On October 9, 1883, the United States Patent Office issued a license to Benjamin W. Kilburn for his new invention, an accordion-style instantaneous camera mounted on the end of a shotgun shaft.1 An advertisement in the New York Tribune celebrated Kilburn’s apparatus as a more humane method of hunting (Figure 1). The gun camera promised the impossible: to catch the prey even as it escapes. “It never results in the death or even maiming of fish, flesh, or fowl,” the ad boasted, “yet all three may be easily bagged.”2 Kilburn’s invention makes explicit early photographic technology’s indebtedness to the gun.3 Its conflation of hunting and mediation, moreover, reflects a radical transformation in the way animals were seen during the period. The nineteenth century witnessed an unprecedented surge of experiments with new technologies and scientific methods for pursuing live animals. Privileging knowledge gained through vision, these experiments sought to access the animal’s “truth” through its image.4 However, the effect of these experiments was not the perception of greater intimacy with animals (as many hoped) but the perception of animals as ever more elusive. The gun camera, for example, did this by effectively severing the time of the apprehended animal from that of the viewer, rendering the bird fully visible only after its initial sighting, on the developed film. This book asks, What is the ontological status of these animals left free and untouched while at the same time caught and held by their representation? During a century that saw the mass displacement of wildlife and the accelerated extinction of animals in the United States, how can we account for the emergence, and read the implications, of this new kind of hunt—one that claims no lives, only likenesses?
Capture examines the strange dislocation of these fish, flesh, or fowl that appear at once in and out of the bag and the biopolitical and ethical stakes of the transformation in the representation and treatment of animals over the nineteenth century. I characterize this transformation as a shift from the hunt regime to the capture regime. The bloodless hunt promised by the gun camera is a paradigmatic feature of the period’s drive to archive and encase animals, ironically, in order to preserve and study their liveness. This book introduces and theorizes this drive, and its consequences for animals, as capture. Unlike the hunt, which targets individual animals, capture attempts to seize something intangible, something presumably inherent to all animals: vitality, motion, states of change.5 Rather than simply enabling their preservation and study, new aesthetic, scientific, and technological methods for pursuing live animals produced them as increasingly fleeting and endangered, making them all the more susceptible to new forms of biopolitical management.
Capture names the modern imperative to apprehend animals at the historical moment when they are receding from everyday view. This imperative is both epistemological and ethical: epistemological because it accompanied a turn to scientific objectivity, which demanded that the objects of study be left “untouched”; ethical because its emergence coincided with a crucial transition in human–animal relations in the nineteenth century, as the United States shifted from the western frontier to the industrial city.6 The phenomenon of species extinction, then only recently theorized by the French naturalist Georges Cuvier, announced the future collapse of animal (and other) species at precisely the moment that the rapid rearrangement of the American landscape and emerging practices of biocapitalist exploitation were making animals newly vulnerable to human action. Insofar as they purported to leave wildlife “unharmed,” technologies like the gun camera sold themselves as reflecting the country’s nascent environmental consciousness. The discourse of conservation that was beginning to gain ground during this period was essential to the uptake of capture, presented as a harmless operation as compared to the explicit violence of hunting.7 Capture’s ability to present itself as a mere taking—of the animal’s likeness—in fact conceals a making—of what I call a new animal condition—a making that is all the more efficient because it appears nonintrusive. As a self-effacing form of power, capture is consistent with what Michel Foucault calls biopower, the power to “foster life or disallow it to the point of death.”8 This book displaces Foucauldian biopolitics’ center of gravity from Man to the animal and from the European metropolis to U.S. settler territory to recount the story of biopower’s early footholds in America.9 The making of capture as the new animal condition, I argue, is inextricable from the making of the new nation—the construction of a hegemonic American identity and iconography and the consolidation of early capitalism and settler colonialism. Indeed, this book examines how predation was internalized and refashioned both as the tacit logic of Manifest Destiny and as the engine driving the biocapitalist management of human and nonhuman populations in U.S. empire.
Capture’s sublimation of the hunt worked to invisibilize and naturalize the violence visited on both animals and animalized human subjects—violence that contributed not only to the extinction of wildlife and the exploitation of animals on an industrial scale but also to the relentless expropriation of black lives under chattel slavery and after the abolition of slavery, as well as the near-eradication of indigenous populations. The regime of capture privileges control over conquest—or rather, folds the explicit violence of conquest into biopolitical protocols of management and regulation. Capture illustrates Alexis de Tocqueville’s early insight that power in America “does not break wills, but it softens them, bends them and directs them; it rarely forces action, but it constantly opposes your acting; it does not destroy, it prevents birth; it does not tyrannize, it hinders, it represses, it enervates, it extinguishes, it stupifies [sic], and finally it reduces each nation to being nothing more than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”10 Power becomes more pervasive and invasive as it moves away from the spectacular and discontinuous display of the scaffold or the hunt (“making die or letting live”) toward the continuous and inconspicuous operations of what Foucault calls “pastoral power” (“making live and letting die”).11 This form of power, which addresses not subjects of right but populations at the level of their biological existence, is predicated on an immemorial presupposition of capture: of having the (human) animal already in hand.12
Not only was the drive to contain the animal central to the consolidation of U.S. hegemony, but it would define many of the century’s most iconic American works. As if to counteract the evanescence of animals, to keep hold of them at the very moment of their disappearance, canonical U.S. writers, artists, and inventors of the period—John James Audubon, James Fenimore Cooper, Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Eadweard Muybridge—sought new strategies, devices, and techniques for rendering the vitality of animals visible and lasting. As a logic of mastery through containment, capture is indissociable from the overtly majoritarian status of the white, male, and Euro-oriented canon of nineteenth-century American literature, art, and science from which it emerged. While Kilburn’s gun camera is an obvious illustration of the fulfillment of this logic, this book focuses on earlier literary and visual experiments by which capture was prototyped—experiments ranging from Audubon’s “still-life” watercolors of hunted animals to Hawthorne’s counter-taxonomic poetics to Muybridge’s “trip-wire” locomotion studies.13 Grounded in the study of exemplary artistic and scientific works of the period, Capture is, rather than a cultural history, a theoretical, literary, and material analysis of the transformation of animal representation and its lasting biopolitical consequences. This introduction lays out a theory of capture; the chapters that follow elaborate a particular dimension, operation, or effect of the prototyping of capture in U.S. literary and visual experiments bent on understanding, ordering, and taming the natural world.
