Specification forming part of Letters Patent No. 286,447, dated October 9, 1883.
Advertisement for Kilburn Gun Camera. Reproduced from Scovill product catalog, appended to J. T. Taylor, Photographic Amateur.
Susan Sontag famously characterizes photography as a form of “sublimated hunt,” writing that guns “metamorphosed into cameras” when nature “ceased to be what it always had been—what people needed protection from. Now nature—tamed, endangered, mortal—needs to be protected from people. When we are afraid, we shoot. But when we are nostalgic, we take pictures” (On Photography, 64, 15). One can glimpse the debt photography owes to firearms in the predatory attitude the camera actuates and the appropriative relation it entertains with its objects. On the predacious dimension of photographic gestures, see Arnheim, New Essays on the Psychology of Art; and Flusser, Towards a Philosophy of Photography. On the camera as an instrument of colonization, see Bryden, Gun and Camera in Southern Africa; MacKenzie, Empire of Nature; Dunaway, “Hunting with the Camera”; and Ryan, Picturing Empire. On the terminology and technology shared between guns and cameras, see Kittler, Gramophone, Film, Typewriter. On camera hunting more specifically, see Haraway, Primate Visions, 42–46; and Brower, Developing Animals, 25–82.
Kilburn’s invention had several precursors in Europe. Around 1860, two British inventors filed patents for contraptions that modeled a camera after a gun—the “pistolgraph” and the “photorevolver”—and by 1878, French physiologist Étienne-Jules Marey had begun devising a “photographic gun” capable of recording the flight of birds.
To “photograph a bird in flight is not just to hunt for the bird,” notes Jason Puskar, “but to hunt for the elusive motion of the bird, that part of the animal that remains invisible to the naked eye even when the bird is fully in view. . . . To shape a camera like a gun is thus not just to fantasize about masculine power, but to acknowledge the fleeting and evasive nature of action” (“Pistolgraphs,” 523).
The mantra of objectivity, for Allan Megill, is “untouched by human hands” (Rethinking Objectivity, 10). The tenets of capture are largely compatible with sciences invested in what Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison call “mechanical objectivity”—i.e., sciences suspicious of subjective observations and grounded in mechanized modes of representation (Daston and Galison, Objectivity).
As Donna Haraway observes of the motivation to exchange guns for cameras, “Once domination is complete, conservation is urgent” (“Teddy Bear Patriarchy,” 28).
Foucault, History of Sexuality, 138. Crucially for us, biopower names a form of power that enlists truth, rather than force, to justify itself. As arbitrary forms of sovereign power give way to enlightened discourses and practices of knowledge, the workings of power appear naturalized, and its violence is less visible.
Scholars have begun to refine or challenge Foucault’s Eurocentric account of the emergence of life as an epistemic reality and an analytic of power by confronting his theories to alternative knowledges produced in the colonies. Susan Scott Parrish, for instance, shows that Foucault’s account of the modernization of natural history depended on, but also was contested by, the empirical expertise of Euro-American, indigenous, and Afro-American specimen collectors (American Curiosity, 9). Monique Allewaert and Christopher Iannini contest Foucault’s chronology in The Order of Things. Allewaert, for instance, identifies an ontology of life—the attribute not of biological organisms but of matter itself—in the tropics. By spotting a “vitalist materialism” in naturalists like Bartram and Humboldt, she complicates Foucault’s assumption that the eighteenth century was obsessed with grids and fixed taxonomies (Ariel’s Ecology, 52). Iannini, as for him, shows that the “emblematic” description of nature—a technique that Foucault associates with the episteme of the Renaissance—perdured “well into the eighteenth century” and “especially in the colonial Americas” (Fatal Revolutions, 26). My book looks at a later period, the transition to the “modern” episteme, when there were stronger pressures to harmonize and globalize scientific practices: this for me takes the form of the hegemony of Cuvierian epistemology, which did not impose itself synchronously or homogeneously on both sides of the Atlantic but whose influence nonetheless strongly affected the nineteenth-century U.S. scientific and cultural imaginary (as I argue in chapter 4). On biopolitical practices specific to the nineteenth-century U.S. context, see Luciano, Arranging Grief (on the literary deployment of sentiment as a regulatory technology); and Schuller, Biopolitics of Feeling (on the influence of oft-overlooked scientific traditions like Lamarck’s theory of plasticity).
Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 663. The specificity of American despotism, for Tocqueville, lies in its apparent peacefulness, which is achieved by covering “the surface of society with a network of small, complicated, minute, and uniform rules” (663).
Elias Canetti helpfully distinguishes between the two types of power represented by hunters and herdsmen: “Over all the animals that man keeps captive hangs his death sentence. It is, it is true, suspended, and often for a long time, but it is never remitted. . . . The span of life he allows them is as set as his own. . . . As herdsman, he has more power than any hunter. His animals are all in one place and do not flee from him. The duration of their lives is in his hands. He does not have to kill them when and where he finds them. The force of the hunter has become the power of the herdsman” (Crowds and Power, 199).
Foucault, Security, Territory, Population, 473.
The term realist often implies a sense that the real is passive and stable, waiting to be uncovered, experienced, or mimetically re-presented. For me, it names the attempt to understand how things manifest or produce themselves to an observer/reader and how they can be reproduced without betraying their constructedness. Realism, in other words, tends to collapse representation and reproduction.
For a detailed analysis of the grid as a hegemonic economic, political, and epistemological form in nineteenth-century U.S. culture, see chapters 2 and 5. On the rectangular survey as an instrument of modern colonial governmentality and speculation, see Siegert, Cultural Techniques, 111. On the land grid pattern and the industrialization of farming practices in the United States, see Cronon, Nature’s Metropolis, 101–2. Cronon shows how standardization made animals “governed as much by the nature of capital as by the nature that gave them life” (259).
Today the culmination of the logic of capture is everywhere apparent. Whether physically subjected to extreme conditions of confinement under agrocapitalism or closely monitored for preservation purposes in refuges and parks, animals can no longer be thought to belong to some wild or exotic elsewhere. A staggering number of animals are relegated to spaces of enclosure: confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), hatcheries and battery farms, pounds and kennels, zoos and aquaria, research labs, breeding facilities, canned-game ranches and hunting reserves. Florence Burgat argues that our epoch “has paradoxically become one when animals look back at us from the shadow of the places where we hold them captive. Indeed, ‘detention’ . . . affects an unheard-of number of animals cloistered and confined to various ends; it has been systematized to the point of becoming the norm for the life of billions of mammals and birds” (Burgat, Une autre existence, 23, my translation). On agrocapitalism and animal confinement, see C. Taylor, “Foucault and Critical Animal Studies”; Holloway and Morris, “Exploring Biopower in the Regulation of Farm Animal Bodies”; Twine, Animals as Biotechnology; Novek, “Pigs and People”; and Thierman, “Apparatuses of Animality.” On the (bio)politics of wildlife preservation, see Braverman, Wild Life; and Purdy, After Nature.
On hunting in the American cultural landscape, see Frost, Heroes and Hunters of the West; and Herman, Hunting and the American Imagination. On the erection of the hunter as a national hero, see Slotkin, Regeneration through Violence, 313–68.
D. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature, 133.
The matter is further complicated by the facts that the novel was first published as The Whale in England (Melville changed his title for the American market) and that “Moby Dick” is conventionally hyphenated in the title but not in the body of the book.
Melville, Moby-Dick, 223.
Whether exclusive or inclusive, the copula “or” that yokes “Moby-Dick” to “The Whale” indexes either a mere tautology (that Moby Dick is but another name for the whale) or an irreducible inadequacy (that the proper name fails to capture the general reality it is after). The title stumbles on this innocuous-seeming “or,” this grammatical hinge that binds the singular animal to the name of its species.
Matt Cartmill explains: “Hunting is an end in itself for the hunter, and he wants the beasts he kills to be endlessly replaced so that his sportive battle with the wilderness can go indefinitely. . . . Throughout European history, hunters have tended to see themselves as enemies of the individual animals but friends of the animal kinds” (View to a Death in the Morning, 31). The dual allegiance of the hunter accounts for the topos of hunting narratives, predominant in American literature, where the hunter identifies with his animal victim and undergoes a kind of “becoming-animal.”
In the chapter entitled “The Affidavit,” Melville’s narrator explains that some sperm whales have been so ferocious that they have gained “ocean-wide renown.” Not only does “each of those famous whales enjoy great individual celebrity . . . , not only was he famous in life and now is immortal in forecastle stories after death, but he was admitted into all the rights, privileges, and distinctions of a name” (Moby-Dick, 223). With a proper name, what the animal paradoxically acquires—more accurately, what it is granted—is immortality as an effect of its mortality (an end of one’s own).
Whereas Ishmael acknowledges the consequences of overhunting on the continent, he curiously shrugs off this possibility for the whale (Melville, 501–2). As if to reassure itself, the chapter marshals statistical data and mythical references to deflect the fatalist predictions of “some philosophers of the forecastle” about the diminishing number of sperm whales. Near the chapter’s end, Ishmael pronounces the whale inextinguishable: “We account the whale immortal in his species, however perishable in his individuality” (503–4). The hunt can safely go on, its sustainability secured by this way of “accounting” the animal. Melville, observes Colin Dayan, “understood how the very forms of speech and heights of artifice went hand in hand with a history of extermination,” a history “always masked by the veneer of enlightenment” (With Dogs at the Edge of Life, xiii).
Melville’s appropriation of the agricultural term harvest in relation to the whaling industry bespeaks the nascent industrialization of fishing and the euphemization of animal killing discussed by Noëlie Vialles in Animal to Edible. On the anonymization of flesh, the elaborate making “inoffensive” of the rendering industry, and the withdrawal of slaughterhouses from urban environments in Europe and North America, see Shukin, Animal Capital, 49–86. Shukin recovers the forgotten history of Henry Ford’s assembly lines, which were inspired by Ford’s visit to Chicago’s stockyards, to show that the assembly line, “so often taken as paradigmatic of capitalist modernity,” was “mimetically premised on the ulterior logistics of animal disassembly” (87). This forgetting is not fortuitous, she claims, but it signals the degree to which animal killing and rendering have been made transparent in our culture. On Moby-Dick and the emergence of an “extinction-producing economy,” see Barnard, “Cod and the Whale,” 853. On the disavowed “reliance on animal death” that powered the bourgeois “culture of sentiment” in antebellum America, and on the orientalist bias that subtends this disavowal, see Schuller, “Specious Bedfellows,” 18.
At first glance, his quest seems antithetical to the enterprise of Peleg and Bildad: fixated on the unique, nonsubstitutable, auratic animal, Ahab seems to stand for the precapitalist logic that refuses to “engage in exchange.” But as Cesare Casarino shows, Ahab’s monomania “only pave[s] the way for a higher level of subsumption” (Modernity at Sea, 86). Ishmael himself suggests in passing that Ahab’s obsession with “the ultimate capture of Moby Dick” might easily extend to “all sperm whales.” In the chapter soberly titled “The Chart,” the reader witnesses Ahab scrupulously trace the ocean-lines (or “veins”) formed “with undeviating exactitude” by the leviathans in hopes of finding the solitary creature that obsesses him (Melville, Moby-Dick, 216). Ultimately, the whale escapes these Euclidian formalizations, but as it disappears it leaves behind it a mess of lines, charts, and data that profoundly alter the maritime landscape. Melville mentions oceanographer Lieutenant Maury, who compiled statistics from a great number of logbooks in order to “divid[e] the ocean into districts of five degrees of latitude by five degrees of longitude” (216). Maury was not just mapping the probable presence of whales, he was using whale hunting to chart the world, and the grid he imposed onto the globe was responding not only to economic imperatives but also to the whales’ biological needs (feeding grounds, mating habits, etc.).
Philip Armstrong argues that the nineteenth-century whaleman is an exemplary transitional figure in that he “was both a romantic adventurer into wild space and a prototype of the industrial laborer, farmer, and meat processor. . . . No wonder that Moby-Dick, like its sources, oscillates so vigorously between apparently opposed attitudes to the whale: wonder and contempt, mundane nonchalance and transcendent awe, humanized fellow feeling and the calculus of market value and profit” (“‘Leviathan Is a Skein of Networks,’” 1040).
A testament to the rise of gun culture after the Civil War, the entanglement of photography and hunting emblematized by Kilburn’s gun camera also exposes a new obsession with technologies capable of engaging with a “nature” newly perceived as endangered. While species extinction was still a much-debated scientific hypothesis in the 1800s, by century’s end it had become an empirically observable phenomenon that led the self-proclaimed “wilderness hunter” Theodore Roosevelt to implement unprecedented protectionist measures. On the prominent role hunters played in conservation, see Cioc, Game of Conservation; Ritvo, “Destroyers and Preservers”; Reiger, American Sportsmen and the Origins of Conservation; and Warren, Hunter’s Game.
On the resignification of hunting from a “barbarian” activity (as Jeffersonian agrarianism had framed it) to a performative practice foundational to America’s frontier identity, see Jones, Epiphany in the Wilderness. Of course, hunting had been performative before westward expansion, carrying out important symbolic functions in early settler and indigenous hunting cultures, and hunting played a crucial role in the material economy and politics of a nineteenth-century United States reshaped by westward expansion. But attending to the hunt as performance allows us to heed what Jones calls the evolving “afterlife of the hunt”—i.e., the historically determined cultural artifacts and mythoi that hunting practices have engendered and that contribute to the “invention of tradition” (18). The resignification Jones focuses on comes into relief when “natural resources of the West began to run out”: “Witnessing the decline of game stocks, a diverse range of constituencies—from sportsmen-preservationists to camera-hunters and American Indians—proselytized on the imperilment of hunter’s paradise and its necessary salvation” (21).
From his 1830s expeditions, George Catlin reports that one could see “several thousands [of buffalos] in a mass, eddying and wheeling about under a cloud of dust” (quoted in Cronon, Nature’s Metropolis, 215), and John James Audubon famously observes in his Ornithological Biography that the “air was literally filled with Pigeons; the light of noon-day was obscured as by an eclipse” (321). Over the course of the nineteenth century, the number of bison in the United States plummeted from thirty million to a dramatic twenty-three, and the passenger pigeon went extinct at the beginning of the twentieth century. I return to the extinction of the passenger pigeon in the conclusion.
Discourses on extinction emerged in Europe at the turn of the nineteenth century in the wake of epic enterprises of comparative anatomy and classification, themselves reliant on the importation of foreign species facilitated by the extraction of resources in the colonies and the intensification of the transatlantic trade. A distinctive epistemic frame, first formalized by French naturalist Georges Cuvier in 1800 in his “Mémoire sur les espèces d’éléphans vivantes et fossiles” and later confirmed by Charles Lyell in his 1830 Principles of Geology, was needed to explain why fossils had no living counterparts, to render visible the absence of some animals—although the reality the term animals covers here must already have changed, since extinction demands that animals be viewed primarily as species (i.e., from the vantage of reproducibility and viability). As for mass slaughter, many critics have shown that its possibility rests on an invisibilization of animals through the development of an elaborate semiotics of denial and the structure of what Carol J. Adams calls the “absent referent” (Sexual Politics of Meat, 19–44). More deeply, mass slaughter is premised on mass reproduction, which deindividualizes animal beings to present them as stock (see chapter 5). Once cataloged into recognizable species, animals could be saved en masse (as with conservation efforts aiming to avoid species extinction) or produced (and killed) ad infinitum. In both cases, what is at stake is a profound mutation in the conception-perception of animals—a mutation subtended by a transformation in their material and figural apprehension.
