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Thinking Animals

Thinking Animals: Why Animal Studies Now?

Kari Weil
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Thinking Animals
    Book Description:

    Kari Weil provides a critical introduction to the field of animal studies as well as an appreciation of its thrilling acts of destabilization. Examining real and imagined confrontations between human and nonhuman animals, she charts the presumed lines of difference between human beings and other species and the personal, ethical, and political implications of those boundaries.

    Weil's considerations recast the work of such authors as Kafka, Mann, Woolf, and Coetzee, and such philosophers as Nietzsche, Heidegger, Derrida, Deleuze, Agamben, Cixous, and Hearne, while incorporating the aesthetic perspectives of such visual artists as Bill Viola, Frank Noelker, and Sam Taylor-Wood and the "visual thinking" of the autistic animal scientist Temple Grandin. She addresses theories of pet keeping and domestication; the importance of animal agency; the intersection of animal studies, disability studies, and ethics; and the role of gender, shame, love, and grief in shaping our attitudes toward animals. Exposing humanism's conception of the human as a biased illusion, and embracing posthumanism's acceptance of human and animal entanglement, Weil unseats the comfortable assumptions of humanist thought and its species-specific distinctions.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51984-7
    Subjects: Philosophy, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xxvi)

    “An animal looks at us and we are naked before it. Thinking, perhaps, begins there.”¹ These two lines from Jacques Derrida’s The Animal That Therefore I Am have been much cited even as they remain elusive and haunting. What does it mean that thinking begins in the confrontation between human and nonhuman animal? What is this thinking that has not been thought before or that has not been thought by the philosopher before? And what is this nakedness to which the encounter with an animal (an individual animal and not “the animal” or the concept of animality) returns us? Does...

  5. PART I Why Animal Studies Now?

      (pp. 3-24)

      It has been more than thirty years since Peter Singer introduced the term speciesism into philosophical parlance and wrote eloquently against a form of discrimination that went largely unnoticed both inside and outside academia. Although Singer has had enormous influence over the years in the area of animal rights, his effort to put the discrimination against nonhuman species on par with the prejudicial treatment and injustices caused by sexism or racism has had less success; the fight against speciesism has not had the same force in the academy, perhaps until now. In the past few years, there has been an...

      (pp. 25-50)

      In chapter 1, I addressed some of the similarities and differences between animal studies today and women’s studies when the latter emerged as an academic field in the 1970s. The comparison between these fields (as well as minority and ethnic studies) is especially revealing when we turn to the matter of visibility and visual representations. In the early days of women’s studies, as of ethnic studies, there was a pronounced drive to make women and minorities visible as participants, authors, and makers of culture rather than mere consumers or enablers. This task was to be done not only by focusing...

  6. PART II Pet Tales

    • 3 IS A PET AN ANIMAL? Domestication and Animal Agency
      (pp. 53-62)

      “Is a pet an animal?” asks Erica Fudge at the beginning of her insightful book Animal.¹ Much of contemporary theory would answer in the negative. “Anyone who likes cats or dogs is a fool,” write Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus.² For the latter, a dog or cat lover is a fool because the dog or cat is not really an animal, but a creature made by humans to confirm an image of ourselves we want to see, but one that, according to these authors, is restricting and regressive. Pets make us seem human when that means...

      (pp. 63-80)

      In her book Melancholia’s Dog, Alice Kuzniar asks whether the feeling of shame blurs the boundary between humans and animals in the very act of constructing it.¹ The feeling of shame, according to Freud and Lacan, is what separates humans and animals, but shame is experienced, Kuzniar suggests, at the moment we act most naturally or most “animal like”—as if to experience shame were “ to feel improper or unnatural at doing something natural.”² Like shame, abjection is a state that similarly reveals our animality in the moment we most wish to distinguish ourselves from it. Shame might be...

      (pp. 81-96)

      If Man and Dog is a domestic comedy (and a novel of domestication) from the man/master’s point of view, Virginia Woolf’s account of the relation between Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her dog, Flush, offers a domestic tale from the canine’s point of view. Both works cast a critical eye on the structures of domestication through which human as well as animal identities are produced. Both, moreover, look quizzically at the affective attachment that domestication can create to bind mastered and master alike. In Mann’s story, this affection troubles the Herr’s sense of his own Herrshaft, or mastery, and the manliness...

  7. PART III Grieving Animals

      (pp. 99-115)

      “A dog should die like a dog,” writes Richard Klein, “not cruelly, but with a respectful matter-of-factness, unaccompanied by the rituals of human mourning.”¹ Writing against what he sees as a dangerous tendency in postindustrial society to humanize pets in such a way that we may be encouraged alternately to animalize humans, Klein would approve of the death of Woolf’s Flush, which is striking in its simplicity, its matter-of-factness. Flush, apparently with knowledge of his impending death, suddenly rushes home “as if he were seeking refuge” and leaps onto the couch where his mistress is seated. Turning his eyes toward...

    • 7 THINKING AND UNTHINKING ANIMAL DEATH: Temple Grandin and J. M. Coetzee
      (pp. 116-128)

      Woolf’s Flush died of “natural causes.” Tolstoy’s Strider was killed. What is the significance of that difference given that both died painlessly and at an old age? One result of the ethical turn in the animal question has been a turning away from a focus on ontological distinctions between those who know death and those who, as Heidegger says, merely “perish,” and a turning toward questions of killing and of how and under what conditions an animal can be killed with impunity. Focusing on the situatedness of ethics, philosophers such as Jacques Derrida and Emmanuel Levinas have advocated the importance...

  8. PART IV Ethical Bêtises

      (pp. 131-145)

      Insofar as our engagements with animals bring us to think or, rather, to unthink—if we learn the lessons of Temple Grandin and David Lurie—they can have an immensely powerful effect. But the ethical demands produced by these encounters may be equally unfathomable. In response to the “impossibility of reality” and to the intensity of experiences that neither can quite understand, both Grandin and Lurie work within the system to make a difference to individual animals, one by one. For many, however, the difference they make is not enough. Indeed, many would regard their responses as deflections from the...

  9. “AND TOTO TOO”: Animal Studies, Posthumanism, and Oz
    (pp. 146-150)

    Readers may remember a climactic moment in the film version of The Wizard of Oz when Toto, the dog, pulls the curtain (literally) on the Wizard, revealing not a posthuman, disembodied technogod, but a bumbling and balding man. I’d like to think of this moment as an allegory of animal studies’ relation to posthumanism and of posthumanism’s place in animal studies. Toto, of course, is the driving force behind Frank Baum’s narrative because it is Dorothy’s love for the dog that leads her to run away and escape the dreary, moral landscape of Kansas and its arbiter, Miss Gulch. “It...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 151-178)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 179-190)