Until and unless a nonhuman animal becomes a legal person, she will remain invisible to civil law.” This quote from the legal profile in
magazine’s fall issue in many ways sums up the ineffable dogness that, um, permeates the paper, so to speak. It sets you to imagining another reality for the world, which is a good and special thing for a magazine to do–and yet it is also absurd, which is also good. That’s what makes Bark fun, and oddly challenging.
Material and information about the dog world was not interesting to me until I got a dog about a year ago–and still, I have to say that I am not too invested in cute anecdotes about “poop” or about how getting a dog can turn you into a non-office, alternative type. Judging by the general attitude of Bark‘s contributors, they were never office types to begin with. Bark‘s writers are unmarried, childless and sometimes even young. They lounge, they nosh, they watch TV, they teach online courses, they read a little, they go back to the fridge for another forage, they…write. Also, Bark is published out of Berkeley, if you know what I mean. It is an alternative dog-niche quarterly published out of Berkeley.
The implication of all this is that one must simply agree to plunge through lines like the following: “I need to read the animal with my fingers, my hands connected to my heart.” Or: “Some Cuban doctors use acupuncture, but never had a systematized course in Chinese medicine been taught to the veterinarians there.” Or: “I was falling in love. Not with a man, but with a new open place within my core.”
Unfairly, the last two of these are both from an insanely silly piece by Donna Kelleher, DVM, about going to Havana to teach animal acupuncture, well worth a close read for its unintentional moments of grave hilarity: “I felt the energy between my fingers and Smudge’s needles vibrate slightly. This sensation, called De Qi, often predicts a great outcome in Chinese medicine…. It was as if I had been released from the grip of grief…and allowed to dance again–a sacred healer’s dance with Qi‘s life energy.” (What, one wonders, had become of little Smudge in all this?)
What is great about Bark is its openness, which means that occasionally it will veer off into the silly. In fact, it is a full-size, extremely elegant, high-concept publication with a beautiful, clear design and impressive art and photographs. It also has a tail-thumping enthusiasm for its subject that is a lot more infectious than the creepy proselytizing of the typical dog-nut who frequents the country’s dog runs. Bark is like a noble Italian greyhound in a handcrafted polar-fleece greatcoat, frolicking wetly with an overenthusiastic spaniel in a mud pit they’ve just dug under a bench. Yet like the dog run, Bark is a place where all sorts of people gather to talk dog (its motto is “Dog is my Co-Pilot”–put that on your back bumper, religious right…). “I hear America barking,” you want to say as you page through.
Bark, in other words, differs from other pet-niche magazines in that it is not a Martha-My-Dear-Stewart Living in dog form. In the fall issue, which is Bark‘s fifth-anniversary issue, there is a piece about rescuing Puerto Rican stray dogs that offers an understated cultural commentary both on the Hispanic culture that dumps dogs and on the Anglo culture that “adopts” them. There’s an illuminating overview of roughly 10,000 or so years (give or take a million) of dog history–canidopology?–by, among others, Susanna Hecht. I did not know, until I read this, that the domesticated dog and the wolf are, genetically speaking, virtually indistinguishable, although having seen a dog’s behavior up close, I might have guessed. And there is a fine piece by Jeannette Cooperman about friendships between dogs. Cooperman makes dogs sound like a commonly accepted stereotype of men: “Dogs think, but they don’t think about thinking. They are loyal by instinct and habit, not because they cherish a romantic concept of loyalty. Blissfully unselfconscious, they don’t paste tokens of their friendships into scrapbooks or worry about how to be more popular. They don’t choose their friends to shore up their self-image or play certain games…to reinforce a persona. They simply act.”
Friendliness, that is to say, is next to dogliness.
If You Build It, They Will Come
Another quarterly out of Blissland–my name for the middle-class, yuppie utopia that is the Bay Area–is
, a Generations X and Y do-it-yourself magazine, with large amounts of edge. Like Bark, ReadyMade has the politics of no politics–it rarely talks about, say, right or wrong, or the materialistic culture of which its very existence is a direct criticism. But implicit in using Vice President Dick Cheney’s mouth as a miniature golf hole is a measure of political commentary.
ReadyMade includes actual instructions on how to make things yourself, and some of the objects it teaches you to make, you might possibly want (others, not). There is the brick barbecue pit; there are lamps made from clothespins and from extra-large McDonald’s cups; there are gift boxes made from dry cereal cartons.
ReadyMade is like a huge lesson in creating found art, with all that that implies about our ephemeral, junk-producing ways. The instructions are always easy to follow, and what’s better, they are amusing to read. They have voice, and the voice is funny. For the brick BBQ: “Find a suitably flat spot…. Don’t skimp on the flattening. Without it, your BBQ will shimmy like a drunk until it falls…. Gather your bricks around you like a prodigious brood.”
Most, it is to be hoped, will read these instructions with absolutely no intention of ever building such an oven. But if some enthusiastic readers should decide to go ahead, the editors at ReadyMade know the kind of carpenters they are dealing with, and the kind of environment in which we all are working. In a little standard warning under the heading “Safety First,” at the front of the magazine, is this line, which should be the magazine’s (and every American’s) motto:
“Be careful out there.”