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Our narrative memory loss

Being Salmon, Being Human. Encountering the Wild in Us and Us in the Wild
Martin Lee Mueller has written an extraordinary book with the salmon's life and history as the focal point. It must be among the most important books published for a very, very long time.


The narrative that has worked through us since Descartes' cogito ergo sum ("I think, so I am") in the 1600 century, is no other than that – a narrative, a story. It teaches us that man is the ruler of the Earth, the brain is separated from the body, the senses deceive us, the salmon is biomass, and nature is a resource we can freely use to fill our pockets with gold and living rooms with new furniture. Basta.

That way it can no longer be. We must penetrate through this narrative – blast it and look for new ones. Our contemporary stories fail us and cause collapses of the world as we know it. Because of our stories, we are in the process of eradicating invisible species and changing fundamental ecological systems – the consequences are already catastrophic. And it will be worse.

We need stories that tell how life is lived with, and not separated from, the more than human world. We need to listen to the stories that are whispered, rattled, chirped and thundered against us. If not, we must take the disastrous consequence of our narrative memory loss. This tells Martin Lee Mueller in his remarkable book, in which he addresses a complex and serious subject in a way that makes it accessible to other than professionals and initiates, without losing substance and depth. It's well done.

Unusual and sparkling. The book is extremely elegantly written. It is complex and surprising. As lyrical as the wild life of salmon once was, Mueller's text marvels us in creating new narrative landscapes, through trickling streams and deep water. We are filled with the earth's various voices – volcanoes, whales, insects, algae, plants, sky and sea. Everything comes up in Mueller's text. And especially the salmon. It is fascinating to become so intimately acquainted with this fish, to gain knowledge of how crucial it is and has been for life on the planet. It's magical to be with her in the depths.

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This book feels bodily to me. In the reading process, I take a different view of the world around me.

Dramaturgy is rarely thought through. The various chapters and fragments within each chapter are structured just as complexly as their own literary ecological cycle. Cycles within cycles. Quietly the different parts rest in each other, reinforce each other, exist with each other, complete each other and create a balanced whole. Carefully and sensitively, Mueller writes organically from one theme to another, and then returns to the starting point – all the time based on phenomenology and ecofilosophy.

Mueller explains the connections between today's industrialized salmon cages and Descartes' disastrous formulations. He takes us back to the time around and before Descartes – how could a philosopher formulate and have an impact on such uncanny ideas? How could a man seriously claim that the mind is separate from the body? How could the narrative of man as a rightful ruler on Earth develop? Mueller draws the lines of Kepler, Galilei and Copernicus and the stories that burst around them in their day; The earth was not the center of the cosmos. Crisis.

Physical effect. Gradually, Mueller discovers how anthropocentric, mechanistic and profit-based views have gained so much space in our world. How it has become our leading narrative, and how this narrative makes us treat the salmon as we do. It is trapped and deprived of its natural environment, sterilized and hybridized, full of salmon lice, toxins and medicines. We understand why we have been harmed by treating other living creatures as resources, and not as living co-creatures. But Mueller doesn't stop there. He deals with philosophers such as Heidegger, Gadamer, Latour and, not least, his own mentor David Abram. Their work is linked to the history of salmon and indigenous peoples – all the while the author whispers us ways to new stories, new contexts and other ways of existing as participating creatures in this web of life in which we exist.

As I read about the salmon through the sensual spectacles of phenomenology, I feel that this book is bodily on me. In the reading process, I take a different view of the world around me. The trees' slow weather becomes clearer. The crow at the top of the tree – how does she experience me? My senses are activated. Mueller's book loves active sensation, because that is what we have to do now. We have to listen. And I close my eyes to hear the chorus of voices around me better. I hear. We are part of the same living organism called the Earth. We each have our horizons – the trees, the salmon and I – but we can strive to fuse into each other's horizons through our respective semi-permeable membranes.

Can professional books be so beautifully written? There is great poetry, there is politics, philosophy, technology criticism and stories about the campfire.

Groundbreaking. The book challenges our narratives – not just about how we can live our lives, but also about how a book can be written. It is a trade book, but is not experienced at all. Can professional books be so beautifully written? There is great poetry, there is politics, there is philosophy, technology criticism and there are stories about the campfire. But most of all, the book is an independent artistic work: radical in its own right, radical in its theme.

The Klallam people – with whom the author has spent much time and who have a long and close coexistence with the salmon – also identified man's thinking ability. Unlike ours cogito ergo sum, the Klallam people's conclusion was "I think, so it's a pity for me" – cogito ergo miser sum in Mueller's translation. The Klallam people recognize our thinking ability as a strength, but acknowledge that it also comes with a shadow side – it makes us very vulnerable to alienation. The thinking ability in no way makes us superior or superior to other people – such as the bird people, the fish people or the wood people.

Must read! It is not easy to see their contemporary stories for what they are. They are presented as truths and irrevocable facts. That's why we need books like Mullers, which show us other stories and that can penetrate through what seems impenetrable.

I think the Storting should keep a classic reading circle for our politicians about this book – they should read it carefully, take notes and discuss it thoroughly. For the salmon industry: Roll out the red carpet and invite Mueller on tour – the narrative version of the book should appear in every nook and cranny of the salmon adventure country. For publishers: The book is not available in Norwegian, although the authors live and work in Norway – it should be translated now! To the environmental movement and everyone else: Read the book, give it away as a gift. And read it again ...

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Nina Ossavy
Nina Ossavy
Ossavy is a stage artist and writer.

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