Pets, Erica Fudge

3124316I’m of two minds with my review. Fudge’s Pets, like her Animal, is a good introduction to posthuman thinking about animals. It may be faint praise, but anything that leads general readers towards Derrida, Haraway, and Wolfe on animals has done the world a small service. On the other hand, I’ve been reading critical animal theory for years now, and have read several pieces by Fudge (here, here, and here,) and have to say that there’s not much new in Pets, either for critical animal theory or from Fudge. I can’t blame her, really, for recycling work, since Pets, like Animals, is for a series meant to introduce general readers to topics rather than to engage in original research. It’s commercial, not scholarly, work. That said, I wish Fudge had written less about Lassie Come-Home (already treated by her elsewhere), and more on Flush and especially more on Hélène Cixous’s short story “The Cat’s Arrival,” which surely deserves more than the throwaway sentence or two she allows it.

I’ve warnings even for those encountering Fudge for the first time. First, this book is yet another posthuman treatment of animals in the modern world that limits itself to the West, and, even more specifically, to the American/European Anglophone world. She writes, “It is through thinking about the function of pets that we might get a clearer sense of what this being called the human is in the industrialized West” (32). There’s no explanation for why, say, the Industrialized East (or Mideast, for that matter) is excluded. The obvious answer is ignorance. I can’t blame Fudge for this: she’s trained as an Early Modernist (as I’m trained as a medievalist), so she’s not really qualified to talk about the rest of the world. Yet there’s no excuse for her silence on her own silence on the rest of the world. Given that she’s now working outside the Early Modern, she might well have, for example, compared pet culture in modern England (which must be, anyway, heterogeneous) to modern Japan. How about, for example, sparing a few paragraphs for blue dogs? I could productively compare her silence on this point to what she says about John Berger’s silences:

Thus, for example, even as Berger reminds us how significant the concept of home is to our sense of self he, like so many others, remains silent about the presence and role of pets in that home, and this silence, I think, is significant. Silence, the excluding of animals from discussions, does not mean that there is nothing to be said about animals. Rather,we might regard the silence itself as an object of analysis. Studies of the human home have been written, and I imagine will continue to be written, that do not acknowledge or explore the presence of animals. This might sound like poor scholarship–disregarding the evidence in order to construct an argument–but in fact this exclusion has been naturalized, has been made to feel like a sensible response, because it helps us to establish who it is that we imagine we are. (14)

Most shocking, however, is her silence on Cary Wolfe’s “logic of the pet” (see Animal Rites), a logic, as Wolfe describes it, which singles out a beloved one among the animals as “the sole exception, the individual who is exempted from the slaughter in order to vindicate, with exquisite bad faith, a sacrificial structure” (104). She’s read Wolfe; she quotes him elsewhere in the book; yet Wolfe’s specific attention to pets never gets the slightest nod. There’s no excuse for Fudge not to attend to exclusions by which the human marks itself as human, as a “grievable life” (see Precarious Life), and how the pet is included in these exclusive structures. To be sure, at the end, she follows Coetzee’s use of “we are too menny” (see [Book:Jude the Obscure]) to treat euthanasia, but this attention is virtually all that violence gets, except for, via this, attention to the structures of domination between pets and their masters. Readers of Fudge’s earlier work on stoicism and violence might see an opening here ….

Without a systematic confrontation of the human mastery over the lives of pets, Fudge, I think, avoids confronting the most difficult, most troubling aspect of pet ownership, namely, who has the right to kill. The omission doesn’t kill the book; it’s still worth reading for initiates; and, more generously, it demands another book be written; but, at the same time, readers should be warned in advance that their complacency and good conscience will be, sadly, left intact.

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