Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Creaturely Poetics

Creaturely Poetics: Animality and Vulnerability in Literature and Film

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 264
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Creaturely Poetics
    Book Description:

    Simone Weil once wrote that "the vulnerability of precious things is beautiful because vulnerability is a mark of existence," establishing a relationship between vulnerability, beauty, and existence transcending the separation of species. Her conception of a radical ethics and aesthetics could be characterized as a new poetics of species, forcing a rethinking of the body's significance, both human and animal. Exploring the "logic of flesh" and the use of the body to mark species identity, Anat Pick reimagines a poetics that begins with the vulnerability of bodies, not the omnipotence of thought. Pick proposes a "creaturely" approach based on the shared embodiedness of humans and animals and a postsecular perspective on human-animal relations. She turns to literature, film, and other cultural texts, challenging the familiar inventory of the human: consciousness, language, morality, and dignity. Reintroducing Weil's elaboration of such themes as witnessing, commemoration, and collective memory, Pick identifies the animal within all humans, emphasizing the corporeal and its issues of power and freedom. In her poetics of the creaturely, powerlessness is the point at which aesthetic and ethical thinking must begin.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51985-4
    Subjects: Philosophy, Film Studies, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Creaturely Bodies
    (pp. 1-20)

    This is a book neither strictly about humans nor about animals. It does not set out to show what is after all by now an accepted wisdom, that the distinctions between humans and animals are conceptually and materially indecisive. I start off from the double premise that 1. the human-animal distinction is a site of contestation, anxiety, and ritual (philosophical, scientific, religious, and artistic) and that the concrete relations between human and nonhuman animals have been—increasingly since the age we call modernity—an area of sharp separation, a zone in which the upkeep of human integrity, as it were,...


    • 1 Humanity Unraveled, Humanity Regained: The Holocaust and the Discourse of Species
      (pp. 23-51)

      Primo Levi’s The Truce recalls the first days of the liberation of Auschwitz with an anecdote. A cow delivered by the Russian army to feed the camp’s survivors is swiftly set upon, torn apart, and eaten:

      About midday a frightened child appeared, dragging a cow by the halter; he made us understand that it was for us, that the Russians had sent it, then he abandoned the beast and fled like a bolt. I don’t know how, but within minutes the poor animal was slaughtered, gutted and quartered and its remains distributed to all the corners of the camp where...

    • 2 Neanderthal Poetics in William Golding’s The Inheritors
      (pp. 52-78)

      William Rueckert’s recycled lines from Gary Snyder’s Turtle Island on the biopoetic nature of verse get one thinking about Golding’s second novel The Inheritors (1955). Recounting the final days of a group of Neanderthals on the eve of their extinction at the hands of Cro-Magnon man, The Inheritors is quite literally a story about ecology and evolution. The novel’s central character is Lok, who with the rest of his tribe comes across a strange group of “new people.” The encounter proves deadly. One by one the People are killed, until only Lok, the last of his kind, remains. The Inheritors...

    • 3 The Indignities of Species in Marie Darrieussecq’s Pig Tales
      (pp. 79-100)

      From Ovid to Kafka, narratives of the transformations of species have served as a vehicle for discussing human identity, its failings and flaws. Marie Darrieussecq’s debut novel Pig Tales (Truismes), published in France in 1996, may at first appear as a clever addition to the corpus of metamorphosis literature. Told from the point of view of a grown sow, Pig Tales also seems to rehearse the classical mode of the animal fable, which, through thick anthropomorphic haze, confronts us with uncomfortable truths (truisms) about our human selves.¹ The novel is narrated in the first person by a woman who has...


    • 4 Cine-Zoos
      (pp. 103-130)

      Published in 1980, John Berger’s “Why Look at Animals?” remains a landmark essay on modernity’s relationship to animals and the vicissitudes of their cultural visibility. An elegy for lost encounters between man and animal, Berger’s is one of the most moving and most influential pieces to be written on the subject of animals in the field of vision. The central thesis of “Why Look at Animals?” concerns the gradual fading of the modern animal from everyday life. The disappearance of animals takes several forms, some of them paradoxically those of enhanced visibility. Animals appear as pets, as endeared subjects of...

    • 5 Scientific Surrealism in the Films of Georges Franju and Frederic Wiseman
      (pp. 131-150)

      The two documentaries I discuss in this chapter—Georges Franju’s Le Sang des bêtes (Blood of the Beasts; 1949) and Frederick Wiseman’s Primate (1974)—revolve around Simone Weil’s conceptual relay between vulnerability, existence, and beauty as the threshold of a creaturely aesthetic. I have been arguing that the relationship between vulnerability, existence, and beauty cuts aross the confines of the human, the illuminated zone in which Cartesian man basks in the glory of his own consciousness and self-knowing.

      Franju and Wiseman’s films address a common theme—the institutionalized violence against animals—in the contexts of the slaughterhouse and the research...

    • 6 Werner Herzog’s Creaturely Poetics
      (pp. 151-183)

      This chapter looks at Werner Herzog’s relationship to the nonhuman—both nature and animals—with a view to revising (as well as bringing into sharper focus) certain accepted wisdoms about Herzog’s representations and conception of humanness. By rethinking the ways in which “man” appears—and disappears—in Herzog’s oeuvre, I wish to trace several artistic and intellectual trajectories that have thus far shaped the reception of his films. My argument is, first, that the recent cycle of nonfictions set in remote wildernesses cements Herzog’s interest not just in landscape but in nature and, second, that Herzog’s films in general communicate...

  7. CONCLUSION: Animal Saintliness
    (pp. 184-194)

    This is one of quite a number of animal poems by Charles Simic in which he uncomplicatedly states a relationship to animals (as he sometimes does also to things) that is casually ethical—a plea that neither mentions the idea of rights nor entertains “pet” feelings for other creatures. Simic writes about cats and dogs, but also about cockroaches, flies, ants, or chickens—animals that are resolutely not our pets, who inhabit our domesticity in the form of a disturbance or as food. “Explaining a Few Things” presents a creaturely fellowship by default, self-evident and undeniable, in a world of...

  8. NOTES
    (pp. 195-222)
    (pp. 223-234)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 235-252)