With Shakespeare as her touchstone, Shannon explores the creaturely dispensation that existed until Descartes. She finds that early modern writers used classical natural history and readings of Genesis to credit animals with various kinds of stakeholdership, prerogative, and entitlement, employing the language of politics in a constitutional vision of cosmic membership. Using this political idiom to frame cross-species relations, Shannon argues, carried with it the notion that animals possess their own investments in the world, a point distinct from the question of whether animals have reason. It also enabled a sharp critique of the tyranny of humankind. By answering “the question of the animal” historically, The Accommodated Animal makes a brilliant contribution to cross-disciplinary debates engaging animal studies, political theory, intellectual history, and literary studies.
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THE ACCOMMODATED ANIMALCosmopolity in Shakespearean Locales
By LAURIE SHANNON
THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESSCopyright © 2013 The University of Chicago
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Law's First Subjects: Animal Stakeholders, Human Tyranny, and the Political Life of Early Modern Genesis
Puffing about his own acting skills in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Bottom declares that his "chief humor is for a tyrant"—a role he glosses as "a part to tear a cat in" (1.2.24–25). TYRANT; TEAR-CAT. With this "queer jingle," the Athenian who will become an ass associates the ranter with the render of flesh and casts the political figure of the tyrant as a monstrous butcher. In annotating the line, Shakespeare's early editor George Steevens lists several examples of this striking phrase, including to "rend and tear a cat" (from 1610). The redundancy of "rend" and "tear" makes it difficult to gloss over the reference to dismemberment. Attributions of a "beastly" ferocity or an animalistic taste for blood to tyrants were, of course, a rhetorical commonplace in the period. John Ponet, for example, calls the tyrant a "monstre and a cruell beast covered with the shape of a man"; another tract itemized him as "a Tigar, a fearse Lion, a ravening wolfe, a publique enimy, and a bloody murtherer." But Bottom's phrase maps tyranny across species in the reverse direction. A cat, ripped apart by human hands, indexes the tyrant's perversity and violence.
One early editor of Shakespeare's play, however, asserted that we would be "wholly mistaken" to imagine it is "the domestic animal, the cat, which is spoken of" by Bottom here. Another claimed that, instead, "we should read, A part to tear a CAP in. For as a ranting whore is called a tear-sheet, ... so a ranting bully is called a tear-cap." These early efforts and others like them have intervened to prevent our taking "cat" literally, and modern editors tend to glide past literal meaning to classify the phrase simply as a metaphorical or proverbial expression for "rant." As one Victorian commentator asserted, "It is difficult to believe that such a brutal and disgusting action, taking the words in their literal Saxon sense, could ever have happened." Brutal, indeed. But as Derrida puts the point in a different context, at the bottom of everything else we might say about this, there "is a real cat, ... a little cat[;] it isn't the figure of a cat." The line's dramatic utility and poetic force depend on its literal sense.
To make vivid what he means by the tyrant's part, Bottom in this line conjures the murderous dismemberment of a semi-domesticated household creature, one whose state of being Shylock (himself "a stranger cur" in Venice) would amplify as "a harmless necessary cat." As we will see, to be both harmless and necessary is to be an innocent presence and an integral part. No "out-law," the harmless, necessary cat is neither a threat nor an alien. Bottom's association of questions of justice and political malfeasance with the little, liminal, literal cat suggests the stakes of thinking historically about the species dimensions of membership, not to mention the definitions of harmlessness and murder that depend on it. It asks us to hesitate before construing every textual animal as an overwhelmingly figurative artifact of human imaginative authority—as though everything we represent were wholly humanized thereby (through projection, anthropomorphism, allegory, and so on) and as though "the human" had sufficient categorical integrity and inevitability to achieve a total conversion of all things to itself. It requires us to resist any reflexive confinement of animal significance within the minor literary category of "animal imagery."
This chapter unearths the broader intellectual foundations for Bottom's passing suggestion that, in their relations with humans, early modern animals could be understood as the subjects of tyranny—the most abiding concern across sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century political thought (alongside obedience, to which animals have a special relation, as we will see). It also explores what this understanding might teach us generally about the evolving terms and conditions of membership or belonging within a domain of governance as those criteria expand and contract in Western discourses. I am not (or at least not necessarily) conceiving of membership as a group of beings consciously committed to the shared principles of a voluntary social order. Such an Enlightenment ideal of consensual or contractarian democracy now seems a point of nostalgia just considering humans among themselves. Consent, externalized in transparent verbal expression, remains a critical forensic standard among humans. But because we no longer understand it as actually descriptive of an origin for human political life, our horizons for thought are ill served by continuing to wield the litmus of consent against determinations of animal stakeholdership—while a great deal we might say about relatings across species is occluded by its vestigial bar against animal participation.
