Behold an Animal
Four Exorbitant Readings
Imprint: Northwestern University Press
As animals recede from our world, what tale is being told by literature’s creatures? Behold an Animal: Four Exorbitant Readings examines incongruous animals in the works of four major contemporary French writers: an airborne horse in a novel by Jean-Philippe Toussaint, extinct orangutans in Éric Chevillard, stray dogs in Marie NDiaye, vanishing (bits of) hedgehogs in Marie Darrieussecq. Resisting naturalist assumptions that an animal in a story is simply—literally or metaphorically—an animal, Thangam Ravindranathan understands it rather as the location of something missing. The animal is a lure: an unfinished figure fleeing the frame, crossing bounds of period, genre, even medium and language. Its flight traces an exorbitant (self-)portrait in which thinking admits to its commerce with life and flesh. It is in its animals, at the same time unbearably real and exquisitely unreal, that literature may today be closest to philosophy.
This book’s primary focus is the contemporary French novel and continental philosophy. In addition to Toussaint, Chevillard, NDiaye, and Darrieussecq, it engages the work of Jean de La Fontaine, Eadweard Muybridge, Edgar Allan Poe, Lewis Carroll, Samuel Beckett, and Francis Ponge.
Chapter One. Melancholy of Horsepower
Chapter Two. Man of the Forest
Chapter Three. Vague Dog
Chapter Four. "Barely a hedgehog, strictly speaking"
Epilogue: The Case of the Hermit Crab
“To ‘behold an animal,’ Thangam Ravindranathan suggestively argues, is literature’s temptation and taunt; the animal is always slightly ‘out of focus’ and so a token of literature’s own unrealness. Deeply theoretical and written in a prose that renders the animal at once palpable and unknowable, her readings demonstrate how dogs, horses, hermit crabs and hedgehogs mark the limits of representation even as they give life and breath to language.”—Kari Weil, author of Thinking Animals: Why Animal Studies Now
“The question of the animal, revolving as it does on paradoxes of otherness and exteriority, allows Thangam Ravindranathan to catch the ‘soul’ of some of the best recent French novels. The horses, dogs, wolves, hedgehogs, and hermit crabs that populate their works reveal the inner pulse of today’s literature. Once brought into conversation with thinkers like Agamben, Baudrillard, Derrida, Deleuze, or Heidegger, they animate these novels and open vistas on the divide between humans and animals so as to invent a new ontology of fiction.” —Jean-Michel Rabaté, author of Think, Pig! Beckett at the limit of the human
“Behold an Animal makes an original and major contribution to animal studies by arguing for a deconstructive approach that counters the call to read animals literally and by revealing surprising connections between primary and secondary texts.” —Stephanie Posthumus, author of French Écocritique