I borrow the phrase “mute mystery” from Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun (9). I elaborate Hawthorne’s views on animality in chapter 4.
The “rule of capture” is a common-law rule that stipulates that the first person to capture “fugitive” natural resources becomes their legal owner. In the 1889 case Westmoreland and Cambria Natural Gas Co. v. De Witt, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania stipulated that “water and oil, and still more strongly gas, may be classed by themselves, if the analogy be not too fanciful, as minerals ferae naturae [because] in common with animals . . . they have the power and the tendency to escape without the volition of the owner” (quoted in Daintith, Finders Keepers?, 22; emphasis added). Tellingly, after 1892, records show no mention of the capture of wild animals in litigations between neighbors. Animals disappeared from legal arbitrations, subsisting merely, in their fugitivity, as fanciful analogies. Though not uniquely an American phenomenon, the rule of capture “assumed particular importance in the United States,” according to legal scholar Terence Daintith, “where the process of westward expansion constantly opened up new resources that might be available for appropriation by the prompt and energetic” (4). Melville saw it well when he writes in Moby-Dick: “What was America in 1492 but a Loose-Fish, in which Columbus struck the Spanish standard by way of waifing it for his royal master and mistress?” (435).
As I discuss in chapter 2, “primitivizing” the hunt served two purposes: it presented indigenous populations as unable to graduate to civilized modernity and it made nature and Native cultures available for colonial appropriation. On the fetishistic attachment of white settlers to Aboriginal cultures, see Wakeham, Taxidermic Signs.
Roderick Nash observes that in 1888, “with a view to implementing his ideas, Roosevelt organized the Boon and Crockett Club. Its stated purpose was the encouragement of big-game hunting, but the character of the hunter was the real object of concern. . . . Of course, Americans had always shot game, but this group of wealthy hunters coupled their sport with unprecedented primitivistic philosophy” (Wilderness and the American Mind, 152). Presented as a prophylactic against the degeneracy of the white race, hunting, “once a utilitarian activity, had been given a new rationale” (153). Donna Haraway shows how the ideologies attached to hunting continued to fuel the national imaginary in the first half of the twentieth century while appearing superfluous to the material economy of the country: this apparent superfluity or primitivity is symptomatic of a historical alteration in the approach of nature and its animal(ized) representatives (“Teddy Bear Patriarchy”).
Industrial capitalism, for instance, promotes a conception of animals as endlessly reproducible rather than individual, continually available yet never fully present—it “is biopolitically invested,” Nicole Shukin explains, “in producing animal life as a spectral body” (Animal Capital, 38).
“To live, for each animal, means to cross the visible by hiding in it . . . even before the hunt learned the infinitely varied modes and the speeds of this dissimulation, it seems that the veracity of the animal world had to establish itself, for itself, on this elusive backdrop of flights and refuges: territories, which can be defined as surfaces . . . where each animal exposes itself, can at the same time be considered as networks of hideaways” (Bailly, Le visible est le caché, 14–16, my translation).
This dual impossibility of hiding and appearing is consistent with Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s contention that the systematic destruction of refugia—those hideaways or “places of refuge” necessary for the regeneration of biological diversity—marks the transition point between the Holocene and the Anthropocene (quoted in Haraway, Staying with the Trouble, 100).
Berger’s 1977 essay “Why Look at Animals?” (About Looking, 3–28) has been widely influential in the recent field of animal studies. It is the point of departure for Akira Mizuta Lippit’s Electric Animal (2000) and Steve Baker’s The Postmodern Animal (2000), both groundbreaking studies in this field. Jonathan Burt’s Animals in Film (2002), by contrast, positions itself against Berger, whom Burt accuses of fetishizing the (lost) possibility of an unmediated relation between humans and animals.
Berger, About Looking, 21.
Berger, 28. Many have criticized Berger’s thesis for its perceived utopianism, dismissing it as naively lamenting the loss of an authentic or “unmediated” relation between humans and animals. What Berger diagnoses is not the loss of a “direct relation to animals” (Brower, Developing Animals, xv)—for him, there always was “an abyss of non-comprehension” between humans and animals (Berger, About Looking, 5)—but the invention of the animal as lost. Nostalgia is not the symptom of a historical “fall” out of nature but the mood by which animals are apprehended in modernity. It does not simply prevent us from seeing what is really happening to animals; it trains us to see animals as disappearing. I do not dispute that some aspects of Berger’s analysis are debatable. What he writes about pets, for instance, ignores the interactive and improvisational character of pet-owner relations. In fact, it seems that Western cultures might never have been more attuned to multispecies intra- and interactions, as Haraway’s 2008 book When Species Meet suggests. But if Haraway multiplies sites of cross-species encounters to counter the fantasized notion of “great divide” between nature and culture, hers are not traditional encounters insofar as “the partners do not precede the meeting”: they find themselves “entangled,” always-already interdependent (When Species Meet, 4).
For a comprehensive overview of the shift from the “passion for collecting” (1500s–1700s) to the “need to control” (1800s) and the “yearning for nature” (1900s) see Baratay and Hardouin-Fugier, Zoos. tific mission of zoos, their conversion from “paradise to ark,” and the practice of human zoos, see Rothfels, Savages and Beasts, 19–20, 175, 81–142. On human zoos, see Blanchard et al., Human Zoos.
For Berger, the public zoo epitomizes the modern (non)relationship between humans and animals. “In principle, each cage is a frame round the animal inside it. Visitors visit the zoo to look at animals. . . . Yet in the zoo the view is always wrong. Like an image out of focus” (About Looking, 23). “The disappearance of animals takes several forms,” film scholar Anat Pick elaborates, “some of them paradoxically those of enhanced visibility.” According to Pick, it is thus the “disappearance of animals from daily life that renders them utterly visible—that re-presents them—as objects of mastery and knowledge,” and this “has only intensified under the conditions of endangerment” (Creaturely Poetics, 103–4).
Berger, About Looking, 26.
Lippit, Electric Animal, 1. In my discussion of animals’ disappearance, I follow Lippit’s reframing of disappearance not as a singular moment but as an enduring condition of the animal in modernity. Lippit’s work has sometimes been read as oblivious to, even complicit with, the relentless exploitation of animals, the orchestration of their sustained and sustainable disappearance on an industrial scale for capitalist profit. Continually disappearing yet infinitely reproducible, “undying” animals are at once ostensibly unkillable (they are not fully alive) and endlessly exploitable (they never go away). Yet Lippit shows better than most that what we call “animal” underwent a profound transformation in the modern period: “the nature of the animal,” he observes, “has shifted in the modern era from a metaphysic to a phantasm; from a body to an image; from a living voice to a technical echo” (21). My analysis departs from Lippit’s in two important ways. First, I address the animal question from a biopolitical vantage to engage with issues of power embedded in practices of knowledge, whereas the ethical and political stakes of Lippit’s work remain for the most part implicit. Second, by focusing on the nineteenth-century United States, I underline how the consolidation of colonial and capitalist logics subtended the making of a new animal condition.
Benjamin, “Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility,” 253.
The agonistic dramaturgy of the hunt is fundamentally iterative and interminable, hence for Walter Benjamin the hunter is the prototype of the flaneur, who does not know in advance what he is looking for (Arcades Project, 801–2).
Chow, Entanglements, 4.
The formula is Tom Gunning’s (“Play between Still and Moving Images,” 33).
Jonathan Crary argues that the thaumatrope, which called attention to “the hallucinatory and fabricated nature of the image and the absolute rupture between perception and its object,” exemplifies the radical dismantling of classical vision in the first half of the nineteenth century (Techniques of the Observer, 106). This shift transformed the viewer from a passive (but sovereign) receiver into an active (but manipulable) producer of visual information.
I treat the thaumatrope as an idealized prototype of capture, but it is important to recognize that the toy, akin to a game of fort-da, was far from working ideally: when the thaumatrope slows down, the bird is released and the cage emptied. Its mechanism required constant repetition, which betrays the idealist dimension of capture as a biopolitics of vision. To acknowledge this is to allow for divergent, skeptical, and resistant forms of viewing.
Chow, Entanglements, 46.
Chow borrows the term entanglement from quantum physics to describe these encounters that are not defined by proximity, affinity, or equivalence. In entanglement, particles are mysteriously connected “due to simultaneous reactions they produce.” She also cites Uexküllian biosemiotics, in which “the behavior of animals and organisms . . . coevolve by mysterious patterns of symmetry, down to the precise details of their bodily formations” (Entanglements, 2). I turn to Uexküll’s work in chapter 5, but I want to flag here that the conception of the animal as captive of its milieu, which finds its most potent expression in Uexküll’s concept of Umwelt (the bounded lifeworld of animal subjects), was definitional for twentieth- and twenty-first-century biological thought (deep ecology, ethology, biosemiotics) and philosophies of life. On the influence of Uexküll on Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Deleuze, see Buchanan, Onto-Ethologies.
Oxford English Dictionary Online, s.v. “capture (v.),” accessed April 26, 2020, https://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/o/oed/oed-idx?type=entry&byte=50445499.
Both Daguerre and Edison turn to the language of captivity to describe the essential features of the daguerreotype and the phonograph, respectively (on the daguerreotype, see Chevalier, Guide du photographe, 19; on the phonograph, see Edison, “Phonograph and Its Future,” 530). For a brilliant analysis of the politics of Edison’s “fugitive sound” in the context of African slavery and the emergence of copyright laws in the United States, see Best, Fugitive’s Properties, 29–100.
Berger, About Looking, 23.
Foucault, Order of Things, 176.
Foucault presents the transition from natural history to biology as a move away from the classical belief that seeing is knowing. The classical age is the age of “representation,” Foucault argues, and natural history is “nothing more than the nomination of the visible” (Order of Things, 144); modern biology challenges this faith in representation by privileging the unseeable. Tellingly, Sari Altschuler opens her history of the rise of U.S. modern medicine, which privileged physiology over anatomy, with the example of physician and novelist Robert Montgomery Bird, who complained in an 1841 address to medical students that doctors had as yet “no window of Momus to give us vistas of living pathology” (Medical Imagination, 1).
Derrida discusses this curious “nonpower at the heart of power” in relation to Jeremy Bentham’s revolutionary reframing of the animal question in Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (311n1). When Bentham—a thinker of signal importance for Foucault—famously asks “Can they suffer?” instead of “Can they reason?,” Derrida comments, he invites us to view animals from what we “undeniably” have in common with them (on Derrida’s surprising recourse to the rhetoric of undeniability, see Menely, Animal Claim, 169–73). Derrida ruminates on the aporia that makes animal suffering simultaneously accounted as undeniable and yet routinely discounted in practice. Such anomaly is possible, he suggests, when one relegates suffering to sheer impotence and “disavows” the singular “power” troubled by nonpower at the heart of the animal’s “passion” (Animal That Therefore I Am, 28). Nicole Shukin accuses Derrida of disempowering animals, of spectralizing animality, and thus of occluding the historical and material ways in which “capitalism is biopolitically invested in producing animal life as a spectral body” (Animal Capital, 38). She rightly insists that we need to investigate further the material and technological conditions for the proliferation of spectral animals, but I see in the elusiveness that Derrida associates with the animal a potential for “resistance,” in the Foucauldian sense. The positivity of Foucault’s description (“The animal . . . discovers fantastic new powers”) conjures up biopolitics’ introduction of new modes of subjectivation, not just subjugation, albeit the “biopolitical subject” has little to do with the liberal subject (construed as autonomous, rational, and willful). Cary Wolfe points out that biopolitics acts on bodies that are “not always already abjected” but “enfolded via biopower in struggle and resistance” (Before the Law, 32). This book accounts for this “resistance” by delineating an “ethics of capture” attentive to forms of expressions that are made intelligible by capture, arguing that animal subjects express themselves both against and through the very apparatuses that capture them.
Foucault, “Cuvier’s Situation in the History of Biology,” 229.
Among the most prominent contributors to the recent “animal turn” in biopolitics, Cary Wolfe’s Before the Law and Nicole Shukin’s Animal Capital show the extent to which animals are integral to biopolitical rationality and how biopolitics as an analytic of power can shed new light on the “question of the animal.” See also Boggs, Animalia Americana; Braverman, Wild Life; Broglio, Beasts of Burden; Calarco, Zoographies; Chen, Animacies; McCracken, In the Skin of a Beast; Seshadri, HumAnimal; Shukin, “Security Bonds”; Stanescu, “Beyond Biopolitics”; and Twine, Animals as Biotechnology. My book addresses a different critical archive than most of these books: instead of focusing exclusively on History of Sexuality and the seminars at the Collège de France, my Foucault of reference is the author of The Order of Things, who is more directly concerned with the role animality played in the emergence of the discourse of species and the human sciences.
Framing, for Wolfe, “decides what we recognize and what we don’t, what counts and what doesn’t; and it also determines the consequences of falling out of the frame (in the case at hand, outside the frame as ‘animal,’ as ‘zoe,’ as ‘bare life’)” (Before the Law, 29–30). Wolfe distinguishes between two frames. The first is the Heideggerian Gestell, which threatens to dispose (of) what is enframed as “standing-reserve” (Bestand). The frame out of which animals routinely fall is a different one: it is the frame of the law, which sanctions the exploitation and “noncriminal putting to death” of the animal(ized). Playing these two frames against one another, Wolfe opens a third way between dominant biopolitical traditions that “miss” the animal in two different ways. On the one hand, Wolfe blames thinkers like Arendt, Agamben, and Žižek for their dogmatic indifference to nonhuman life, which is always-already framed as zoe, as nonpolitical; on the other hand, he criticizes the utopian in-difference (the lack of differentiation) of someone like Esposito, whom he sees falling for what Derrida denounces as “biological continuism” (56–59).
C. Wolfe, 47.
The term capture has received a fair amount of attention in recent biopolitical discourses since Agamben’s dizzyingly capacious definition of dispositifs as “anything that has in some way the capacity to capture, orient, determine, intercept, model, control, or secure the gestures, behaviors, opinions, or discourses of living beings” (“What Is an Apparatus?,” 14). Though Agamben initially claims that apparatuses operate on “living beings,” the “subjects” caught in these apparatuses are unmistakably human (Fabbri, “From Inoperativeness to Action,” 96). Rather than lament Agamben’s “Heideggerian anthropocentrism,” Lorenzo Fabbri proposes instead that we expand his biopolitical investigation to institutions that govern the living in general and animals in particular: “One could combine the archeology of prisons, schools, hospitals, mental asylums, and factories with that of battery farming, kennel clubs, slaughterhouses, and training schools. . . . In this way, it would be more evident that the captivity of animal lives is deeply intertwined with that of human living beings” (97). Agamben does not simply miss an opportunity to account for animal lives, however. By deploring the modern “animalization” of the human, he surreptitiously condemns animals to a default condition of “captivation” (by which humans, he claims, are unprecedentedly threatened under biopolitical governmentality) instead of historicizing how animals came to be conceived as “essentially captivated” by their environment.
By focusing on representation, I heed Susan McHugh’s invitation in Animal Stories to examine the technopolitical functions performed by specific visual and literary forms (the novel, for McHugh, allows for perspectival experimentations beyond the confines of human subjectivity as it is classically conceived).
