Read by Fazeela Jiwa
Jan Zwicky’s The Book of Frog peeks into the world of Frog, a 200 million year old granite party-animal. Frog’s charmingly Taoist narration and email correspondence introduces his loved ones: Al, an imaginary albatross, and Liv and Hugh, the artistic human couple with whom he resides and travels. An anthropocentric reading might attribute Frog and Al’s emails to quirky communication between the humans, but taking Zwicky’s novel literally enables delightful cerebral considerations.
Zwicky begins by asserting an existential contradiction: “Once there was a frog. He was made of granite and had four tiny barnacles for feet.” Frog challenges the lexical categories of “frog” and “granite” by asserting that they can be one, and moreover, he can love Chinese food. While he and Al destabilize grammatical conventions as they consider becoming “ffrog” or “Algh,” likewise they disturb the rigidity of naming in language: Frog and Al are tech-savvy, sentient beings rather than thin air or a barnacled rock.
With these characters, Zwicky evinces “the grand philosophical conundrum of the Anthropocene…why is there nothing rather than something?” While “nothing” needs no acknowledgement, “something” has a value according to categories of being – and Frog the rock “doesn’t suffer from an exaggerated sense of his own unimportance.” Zwicky’s anthropomorphism accentuates a hierarchy of humans above nature. Frog and Al are also infinitely wiser than humans, which questions our own exaggerated sense of importance.
The tension between the important and unimportant is embodied in apocalyptic Liv, who mourns the death of the book and considers self-sustenance in the forest, darkly proclaiming, “it’s all going to be over soon.” Yet Zwicky treats death, apocalypse, and technological imperialism with a freeing ambivalence. Al uses “Anthropocene,” a term that describes human impact on ecosystems as its own geologic era. Despite the frightening implication that humans have significantly altered the Earth, Al’s bird’s eye depiction catapults human civilization into a larger temporal vista, one earthly era among many. Only “some of it” will end, says Hugh; “the rocks are going to be here, and the sea and the sky.” The world is more than us, and will continue in spite of us.
While Zwicky points to the narcissism of a perspective limited by human existence, she does not rob humanity of relevance. Deep respect bonds all the characters, human or otherwise; as Frog remarks to Al, “I think (Liv) feels about (Hugh) the way you feel about the wind.” Zwicky simply equalizes hierarchies of worth, and draws awareness to the present moment. In search of enlightenment, one need not “transcend” the unfriendly future but recognize his/her place in “the wave of the present.” Her woven references to Fibonacci numbers and objects demonstrating this structure suggest a larger pattern of natural existence that ever-cumulates at the edge of time, the present.
Like Al, Zwicky reaches “out of the frame,” toward alternative perspectives. The Book of Frog lovingly encourages an expansive understanding of a universe in balance, in which every object and action is a contingent node within a web of others, or as Frog self-reflexively concludes, “everything is always about everything.”
The Book of Frog
By Jan Zwicky
Pedlar Press, 2012