The rise of capture is an effect of the following concomitant developments: the biopolitical securing of white settler colonial hegemony in relation to animals and animalized human subjects; the automation of animal death and the management of wildlife; and the rise of modern taxonomic and early biocapitalist discourses that viewed life as a principle of commensurability and exchangeability. Together, these developments consolidated the significance of procedures of enclosure and containment to the rise of modern governmentality and industrialization. Material examples of these emergent forms of control include, among others, the isotropic partitioning of space for colonial and capitalist gain that was set in motion by the Land Ordinance of 1785 (explored in chapter 2); the adoption of the gridiron plan for urban centers and its consequences for the tracking and policing of racialized subjects in particular (explored in chapter 3); the development of profiling technologies inspired by modern taxonomy (explored in chapter 4); the mechanization of animal life tested and honed in the second half of the nineteenth century (explored in chapter 5).14 Representationally, these forms of control found expression in emerging aesthetic protocols that circumscribed animals in space and time. The project examines how these developments informed and reinforced one another and how in the process they contributed to the making of a new conception of the animal as no longer wild yet not quite domesticated, neither present nor fully absent, but instead as thoroughly framed by relations of technology and capital.
Capture’s contributions are threefold. First, the book shows how the drive to contain and record disappearing animals was a central feature and organizing pursuit of the nineteenth-century U.S. cultural canon. Second, it examines how this drive motivated the invention of new aesthetic, literary, and medial genres and techniques (lifelike painting, detective fiction, the moving image), which exposed or sought to compensate for the limitations of earlier modes of figuration, and thereby transformed the very nature and project of modern representation. Third, it analyzes how these new representational devices and modalities informed and shaped the modern animal condition and contributed to naturalizing the wide-scale exploitation and erasure of animals as we know it today.15
It is Moby-Dick, the “quintessential” American novel, that most famously dramatizes the U.S. project’s material and symbolic investment in the workings of capture. Melville’s epic chase is the centerpiece of the white masculinist tradition of the hunting narrative in the American literary canon (e.g., Cooper’s The Leatherstocking Tales, Parkman’s The Oregon Trail, du Chaillu’s Explorations and Adventures in Equatorial Africa, Roosevelt’s hunting memoirs, Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game,” Faulkner’s “The Bear,” or Hemingway’s hunting chronicles, to mention but a few examples). Countless autobiographies of big-game hunters were published during the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century.16 The use of hunt narratives in the self-fashioning of the United States often promulgated a colonialist agenda that naturalized the reconfiguration of subsistence habitats into potential property. A singularly if not uniquely American subgenre, hunting narratives have monumentalized the mythos of the intrepid and enterprising frontiersman who dominates his natural surroundings, with all its attendant sexual and gendered connotations (animal pursuit as a stand-in for white hegemony, colonial empire, sexual dominance, or the foibles of masculinity).
As D. H. Lawrence observes, Moby-Dick chronicles the “last great hunt.”17 But the novel makes clear that hunting is hardly over—rather, it heralds the dawn of a new kind of hunt: the hunt that knows no end. Moby-Dick’s full title, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, can be read as oscillating between a logic of the hunt and one of capture.18 What, exactly, is the novel (named) after? Is it the individual animal called Moby Dick or is it “the Whale” as a taxonomic category? Is the novel a hunt for a particular white whale or an attempt to capture the essence of the category “Whale”? In a chapter he calls “as important a one as will be found in this volume,” the narrator, Ishmael, warns the reader against the temptation to subsume the animal under the apparent stability of its name (proper or generic)—a temptation he identifies as intolerably allegorical.19 The problem of allegory for the animal—its tendency to subordinate the literal to the figural, the singular to the general—is precisely the problem posed by Melville’s title: Moby-Dick; or, The Whale.20
Like Melville’s title, the hunt pulls in two directions. It is both fundamentally iterative and (somewhat counterintuitively) sustainable, for the kill is the end of the hunt but not of hunting.21 As a corollary, the animal is both (but not simultaneously) an individual being and a representative of its species. In the hunt, therefore, the individual animal can acquire a proper name, as with Moby Dick.22 It is precisely this possibility that the animal is denied when the logic of capture emerges as an apparatus of early biocapitalism. This shift is registered in the novel as the transition between two markedly different, but not incompatible, logics for “accounting” the whale. The first logic—that of the individual animal—is embodied by Captain Ahab, who is driven by his monomaniacal desire for revenge against the white whale; the second logic—that of the animal as species (and as commodity)—is reflected by the ship’s proprietors, Peleg and Bildad, who own the Pequod along with a number of anonymous shareholders. While these retired captains are ironically introduced as peaceful Quakers, they are “Quakers with a vengeance, . . . the most sanguinary of all sailors and whale-hunters.”23 But unlike Ahab, their vengeance is not aimed at any particular whale but at the entire whale species: remaining on shore, ostensibly harmless and comical, they are insatiable entrepreneurs who demand that the whalemen “harvest” as many whales as possible—an insatiability that raises the specter of extinction, while curiously disavowing the possibility of this event.24
Peleg and Bildad crystallize the literal and symbolic displacement of violence produced by a biocapitalist rationality that systematically outsources labor and treats natural resources as endlessly reproducible.25 The proprietors’ fixation on the anonymized animal mass of “the whale” condenses the logic of capture; Ahab’s fixation on the individual specimen called Moby Dick exemplifies the logic of the hunt.26 Unlike Ahab, who is obsessed with hunting the one animal, the merchants Bildad and Peleg hunt a profit that is, in theory, without limit (as Ishmael repeatedly notes, the whalemen do not receive a fixed wage; they work on commission, with their pay indexed to the number of whales they kill). With Ahab’s disappearance, what vanishes is not hunting but the hunt as a spectacular, singular undertaking; the singularity of the hunt is subsumed into the routinized, systematic regime of capture, under which animals become indifferentiable from one another—exchangeable, like all commodities.27 This economy of infinite substitutability is premised on the epistemological slide from “Moby Dick” to “the Whale,” from animals to “the animal”—from hunt to capture.
