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The Human-Animal Bind

Issue cover
Cover Caption: Adam Naming the Animals. Artist unknown. Drawing courtesy of The J. Paul Getty Museum.

Deborah Amberson and Andrea Moudarres, Editors

Deanna Shemek, Associate Editor

Leslie Elwell, Managing Editor

Nonhuman Voices

The Textual Nonhumans of Italian Humanism

"What is it like to be a bat?” the philosopher Thomas Nagel asked in 1974. “How do forests think?” asked anthropologist Eduardo Kohn more recently. As we barely understand the totality of our own selves (much less that of another person), how can we even begin to know what it would be like to be a chair, a coastline, a beetle, a virus? Given the state of the world today, thinking about how we think the nonhuman (and other humans) is urgent. Yet any time we think about something, that something is inevitably filtered through our humanness. How can acknowledging the hybrids that are created when we think things help us to better share the planet and, difficult that it may be, better empathize with one another? This essay looks at how humanist writers in the Italian Renaissance worked to decenter the human and, as such, did not conceive of “man as the measure of all things” in the way that many posthuman studies have claimed. Leon Battista Alberti, Leonardo da Vinci, and Andrea Alciato, for example, attempted to “think like” the nonhuman, and in doing so, they consciously created textual nonhumans in their writing through both anthropomorphosis and the more empathic strategy of allomorphosis, in which a writer attempts to “think like” something other-than-human. The textual nonhumans of Renaissance humanism are fascinating creations of minds that sought to bind themselves to the beauties, powers, and mysteries of the nonhuman world in order to become better humans in the here and now.

In Their Own Voices: A ‘Kenotic’ Approach to Animal Studies and Ecotheology

Human interactions with nonhuman animals, in the Anthropocene, are increasingly marked by incomprehension and violence. More than at any other time in human history, we are called to listen to the cries of fellow creatures, what Scriptures refer to as the “groaning” of the earth. For centuries, Italy has offered the model of Francis of Assisi who, even before preaching to birds, saving lambs, and taming a wolf, knew how to listen to them in a self-emptying act of recognition of “animals” (from anima) as “brothers’ and “sisters,” thus bridging the ontological divide between humans and animals. Through a kenotic reading of Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of the Creatures, this essay explores ethical questions emerging from the recent “animal turn” in theology, the humanities, and Italian literature. In particular, by focusing on recent readings of the poem, which include Luigi Santucci’s rewriting of the Canticle from the perspective of the animals and the papal encyclical Laudato Si’ (2015) together with the replies to it from the scholarly community published in Environmental Humanities, the essay argues that the Franciscan model of “farsi pusillo” (Dante, Par. 11.111) is still relevant today to envision compassionate and just multispecies relationships.

 

Fairy-Tale Metamorphosis and Becoming–Animal: The Posthumanism of Italo Calvino’s Fiabe Italiane

This paper focuses on Italo Calvino’s Fiabe Italiane (1956) and its relationship with posthumanism by analyzing a case of human–animal metamorphosis. Following Serenella Iovino’s (2014) insight that Calvino’s literary production can be seen as encapsulating some of the tenets of posthumanism, the paper first investigates Calvino’s conception of storytelling, arguing that in Fiabe Italiane folk and fairy tales can be compared to Calvino’s investigation of variants, leading to the development of a post-anthropocentric type of narrative. Employing Gilles Deleuze’s concept of becoming, it then discusses metamorphosis as a form of becoming–animal, challenging the idea of an ontological categorization of humans and animals. Ultimately, the paper proposes a posthumanist reading of “Body-without-Soul” by highlighting how becoming–animal allows a rearrangement of the hierarchy between humans and the non-human world and promotes behaviors based on trust and codependence. Based on these findings, one can hypothesize that the magical realm of fairy tales can already be regarded as a place of experimentation where an alternative reality, as described by posthumanist theories, can be imagined and possibly actualized.

Nonhuman Hybridities

“Se è, può essere.” Animali fantastici ne La stiva e l’abisso di Michele Mari

This article studies the fantastic interaction between human and non-human animals in Michele Mari’s novel La stiva e l’abisso. By doing so, it proposes an interpretation that contextualizes the novel as a fictional representation of autopoiesis, anthropocentrism and the post-human. More specifically, the essay isolates three main narrative devices that Mari’s novel employs: obsession, the fantastic mode and food consumption. Thus, it suggests a connection between narrative techniques and philosophical implications, while focusing on the transition from the literary portrayal of supernatural events to realistic concerns.

