Stripped Bare

I have just finished my exams and it was really intense, so today’s post is the product of a sleep-deprived under-fed over-used mind. Lower your expectations.

Lower.

So anyway, a couple of weeks ago in one of my seminars my tutor asked me to name the first animal that popped into my mind. Bear. She was very surprised. Most people seem to say something like cat or dog, since they are catalogued in most people’s brains (but apparently not mine) as the prototypical animal. A girl came in late to the seminar so the tutor asked her the same question, and she said moose. Our tutor was baffled by this. Now, I think there is a very fascinating correlation in the fact that I was mostly raised in Finland, whereas the girl who came in late is Swedish. Moose and bears are typical examples of forest wildlife, so there’s that.

So maybe my Nordic upbringing has something to do with it. But I gave this a heck of a lot of thought (procrastination, anyone?) and I think I have tapped onto something a lot deeper than that. ‘Bear’ has, as far as I can remember, always been my go-to prototypical animal. And here’s why.

It is the animal stripped of all additional features, all extra bells and whistles. Horns are extra. Long tails are extra. Stripes are extra. Scales are extra. Wings are extra deluxe. It is the animal form in all its simplicity, the mould for all other animals, the basis, the template, the starting point. How do  you define a bear? How would you define a bear to someone who has never seen one, without resorting to negatives? It’s…an animal. It’s the animal.

And when we describe any other animal, aren’t we all really just describing it in relation to a bear? Animal X flies/swims/jumps/swings from tree to tree – implying that the “prototypical” animal doesn’t. It’s time to stop pretending that bears aren’t the stock representatives of the entire animal kingdom.

There’s not much I can write to make this post any weirder than it already is. To sort of quote Bret from Flight of the Conchords but in an entirely different context: I told you I was freaky. You didn’t believe me.

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8 thoughts on “Stripped Bare

    1. Entirely possible – if true, would explain all the wasted brain space! I love your question, and here is my answer: fur is the default animal surface texture. Bald animals, feathered animals, scaled animals, and whatever else you have are all extra upgrades, but fur is the ultimate, honest-to-goodness animal feature. I will happily answer any further questions.

      Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. It was surely an amusing and unexpected kind of read, so thank You for writing it. Well, I have two questions and a remark. What lecture was that about that you mentioned and what was the point the tutor was trying to get across with that question? As to the basic vs extra matter, I have to drag out poor overworked Einstein and make him blurt or again “it’s relative”. For a fish, if we consider fish animals, fur might indeed be a super deluxe feature, but scales are not only basic, but needed. And the opposite is true for the bear. So I guess my point of view is that it depends on their environment.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. The seminar was for historical semantics, so we started with a little bit of semantics (so it was all very general) before delving into the real deal, which is the historical side. The point was – and I hope I remember correctly – to show how the semiotic triangle works, in that we have a word (form, symbol, signifier), which stands in arbitrary relation to the concept (thought, mental abstraction, signifié) and also to the referent, the actual thing that you are referring to (I wrote this while looking at my cheat sheet, please consult literally any other source for a more authoritative overview!). Anyway the mental abstractions that we associate for any given word are, to some extent, subjective, but also culturally conditioned. When I tell you to think of a chair, your mental abstraction of the prototypical chair will probably be slightly different to mine. Same with animal – when I’m asked to think about the concept ‘animal’, I think of a bear for all these strange reasons, and someone else will think of something else. But the point is that for all or most concepts that we’re familiar with, our brain has a go-to mental abstraction (which, of course, can change over time). Hope that helps!

      So yes, of course it is all relative. All animals are designed to fit into their respective environments, no animal (as far as I know) has extra unnecessary features just to show off. A fish is just as well suited to its environment as a bear, and in different ways because their environments are different. I have no intention of making a biological discourse out of this! :)

      So where I’m coming from with my bears is that in my mind, they have the ultimate animal qualities. They have, dare I say it, the bare necessities. Not just for their environment, but for animal-ness.

      I’m enjoying this discussion immensely and never imagined I would be arguing about the animal-ness of bears with anyone! Thanks for that :) x

      I would be fascinated to hear what you find to be the “ultimate animal”.

      Liked by 1 person

    4. That was interesting, and makes perfect sense to me. Also, in some way, makes me think about the reason why anyone can interpret differently the same ink blots (or the same cloud shape, for that matter) and why that would give insights into the personality of the individual. What you described seems to basically be the reverse process of how the Rorschach test works. Instead of asking you what you think of when I say home (while I have my research regarding the mostly likely answer you are going to give me), I let you see a random picture and when you tell me that it makes you think of home I deduce some specific things regarding your innermost mental working and values and fears..So, before I apologize for my rant, let me say I loved your post choice and your writing style. Please keep on sharing even the most freakish ideas you might have, you never know what we might end up talking about :D x

      Liked by 1 person

    5. Yes, the ink blot test is related to this in many ways, but just like you said, it’s in reverse – very interesting point! Haha, thank you for your kind words, I offload mental processes here every Wednesday (except yesterday I was too tired to so something is coming up today) so do tune in and feel free to drop questions, comments and concerns. I enjoy these discussions just as much as I enjoy the writing :) Thank you again for reading and commenting xx

      Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s also something I thought about, yes! The ubiquity of teddy bears must be another indication of the general animal-ness of bears – in my head anyway. :) Thanks for reading! x

      Liked by 2 people

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