From Hunt to Capture
The operations and effects of capture are best understood by examining it alongside the form of pursuit it sublimates (but does not entirely displace)—that of the hunt. The biopolitical regime of capture established itself in the wake of profound transformations in U.S. hunting culture.28 With the rise of industrialization over the course of the nineteenth century, hunting was gradually rendered obsolete as a subsistence activity and as a technology of conquest by the systematic “taming” and settling of the nation’s territories.29 As more “efficient” means of procuring animals were being promoted, hunting was recast as a primitive anachronism or an occasional pastime. By the late 1800s, technological developments in the production of traps and guns made it increasingly difficult for many game animals to reproduce fast enough to survive; two animals emblematic to the United States, the passenger pigeon and the bison, both thought at the beginning of the century to be so numerous as to be inexhaustible, were hunted respectively into extinction and near-extinction in the space of a few decades.30 Meanwhile, with the advent of the “technological reproducibility” of animal life under industrial farming, standardized slaughter began to replace hunting for subsistence, and the continually perpetuated pool of livestock supplanted the unpredictability of prey. Both extinction and mass slaughter, then, are phenomena wrought by a shift in notions of animal reproduction, itself subtended by a transformation of what reality the term animal designates.31 Over time, the aleatory practice of the hunt was rechanneled into the biopolitical logistics of capture, which indexes both the will and ability to reproduce animals endlessly and the anxiety prompted by the notion of wildlife as ontologically endangered, inevitably and constantly threatened by disappearance.
Although hunting fell out of common practice, it did not disappear. It simply reappeared in new forms: internalized as an epistemic frame for the new artistic and scientific fervor surrounding the “mute mystery” of animal nature;32 analogized in legal regulations like the “rule of capture,” which legislates the acquisition of “feral” or “spontaneous” resources like gas, oil, and groundwater;33 and recycled, in the figure of the frontiersman, into a nostalgic trope celebrating the nation’s valiant and enterprising early years. The European colonists in America had largely ceased to rely on hunting for sustenance as early as the seventeenth century, but during the nineteenth century, the aforementioned changes (the introduction of livestock and the decline in game animals, caused by overhunting and the reorganization of ecosystems to fit colonial economic regimes) reached a tipping point that altered attitudes toward hunting. This shift, exemplified by the establishment of restrictive game laws as early as 1817, primarily affected those indigenous tribes with nomadic lifestyles, as well as rural and enslaved populations for whom hunting had remained a significant subsistence and cultural activity.34 Hunting began to be framed as an atavistic practice even as it was being celebrated as the glorious bedrock of the nation (in the paintings of Karl Bodmer and George Catlin, for instance, or in hunting memoirs like Parkman’s Oregon Trail). It was valorized as a heroic enterprise in the context of an idealized past and prescribed as a prophylactic in an irenic future in which it was no longer a material necessity. This explains why, at the end of the century, Theodore Roosevelt could unironically prompt his fellow (white male) Americans to “return” to “savage virtues” by hunting.35
This book identifies in the transition from hunt to capture a profound epistemological shift in the conception of animals. Here, the hunt is less as a ritualized, embodied activity than as a diagram of power-knowledge. Hunting and capture entertain very different relations to their objects. Hunting supposes the copresence, however brief, uneven, and fortuitous, of the hunter and the hunted. Capture, however, disrupts this promise of contemporaneity, converting it to telos. As capture makes the subjection of that which is preyed upon appear predetermined, even preaccomplished, a form of nonpresence comes to saturate the animal’s state of being.36 The availability of animals in capture, then, reverses the conditions presumed by the hunt: for the hunter, encounters cannot be fully anticipated or planned, for they happen in no small part on the hunted animals’ terms. The hunter goes after the prey in its own territory, which French poet Jean-Christophe Bailly defines as a network of holes and hideaways where animals can retreat.37 Under capture, animals are assumed already at hand but fundamentally dislocated. Deprived of a territory, Bailly observes, animals are submitted to a regime of inescapable visibility: they cannot hide, but neither can they manifest unexpectedly—they can no longer appear.38 One of the corollaries of the “dis-appearance” of animals—the loss of their capacity to appear on their own terms—is the effacement of the figure of the hunter (Figure 2).
Capture, which aims to preempt sudden appearances and chance encounters, coincides with what John Berger diagnoses as the systemic “disappearance” of animals under industrial capitalism.39 Under capture, animals disappear in plain sight. When we see captive animals, they are only superficially available, seeming fundamentally out of place—on display in cages or images, thereby “rendered absolutely marginal.” The zoological garden, “where people go to meet animals, to observe them, to see them,” Berger argues, is “in fact a monument to the impossibility of such encounters.”40 Captured, animals have become “immunized to encounter.”41 And indeed, zoos in modernity traditionally perform the immunitary function of protecting endangered animals from disappearing at Man’s hand. Although modern zoos inherit from earlier menageries a residual sense of colonial pride, exhibiting rare and “exotic” specimens as trophies—including both animal and human specimens—they primarily justify their existence as educational institutions and as sanctuaries for endangered species.42 What one sees in zoos is not there (for long). Hence “disappearance” does not simply refer to the empirical vanishing of animals precipitated by colonial and capitalist exploitation, but it also indexes a more general difficulty to see animals—their becoming “out of focus” under the modern gaze.43
“Everywhere animals disappear,” writes Berger, compounding the perpetuity of animal disappearance in a devastating present simple.44 Akira Mizuta Lippit builds on Berger’s thesis by proposing that, with the advancement of modernity, animals come to “exist in a state of perpetual vanishing.” In disappearing, Lippit proposes, they nonetheless leave a trace, their nonpresence becoming the paradoxical condition for a new image of animality to emerge.45 Thus the signifier “disappearance” covers two distinct, if interdependent, realities. On the one hand, it refers to the empirical recession of animals from daily life under industrial capitalism; on the other, it marks their phenomenological vanishing before our very eyes. As a corollary, we can distinguish between two modalities of capture. The first is a constative statement that registers the historical subjection of animals to technologies of enclosure and supervision. The second is a performative utterance: it constitutes something called “the animal” as that which disappears. The transition between the hunt regime and the capture regime has a number of salient implications for the material and symbolic conception of animals, as summarized in Figure 3.
