Behold an Animal

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ISBN 978-0-8101-4073-8

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ISBN 978-0-8101-4071-4
Publication Date
January 2020
Page Count
272 pages
Trim Size
6 x 9

Behold an Animal

Four Exorbitant Readings
Thangam Ravindranathan

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. 

About the Author

THANGAM RAVINDRANATHAN is an associate professor of French at Brown University. She is the author of Là où je ne suis pas: récits de dévoyage and Donner le change: L’impensé animal (with Antoine Traisnel). Her essays have appeared in French Forum, Symposium, differences, SubStance, New Formations, L’Esprit créateur, and Critique.

“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


“In this searchingly intelligent book, Ravindranathan challenges the idea that fictional representations finally diminish the lives of animals. Through a series of dazzling explorations of contemporary French writing, she shows instead how animals mark the place in which word and world are folded interminably one into the other. Behold an Animal demonstrates that the subtle points at which the language of creatureliness and the creatureliness of language are braided together call for radically new—because unapologetically uncertain—forms of thinking and reading. What makes Ravindranathan’s study remarkable is that it does justice to animals by refusing to know who or what they are.” —David L. Clark, McMaster University

“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