Instead of invoking (and then discovering!) an ontological "divide" between human and animal or even demonstrating that divide to be a blurry, shifting, or unsustainable one, this chapter pursues the ways living creatures before Descartes were held to be related within a shared regime of order or laws that governed them commonly. This is not to say that the terms and conditions of this order were equalizing but that profound ambivalence about humanness left room for greater cognizance of nonhuman claims than has become customary for us. While now "animal rights" struggle against the grain of presumptions about consciousness and language that inform modern liberal thought and the species-inflected notion of "human" rights it cultivated, these particular presumptions do not widely pertain in premodernity. At its very heart, this earlier dispensation incorporated cross-species relationships, and it named them in the firmly political terms of sovereignty and subjection. The political dimension then attributed to human/animal relations, as suggested in the introduction, refers not to the obvious fact that those relations involve power ("brute" or otherwise) but to legal and constitutional concerns such as the legitimacy of authority and the justifiability of its acts, the terms of subjection and obedience, and thus the setting up of parties, membership, and rights. Elucidating this perspective depends in part on historicizing inherited circumscriptions of what might be counted as "language" or "signification," even as we displace language-based ideas of social contract from their lingering monopoly on definitions of politics. Setting to one side later developments in philosophy, technoscience, and political theory (most obviously, Descartes and Hobbes), we can attend to the more natural-historical and theologically inclined sixteenth-century arrangements against which they proceeded.
Conrad Gesner, the Swiss compiler of the most important animal encyclopedia of the sixteenth century, introduces his magisterial, multivolume Historiae Animalium in the 1550s by distinguishing "living creatures, ... Fishes, Foules, Cattell, and creeping things," from the whole balance of creation in precisely these terms of political participation. They alone, he writes, are "expressely ... submitted and vassalaged to [human] Empire, authority, and government." Being ruled puts them inside a certain pale, rather than simply outside the city walls. They are "vassals" of human government. Human sovereignty is not unconditional, just as animal subjection entails its due measure of participation or "voluntary servitude." In 1578 Guillaume du Bartas confirms the fundamentally political cast of these conceptions. Addressing readers, he proposes that
soone as ever [God] had framed thee, Into thy Hands he put this Monarchie: Made all the Creatures know thee for their Lord, And come before thee of their owne accord.
On the basis of their "knowing" man to be a duly established monarch, a ruler by right, animals by "their owne accord" acknowledge the sovereignty of man, whom Du Bartas calls the "King of Creatures." We find this rendering of cross-species relations in the idiom of politics in more practical contexts too. For example, the training manual An Hipponomie or The Vineyard of Horsemanship (1618) argues that although man was originally given "Soveraignty & rule" over animals, his fall made "all other Creatures which before were loving and obedient to Man" turn instead "to Rebellion." At the broadest level, this habit of explicitly reckoning animals and people as (sometimes even willing) parties in political relation figures a "zootopian constitution," or cosmopolity, terms I will be using throughout this book.
Political and fiduciary nomenclatures for relatings across species register nowhere in the human-exceptionalist, sovereign politics of the nationstate after the seventeenth century, a paradigm in which intensifying controversies about citizenship and human title center on clashes among humans. For this regime, animals have been fully objectified (as clocks or robots, in Descartes's account) and relocated to the emerging disciplines of technoscience. In Bruno Latour's account of this separation of the human ("culture") from all things nonhuman ("nature"), animals become undifferentiated within humanity's remainder, a nature now recalibrated as inarticulate. This historical homogenization revises the former status and particular distinction of animals. Astonishingly, yet partly for this reason, theories of biopolitics arising from a critique of the dynamics of the modern nation-state have virtually nothing to say about nonhuman living creatures. "The biological," instead, addresses a torsion within the human. Because they both analyze the modern state, Foucault's biopolitics and Agamben's "bare life" remain essentially human in reach. Foucault describes "the set of mechanisms through which the basic biological features of the human species became the object of a political strategy," and Agamben distinguishes human "bare life" from "animal nature," which lacks "any relation to law or to the city." The phenomenon they address, however, an erosion of "civic" or stakeholding politics in the name of technologized (bio)management of human "life," repeats with a vengeance what a previous transition had already accomplished for nonhumans. Among the backfired colonizations of late modernity, in other words, humans, too, enter the categorical abyss of "livestock" first created for quadrupeds. But before these two recalibrations—one ending any glimmer of animal stakeholdership, the other commodifying human citizens as "docile bodies"—the language of explicit political relation suffused a frame that was at once larger and smaller than the modern state: the more intimate cosmos of early modernity.