The Mediated Animal: Pursuit without End
What Capture tracks, therefore, is a transformation in the way animals were perceived, a rupture between seeing and knowing them. Essential to my theorization of capture is the notion that with the move from hunt to capture, animals become indissociable from their mediation. Hunting narratives are always punctuated by anxious periods of waiting for the prey to manifest itself (Moby-Dick is a case in point). But capture upends the temporal logic of hunting, according to which animals exist in their own right before the encounter with the hunter. The hunt supposes a spatial distance (and a shared temporal moment) between hunter and hunted. Capture, however, is asynchronous; it supposes the separate temporalities of the original encounter and the later engagements with the reproductions. If we read capture’s displacement of the animal’s pursuit from spatiality onto temporality through my opening example, we see that the gun camera, which on its face is more humane, inaugurates a hunt without end. While in the moment its life may be spared, the bird viewed through the lens of the gun camera is recast as endlessly reproducible and thus eminently disposable (it is not fortuitous that the animal’s loss of aura—what Walter Benjamin calls the “here and now” of an object, “its unique existence in a particular place,” that which in principle resists reproducibility and commodification—coincides with the rise of industrial biocapitalism).46
|AXIOM||THE HUNT REGIME||THE CAPTURE REGIME|
The hunt presumes animals.
Capture presumes the animal.
Animals are endowed with the capacity to appear on their terms.
The animal appears already at hand.
Animal encounters cannot be fully anticipated or planned.
The animal can no longer be encountered.
Animals occupy territories.
The animal exists in a milieu.
Animals can escape or they can die.
The animal cannot escape and it cannot die.
The hunt is interminable but each time unique.
Capture is repetitive and monotonous.
Unlike hunting, capture does not anticipate so much as presuppose its object. The verb capture is what linguists call a telic verb insofar as it envisions a clear endpoint and, grammatically, demands an object; whereas the verb hunt is atelic: one can hunt without knowing in advance what will be hunted or whether the hunt will be successful.47 The strange temporality of capture is encapsulated in Kafka’s aphorism “A cage went in search of a bird.” The epigram inverts the expectation that a cage exists in order to confine a given animal, suggesting instead that it searches for a specimen that will conform to its design. This uncanny reversal of cause and effect is the defining paradox of capture. Should the animal not, logically, precede the instrument of its captivity? Does nature not, in principle, come before technology? But to capture something from nature is to sacrifice the very naturalness that one sets out to secure or preserve. Capture is not simply the act of containing an entity that already exists in the world—an entity whose nature or essence precedes the event of its seizure.
As Rey Chow argues, capture is not a neutral aesthetic operation but an act with significant ontological effects. Reading Walter Benjamin, she shows that through the act of capture, something new—a new reality, a new relation to the (natural) world—comes into being:
Benjamin has in effect inaugurated a reconfiguration of the conventional logic of capture: rather than reality being caught in the sense of being contained, detained, or retained in the copy-image (understood as a repository), it is now the machinic act or event of capture, with its capacity for further partitioning (that is, for generating additional copies and images ad infinitum), that sets reality in motion, that invents or makes reality, as it were.48
When the value of images (or animals) is no longer a function of their rarity but of their reproducibility, the perception of these realities is radically changed. The object represented (the captive animal) no longer conveys the aura of the original. Unlike the auratic wild animal, which the hunter dislodged from its territory, the domesticated animal appears essentially dislocated; it is a being altogether different, brought into existence through the means of technological reproduction. Capture—the representational modality prompted by technological reproducibility—strips its object of its naturalness, its originality, its singularity. Made into stock, the virtually limitless copy (the farmed or lab animal, the zoo specimen, the photographed beast) supersedes the now-unattainable (extinct or spatially marginalized) original. In capture, the animal is assumed invisible, disappeared, unknowable—a manifestation of something other than what we see. In other words, capture introduces a new phenomenality of appearance, one that indexes something framed as vanished, extinct, no longer encounterable. Thus, while capture presupposes its object, it is nonetheless haunted by an unavowable intransitivity, a secret intranquility.
Consider an early example of capture’s visual logic: the thaumatrope (Figure 4). First popularized by Dr. John Paris in 1825, the thaumatrope is an optical device, a small disc with an image on each side. When the disc is twirled, the two sides appear superimposed, giving the impression that they form a single, composite image. Early prototypes of this “philosophical toy,” as it was called at the time, often depicted a bird and a cage. When in motion, the bird appeared trapped, captured through an appearance of stillness that was in fact caused by movement too rapid to be registered by the human eye. The thaumatrope stages a displacement of animacy, which shifts from the object studied to the enframing technology that produces it—from the bird to the cage.
According to Dr. Paris, the aim of the thaumatrope was to generate “young Cartesians” by “driving a wedge between what we know and what we see.”49 While you know there are two distinct images, you only see a bird in a cage. If the Cartesian discourse implies that stillness was thought to be the condition for reliable knowledge, as film scholar Tom Gunning argues, the toy also ironically taught that stillness can be manufactured by motion, thereby calling into question the reliability of the human observer.50 This suspicion in turn contaminates the “real world,” robbing it of permanence or stability, rendering it phantasmagoric and its occupants elusive. The thaumatrope has been significant to debates about the phenomenology and temporality of vision in modernity; little attention, however, has been paid to the images it displays, particularly to the persistence with which they represent animals. As a technology in the service of a biopolitics of vision, the thaumatrope functioned to captivate a new generation of viewers and train them to conceive the animal as essentially captured.51 When the hands that hold and operate the thaumatrope are no longer seen, the capture of the animal appears to be a fact of nature.
