Ways to look at an ox

Illustration of Poty for the book of short stories “Sagarana”, by João Guimarães Rosa


Other perspectives and new kinships to preserve life and the Earth

“So delicate (more than a bush) and they run \ and run to and fro, always forgetting \ something. Certainly, they lack \ I don't know what essential attribute, although they appear noble \ and sometimes serious. Ah, frighteningly serious, \ even sinister. Poor people, it's as if they don't listen \ neither to the song of the air nor the secrets of the hay, \ as they also seem not to see what is visible \ and common to each one of us, in space. And they are sad \ and in the wake of sadness they reach cruelty. \ All their expression lives in their eyes — and is lost \ in a simple lowering of eyelashes, in a shadow. \ Nothing in the fur, in the extremes of inconceivable fragility, \ and how little mountains there are, \ and what dryness and what recesses and what \ impossibility of organizing themselves in calm, \ permanent and necessary forms. They have, perhaps, \ a certain melancholy grace (just a minute) and with this they are able to \ forgive the uncomfortable agitation and the translucent \ inner emptiness that makes them so poor and needy \ to emit absurd and agonizing sounds: desire, love, jealousy \ (what do we know?), sounds that shatter and fall in the field \ like distressed stones and burn the grass and the water, \ and it is difficult, after this, to ruminate our truth” (Carlos Drummond de Andrade, “An ox sees men”, in: clear riddle)

Ways to look at an ox

There are several ways to look at an ox. One can look at an ox as cattle, a non-native animal that arrived in Brazilian lands at the beginning of the XNUMXth century, along with the first colonizers – also non-native – Portuguese. For those who brought the corpulent being, the animal played a fundamental role as a traction force for the incessant movement of the sugar cane mills.

One can look to an ox as an instrument of occupation. Pushed into the Brazilian hinterland, cattle took over vast areas of the territory, then destined for extensive livestock: ox as meat. Five centuries later, the ability of a – supposedly – ​​more rational being attributed to the ox all kinds of uses. On the Embrapa (Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation) website, it reads: “Everything can be used from an ox, even the bellow. This sounds like a joke, but it's not; because the sound emitted by the bovine is indeed used in musical recordings of films and soap operas, as well as to animate pedestrian parties throughout Brazil”. Traction ox, meat ox, occupation ox, skin ox, party ox. A very useful animal, from which “everything is used”, and which could also take the well-established position of the goat and appear in the place of the scapegoat: it is blamed for the deforestation of our lands and a hole in the ozone layer.

There are also other ways of looking at an ox, including some – very radical ones – that make room for reciprocity. In the poem that opens this essay, the poet from Itabira Carlos Drummond de Andrade makes the ox look at us. Ox judge of human bodies and affections, who looks at our inconceivable fragility, at our inability to “see what is visible and common to each of us”, and who takes pity on our poverty, scourges that lead us to burn grass and water.

There are many ways to look at water. On the banks of the middle Rio Doce, inside the same precious piece of land where the poet from Itabirá was born and which was conventionally called Minas Gerais, the village of the Krenak people resists. Philosopher, indigenous leader and reader of Drummond,[I] Ailton Krenak has been, for several years and still today, one of the main voices on the planet claiming other ways of looking at and seeing an ox, the water, the Earth we walk on. In Ideas for postponing the end of the world”, Ailton Krenak questions the idea of ​​a dominant humanity, in a “commodity world”, which excludes and rejects to the peripheries – material and symbolic – all other forms of life, non-human and “almost-human”, that do not fit the current narrative of man as the “measure of all things”.

“This humanity that does not recognize that that river that is in a coma is also our grandfather, that the mountain exploited somewhere in Africa or South America and transformed somewhere else is also the grandfather, grandmother, mother, brother of some constellation of beings who want to continue sharing life in this common house that we call Earth” (Krenak, 2019, p. 47).

The Watu, the name by which the Krenak allude to the Doce River, is for these people a person, not a resource, says the philosopher. On the other hand, “the humanity we think we are” restricts the status of a person to the reach of a select group of bodies, while the others are left only with the condition of things, resources. It is not difficult to imagine the disastrous consequences for the lives of all beings – living or not; human or not – that inhabit the earth when we depersonalize the rivers and reify our kin. It is these fixed, impoverished ideas of an Earth landscape and a certain “humanity”, which brought us to the Anthropocene, a period marked by a relationship with otherness that threatens not only the existence of sub-humans, but also those who enjoy of the most privileged positions in this violent hierarchy of bodies. More than ever, the man whom René Descartes called “the lord and possessor of nature” sees his existence threatened. It is urgent to narrate and dream of other worlds, so that the end of the world – as an open future for multiple existences – is postponed.


making relatives

There are those who, even starting from different repertoires and worldviews, reiterate the need to make relatives as a way to curb the “immense irreversible destruction” that we are experiencing. In an irreverent opposition to the so-called Anthropocene, feminist philosopher Donna Haraway proposes to think about – and produce – the Chthulucene, a new form of relationship with earthly alterities, which makes “rich multispecies arrangements flourish, which include people.”. The centrality of this challenge, for the thinker, lies in the collaborative work of making kin, “joining forces to reconstitute refuges” and rescue refugees, human and non-human, from the earth” (Haraway, 2016).