Animals had to be captured for the animal to emerge just as madmen had to be confined for reason to claim madness as its hidden raison d’être. Jeffrey Nealon traces the “first birth of biopower” to the incorporation of animality as the secret essence of humanity, which no longer defines itself against the presumed alterity of animals. This discursive domestication might be just another instance of the “great confinement” Foucault describes in History of Madness. In fact, Nealon compares the shifts charted by The Order of Things and History of Madness to suggest that the advent of Man—the moment “when philosophy becomes anthropology”—coincides with the moment “when the animal became incorporated into reason” (Plant Theory, 9).
The deceptive neutrality and apparent timelessness of the “catch-all concept” of the animal—which Derrida has taught us to distrust as a formidable discursive mechanism that enframes “all the living things that man does not recognize as his fellows” within “the strict enclosure of this definite article . . . as in a virgin forest, a zoo, a hunting or fishing ground, a paddock or an abattoir” (Animal That Therefore I Am, 34)—simultaneously marks and masks the undeniable transformation undergone by animal existence over the last two centuries. In Une autre existence, French philosopher Florence Burgat enlists phenomenology to argue that “animals behave in a manner that exceeds the conceptuality in which we have placed them” (25). Her wager echoes Derrida’s conviction, reflecting on his own cat, that the animal stubbornly “refuses to be conceptualized” (Animal That Therefore I Am, 9). Burgat and Derrida expose Western philosophy’s tacit complicity with what both describe as an ageless war against animals. Ironically enough, philosophy has traditionally sought to distinguish humans from other animals precisely by disputing animals’ conceptual competencies. Heidegger, for instance, insists that only humans are capable of a true “grasping” for “the hand holds the essence of man”; animals, by contrast, might have “prehensile organs” but no hand proper. As if contaminated by its supposed inability to capture/conceptualize (concept and capture both derive from capere), the Heideggerian animal finds itself captivated, prisoner of itself. Heidegger’s well-known thesis concerning the animal’s “poverty-in-world” derives from this essential Benommenheit, this “captivation,” this capture with no captor that entirely determines the animal’s experience of a world to which access is forever barred. Because the animal’s behavior is governed through and through by the involuntary activation of sensorial disinhibitors, Heidegger asserts that captivation “is the essence of animality” (Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, 248).
Similar claims have recently been made by scholars working at the intersection of animal studies and biopolitics. Colleen Boggs suggests that the foundation of liberal subjectivity rests on the mutual supposition of the categories of “the human” and “the animal” (Animalia Americana, 21–24). Zakiyyah Iman Jackson argues that “anxieties about conquest, slavery, and colonial expansionism provided the historical context for both the emergence of a developmental model of ‘universal humanity’ and a newly consolidated generic ‘animal’ that would be defined in nonhuman and racial terms” (“Beyond the Limit,” iv).
By using the term animality, I heed Michael Lundblad’s call to examine “how constructions of the animal have shifted historically in relation to the human” (“From Animal to Animality Studies,” 498). Animality for me is not a transhistorical category, however, but rather a kindred concept to the “sexuality” and “criminality” that Foucault strategically divorces from the ostensible naturalness of “sex” and “crime.”
Foucault, Order of Things, 139.
The advent of life marks a shift not just in the organization of knowledge but also in the focus of epistemic practices. Previously, plants had been the privileged objects of natural history, since the principle of their beings was fully on display, readily available for the scientist’s classificatory gaze; when the tabulated (spatial) organization of nature gives way to the comparative (temporal) ordering of beings, animals become the paradigmatic objects of study. “If living beings are a classification,” Foucault explains, “the plant is best able to express its limpid essence; but if they are a manifestation of life, the animal is better equipped to make its enigma perceptible” (Order of Things, 302). The classical model is predicated on representability. Plants can be seen, thus they can be known; in the modern age, representation is subordinated to a subterraneous force or will that defies the laws of visibility. “In relation to life, beings are no more than transitory figures, and the being that they maintain, during the brief period of their existence, is no more than their presumption, their will to survive. And so, for knowledge, the being of things is an illusion, a veil that must be torn aside in order to reveal the mute and invisible violence that is devouring them in the darkness” (303).
The “annihilation of certain species is indeed in process,” Derrida observes, “but it is occurring through the organization and exploitation of an artificial, infernal, virtually interminable survival, in conditions that previous generations would have judged monstrous, outside of every presumed norm of a life proper to animals that are thus exterminated by means of their continued existence or even their overpopulation. As if . . . instead of throwing a people into ovens and gas chambers (let’s say Nazi) doctors and geneticists had decided to organize the overproduction and overgeneration of Jews, gypsies, and homosexuals by means of artificial insemination, so that, being continually more numerous and better fed, they could be destined in always increasing numbers for the same hell” (Animal That Therefore I Am, 26). What Western culture ultimately values, this seeming contradiction suggests, is not animal lives but life insofar as it perpetuates the species. Could we justify mass slaughter if the pool of livestock was not, in principle, endlessly reproducible—if it was knowingly driving a species to extinction? The paradox echoes the idea that under biopolitics it becomes possible “at once . . . to protect life and authorize a holocaust” (attributed to Foucault, quoted in Agamben, Homo Sacer, 3).
It is not by accident that Foucault deciphers the figure of Man from the lithic contours of fossils, nor that capitalism is powered by fossil energies and invested in machines strategically destined to obsolescence from the outset. The recent surge of critical interest in the Anthropocene—the “age of Man,” alternatively dubbed capitalocene and plantationocene to underline its historical conditions of emergence—spells the recognition of the transience of the human as species, which itself hinges on the recognition of Man’s animality. On the historical complicities between capitalist extraction and fossil hunting, see Rieppel, Assembling the Dinosaur.
Foucault, Order of Things, 376.
Gilles Deleuze remarks that the “discovery” of Man’s animality is a strange event, however, since it is what allows Man to apprehend himself “as an object of new positive sciences” yet as essentially subjected to the obscure and unknowable forces of labor, life, sexuality, and language (Desert Islands, 91).
The “human being,” Foucault writes, “arises in a space hollowed out by living beings, objects of exchange, and words, when, abandoning representation, which had been their natural site hitherto, they withdraw into the depths of things and roll up upon themselves in accordance with the laws of life, production, and language. In the middle of them all, compressed within the circle they form, man is designated—more, required—by them, since it is he who speaks, since he is seen to reside among the animals (and in a position that is not merely privileged, but a source of order for the totality they form: even though he is not conceived as the end-product of evolution, he is recognized to be one extremity of a long series)” (Order of Things, 341).
Hence race, gender, and species become historicizable as technologies determining “caesuras within the biological continuum addressed by biopower” that make “killing acceptable” (Foucault, Society Must Be Defended, 256). Importantly, by “killing” Foucault means not “simply murder as such, but also every form of indirect murder: the fact of exposing someone to death, increasing the risk of death for some people, or, quite simply, political death, expulsion, rejection, and so on.” Broadly defined as a partitioning instrument meant to legitimize killing, racism can be understood as a model for other “natural” categories of difference such as gender and species. On this, see Twine, Animals as Biotechnology, 85–86; and Shukin, Animal Capital, 10–11.
Wynter, “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom,” 264.
“Because Foucault’s account of racial discourse is so endemically detached from the patterned shifts in world-wide imperial labor regimes of which those discourses were a part, we are diverted from the gritty historical specificities of what racial discourse did both to confirm the efficacy of slavery and to capture new populations in the transition to wage-labor.” And because The History of Sexuality focuses on the context of the European bourgeoisie, Ann Laura Stoler lucidly notes, Foucault makes race a “theme through which sexuality is discussed,” whereas bodies in the colonies are “constituted as racially and relationally coded from the outset” (Race and the Education of Desire, 91, 53). On Wynter’s revision of Foucault through the “idea of race,” see da Silva, “Before Man.”
Alexander Weheliye’s Habeas Viscus, for instance, denounces the occlusion of racialization and slavery by white European theorists of biopolitics, Foucault and Agamben in particular. Weheliye foregrounds the philosophies of Wynter and Hortense Spillers to show how racialized subjects, though violently denied the legal or biological recognition as “full humans,” were not purely abjected as “bare life.” They were able to leverage their oppressed position, Weheliye argues, to invent alternatives to liberal bourgeois culture and politics—what Wynter calls different “genres of being hybridly human” (Wynter, “Ceremony Found,” 214).
Shukin, Animal Capital, 119.
For sustained engagements with manhunting and biometric tracking as technologies of surveillance and discipline, see Chamayou, Manhunts; Browne, Dark Matters; and Boisseron, Afro-Dog. On the agricultural origin of the “partus” ruling of 1662, which stipulated that “all children borne in this country shall be held bond or free only according to the condition of the mother,” see Morgan, Partus sequitur ventrem, 158–59. On race as a “natural” technology in the U.S. context, see Chun, “Race and/as Technology.”
Boisseron powerfully argues that treating as merely “analogous” the subjugation of black subjects under slavery and the mass exploitation of animals threatens to reinscribe, rather than expose or contest, racist or speciesist logics. She warns against “analogy’s inherent vice,” which “lies in its propensity to give the upper hand to one entity over the other,” and offers instead to “determine how the history of the animal and the black in the black Atlantic is connected, rather than simply comparable” (Afro-Dog, xiii, xx).
Apess, “Son of the Forest,” 55, 61. Apess quotes from “Traits of Indian Character,” which Irving published anonymously in Analectic Magazine while the United States was at war with the Creek Indians (1813–1814). At the end of the war, Andrew Jackson forced the Creeks to surrender more than twenty-one million acres of land.
Jacobs, Incidents of the Life of a Slave Girl, 795. The autobiographies of Linda Brent/Harriet Jacobs, Frederick Douglass, and Solomon Northup offer the most incisive analyses of the treatment of enslaved individuals as livestock. However illuminating, the correspondence has obvious limits and must be established with care. Douglass, for instance, describes how his master’s horses and dogs were treated better and more highly valued than his “human cattle” (Autobiographies, 509).
On the importance of not conflating the modes of subjugation endured, and the forms of resistance invented, by indigenous and black subjects, see Rifkin, Fictions of Land and Flesh. On the gendered dimension of racist animalization, see Z. I. Jackson, “Beyond the Limit.”
Z. I. Jackson, “Beyond the Limit,” iv. The animalization of blackness, Jackson argues, is the repressed condition of the normative conception of “the human” we have inherited from European Enlightenment epistemologies. “Binaristic frameworks such as ‘humanization versus dehumanization’ and ‘human versus animal,’” however, “are inadequate to understand a biopolitical regime that develops technologies of ‘humanization’ in order to refigure blackness as ‘human animality’ and extends human recognition in an effort to deem blackness as the animal within the human” (vi).
Z. I. Jackson, 1. Building on Wynter’s and Hartman’s analyses, Jackson demonstrates that “humanization and animalization are mutually constitutive projects of antiblack violence, working in conjunction rather than in opposition, as is often presumed. (Neo)liberal humanism attempts to humanize black people by turning ‘the slave’ into the proletariat, but the gendered forms of labor made available to the former slave are deemed ‘animal’” (78).
Coulthard, Red Skin, White Masks, 3.
Vizenor, Fugitive Poses, and Manifest Manners; and Byrd, Transit of Empire.
Hartman, Scenes of Subjection; Best, Fugitive’s Properties; and Rusert, Fugitive Science.
Rusert, Fugitive Science.
In a conference titled “The Mesh of Power,” Foucault frames the shift from sovereign violence to biopower as a shift from hunt to capture. He proposes to study power in its positivity, from the vantage of its “technologies,” instead of looking at the way power represents itself through laws and decrees. To illustrate his point, Foucault explains the transition between monarchy and capitalist democracy as follows: “The system of power that the monarchy had succeeded in organizing from the end of the Middle Ages presented two major inconveniences for the development of capitalism. First, political power, as it was exercised within the social body, was a very discontinuous power. The mesh of the net was too large, and an almost infinite number of things, elements, conducts, and processes escaped the control of power. . . . Consequently, economic processes . . . required the establishment of a continuous, minute power, in a certain atomizing fashion.” The second inconvenience is that this type of power was overly costly because it consisted primarily in “the right and force to collect something”: “Power was then essentially tax collector and predator [percepteur et prédateur]. In this way, it always performed an economic subtraction, and, by consequence, far from favoring and stimulating economic flow, monarchical power was perpetually its obstacle and its restraint.” What modern power invents, Foucault continues, is a system combining an “anatomopolitics” that renders individual bodies docile and labor-friendly with a “biopolitics” that fosters populations at the biological level.
1. Still Lifes
Foucault, Order of Things, 301, 289.
Nash, Wilderness and the American Mind, 1, 96, 97.
The article “Chasse” in d’Alembert and Diderot’s Encyclopédie, for instance, defines hunting as “all the sorts of wars that we wage against animals.” J. M. Coetzee’s 2003 novel Elizabeth Costello exploits this analogy. “We had a war once against the animals, which we called hunting, though in fact war and hunting are the same thing (Aristotle saw it clearly),” the title character explains. “That war went on for millions of years. We won it definitively only a few hundred years ago, when we invented guns. It is only since victory became absolute that we have been able to afford to cultivate compassion” (Elizabeth Costello, 104). The idea of war implies a relative degree of symmetry between humans and animals and supposes a shared political ground. Yet as Costello proposes, humans and animals ceased to cohabit under the particular conditions that made Man’s victory “absolute” (although some animals seem unaware that the war is over; rats, we are told, have not surrendered).
This elision is an abiding tradition in American science that can be traced back to the colonial period. On the reliance of the female, nonelite, and nonwhite hunters, collectors, and other “fossilists” in colonial America, see Parrish, American Curiosity, 215–306; and Kolbert, Sixth Extinction, 39. On the reliance of European naturalists on specimens imported from the colonies, and from the Americas in particular, see Greene, American Science in the Age of Jefferson.
Even apologists of the young nation like Jefferson thought that it was not the role of the government to support scientific endeavors. In the first half of the nineteenth century, most naturalists were working alone and funded their own practice. Eminent natural history institutions like the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia and the New York Lyceum of Natural History were established in the 1810s, and scientific societies did not proliferate until the 1830s. See Bates, Scientific Societies in the United States; and Blum, Picturing Nature.
New, Line’s Eye, 80.
Patterson, Missouri River Journals of John James Audubon, 217. “Audubon’s own syntax emphasizes the proximity of gun and art,” Patterson notes, quoting Audubon: “‘I took a Walk with my Gun this afternoon to see the Passage of Millions of Golden Plovers’” (217).
Rhodes, John James Audubon, 74–75.
By modern standards, notes Andrew J. Lewis, “many naturalists of the early republic were scarcely scientists at all [insofar as they] disdained systematic thinking and theory” (Democracy of Facts, 12). Ann Shelby Blum finds the epitome of the early nineteenth-century American naturalist in Alexander Wilson, author of the nine-volume study American Ornithology (1808–1814), who praised “outdoor practice as opposed to ‘speculations of mere closet theory’” (Picturing Nature, 30). On Audubon’s inferiority complex toward European naturalists, see Patterson, John James Audubon’s Journal of 1826, xxvii.
Daniel Patterson shows how Audubon’s late-nineteenth-century and early-twentieth-century biographers, increasingly concerned by the declining wildlife, bowdlerized his writings to minimize the painter’s killing sprees and sometimes gratuitous cruelty. They follow Maria Audubon, who forged entries of her grandfather’s journals, to present him as an early conservationist (Patterson, “Audubon’s Ethic in the Biographies,” in Missouri River Journals of John James Audubon).
