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This article is taken from PN Review 167, Volume 32 Number 3, January - February 2006.

The Dog It Was That Died Iain Bamforth

Rabelais reminds us, in his prologue to Gargantua, that Plato calls the dog, in the second book of The Republic, the most philosophical creature. Dogs love to gnaw bones, the cortex of which must be broken open to allow them to lick out the substantial marrow. 'For here you will find an individual savour and abstruse teaching which will initiate you into certain very high sacraments and dread mysteries, concerning not only our religion, but also our public and private life.'

In dealings between dogs and humans, the human side of the account is guiltily in debit. Even the ferociously smelly pirate who panhandles at our local market has a mutt with him, and not just to attract the sympathy coin. He needs the dog to overcome our cynicism (in its modern sense) at the theatricality of self-presentation. No wonder Charlie Chaplin in A Dog's Life has to remind himself, at various junctures, not to mistake his own for one.

Dogs inhabit an exchange economy in which a caress is as good as a word.

Alain Finkielkraut tells the story of Bobby, a dog who wandered into the prisoner-of-war camp in which the philosopher and briefly soldier Emmanuel Lévinas was interned in 1940 after the French army had been routed by the Germans. Bobby was in the habit of greeting the prisoners with a bark when they lined up in the morning and when ...

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