The vertigo of the beast: thinking animals in literature

Doctoral thesis English OPEN
Shochat Bagon, Robin (2016)
  • Subject: PN0056.A64

This thesis begins with the claim that the most productive and stimulating manner of addressing the question of the animal is through an engagement with the writings of Jacques Derrida. In particular, it picks up on his comment in The Animal that Therefore I Am that “thinking concerning the animal, if there is such a thing, derives from poetry.” As such, the thesis explores the specific ways in which the resources of literature can be used in order to address what is possibly the most pressing ethical task of modern humanity. One of the central questions of the thesis concerns how what Derrida calls carnophallogocentrism can be confronted by literature. Through readings of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick and the poetry and short stories of D.H. Lawrence, I explore how literature is uniquely placed to offer a sense of the radical otherness of nonhuman animals. In perhaps a contradictory manner, I also examine how literary resources can be used to evoke a sense of pity for nonhumans. There are two further important, and connected, areas of enquiry. The first relates to the position of man who is constructed in opposition to nonhuman animals and is given the right to put nonhumans to death. As such, I study how a variety of texts, chiefly J.M. Coetzee’s Foe and Philip Roth’s American Pastoral, reveal the fragility of some of the chief notions of humanism and give way to what has been theorised as posthumanism. The second engages with what Derrida calls “eating well.” This is a question which receives its most thorough investigation through a reading of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian Maddaddam trilogy.
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