Animal Alterity

Animal Alterity: Science Fiction and the Question of the Animal

SHERRYL VINT
Volume: 39
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5vjj98
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  • Book Info
    Animal Alterity
    Book Description:

    Animal Alterity uses readings of science fiction texts to explore the centrality of animals for our ways of thinking about human. It argues that the academic field of animal studies and the popular genre of science fiction share a number a critical concerns: thinking about otherness and the nature of human being; desiring communication across species difference; and interrogating the social and ethical consequences of changes in science and technology. We are living in a complex set of contradictory and conflicting relations with non-human animals. This book maps this complex terrain, arguing that we are better able to perceive options for a transformed politics if we perceive our various material relations with non-human animals within a deeper understanding of the functions of the category ‘animal’.

    eISBN: 978-1-84631-613-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction. Animal Alterity: Science Fiction and Human–Animal Studies
    (pp. 1-23)

    The project of bringing together science fiction¹ (sf) and research in the emerging field of human–animal studies (HAS) might at first seem counterintuitive; indeed, when I spoke of my interest in researching animals in sf, a number of colleagues assured me that there probably were not that many. Although this book, by providing an overview of the many ways in which animals are present in sf, shows the degree to which such a conclusion is wrong, it is nonetheless not an unreasonable one for many readers of the genre to have reached. One does not tend to think of...

  5. 1. Always-Already Meat: The Human–Animal Boundary and Ethics
    (pp. 24-44)

    Carol Emshwiller’s ‘Sanctuary’ (2007) opens with the phrase, ‘just like Russian thistle and starlings, they took over’ (59), placing us in a world that might be science-fictional – is it aliens who have taken over? – but which might equally as plausibly be merely that of contemporary reality, in which invasion metaphors are regularly used to describe the spread of species from areas where human culture designates them as ‘indigenous’ to areas where they are designated as foreigners taking over.¹ Yet these invaders seem to be unobtrusive; ‘they must have thought’, the narrator tell us ‘we wouldn’t notice them at all – ever...

  6. 2. The Mirror Test: Humans, Animals and Sentience
    (pp. 45-66)

    The mirror test – a classic investigation of consciousness in animal research – has aspects of a typical pulp sf scenario of alien abduction: an animal is rendered unconscious, during which time dye is applied to its face in some way; when it awakes, the animal is given access to a mirror. If the animal then attempts to investigate the mark in some way, such as touching the place or rubbing the marked part of the body on enclosure walls, it is deemed to have passed the mirror test, revealing that it recognises the other in the mirror as self. Coming out...

  7. 3. The Animal Responds: Language, Animals and Science Fiction
    (pp. 67-89)

    In Kij Johnson’s ‘The Evolution of Trickster Stories among the Dogs of North Park after the Change’ (2007), dogs suddenly gain the ability to speak. The desire to communicate with another species is a common fantasy in sf, both through the common trope of the alien, as discussed in my introduction, and through the many stories involving modified pets able to communicate with their owners through synthesised speech or telepathy, such as the speaking cat in Suzy McKee Charnas’s ‘Scorched Supper on New Niger’ (1980) or the telepathic dog in Roger Zelazny’sHe Who Shapes(1965). Often such stories are...

  8. 4. ‘The Female Is Somewhat Duller’: Gender and Animals
    (pp. 90-111)

    The relationship between animals and human categories of gender has a long and complicated history in Western culture. The binary male–female is as central to our intellectual and cultural history as is that of human–animal, and the parallels which link human more closely with male and female more closely with animal are part of this complex affiliation.² Women have often been at the forefront of animal welfare activism, particularly in the anti-vivisectionist movement of the Victorian era. Yet at the same time, the discourse of feminism has had a fraught relationship with the category ‘animal’ – if not with...

  9. 5. Sapien Orientalism: Animals, Colonialism, Science Fiction
    (pp. 112-134)

    Building on Edward Said’s observation that the orient in the Western imagination is not an entity with specific properties but rather is that which remains after the occident has produced itself through contrast, Donna Haraway argues that ‘western primatology is simian orientalism’ (Primate10). That that is to say, ‘knowledge’ of the orient has to do with how the occidental imagination has chosen to construct itself as the opposite, and little to do with the actual existence of those called oriental. As outlined earlier in this book, Derrida similarly argues that philosophy bases its concept of what it calls ‘animal’...

  10. 6. Existing for Their Own Reasons: Animal Aliens
    (pp. 135-157)

    Alice Walker’s pronouncement that ‘The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for whites or women for men’, is a dictum frequently repeated among animal welfare activists.¹ Most of the history of human–animal relations, however, proceeds from the opposite logic. Walker’s linking of the human–animal boundary with similar historical exclusions that have presumed non-whites and women had lesser existences than full subjects – heterosexual, property-owning, white men – reminds us that just as these once-axiomatic hierarchies have been dismantled by cultural change, so too might...

  11. 7. A Rope over an Abyss: Humans as Animals
    (pp. 158-181)

    InThus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche defines humanity as ‘a rope fastened between animal and overman – a rope over an abyss’ (7). Although this abyss might seem to suggest the impossible gulf between human and animal being, another way of thinking about it is that it represents the risk we face if we try to cut ourselves off from animal being, to sever this necessary tie to our animal nature. As Ralph Acampora stresses, this ‘rope is never cut by Nietzsche – rather, the braiding of its strands is only tightened and celebrated’ (‘Nietzsche’ 6); Nietzsche sees the embrace of our animal...

  12. 8. The Modern Epimetheus: Animals and/as Technology
    (pp. 182-206)

    The story of Prometheus is well known to most sf readers, with the fire that Prometheus steals from the gods standing in multiply for civilisation, science and technology, and the light of knowledge more generally – all things taken to mark the birth of humanity. In some versions of this legend, Prometheus is contrasted with his foolish brother Epimetheus, who is given the task of distributing positive traits to the animals. Lacking foresight, Epimetheus has run out of gifts when he reaches humans; in compensation Prometheus steals fire for humanity, giving humans a trait until then associated with the gods alone....

  13. Conclusion. ‘Other Fashionings of Life’: Science Fiction, Human–Animal Studies and the Future of Subjectivity
    (pp. 207-227)

    Frank Schatzing’s huge, best-selling novelThe Swarm(2004, English translation 2006) at first seems to be about animal revolt against human domination, and its multiply plotted tale echoes scenarios of earlier sf. Scientists, ethologists and animal-rights activists across the globe notice that the planet seems to have turned against human occupation: the weather system disasters associated with climate change are exacerbated by new forms of marine life that seem to attack and destroy human installations such as offshore oil derricks, and new forms of species regularly consumed by humans transmit a fatal virus. Whales and dolphins being observed by human...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 228-244)
  15. Works Cited
    (pp. 245-256)
  16. Index
    (pp. 257-278)