- A Horse is a Horse . . . and More:Some Recent Additons to Early Modern Animal Studies
Work on animals is necessarily interdisciplinary. Discussion of, for example, animal subjectivity, animal symbolism, animal husbandry, vivisection, pet keeping, wildlife, animal welfare, and animal rights overlaps many areas: philosophy, history, literature, art, ecology and environmental studies, medicine, childhood, feminism, empire, and postcolonial studies. The list goes on. Respected, established scholars who hail from literature and language departments wrote all three of the books under consideration here. Erica Fudge is Reader in Literary and Cultural Studies at Middlesex University; Katherine Shevelow is Professor of English Literature at the University of California, San Diego; and Donna Landry is Professor of English and American Literature at the University of Kent. All three authors are concerned, broadly speaking, with animal agency in the, broadly conceived, early modern period (from the late fifteenth through the nineteenth centuries) in Britain. And all three contribute to animal and cultural studies by also deploying feminist, anti-racist, and anti-imperialist theories. But perhaps what is most significant here is not what these three books have in common, but that, despite all of the authors' grounding in literary studies, they offer three very [End Page 148] different contributions to the burgeoning field of animal studies. Indeed, the diversity of these books suggests that scholarship focusing on nonhuman animals has matured to the point that our offerings are expanding beyond the usual suspects and perhaps gaining stature and recognition beyond the usual haunts. Fudge's book continues her pioneering work in animal studies in the early modern period with a contribution here to the history of ideas; Shevelow's first contribution to the field of animal studies is a book aimed at a popular rather than scholarly audience; and Landry offers a very pointed analysis of one kind of horse to add to her multiple contributions to feminist, postcolonial, and ecocritical cultural studies.
Following Derrida's denunciation of the term in "The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow)," it has become de rigueur in animal studies to avoid using the term "animal" as one that denotes and demarcates the nonhuman in an imprecise and monolithic way. Early modern Britons used it to precisely this effect. Brutal Reasoning looks at the ways in which the concept of reason was defined and figured into the categorization of the "human" in the early modern period (defined here more traditionally as the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries). Fudge cites concern for the impact of Descartes on early modern attitudes about and actions toward nonhuman animals as inspiration for her book. She suggests that modern scholars too often impose our own post-Cartesian perspectives on the period and thus inadequately consider other animals or elide them from history altogether. She begins by exploring the construction of the category "human" and its instability and proceeds to explicate complicated attitudes toward nonhuman animals in turn. She suggests the two are inextricable and that too many historians have torn asunder unthinkingly what cannot be taken as distinct: the history of humanity and the history of nonhuman animals. "To explain the human, it seems, is to explain the animal; or perhaps that should be reversed: to explain the animal is to explain the human," she argues (6). All too often modern scholars read metaphor and symbol where there is an actual animal to be seen. Fudge is concerned to uncover the real animals in early modern considerations of reason, not simply the metaphorical animals that reflect human concerns.
To do this, Fudge explores the classical roots of early modern ideas about humanity and animality and the purported distinctions between the two. Based on Aristotelian notions of the vegetative, sensitive, and rational souls—the last the sole province of man...