“My purpose is to make 'kin' mean something different, more than entities linked by ancestry or genealogy. The smooth movement of defamiliarization may seem, for a moment, like a mistake, but later (with luck) it will always appear as correct. To make kin is to make persons, not necessarily as individuals or as human beings. At University, I was moved by Shakespeare's puns, kin e child (relative and gentil in Portuguese) – the kindest were not necessarily related to the same family; becoming kin and becoming kind (as category, care, kin without birth ties, parallel kin, and various other echoes) expands the imagination and can change history” (Haraway, 2016).

A scholar of multispecies relationships, philosopher Vinciane Despret also proposes an interest in the “stranger” as a way of establishing more affective relationships of otherness and improvising new – less violent – ​​ways of living with other beings: “A friend of mine, Raphaël Larrère, a sociologist of humans who care for animals, proposes to take up, from the philosopher François Lyotard, a very beautiful expression: we have to consider animals, he says, as “strange partners”. Imagine that you are playing tennis with a stranger, and that the latter starts, for example, systematically trying to throw the ball under the net. You will have two options: leave the court wondering who put that imbecile there, or, on the contrary, continue to play with curiosity, trying to understand what game he is playing, why he plays that way and how the game can become interesting, surprising, when you play that way. The same can be done with animals. Or we consider, when they do strange things, that they are somewhat limited beings and we say that, in fact, they are not human; or, on the contrary, we are interested in this strangeness and look for the form of intelligence that it translates. We can create bonds underneath the nets” (Despret, 2016).

Creating bonds under the networks, with strange partners: this is the strategy to implode the Anthropocene, building new worlds.


Making relatives is not living alone in the middle of a pandemic

The specific context experienced by elderly people living in single-person households made the COVID-19 pandemic a challenge of singular importance, given the obvious consequences of urging individuals who live alone to remain in their homes. In this sense, the epidemiological model that guided the implemented health policies, anchored in the concept of “risk group” proved to be – as in other epidemic phenomena in our history – insufficient, leading to the deepening of inequalities and the resurgence of ageist symbolic representations.

Crossed by this dilemma, and also by the desire to think about new forms of care for the elderly – forged mainly through listening to the narratives of these subjects – I launched myself, in early 2021, on the course of my master's research, now in the final curve. Starting from the theoretical framework of vulnerabilities, we understand that subjects, when faced with obstacles to their ways of going about life, do not have their agencies subtracted at all, but dialectically produce creative responses and new narratives, “transforming themselves with” the world and the other beings that inhabit it (Ayres, 2003). It was, therefore, mainly due to the (re)creative potential of their relational and affective dynamics at a critical historical moment, as well as the consequent expressive fecundity of their narratives, that we set out to meet the experience of these subjects in particular.

Over the time I dialogued with these interlocutors, in their homes, kinship relationships and significant alterity co-constituted between elderly people and non-human beings emerged in a significant way. The interactions and co-care dynamics established with dogs, cats and plants were essential for the interlocutors, despite their home arrangement, not to go through the pandemic alone.

It is not the intention of this essay to analyze these narratives from the theoretical point of view of ecological epistemologies, of which some concepts were very summarily evoked in the previous chapters. I transcribe, however, an excerpt – emblematic, beautiful and powerful – from one of the narratives I had the joy of witnessing, brought to light by a 71-year-old woman, divorced, retired domestic worker and who lives “alone” on the outskirts of the city of São Paulo: “I talk to them a lot. They keep me company even now that I can go out. But I have my schedule, our schedule. Me and my cats. I am very passionate about my cats. Too much of the bill. Now I have three, the one that passed by here is not mine, no. It belongs to the neighbors and came to eat here. But that's how it is: there are people who have a puppy. I have a friend there whose company the whole time was the dog. And thank God it passed, right? When released, my cousin would call my daughter and ask: “What are you going to do with your mother?” To protect, right? She said: “What am I going to do? I do not have anything to do. Where will I hide my mother? She has to stay at her house.” There's no way, right? Nobody built a bubble to put us in there. You have to face it. And then we saw that it wasn't just the elderly who were infected with COVID. A lot of young people got infected. It was not so? Many people. Even a child! But at first they only talked about the elderly. It was difficult, because people, if they saw the elderly from afar, were already afraid. They were afraid of who knows what. But it wasn't just the elderly, the young too. Young people were also contaminated, right?

Making non-human relatives, playing with strange partners: more creative and less solitary ways of going through what threatens our existence”.

*Cicero Nardini Querido He is a doctor and studying for a Master's degree in Collective Health at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of São Paulo (FMUSP).


Andrade, CD from (2022). clear riddle. Record Publisher.

Ayres, JRCM, France Junior, I., Calazans, GJ, & Saletti Filho, HC (2003). The concept of vulnerability and health practices: new perspectives and challenges. Health promotion: concepts, reflections, trends, 2, 121-144.

Despret, V. (2016). What would the animals say if. Reading Notebooks, Belo Horizonte: Chão de Feira.

Haraway, D. (2016). Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Relatives. ClimateWith Scientific Culture, 3 (5), 139-146.

Krenak, A. (2019). Ideas for postponing the end of the world. Company of Letters.


[I] I suggest listening to the beautiful dialogue between Professor José Miguel Wisnik and the indigenous leader Ailton Krenak about Drummond's work, available in the form of a podcast by Companhia das Letras: https://www.blogdacompanhia.com.br/conteudos/visualizar/Radio-Companhia-117-A-poesia-de-Drummond-por-Ailton-Krenak-e-Jose-Miguel-Wisnik9


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