Thoreau, Walden, 491. Thoreau inscribes his changing relation to untamed animals in a larger context where he sees New England boys gradually “outgrowing” their juvenile (but healthy) drive to hunt. Caustically, Thoreau attributes this maturing, “not to an increased humanity, but to an increased scarcity of game,” making humanity an unintended aftereffect of overhunting. On the “sublimation” of this hunting drive—what Thoreau calls the “animal in us”—into forms of self-perfectionism and an “epic of the captive, in which the adventuring impulse turns inward,” see Slotkin, Regeneration through Violence, 530–38.
“It is a surprising and memorable, as well as valuable experience, to be lost in the woods any time,” writes Thoreau. “Not till we are lost . . . not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves” (Walden, 459).
This was a consecrated formula used by naturalists to signal that their illustrations derived from firsthand observation. “The word ‘draw’ in ‘drawn from nature,’” writes Christoph Irmscher, “the seal of quality that Audubon put on all the watercolors from which Rober Havell in London produced his plates, is not just accidentally ambiguous: to draw means ‘to sketch,’ of course, but it can also, in the sense of ‘drawn from’ or ‘withdraw,’ signify the act of removing something from its original, in this case natural, context. Art is what nature is not—or rather, is no longer” (Poetics of Natural History, 206–7).
Audubon, Ornithological Biography, part 1, vii.
Audubon, “My Style of Drawing Birds,” in Writings and Drawings, 760.
Audubon, letter to the territorial governor of Arkansas, James Miller, 1820, quoted in Patterson, Missouri River Journals of John James Audubon, 50.
Audubon preferred the golden eagle as the U.S. national symbol, for he shared Benjamin Franklin’s misgivings about selecting the bald eagle, or “white-headed eagle,” as the “Emblem of my Country”: for him, the bird’s “ferocious, overbearing, and tyrannical temper,” his tendency to steal “the hard-earned fruits of [other birds’] labour,” and his feeding off carrion (and human children) made it unfit to model the “peaceful freedom” and the industry Audubon held dear (Audubon, Writings and Drawings, 238–47).
Audubon, 356. Audubon biographer Hezekiah Butterworth was well aware of the nationalist symbolics attached to the bird. In his 1901 biography, titled In the Days of Audubon: A Tale of the “Protector of Birds,” Butterworth substitutes the golden eagle for a “caracara eagle, the Brazilian bird,” and the scene of its capture takes place in Florida instead of Boston (quoted in Patterson, Missouri River Journals of John James Audubon, 214).
Stebbins, “Audubon’s Drawings of American Birds,” 20.
Rhodes, John James Audubon, 376.
Audubon, Writings and Drawings, 765.
In this, the painting anticipates Emanuel Leutze’s Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way (1862) and John Gast’s American Progress (1872), in which a series of archetypal American figures are facing the wild, promising territories of the West. During the American Civil War, Leutze was commissioned by Congress to paint in the Capitol his mural celebrating Manifest Destiny. Gast’s painting celebrates the progress of civilization over “savagery,” epitomized by Native Americans fleeing westward, and an untamed nature, represented by a herd of bison being hunted.
Some critics have read the ubiquitous interspecies violence depicted in The Birds of America as a prefiguration of Darwin’s theory of natural selection through competition. Seeing that Audubon includes himself in the picture as the archpredator, the hunter’s hunter, we see how his pictorial rhetoric might sanction a social or colonial order perceived as immanent, endless, and justified by the laws of nature.
Audubon, “Method of Drawing Birds,” in Writings and Drawings, 754.
Roberts, Transporting Visions, 184n49. The painter’s desire for a lossless translation denotes his deep-seated aversion to abstraction—an aversion that Roberts interprets in light of his financial troubles following the Panic of 1819—and underlines the unbroken continuity Audubon sought to establish between his images and the material world, which was being newly read as evanescent and subject to transformation.
Audubon’s insistence on drawing specimens at the 1:1 scale was, for Roberts, an act of resistance against the “rampant spatial abstractions of the culture of speculation that had first fueled, and then destroyed, his career as a merchant” (Roberts, 6). The panic, Roberts explains, was not just financial but also “reflected anxieties about geography, circulation, scale, and representation” (110). Audubon worried about the possibility to misrepresent his bird species just as he feared the markets’ volatility. Thus, Roberts interprets his commitment to indexicality and the cumbersome materiality of the four volumes of The Birds of America as prophylactic defenses against the capitalist and colonialist logics of abstraction and scalability.
Roberts, 110. For Audubon, killing the birds is not antithetical to their pictorial preservation. In fact, their death is a sign of the picture’s success: “There is a sense in Audubon’s work that representation wholly eclipses the referent, destroying it in the process,” Roberts argues. “The life of the bird seems to shift from one body to another; the image is not an immaterial copy that goes out into the world, but the original referent itself” (110).
Arsić, Bird Relics, 408.
Audubon, Writings and Drawings, 355.
Audubon, 354–55. Blum notes Audubon’s tendency to enlarge the heads and eyes of his birds to make them more appealing (Picturing Nature, 32). If neoteny and cuteness are biological assets, as Stephen Jay Gould argues in “A Biological Homage to Mickey Mouse,” the cute is also that which is defenseless, that which I know I could kill. On this, see Ngai, “Cuteness of the Avant-Garde,” 823.
On the human–animal rivalries presented in Audubon’s paintings, see Blum, Picturing Nature, 106; and Irmscher, Poetics of Natural History, 229.
Audubon, Writings and Drawings, 354–55.
Audubon, Ornithological Biography, part 1, vii.
Derrida, “Eating Well,” 112.
Derrida, Animal That Therefore I Am, 135. Although Derrida presents himself as a hunter in this text, he rejects the exculpatory license granted by the sovereign “right to kill,” which has always been the heteropatriarchal preserve of Man. Instead, he animalizes himself, claiming to “track, to sniff, to trail, and to follow some of the reasons they [humans] adduce for the so confident usage they make . . . of words such as, therefore, animal and I” (33).
Wynter, “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom,” 260.
Jackson, “Beyond the Limit,” 57.
On Audubon’s uncertain racial identity, see Nobles, John James Audubon, 14–17; and Iannini, Fatal Revolutions, 253–80.
Derrida, “Eating Well,” 112.
See, for instance, Annette Kolodny’s foundational study The Lay of the Land (1975). Elisa New faults Kolodny for being too quick at aligning knowledge with violence and for focusing on Audubon’s “promotional writing rather than his art.” By ignoring the paintings, New argues, Kolodny “loses sight” of the unique force of Audubon’s sketches and the specific economy and ecology of attention at play in his “sightings” (New, Line’s Eye, 78–79).
Irmscher remarks that Audubon himself “was well aware that some birds, such as the grouse, were ‘decreasing at a rapid rate’ and were threatened with extinction, like the original inhabitants of the American continent. ‘When I first removed to Kentucky, the Pinnated Grouse were so abundant, that they were held in no higher estimation as food than the most common flesh, and no “hunter of Kentucky” deigned to shoot them.’ In those days, grouse would walk in the very streets of the villages, enter the farmyards, and mingle with the poultry. Now they ‘have abandoned the state of Kentucky, and removed (like the Indians) every season farther to the westward, to escape from the murderous white man’” (Irmscher, Poetics of Natural History, 216). The manner in which Audubon dissociates himself from “the murderous white man” can be read as a return of the repressed anxieties surrounding his own possible biracialism.
New, Line’s Eye, 80.
Audubon claims the incident took place in Nantes, but Rhodes notes that “Saint Domingue is more likely” (John James Audubon, 21).
Audubon, Writings and Drawings, 765–66.
Michael Ziser speculates that although the passage in question “was not published until fifty years after the ‘Murders in the Rue Morgue’ and there is no existing record in Poe’s biographies or the Poe log of the two men ever having crossed paths, the possibility of a direct historical connection between Audubon’s ‘man of the woods’ and Poe’s orangutan (literally ‘man of the forest’) or between the ‘Du pain’ of Audubon’s parrot and Dupin (whose seal is made ‘of bread’) cannot be entirely ruled out” (“Animal Mirrors,” 22).
Iannini, Fatal Revolutions, 261. Iannini reads Audubon’s identification as “creole”—a term used both for subjects of mixed black and European descent and for French citizens born in the Caribbean—as a repressed heritage that the naturalist negotiated throughout his writings and paintings and that returned to haunt him especially after his bankruptcy following the Panic of 1819, when he was afraid of losing the social and racial capital he had accrued since moving to the United States. Iannini compares the episode of the murderous ape to passages from The Mississippi River Journal where Audubon finds himself in Louisiana, in a “semitropical region shaped by plantation slavery, hemispheric mobility, French colonial métissage, and incipient slave revolution” (Iannini, Fatal Revolutions, 257). His racial anxieties were justified by a broader context in which “French creoles as a class became an object of racialist scrutiny” after the Louisiana Purchase, “as commentators asked whether they could be incorporated as citizens into the United States without rendering untenable the important legal category of whiteness—or exposing its fictionality” (258).
Mirzoeff, “It’s Not the Anthropocene,” 130–33.
Irmscher, Poetics of Natural History, 206–7; and Ziser, “Animal Mirrors,” 23.
Mirzoeff notes that in his chosen names, Audubon irreconcilably identified himself both with the French-speaking bird and with the “man of the woods” (“It’s Not the Anthropocene,” 131).
Ziser, “Animal Mirrors,” 23.
Mbembe, “Necropolitics,” 25. Setting side by side Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit and Paul Du Chaillu’s Explorations and Adventures in Equatorial Africa, Mbembe establishes a direct “connection between the act of colonizing and the act of hunting” (On the Postcolony, 196). He highlights the persistence of necropolitical strategies that European governmentality disavows or hides when it overlooks the centrality of slavery to the development of western democracy and maintains an explicit “right to kill” in colonial spaces. Building on Mbembe’s analysis, which recognizes in plantation slavery one of the first and most formative sites of biopolitical experimentation, Scott Lauria Morgensen argues that the “perpetual subjugation” of black people is indissociable from the “naturalized” extermination of the indigenous population in North America (“Biopolitics of Settler Colonialism,” 58).
Foucault, Society Must Be Defended, 241.
Foucault, Order of Things, 15–16.
Wynter, “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom,” 313.
I borrow the term full human from Alexander Weheliye, who turns to Wynter’s reflections on the category of “the human” in Western modernity to understand the sociogenic mechanisms that distribute people into “full humans,” “not-quite-humans,” and “nonhumans” (Habeas Viscus).
Wynter, “Unsettling the Coloniality of Being/Power/Truth/Freedom,” 318.
Daston and Galison, Objectivity, 80.
Daston and Galison, 79. For a detailed account of the skepticism and criticisms with which Audubon’s paintings were met by the naturalist community of the time, see Blum, Picturing Nature, 111–18.
Blum, Picturing Nature, 88.
Arsić, Bird Relics, 145.
Daston and Galison, Objectivity, 363.
Irmscher, Poetics of Natural History, 199. Audubon knew very little about taxonomy when he began his monumental project; as Irmscher informs us, for the texts of his Ornithological Biography, Audubon sought the help of the Scottish ornithologist William MacGillivray, who added “taxonomical details” and “anatomical descriptions of the birds’ respiratory and digestive tracts” (199).
Roberts, Transporting Visions, 81.
Daston and Galison, Objectivity. Though The Birds of America is rarely categorized alongside modernist artworks, Roberts demonstrates that it “emerges from and responds to the same forces that underlie modernity itself—capital flows, communication technologies, and upheavals in models of subjectivity” (Transporting Visions, 103).
The idea that knowledge supposes the suspension of power is a modern idea: if knowledge is a function of power, as Foucault argues, its correlation with power is what power cannot acknowledge, in fact cannot even know. In line with a certain colonizing logic that disavows its violence, modern science typically resorts to the vocabulary of “discovery.”
Rhodes, John James Audubon, 379.
Irmscher, Poetics of Natural History, 225.
Several years after he first published his Ornithological Biography, when Audubon began working on a more affordable Octavo edition of The Birds of America to increase his sales, his sons persuaded him to delete entirely the scene of the killing of the golden eagle. “There is killing enough to go around in the bird biographies,” Daniel Patterson explains, “but this particularly heartless passage was deemed to run an unnecessary risk of alienating readers at a time when profit was the motive” (Missouri River Journals of John James Audubon, 212). Violence is only tolerable when presented as a necessity (e.g., scientifically justified).
Foucault, Order of Things, 376.
“When natural history becomes biology,” Foucault explains, “and Classical discourse, in which being and representation found their common locus, is eclipsed, then, in the profound upheaval of such an archaeological mutation, man appears in his ambiguous position as an object of knowledge and as a subject that knows: enslaved sovereign, observed spectator, he appears in the place belonging to the king, which was assigned to him in advance by Las Meninas, but from which his real presence has for so long been excluded” (340).
2. Land Speculations
Chad Luck reads this scene in light of the foundational 1805 case Pierson v. Post deciding the legal ownership of the carcass of a fox pursued by Post but killed by Pierson. “By explaining how to take possession of, and establish title to, a wild animal,” writes Luck, Pierson v. Post “addresses the thorny problem of original acquisition” and articulates “an ideology of property through which American citizens might more comfortably justify the appropriation of ‘waste’ lands and all sorts of other ‘unowned’ properties” (Body of Property, 3).
House, Cooper’s Americans, 265.
Cooper, The Pioneers, in Leatherstocking Tales, 1:22 (hereafter, Pioneers). “The judge compounds voting disenfranchisement together with legal prohibition on black testimony,” writes Joe Lockard, “Agamemnon . . . is an official non-person; Bess is a yet-to-be person” (“Talking Guns, Talking Turkey,” 327).
On the legal conversion of the Indian commons into private land and on the historical silencing of Native Americans in The Pioneers, see Cheyfitz, “Savage Law.”
Locke, “Second Treatise,” 290.
Castronovo, “James Fenimore Cooper and the NSA,” 689. “The question of ‘how should one ever come to have a property in any thing,’” Castronovo writes, “is answered by pursuit and surveillance. The mere thought of property—not property that is in hand but property that is on the run—generates the desire to secure it. It is a lesson that the Judge’s black slave no doubt appreciates only too well.” Castronovo does not elaborate on this, and Cooper’s text does not give Agamemnon any clear insight into his own fate as he witnesses the deer’s lot. The other silent witness, Bess, is granted more interiority as she finds herself “unconsciously rejoicing in the escape of the buck” (Cooper, Pioneers, 20). Cooper’s romance registers affinities and even a tacit solidarity between the young woman, the enslaved individual, and the hunted deer, without exploiting them fully in the plot. My thanks to Audrey Bransfield for bringing this to my attention.
One needed to be recognized as a citizen to claim the right to capture wild game, which meant that as captives, enslaved individuals were de facto excluded from Locke’s supposedly “equitable” economy. See VanderVelde, “Role of Captives and the Rule of Capture.”
Cheyfitz, “Savage Law,” 112. Basing its decision on the Doctrine of Discovery, the Supreme Court stipulated that the land could not be purchased from Indians because they did not own the land but only occupied it. Writes Cheyfitz: “For the idea of property depends on the possibility of an individual relation to the land (as the basis of wealth), either in the name of a single person or a group, such as a corporation, acting as a single person, in which this person, precisely because he or she or it is an ‘individual,’ is ‘free’ to alienate this land in a market economy. Or we could reverse the proposition and say: there is no individuality without property, so inseparable are the two terms in the mixed material and metaphysical traditions of the West. Locke’s formulation of primal individuality—‘every man has a property in his own person’—succinctly states this inseparability, which is alien to Native American cultures” (112).
