A Cat May Look Upon Descartes: A Review of Laurie Shannon’s The Accommodated Animal

My review of Laurie Shannon’s The Accommodated Animal: Cosmopolity in Shakespearean Locales has been published by Humanimalia: A Journal of Human/Animal Interface StudiesA taste is pasted below. Full text here.



There’s a cat watching me write this review. Here at the American University in Cairo, where I work, the boundaries between indoors and outdoors, animals and humans, are much less formal than at American campuses and the courtyard of this building is home to an extended family of semi-tame cats. The cats occasionally wander into the little cafeteria where I’m typing, and a kitten has just hopped onto a nearby chair, idly gazing at me, occasionally licking her chops…

Starting in the first chapter, Shannon seeks to recreate a pre-Cartesian polity, a “Zootopian Constitution” (40), grounded in the six days of creation described in Genesis. Shannon argues that the early chapters of Genesis “do not distinguish man and animal for every purpose,” but rather unite them as creatures, “living artifacts of Creation in a shared status that is, at once, both contingent and stakeholding — the classic ambivalence inherent in the structure of the political subject as such” (40-41). This argument, which owes much to both Bruno Latour’s “Parliament of Things” (144- 45) in We Have Never Been Modern and Julia Reinhardt Lupton’s influential article “Creature Caliban,” recasts nature as politics, with human beings as just one constituency among many, surrounded by other creatures who care little for our pretensions of dominance. Creature is a marvelously rich term, derived from the future- active form of the Latin creatura, denoting, in Lupton’s words, “a made or fashioned thing but with a sense of continued or potential process, action, or emergence” (1). The term thus links humans, animals, and other created things in a great drama of continual emergence. Shannon notes that in all of Shakespeare’s works, “animal” appears only eight time, while “beast” appears 141 times and “creature” 127 times (9). Shannon argues, “before the cogito, there was nothing exactly comparable to “the animal” (9). While I believe Shannon is positing far too sharp an epistemological break here, I appreciate the distinction she makes. Her early modern world is populated by creatures, not animals, and those creatures exercise cosmopolitan rights of their own…

Complete review at Humanimalia.

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