In my latest foray for the Chronicle Review (“Creature Consciousness,” Oct. 18, 2009), I take a look at the field of animal studies, which has taken hold in many corners of the humanities and social sciences. By animal studies I don’t mean animal rights, articulated so forcefully by the likes of Peter Singer and Tom Regan. Philosophers and literary scholars working in animal studies have an agenda that might be revolutionary; they want to overturn the anthropocentric models of humanism and substitute a very different way of thinking about how human animals relate to other creatures. I also take a look at some of the ways in which historians and social scientists have approached the question(s). It’s a complex and fascinating subject–and an important one, I think–and there’s a lot of work out there that I didn’t have space to write about. I hope you’ll take a look. The story is part of a package on “the animal question”–all worth a read if you have the time and inclination.
An aside: Speaking of animal rights, I was amused to see a reader take me to task for omitting Singer from the story. An earlier draft had a paragraph that mentioned Singer and several other figures who cast a long shadow, including Regan and J.M. Coetzee; the graf was cut during edits. I didn’t mind too much at the time, because the animal-studies scholars I wrote about are moving in a different direction from Singer’s work, although many of them do merge animal advocacy and theory. Anyway, if you’re wondering, yes, I’m aware of Singer’s work, and so are the scholars profiled in the article.
A personal note: The human-animal bond (see, there I go, falling back into the humanistic trap) is on my mind this week for another reason. We had to euthanize our senior cat, Kimba, yesterday. I don’t really need to tell you how powerful these attachments can be. Goodbye, friend.