Animal Inventory Blog

Keeping track of animals in popular culture.

Animalities

Posted by lisagbrown on August 15, 2007

In celebration of handing in my Master’s thesis this morning, I’m posting the introduction. At some point I hope to link to the entire document, a curriculum for a graduate course in animals, art and public policy, but I haven’t figured out how to post a PDF on blogger yet. So in the meantime, here’s a taste:

There was a moment during this project that I realized I had made a life altering choice. It was when I read Carol Adams’ foreword to Steve Baker’s Picturing the Beast: Animals, Identity and Representation. I only read her foreword after I read Baker’s book in full, after the bulk of my research for this course was finished, after I had written extensive lecture notes about animals in movies and paintings, photos and comics. I am backwards like this sometimes. But had I read the foreword when I was supposed to – at the very beginning – I would not have made the astounding discovery that I did. I might not have realized how significantly I had changed the direction of my life. For this I am grateful that I sometimes do things a bit backwards.

Adams decides to live one single day with “Baker-like awareness (p xii).” She spends a day with her eyes and mind open to representations of animals. She sees a mother bird on her child’s homework assignment; Winnie-the-Pooh on a sun glare reflector in a car; interstitial teletubbies on TV. It is in her recounting of the “Steve Baker perspective (p xii)” that I finally realized how the development of this course design has changed me: I have chosen to live inside the whirlwind of awareness. Quite simply, I have chosen to see. A trip to the supermarket has become an intellectual feast of animal imagery in packaging and advertising. Television has changed from banal entertainment to a virtual reality of brightly illuminated commentary on animal representations. A simple car ride has been transformed into a roller coaster of billboards that cry out for new ways to understand the animals in our culture. They are everywhere all at once, our imagined, pictured animals, hoping to be recognized and understood. There is so much to see and hear that a deaf-blind epidemic seems to have struck hard and fast at the very heart of our culture. The remedy is Baker-like awareness. With tentative movements towards seeing and hearing, the vibrancy of conversation between animal representations, our culture, our public policy and our art can begin to come alive.

In a single frame of artwork I see human-made categories confirmed or revised: a cow busting out of her role as meat and milk; a dog settling sadly into the stereotype of aged witness and friend. I see anthropomorphism and anthropocentrism played out in graphic form. In every celluloid and paper moment, concepts, discourses and assumptions rise up off the frame like colorful 3-dimensional components of a 2-dimensional world. Each image is a landscape of words and ideas, if only we could see.

How do we learn to see? Thankfully, I already have the answer. In my own backwards way, I developed the answer before I even knew the question. The question is ‘how do we see?’ The answer is the course that follows.

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One Response to “Animalities”

  1. goodness gracious! said

    congrats on the masters thesis! and thanks for the b-day wishes! LA will be tres awesome – i’m also so excited! that mud bath thing sounds DELIGHTFUL.

    have you read any angela carter? she is totally awesome and a beautiful writer, and therefore worth reading, but you may also find her interesting because of the animal imagery, in particular the pervalance of half human, half animal charachters, that reappear in her work. her short story collection “the bloody chamber” is a series of stories based on fairy tales, and as per “the bloody chamber” they all have in come way to do with female sexuality, virginity, and puberty, and over and over again she discusses the metaphors via fairy tales with human/animal carachters – her 2 retellings of beauty and the beast, one where the beast becomes human, and one where the human becomes the beast, her vampire tale mixed with a feral child, her erl king, a human embodiment of the woods who lures girlls on the cup of puberty and changes them into birds, things like that. fun gender stuff!

    congrats, and thanks again!

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