Study Guide

Animal Studies Texts

  • Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte

    A family's life is disrupted by an unexpected present from their father—some socks? A box of candy? Nope. It's a young boy of indeterminate origins. Despair, abuse, and tragedy ensue. Don't worry, there's a little light at the end of the very end of the tunnel: animals are all over this text.

    And its not just animals that run around the pages of Wuthering Heights: so do animal metaphors. Our hero Heathcliff, for example, is described as a "fierce, pitiless, wolfish man."

  • Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls

    A boy and his dogs. A kid's novel. And it's a real tear jerker.

    Is this one really an interesting text for animal theorists? You better believe it.

    Children's literature isn't just kid stuff—consider all the ways in which your early cultural experiences shaped your adult ideas of the world. In Where The Red Fern Grows, Billy has a bunch of purebred dogs, and the way that they fight for him (they even kind of sacrifice themselves for him) means that this novel is full of meaningful material for an animal studies scholars.

  • When the Killing's Done, by T.C. Boyle

    Really? Again? Strange animals and control-freak humans on islands—it's starting to seem like weird animal tales and islands just go together. Islands: Where the Wild Things Are.

    Boyle's novel is a fictional account of a true life story that pitted conservation biologists against animal rights activists in a battle over what counts as "natural" on the beautiful islands off the coast of Santa Barbara, in California. Like Coetzee's Lives, it's a chance to think through philosophical arguments in fiction.

  • "A Report to an Academy," Franz Kafka

    No islands this time! Just a weird ape giving a lecture. But what else could you expect from the Master of Strange, Franz Kafka?

    This story features a speaking ape named Red Peter who gives an address to an academy about how he has come to be more human-like. It's a perfect complement for Planet of the Apes fans—as well as animal theorists—because Kafka's sensitive nature is extended to empathizing with animal beings.

  • Beowulf

    In this famous Old English epic poem it's Monsters vs. Humans. Grendel (and Grendel's mom) are wreaking havoc on a bunch of merry mead drinkers in their castle.

    Luckily Beowulf shows up to show these animalistic creatures who's boss. Beowulf defeats the critters, and life goes back to normal—but now with even firmer lines drawn between what is human and what isn't.

  • The Open: Man and Animal, by Giorgio Agamben

    Agamben is a contemporary Italian philosopher with some deep thoughts about animals, humans, and our relationships to language.

    In The Open, Agamben goes against the grain of our traditional ways of thinking about humans, animals and language. Instead of forming a firm dividing line between man and beasts, the idea of language as a human-only skill is all smoke and mirrors to hide the fact that human beings are actually animals too and that animals do in fact have language.

  • Eating Animals, by Jonathan Safran Foer

    Jonathan Safran Foer is best known for his novels. But in this book he writes a nonfictional account of how he came to see animals and meat in a new light when he and his partner were having a child. Bonus: he totally quotes our man Derrida.

  • Philosophy and Animal Life, edited by Stanley Cavell (2008)

    In 2008 Stanley Cavell threw several philosophers and critics (all with different perspectives on animal issues and philosophy) into a room with padded walls for a week and didn't let them out until they had produced this little book.

    Well, it could have happened like that. This is great collection of essays, the best being Cora Diamond's probing "The Difficulty of Reality and the Difficulty of Philosophy."

  • What is Posthumanism? by Cary Wolfe

    American literature critic Cary Wolfe is a theorist of posthumanism. Through a series of chapters that address systems theory, contemporary animal art, film, music, and philosophy, Wolfe argues that we need to get beyond the narrow view of humanism toward something else, something posthumanist.

  • Animal Stories: Narrating Across Species Lines, Susan McHugh

    Our man Agamben thinks animals have a better relationship with language than we do, and you might want to keep that idea in mind when reading Susan McHugh's work. Her idea of narrating across species lines builds upon ideas about animals and narrative that we see crop up with a lot of theorists—Matthew Calarco, Kathy Rudy, and of course Agamben.

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