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  • Tense AnimalsOn Other Species of Pastoral Power
  • Nicole Shukin (bio)

Sheep Followers

In Dolly Mixtures: The Remaking of Genealogy, the anthropologist Sarah Franklin places the birth of the cloned sheep within a longer line of “biocultural” practices at risk of being disconnected from the present by those who view the transgenic event of Dolly as historically unprecedented (2007, 3). Just as striking as Franklin’s efforts to trace a genealogy for Dolly, however, is the rapidity with which her language starts to replicate the subject of animal cloning, by itself culturing a surplus of sheep metaphors. Listen to how Franklin describes her anthropological method of “following sheep around” or “theory-on-the-hoof” (9): “Like sheep, this book is keener on exploratory foraging, endless rumination, and pushing over fence posts than it is on getting from the open pasture to the shearing shed so that wool can go to sale” (16).

Alongside the ovine figures that begin to populate Franklin’s language—“grazing,” “open pasture,” “shearing”—let me juxtapose an earlier entanglement of technology, speech, and sheep that strangely enough lies buried [End Page 143] within the history of the telephone. The invention of one of the first apparatuses of “electric speech” was intimately mixed up, as it happens, in sheep breeding. As Avital Ronell relays in The Telephone Book: Technology, Schizophrenia, Electric Speech, in 1889, Alexander Graham Bell bought a piece of land complete with the flock of sheep grazing on it, and undertook a series of amateur breeding experiments over the next thirty years (1989, 337). The possibility of multiplying the number of nipples on a ewe obsessed Bell, who fiddled with breeding litters of sheep graced with not merely two but four, six, even eight nipples. Through his “pregenetic tampering,” Ronell writes, “the multi-nippled, twin-bearing sheep did ultimately appear” (339). Although Franklin never references Bell’s experiments among the earlier technologies of animal breeding that she argues conditioned the cloning of Dolly, they are a startling confirmation of her contention that the biotechnological exploits and anxieties fulminated by Dolly’s appearance have an often unexpected kinship with the past.

What do these two anecdotes featuring Dolly and Bell—and the intimacy of metaphorical speech and biological sheep that both raise—possibly have to do with the question David Clark raises in this issue of “animals . . . in theory”? For starters, they serve to introduce sheep as the thread that I will follow through a body of theory devoted to studying technologies of biopower and, more specifically, through the genealogy of pastoral power traced by Foucault. There can be a perverse enjoyment in taking Foucault’s analysis of pastoral power literally by invoking biological sheep; after all, pastoral power is “politics seen as a matter of the sheep-fold” (2007, 130). My larger aim, however, is to catalyze discussion of the ways biopolitical thought is prone to generating concepts—pastoral power, “bare life,” and so on—that displace animals from the material stakes of the discussion even as they metaphorically summon them. Matthew Calarco has argued this point in relation to Giorgio Agamben’s theorization of the “anthropological machine” of Western culture and of bare life (2007). Similarly, remarking on Foucault’s analysis of pastoral power, Anand Pandian notes that his “genealogical account excises practical relations with animals from its narrative economy, reducing pasturage to nothing more than a political metaphor for most of Western history” (2008, 90). Sheep are metaphorically omnipresent yet [End Page 144] materially missing from the study of a technology of power that, according to Foucault, enfolds human individuals and populations who become subject to forms of pastoral care first institutionalized by the Christian Church and subsequently secularized by the modern state. How the government of human life might be biopolitically imbricated with that of other species is potentially opened up—yet actually foreclosed—by Foucault.

Whereas “theory” consists of a multiplicity of intellectual pursuits resistant to being lumped together under any unifying sign, there is virtually unanimous agreement among its practitioners when it comes to the cardinal stupidity (bêtise) of taking things literally. Yet might the taboo against literalism that has been the signature of theory since Saussure—from belief...