Animal Theory: A Critical Introduction by Derek Ryan

By Derek Ryan

From caged orangutans to roasted pig, from puppy education to horse phobias, from speaking bees to ruminating cows, Derek Ryan explores how animals are encountered in theoretical discourse. throughout 4 thematically organised chapters on 'Animals as Humans', 'Animal Ontology', 'Animal existence' and 'Animal Ethics' he bargains prolonged discussions of Nietzsche, Freud, Lacan, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Derrida, Deleuze, Singer, Nussbaum, Adams and Haraway between others, in addition to vigorous readings of latest literary texts by means of Carter, Coetzee, Auster and Foer. meant as a source for researchers, scholars, academics and all these attracted to human-animal relationships, Animal conception: A serious Introduction offers an available and authoritative account of the demanding situations and capability in puzzling over and with animals.

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Of course we need to remember that Lacan is using research current at the time – and indeed was more attuned than many of his contemporaries to comparative psychology – even if studies since have shown a richer subjective experience of animals faced with mirrors, or have challenged the view that the mirror test is an appropriate way to measure self-awareness. But the way Lacan frames, measures and interprets is itself revealing. Development is defined here as linear and is judged on human terms (the animal is considered unable to do the things the human can, rather than looking at what the animal can do that the human cannot).

But as Janet Langlois notes, this ‘phallic (and paternal) connection’ is too ‘obvious and overblown’ to be taken seriously and has more to do with Carter ‘parodying Freudians’ projective readings’ (1998: 204). The tiger and the other animals in Carter’s story are linked to her relations with her family, with whom she lives in an almost claustrophobic atmosphere, but these animals become involved in the story in important ways as animals and don’t simply act as symbolic humans. Indeed, the animals in this story are partly about an escape from a formation of knowledge that relies on neat psychoanalytic paradigms that won’t allow for the intensive encounter between human and animal.

There are many questions to be asked, and as yet no answers. (76) In this passage Freud appears to align animals in their present state to a fixed nature (as opposed to humans who have a still developing culture). Animal life is suspended on two levels: firstly, in the curious speculation that animal evolution has now halted; secondly, in the unwillingness (couched as inability) to expand on these speculations about zoological life in more detail. In highlighting how animals are rarely considered by humans other than for their instrumental value, the irony is that Freud himself never attempts to answer these questions about different species.

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