Reading animals and the human-animal divide in twenty-first century fiction

Parry, Catherine Helen (2016) Reading animals and the human-animal divide in twenty-first century fiction. PhD thesis, University of Lincoln.

23370 Catherine Parry Reading Animals PhD 2016.pdf
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Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Item Status:Live Archive


The Western conception of the proper human proposes that there is a potent divide between humans and all other animate creatures. Even though the terms of such a divide have been shown to be indecisive, relationships between humans and animals continue to take place across it, and are conditioned by the ways it is imagined. My thesis asks how twenty-first century fiction engages with and practises the textual politics of animal representation, and the forms these representations take when their positions relative to the many and complex compositions of the human-animal divide are taken into account.
My analysis is located in contemporary critical debate about human-animal relationships. Taking the animal work of such thinkers as Jacques Derrida and Cary Wolfe as a conceptual starting point, I make a detailed and precise engagement with the conditions and terms of literary animal representation in order to give forceful shape to awkward and uncomfortable ideas about animals. Derrida contends that there is a “plural and repeatedly folded frontier” between human and nonhuman animals, and my study scrutinises the multiple conditions at play in the conceptual and material composition of this frontier as it is invoked in fictional animal representations. I argue that human relationships with animals are conditioned by our imaginative shapings of them, and that the animals we imagine are, therefore, of enormous significance for real animals. Working in the newly established field of Literary Animal Studies, I read representations of ordinary animals in a selection of twenty-first century novels, including Indra Sinha’s Animal’s People, E. O. Wilson’s Anthill, Carol Hart’s A History of the Novel in Ants, Aryn Kyle’s The God of Animals, Yann Martel’s Beatrice and Virgil, Mark McNay’s Fresh, James Lever’s Me Cheeta, and Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. I interrogate how fictional animal forms and tropes are responding to, participating in or challenging the ways animals’ lives are lived out in consequence of human imaginings of them.
There are many folds in the frontier between human and nonhuman animals, and my thesis is structured to address how particular forms of discursive boundary-building are invoked in, shape, or are shaped by, the fictional representations of animals. Each of the four chapters in this study takes spectively, political, metaphorical, material and cognitive – between humans and other animals. Analysis is directed at developing concepts and critical practices which articulate the singular literariness of the human, ant, horse, donkey, chicken and ape representations encountered throughout my study. Understanding the ways we make animals through our imaginative eyes is essential to understanding how we make our ethical relationships with them.
A key task for Literary Animal Studies is to make visible how literary animal representations may either reinforce homogeneous and reductive conceptions of animals, or may participate in a re-making of our imaginings of them. My study contributes to clarifications of the terms of this task by evolving ways to read unusual or unacknowledged manifestations of the human-animal divide, by giving form to previously unarticulated questions and conditions about how animals are imagined, and by evaluating literary re-imaginings of them.

Keywords:Animals, Literature
Subjects:Q Linguistics, Classics and related subjects > Q323 English Literature by topic
Divisions:College of Arts > School of English & Journalism > School of English & Journalism (English)
ID Code:23370
Deposited On:13 Jul 2016 07:44

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