Cooper, Pioneers, 360.
The paragon of the American historical romancer, Cooper “was accustomed to present his own versions of the beau idéal of frontier life as if they were history” (Fiedler, Love and Death in the American Novel, 165). According to George Dekker, Cooper embraced a “stadialist” model of history (the belief that society “evolved” according to distinct modes of subsistence, from hunting to herding to farming) that proved essential when he composed The Prairie (American Historical Romance, 95–97). As early as 1829, William Apess called out this narrative of progress as an alibi for the white settler colonial agenda (see introduction). On Cooper and the genre of the historical romance, see Chase, American Novel and Its Tradition, 43–56; and Budick, “American Historical Romance.”
Cooper, Prairie, 11; emphasis added. All future references to this work are hereafter cited parenthetically.
Oxford English Dictionary Online, s.v. “purchase (v.),” accessed April 30, 2020, https://www.oed.com/view/Entry/154832.
On the Doctrine of Discovery and its application in North America, its metamorphosis into Manifest Destiny, and the forcible preemption of Native lands and resources it sanctioned, see R. Miller, Native America, esp. introduction and chaps. 1 and 2; and Dunbar-Ortiz, Indigenous People’s History of the United States, esp. chaps. 2 and 6.
Significantly for us, Mbembe adds that these justifications relegate the colonized to the status of “animal,” presenting him or her as a being “encapsulated in himself or herself, . . . a bundle of drives but not of capacities” with whom the only possible relation is one of domination or domestication (On the Postcolony, 25–27). We recognize in this being, which is forever “enclosed” in its instinctual drives, Heidegger’s captivated animal, to which Mbembe explicitly refers.
Deleuze and Guattari borrow the idea of “magic capture” from French philologist Georges Dumézil, who uses it to describe the operations of the State apparatus (Deleuze and Guattari, Thousand Plateaus, 427). In the opening paragraph of The Pioneers, Cooper tellingly feels compelled to add a footnote intended to account for the implausible speed by which the “wilderness” was brought “under the dominion of mild laws”: “Our tale begins in 1793, about seven years after the commencement of one of the earliest of those settlements which have conduced to effect that magical change in the power and condition of the State to which we have alluded” (19; emphasis added).
Taxis, media theorist Bernhard Siegert notes, refers to “an order of things in which each and every object is located in a fixed place where it can be found. Humans, however, differ from things . . . because for them ‘no place of meeting has been fixed’” (Cultural Techniques, 97). For Siegert, this distinction crumbles in modernity, which “is characterized by the invention of a taxis technique capable of also turning humans into retrievable objects” (97). Although evidently, this technique was already applicable and applied to human subjects, as slaves were forcibly instructed to “know their place” but without being granted a place of their own (on the taxonomy of race and the “insidious ascription of place” for black subjects, see Hartman, Scenes of Subjection, 193–96). The advent of surveillance societies toward the end of the eighteenth century marks the extension to those recognized as humans of a logic originally targeting nonhuman beings and dehumanized subjects. “This modern taxis is implemented by means of a new cultural technique which takes into account that something may be missing from its place,” Siegert continues. “In other words, it encompasses the notion of an empty space. The technique in question is the grid or lattice. Its salient feature is its ability to merge operations geared toward representing humans and things with those of governance” (Cultural Techniques, 97; emphasis added).
Coding, overcoding, and decoding are three systems of representation that correspond to three social formations identified by Deleuze and Guattari in Anti-Oedipus. These three systems—the tribal, the imperial, and the capitalist—are respectively centered around the Earth, the Sovereign, and Money as the imagined sources of production. Coding is associated with a process of territorialization; overcoding with deterritorialization immediately followed by reterritorialization; decoding with a radical deterritorialization.
Cooper, The Prairie, in Leatherstocking Tales, 1:884.
For Fiedler, Natty Bumppo is the paragon of a new species able to “orient” itself in the West without turning it into the East, and thereby to forgo the colonial violence recalled by the appellation “Indians” for the Native Americans. In Fiedler’s view, the Westerner is not the emissary of Western culture but the white man remade in the Indian’s image (Return of the Vanishing American, 49).
On the strategic tensions between romance and realism in frontier narratives, see Nelson, Word in Black and White, 38–64.
Pratt, Imperial Eyes, 61. The passive voice in The Prairie’s first paragraph presents this as a self-evident truth: “Much was said and written, at the time, concerning the policy of adding the vast regions of Louisiana, to the already immense and but half-tenanted territories of the United States. As the warmth of controversy however subsided, and party considerations gave place to more liberal views, the wisdom of the measure began to be generally conceded. It soon became apparent to the meanest capacity, that, while nature had placed a barrier of desert to the extension of our population in the west, the measure had made us the masters of a belt of fertile country. . . . It gave us the sole command of the great thoroughfare of the interior, and placed the countless tribes of savages, who lay along our borders, entirely within our control; it reconciled conflicting rights, and quieted national distrusts; it opened a thousand avenues to the inland trade, and to the waters of the Pacific; and, if ever time or necessity shall require a peaceful division of this vast empire, it assures us of a neighbour that will possess our language, our religion, our institutions, and it is also to be hoped, our sense of political justice” (9). On the transformation of “indigenous peoples into the homo nullius inhabitants of lands emptied and awaiting arrival,” see Byrd, Transit of Empire, xxi. See also Annette Kolodny’s The Lay of the Land on the widespread trope of the “virgin” continent, with the term’s attendant sexual and gendered dimensions, in relation to Cooper’s Leatherstocking romances (89–114). On the colonial ideologies of vision in early America, see Pease, Visionary Compacts; and Cheyfitz, Poetics of Imperialism.
New, Line’s Eye, 44.
Purdy, After Nature, 23.
Bernhard Siegert clearly articulates the growing complementarity of financial and imaginative speculations and the links between these and gridding, mapping, and surveying: “Although the rectangular survey prescribed by the Land Ordinance of 1785 only concerned territories between the Appalachians and the Mississippi, it became the model for the subsequent appropriation and colonization of the entire continent. Congress was confronted with a situation virtually unprecedented in history: It was empowered to ‘make the law governing the survey and distribution of a vast territory before it was occupied.’ . . . Grid patterns, colonization, and real estate speculation coincided. . . . Although the surveyors were instructed to maintain field notes on soil quality, water, and natural resources, purchasers could end up owning a swamp, a sandbank, or a piece of Native American territory. Financial and mental speculation became synonymous” (Cultural Techniques, 112–14). The efficacy of Jefferson’s survey system was tested and confirmed by the acquisition of the Louisiana territories in 1803, which ratified the virtually limitless mechanism of control and surveillance that would power the U.S. colonial enterprise. Because of its projective dimension, the grid illustrates the new form that conquest took in North America. Cronon notes that “the grid turned the prairie into a commodity, and became the foundation for all subsequent land use” (Nature’s Metropolis, 102).
The term species, like speculation, derives from specere, and species classification (in its modern iteration) is predicated on comparative anatomy—i.e., on the dissection of bodies in the name of their assumed commensurability. I develop this in chapter 4.
The scientist’s slapstick quality is deceptive. The naturalist often presents himself as a deeroticized “insect hunter,” Mary Louise Pratt argues: “Unlike such antecedents as the conquistador and the hunter, the figure of the naturalist-hero often has a certain impotence or androgyny about him. . . . The naturalist-heroes are not, however, women—no world is more androcentric than that of natural history. . . . In the literature of the imperial frontier, the conspicuous innocence of the naturalist acquires meaning in relation to an assumed guilt of conquest, a guilt the naturalist figure eternally tries to escape” (Imperial Eyes, 56–57).
Kelly, Plotting America’s Past, 105.
Bat’s quixotic character is underlined by his being inseparable from his stubborn companion throughout the novel—at one point he is even tied up to Asinus by the Sioux who capture him: “the legs of the Naturalist were attached to the beast in such a manner that the two animals might be said to be incorporated and to form a new order” (304). But Asinus is not just the correlative of the scientist’s ludicrousness. The donkey is also recruited to underline the contrast between Bumppo’s pragmatic view and the scientist’s sentimental idealism. Twice, Bat and Bumppo argue over the lot of Asinus, whom the trapper, for safety reasons, wishes to put to death. The compassionate naturalist ends up saving in extremis the life of his companion, who then proves crucial in helping the two men out of a perilous situation. Thus, the course of action vindicates Battius and seems to justify his (selective) compassion.
Derrida, Animal That Therefore I Am, 31.
Quoted in Nobles, John James Audubon, 264. One of these “eccentric naturalists,” an “odd-looking fellow” called “M. de T.” by Audubon but identified by Nobles as European botanist Constantine Rafinesque, had traveled to Henderson, Kentucky, in 1818 specifically to look at Audubon’s drawings of plants. The blatant scorn in which Audubon held the observational skills of Rafinesque led Audubon to prank his rival by describing and sketching imaginary specimens—nine wild rats, two birds, one mollusk, three snails, and eleven fish species, including one with supposedly bulletproof scales—a number of which Rafinesque took credit for discovering (Woodman, “Pranked by Audubon”).
Quoted in Gerbi, Dispute of the New World, 4.
Humans were no exception. Buffon described the American “savage” as “feeble and small in his organs of generation.” In the inhospitable climate of the New World, “far from making himself master of this territory as his own domain, [man] ruled over nothing; where having never subjugated either animals or the elements, nor tamed the waters, nor governed the rivers, nor worked the earth, he was himself no more than an animal of the first order, existing within nature as a creature without significance” (Buffon quoted in Gerbi, 6). Buffon thus attributed nature’s degeneracy to inclement weather conditions and managed in the same breath to blame Native Americans for their passivity (a corollary of their perceived impotence) in conquering the wild tracts of America. His reasoning anticipates the manner in which scientific discourse ratified the genocidal politics of white settlers in the nineteenth century.
Jefferson, “Notes on the State of Virginia,” 167. Jefferson found his most decisive refutation of Buffon’s theory in the fossil remains of the great American incognitum—what we recognize today as the mammoth—which boasted “five or six times the cubic volume of the elephant” (167).
Dutta, “Mammoths, Inc.”
Gerbi, Dispute of the New World, 19. One might think that shortsightedness does not prevent one from examining objects up close, but, as Buffon affirms about his own affliction, “the more short-sighted any man is, he sees objects proportionally diminished” (Buffon, Leclerc, and Barr, Buffon’s Natural History, 268).
Roberts, Transporting Visions, 106.
If we consider Foucault’s partition between natural history (premised on the comparison and ordering of given organisms) and biology (predicated on the establishment of analogies between organic structures), we may infer that accrued visibility—aided by the development of mechanized technologies—can account for epistemic breaks, given that Foucault explicitly makes natural history a function of the visible while biology discovers an internal “principle alien to the domain of the visible” (Order of Things, 246). But it would be wrong to assume that this epochal shift is but a move from the visible to the infravisible, since the taxinomia of the classical age was already haunted by an irreducible invisibility (think of the vanishing point of representation in Las Meninas) and the invisible principle that governs modern classification (i.e., life) is inextricable from its manifestations (Foucault, 249). Rather than an indifference to the immediately visible, the shift must be understood as a new articulation of the dialectic between the visible and the invisible. Foucault makes it explicit that “comparative anatomy is not merely a deepening of the descriptive techniques employed in the Classical age; it is not content with seeking to look underneath, more precisely and more closely; it establishes a space which is neither that of visible characters nor that of microscopic elements” (293).
Merleau-Ponty, Visible and the Invisible, 190.
Merleau-Ponty, Nature, 192.
“The postulate of classical logic is that given the observer as fallible subjectivity,” explains Merleau-Ponty, “there can be appearance, but this de facto appearance is reducible de jure by a better knowledge of the apparatus and of our sensorial imperfections. The idea of ‘objective truth’ is not beyond reach” (93).
The deictic distance imposed by the scientist’s “there” is strikingly (though doubtfully intentionally so) at variance with Bumppo’s enigmatic last word before dying: “Here!” (385). This adverb seems to freeze Bumppo in an immobility and a presentism at odds with the west- and future-oriented ethos that drives the rest of the nation and in conflict with the progressive principles the scientist obeys.
There is an intriguing transference at work in the case of Battius, who does not merely want to capture the animal by means of mechanized apparatuses but also dreams of mechanizing the animal itself (a desire that prophetically anticipates the intensive modification and commodification of animal life brought about by the rapid development of factory farming): “Is the power to give life to inanimate matter the gift of man? I would it were! You should speedily see a Historia Naturalis, Americana, that would put the sneering imitators of the Frenchman, De Buffon, to shame! A great improvement might be made in the formation of all quadrupeds; especially those in which velocity is a virtue. Two of the inferior limbs should be on the principle of the lever; wheels, perhaps, as they are now formed; though I have not yet determined whether the improvement might be better applied to the anterior or posterior members, inasmuch as I am yet to learn whether dragging or shoving requires the greatest muscular exertion. A natural exudation of the animal might assist in overcoming the friction, and a powerful momentum be obtained. But all this is hopeless—at least for the present!” (70–71).
Daston and Galison, Objectivity, 17, 20.
Daston and Galison, 130.
In a footnote, Cooper feels compelled to explain that “this American word means one who takes his game in a trap. It is of general use on the frontiers” (22).
Cooper, Leatherstocking Tales, 2:500.
In Freudian psychoanalysis, sublimation describes the elevation of instinctual animal impulses into more socially acceptable occupations, especially artistic pursuits (see Freud, Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex). Often credited for being the first to introduce the concept of Sublimierung in psychological language, Nietzsche also defines sublimation as the “evaporation” of animal drives but, unlike Freud, he does not always valorize sublimation; he treats it instead as a form of inhibition and repression, as the very symptom of modern falsification. Calling the bluff on the supposed “purification” of modern civilization, Nietzsche strives to revert the process of sublimation in order to retrieve the obliterated animal instincts that are still active under the polished carapace of modern civilization.
Audubon, Ornithological Biography, 266.
Audubon explains his calculation thus: “Let us take a column of one mile in breadth, which is far below the average size, and suppose it passing over us without interruption for three hours, at the rate mentioned above of one mile in a minute. This will give us a parallelogram of 180 miles by 1, covering 180 square miles. Allowing two pigeons to the square yard, we have One billion, one hundred and fifteen millions, one hundred and thirty-six thousand pigeons in one flock” (266).
See Nevius’s introduction to Cooper, Prairie, xxiv.
In 1875, a military commander reportedly ordered that medals “with a dead buffalo on one side and a discouraged Indian on the other side” be given to any buffalo-killer (Merchant, American Environmental History, 20). In a logic that calls to mind the combinatory visual of the thaumatrope, the medal bound the lot of the buffalo with that of the Native American.
One telling example is given by historian Mary Wingerd, who explains that the 1862 war between settlers and Plains Indians in Minnesota—which led to the public hanging of thirty-eight Dakota warriors, “the largest mass execution in U.S. history”—was sparked by a controversy over indigenous hunting life (requiring more land) and the U.S. insistence on settlement and farming (North Country, 327). Scott Lauria Morgensen chooses this example to underline a critical, indeed constitutive, oversight in Agambenian biopolitics, which ignores the history of American settler colonialism (“Biopolitics of Settler Colonialism,” 69–70). On the resistance to the “systematic effort to assimilate Indians into farmers,” see Byrd, Transit of Empire, 159.
