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Dodos on the Run: Requiem for a Lost Bestiary by Mikael Vogel

  • Author(s): Cho-Polizzi, Jon
  • et al.
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License
Abstract

Is it coincidence or fate that a writer with the last name ‘bird’ would take such interest in his namesake? Perhaps it’s both, but Dodos auf der Flucht. Requiem für ein verlorenes Bestiarium [Dodos on the Run: Requiem for a Lost Bestiary] is far from an extended swansong for the extinct animals Mikael Vogel’s work evokes. It is a collection of poems and prose as much dedicated to the shrinking biodiversity of our globe as it is a reflection on human causality—an at times caustic indictment of a laissez-faire interpretation of natural history as ‘survival of the fittest.’

Vogel’s writing process often begins with archival research, and the German-language originals of his poetry at times invoke acts of translation themselves: Many are couched in the registers of historic violence. In recontextualizing the surviving memoires of exploration—the observations and assessments of Darwin, Leguat, van Linschoten, Audubon, and Steller (to name a few)—focus shifts to the specific, personal narratives which have molded contemporary understandings of natural history. From early-modern travel narratives to the feigned objectivity of modern text book analyses, Vogel’s collection negotiates a plurality of historic and contemporary voices: tracing the human reception of endangerment and extinction across the centuries and searching for those disappearing animals left behind and in-between.

The questionable legacy of early modern science maintains a visible presence throughout his work. The struggle between European and indigenous naming systems, the mercantile commodification of the natural world, and often-visceral accounts of first encounters and exterminations at times threaten to inform new objectivizations of the deceased, but a form of agency, too, is encountered in the caesurae between Vogel’s mediations. The animals at the heart of these poetic interventions reveal themselves in the conflicting imaginaries proliferating in their collective absence, the precise attention to their anatomic detail, or—from digital recordings of extinct bird song to display case drawers of taxidermied animals—the author’s recourse to the surviving material record. The resilience of nature, too, alongside the human role in establishing and maintaining its discourse remain underlying counternarratives to the subject matter: a world in which volcanic winter can inspire “Biedermeirliche Sonnenuntergänge von niedagewesener Farbpracht” [Biedermeier sunsets, the glory of unprecedented hues].

Ostensibly dedicated to those new initiates to the growing list of human-induced extinction, Dodos auf der Flucht is also a sardonic history for that most pernicious of animals: human beings. Historical narratives and extant material evidence elucidate the interrelation between human migration, climate change, and mass extinction: the debilitation of Earth’s once-astounding biodiversity recast as colonial enterprise. Humans are, after all, in Vogel’s desiccating humor: “Auch nur ein Säugetier: Trockennasenaffe aus der Ordnung der Primaten / Einziger Affe von dem bekannt ist dass er leugnet Affe zu sein / Kriege anzettelnd um noch einmal auf allen vieren zu kriechen” [Still just a mammal: haplorrhine of the order Primates / The only ape known to deny its apehood / Instigating wars to crawl again upon all-fours].

Berlin-based Mikael Vogel’s recent publications include the 2018 Dodos auf der Flucht (Verlagshaus Berlin), Massenhaft Tiere (Verlagshaus J. Frank, 2014), and Kassandra im Fenster (Offizin S., 2008), a cooperative work with Friederike Mayröcker and Bettina Galvagni. A 2015 recipient of the Yakiuta Reisestipendium, Vogel’s projects involve acute engagement with the material record of his subject matter—a practice which has taken Dodos years in the making. He was awarded a Jahresstipendien für Schriftsteller for 2019 from the state of Baden-Württemberg and has been selected as one of the year’s German-language authors for Versopolis Poetry, a digital literary platform and analog network facilitating contact, translation, and exchange between 15 European literary festivals from London to Lviv. A selection of his poetry with English translations was published digitally by Versopolis in 2019.

The following translations include the poem “Der Carolinasittich” and excerpts from the short essay, “Von Seltenheit,” one of several prose afterwords to Dodos auf der Flucht. With its emphasis on the fragility of Earth’s island ecosystems, the essay provides contextualization for his larger project: reflections on the fraught relationship between migration and the natural and human landscapes which continue to facilitate the modern wave of mass extinction, our Anthropocene.

 

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