Revisiting the ‘Problem’ of Anthropomorphism through Ceridwen Dovey’s Only the Animals (2014)

Abstract

In Ceridwen Dovey’s short story cycle, Only the Animals, inter-textual allusions to established fictional animals are imposed onto settings of human conflict and ventriloquised through diverse animal subjects. This paper defends narrating from a non-human animal perspective, not as a radical act, but as a move to reinvigorate our conceptions of human-animal relations. Meaningful encounters between human and non-human animals are presented with a recognition of the impossibility of full and mutual inter-species understanding. The juxtaposition of the limits of figuring literary animals with human/animal intimacy and incomprehension marks Dovey’s work as a logical progression of some ideas presented in J. M. Coetzee’s Elizabeth Costello. This paper reads Dovey’s deployment of textual self-referentiality and overt intersection with Coetzee’s work in Only the Animals as a reflexive writing form that works to critique another representational dispossession: that of anthropocentric realism. Both works understand that humans do not share language with non-human animals but we often meet questions of the animal through stories. This makes the stories we tell highly significant; indeed – vital – components of the cultural landscape.

When I am playing with my cat, who knowes whether she have more sport in dallying with me, than I have in gaming with her? We entertaine one another with mutuall apish trickes. If I have my hour to begin or to refuse, so hath she hers. (Montaigne)

Thinking from the perspective of animals, as performed by Ceridwen Dovey in her short story collection Only the Animals (2014), is often unfairly dismissed as crude anthropomorphism – an unsophisticated act reserved for children’s stories. This paper defends narrating from a non-human animal perspective, not as a radical act, but as a move to reinvigorate our conceptions of human-animal relations. It would be remiss to deny the limitations that anthropomorphism entails. Even so imaginative visions of the lives of non-human animals need not be completely rejected as facile. Rather, we can understand a continuum between human and non-human animals through the empathy-building…

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Published 5 July 2019 in Volume 34, No. 1.. Subjects: Intertextuality, Animal Studies, J.M. Coetzee, Anthropomorphism, Ceridwen Dovey.

Cite as: Archer-Lean, Clare. ‘Revisiting the ‘Problem’ of Anthropomorphism through Ceridwen Dovey’s Only the Animals (2014).’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 34, no. 1, 2019. https://doi.org/10.20314/als.80ac7927cd.