chapter  2
23 Pages

Christianity, cannibalism and carnivory

In Not Wanted on the Voyage (1985), Canadian novelist Timothy Findley returns to a key source of anthropocentrism in the Christian story of Noah’s Ark. By re-writing this parable in the form of a modern novel, Findley draws attention to the ways in which such foundational texts have served to naturalise human-animal separation. More specifically, Not Wanted on the Voyage exposes the strategies through which a story of the destruction of the unfettered imagination, the mass extinction of non-human species, and the devastating loss of a more inclusive, nonanthropocentric conception of community, ethics and value, has been contradictorily interpreted as a story of salvation. In Genesis, at God’s bidding, Noah builds an Ark to save his family

and pairs of animals from the impending flood, the latter having been issued as a punishment for human disobedience of God’s laws. Within the Old Testament tradition, this is regarded as an example of God’s mercy, with the focus on God’s alerting of Noah and his family rather than on his destruction of the rest of creation; it is a story of salvation. However, in Findley’s novel, this so-called ‘mercy’ is exposed as the initiating of processes of human patriarchal domination: of the operations of sexism, speciesism, racism, torture and – finally – murder. When, at the end of the novel, signs of land are glimpsed, Mrs Noyes (Noah/Noyes’ wife in Findley’s novel) and the surviving animals pray for more rain, for they know that once they land the self-serving tyrannies of Noah and his hierarchy established on the Ark will become law.1 This hierarchy will eventually be accepted as ‘natural’, indeed as what constitutes the very ‘nature’ of human beings, through the systematic suppression of animals, the patriarchal dominance of women, and the indoctrinated notion of inferior races, here represented by Ham, the only one of Noah’s sons to take animals’ and women’s side. Animals, once an

intrinsic part of the community before the flood, will be enslaved or at best relegated to mere ‘environment’ in a self-perpetuating human drama of inter-generational violence and self-love. In the world before the flood, in the wonderfully diverse community

Findley conjures, species and racial divides did not exist. All species had their different ways, their different forms of interaction, but there were no fixed hierarchies. Moreover, strict dividing lines were complicated by the presence of various ‘in-between’ creatures: half-ape half-human children, semi-divine angels, and the like. Humans could communicate with other animals (especially Mrs Noyes with her cat Mottyl) but this was not a completely peaceable kingdom. Some individuals and species did not like each other but at least they agreed, sometimes warily, to coexist. There was, in Tzvetan Todorov’s formulation, difference in nature but equivalence in value. All this is to change, however. Living entities we no longer regard as real, such as fairies, demons and unicorns, all banished to the realms of the mythological after the flood, are cruelly disposed of by Noah/Noyes; but it is the human/animal hybrids, the socalled ‘Lotte children’, who must be done away with if a definitive species boundary is to be effectively established and maintained. Since the very definition of humanity is the ‘not-animal’, such human-animal hybrids cannot be allowed to exist. Findley’s re-writing of the story of the Flood thus exposes the moment of instantiation of the species boundary, a moment that also reifies humanity through the literal and figurative sacrifice of animals for the human cause and dispenses with the ‘now’ (the ‘now-time’ of mythology) in favour of human history and scientific fact. For it is representation that is Noyes’ main weapon, just as the story of Noah’s Ark has operated in western cultures as a means of bolstering patriarchy and of consolidating and protecting a strict human-animal divide. Noyes’ methods of asserting his dominance over the members of his

family and his non-human passengers also replicate imperial processes. The patriarch uses physical punishment, torture, ritual and, in particular, the control of textual interpretation to subdue his subjects. Early on in the novel, God sends a message to Noyes on which he immediately acts, without revealing the text of the message to those who will be so drastically affected by it. This gives him sole interpretative authority to carry out God’s word. Moreover, interpretative power and the historical record work together to control meaning, not just at this moment but for the future, through their inscription as fact, which then becomes the sole province of the writer-interpreter himself. This self-privileging process is exposed in the early sections of the novel when an apparently inexplicable phenomenon occurs:

Here it was the end of summer and though it hadn’t rained, it had already snowed. Or so it had seemed. Small white flakes of something had fallen from the sky and everyone had crowded onto the porch to watch. Doctor Noyes at once had proclaimed a miracle and was even in the process of telling Hannah to mark it down as such, when Ham went onto the lawn and stuck his tongue out, catching several of the flakes and tasting them. ‘Not snow,’ he had said. ‘It’s ash’ Ham, after all, had the whole of science at his fingertips and Mrs

Noyes was inclined to believe that it had been ash – but Doctor Noyes had insisted it was snow – ‘a miracle!’ And in the end he’d had his way. Hannah had been instructed to write: TODAY – A BLIZZARD.