‘Magnificence’ by Lydia Millet
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Without the grass-eaters of course, this startling explanation could not take place, and part of Millet’s project is to expose what other creatures can help us understand about ourselves. Taxidermy, to which most of the animal presence in “Magnificence” is due, is a ready-made synecdoche for her exploration of extinction, preservation, and endangerment.
If, as Berger wrote, the zoo is a monument to the disappearance of animals from our culture, Susan’s moldering collection of skin on plastic bones is a facsimile of both this disappearance and the point at which our lives and fates still intersect. In this museum, the human is no longer human alone but one of the lost ones, those that, like the animals, are awaiting their time. Millet has built an ark in which loss brings a kind of preservation, a community among the gone.
Jenny Hendrix is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn. She can be reached at jghendrix @gmail.com.