Abstract

This essay tracks the reception of the story of the Bengali wolf girls, Amala and Kamala, in the American popular media of the 1940s. I argue that the terms of that decade’s debates are taken on some sixty years later when Bhanu Kapil, an Asian American poet, revisits the wolf girls’ story in her third book, Humanimal [a project for future children]. For commentators in the 1940s, animality is the ground condition for bodily health and normality, but it must also be transcended in order to achieve the normative future. Their analyses of the wolf girl Kamala’s failure to transcend her animality demonstrate the American scientists’ conflation of animality, coloniality, and disability. This same failure, however, makes Kamala valuable to contemporary American poetry’s representation of the nonsubject. Kapil’s poetic form counters the triumphant developmental narrative that American scientists hoped to impose on the wolf girl’s story. Instead, Kapil’s deliberately retrogressive text uses Kamala’s animality to make links between different experiences of animalization across colonial and postcolonial time. Rather than restore the wolf girls to lyric subjectivity and normative selfhood, Kapil inscribes a different relation among language, ethics, and species, creating a poetic form that corresponds to their non- or not-just-human being.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6490
Print ISSN
0003-0678
Pages
pp. 735-755
Launched on MUSE
2013-09-20
Open Access
No
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