MWF 9-10 234 Dwinelle Instructor: David Delano
“Nothing, as a matter of fact, is as closed to us than this animal life from which we are descended… The animal opens before me a depth that attracts me and is familiar to me. In a sense, I know this depth: it is my own. It is at the same time that which is farthest removed from me, that which deserves the name depth, which means precisely that which is unfathomable to me.” – Georges Bataille, Theory of Religion
What is it like to be an animal? A cat, a tick, or a horse? Can we ever really know? This course will examine literary and scientific approaches to these questions, while also exploring how modern understandings of subjectivity have rendered the problem of animal minds one of the basic ways of organizing our thinking about non-human life.
Among the related questions we will address are: What do the parallel modern literary and scientific projects of imagining animal minds tell us about the relationship between literature and science? Why does literature seem to offer a promising avenue into animal minds—even though language is frequently cited as one of the basic capacities distinguishing human from animal? Has imagining animal minds always seemed to pose a different kind of problem than imagining other human minds?
The course will start with a quick sketch of some perspectives that have enduringly informed our assumptions about what an animal—and an animal mind—is. We will then move into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, from which almost all of our readings will be drawn. As part of the University’s R&C requirement, the basic goal of this course will be to help develop students’ writing skills through dialogue with the instructor and, no less importantly, with peers. Discussions will help students form their own interpretive approaches to the texts we have read in common, as we will think together about what it might mean to read critically and thoughtfully in practice. We will regularly dedicate class time to writing workshops, peer review exercises, and to discussing the challenges of writing a college-level essay. Students will be assigned three essays, including a final research paper, as well as a number of shorter written exercises.