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Speculative Taxidermy: Buy aspirin at the same time, you might need it


This is a hard book to talk about. The subject matter itself requires a person to remove their tinted glasses before viewing and I had a hard time doing this. As a viewer of the subject, I am supposed to have strong feelings. Reading this on the train to work, it was a hard gamble if I would be able to pull myself out of the strange headspace it put me in and be functional through the day.

In many ways, this book itself was Taxidermy. It had a scaffolding of data and reference material to give it form, but in the end was an illusion of skin; It put on a pleasant appearance, but once studied, was found to be hollow in areas while over-stuffed in others.
  • Speculative Taxidermy: Natural History, Animal Surfaces, and Art in the Anthropocene (Giovanni Aloi)
  • 304 pages
  • Columbia University Press
  • ISBN-10: 0231180713
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231180719

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I would probably re-blurb this book. My interpretation of the author’s tinted goggles: "Speculative Taxidermy is valuable at the basest of human levels. While people -don’t get it-, human interaction with corpses changes the human as well as the corpse. Taxidermy is an emotional Schrodinger's cat".

Taxidermy is a loaded topic. In its classic form, it is simply the recreation of an animal carcass using scaffolding of woods and metals. In its speculative form, it equally borders the beautiful and crass, evoking strong emotions. Depending on the artist, it can feel like you are watching a beautiful ballet of concepts, with others you are worried that another serial killer found an excuse to murder an animal and play with its parts.

This book is probably best categorized with textbooks could be broken into four generalized parts.*
  • 50% Over thought historical analysis. It feels like the author is applying more purposeful thought to historic or cultural artifacts when these things are unlikely to have been purposeful. Culture, while guided, is rarely a planned process.
  • 35% Lofty and circular ‘smart’ talk. The author appeared to want to limit the audience to a population of like-minded rather than expand understanding. Preaching to the choir would be the metaphor to describe.
  • 14% Easily approachable information. Some of this book, starting very late, seemed to speak more accessible.
  • 1% Photographic examples. Surprisingly, these were limited, as were the actual examples of Speculative work.
  • * (percentages for illustrative purposes, not actual math)

When I began reading this, based on the title and book description, I expected significant back history to set the stage. I  was surprised when page after page I was given an analysis of cultural history and it never seemed to end. While fascinating, it diluted the rest of the book and would have been better served as it’s own standalone work. It strayed for too long on related but arguably pertinent topics for it to be considered dedicated to the subject matter.

The book did give me a hit list of potential research to read up on ethics, psychology, and general human speculation. As with any reference text, there is a significant amount of referential material used to justify or support the viewpoints of the author. In this case, between the references and circular arguments disguised by thesaurus gymnastics, I don't know that I ever saw the author’s view directly, even as I formed my own...

Taxidermy is a touchy subject, but Speculative Taxidermy (especially in art) is doubly so. The key here is the polarizing nature of life and death. I want to say that I would not go out of my way to see an exhibit or view someone’s work, but then I think about Bodyworks. Bodyworks is a prime example of revised life, while the medium is slightly different than classic taxidermy, it is still preservation of body with intent to display. I felt pretty strange about that exhibit as well but still viewed it.

Long story short, don't get this book if you dislike introspection or have a short fuse for fringe topics.
If you are still on the fence, check the thirty dollar ebook/paperback price tag. The high cost to read might push you over to the 'do-not-read' or 'borrow-from-library' side of the fence.


Disclosure: This book was provided for review purposes by the author or publisher. Forming a viewpoint is often difficult, but readers should be assured my perspective is not influenced by the source of the material.

Sometimes reading can be a Sisyphean task, watch out for the boulders as I step aside.

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