“Hunters . . . are not simply fighters on the side of humanity against the wilderness,” explains Matt Cartmill. “Their loyalties are divided. Because hunting takes place at the boundary between the human domain and the wilderness, the hunter stands with one foot on each side of the boundary, and swears no perpetual allegiance to either side” (View to a Death in the Morning, 31). Leatherstocking is exemplary in this regard. Cooper’s hunter is never just the one who tames the wild but also the one who has an intimate knowledge of nature and hunts only what is necessary to his own subsistence.
The figure of the frontiersman is a tragic one, as Lukács shows in his comparison of Bumppo to the “middle-of-the-road” heroes of Walter Scott’s novels (Historical Novel). Leslie Fiedler notes the paradoxical nature of Bumppo, who, though he incarnates the true spirit of America, must make way, along with the Indian, for the civilized man: “Cooper disconcertingly condemned his own kind of fiction to extinction by predicting the disappearance of the ‘New Man’—that backwoods American neither Red nor White represented by Natty Bumppo—along with that of the Indian himself” (Return of the Vanishing American, 121).
The Native’s simultaneous incorporation in the national narrative and exclusion from the nation’s future is “Cooper’s signature move,” for Armstrong and Tennenhouse (Novels in the Time of Democratic Writing, 159).
“The Indian was an occidental invention that became a bankable simulation,” writes Vizenor; “the word has no referent in tribal languages or cultures” (Manifest Manners, 8). “Those who ‘memorialized rather than perpetuated’ a tribal presence and wrote ‘Indian history as obituary,’” he continues, quoting Larzer Ziff, “were unconsciously collaborating ‘with those bent on physical extermination’” (8).
Ziff, quoted by Vizenor (8).
For Bumppo, civilization represents the tragic triumph of white “cunning” over the forthright “manhood” that he grants to the Native American. Hence the complex formula composed by The Prairie: proceeding from trickery, the inexorable advancement of white modernity precipitates an inacceptable but inevitable loss of virility and moral rectitude (223–24). This symbolic impotence is compensated by valorizing hunting as a prevalent cultural identity for Americans at the very moment when it was ceasing to be an everyday activity. On the real and symbolic collusions between hunting and imperialism, see Ritvo, Animal Estate, and “Destroyers and Preservers”; and Gillespie, Hunting for Empire. On the role played by the hunter in the popular American mythology, see Smith, Virgin Land. Smith articulates two dominant versions of American Empire: the mercantilist, modeled after maritime conquest and commerce, and the agrarian, which promotes the control and sedentary occupation of the land. For Smith, Cooper’s hunter acts as a temporary mediator between the two.
Agamben, “What Is an Apparatus?,” 13. Agamben’s characterization of biopolitics as the incorporation of zoe into the calculus of politics is useful, but his focus on death, Luciano argues, tends to detemporalize Foucault’s framework, making it unable to account for the “sexual arrangement of the time of life,” what she calls chronobiopolitics (Arranging Grief, 9). Luciano shows how sex, the intersection between individual and population, and more specifically the nineteenth-century “culture of sentiment” served as biopolitical instruments of population control insofar as they made it possible to distinguish between those who could subdue the (instinctive) immediacy of sensation under the (evolved) progressive temporality of sentiment and those who could not.
Rifkin, “Indigenizing Agamben,” 101.
On the notion of “bare habitance,” see Rifkin, 94.
Cooper, Pioneers, 425.
Preface to the 1832 edition, in Cooper, Leatherstocking Tales, 1:884–85.
On the collusion between paleontology and settler colonialism, see Luciano, “Tracking Prehistory”; and Schuller, “Fossil and the Photograph.” On the mutually reinforcing colonial logic of “vanishing” nature and Natives, see Wakeham, Taxidermic Signs.
Apess, “Son of the Forest,” 55.
On this revisionist projection of peace (in which Cooper’s fiction participates), see Scheckel, Insistence of the Indian, 15–40.
Consider the letter that the future President Jackson sent to his troops in 1814 to justify the massacre of the Muskogee Nation at the battle of Horseshoe Bend: “The fiends of the Tallapoosa will no longer murder our Women and Children, or disturb the quiet of our borders. . . . They have disappeared from the face of the Earth. . . . The weapons of warefare [sic] will be exchanged for the utensils of husbandry; and the wilderness which now withers in sterility and seems to mourn the disolation [sic] which overspreads it, will blossom as the rose, and become the nursery of the arts. . . . How lamentable it is that the path to peace should lead through blood, and over the carcases [sic] of the slain!!” (A. Jackson, “Andrew Jackson to Soldiers”).
Dunbar-Ortiz, Indigenous People’s History of the United States, 103.
Coulthard, Red Skin, White Masks, 7.
Gissen, Subnature, 182–83.
Here the continuities between hunt and capture are clear. This classic hunting technique—the basis of the modern deer stand or duck blind—is sometimes used by wildlife photographers to “invisibilize” themselves and approach wild animals. Burt, for instance, mentions the case of British naturalists Richard and Cherry Kearton hiding inside a model cow (Animals in Film, 98).
Deleuze and Guattari, Thousand Plateaus, 440.
Territory is also the category by which Deleuze and Guattari substitute a functionalist for an expressionist conception of animals. They invoke Uexküll to show how animals inhabit and build (decode and encode) territories and thenceforth operate transspecific “captures.” I return to Deleuze and Guattari’s unexpected use of the term capture to describe animal-becomings in chapter 5.
Glen Sean Coulthard explains that the U.S. expropriation of indigenous populations, which he reframes as primitive accumulation, in turn creates a class of mobile workers readied to sell their labor (Red Skin, White Masks, 8–9).
Noting the convergence between the policing of poor and black populations after Emancipation, Hartman notes that “a variety of everyday activities that enabled a measure of subsistence or autonomy were . . . criminalized.” These activities “ranged from moving about to hunting and fishing to styles of comportment” (Scenes of Subjection, 146).
Foucault, Order of Things, 169–70.
Foucault, Society Must Be Defended, 255–57.
When Foucault makes racism the precondition of the old sovereign “right to kill” under biopower, he specifies that “killing” does “not mean simply murder as such, but also every form of indirect murder: the fact of exposing someone to death, increasing the risk of death for some people, or, quite simply, political death, expulsion, rejection, and so on” (256).
Morgensen, “Biopolitics of Settler Colonialism,” 70. Jodi Byrd makes a similar point when she sees in the United States’ relation to American Indians a privileged site for analyzing the logic of exception that Agamben sees as driving Western sovereignty (Transit of Empire, 187). On concentration as a biopolitical technique of colonial and racial governance, see Nemser, Infrastructures of Race.
Rifkin, “Indigenizing Agamben,” 117n8.
Morgensen, “Biopolitics of Settler Colonialism,” 71.
Gavin Walker recalls that the manner in which “the West” arrogates “the form of the universal” is this operation that Deleuze and Guattari call “capture” (Walker, “Schema of the West and the Apparatus of Capture,” 219).
Hartman, Scenes of Subjection, 115.
K. Marx, Capital, chap. 31. For an elaboration of the role played by capture in primitive accumulation, see Walker, “Schema of the West and the Apparatus of Capture,” 221.
Deleuze and Guattari, Thousand Plateaus, 448.
Foucault, Birth of Biopolitics, 56–59.
Quoted in Chamayou, Manhunts, 86.
“In this new context,” Chamayou sums up, “the police was henceforth to be an arm of the judicial system, the penal power’s apparatus for capturing” (86). Foucault’s history of governmentality similarly tends to overlook, Shukin argues, the role played by “sheepdogs”—i.e., “the prosthetic strong-arm of a shepherd”—in the deployment of pastoral power (“Security Bonds,” 179).
On the systematic hunts organized by the state against “unproductive” populations, see Chamayou, Manhunts, esp. chaps. 7 and 8.
3. The Fugitive Animal
Foucault, Security, Territory, Population, 20. Foucault summarizes the complementary dimension of disciplinary and security regimes in The History of Sexuality, where he explains that biopower takes two main forms that constitute “two poles of development linked together by a whole intermediary cluster of relations. One of these poles—the first to be formed, it seems—focused on the body as machine: its training (dressage), the optimization of its capabilities, the extortion of its forces . . . all this was ensured by the procedures of power that characterized the disciplines: an anatomo-politics of the human body. The second, formed somewhat later, around the middle of the eighteenth century, focused on the species-body, the body . . . serving as the basis of biological processes: propagation, births and mortality, the level of health, life expectancy and longevity. . . . Their supervision was effected through an entire series of interventions and regulatory controls: a biopolitics of the population” (139).
Building on Luciano’s insight that nineteenth-century U.S. sentimental culture performs the biopolitical work of policing bodies through affect, Schuller examines cultural and scientific discourses that suggested that a “good” subject—i.e., a subject whose life is worth protecting and fostering—was both malleable (receptive to external sensations and emotions) and capable of self-control. At the center of these discourses was the Lamarck-inspired “American School of Evolution,” which championed the idea that the individual, though deeply informed by her milieu, was not entirely determined by it and was capable of transformation through “power of habit” (Biopolitics of Feeling, 36).
Foucault, Security, Territory, Population, 37; emphasis added.
While Foucault explicitly derives the notion of milieu from biology, his understanding of territory is primarily informed by political theories of sovereignty. Apprehending space as territory means seeing it with the eyes of a conqueror. The management of the territory is centered around ensuring the “safety” of the sovereign, while the regulation of milieu is focused on the “security” of the population that lives on it. The problematic moves away from war toward civil war, from attacking another country or warding off attack from the outside to anticipating and regulating tensions inside the State. Technologies that target population, Foucault writes, aim “to establish a sort of homeostasis . . . by achieving an overall equilibrium: the security of the whole with regards to its internal dangers” (Society Must Be Defended, 246).
Benjamin, Arcades Project, 439.
Chamayou, Manhunts, 8.
Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” which grounds this chapter’s arguments, has played a central role in works such as Lippit’s Electric Animal, Boggs’s Animalia Americana, Peterson’s Bestial Traces, and Ravindranathan’s Behold an Animal, to cite only the most prominent.
On the ontological displacement of the enslaved, see, for instance, Spillers, “Mama’s Baby, Papa’s Maybe.” Spillers shows how captured Africans were anonymized and “degendered” as human cargo aboard slave ships and as such were excluded from the “cultural fiction” of domesticity. “Those African persons in ‘Middle Passage’ were literally suspended in the ‘oceanic,’ if we think of the latter in its Freudian orientation as an analogy for undifferentiated identity: removed from the indigenous land and culture, and not-yet ‘American’ either, these captive persons, without names that their captors would recognize, were in movement across the Atlantic, but they were also nowhere at all” (72).
Morrison, Playing in the Dark, 32.
Barrett, “Presence of Mind,” 158.
Benjamin, “Paris of the Second Empire in Baudelaire,” 78; emphasis added. See also Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 141.
Among the technologies that facilitated this transformation, Benjamin cites French criminologist Alphonse Bertillon’s early biometric studies. See Tagg, Burden of Representation, 60–102; and Finn, Capturing the Criminal Image, 1–31.
Benjamin, “Paris of the Second Empire in Baudelaire,” 79.
Benjamin, 79. The English term spoor, which designates the trail of a hunted animal, derives from the German Spur, which was originally a hunting term and now broadly means “trace.”
Benjamin, Berlin Childhood around 1900, 53.
In his well-known tirade against Cooper’s “literary offenses,” Mark Twain proposes that the Leatherstocking saga should be renamed The Broken Twig Series because every time “a Cooper person is in peril, and absolute silence is worth four dollars a minute, he is sure to step on a dry twig” (Collected Tales, Sketches, Speeches & Essays, 380). Calling out the perceived paucity of Cooper’s literary bag of tricks (or “little box of stage-properties” as he calls it), Twain’s charge also points to The Leatherstocking Tales’ persistently clumsy privileging of senses other than sight. When sight is privileged, however, it is not used for reading (as we know, Bumppo is illiterate). Or to quote Benjamin, it is used for “reading what was never written”: the tracks of an animal, the changing position of the sun, the direction of the wind, and so on. Even as Twain pokes fun at him, he nevertheless draws attention to the fact that Cooper gives us access to another mode of reading, where different senses and faculties are used. The semiotics of Cooper’s stage-properties, however ridiculous for Twain, evidences the novel’s insistent somatic lexicon—that is, how the imprints made down the path or the mark left by the snapped twig offer themselves to a different kind of reading and writing.
Nicole Shukin explains that “Napoleon’s project of modernization involved, crucially, the ‘exile’ of the sensoriums of slaughtering and rendering to outlying precincts far from the eyes and noses of an urban polity.” She continues: “In the nineteenth century public culture began to be sanitized and sensitized through myriad practices, disciplines, and reforms best discerned, perhaps, by Foucault. According to Vialles, the institutionalization of enclosed, monitored facilities devoted solely to animal slaughter in compliance with new regulations and sensibilities around ‘suffering, violence, waste and disease, ‘miasmas,’ and finally animals themselves,’ helped to materially and ideologically prepare conditions for the massification of slaughter” (Animal Capital, 62). On the hygiene standards and the subsequent insulation of slaughterhouses in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Europe and North America, see Lee, Meat, Modernity and the Rise of the Slaughterhouse.
The detective is no less ambivalent a figure than Cooper’s hunter, who is poised on the threshold between wilderness and civilization. Although the detective exposes blind spots in the police’s investigation, he also holds the promise (and raises the specter) of absolute surveillance (see Rosenheim, Cryptographic Imagination, 70). As D. A. Miller puts it, “Detective fiction is . . . always implicitly punning on the detective’s brilliant super-vision and the police supervision that it embodies. His intervention marks an explicit bringing-under-surveillance of the entire world of the narrative. As such, it can be alarming” (Novel and the Police, 35).
Chamayou complements Foucault’s study of biopower by showing that the government of populations always depends on a violent and naturalized “cynegetic power” (literally, the power to drive hunting dogs). This power is external to the state, which can thus dissociate itself from its violence, but it does not precede it, as most founding myths have it; it accompanies and subtends it. Fugitive slaves, for instance, cause nothing short of an ontological crisis by refusing to conform to their supposed essence as cattle: “To reestablish the ontological order that has been thus abused, there is ultimately only one recourse: force. Violent hunting will be carried out in the form of war on men who, being born to be commanded, refuse to be commanded. . . . Thus, in the end the answer to the theoretical problem of the manhunt is the practice of manhunting itself, with the paradox that the latter is legitimized on the basis of an allegedly natural division. . . . In fact, the natural order that is invoked . . . as the foundation of cynegetic power can be realized only by virtue of a whole arsenal of artifices” (Manhunts, 8).
Benjamin, Arcades Project, 806. On the flaneur as a reflection of early capitalist culture, see Eagleton, Walter Benjamin, 25–26.
There is a long and enduring history of legal but extrainstitutional violence targeting racialized subjects in the United States, both in the context of slavery (for example, the early practice of the posse comitatus and the Fugitive Slave Acts) and after Emancipation (lynching, “Stand Your Ground”). Europeans were no strangers to the practice of catching slaves, but the hunting was for the most part taking place out of immediate sight, in the colonies.
Douglass, “The Internal Slave Trade,” in Autobiographies, 438.
The Thirteenth Amendment outlawed slavery “except as punishment of crime where of the party shall have been duly convicted.” This exception was deeply racialized, as Angela Davis notes, since the Black Codes adopted after the abolition of slavery had crimes for which only black people could be convicted (Are Prisons Obsolete?, 28). On the role of the Thirteenth Amendment in the criminalization of race in the United States, see Alexander, New Jim Crow.
