Vulnerable Dogs in U.S. Literary Narratives
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
In Cary Wolfe's What Is Posthumanism?, images of dogs in pain, up to and including the point of death, becomean unnerving weight that resists our thinking. Such images pressure, as Jacques Derrida has remarked, what we call the "human" and what we call the "animal." This paper (re)thinks the animal question with Derrida and Wolfe though a reading of Joyce Carol Oates's You Petted Me, and I Followed You Homeand Dave Eggers's Zeitoun. As I demonstrate in Oates's story, a dog triggers complex emotional reactions in a woman involved in an abusive relationship. I then discuss how Eggers's account of Katrina achieves an emotional intensity in scenes that enact the protagonist's attempt to care for dogs stranded in the flood created by the breaching of the levees. Following Wolfe, I argue that Oates and Eggers stage the limits that we have in common with non-human animals. While, as Wolfe explains, we share "finitude", the "physical vulnerability, embodiment, and eventually mortality" with non-human animals, such an experience "is paradoxically made unavailable, inappropriable, to us by the very thing that makes it available," which is "the radically ahuman technicity of language." As companion species that co-evolved with humans, dogs under stress challenge us to make an ethical response, one that requires us to think fundamentally beyond ourselves, because the paradox of language renders us not ourselves: "we" are not "we." Taken together, the literary narratives of Oates and Eggers trace the complexities and contingencies of our ethical commitments to non-human animals.
Species, Space, and the Imagination of the Global
Indiana University, Bloomington, IN
Bruni, John, "Vulnerable Dogs in U.S. Literary Narratives" (2010). Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants. 55.