Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Animals and children

I've been meaning to put it out there that I've been doing some reading around in animal studies recently. I feel very ambivalent about this, in part because animal studies always seems to me to have the potential to reveal itself as sentimental "I love my dog!" BS. I still find the cyborg wave of posthumanist studies more compelling.

I think one day I'd like to undertake a serious study of the symbolic-discursive relationship between animals and children. We sometimes speak of children as if they were little adults, or as if they were the colonized (Nodelman). The latter is particularly troubling to me when we consider that there are people who are both children and colonized, a fact that the analogy between children "in general" and colonized peoples tends to obscure.

Freaky baby turkey costume courtesy of Martha Stewart.
The real analogy that pervades our literature is between children and animals. Think of Curious George and Stuart Little, the child-animals--even the boy in The Witches who is quite content to have turned into a mouse. Animals and children are the two paradigmatic cases for studying cuteness. The question of language acquisition (and whether it is possible in the case of animals, and whether children who never have it are therefore animals) is likewise a central connection. I think we should take the comparison between children and animals seriously. We need a better philosophy of childhood, and the philosophy of animals could be illuminating in that regard.

But wow, I really do not have time to do that right now.

Fuss, Diana, ed. Human, All Too Human. New York: Routledge, 1996. Print.

Haraway, Donna Jeanne. The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2003. Print.

Lyotard, Jean Fran├žois. The Inhuman: Reflections on Time. Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 1991. Print.

Morgenstern, John. “Children and Other Talking Animals.” The Lion and the Unicorn 24.1 (2000): 110-127. Print.

Wolfe, Cary, ed. Zoontologies: The Question of the Animal. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003. Print.


Gladys said...

i super-like this post. did you know that anne cheng organized a conference on cuteness at princeton earlier this year? it had an asian diasporic context, but it looks like there were papers on kids and animals (hello kitty, anyone?) -- though not necessarily together.

Natalia said...

Blast! Apparently all the rss feeds in the world cannot clue me into all the good conferences. That sounds extremely interesting; thanks for the lead!

Hello Kitty indeed.

Gladys said...

haha, i actually found out by accident. i went to a talk last spring and met someone who works at princeton with anne and had actually been one of the discussants at the conference. anyway, speaking of animals and kids, halloween is totally coming up. i posted a photo of ben in his costume -- a white tiger -- and, yeah, folks seemed to find it really cute.

Natalia said...

Exactly, dressing kids up as animals is the logical cute choice. So why is that? (This brings us back to the primal scene of this entire research trajectory, the awesomely awful scene of "Dressing Up Our Pets" in Mei-mei Berssenbrugge's Nest.)