Animalia Americana

Animalia Americana: Animal Representations and Biopolitical Subjectivity

COLLEEN GLENNEY BOGGS
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/bogg16122
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  • Book Info
    Animalia Americana
    Book Description:

    Colleen Glenney Boggs puts animal representation at the center of the making of the liberal American subject. Concentrating on the formative and disruptive presence of animals in the writings of Frederick Douglass, Edgar Allan Poe, and Emily Dickinson, Boggs argues that animals are critical to the ways in which Americans enact their humanity and regulate subjects in the biopolitical state. Biopower, or a politics that extends its reach to life, thrives on the strategic ambivalence between who is considered human and what is judged as animal. It generates a space of indeterminacy in which animal representations intervene to define and challenge the parameters of subjectivity. The renegotiation of the species line produces a tension that is never fully regulated. Therefore, as both figures of radical alterity and the embodiment of biopolitics, animals are simultaneously exceptional and exemplary to the biopolitical state. An original contribution to animal studies, American studies, critical race theory, and posthumanist inquiry, Boggs thrillingly reinterprets a long and highly contentious human-animal history.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53194-8
    Subjects: Philosophy, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-40)

    On April 14, 2009, President Barack Obama made good on a campaign promise: his daughters Malia and Sasha got a dog, as he had said they would if he won the election. After months of public speculation,¹ revolving mainly around the kind of dog the Obamas would get to accommodate their daughters’ allergies and around the manner in which they would acquire that dog, the first family introduced Bo, a purebred Portuguese waterdog and present from Senator Ted Kennedy, to the White House press corps.² Reporting for the Washington Times, Christina Bellantoni captured the occasion in footage now available on...

  6. 1 AMERICAN BESTIALITY: Sex, Animals, and the Construction of Subjectivity (PLYMOUTH PLANTATION, ABU GHRAIB)
    (pp. 41-76)

    On March 21, 2006, a U.S. Army dog handler was convicted of charges brought against him in conjunction with the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in Iraq. Sergeant Michael J. Smith, age twenty-four, was found guilty of six out of thirteen indictments. Smith expressed remorse for only one of those convictions, his conviction for indecency. That conviction stemmed from Smith’s “directing his dog to lick peanut butter off the genitals of a male [American] soldier and the breasts of a female [American] soldier.” Smith said: “It was foolish, stupid and juvenile. There is nothing I could do to take...

  7. 2 BESTIALITY REVISITED: The Primal Scene of Biopower (FREDERICK DOUGLASS)
    (pp. 77-108)

    In the context of American literary studies, the theoretical discourse of bio-politics has a particular provenance in the issue of slavery. In his landmark 1982 publication Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study, Orlando Patterson establishes a division similar to Giorgio Agamben’s distinction between bios and zoē when he argues that slavery functioned as “a substitute for death” and that the slave became a “social nonperson” who had “no socially recognized existence outside of his master.”¹ For Patterson, social death was orchestrated via the slave’s “natal alienation” or removal from family structures that would bestow birthrights on him and embed...

  8. 3 ANIMALS AND THE LETTER OF THE LAW (EDGAR ALLAN POE)
    (pp. 109-132)

    In the previous chapters, I looked at cases of bestiality and bestialization to understand how biopower establishes and reproduces itself in relation to animals. I began to develop a hermeneutics that reads the symbolic order in relation to the animal bodies on which it depends at its founding. By affording those animal bodies their own legibility and by listening to animal voices, we gain a means for understanding the interdependence of human and animal subjectivity and for reassessing how American literature engages with and critiques biopower. To develop this argument, I now turn to Edgar Allan Poe’s writing, which uses...

  9. 4 ANIMALS, AFFECT, AND THE FORMATION OF LIBERAL SUBJECTIVITY (EMILY DICKINSON)
    (pp. 133-156)

    My reading of Edgar Allan Poe’s crime fiction locates the subject’s fissures in the fraught relationship to animal representation. Exploring the tension between alterity and identity, his fiction develops a hermeneutics that reads the “symbolic order” in relation to the bodily, the abject, and the animalized. By affording that bodily register its own legibility, he develops grounds for understanding the mechanisms by which subjectivity produces itself via an engagement with the beastly and provides a means for engaging critically with that production. In this chapter and the next, I take up an issue I raised in the previous chapter’s discussion...

  10. 5 RETHINKING LIBERAL SUBJECTIVITY: The Biopolitics of Animal Autobiography (KATHARINE LEE BATES, BARBARA BUSH)
    (pp. 157-186)

    This final chapter takes up the conflation of pets with children to examine how biopower infantilizes and commoditizes the liberal subject as it maps the drama of sovereignty onto the mundane territory of pet keeping.¹ By examining the genre of animal autobiography, or biographies written from the perspective of an animal, I focus on texts that exemplify the slippage between commodification and subject formation, and I ask what happens to the animal voice when it finds expression in human language. Autobiographies in general produce writers as speakerly subjects and as objects for purchase. The conceit of the speaking and writing...

  11. EPILOGUE
    (pp. 187-192)

    From many vantage points, “biopolitical subjectivity” is a contradiction in terms: in current critical accounts, biopolitics is about populations, sovereignty, and violence, but most often not about subjectivity. My book has tried to offer a corrective of this view in two senses: first, in linking the emergence of biopolitics historically to the emergence of liberal subjectivity and, second, by suggesting ways in which subjectivity is the battleground as well as the byproduct of biopolitics. As its by-product, subjectivity both affirms and undermines biopolitics, just as biopolitics affirms and undermines certain notions of the subject. The end result of these deliberations...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 193-252)
  13. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 253-284)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 285-304)