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Bestial Traces

Race, Sexuality, Animality

Christopher Peterson

Publication Year: 2012

In contemporary race and sexuality studies, the topic of animality emerges almost exclusively in order to index the dehumanization that makes discrimination possible. Bestial Traces argues that a more fundamental disavowal of human animality conditions the bestialization of racial and sexual minorities. Hence, when conservative politicians equate homosexuality with bestiality, they betray an anxious effort to deny the animality inherent in all sexuality. Focusing on literary texts by Edgar Allan Poe, Joel Chandler Harris, Richard Wright, Philip Roth, and J. M. Coetzee, together with philosophical texts by Derrida, Heidegger, Agamben, Freud, and Nietzsche, Peterson maintains that the representation of social and political others as animals can be mitigated but never finally abolished. All forms of belonging inevitably exclude some others as "beasts." Though one might argue that absolute political equality and inclusion remain desirable, even if ultimately unattainable, ideals, Bestial Traces shows that, by maintaining such principles, we exacerbate rather than ameliorate violence because we fail to confront how discrimination and exclusion condition all social relations.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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p. v

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pp. vii-viii

The research and writing of this book was supported by various individual and institutional sources. A number of friends and colleagues offered their guidance, both professional and personal, at different stages in the process, including Luis Williams, Peter McKee, Bradley Youngston, Matthew Adler, Elizabeth Freeman...

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pp. 1-21

On February 18, 2009, Sean Delonas published a controversial cartoon in the New York Post depicting two policemen shooting and killing a monkey with the caption: “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill.”1 On the adjoining page was a photo of President Obama signing this very piece of legislation into law. The proximity of these two images, together...

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1 Aping Apes

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pp. 22-49

Can an animal be held accountable for its actions? No matter how counter intuitive, this question follows inevitably from the revelation that an orangutan is the agent behind the horrific deeds perpetrated in Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue....

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2 Slavery’s Bestiary

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pp. 50-73

Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, Tar-Baby. These names are guaranteed to elicit widely divergent responses from readers. For some, they may conjure up pleasurable childhood memories associated with Disney’s Song of the South (1946), a film that featured...

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3 Autoimmunity and Ante-Racism

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pp. 74-112

The titular “human” of Philip Roth’s The Human Stain slides ambiguously between adjective and noun. Read as an attributive adjective, human is an inherent characteristic of stain (the human stain/the stain is human). Read as a noun-...

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4 Ashamed of Shame

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pp. 113-146

Notwithstanding the above epigraph’s constellation of qualifiers, we can grasp the full irony that Coetzee’s opening sentence intones only retrospectively, that is, only after witnessing the utter collapse of David Lurie’s solution: first when...

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pp. 147-154

An afterword is not precisely a conclusion, a narrative mode of resolution or closure after which nothing more could be said. Rather, an afterword grants a book a certain afterlife, surviving the book’s apparent termination by engaging a...


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pp. 155-182


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pp. 183-196


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pp. 197-200

E-ISBN-13: 9780823250585
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823245208
Print-ISBN-10: 0823245209

Page Count: 208
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: Text

OCLC Number: 820632046
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Bestial Traces

Research Areas


Subject Headings

  • American literature -- 19th century -- History and criticism.
  • American literature -- 20th century -- History and criticism.
  • Philosophical anthropology in literature.
  • Other (Philosophy) in literature.
  • Race in literature -- Congresses.
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