Into the beginning of the seventeenth century, as for centuries before, this constitutional frame derives overwhelmingly from the establishments described in the first chapters of Genesis, as the passages from Gesner and Du Bartas so clearly show. The broad "multidisciplinary" impact of its hexameral verses in particular (accounting for the six days of creation) cannot be overstated. Enjoying overwhelming currency as the account that begins "in the beginning"—and that in a culture that saw itself in a custodial or genealogical relation to that beginning—Genesis touched all spheres of learning. The Hexameron also specifically instanced natural history writing because it explained the diversity of creaturely life while setting forth the legitimate relations among natural kinds. Because early modern animals were understood to have their genealogical progenitors listed in its charter (just as early modern humans saw their ancestors there), the creatures of Genesis 1 represent animals as animals for the purpose of reflecting on their divine origin and our due relations with them. In other words, classifying them as "imagery" entirely misses their import as natural-historical—here, literal—animals. With effects that were integral to its theological traction, then, early modern Genesis also represented a founding document in the political sense and an origin story in the natural-historical sense.
Stemming mainly from intellectual traditions of book learning (rather than empiricism), classically derived natural history in early modern contexts operated less as a narrative about origins and more as a catchall of recorded knowledge, ancient and modern. In Latin and in vernacular translations, Pliny's encyclopedic Historia naturalis dominated the natural-historical scene, and writers harvested some of their most memorable animal notions from its treasury. Pliny relayed the popular idea that "bievers ... gueld themselves, when they see ... they are ... in danger of the hunters: as knowing full well, that chased they bee for their genetoires." He also conveys the conceit that bears lick their cubs into shape: at "first, they seeme to be a lump of white flesh without all form, little bigger than rattons, without eies, & wanting haire; only there is some shew and apparance of claws that put forth. This rude lumpe, with licking they fashion by little & little into some shape" (a proposition perhaps due to the relative nearsightedness typical of humans). Along with astronomy and geography, the Historia treated "the wonderfull shapes of men in diverse countries"; it catalogued "land creatures, and their kinds," "all fishes, and creatures of the water," "flying fouls and birds," and "insects" (each a section), and also pharmacology, mining and minerals, and painting, sculpture, and architecture. Pliny and his imitators swept from the stars to the elements with a comprehensive eclecticism governed more by attention to scale than by chronology or plot. Nicholas Jardine and Emma Spary describe natural history as a kind of "universal discipline," one that shared with "civil and sacred history in the revelation of the workings of divine providence." More particularly, its bursting storehouse of information perfectly complemented the Hexameron's extreme economy of detail, and so it proved readily assimilable to the powerful narrative structure Genesis provided.
The very scope of natural-historical concern (whether we call its holism uni- or multidisciplinary) infused and amplifi ed divine and hexameral writing in early modernity. Du Bartas's 1578 blockbuster verse epic, La Sepmaine, ou Création du monde (translated by Joshua Sylvester as Bartas: His Devine Weekes and Workes in 1605), and Walter Raleigh's History of the World (1614) exemplify painstaking assimilations of natural history's encyclopedic lore to the sequence laid out in the Genesis story. Following Pliny, for example, Du Bartas gives priority among creation's beasts to the elephant, thus inserting a creature not mentioned in scripture but privileged as Pliny's first entry among the land animals:
Of all the Beasts which thou this day did'st build, ... I see (as vice-Roy of their brutish Band) The Elephant, the Vaunt-guard doth commaund: Worthie that Office.
Illustrating his awareness of sixteenth-century "news" in natural history as well, Du Bartas records two notorious discoveries at sea:
The Mytred Bishop, and the Cowled Fryer: Whereof, Examples but a few yeeres since, Were shown the Norwayes and the Polonian Prince.
For Du Bartas, all of natural history's accumulating detail belongs in this divine story of creation: "Thear's not any part / In this great Frame" he will omit. In a sermon preached before Charles I in 1629, John Donne highlights just such a constitutional, natural-historical Genesis: "Never such a frame ... set up as this ... for ... it is the whole world."
Excerpted from THE ACCOMMODATED ANIMAL by LAURIE SHANNON Copyright © 2013 by The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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