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 lifestyles' 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 energetic readings of up to date literary texts via Carter, Coetzee, Auster and Foer. meant as a source for researchers, scholars, academics and all these drawn to human-animal relationships, Animal concept: A severe Introduction offers an available and authoritative account of the demanding situations and power in brooding about and with animals.

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The 1909 case of five-year-old ‘Little Hans’ and his horse phobia poses a number of difficulties concerning psychoanalytic treatments of animals. Corresponding with Hans’ father, who began analysing his son’s behaviour when he was only three years old, Freud very quickly focuses on the role of animals as substitutes for the father. Commenting on an early episode when Hans stands in front of a lion’s cage and calls out that he ‘saw the lion’s widdler’, Freud interprets: Animals owe a good deal of their importance in myths and fairy tales to the openness with which they display their genitals and their sexual functions to the inquisitive little human child.

Tantalisingly, elsewhere Freud suggests that what is meant by the term ‘animal’ is in need of serious discussion. ’ And yet, he adds, the possibility of doing so is ‘untenable, for there are many animals that man can do nothing with – except describe, classify and study them – and countless animal species have escaped even this use by living and dying out before man set eyes on them’ (15). Freud acknowledges that the experiences of many animals evade human capture and control, but perhaps too quickly closes down specific questions about the lives of animals as a result.

That is, whereas humans recognise in others an ‘Other with a big O’ (through a process called transference), animals always recognise the other with a small ‘o’ (the other in itself, directly or ‘without ambiguity’) (III 4–5). Once again, Lacan’s discourse plays a ‘double role’ in that it ‘can help us think, but can also fail to help us think or even forbid us to think’ about complicated, non-hierarchical relations (Derrida 2009: 102). Lacan protests that it would be incorrect to view the ‘privilege’ he grants to language as ‘some sort of pride’ that masks a ‘prejudice which would make of man precisely some sort of summit of being’.

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