Animals and the Human Imagination

Animals and the Human Imagination: A Companion to Animal Studies

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 392
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    Animals and the Human Imagination
    Book Description:

    Human beings have long imagined their subjectivity, ethics, and ancestry with and through animals, yet not until the mid-twentieth century did contemporary thought reflect critically on animals' significance in human self-conception. Thinkers such as French philosopher Jacques Derrida, South African novelist J. M. Coetzee, and American theorist Donna Haraway have initiated rigorous inquiries into the question of the animal, now blossoming in a number of directions. It is no longer strange to say that if animals did not exist, we would have to invent them.

    This interdisciplinary and cross-cultural collection reflects the growth of animal studies as an independent field and the rise of "animality" as a critical lens through which to analyze society and culture, on a par with race and gender. Essays consider the role of animals in the human imagination and the imagination of the human; the worldviews of indigenous peoples; animal-human mythology in early modern China; and political uses of the animal in postcolonial India. They engage with the theoretical underpinnings of the animal protection movement, representations of animals in children's literature, depictions of animals in contemporary art, and the philosophical positioning of the animal from Aristotle to Derrida. The strength of this companion lies in its timeliness and contextual diversity, which makes it essential reading for students and researchers while further developing the parameters of the discipline.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52776-7
    Subjects: Philosophy, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Jonathan Safran Foer

    Animals matter. Animals matter because they not only live, but have lives—lives that we have every reason to believe are filled with joy and pain. But the way animal lives matter is always complicated by how we use animals to shape the landscape of our humanity, both materially and imaginatively. We often forget the degree to which our engagements with animals build the world in which our lives unfold from the very beginning. We feature animals in our stories of creation and our scientific accounts of evolution. We ask, with the philosophers of antiquity, what “separates man from the...

  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. Introduction and Overview: Animal Others and Animal Studies
    (pp. 1-24)
    Aaron Gross

    Contemporary thought has increasingly highlighted the tangled and circular ways that human communities everywhere imagine themselves—their subjectivity, their ethics, their ancestry—with and through animals. What is new today is not the general observation that humans do this, but a sense of the significant role animals play in the process of human self-conception.¹ Thinkers as diverse as the French philosopher Jacques Derrida, the South African novelist and Nobel laureate J. M. Coetzee, and the American theorist Donna Haraway have not only contributed to this “animal turn,” but also helped initiate rigorous inquiries that are now bearing fruit in a...

  6. PART I Other Animals:: Animals Across Cultures

    • [PART I Introduction]
      (pp. 25-30)
      Anne Vallely

      Part I invites us to consider relationships between and understandings of humans and animals that arise outside of Western contexts. We are confronted with profoundly distinct ways in which humans understand and relate to nonhuman animals, underscoring the contingency of our own. But we are also confronted with the striking persistence and importance of these relationships for human self-conception, however differently configured.

      Tim Ingold’s classic essay “Hunting and Gathering as Ways of Perceiving the Environment” (chapter 1) has been influential across several disciplines, including anthropology, ecology, and philosophy. As a brisk and especially lucid appraisal of contemporary anthropological writings on...

    • one Hunting and Gathering as Ways of Perceiving the Environment
      (pp. 31-54)
      Tim Ingold

      That nature is a cultural construction is an easy claim to make, and it is one that figures prominently in recent anthropological literature. It is not so easy, however, to ascertain what might be meant by it. One of my principal objectives in this chapter is to demonstrate that this claim is incoherent. To illustrate my argument I shall consider the anthropological treatment of those peoples classically regarded as operating within a natural economy, namely, societies of hunters and gatherers. Comparing this treatment with the understandings that people who actually live by hunting and gathering have of themselves and their...

    • two On Yeti and Being Just: Carving the Borders of Humanity in Early Modern China
      (pp. 55-78)
      Carla Nappi

      The mountains and forests of the South were thick with wild women.

      These hairy she-beasts were lewd, dangerous, and possessed ravenous appetites. Many people who had seen wild women (yenü 野女) compared them to naked, barefoot apes wearing the barest strips of leather to cover their loins. They stalked the forests looking for human men, dragging away unlucky captives and forcing them to mate. Just once, according to a popular report, one of these men fought back.¹ After killing his captor, the man cut her open and was astonished by what he found: the wild woman’s heart looked just like...

