"A Strangeness Beyond Reckoning": The Animal as Surplus in Postcolonial Literature

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In their 2010 book Postcolonial Ecocriticism, widely recognized as a founding contribution in the subfield of postcolonial zoocriticism, Graham Huggan and Helen Tiffin posit: "if the wrongs of colonialsim—its legacies of continuing human inequalities, for instance—are to be addressed, still less to be redressed, then the very category of the human, in relation to animals and environment, must also be brought under scrutiny" (18). At the center of their analysis is the figure of the Enlightenment Man whose subject constitution is predicated on identifying the animal as the self-consolidating negative other. In other words, the animal is the symbolic armature of Enlightenment Man-making and central to the zoological foundations of modernity. To paraphrase Huggan and Tiffin, the last four hundred odd years of this history can be schematically summarized as follows: during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the animal helped trace the margins of a normatized Enlightenment European identity. Thereafter, during Europe's colonial expansions, animals mediated metropolitan relationship with the far-flung colonies by representing the colonized as dehumanized and/or by nominating entire cultures as bestial (Sotadic or otherwise). Beginning the end of the nineteenth century, however, the animal was repurposed into self-reflexive discourses about the hidden/repressed animality of (European) Man himself. The white, able-bodied, European Enlightenment Man is the "master of beasts" exacting unconditional sovereignty over the animal within and outside in order to claim the normative (as himself) against racial, gendered, and malformed animalistic human others. The animal is the dialectical other vis-à-vis whom human identity is formed, and communitarian values grounded.


Postcolonial Animalities is volume 70 of the Routledge Research in Postcolonial Literatures book series.

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