Two of Martin’s teeth were knocked out by the bear, and Russian doctors had to use a metal plate to keep her face stable until French doctors could replace it. A medical Cold War between France and Russia has erupted in my jaw.
A dehumanised, machine-like version of Martin can be found in his essay. Her French surgeon, on the other hand, and “her civilised hands, which seek solutions to the problems of wild animals” were deeply appreciated by her as well.
‘In the Eye of the Wild’ by Nastassja Martin.
In honour of Nolwenn Brod
There is little we know about Martin’s previous life prior to this point in time. The death of her father as an adolescent pushed her to seek out adventure: “The anti-life consisted of classroom, mathematics and the city.” The Evens had already referred to her as matukha, or “she-bear,” before the encounter. Martin describes the encounter as something more than a simple coincidence. As if it weren’t absurd enough, “I had to go meet my dream,” she says of the event. But “absurdity” and “coincidence” no longer serve her purpose. She writes, “There is only resonance.”
Martin noticed that people’s comments to her were often oblivious and cruel when she returned to civilization. The face is our identity, she told a hospital therapist when they inquired about her feelings about her treatment: Her “before” beauty was mused upon by others. “It could be worse, you just look like you’ve just walked out of the gulag,” a family member told her. In the end, Martin decided that she had to return to Kamchatka, where she had previously lived. “Who returns annually to the underworld in order the better to climb back up into light,” a friend said of Persephone.
In her work as an anthropologist, Martin had studied animism, the belief that everything in the universe is infused with spiritual forces that are independent of human will. She was intrigued by “the tanglement of ontologies, the dialogue between worlds,” or so she told herself.
There were times when “animism seemed like nice material to write about,” but then she realised that she couldn’t just observe from the sidelines and not be affected in the same way as the people she was studying. She’d already begun to daydream about chasing wolves and beavers before meeting the bear. The “inner disturbance” she describes was her unconscious searching for something other than who she was.
The Evens named her medka after the bear, referring to her as a “marked by the bear” human who straddles two worlds. Some of them tried to steer clear of her while others went out of their way to comfort her. Her Even friends in Tvayan told her that the bears had given them a gift: “You,” because they had spared her.
To be honest, Martin was a little miffed that these “absent participants” felt they had the right to offer their interpretations of an event that hadn’t even occurred to them. And it’s because of this that she keeps running into reductive and even trivialising interpretations, no matter how well-intended they are. All of our categories are being challenged and rattled by an off-script leap.