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Panel 3. Aerial Perspective 

'On the Wing': Experience and Perception in Falconry Practice

Sara Asu Schroer, University of Olso, Norway

This paper considers how training and hunting in co-operation with birds of prey influences the practitioners’ sense of space and experience of their environments. Following the development of a ‘bond’ between falconers and their falconry birds, the paper will illuminate how sensing the world through, and with, an airborne creature draws falconers’ attention to the affective forces of the weather, its varying intensities of light, temperature and wind. Walking on the ground, whilst communicating with a bird in flight, reveals the varying textures of the land that intermingle with the ebb and flow of aerial currents. Through in-depth ethnographic analysis the paper contributes to the ethnographic exploration of how people’s experience of landscapes is shaped by their engagement with and observation of birds. By exploring the particular human-bird relationships involved in falconry practice, the paper will show how humans and birds develop a relationship characterised by a fine balance of independence and dependence, tameness and wildness, spatial proximity and distance and how this in turn influences the practitioners’ spatial awareness and perception of their environment.

Poetic Birds and Lyric Flights in the Age of the Anthropocene

Clara Dawson, Department of English & American Studies, University of Manchester, UK

Aristophanes’ comic play, The Birds, first produced in 414BC, can be read at various levels. First, as a fantasy involving two disenchanted citizens of Athens who negotiate with the birds to establish a ‘Cloud Cuckoo-Land’ in their domain of the sky. Their fellow Athenians all go ornitho-manic in excitement at the prospect – dressing up as birds, buying wings and learning to fly. Secondly, The Birds is also a political satire, produced at the time of the disastrous Athenian expedition against Sicily, which was an act of imperial hubris that effectively lost the Athenians the great war they had been fighting against Sparta since 432BC. Thirdly, the play is an exploration of the relationships in this period between humankind and the natural world, represented here by a hoopoe and his chorus of 24 other birds (all identified). The selection and descriptions of the species given roles in the play assume an easy familiarity with them on the part of the audience, while the play as a whole is a locus classicus for the symbolic potential of birds.

Among the questions that arise are:

Why these birds in particular?

What part does charisma play and what part their vocalisations, mimicked and transcribed in some detail here?Why birds, rather than other animals?

Their gift of flight seems crucial to the symbolism.

The discussion will be illustrated by readings (in translation) and images from contemporary art.


Birds as Intermediaries: a Reading of Aristophanes’, ‘The Birds’

Jeremy Mynott, University of Cambridge, UK

This paper will examine attitudes to birds and the landscapes they inhabit by examining poetic encounters between birds and humans and their perspectives on landscape from the late 18th to late 19th century. Poetry, more so than the novel or drama, has specific aesthetic features that make it a genre particularly fitted for imagining human and bird encounters (e.g. the ability of rhyme, metre or poetic diction to mimic birdsong or movement such as flight). Poets’ obsession with birds and birdsong demonstrate the interconnections between poetic language and nonhuman voices. The paper will identify different ethical attitudes to birds, highlighting whether texts depict human dominance or allow for birds’ alterity and will examine what changes over the course of the 19th century as industrial practices develop. A poem such as John Clare’s ‘The Crow’ uses the perspective of a crow in flight to demonstrate how the landscape changed as a result of human agricultural practices, via the Enclosures. There is a clash in the poem between human boundary markers such as fens and fields and the older ‘forest’; between the forces of nature in the ‘March winds high’ and the activity of the woodman chopping trees. The poem demands a shift in the reader’s perspective, insisting on an ethical identification with the bird. It offers a deeper recognition of the way our habitats are shared by human and bird, foregrounding the boundaries between the two, provoking questions about the needs and demands of both, identifying where they conflict or coalesce.

Angels have Bird Wings

Roger Wotton, Division of Biosciences, University College London, UK

We can all identify angels: they are androgynous, usually have full-length loose robes and, with a few exceptions, have large bird wings. Their image has been portrayed by painters and sculptors for hundreds of years, with remarkably little change, and the origins of these images lie with Classical statues of Nike and other goddesses/gods.Angels need wings to fly between Heaven and Earth and, as artists have shown them as physical beings, we assume that their wings are used in the same way as those of birds: in flapping flight and gliding. While gliding is a possibility, flapping flight requires flight muscles and a light skeleton, neither of which seem to be present in angels. Also, the wings of birds evolved from the fore-limbs, yet angels have wings in addition to arms, with anchorage on the back, close to the shoulder blades.Belief is an important part of religion and, although there is no evidence that angels have been seen, we believe that they exist in the form shown by artists. Over time, we have moved from a geocentric view of the universe to the highly complex understanding of today, where locating Heaven is more problematic. And it is not only angels that fly between Heaven and Earth, the Holy Spirit does too, being represented as a white dove...

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