Stalking the Subject

Stalking the Subject: Modernism and the Animal

Carrie Rohman
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Stalking the Subject
    Book Description:

    Human and animal subjectivity converge in a historically unprecedented way within modernism, as evolutionary theory, imperialism, antirationalism, and psychoanalysis all grapple with the place of the human in relation to the animal. Drawing on the thought of Jacques Derrida and Georges Bataille, Carrie Rohman outlines the complex philosophical and ethical stakes involved in theorizing the animal in humanism, including the difficulty in determining an ontological place for the animal, the question of animal consciousness and language, and the paradoxical status of the human as both a primate body and a "human" mind abstracting itself from the physical and material world. Rohman then turns to the work of Joseph Conrad, D. H. Lawrence, H. G. Wells, and Djuna Barnes, authors who were deeply invested in the relationship between animality and identity. The Island of Dr. Moreau embodies a Darwinian nightmare of the evolutionary continuum; The Croquet Player thematizes the dialectic between evolutionary theory and psychoanalysis; and Women in Love, St. Mawr, and Nightwood all refuse to project animality onto others, inverting the traditional humanist position by valuing animal consciousness. A novel treatment of the animal in literature, Stalking the Subject provides vital perspective on modernism's most compelling intellectual and philosophical issues.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51856-7
    Subjects: Philosophy, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. 1 The Animal Among Others
    (pp. 1-28)

    Literary studies and critical theory are witnessing the development of a new discipline surrounding the cultural and discursive significance of animality and its relationship to Western metaphysics and humanist discourses. Whether this discipline becomes known as “critical animal studies,” or the simpler “animal studies,” the contours of the field are taking shape across broad fields of inquiry. From the strictly philosophical to the historical, cultural, and literary, the past five years have brought about an unprecedented amount of scholarly work on the place, meaning, and ethical status of animals in relation to our signifying practices. For those in modernist studies,...

  5. 2 Imperialism and Disavowal
    (pp. 29-62)

    While recent postcolonial criticism has privileged the categories of race and gender in an effort to rearticulate our understanding of modernism’s imperialist binaries, it has failed to examine the fact that these discourses frequently sought justification through the discourse of species. The displacement of animality onto marginalized groups served as a fundamental modernist thematic that sought to purify Western subjectivity and thereby discursively maintain the imperialist power dynamic. While Darwin’s work suggested that species evolved through a process of competition and natural selection, social Darwinists, as Marjorie Spiegel explains, sometimes applied his ideas to colonialist apologetics, “by which ruthless behavior...

  6. 3 Facing the Animal
    (pp. 63-99)

    The displacement of animality onto marginalized others operates as an attempted repression of the animality that stalks Western subjectivity in the modernist age. Indeed, the development of Freudian psychoanalysis in the early twentieth century should be recognized as a logical response to the threats of evolutionary theory. The concept of the unconscious in Freudian psychoanalysis operates as a modernist codification of the problem of animality in the human person. Freud himself hazards an explanation of humanity’s rise from its animal heritage and theorizes that our repression of organicism simultaneously deanimalizes us and makes us human. Animality is consequently equated with...

  7. 4 Recuperating the Animal
    (pp. 100-132)

    If the post-Darwinian story of human origins that links human and animal being creates anxiety and ambivalence toward animality in modernist literature, it also opens up a space for critiques that trouble Western humanism and its abjection and repression of the animal. What we find amidst the anxious literary grapplings with animal being understood as a threat to the human are texts that not only refuse to project animality onto marginalized others, but that radically invert the traditional speciesist hierarchy that values human over animal as a matter of course. In other words, these texts in their privileging of the...

  8. 5 Revising the Human
    (pp. 133-158)

    Djuna Barnes’s Nightwood, like many modernist texts, sustains a commentary on the problematic status of the human subject in the early twentieth century as it straddles the legacies of Enlightenment rationalism and the revelations of Darwinism. But unlike much modernist writing, this novel refuses the disavowal of animality onto marginalized others in the service of imperialist and masculinist projections. While critics have been engaged for some time in examining the discourses of gender, race, and sexuality in the novel, Barnes’s species discourse, and its relationship to language in this text, circumscribe a posthuman identity premised on a critique of the...

  9. Conclusion: Animal Studies, Ethics, and the Humanities
    (pp. 159-164)

    The last two years have marked the “mapping” of animal studies on an unprecedented level, and I am partly playing on the simple colloquialism, to be “on the map.” In literary and cultural studies, we have witnessed the likes of special issues on the animal in the British journal, Parallax, and in the interdisciplinary Canadian journal Mosaic, whose editors received so many submissions in the field that they put out two volumes dedicated to the subject. Essay collections are underway on the animal in literary signification and in postcolonial theory. “H-Animal” has appeared on the web as a discussion and...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 165-176)
  11. Works Cited
    (pp. 177-184)
  12. Index
    (pp. 185-194)