From Herodotus onwards, the European tradition offers a rich record of wonderment as a primary constituent of humans’ response to animals. According to Philip Fisher, “the experience of wonder continually reminds us that our grasp of the world is incomplete” (24). This article seeks to trace the changing function of wonder in response to nonhuman species as it manifests in the literary record. The first part of the discussion centers on the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries. Focusing on the writings of Christopher Columbus, Antonio Pigafetta, René Descartes, and Aphra Behn, it explores how Europeans experienced the transformation from medieval to early modern ways of understanding the nonhuman world through encounters with astonishing species of animals previously unknown to them. This transformation was accompanied by radical shifts in the systems of knowledge that had previously been brought to bear on nonhuman living beings. The second part of the article conducts a brief examination of the role of wonder in the more recent literary tradition of magic realism, with a focus on the works of Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel García Márquez, and Yann Martel.


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pp. 1-24
Launched on MUSE
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