Capture coincides with the turn to scientific objectivity in the first half of the nineteenth century as an attempt to remediate this hallucinatory order of things; when the capacities of the naked human eye can no longer be trusted, knowledge must be outsourced to mechanized protocols and technologies of vision. Muybridge’s famous motion capture experiments in the last decades of the century, which produced the first successful photographic images of a galloping horse, did precisely this: render motion intelligible without direct human intercession. Muybridge is mostly known today as a pioneer of the moving image, but his primary object was to unravel the “secret” of animal motion, as attested by the title of his massive 1887 photographic catalog, Animal Locomotion.
We can contrast Muybridge’s work with another monumental collection of animal representations to situate his work in the transition charted in this book: Audubon’s The Birds of America. Printed between 1827 and 1838, the book gathers 435 life-size watercolors in a “double elephant” folio, thus named for its uncommon size. Audubon’s avowed ambition was to paint all the bird species known in North America. Both Audubon and Muybridge seem to partake of the same archival epistemophilia, but they approached their subjects very differently. In The Birds of America, Audubon perceives his specimens with the eyes of a hunter: his birds are “out there,” in the wild; he immobilizes them in order to draw them; he focuses primarily on their external appearance; and he presumes animals to be knowable in terms of their taxonomic identity, which is visible to the unaided human eye. For Audubon, animals occupy a specific “place”—geographically, in the order of nature, and on the page of the naturalist’s book, which promises to render their accurate anatomical proportions. In contrast, Muybridge approaches his subjects with an intent to capture: he aspires to seize not animals but their movement, pursuing in his stop-action studies an invisible economy of forces shared by all animals—the animal—if uniquely expressed by each. For him, the comprehension of animals is less a function of space than time; space is subordinated to an immanent principle of transience and transformation, both at the individual level (locomotion) and at the level of the species (evolution).
Capture, to sum up, indexes a passage rather than a presence. It destabilizes the conventional temporality of representation, understood as coming after the object represented; in this new model, the act of capture (its moment) is both distinct and indissociable from that which is represented. Despite the perceived simultaneity, the capturer (or observer) and the animal do not inhabit the same time: they are entangled rather than synchronous. Chow insists that we must refrain from collapsing the temporalities of the trapped and the trapper: if they are “situationally entwined,” they are both temporally and “phenomenologically disjointed.”52 We can know “the intent or intelligence of the trap’s design,” Chow argues, but not “the prey’s experience of being captured.” As a metaphor for representation, capture borrows from hunting the sense of apprehending something endowed with the capacity to escape; but capture converts capacity into ontology, producing its object as essentially fugitive (it “sets reality in motion,” as Chow puts it). While hunting envisions fugitivity as a faculty of the prey, capture assumes fugitivity as the property of the animal (as that which is proper to it). This fugitive animal poses an insurmountable challenge to representation when representation is beholden to a logic of presence. Capture, in contrast, assumes the fugacity of its object and produces the animal as it vanishes, as vanishing. In capture, the animal is not made present (re-presented) so much as it is conjured by the apparatus. Thus, for Chow, capture is a process of entanglement that comprises irreconcilably heterogeneous temporalities.53 Yet in these “entanglements” lie the promise of an ethics of capture, which, I argue in the conclusion, offers unsuspected modes of relating with incommensurate life-forms.
Capture is a hunt for likeness, not life. From capere, meaning to seize with one’s hands, the verb “to capture” was not used as a synonym for “to represent” in English until the twentieth century, previously appearing mainly in hunting and military contexts (e.g., the catching of prey, seizing of land, taking of slaves or prisoners). The Oxford English Dictionary dates the semantic repurposing of the term to 1901, when it came to express the action to “catch, or record (something elusive, as a quality) in speech, writing, etc.”54 Yet in the middle decades of the nineteenth century, Daguerre and Edison had already used the lexicon of captivity to describe the archiving of fleeting images and sounds, which suggests that capture-as-representation is indebted to technologies of reproduction like photography and phonography.55 When successive images can make movement appear (even though this movement resides in none of the images taken in isolation)—when images are given the power to produce a nonimage—the imaging apparatus thus represents that which stubbornly eludes vision. As a hunt for likeness, capture paradoxically opens the possibility of apprehending life as a representational object. In effect, the representation of life’s irreducible aphenomenality demands a new technical and cognitive apparatus based on the reproducibility of the image. Just as the reproducible image dreams up the nonimage, the reproducible animal dreams up the nonanimal: a wild, transient creature that appears essentially unknowable, unseeable.
