Tim Thwaites 2016. GoatMan. How I took a holiday from being human. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 207 pp.
On the surface this book is an account of the author’s attempt to escape temporarily the stresses of modern life by becoming a goat. The assumption being that goats live in the present, oblivious to time and therefore unaware and unstressed by mortality, unemployment and the difficulty of getting a park in inner London. But Tim Thwaites takes the extreme and extremely loopy position that the way to become a goat is by as much physical imitation as possible. His Plan A had been to become an elephant. Even more loopy. On the other hand it is slightly beguiling to read of a bloke who is happy to become an elephant for a while, nothing too odd about that. But becoming a female elephant is right out. That would be odd, apparently. No cross-dressing. Remarkable that he got the Wellcome Trust to fund this as an art project. This book is clearly his deliverable, his final report. Except that he changes target species from elephant to goat, possibly the only intelligent decision in the book.
Books about what it is like to be a human are very numerous. Books on what it is like to be a goat much less so. Nor does this book do much to fill that gap. A more committed approach would have been something like the case of the boy in Russia said to have been raised by wolves. But that would require leaving inner London, girlfriend and other attractions for much longer. It is not until a few pages from the end of the book that Tim Thwaites has some goat interaction and even then it is trivial. This is much more about the author’s theoretical exploration of aspects of being a goat: the goat mind (with a neuroscientist), goat anatomy (with a vetinerary scientist intersted in locomotion and energenetics in animals and with a prosthetic limb team) and the goat gut (with a lab working on gut microfloras). Then Tim Thwaites heads to the Swiss alps and dons goat gear and hangs out, ever so briefly, with a herd. Then he heads off to fulfill his grant and pretends to cross a tiny part of the Alps as a goat, evidently channelling Hannibal’s elephants.
How much better, easier, more informative and sensible if Tim Thwaites had just become a goat herder and observer for a while, and written about that. As suggested at the end of the book by a Swiss goat herder. But that wouldn’t have been a Wellcome Trust project. It would have made for a much better book though.
However, even though this is completely ridiculous, it is well written and now and then outrageously funny. And it seems even the strangest, least promising book has within something to learn. Thus there are 9 species of goat (genus Capra) and the ibex-looking Bezoar Goat from Pakistan is the one domesticated by humans, about 9000 BCE. The numerous photographs are great also.
There is a Selected Bibliography which has some original literature and some books about the minds of humans and (other) animals.