Autobiography of an Octopus

Original title: Autobiographie d’un poulpe

Publication Date:

April 2021



Original language and publisher

French | Actes Sud

Territories Handled

Netherlands, North America, Scandinavia

Territories Sold

Italy (Contrasto)
Spanish (World) (Consonni)
Turkey (Kirmizi Kedi)
Brazil (Bazar do tempo)
Germany (Matthes & Seitz)
English (World) (University of Minnesota Press)


Animals & Nature

Autobiography of an Octopus

Original title: Autobiographie d’un poulpe


A dense, funny, puzzling book that mixes philosophy, anticipatory narrative and a sweet form of poetry. — Léa Salamé and Nicolas Demorand, FRANCE INTER / La Matinale

A great thinker … A predecessor of scientific poetics (…). You have to read Vinciane Despret for a daily philosophy of life! — Laure Adler, FRANCE 5 / C’est ce soir

By switching to fiction for the first time, the philosopher Vinciane Despret opens up a little more the field of possibilities of our links and common worlds with animals. Poetic and moving. — Hélène Fresnel, Psychologies Mag

These stories outline the outlines of a new world, born from the epistemological break in our relationship with living things. And the whole art of Vinciane Despret is to extrapolate from existing knowledge, to describe the animal world as it could be perceived, beyond this rupture. — Catherine Mary, Le Monde

A book that made an event, and which first aroused amazement and then fascination. — Ali Baddou, FRANCE 5 / “C L’Hebdo”

The reader does not know where the science ends, and where the fiction begins. Which causes a perfectly enjoyable disturbance and a question: what if the fiction was closer to the truth? — Xavier de la Porte, L’OBS

Are you familiar with the vibratory poetry of spiders? Or the sacred architecture of Australian wombats? Or perhaps the ephemeral aphorisms of octopi? Welcome to “therolinguistics,” a discipline invented in the early 1970s by the science-fiction writer Ursula Le Guin, resuscitated here by Vinciane Despret for the pleasure of all. For indeed, animals do talk and they do have something to say, we simply have to learn how to listen and work out their codes in order to decipher their mysterious messages.

Vinciane Despret takes a series of fascinating scientific debates and situates them in an indeterminate future, then lets her imagination run wild. Inspired by recent scientific discoveries, Vinciane Despret imagines animal behaviors, whole life stories and perfectly feasible narratives, which—who knows?—might one day be proven right by future research.

She cleverly blurs the boundaries between scientific facts and poetic meanderings to create a fascinating alternative reality: what if indeed spiders are trying to send signals to us to stop the incessant white noise of the human machine? What if through their strange constructions of cubic feces, wombats are demonstrating a new form of all-inclusive cosmology for whomever might pass, visible or invisible, animal or human, thus offering us a formidable lesson in life and tolerance? And what if octopi, as early believers in metempsychosis, were frantic not to be able to guarantee the reincarnation of their souls due to overfishing and ocean pollution? Through this surprising thought experiment, Vinciane Despret shows a new salutary vision that opens up the path to different ways of being human on Earth.

Marketing Information

  • Over 25,000 copies sold in French
  • Listed among “The 100 Books of the Year 2021” by Lire Magazine