Saturday, February 4, 2012

On the Nature of Being Human

This is the PREFACE to the just-published literary anthology , 
Being Human: Call of the Wild. [copyright 2012 Editions Bibliotekos]

We are primarily interested in stories that deal with human character. Who are we as a species and as individuals? What is our human nature? While we have constructed, over thousands of years, a vast cathedral of scintillating, rational humanity, we can be primal and shadowy with visceral emotions. We can profoundly love and superficially hate. Though we are by nature social creatures, we can commit acts of aggression (either against ourselves or others). And yet, quite often, we seek through rituals a natural peace with ourselves in unison with our family or the larger environment.

What is our evolved human essence? What makes us tick as a species? At one point in history, as many as ten different hominid species roamed the planet, but only we endured. There is even speculation that seventy thousand years ago only a few thousand of our species were alive. Why do we struggle on, survive, build cathedrals (and yet hurt each other)? Why do we have rituals, and why do we create and sometimes destroy relationships? What is (in the phrase of one of our contributors) the human factor? What does it mean to be (simultaneously) a deeply meditative and a yet a spontaneously feeling human being?

The fact(or) of being human means recognizing that there is in each of us a call of the wild, however subtle. There is something elemental in us that lingers. Who hears the ancestral call? Who answers the call? What is the response of any individual to the force of being human? For most of our human history, we have not lived in cities but have developed from hunters and gatherers (roaming in small clusters) into engineers of sophisticated national languages and intricate cultures. How much of the old nature lingers in us still? Apparently quite a lot.

We are in a natural world from which we emerged; we are part of a large universe of nature; and we wrestle with aspects of our own human nature. Our history is such that we are social creatures who have evolved very complex emotions not only of sympathy and compassion, but also of jealousy and hatred. So the call of the wild does not mean running off into the woods and hunting fish with one’s teeth; it means acknowledging our deeper connections to the earth beyond concrete buildings, and more importantly, our essential connection to each other.

There are aspects of our psyche (feelings and instincts) and of our physical structure (teeth and fingernails) with which we must reckon. While we have evolved superstructures of civilization, there are darker moments in our collective and individual histories, mostly (as this volume investigates) on a personal or inter-personal level. While familial creatures who create loving bonds, we are also capable of inflicting harm.

For this book we received quite a corpus of submissions – well over one thousand pages. We have tried to cull from that mass just enough material to make our literary point, but keep in mind that the stories between these covers consist of many different styles and voices. Much of the writing is poetic, magical, contemplative, and even humorous. We are sure that after having read this small book, you too will be captivated by the question, Who are we, individually and collectively?

- Gregory F. Tague and Fredericka A. Jacks

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