The Biopolitics of Capture
When did we stop seeing animals? When did they start becoming “out of focus,” as Berger suggests?56 To answer this question, we must look for changes in the field of vision itself—in the underlying conditions for the appearance of animals. This is a question that Foucault raises in The Order of Things, where he identifies a radical transformation in the way natural sciences approached their objects. “In the late eighteenth century,” he writes, “a new configuration was to appear that would definitively blur the old space of natural history for modern eyes.”57 The shift in question was the invention of the notion of life. In the classical episteme (which for me encapsulates the logic of the hunt), there are individual living beings but no conception of life as a larger, autonomous force; the natural world is classified according to its external structure. In contrast, the modern episteme situates life below the threshold of the immediately perceptible. In this new configuration, animals appear only insofar as they manifest in a flash the invisible agencies of the life that momentarily supports them; at the moment when life “escapes” the strictures of classical knowledge, animals disappear into the animal. In their individual existence, animals are not enough. They are no longer declensions of primordial molds or ur-specimens but transient manifestations of the deeper, invisible principle called life, which does not belong to them but runs through them. Life itself, which is continuous, can only be grasped negatively, indirectly, through the necessarily discontinuous picture drawn by the passage—and passing—of animal figures.58 New technologies of vision like the gun camera, the thaumatrope, and Muybridge’s time-lapse photography invent new ways of seeing, but they also invent new ways of conceiving the “real.” By framing it as fleeting and evasive, these technologies prepare us to accept a world in transit, to accept its mutability and manipulability—thereby confirming tautologically the need for apparatuses of capture. Animals (and their captured representations) occupy a special place in that transformation, for they not only emblematize it but also help to produce it. The image of the animal is both the site and the sight of the disappearance of life. “The animal,” Foucault writes, “discovers fantastic new powers in the nineteenth century.”59 Or rather, the nineteenth century rediscovers the animal through the prism of the “untamed ontology” of life.60
The Order of Things is not, as it has sometimes been read, an account of the disenchantment of the natural world precipitated by enlightened science; Foucault’s formulation, crucially, focuses not on loss but on gain: the animal “discovers fantastic new powers.” These powers are curious ones because they originate not from the animals themselves but from a life over which animals can claim no ownership. These are powers haunted by what Derrida calls a form of “nonpower [impouvoir]”—the power to die, the power to suffer, the power “not to be able”—but they are powers nonetheless, reducible neither to sheer powerlessness nor to the absolute subjugation of animals (though they can facilitate this subjugation).61 These powers dispose the living to change and being changed, render it susceptible to a number of internal and external “conditions of existence.” This concept of “conditions of existence” was central in the transition between natural history and biology, Foucault argues: “In a general way, the object of natural history in the classical age is an ensemble of differences to be observed; in the nineteenth century, the object of biology is that which is capable of living and subject to dying.” The notion that what lives comes to be “linked to the possibility of dying,” he continues, “refers to two possible systems of conditions of existence.”62 The first system, associated with Cuvier, is anatomo-physiological: it invents a new form of taxonomy preoccupied not by recording visible differences but by inferring correlations between different organs (what are the internal conditions of an individual’s existence?). The second, associated with Darwin, is ecological: it binds the living to a milieu more or less favorable to its flourishing (what are the external conditions of an individual’s existence?). In both cases, the life of an organism is conjugated in the future perfect as survival, from the point of view of its predictable disappearance. The “new animal condition” of my title can thus be heard in the medical sense, viewing the living as subject to new forms of conditioning: their inevitable but deferrable death disposed them to new protocols of care, supervision, and amelioration. The term condition signals that the animal is not a taxonomic or ontological category but (like Man) a biopolitical concept, whose historical contingency becomes manifest through a genealogical foray into its conditions of emergence.
Biopolitics, which in principle addresses “life itself,” has until recently proved relatively inhospitable to nonhuman lives.63 Its enduring indifference toward nonhuman animals suggests that its “frame” cannot simply be stretched to accommodate animal life. Indeed, as Cary Wolfe shows, we must be critical of the framing mechanisms at work in biopolitics if we want to exploit the full potential of Foucault’s analytic—one, for Wolfe, that can and does extend to nonhuman lives, pace a dominant European lineage of biopolitical thinkers.64 In order to chart differentiated relations between different (human and nonhuman) life-forms, Wolfe invites us “to recalibrate our understanding of the biopolitical in terms of the dispositifs of biopower and their political articulation rather than the metaphysics of sovereignty.”65 Focusing on dispositifs or apparatuses—whose primary function, according to Giorgio Agamben, is precisely to “capture” living beings—demands that we analyze the operative and symbolic procedures that inform our relations to animals.66 This book’s focus on the strategies, protocols, and apparatuses that emerged to represent the animal in the nineteenth century allows me to examine what representation, as a biopolitical dispositif of capture, effectively does to animals.67 If the animal enters the biopolitical stage as it disappears—indeed, by disappearing—then we must consider what stubbornly eludes biopolitics, what it is in principle incapable of representing.
I thus offer a genealogy of capture and the birth of its object, “the animal.” The genealogy of the animal does not so much parallel as haunt Foucault’s history of the human sciences and the epistemic creation of “Man”—the contours of which, tellingly, Foucault discerns in the study of animal bodies, turning not to philosophy or anthropology but zoology and paleontology.68 Understanding how, in capture, animals appear in their disappearance helps us to see the paradoxical modernity of a character that otherwise appears timeless: the animal.69 In fact, it is precisely the ahistorical or stock character of the animal that betrays its biopolitical modernity. Just as Man for Foucault spuriously assumes a universal notion of humanity—stripped of any colonial, racial, and gendered specificity—so too does the animal imply something like a general animality. The animal, conceived as a technology of biopower, is an invention of recent date—and one interminably nearing its end, for it is construed as both imminently endangered and eminently reproducible.70 Capture names the material and symbolic condition of the animal’s emergence, but at stake is its sustained and sustainable disappearance. It is by disappearing, in other words, that animals appear for modern representation, as if nonpresence was a constitutive property of animality.71
Animality as a Technology of Biopower
Animality, I propose, is the product of a historical rearrangement in the order of knowledge and power that was precipitated by the advent of the concept of life, which Foucault traces back to Cuvier’s groundbreaking work in comparative anatomy and paleontology. These new disciplines, Foucault shows, hinge the appearance of life on the dissolution of living beings into their anatomical resemblances (classification) and semblances (fossils). Foucault famously writes that in the eighteenth century, “life itself did not exist. All that existed was living beings, which were viewed through a grid of knowledge constituted by natural history.”72 Natural history sought discrete living beings representative of their species; the new science of biology, by contrast, concerned itself with the invisible, transindividual current called life that is manifested through animals. Animals—which for Foucault constitute the paradigmatic objects for the emergent sciences of life—index the givenness of forces that they reveal as both hidden and ever-present: vitality, instinct, sexual reproduction.73 Because life unfolds through species rather than individuals, death becomes something of a nonevent; the death of any one specimen does not negate the persistence of life across the species. Thus, death for animals becomes legible predominantly in terms of extinction, of species death—which paradoxically sanctions both conservation efforts and mass slaughter. (How else could we reconcile the growing concern for species endangerment with the lack of mainstream political consideration for the endless mass killing that takes place in factory farms, which Derrida aptly characterizes as the animal’s “interminable survival”?)74
