Animals, Animality, and Violence: Reading Across Species in J. M. Coetzee's Writing

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Denike, Jaime
Animals , Animality , Literature , J. M. Coetzee
This thesis examines the writings of Nobel Laureate J. M. Coetzee in order to explore pressing issues that have emerged in literary, philosophical, and theoretical approaches to animal studies. These include animals as disputed objects in claims to territorial, national, and cultural belonging; and the use of animality to manage cultural difference and mobilize identity-based violence. I investigate the roles that hierarchical discourses of species, and the rhetorics of animality that mobilize them, play in cultural and social inscription, cross-cultural conflict, and cultures of violence in the writing of J.M. Coetzee. My dissertation provides historical, material, and cultural context and specificity to the entanglements of race, gender, and culture with the rhetoric and hermeneutics of species, by demonstrating how colonial, Enlightenment, and traditional humanist thought mobilizes speciesism for the cultural work of violence. Intervening in assumptions about the irreconcilability of animal- and human-endorsing approaches to animal studies, I demonstrate that human and non-human animals alike are mutually implicated in conceptual economies that employ animality as a trope; and in the material logistics that mobilize discourses that surround nonhuman animals to do violence to human and nonhuman animals. Coetzee embeds questions about what nonhuman animals mean, or more precisely are made to mean, firmly within the broader politics of interpreting and recognizing alterity, regardless of species, while asking how animals might have a place—in our worlds, in our thought, and in our interventionist strategies—as more than means to human ends. Coetzee’s fictional and critical engagements with nonhuman animals, I argue, comprise a major reassessment of the codes of, and struggles concerning, human and nonhuman animal correspondence and difference. Highlighting the complex interrelations between the cross-cultural violence that mobilizes the rhetoric of species and its attendant violations of nonhuman animal life, Coetzee challenges speciesist schemata that give nonhuman animals symbolic and material currency by imagining how we might read across species differently, in ways that affirm, rather than master, nonhuman animal life.
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