shaping Technology/Building Society, MIT Press 1992, 225–258.


Richard Gilbert, professor of English Literature at Kumamoto University in Japan, is the author of Poetry as Consciousness: Haiku Forests, Space of Mind, and an Ethics of Freedom (illustrated by Sabine Miller, Kebunsha Co. Ltd., 2018, ISBN 978-4-86330-189-4), The Disjunctive Dragonfly (Red Moon Press, 2008, rev. 2013), and Poems of Consciousness (Red Moon Press, 2008), among others. He is also director of the Kon Nichi Translation Group, whose most recent book is the tour de force Haiku as Life: A Kaneko Tohta Omnnibus (Red Moon Press, 2019). In January 2020, he announced the creation of Heliosparrow Poetry Journal, an evolution of the Haiku Sanctuary forum.

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