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The (Im)Mediate Animal: Interspecies Entanglements in Early Enlightenment Transactions

By Scott Anthony Venters

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This dissertation excavates, manipulates, and questions the intimate relations between political and epistemic ecologies formalized within modes of performance as interspecies constitutions in England from the seventeenth to the eighteenth century. Many scholars have attempted to turn the narrative of the Cartesian beast-machine hypothesis into the standard account of epistemic rupture in transspecies associations during the early modern period. Against such unencumbered intellectual histories, I argue that, because nonhuman animals invite an ineradicable sociality, subtle changes to material and ontological framings occurred within a dialectical structure of socio-political spaces for the development of novel interspecies epistemologies and the momentum of nascent colonial-capitalist ecological exhaustion and its counterpart of domestic agricultural intensification. Distinctly transspecies epistemological contours prevalent in Interregnum opera, Royal Society science(-in-the-making), Restoration theatre, and early modern domesticity (mediated by print and public performance of the self) instantiated unaccustomed sociological valorizations of nonhumans and gained political legibility hand in hoof with a burgeoning modern political economy that reductively revalued and more intensely de-animalized nonhuman species. Older social structures of being-with-animal-others did not so much dissolve in early English globalism as they did transform into aporias or states of exemption, neither completely intelligible in stodgy manorial frameworks or the liquid logic of transatlantic capital flows, but nevertheless highly visible in modes of performance where public and counter-public visions of the social became entangled in the psychosomatic promises of and relations to the animal. What I offer is an embodied history of human-animal relations in seventeenth-century England (primarily) that takes seriously the agential capacities of other-than-humans and the layers of co-constructivity present in any transspecies engagement. Relying solely upon intellectual histories of interspecies contact during the early Enlightenment period often disregards the rich semiotic worlds, interests, and active capabilities of other-than-humans to realign the terms of interaction and shape knowledge production. The methodology of my project is grounded in performance studies and examines the public face of these interactions in various modes – juridical-penal exhibition in Barbados and the English provinces, scientific demonstration of the Royal Society, theatrical and civic production, popular sports, periodical publication – but the project also challenges conceptions of performance as a purely mimetic (and thus uniquely human) operation. Tracing micro interspecies entanglements within a macro-ecology of global transformation in the early modern period, this dissertation reframes processes of historical and epistemic change as multispecies, interagential network transactions and thus disturbs both an anthropocentric enfranchisement of historical executors and the Cartesian reductionism rampant in animal studies, all the while expanding the critical apparatus for performance studies along transspecies, intersubjective vectors.

Date 2021
Pages 518
ISBN/ISSN 9798535501420
Publisher University of Washington
Degree Ph.D.
Language English
University University of Washington
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animals
  2. Art
  3. Europe
  4. History
  5. Literature
  6. open access
  7. Philosophy
  8. Science
  9. United Kingdom
  1. open access