Animal Geographies: Zooësis and the Space of Modern Drama

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The burgeoning field of animal studies offers a new perspective on that overlap of cultural and performance space that we call mimesis. In proposing the neologism ‘zooësis’ for this new perspective, I want to invoke, as a foundation for my exploration of animal discourses in modern drama, the path-breaking work of Cary Wolfe, whose term ‘zoontologies’ recognises the central role played by the figure of the animal and the category of animality in all those ‘seminal reroutings of contemporary theory away from the constitutive figure of the human’ (2003: xi). Zooësis, as I conceive it, includes the myriad performative and semiotic elements involved in the vast range of cultural animal practices. These include not only literary representations of animals (from Aesop's Fables to Will Self's Great Apes), not only dramatic representations of animals (from The Frogs to Equus), not only animal performances in circuses and on stage, but also such ubiquitous or isolated social practices as pet-keeping, cock-fighting, dog shows, equestrian displays, rodeos, bull-fighting, animal sacrifice, hunting, animal slaughter, and meat-eating. Comprising both our actual and imaginative interactions with non-human animals, zooësis is the discourse of animality in human life, and its effects permeate our social, psychological and material existence.

From its shifting locations on the margins of human life, the non-human animal participates in the construction of such human categories as the body, race, gender, sexuality, morality and ethics. It also intervenes decisively in the social construction and cultural meaning of space. Animal practices shape not only the specific and actual spaces in which they occur, but parallel and opposite spaces as well, spaces to which they are related through the logic of the nature–culture divide that enables so much cultural meaning. Thus zooësis pertains not only to, for instance, the zoo, the dog-run, the slaughter-house, but also the nursery, the playground, the diningroom.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2005

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  • Performing Nature
    The essays in this volume explore the borderland between ecology and the arts. Informed by psychoanalysis and cultural materialism, contributors to the first part, 'Spectacle: Landscape and Subjectivity', look at ways in which particular social and scientific experiments, theatre and film productions and photography either reinforce or contest our ideas about nature and human-human or human-animal relations and identities. The second part, 'World: Hermeneutic Language and Social Ecology', investigates political protest, social practice art, acoustic ecology, dance theatre, family therapy and ritual in terms of social philosophy. Contributors to the third part, 'Environment: Immersiveness and Interactivity', explore architecture and sculpture, site-specific and mediatised dance and paratheatre through radical theories of urban and virtual space and time, or else phenomenological philosophy. The final part, 'Void: Death, Life and the Sublime', indicates the possibilities in dance, architecture and animal behaviour of a shift to an existential ontology in which nature has 'the capacity to perform itself'.
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