Animal Languages: The Human-Animal Binary in the Works of Clarice Lispector and Jorie Graham
This thesis argues that the human-animal divide plays a key role in the work of the writers Clarice Lispector and Jorie Graham, and that their explorations and complications of the divide in turn shed light on its persistence and the challenges that it poses for linguistic representation and for our understanding of human and animal alike. The human-animal binary refers to the divide that separates the human from all other animal beings. On the one hand, this distinction seems insubstantial: humans are an animal species, and the intelligence and subjecthood of nonhuman animals are increasingly recognised in science and law. On the other, to suggest that no difference exists between humans and other animals is a foolishness similar to suggesting that no difference exists between any two species. Although some scholars have claimed that the division has outlived its usefulness, attempts to transcend the human-animal divide, both in scholarship and in literature, are paradoxically often those most plagued by the return of the binary they seek to overcome. The human-animal binary represents an energetic and restless distinction that, as Lispector’s and Graham’s work shows, cannot be finally resolved into either a simple division between human and animal or an undifferentiated continuity between two indistinct terms. Lispector’s and Graham’s interest in writing about animals derives both from the mysterious self-worlds of animals and from a preoccupation with testing the limits of representation itself. Lispector and Graham make critical use of certain rhetorical strategies—specifically adynaton, defamiliarisation, and anthropomorphism—to imagine what it might be like to be the described animal without claiming to definitively state what that experience is. Further, they reciprocally consider the consequences of representing the human as animal: Graham worries about the possible loss of moral accountability entailed by a biological explanation of human selfhood, whereas Lispector seeks to dissolve the human subject into a wider continuum of animal life and matter as an alternative to humanising the world through symbolic thought and language. Comparing the authors’ works here makes conspicuous the implications of dismantling the human-animal binary and of shirking our moral responsibilities as humans. Ultimately, this thesis concludes that, while authors like Lispector and Graham cannot eradicate the human-animal binary altogether, they can complicate and diversify what each of these terms—human and animal—represents.
Advisor: Edmond, Jacob
Degree Name: Master of Arts
Degree Discipline: English and Linguistics
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: human-animal binary; human-non-human animal binary; Jorie Graham; Clarice Lispector; Animal Studies; animal representation; literature; poetics; human-animal studies; representation; comparative literature; defamiliarisation; ostranenie; anthropomorphism; adynaton; impossibilia
Research Type: Thesis