Two short pieces of fiction by Creative Writing professor Dr. Sharona Muir are available online; “Feral Parfumier Bees,” an excerpt from her novel-in-progress Naked Men, Naked Women, and Invisible Beasts: a Guide to Unseen Beings is in the online magazine, Ancora Imparo, and her piece “The Golden Egg: an Evolutionary Fable” can be read at Kenyon Review Online.
Feral Parfumier Bees” is a chapter in a work that I’m currently finishing – a contemporary bestiary, narrated by a woman who sees invisible beasts and ventures to provide scientific explanations for their characteristics. What I left out – or tried to integrate – was the intellectual matrix of the work. Many of the scientific and philosophical ideas had to be absorbed or excised, as readers expect from a story that isn’t a lecture. I have fought for balance and integrity with this piece and the rest of the work . . . What’s lying around my cutting-room floor, but may still be faintly heard or smelled in “Feral Parfumier Bees,” are ideas drawn from thinkers such as Paul Churchland, a neuroscientist who claims that human consciousness has the same basic structure as any other comparable animal’s; Frans de Waal, who attests to the primacy of the primate in human behavior; the historian Erica Fudge, who articulates a view of cultural history as shaped by the agency of nonhuman animals; and like posthumanist scholars. Especially for “FPB,” there is the idea behind Phillip Ball’s wonderful book, Shapes: Nature’s Patterns, namely, that recurrent patterns in nature, such as spirals or tree-forms, come about as the result of physical forces interacting with biological processes, including natural selection. I love the notion that physics underlies beautiful natural patterns – it’s Pythagorean in appeal – yet without reducing biology to physics or living organisms to their inert components. Ball’s ideas have a lot to do with bees, in their methods of building, communicating, and making decisions. But instead of using his insight literally, I’ve tried to extend it to the realm of art. This way, I hope the reader will get the sense that art and nature are not separate territories at all.
What else have I left out? Perfume, in tiny glass vials, obtained from a website where you get free samples with every purchase of a fragrance. I live in rural Ohio, on a nature preserve. In June, when “Bees” was written, I got to see wild honeybees gliding around a crack in an ash tree, radiating their serene hum — quite distinct in tone, though not in volume, from their irritated hum – and walking about on the bark or levitating with subtle movements into their hive. Meanwhile, my husband, bemused, would now and then bring in a small box off the Fed Ex truck, saying,
“It’s for you – it’s ‘par-foom.’”
So that’s how I wrote it — in the midst of a forested limestone outcrop, surrounded by our natural citizenry, bent over my laptop and dabbing myself with “Les Temps d’Une Fete” and “Odalisque.” Go figure.
Dr. Muir is the author, most recently, of The Book of Telling: Tracing the Secrets of My Father’s Lives, from Random House/Schocken Books, as well as The Artificial Paradise: Science Fiction and American Culture, in the “Studies in Literature and Science” series from the University of Michigan Press; and a volume of poetry, During Ceasefire, from Harper & Row.
She has received the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in poetry; two Ohio Arts Council Fellowships, in poetry and nonfiction; the Alfred Hodder Fellowship from Princeton University’s Council for the Humanities, the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture Fellowship; the Nancy Dasher Award for the Best Book in the creative writing category, from the College English Association of Ohio; the Walter Rathenau Postdoctoral Fellowship in Science and Culture Studies from the Technische Universitat Berlin, and other awards. Her poetry and prose have been published in numerous journals including Stand, The Paris Review, The Yale Review, Harvard Magazine, Partisan Review, and Parnassus.