Simone Browne and Grégoire Chamayou both show that the “hunt of black skins” institutionalized by slavery does not disappear with Emancipation, and explicit acts of violence remain the common lot of certain populations; this is evidenced today by the staggering racial discrepancy in police brutality in the United States and the guarantee of a right for private (white) individuals to “stand their ground.” That these displays of violence are often characterized as anachronistic, however, speaks to the transformation of the frame within which they are perceived and justified. The use of penal law in the transition from the “slave codes” to “black codes,” for instance, contributed to remaking the slave laborer in the image of the criminal (see Davis, “Race and Criminalization”). Among the effects of this transition is not just mass incarceration—the most “visible” dimension of the furtive regime of capture—but also the implementation of systematic surveillance, both of which disproportionately target racialized populations. Saidiya Hartman describes Emancipation as the “metamorphosis of ‘chattel into man’” (Scenes of Subjection, 116), or “transubstantiation of the captive into volitional subject” (123), to show that violent subjection did not vanish but surreptitiously saturated U.S. liberal economies and imaginaries.
Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, 64.
Reflecting on the legal and ontological status of the fugitive slave as a “property that, paradoxically, behaved like a person” Stephen Best argues that the concept of fugitivity became central to the redefinition of the legal category of the person in the second half of the nineteenth century when new technologies like the phonograph and the camera brought traditional models of property into crisis by making reproducible what heretofore had seemed the inalienable property of a person (her image, the sound of her voice) (Fugitive’s Properties, 16). Traditionally defined in terms of (self-)ownership, the notion of personhood flounders, Best explains, when property goes from being alienable but stable (present but able to be absent) to fugitive and immaterial (absent/abstract but able to be made present). In this context, the role of the law shifts from hunting down and seizing an as yet unowned object to capturing and securing a property that appears essentially elusive. If Poe’s detective is portrayed as a hunter, as we will see, it is important to note that he is not acquiring but returning properties that have escaped. The detective borrows his techniques of detection from the hunter, but the hunt has become capture, a mechanism of restoration (of a property that has fled, of a certain order of things). Replete with “unreasonable” animals capable of reproducing human gestures and voices, Poe’s fictions are obsessed with the possibility of tracking down and returning to their rightful owners their fugitive properties. Poe’s ape in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” has rightly been recognized as an allegory for the fugitive slave, but it is also a clear emblem of mechanical reproduction. His escape, we are told, is prompted by the sailor’s fury to find it “sitting before a looking-glass, attempting the operation of shaving, in which it had no doubt previously watched its master through the key-hole of the closet” (i.e., by the sailor’s recognition that his own gestures—shaving, which can be read as shedding traces of animality—are replicable, imitable, ape-able). The European sailor faces the threat of a double expropriation: that of the ape as his material property, which like the fugitive slave is “moveable by their nature, [but] considered as immoveable by the operation of law” (Goodell, quoted in Best, 1), and that of his own personhood. Dupin will restore both: safely locked up in the Jardin des Plantes at the end of the story, the ape is converted into “a very large sum” and his owner is made whole again (in fact, he gains from the transaction).
Jacobs, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, 859.
On the surveillance of black populations in the United States, see Browne, Dark Matters.
“Was nie geschrieben wurde, lessen.” Walter Benjamin was fond of this sentence by Hofmannsthal, which he quotes in the “Paralipomena to ‘On the Concept of History’” and “On the Mimetic Faculty.”
Benjamin, Arcades Project, 418.
Poe, “The Man of the Crowd,” in Poetry and Tales, 392. All references to Poe’s tales are taken from this volume and hereafter cited parenthetically.
Ted Geier rightly observes that it is because the man of the crowd is “given up as a calculable and categorised object,” portrayed as a “most unknowable, inscrutable, contradictory and confounding object,” that he is “relegated to the grossest, deepest criminal ranks” (Meat Markets, 122). But this logic is surprisingly reversible: it is because the criminal is construed as essentially inscrutable—his guilty impulses emerging from an unavowable place, the dark site of animal instincts—that he becomes endlessly subject to scrutiny and susceptible to capture.
Finding in Poe’s description of the crowd an echo of a passage from Descartes’s Metaphysical Meditations, Kevin McLaughlin argues that the man of the crowd appears illegible to the narrator because he is “more like a machine than a man” (Paperwork, 31). On the relationship between Poe and Descartes, see Stanley Cavell’s essay “Being Odd, Getting Even,” 3–36.
Stephen Rachman alludes in passing to the prey-like character of the man of the crowd, comparing him to a “quarry” that the narrator pursues (“‘Es lässt sich nicht schreiben,” 56–70).
Benjamin, “Paris of the Second Empire in Baudelaire,” 418.
Cuvier’s orangutan, in fact, has little to do with Poe’s Ourang-Outang. Cuvier attempts to demystify the ape’s reputation for exaggerated humanlikeness: he describes the animal as friendly and endearing, capable of imitating human actions, but as intellectually limited, and he notes that those who saw the ape as nearly human had only seen young specimens (Le règne animal, 52–53). In contrast, Poe exploits the popular misperceptions of the animal: “The gigantic stature, the prodigious strength and activity, the wild ferocity, and the imitative propensities of these mammalia are sufficiently well known to all. I understood the full horrors of the murder at once” (424). We can assume that this “misreading” was deliberate given that Poe had translated Cuvier into English and written an introduction for the anatomist’s work on mollusks (Conchologist’s First Book).
Boggs, Animalia Americana, 112.
Poe toys with a similar idea in “The Black Cat,” which relates the confession of a murderer on the eve of his execution. By associating the narrator’s murderous impulse with madness, the tale challenges the very possibility of confessing: in principle, a madman cannot recognize his own madness, for the act of recognition itself requires a self capable of reflection (one that is thus not mad). On the aporia of mad narration, see Zimmerman, Edgar Allan Poe, 42–43; and Benefey, Poe and the Unreadable, 29–30.
Schuller, Biopolitics of Feeling, 160.
Hartman, Scenes of Subjection, 80.
Dayan, “Poe, Persons, and Property,” 108. The disappearing ape can be seen as prefiguring Ralph Ellison’s invisible man (despite his protestation that he is not a “spook like those that haunted Edgar Allan Poe”) and Richard Wright’s Bigger Thomas, as Christopher Peterson argues. Peterson suggests that “the human criminals of subsequent detective fiction all descend from Poe’s ape, thereby continuing to bear the traces of an animality that no degree of evolution can efface” (Bestial Traces, 25).
Peterson, Bestial Traces, 23.
“While ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’ does not explicitly equate blacks with apes,” Peterson writes, “a number of critics have read Poe’s story as a thinly disguised allegory for the doctrine of black animality. And yet, this racist ideology operated in tandem with larger naturalist and evolutionary discourses centered on ape/human affinities. Indeed, the hierarchical relationship that whites invented in order to situate blacks as more closely related to simians not only provided a convenient justification for slavery but also disavowed the monogenic history of human and nonhuman primates. If Poe’s story is to be read allegorically, then, we ought to take into account how it invokes not only the racist ideology of black animality but also those emergent scientific discourses that threatened to locate all humans squarely within the domain of the animal” (157).
Ginzburg, Clues, Myths, and the Historical Method, 93.
On Poe’s knowledge of the recently discovered “rod cells” that enable “oblique vision” and scotopic vision, or vision in very low light, see Scheick, “Intrinsic Luminosity,” 85–86.
It is the same brand of reasoning (and a pair of green spectacles) that allows Dupin, a recurring character in Poe’s tales of detection, to recover the missing missive in “The Purloined Letter” (1844) when the microscopes of the police prove ineffective.
In this vitalist prose poem, Poe laments the newly accepted idea that nebulae (and in particular the “great ‘nebulae’ in the constellation Orion”) are nothing but a cluster of individual stars derived from the recent improvement of modern telescopes (“Eureka,” in Poetry and Tales, 1319).
Lippit shows that the crime itself disappears as the case unfolds: “The criminal trespass dissolves into a series of accidental encounters between two women and an ape—an arbitrary slaying of two human beings by an animal. . . . There are, in the end, no monsters, only animals” (Electric Animal, 28). Or perhaps animals have become monsters, in the sense Foucault gives to the word in Discipline and Punish. After all, the ape ends up behind bars at the Jardin des Plantes.
Poe restores the archaic sense of reading as guessing or interpreting a dream or riddle. After a somewhat laborious preface praising the powers and pleasures of the “analytical ability,” the narrator of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” offers the extraordinary homicide of the L’Espanayes as a case in point to illustrate the superiority of analysis over mere calculation, which is too prone to “oversight” and overly “by the book” (398). This superiority, however, cannot be demonstrated, only monstrated. From the outset, we are told that the logical continuity between the theoretical preface and the expository narrative may in effect be misleading (400). The narrator’s many precautions warn the reader against the lure of logical sequences that might ultimately prove nothing but rhetorical effects. Similarly, the very first sentence of the tale declares that the “mental features discoursed of as the analytical are, in themselves, but little susceptible to analysis. We appreciate them only in their effects” (397). Thus the continuity between the two “halves” of the narrative—the moral and the story, the head (or tail) and the body—might rest on an optical illusion, just like the apparent robustness of the nail, whose decapitation parodically duplicates Mme L’Espanaye’s. So, to read “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (as Dupin reads the murders in the rue Morgue), one must adopt a different frame, must try to get “out” of the traditional frame of reference.
Detective fiction is intimately tied to the rise of mass media, as Stephen Rachman shows in “Poe and the Origins of Detective Fiction.”
Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 286. On the crime novel as an apparatus for normalizing crime by revealing the hidden rationality of seemingly arbitrary actions, see D. Miller, Novel and the Police.
Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 286; emphasis added. The notion of milieu is useful insofar as it accounts “for action at a distance of one body on another” (Foucault, Security, Territory, Population, 21); in a milieu, bodies continually affect one another but indirectly, through the mediation of a shared environment. For example, Dupin himself changes the opinions and responses of others without direct contact by manipulating the milieu: he captures the murderer without leaving his apartment.
On the racist logic that underpins Dupin’s assertion, see Barrett, “Presence of Mind,” 165–66; and White, “Ourang-Outang Situation,” 103–4.
Fiedler, Love and Death in the American Novel, 497.
On the uncanny fold in which Poe’s Ourang-Outang abides, see Ravindranathan, “Unequal Metrics.”
Human and animal here do not operate binaristically. Instead, animalization is a technology for producing a “certain kind of human,” as Zakiyyah Iman Jackson argues (“Beyond the Limit,” 1).
Lippit, Electric Animal, 27.
Like Agamben’s, Lippit’s “modernity” is less a determined historical period than a critical gesture by which what is excluded (e.g., the animal) surreptitiously returns as constitutive of humanity. Lippit’s account of the modern separation between animals and humans is not incompatible with Agamben’s, which I discuss in chapter 4, only it insists on the role played by the empirical disappearance of animals in the urbanized West (Lippit, Electric Animal, 2–3).
Derrida, Glas, 107.
Derrida argues that the demarcation between human and animal is predicated upon a process of interiorization, which he describes as a form of sublimated eating. Even thinkers like Heidegger and Lévinas, who deconstruct the premises of what constitutes human subjectivity, essentialize the difference between humans and animals when they maintain this assimilative gesture as constitutive of genuine comprehension. For Heidegger, Derrida suggests, the incorporation of the animal is no longer a form of ingesting but rather a handling or a capturing: “As far as Heidegger’s qualified humanism is concerned, which transfers the specifically human from man’s interior to his hand, the boundary between human and animal still remains something which is impossible to call into question. It is not a traditional humanism, but a determination of the location—the place (Dasein) where meaning can be received. The location is not explicitly determined as Man, but Heidegger nonetheless provides a description of this place that excludes animals” (Birnbaum and Olsson, “Interview with Jacques Derrida on the Limits of Digestion”).
Hegel, Philosophy of History, 287.
Lippit, Electric Animal, 42.
The combined metaphors of crypts and digestive tracts bring to mind images of the Chicago meat lockers—the animal “morgue” of the city—described in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle (1906): “This slaughtering machine ran on, visitors or no visitors. It was like some horrible crime committed in a dungeon, all unseen and unheeded, buried out of sight and of memory” (35).
“What speculative dialectics means (to say),” Derrida explains, “is that the crypt can still be incorporated to the system. The transcendental or the repressed, the unthought or the excluded must be assimilated by the corpus, interiorized as moments, idealized in the very negativity of their labor” (Glas, 166).
The crypt conjures up the topography of the unconscious but cannot be reduced to it. In The Wolf Man’s Magic Word, Maria Torok and Nicolas Abraham come up with the notion of the crypt precisely because they believe that Freud’s theory is unable to account for the Wolf Man’s “infantile neurosis.” In his foreword to The Wolf Man’s Magic Word, Derrida describes the crypt as a nonplace, or rather a place lodged inside yet completely isolated from another place (xiii).
On the cat’s “impression” on the narrator’s bedroom wall as an evocation of the daguerreotype (invented in 1839), see Sweeney, “Death, Decay, and the Daguerreotype’s Influence on ‘The Black Cat.’”
On the notorious susceptibility and resistance of Poe’s fiction to psychoanalytical interpretation, see Rosenheim, Cryptographic Imagination, 41, 71. For examples of psychological interpretations of “The Black Cat,” see Madden, “Poe’s ‘The Black Cat’ and Freud’s ‘The Uncanny’”; and Dern, “‘Problem in Detection.’”
Bonaparte, Life and Works of Edgar Allan Poe, 465. To be fair, the cat is not the only transparent signifier in Bonaparte’s exegetic toolbox. In “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” Poe’s mother is alternately the L’Espanayes and the room itself, while the Ourang-Outang holding the razor is the figure of the father slaying the mother during coitus (a crime that is not a crime, a crime invented in the mind of little Edgar). Poe himself is in turn Dupin, the narrator, and the sailor (Bonaparte, 429).
On Bonaparte’s reading of Poe, see Walker, “Poe Legend,” 38; and Felman, “On Reading Poetry.” On the intricate history of Poe and psychoanalytical interpretation, refer to Muller and Richardson, Purloined Poe, esp. Lacan, “Seminar on ‘The Purloined Letter;’” Derrida, “The Purveyor of Truth;” and Barbara Johnson, “The Frame of Reference.”
The cat loses one eye in Poe’s story and two in Bonaparte’s interpretation, where eyes are reduced to symbols for the author’s soon-to-be-castrated penis.
Derrida, Animal That Therefore I Am, 11. Derrida’s protestations of reality underline the absolute singularity of his cat, whose existence cannot be conceptualized or reduced to a theorem, “something seen and not seeing” (14).
Poe, a master of cryptography, asserts “that human ingenuity cannot concoct a cipher which human ingenuity cannot resolve” (“Few Words on Secret Writing,” 1286). However, it is now widely accepted that humans can generate codes unbreakable by humans. My thanks to Justin Joque for bringing this to my attention.
Monfort, “Sans les mains.”
Monfort, “Sans les mains” (my translation).
In this, Monfort follows Heidegger. “Only Man has hands, says Heidegger, and, through the hand, he has access to a world of meaningful action,” explains Derrida. “The ape, however, possesses only ‘Greifsorgane’ [organs for grasping] and is therefore excluded from the realm of the human. This distinction between hand and organ for grasping is not something Heidegger arrived at by studying apes in the Black Forest, but rather has a purely stipulative character. Here, as always, humanism rests on the sacrifice of the animal, on the implicit swallowing up of the animal” (Birnbaum and Olsson, “Interview with Jacques Derrida on the Limits of Digestion”).
