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Animals and the Human Imagination: A Companion to Animal Studies Paperback – April 24, 2012
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The contributors succeed in making a range of complex issues in contemporary animal studies accessible―and even engrossing―to the ordinary educated reader, and the editors provide a richly intelligent mapping of the field. (J. M. Coetzee, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature)
Impressive and startling, this anthology shows the radical potential of edited volumes to break ground beyond the scope of monographs. Fascinating new studies in fields as diverse as philosophy, ethics, media studies, wildlife management, and children's literature challenge the 'animal/human binary' of Western thought. This borderline reveals itself to be neither ontologically fixed nor biologically stable. Rather, it is wondrously fluid and contingent, existing both within and without human beings. As Claude Lévi-Strauss famously observed in culture and Paul Shepard has memorably mapped in cognition, we continue to 'think' with animals―to imagine ourselves in relation to them, or, as Aaron Gross puts it, 'to self-conceptualize through animals in particular contexts.' The rich array of ideas offered here seems to suggest we can do nothing other than that. Yet at the same time we are moved 'to pause, put to rest, or surrender the categories animal and human.' It is to the editors' infinite credit that this paradox is left unmolested, thus emerging as an oracle. (Kimberely Patton, Harvard University, coeditor of A Communion of Subjects: Animals in Religion, Science, and Ethics)
Evocative and provocative, these essays deeply unsettle the Western tradition's assumption of an abyss between human and non-human animals. Probing contemporary biopolitics in relation to animals, they announce the necessity of nothing less than a mutation in thought. Here, the ethics of difference, vulnerability, and responsibility come face to face with the uncanny proximity and radical distance of animals. As this anthology shows, animals regard us, and we can't evade that call. (Elisabeth Weber, University of California, Santa Barbara)
The editors do not simply take stock of the current state of animal studies. Instead, they have gathered together a number of interesting and original researchers who are themselves making novel contributions to the field. This anthology is an important book, both as an introductory text and as a volume that advanced researchers will turn to in hopes of finding inspiration and new ideas in animal studies. (Matthew Calarco, Associate Professor of Philosophy, CSU Fullerton)
Animals and the Human Imagination soars. Intellectually exciting, smart, and accessible, this volume will intrigue and revolt, surprise and inspire. The opening overview by Gross is a tour de force and each essay fascinates. Collectively they offer an invitation to think in new ways about what we, perhaps wrongly, call our humanity. I can't imagine a better introduction to the essential new field of critical animal studies. (Jonathan Safran Foer)
What the remarkable and academically diverse collection of essays in Animals and the Human Imagination achieves is to point out how we have made animals vanish in our language and how we might bring them back into our collective vision again..... This book will inspire more scholarly work on animals, but it will also supply fuel for activists who hope to treat animals more humanely―not to say humanly―in the world outside the academy. (Wendy Doniger, Mircea Eliade Professor of the History of Religions at the University of Chicago, and author of Women, Androgynes, and Other Mythical Beasts (University of Chicago Press, 1980))
...a strong addition to psychology, literary, and wildlife collections, enthusiastically recommended and fascinating reading. (Midwest Book Review)
About the Author
Aaron S. Gross is a professor of theology and religious studies at the University of San Diego and holds a MTS from Harvard Divinity School and a Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Barbara. He co-chairs the American Academy of Religion's Animals and Religion Group and has played a leading role in a wide variety of national and international animal-welfare campaigns since the mid-1990s. He founded the nonprofit group Farm Forward in 2007.
Anne Vallely is a professor of religious studies at the University of Ottawa. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Toronto, and her research focuses on the anthropology of South Asian religiosity, especially that of Jainism, and on the symbolic construction of human/non-human boundaries across cultures. She is the author of Guardians of the Transcendent: An Ethnography of a Jain Acetic Community.
Jonathan Safran Foer is the author of Eating Animals, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and Everything is Illuminated, all international bestsellers.
Wendy Doniger is Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions at the University of Chicago and a member of the Committee on Social Thought. Her books include The Implied Spider: Politics and Theology in Myth; Dreams, Illusions, and Other Realities; Other Peoples' Myths; The Cave of Echoes; and the English-language edition of Yves Bonnefoy's Mythologies.
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The authors present the book as an "introduction to animal studies" and certainly it would be appropriate for an academic exploration of the nature and meaning of animals. My own background is in psychology, so I made connections between the content of this book and psychological research on the self. It might also be interesting to those who study and teach ethics, gender studies, not to mention philosophy or sociology.
In short, this book is a great jumping off point for considering the relationship between humans and animals from a variety of perspectives that go beyond the traditional biological or cognitive distinctions we tend to make.
Animals and the Human Imagination is fascinating and engaging. I remember reading books in college about race or religion and being jolted by new ideas and points of view. This book gave me the same feeling. It reads very well--neither dogmatic nor overly academic--and takes an interdisciplinary approach. I want students to read it because it's a fantastic exercise in critical thinking and further designates animal studies as its own vital discipline. I want my friends and family to read it because it explores as well as any book I've read the roles humans and animals play in each others lives.
My background is in philosophy. Throughout my reading of the collection, I was constantly reminded of Wittgenstein's notion of "seeing as." This collection offers a variety of different ways to "see animals as."
Profs. Aaron Gross and Anne Vallely's collection is fascinating and wide-ranging. It is interdisciplinary, drawing from the fields of aesthetics, philosophy, critical theory, history, and sociology. Highly recommended.
I have used essays from this volume in my undergraduate course, "Animal Ethics," with great success. Few, if any, other volumes provide such depth, breadth, sophistication, and provocation!