Representing Animals, ed. Nigel Rothfels

1101942The better essays are Teresa Mangum’s “Dog Years, Humans Fears,” which opened me up to the proliferation of 19th-c. English works told from a dogs’-eye view; Steve Baker’s Deleuzo-Guattarian reading of several contemporary animal art projects (although he seems not to have exploited the idea of the ‘Pack’ sufficiently); and Susan McHugh’s piece on the Missyplicity project, which convincingly identifies the human refusal to grant dogs their *own* erotic and aesthetic lives. Several of the other essays are okay.

It goes without saying that, overall, they know little about the Middle Ages. Thus, all the great historical breaks they identify as leading to the 19th c. sentimentalization of animals and the desire for nature requires knowledge of Ambrose’s admiration for animal society in his Hexaemeron (and knowledge of his sources in turn). Likewise, despite all the work on English hunting, despite the requisite gestures to Matt Cartmill and John Cummins and even, at one point, Gaston Phoebus, there’s *nothing* by Jean Birrell, which means their (of course) E.P. Thompson-inspired narratives of poaching look only half-historicized (e.g., none of them seems to know that the late medieval urban gentry had hunting monopolies and thus the restriction of hunting to *rural* gentry in the 1671 game law did much–I imagine–to delineate the urban gentry as bourgeoisie). Sadly, there’s virtually no knowledge of the French work on nature and animals in evidence (there’s one reference to Robert Delort’s Les Animaux ont une histoire, but strangly enough, not in the English-only historiography essay, and Claudine Fabre-Vassas’s work on pigs doesn’t appear at all, nor, for that matter, Noëlie Vialles’s sociology of slaughterhouses); anthropology, sociology, and archaeology are virtually nowhere in evidence.

Worst of all, several of the ‘theory’ articles are, sorry to say, complete catastrophes, either because they repeat received wisdom in new packaging (one essay seems as convinced as Lacan that animals ‘lack the lack’ and, in its conviction of the wholeness of animals, is completely innocent of Roger Caillois’s work on the excess of animal camouflage, let alone *science* [e.g., Gould’s The Panda’s Thumb) or because they just don’t understand what the theory does (e.g., one, clearly name dropping the Deleuzo-Guattarian terminology of the rhizome, explains that “identification is a mode of becoming”: identification!!?? [to explain: becoming DISIDENTIFIES, in the sense of putting things in motion and thus enabling relational modes far more mobile than those allowed for by the handshaking and *mere mimesis* of identification. Sheesh!).

Ultimately, the anthology has more historiographic than interpretative value: reference it in your long footnote on previous cultural studies work on animals. Better anthologies include Cary Wolfe’s Zoontologies, Jeffery Ham and Matthew Senior’s Animal Acts, and Lorraine Daston and Gregg Mitman’s Thinking with Animals