For a more detailed elaboration on the motif and economy of the hunt in Poe’s tale, see Ravindranathan and Traisnel, “What Gives (Donner le change).”
For an analysis of the mythical subtext crypted in the clue/clew/clou homonymy and archeonymy, see Irwin, “Clew to a Clue.”
Where John T. Irwin claims that Dupin is Theseus (“Clew to a Clue,” 151), however, I would like to suggest that he might as well be Ariadne. Dupin never goes after the animal, only helps to find it in the labyrinth of the city, and his rival is less the animal murderer than the prefect of police (an avatar of Minos, the ruler of Crete), whom Dupin delights in having “defeated in his own castle” (431). Moreover, in the myth, Ariadne will quickly pass from Theseus to Dionysus—i.e., from the man who subdues Pasiphaë’s monstrous progeny to the animal deity.
In Civilization and Its Discontents, Freud famously accounts for hominization by a shift of priority from smell to sight that accompanies the transition from horizontality to verticality—to the upright position. Poe’s tale hints that if man is the animal that cannot smell (in the transitive sense), he can easily lure himself into thinking that he does not smell (in the intransitive sense).
Begotten by these three illustrious fathers, he is also sometimes taken as an allegory for philosophy, derived from different sources of knowledge. There is another possible origin where Zeus, Hermes, and Poseidon come to visit Hyrieus of Tanagra, who roasts a whole bull in their honor. When they offer him a favor in return for his hospitality, he asks for the birth of a son. The gods take the bull’s hide and urinate into it, bury it in the earth, and tell him to dig it up ten months later.
David Van Leer erroneously affirms that “Dupin forbears to enumerate” the “pungencies” attached to Orion’s name. What Van Leer fails to see is that names in Poe leave traces (“Detecting Truth,” quoted in Barrett, “Presence of Mind,” 163).
Nietzsche, Anti-Christ, 144. For Nietzsche, lies have an olfactory trace, a sensible trail; truth, in contrast, is a “mobile army of metaphors, metonyms and anthropormorphisms—in short, a sum of human relations” whose metaphoricity is “worn out and without sensuous power.” The loss of sensuous power is a paradoxical decay, a peculiar form of entropy whereby the original scent is masked by the acquisition of lettres de noblesse.
In “Philosophy of Composition,” Poe justifies his tedious rhyming choice in “The Raven” by claiming that O and R are the most “sonorous” and “producible” letters respectively. What interests me here is the poem’s endowment of the titular crow, “a non-reasoning creature capable of speech,” with the uncanny capacity to respond to the narrator. That the raven’s monotonously vocalized “Nevermore” might qualify as a response, though it is likely a meaningless reaction, contaminates in turn the narrator’s speech, whose questions appear helplessly rhetorical, mechanical. As in “The Man of the Crowd,” Poe links animality with automaticity to reflect on the loss of authenticity (or originality, UR) when a supposedly inalienably human property like language becomes (re)producible (OR).
Cuvier, Le règne animal, 87.
“The point of Poe’s zoosemiotic lesson is that man can have ‘full language’ only as an animal,” Ziser concludes, “and that, as ‘man,’ he can have language only as a chain of material signs. In both cases, humans’ semiotic horizon is necessarily open to the history and presence of the non-human animal” (“Animal Mirrors,” 27).
Foucault, Society Must Be Defended, 8–11.
Barrett, “Presence of Mind,” 168. On Cuvier’s function in the economy of the tale, see Rowe, Literary Culture and U.S. Imperialism, 72.
An apologist of the superiority of the white race, Cuvier posited that the African race was “the most degraded of human races, whose form approaches that of the beast and whose intelligence is nowhere great enough to arrive at regular government.” Cuvier, Recherches, quoted in Barrett, “Presence of Mind,” 169.
Barrett, “Presence of Mind,” 169, 174.
On mètis as a practical modality of knowledge that applies to “fugitive . . . realities that do not lend themselves to precise measurement,” see Detienne and Vernant, Les ruses de l’intelligence, 10 (my translation).
For an unequalable analysis of this epigraph, see Ravindranathan, “Unequal Metrics.”
Unless it is the captured that winds up animalized. Poe’s story anticipates late nineteenth-century criminological speculations inspired by Darwin’s theory of evolution (Lombroso, Galton, Bertillon). In a fascinating chiasmus, the racialist and racist logics behind the animalization of criminals appear not merely to prolong but indeed to supplant the special and speciesist logics that undergird the decriminalization of animals. This decriminalization is by no means an exculpation, let alone a form of liberation. Quite the contrary: there is no longer any need to criminalize the animal because capture has increasingly become its empirical and existential condition (think of Nabokov’s ape at the end of Lolita, who has internalized his guilt to the point that all he can draw are the bars of his cage).
4. Fabulous Taxonomy
Melville, Moby-Dick, 498 (hereafter cited in text).
In fact, the Basilosaurus was misidentified by American anatomist Dr. Harlan in 1834. A report dated January 9, 1839, establishes Owen’s correction of Harlan’s initial assumption that the skeleton was that of a saurian (Proceedings of the Geological Society of London, 24–28).
Not only did the whale leave “his pre-adamite traces in the stereotype plates of nature,” but “the unmistakable print of his fin” appears upon hieroglyphic records “whose antiquity seems to claim for them an almost fossiliferous character.” In an ancient Egyptian planisphere, we are told, “the old Leviathan swam as of yore” among “centaurs, griffins, and dolphins, similar to the grotesque figures on the celestial globe of the moderns.” Melville also introduces alternative perspectives on the hegemonic account foisted on the skeleton by comparative anatomy, noting that “awe-stricken credulous slaves in the vicinity took [the skeleton] for one of the fallen angels” (498).
For “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” see Peterson, Bestial Traces; for The Marble Faun, see Mason, Civilized Creatures.
Many commentators note the exact contemporaneity of Hawthorne’s romance and Darwin’s masterwork, often to dismiss its meaningfulness. The year 1859 is also when Louis Pasteur put an end to a millennium-long debate over the “spontaneous generation” of living organisms; cryptogamous plants and small animals could no longer appear “of their own accord” (sua sponte) but always and of necessity descended from a traceable origin. Pasteur disproved the doctrine of spontaneous generation in favor of biogenesis, the notion that only life can engender life. In her brilliant study of romantic materialism and the modern life sciences, Amanda Jo Goldstein shows that spontaneous generation was not simply “erroneous,” as orthodox accounts of scientific progress have it, but actively resisted the strict determinations of biological/sexual causality or the autotelism of emergent vitalist epistemologies (Sweet Science, 76–90). There is an undeniably “conservative” dimension in Pasteur’s efforts to prove that matter could not “organize itself” and that every organism had to recognize the authority of its genitors (Farley and Geison, “Science, Politics, and Spontaneous Generation,” 188–90), a dimension that can account for the critical role his work played in the promotion of public hygiene, vaccination, and the cordoning off of populations perceived as unsanitary.
Hawthorne, Marble Faun, 10 (hereafter cited in text).
Hawthorne, French and Italian Notebooks, 179; emphasis added.
It is worth noting that when Hawthorne first encountered Praxiteles’s faun in the Borghese gardens, he associated it with “that ugly, bearded woman, who was lately exhibited in England, and by some supposed to have been engendered betwixt a human mother and an orang-outang” (French and Italian Notebooks, 173–74). Hawthorne refers here to Julia Pastrana, a Mexican woman with hypertrichosis (excessive hair growth) that performed in Europe, Russia, and America while being billed as a human-orangutan hybrid.
See, for instance, Riss, “Art of Discrimination”; Johnson, “Classifying Donatello”; Kemp, “Marble Faun and American Postcolonial Ambivalence”; Bentley, “Slaves and Fauns”; and Pearson, “Bloodliness and Abortions.”
The readings mentioned above tend to (in Steve Baker’s formulation) make the animal disappear as a “transparent signifier” of the human, thereby foreclosing other equally possible—by no means incompatible or antithetical—interpretations. On this issue, see Mason, Civilized Creatures, 23, 42–94. Mason recalls Hawthorne’s lifelong interest in and scandalized skepticism toward the possibility of a kinship between humans and nonhuman primates (in particular, orangutans). She argues that if The Marble Faun contributed to “the acceptance of the theory of species transformation” (24), it was not by foregrounding the anatomical resemblance between apes and humans but by highlighting humans’ sympathetic affinities with pets and domesticated animals (particularly dogs, with which Donatello is repeatedly associated in the first half of the book). Mason suggestively claims that Donatello’s “successful transformation from faun to human” (78)—a scenario that, she omits to say, remains entirely speculative, since the author and his characters refuse to classify Donatello with certainty—draws on Lamarck’s theory of transformisme rather than Darwin’s theory of evolution (On the Origin of Species was published a month after Hawthorne sent his manuscript to the publisher). Bert Bender is equally skeptical about Darwin’s possible influence on Hawthorne (Descent of Love, 120–21). However, I would argue that Hawthorne’s “postscript,” subscribed by his English publishers Smith, Elder & Co. on March 14, 1860, and published a month later, and in particular its explicit mention of Cuvier’s name, constitutes enough of an invitation to read his book as a meditation on the debate prompted by Darwin’s work.
Murphy, “‘Betwixt Human and Brute Life.’”
“Natural history was a science of surfaces and skin,” writes Rusert, “driven by the belief that racial differences were produced by varying climatic conditions in different geographical regions. Comparative anatomy went deeper, seeking to locate human differences, and inequalities, in the internal structures of the body” (Fugitive Science, 115).
The “genealogist” bent on authenticating someone’s pedigree is bound to stray “in the region beyond demonstrable and definite fact”—i.e., to become a “romancer” (180). Hawthorne’s genealogist, Benjamin Murphy insightfully shows, is always “a mixed breed.” Romance and taxonomic science are thus not inimical, despite the latter’s tendency to disavow its reliance on the former. Murphy draws a parallel between The Marble Faun and Foucault’s account of the modern mutation of race wars in Society Must Be Defended: “Hawthorne’s relation of Donatello’s family origins echoes, at points, Foucault’s account of the mythic race war discourse that generated histories and counter-histories favorable to the discourse’s speaker. In the modern era, this discourse has transmuted to depict a society at war against itself, at war with its own sub-race(s). Foucault’s point is that a biopolitics of life can countenance death only when a ‘caesura’ splits the human from a defining other—from its ‘brute life,’ in Hawthorne’s terms, or ‘bare life,’ in Agamben’s. The discourse of the Nondescript insists that such a labor of distinction—what Agamben calls the ‘anthropological machine’—is always open-ended; taxonomizing the human and sub-human has as much if not more to do with Romance than with the ostensibly empirical strictures of realism” (“‘Betwixt Human and Brute Life’”).
Foucault, Society Must Be Defended, 61–62.
James, Hawthorne, 131, 134.
Pétillon, postface, 65.
James, Hawthorne, 132; emphasis added.
Without lingering on the phallic dimension of Donatello’s pointed ears, we will recall that the term point comes from the Latin pungere, “to pierce or prick.” In response to his shyness, Miriam teases Donatello: “‘your tender point—your two tender points, if you have them—shall be safe, so far as I am concerned’” (12–13). This rejoinder can be understood as a refusal of his attempt to seduce her or, more generously, as the acceptance of Donatello’s generic and gender ambiguity. On this, Emily Miller Budick writes: “The question that emerges is not only, is the faun with his ears and tail fully human, but is he fully male? Does the erect penis, perhaps, come to replace the tail as the defining feature in the evolution from male faun to human male?” (“Perplexity, Sympathy, and the Question of the Human,” 242).
Brooks, Bodies in Dissent, 8. On Donatello’s racial ambiguity, see Bentley, “Slaves and Fauns”; Cheyfitz, “Irresistibleness of Great Literature”; Kemp, “Marble Faun and American Postcolonial Ambivalence”; and Riss, “Art of Discrimination.”
Gould, Mismeasure of Man, 118.
On gender in nineteenth-century racial science, particularly in relation to Baartman, see Wiegman, American Anatomies, 58–59; Rusert, Fugitive Science, 181–84; Fausto-Sterling, “Gender, Race, and Nation”; and Berry, Price for Their Pound of Flesh, 72–73.
Foucault, Security, Territory, Population, 293.
Jennifer Mason notes that Hawthorne “may have considered satirizing Cuvier in his fiction as early as 1842. A notebook entry for June 1 of that year records the following idea for a story: ‘A young man finds a portion of the skeleton of a Mammoth; he begins by degrees to become interested in completing it; searches round the world for the means of doing so; spends youth and manhood in this pursuit; and in old age has nothing to show for his life, but this skeleton.’ One of Cuvier’s great claims to fame was his naming and study of the mastodon, as Hawthorne himself notes in the article ‘Extinct Animals’ of the Boston magazine American Magazine of Useful and Entertaining Knowledge, for which he served as an editor in 1836” (Civilized Creatures, 200n75).
Budick, “Perplexity, Sympathy, and the Question of the Human,” 243.
Hawthorne, House of the Seven Gables, in Collected Novels, 351; emphasis added.
Gustave Flaubert and Jules Barbey d’Aurevilly also appeal to Cuvier’s unique powers of reconstitution in their novels Salammbô (1862) and Le Chevalier des Touches (1864), respectively.
Balzac, Wild Ass’s Skin, 40–41; emphasis added.
Rancière, Dissensus, 163.
Ginzburg, “Clues: Roots of an Evidential Paradigm,” in Clues, Myths, and the Historical Method.
Quoted in Ginzburg, Clues, Myths, and the Historical Method, 117; emphasis added.
“The hunter would have been the first ‘to tell a story,’” Ginzburg claims, “because he alone was able to read, in the silent, nearly imperceptible tracks left by his prey, a coherent sequence of events” (103). On the novelistic dimension of Cuvier’s method, see L. R. Brown, Emerson Museum, 126.
In a public lecture held in Paris in 1798, Cuvier explains that “the number, direction, and shape of the bones that compose each part of an animal’s body are always in a necessary relation to all the other parts, in such a way that—up to a point—one can infer the whole from any one of them, and vice versa” (quoted in Rudwick, Georges Cuvier, Fossil Bones, and Geological Catastrophes, 36). Although Cuvier recognizes a limit to anatomy’s powers of inference (“up to a point”), he attributes it to the imperfection of the fossil record, not of his system.
Ginzburg, Clues, Myths, and the Historical Method, 124.
Ginzburg, 188. On the paradoxical “opposition” between anatomy and the diagnostic technique, see Foucault, Order of Things, 294; and Cohen, La Méthode de Zadig, 115–26. In the eulogy he delivered upon Lamarck’s death, Cuvier cruelly praised his rival for the “fanciful conceptions” with which he mingled his scientific discoveries, saying that Lamarck was too prone to indulge in “what is conjectural or doubtful.” Lamarck, he deplored, belonged to a species of scientists who “laboriously constructed vast edifices on imaginary foundations, resembling the enchanted palaces of our old romances [nos vieux romans].” Cuvier thought that Lamarck’s theory of life rested on arbitrary assumptions: “A system established on such foundations may amuse the imagination of a poet; a metaphysician may derive from it an entirely new series of systems; but it cannot for a moment bear the examination of any one who has dissected a hand, a viscus, or even a feather” (“Elegy of Lamarck”).
Brown, Emerson Museum.