The new logic of life does not uniquely concern nonhuman animals. Humans also index the invisible powers of life; their health and vitality also become increasingly monitored and regulated; they also come to be conceived as a species, examined from the vantage of their anticipated extinction. This particular conception of humanity as a species is attested by the contemporary anxiety surrounding the Anthropocene, the “age of Man”; today, this anxiety is exacerbated by the undeniability of anthropogenic species extinction and climate change, and by extension by the looming shadow of humanity’s disappearance, but its roots are traceable to the invention of life. From the outset, the modern concept of life has implied the recognition of the finitude of the living, and thus the finitude of Man as a living being.75 The classical episteme forbade that Man be simultaneously subject and object of knowledge, and so Foucault asserts that in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, “man did not exist (any more than life).”76 Man only emerges as positively knowable—and controllable at the biological level—at the threshold of biopolitical modernity, when he takes his own animality in charge.77 His self-knowledge, however, hinges on the recognition of his programmed disappearance—a recognition that allows him to hoist himself (precariously, thus heroically) above the transience of the living.78
There, the hierarchies of power embedded in knowledge practices become apparent: Who has the authority to know? What ontological partitions does the modern episteme engender, and what do these partitions authorize in turn? When animality emerges from the ruins of classical thought’s neatly tabulated taxonomies, Man is exposed as a historically contingent stabilizing dispositif.79 Sylvia Wynter shows that the scientific and political distinctions precipitated by the emergence of life are inextricably enmeshed with the development of the European colonial project. According to Wynter, the “invention of Man” described by Foucault grows out of the nineteenth-century biologization and economization of the living, which themselves inherit the secularized view of humanity promoted by European Renaissance humanists. This transformation, she contends, was “made possible only on the basis of the dynamics of a colonizer/colonized relation that the West was to discursively constitute and empirically institutionalize on the islands of the Caribbean and, later, on the mainlands of the Americas.”80 By centering the colonial context, Wynter profoundly “unsettles” Foucault’s periodization and provincializes his analysis. Wynter, moreover, prioritizes “the idea of race,” which Foucault viewed primarily through the prism of sex.81 Accounting for empire’s rigid (if strategically mutable) racial taxonomies, she challenges majoritarian interpretations of biopower by introducing a racial counterpoint to Foucault’s focus on sex, not to reject the premise of The Order of Things so much as to reveal its implicit condition in colonization and racialization.82 Just as race and sexuality emerge as coconstitutive dispositifs, so too does species, I argue, become legible as a distinct technology of biopower. Species as a heuristic instrument wielded to domesticate the “untamed ontology” of life—to partition and organize what is imagined as biological continuum into subgroups made manageable through technologies of sex (breeding, sterilizing, etc.) yet presented as natural entities (thereby eliding the partitioning that constituted them in the first place)—cannot be thought outside of the development of the European colonial project and the institution of transatlantic slavery.
Nicole Shukin’s remarkable Animal Capital paved the way for my study of the obfuscated or disavowed continuities in the biopolitical practices, technologies, and strategies that constrain and condition animal and animalized subjects. Shukin reminds us, for example, that Muybridge’s motion-capture experiments on racehorses fed straight into Frederick Taylor’s Principles of Scientific Management.83 Earlier examples abound, however, in the context of U.S. chattel slavery, from the widespread (and constitutional) practice of manhunting reaffirmed by the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which authorized any white citizen to assume the role of the police and “return” fugitive slaves to their rightful owners, to the use of biology to determine the ontology of race via an antebellum law derived from animal husbandry, which established the child’s status as inherited from the mother and treated enslaved populations not like but as livestock.84 Attending to these “entangled forms of oppression,” Bénédicte Boisseron warns, does not mean equating the historical exploitation, subjugation, and extermination of animals and racialized people.85 Likewise, it would be simplistic to suggest that various material, legal, and conceptual models inherited from hunting, husbandry, and zoology merely prefigured, or were the precondition for, the racial governance of human populations in the nineteenth century. More promising are the possibilities opened up by a theory of animality capable of accounting for the transferability of operations of power and knowledge across the species line.
Animalization was a common strategy for justifying the subduction and suppression of enslaved and indigenous populations, but it had different effects and worked to different ends. In his 1829 autobiography, for instance, Pequot author and activist William Apess observes that Indians were “hunted like wild beasts” to sanction and enforce their displacement and genocide: “It has been the lot of the unfortunate aborigines of this country,” Apess continues (quoting Washington Irving), “to be doubly wronged by the white man—first, driven from their native soil by the sword of the invader, and then darkly slandered by the pen of the historian. The former has treated them like beasts of the forest; the latter has written volumes to justify him in his outrages.”86 In her 1861 narrative of captivity and escape from slavery, Harriet Jacobs writes that enslaved women are “put on a par with animals” insofar as they are “considered of no value, unless they continually increase their owner’s stock.”87 Without disputing the many commonalities in the treatment of Native American and black populations in the nineteenth century, these two examples illustrate the different functions performed by animalization, as well as the role of gender and sexuality in the constitution of the animalized subject.88 What these examples reveal is that while animalization serves to naturalize racist hierarchies, it is not a straightforward strategy because “animal” is not a stable category (in Apess’s narrative, it refers to a vermin to be eliminated; in Jacobs’s, to an investment to grow and multiply). Animalization, crucially, does not hinge on an a priori ontological caesura between humans and animals; rather, as Zakiyyah Iman Jackson argues, we must understand how “the categories of race and species have coevolved and are actually mutually reinforcing terms.”89 Animality and humanity are thus by no means incompatible, nor do they operate binaristically. New World Slavery did not imply a process of dehumanization of African subjects so much as an animalization of their humanity; animalization, here, is not a simple denial of humanity but a biopolitical “technology for producing a kind of human” for whom “humanization and captivity go hand in hand.”90
Instead of petitioning for the integration of excluded subjects into a normative concept of humanity inherited from Enlightenment thought, Jackson, like Wynter, proposes to attend to the alternative forms of humanity invented and performed by black communities. Glen Sean Coulthard likewise warns against “liberal politics of recognition” and inclusion that “promises to reproduce the very configurations of colonialist, racist, patriarchal state power that Indigenous peoples’ demands for recognition have historically sought to transcend.”91 Because I understand capture to be, at its core, continuous with the projects of white settler colonialism and of the biopolitical management, regulation, and subjugation of racialized populations, I find invaluable resources in the tactics and stories of indigenous “survivance” deployed by Gerald Vizenor and elaborated by Jodi Byrd,92 as well as in the counterpolitics and epistemologies of fugitivity advanced by critical race scholars such as Stephen Best, Saidiya Hartman, and Britt Rusert.93 Survivance, for Vizenor, is irreducible to the narratives of survival in which dominant U.S. culture “trapped” Native populations in the first half of the century (e.g., the trope of the “vanishing American”). Likewise, fugitivity names more than a mere escape from confinement or a preliminary stage leading to a normative ideal of “liberation”; it is an active and creative modality of resistance forged from within and against the terms imposed by captivity and enslavement.
