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STEPHEN TATUM The Solace of Animal Faces Horses are wishes, especially dark ones. That's why twitches and fences. That's why switches and spurs. That's why the idiom of betrayal. They forgive us. James Galvin, "Post-Modernism," from Elements Animals give us their constant, unjaded faces and we burden them with our bodies and civilized ordeals. We're both humbled by and imperious with them. We're comrades who save each other's lives. Gretel Erlich, The Solace ofOpen Spaces I. IT D JUST BE ME AND TRIGGER. . ne of the ways humans save animals, as in preserve them, is through the practice of taxidermy. Consider Trigger, Roy Rogers' gallant palomino companion, who died at the noble horse age of 28 and who, after being stuffed and mounted by a taxidermist, can now be gazed at by visitors to the Roy Rogers Museum near Victorville, California. Existing now as a commodity for visual consumption, Trigger on display illustrates what Donna Haraway has called taxidermy's "politics of reproduction" (30). "Reproduction" is of course a central feature of taxidermy, since the taxidermist after all labors to birth a constructed or "artificial" being which will appear, in the end, to look just like the animal in a live or "natural" state. The success of any museum 's project to save Trigger or any other animal from time and decay depends on the taxidermist's ability to obscure the traces of production so that the horse will appear before our eyes as a "pure" object, a magiArizona Quarterly Volume 50, Number 4, Winter 1994 Copyright © 1994 by Arizona Board of Regents ISSN 0004-1610 134Stephen Tdtum cally found being, seemingly exempt from the course of temporality and the burdens of history. In this regard, that is, in the intentional erasure of the traces of production, the ground of taxidermy resembles the aesthetic ideology of realism. But by stressing how the taxidermist's rewriting of the natural as the "cultural" ineluctably involves a "politics," Haraway's remark compels us to consider also how Trigger's new life as a visual artifact discloses a particular perspective on time and historical change and, by extension, how it embodies an interested, as opposed to impartial, perspective on the social and cultural status quo, on what Erlich labels our "civilized ordeals." In this century the feeling that one leads an inauthentic existence certainly constitutes one of our "civilized ordeals." Living what Adorno calls "the administered life"—defined from one perspective as an independence , as an achieved freedom from bondage to the body's needs and freedom from sentimental dependence on animals and pets—we yet look longingly at a Trigger, hoping to recover, however pleasurable or painful, the body's memory, the emotional qualities, and the basic sociability arising from proximity with working animals, with beings whose smells, sounds, and instinctual responses are believed to display the authentic texture of a "real life" in nature, not culture. But since the stuffed Trigger represents in actuality what Susan Stewart in another context has termed a "physical relic" (140), which is to say a souvenir of the dead (like a scalp or a hunting trophy), such gazing compelled by such desires inevitably generates memories and narratives. These memories and narratives tend to settle neither on the taxidermist 's art nor, if it were possible, on the animal's being in time. Such memoties and narratives in the end, indeed perhaps from the beginning , center rather on the individual's intimate contact with "Trigger," the quotation marks here denoting the classic animal body idealized in and by past television and film productions starring Roy Rogers (and, of course, Dale Evans and her horse Buttermilk). Since any memories and narratives generated by contemplating Trigger in a public space serve to interpret the observer's relationship to childhood and the past, to chart the observer's sameness and difference in that temporal space between the then and the now, gazing at Trigger emblematizes how a physical relic of the dead ultimately should be regarded as a souvenir of the past or, more accurately, as a symbolic totem of childhood. In short, the very materiality ofTrigger's animal body, which is to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9595
Print ISSN
0004-1610
Pages
pp. 133-156
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-02
Open Access
No
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