    • three Pastoral Power in the Postcolony: On the Biopolitics of the Criminal Animal in South India
      (pp. 79-112)
      Anand Pandian

      Early one morning in October 2001, I waded across the swollen river toward the wide plain of paddy fields at the heart of the Cumbum Valley, a lush agricultural region in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Clambering up onto a narrow rise above the water, I spotted a young herdsman named Surya following behind his small herd of black water buffalo. I tried to engage him in a conversation about these animals, but Surya wanted to speak instead about the moral shortcomings of the people of this village. “They do not know how they ought to live,” he...

  7. PART II Animal Matters:: Human/Animal and the Contemporary West

    • [PART II Introduction]
      (pp. 113-120)
      Anne Vallely

      Melford Spiro once famously wrote that the task of anthropology is to make “the strange familiar, and the familiar strange.”¹ In many ways, the essays in part II of this volume do just that. They especially allow us to see the “familiar” in a new light, making it cast unfamiliar shadows, revealing areas of culturally informed invisibility, and forcing us to confront the habitual as strange. Given that so many of our relationships with and thinking about nonhuman animals falls in a taken-for-granted category, these excavation-type undertakings represent a crucial starting point in our efforts to better understand the ethical...

    • four Discipline and Distancing: Confined Pigs in the Factory Farm Gulag
      (pp. 121-151)
      Joel Novek

      Pigs used to be everywhere in rural Canada. They roamed in pastures and barnyards and sheltered in barns and huts during the long, cold winters. In the early 1950s, half a million Canadian farms raised hogs, making them the most widely produced form of livestock in the country.¹ They were a staple of the mixed arable livestock systems, combining grain and meat production, that dominated the rural landscape. What a difference a half century makes. By the new millennium, Canada’s pig population had more than doubled, to over 14 million, but the number of hog farms had dropped below 13,000,...

    • five Boys Gone Wild: The Animal and the Abject
      (pp. 152-173)
      Cynthia Chris

      In a stand-up performance recorded for HBO in 2000, Ellen DeGeneres addressed simmering election-year debates over gay marriage by calling out opponents for their absurd fretting that the expansion of civil rights to gay men and lesbians would inevitably lead to legal and social tolerance for an array of sexual behaviors long held to be despicable, including bestiality.¹ What’s funny about the monologue is, of course, DeGeneres’s flirtation, however fleeting, with the very idea that she has just declared unimaginable, an out-of-bounds scare tactic of hatemongers, the exclusively perverse purview of the opposition. In one characteristically breathless run-on swoop, DeGeneres...

    • six Animal Heroes and Transforming Substances: Canine Characters in Contemporary Children’s Literature
      (pp. 174-202)
      Michelle Superle

      An analysis of nearly a hundred English-language children’s dog stories (see the appendix at the end of this chapter) reveals not only the great prevalence of the “dog story” subgenre² but also some striking patterns. In dog stories from the latter half of the twentieth century onward, dogs are depicted as superior beings capable of effecting psychological transformations through which child protagonists and their families achieve growth. These late twentieth-century hero dogs allow a kind of rebirth for child characters and their families. Dogs become transforming substances—both agents and catalysts that enable families to achieve a fuller humanity.


    • seven The Making of a Wilderness Icon: Green Fire, Charismatic Species, and the Changing Status of Wolves in the United States
      (pp. 203-237)
      Gavin Van Horn

      Just weeks before voters went to the polls in October 2004, they were presented with a presidentially approved advertisement that was notable for its use of animal imagery. The advertisement opened with a bird’s-eye view of dense woods, then quickly cut to a series of images with wolves shifting furtively in the undergrowth as a female voiceover intoned, “In an increasingly dangerous world, even after the first terrorist attack on America, John Kerry and the liberals in Congress voted to slash America’s intelligence operations.” The penultimate camera shot—before President Bush was shown on the phone giving his approval for...

