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Creative Engagement with Kristen Stone’s Domestication Handbook (Rogue Factorial, 2012)


Domestication is defined as the process (either unconscious or methodical) by which certain groups of animals are altered (due to control over them for many generations) at the genetic level in order to amplify aspects of their traits that appeal to humans. For anyone who has an impassioned relationship to wildness, who longs to cut the bars of the aviary in the middle of the day while everyone is watching or who imagines running a Mack Truck into Chic -fill-A (can you believe how homophobic they are?), the fact that Kristen Stone’s Domestication Handbook is not obviously demonizing domestication (admitting at one point in the book that it loves the suburbs, feels things for them) as much as it is admitting itself as domesticated, as captive animal (“domestication is the conversion of wild things into things that sleep in the bed”), is quite fascinating. With the bloody clot-like meat chunks on its cover, and the title relating to domestication I have to admit that what I expected from Stone’s book (a version of: “Look here, I am pissed that I have been domesticated” or “fuck you for domesticating me”) and what I got (a version of: “This is what it feels like to be me and the me I am has been domesticated”) were two different things. There is no denial in this book. Still, if this was not going to be an activist statement urging its readers to advocate for unconditional mammal ferality, what would it be?

Domestication Handbook is a reader friendly, confessional, queer place full of qualities and features that set it apart from any other book I have ever read. At the moment of its inception its narrative inclination is in full swing. This book takes us from our inhabiting the space prior to it (“outside [Stones’] language”) to the rich place of inhabiting it as a strange “trailer with glass walls.” It’s a bit of a trip in here: from farm grass (“Deb, once a rancher’s daughter, now a farmer’s wife, saves this one chicken as she eats others” / “little animals like to touch people’s skin”) stuck wryly to the sweat of self-induced, inked-backs teens (“the perfect butch lover is steady and practical” / “they took off their shirts and wrote on each other’s backs with ballpoint pen”/ “threaten to fold and break apart like an overloved paper doll”/ “the shift in the breastbone that means you’re in love”) to “trilobite posture[s]” turning the rusted brass of “the church bells [into] anarchy” the reflections and refractions herein most certainly allow us to consider our own perversions, our own stimulations, puts us into proximity with considering domestication in ways that allows us to sleep at night (or not).

What happens (in a book), when the initial admittance is of a thing’s own sense of exile (“the first time I saw Queen Anne’s lace and knew that I did not belong anywhere” / “who can fill the hole under the ocean?”)? Is there a hole (“useless for keeping inside and outside apart”) forever left in the domesticated animal’s heart? Does the domesticated animal even know it is domesticated? Does it need to (“we debate what bodies want, and how is that instinct: how we inscribe desires onto the bodies we have, describe: furry, uncertain”)? Does it feel a loss of its wild genes (“they don’t know that they look tortured”) in this wealth of calm and sleepy (“soft teeth[ed]”) genes that fill its form now?

In the day to day life where “hours matter,” where we “wait for [] feeling[s] to go away” or come back to comb through us yet again, Stone assures us that the “dome is best: it distributes force evenly and does not break.” Is the dome inherently a domestic shape? The scoop in the horse’s back (on which that saddle so nicely sits) is essentially dome-shaped. It is true that if you turn a dome over it provides a bowl.

As we move through the life Stone describes (by “mammal empathy”) we touch the “sad rotten bottoms” as well as the “pulse in the organs others lack.” Stone’s tell is one that leverages itself (like “leathery fists [in] sand”) over us. I find (as I read Domestication Handbook) that I begin to position myself (by choice) beneath it, letting it stream in over me, imploring it to show me the sewn lips around grandma’s cigarette as she is bathing the kids, needing it to make me ponder if I really do want to meet Kris Kringle on the family porch as I meander out, smack dab in the middle of a game of lineage-cribbage that makes me want to scribe myself on those little cards. Is this how the family dog feels? Drawn to the dome?

Not only is the “winter[] sky [] full of fractals” right now (with Stone’s beautiful book in my hands) but my heart is full of “the beautiful obligation of caring for something that can give [me] nothing in return”—unless…hmm…unless I can give something in return.

Kristen Stone, is there anything I can offer you? I reach out from your book to you and I do so (at least momentarily) identifying as domestic myself. See me dog paddling in waves that are so big they make me afraid I am going to drown; see me yelling my own name (and hearing your name as the content in the echo which comes back to me) into this “space between the wall and itself.”

Buy Stones’ Amazing Book at Rogue Factorial

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