Pamela's Reviews > A Nest for Celeste: A Story About Art, Inspiration, and the Meaning of Home
A Nest for Celeste: A Story About Art, Inspiration, and the Meaning of Home
by Henry Cole
by Henry Cole
Apr 01, 2010
Read in April, 2010
It took me a while to figure out what bothered me about "Celeste," and I think it has to do with anthropomorphism. On one end of the anthropomorphism scale is the toad-in-a-waistcoat. In toad-in-a-waistcoat the animal is simply a stand-in for a human character; references to real animal behavior, such as lily pad homes or cricket lunches, are thrown in for cuteness's sake. The other end of the anthropomorphic scale is the equivalent of someone at the zoo pounding on a snake's display case. It's a desire for a meaningful connection to another species. That sort of anthropomorphic writing means closing our eyes, pressing our face against the glass, and trying to pretend the barrier doesn't exist. Cole might've shown Audubon and his young helper through the eyes of a very mouse-like mouse exhibiting very mouse-like behavior; that mouse might've wondered in a human-like way about the bizarre nature of Audubon's killing of birds to paint them instead of eating them. Cole does give Celeste mousy concerns with dining room crumbs and patrolling cats, but when a mouse weaves baskets, sets up home in a doll house, and learns lessons like "one friend may leave but another friend arrives" that's toad-in-a-waistcoat anthropomorphism. Of course, a mouse viewing the world with a human-level consciousness is no less fantastic than a basket-weaving mouse, but the fantasy would feel less jarring. And I think the reason it would feel less jarring is because Audubon's killing and pinning and painting has a great deal in common with anthropomorphic writing of the pretend-there-is-no-barrier kind. You might not entirely approve of Audubon's approach but both are rooted in the same common desire for communion with the beasts.
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