    • eight Thinking with Surfaces: Animals and Contemporary Art
      (pp. 238-258)
      Ron Broglio

      Thinking about animals means taking seriously the possibility that everything takes place “on the surface.” That is, after all, what we are usually told about animals, isn’t it? Animals are all body, soulless and speechless creatures whose lives lack the meaning associated with depth or the spirit associated with heights. Animals don’t know how to think like we do; they don’t know that they are going to a veterinarian or a slaughter house; they don’t even know that they are animals! In sum, dominant streams of Western thought construe the animal, including the biological element of the animal rationale, as...

  8. PART III Animal Others:: Theorizing Animal/Human

    • [PART III Introduction]
      (pp. 259-264)
      Anne Vallely

      Part III concludes this volume with an exploration of the theoretical ground upon which the animal/human binary has been contemplated, disputed, pondered, and weighed over the past century and upon which the nascent field of animal studies is now taking root. It serves as an introduction both to the richness of the emergent field and to the ideas of some of the most celebrated thinkers of the 20th century. The reader is immediately confronted with the complexity of the categories of human and animal, their robustness for human thought and exploration, and their resilience.

      Brett Buchanan’s essay “Being with Animals:...

    • nine Being with Animals: Reconsidering Heidegger’s Animal Ontology
      (pp. 265-288)
      Brett Buchanan

      In asking the question “What does it mean to be human?” we both understand and distance ourselves from the animal. Nowhere is this more explicit than in the early Latin definition of the human: humans are the animal rationale, the animal that has reason. This formulation was itself a reinterpretation of the ancient Greek view of being human, as the living being that possesses rational discourse (zoon logon echon). In both instances we are a living animal. But essential to this definition is the claim that we are much more than just “animal” and that it is this extra quality—...

    • ten Heidegger and the Dog Whisperer: Imagining Interspecies Kindness
      (pp. 289-306)
      Ashley E. Pryor

      This paper defends a simple thesis: kindness occurs not only between humans but between species. Everyone agrees that I can choose to be kind or cruel to my dog by attending to or ignoring her needs. I argue that this kindness is not the one-way street it is often thought to be; my dog can be kind to me too. Many people today attribute a capacity for kindness to their canine companions, but, following a long-standing Western idea that animals are capable of neither kindness nor cruelty, many other people would protest that such an attribution is sentimental or confused....

    • eleven The Lives of Animals: Wittgenstein, Coetzee, and the Extent of the Sympathetic Imagination
      (pp. 307-330)
      Undine Sellbach

      The Lives of Animals is the title of a novella by J. M. Coetzee.¹ The Lives of Animals: what thoughts inhabit these words? To begin with I am reminded of the multiplicity of animal life, human life being but one of its many variants. An elaborate web of affinities and differences lies between all beings—between humans and other animals and between animals and other animals. This thought is at once obvious and difficult to imagine. It is obvious because our lives with other animals (and our lives as animals) are at once mysterious and shared. It is difficult to...

    • twelve Animal, All Too Animal: Blood Music and an Ethic of Vulnerability
      (pp. 331-348)
      Myra J. Hird

      “He isn’t ready.” Untroubled by the fact that their companion calls them parasites, the bacteria recently inhabiting Vergil Ulam’s body talk with each other. Ions slide from cell to cell expeditiously, almost instantaneously communicating. The bacteria know they need to infuse slowly so that their lumbering companion does not become anxious or, worse, crazy.

      In Greg Bear’s novel Blood Music,¹ Vergil is a geneticist employed by the bioengineering company Genetron. Vergil develops a line of lymphocytes—white blood cells—that can function autonomously. He begins by constructing strings of DNA bases to form codons. Considered junk DNA by molecular biologists,...

  9. Epilogue: Making Animals Vanish
    (pp. 349-354)
    Wendy Doniger

    We know very well how to make animals vanish. We have made so many species vanish entirely from the earth. We make them vanish when we treat them as merely food, or as something to experiment on, or as hunted trophies. There are so many ways. Most pervasive, and almost impossible to notice, is the way that we have made them vanish from our human world by the words and categories we have herded them into. What this remarkable present volume of essays achieves is to make animals visible in our language—more precisely, to point out how we have...

  10. Contributors
    (pp. 355-360)
  11. Index
    (pp. 361-372)