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Canadian Professors Write About ‘Intimacy of Human-Fish Relations’

The US Supreme Court deadlocked 4-4 in a case pitting Washington state against Native American tribes over Pacific salmon fishing rights
AFP

Three gender studies professors at the Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada penned an academic piece this month about the “intimacy of human-fish relations.” 

Professors Sonja Boon, Lesley Butler, and Daze Jeffries of the Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada published a strange academic piece this month about the allegedly intimate relationship between humans and fish. This is how they describe their work:

What does it mean to love fish? This chapter, a meditation on love, considers the space of encounter between the human and the more than-human. Drawing on the work of Elspeth Probyn, Karin Amimoto Ingersoll, Sara Ahmed, Luce Irigaray, Eve Tuck and C. Ree, it examines the profoundly embodied intimacy of human-fish relations, developing the idea of love through the lens of grief, mourning, loss, and haunting.

The unusual performance-like work that follows is not any less strange. For example, the professors ponder how thinking like a fish might enlighten them on their path to a deeper understanding of modern feminism. “How might a fishy thinking animate feminist thought?” they write. 

The professors then begin to imagine themselves as fish, adopting legs as fins and gills on their necks. All of a sudden, the delusional professors are swimming in a vast ocean, perhaps an escape from the human world in which they claim they “cannot breathe.” 

Fishy thinking asks me to move differently, to imagine my legs as fins, my neck growing gills. I glide, slide, my body always buffeted by waves. Fishy thinking changes my understanding of borders and boundaries. Who am I, as fish? My scales glitter in the sun, but outside the water, I find that I gasp; I cannot breathe. As fish, I swim; I am ocean, my salted body buoyant in the waves.

Perhaps the most disturbing portion of the text comes towards the end. The professors discuss that in order to love fish, they must engage in sensual touching with them. 

Foundational to love is the idea of touch, of skin. Skin is “testimony”; “the body’s memory of our lives” , it holds all of our encounters. The ghostly whisper of the jellyfish, the sandpaper scars of the riptide, the shimmering scales of cod. As the site of longing, yearning, and desire, skin is where human and fish come together: blood, scales, memories, tears. “We are,” writes Quinn Eades, “narrative mapped onto flesh.” Skin is where love is made, in the memory of the touch, the whisper of our shared breathing.

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