- Animal Subjects: An Ethical Reader in a Posthuman World
Jodey Castricano, editor of Animal Subjects, opens the volume by citing Cary Wolfe's criticism of cultural studies for neglecting 'the question of the animal,' even as it has allowed itself to be transformed by questions of gender, race, sexuality, and class. Castricano thus presents Animal Subjects as a ground-breaking and indeed iconoclastic first step towards filling this lacuna in cultural studies, claiming, for instance, 'To some, this collection will be a welcome addition to the field of cultural studies; to others, it should never speak its name.' In fact, however, this volume is much like many other collections of essays on animal ethics that have been published in recent years and is no more cultural studies-oriented than other volumes such as Peter Singer's 2006 anthology, In Defense of Animals: The Second Wave. Indeed, Paola Cavalieri's contribution to Animal Subjects, to which I shall return below, reproduces the argument that she makes in her contribution to In Defense of Animals. While some contributors to Animal Subjects are professors of biology, literature, or sociology, philosophers predominate, and most chapters deal with philosophers such as Mary Wollstonecraft, René Descartes, and Jacques Derrida, or address traditional philosophical questions such as what constitutes personhood. These chapters operate for the most part on an abstract level without bringing the discussion to bear on particular cultural phenomena. Other chapters deal with specific speciesist institutions, such as Marineland, or speciesist practices, such as factory farming and animal [End Page 415] experimentation, but this is true of most collections of this sort. We do not find chapters dealing with representations of animals in contemporary or popular culture, as might have been expected from a volume presenting itself as introducing the topic of animal ethics to cultural studies. Castricano seems aware of this tension when she writes in her introduction, 'Not all of these essays fall easily under the rubric of cultural studies as the field has come to be known,' and again, 'Assuredly, some will continue to argue that many of the essays do not fall under the rubric of cultural studies,' but urges that we allow for a more diversified understanding of what cultural studies may entail. The problem is that if we define cultural studies so broadly as to include anything written in the humanities, social sciences, and psychological sciences (and thus may include Animal Subjects in it), then this is not a groundbreaking work but one of many collections that bring together essays on animal ethics from diverse (though predominantly philosophical) disciplinary perspectives. If, on the other hand, we define cultural studies more narrowly, as what tends to be done in cultural studies departments, Animal Subjects is not a work of cultural studies at all. In fact, Carol Adams's 1990 work, The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory, represents more of a cultural studies approach to animal ethics than Animal Subjects.
That Animal Subjects is not the groundbreaking work in cultural studies that it presents itself as is not to say it is without merit in the domain of animal ethics. On the contrary, it is a valuable contribution to that field, and many of the chapters are of considerable interest. Moreover, along with Charlotte Montgomery's 2000 volume, Blood Relations: Animals, Humans, and Politics, Animal Subjects is useful and original in its focus on the Canadian context. In the limited space available to me, however, I would like to respond to Paola Cavalieri's chapter.
As noted, Cavalieri's contribution resembles her chapter in Singer's anthology, In Defense of Animals: The Second Wave. In this earlier collection, Cavalieri argues that while Greek ethics is merely intuitive, and continental philosophy (represented by Heidegger and Derrida) is unable to pose new questions, analytic philosophy (represented by Peter Singer) is alone capable of implementing the 'rigorous analysis' necessary for introducing the non-human into the sphere of ethical consideration. Cavalieri's chapter in Animal Subjects has a similar aim: not to make any contribution...