Minoritarian and shadow accounts like those of Jacobs and Apess openly or covertly contested the master narrative of capture that was being developed and disseminated at the time, laying bare the violence and hierarchies that capture actively disavows. Not only did these accounts counter the hegemony of this new regime of knowing and seeing, but they also produced counternarratives and fugitive epistemologies that diverted its tenets to practical, critical, and creative ends, rendering manifest the resistive potential immanent in capture.94 This book, however, primarily focuses on how representations of the animal—as elusive, precarious, ungraspable—emerged and came to circulate widely through the influential works of figures who had the cultural, racial, and gender capital to popularize a particular way of seeing and understanding animal life. While these iconic figures of nineteenth-century American culture—these all too obvious “representatives of modernity”—registered and prototyped capture, they also wrestled with capture’s imperatives and limitations. All entertained ambivalent relations with what the period recognized as scientific objectivity; all registered, more or less critically, the seismic shifts that shook up the life sciences over the century; all expressed anxiety about the epistemic vocation and generic identity of their works.
Although it situates the emergence of capture in the wake of the hunt, this book argues that capture is already immanent in hunting insofar as it expresses the will to know and apprehend animals. Capture emerges both within and after hunting, tracing a genealogy of control through the modern contours of biopolitical regulation in aggregate—a term that harbors a forgotten pastoral inheritance from herding practices (ad- [“toward”] and grex [“a flock”]).95 Capture is not an exact science, however, but a continually perfectible and perfected set of technologies and discourses. Subsumed as it may be under stabilizing cognitive structures, strict regulations, and automatized material procedures, the animal is never perfectly seized. The pursuit of the animal, therefore, does not end with capture, hence the need to attend to the logic of the hunt that subtends the regime of capture.
Capture charts a shift in the nineteenth century from animals as potentially knowable to the animal as fundamentally unknowable and examines the representational technologies that propelled this transition. The book is organized into two parts and proceeds chronologically, examining through various figurations of animal containment the critical phases in the installment and intensification of forms of biopower over the nineteenth century. Part I, “Last Vestiges of the Hunt,” examines the implications of the hunt’s adoption as an epistemic frame in iconic early American cultural production. The first part thus investigates forms of knowledge and representation that are predicated on the possibility of immediate contact with animals just as they are being challenged by and subordinated to new epistemological formations. Part II, “New Genres of Capture,” explores what happens when the animal encounter comes to be understood as necessarily mediated. I show that this loss of immediacy was not always perceived as tragic but was productive of literary and visual forms that attempted to apprehend and know the animal at a remove.
Each chapter attends to techniques of knowledge and control prototyped through visual and scientific experiments bent on understanding and ordering animal life, emphasizing one particular dimension, operation, or effect of capture. Chapter 1, “Still Lifes,” examines Audubon’s creation of an early census of birds through experiments in vision; Audubon, who epitomizes the last vestiges of the regime of hunting, equates seeing with knowing, though he despairs over the tacit equation of knowing and killing. Chapter 2, “Land Speculations,” lifts into view the common logic behind land speculation and modern taxonomy in Cooper’s The Prairie, which enlists a myopic naturalist as the new model of knowing and organizing the natural world; Cooper probes (and derides) the new order of things that conflates knowing with not seeing. Chapter 3, “The Fugitive Animal,” explores the rise of early forms of biometric profiling and racial surveillance in Poe’s tales of detection, where the animalized is known because it is unseen, surmised only through the traces of its passing—a premise that is prefigured by the ways in which Poe eludes the conventions of both knowledge and genre. Chapter 4, “Fabulous Taxonomy,” considers the adaptation of anatomic profiling to emergent evolutionary discourses in Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun, which responds to the changes marked in Poe not by restoring visibility but by developing a poetics and an ethics of unseeing: the refusal to see too much is, in Hawthorne, not a refusal to know but a desire to know differently. Chapter 5, “The Stock Image,” turns to protocinematic experiments to account for the grammar of biocapitalist modernity. It examines how in Muybridge, not seeing opens an alternative modality of knowing that can be used to desubjectify, to break down what is otherwise incomprehensibly continuous—that is, life as the force secretly animating living beings—into discrete, endlessly recombinable elements. This new mode of visual capture does not automatically lead to the destruction of the observed subject, I argue, but can help us rethink the concept of subjectivity. The Conclusion, “Life in Capture,” imagines the relationship to animals that is still possible—indeed, that is newly compelled—by an age in which they appear, whether encaged or enframed, always at a remove. It outlines the terms of an ethics of capture—the responsibility toward subjects whose lifeworlds one shares but cannot fully comprehend—by considering what kind of life Martha, the “last passenger pigeon,” who outlived her species by four years and tragically embodies the move from animals to “the animal,” can be thought to have lived in captivity.
By offering a critical genealogy of the representation of animals as elusive, precarious, and endangered that came to circulate widely in the United States in the nineteenth century, I show that the new animal condition it indexes is deeply continuous with the projects of white settler colonialism and the biocapitalist management of nonhuman and human populations. Indeed, the desire to capture live animals in representation responded to and normalized the systemic disappearance of animals effected by unprecedented changes in the land, the new awareness of species extinction, and the automation of mass slaughter and the mass reproduction of farm animals. Capture names the paradoxical regime of vision by which animals came to be seen as at once unknowable yet understood in advance—a frame by which we continue to encounter animals today.