Futurism's Fish Tanks: Rethinking the Human in Marinetti and Bontempelli

Although separated by a span of nearly twenty years, both F.T. Marinetti’s Mafarka le futuriste (1909) and Massimo Bontempelli’s Minnie la candida (1928) investigate the ontological parameters of humanness through comparison and confrontation with the nonhuman animal, and, in particular, with fish. This article takes up this shared trope of the fish to examine how both authors position themselves with regards to the Futurist movement’s fervent interest in mankind’s relationship to technology and the natural world. While in his mythopoeic novel on the origins of Futurism, Marinetti utilizes Mafarka’s crystal aquarium to suggest a prepotent fusion of nature and technology through which the dangers posed by the natural world are either excised or contained through the mediation of technology, the fish tank of Bontempelli’s play is used to portray technology’s indiscriminate intrusions on the natural world and on that world’s bodies, both human and nonhuman. By looking at how both Marinetti and Bontempelli employ the nonhuman animal to remake and unmake the human, through the characters of the superhuman Mafarka and the innocent and doomed Minnie, respectively, this article sheds light on the ecological and ontological questions raised by Futurism’s investigation into the human against a backdrop of rapid technological advancement.

“Figlio d’un cane!” La figura di Attila nel folklore medievale tra tradizione epico-cavalleresca e zooerastia

Nel presente articolo si analizza la leggenda di Attila nel Medioevo narrata nell’Estoire d’Atile en prose, un testo duecentesco in franco-veneto, dando particolare rilievo alle sue origini zooerastiche e alle conseguenze della sua duplice natura, e proponendo possibili soluzioni alla nascita di un racconto diffuso in tutta la penisola italiana tra il XIII e il XVI secolo. Il rapporto tra uomo e animale, qui usato per denigrare e de-umanizzare il nemico, acquista un significato spregiativo per cui un atto bestiale produce un essere bestiale dominato da violenza e rabbia, un ibrido che non segue gli impulsi e le inclinazioni proprie dell’umanità.

Nonhuman Ecologies

L’isola “arcipelagica”di Ocaña ne L’Iguana di Anna Maria Ortese

Questo lavoro, incentrato sull’isola di Ocaña in cui è ambientato gran parte del romanzo L’Iguana di Anna Maria Ortese, non solo rappresenta un contributo italiano al filone degli island studies, ma evidenzia anche la portata "planetaria" ed ecologica del testo di Ortese. Mentre la prima parte del saggio parla del legame della scrittrice con la dimensione dell’isola, la seconda parte applica a L’Iguana le teorie sviluppate da Edouard Glissant nei suoi Caribbean Discourse (titolo originale Le Discours Antillais) e Poetics of Relations (titolo originale Poétique de la relation) e dà rilevanza alla parte conclusiva del romanzo di Ortese, finora oggetto di scarsa attenzione da parte della critica. Si dimostra quindi come l’isola immaginata da Ortese sfida i diversi tipi di colonialismo che si succedono nel corso della vicenda romanzesca e li ingloba in sé mostrandone, in modo creativo, i limiti. Inoltre, trovando una connessione fra la trasformazione dell’isola di Ocaña in centro di meditazione per ricchi in vacanza e lo stravolgimento paesaggistico avvenuto nelle isole caraibiche a causa del turismo sfrenato degli ultimi decenni, si mette in luce la denuncia da parte di Ortese della violenza con cui si deturpa la natura per mero guadagno economico.

 

Gli animali nel primo Pusterla: una lettura eco-zoopoetica di «Il dronte» e «L’anguilla del Reno»

Questo articolo presenta un’esplorazione delle configurazioni della presenza animale nell’opera di Fabio Pusterla e propone una mappatura di tentativi e delle strategie di avvicinamento all’animalità non-umana così come si configura in due fra le sue raccolte maggiori: Concessione all’inverno (1985) e Bocksten (1989). In una prima parte, l’articolo discute una serie di contesti teorico-critici di riferimento, soffermandosi sulle potenzialità del pensiero ecopoetico e di quello ecoregionale. In una seconda parte, il lavoro propone l’analisi di due testi esemplari: Il dronte e L’anguilla del Reno, che incarnano alcune delle caratteristiche fondamentali degli incontri più-che-umani all’interno del verso pusterliano. L’indagine si concentra in particolare su un utilizzo fisico del linguaggio e sulla materializzazione - nei versi e nelle forme - di ibridazioni, trasformazioni e mutazioni del soggetto poetico. Queste traiettorie vogliono suggerire, più in generale, il potenziale della poesia come linguaggio ecologico, capace, grazie soprattutto alle sue qualità ritmiche, di restituire un’idea di mondo fluida, relazionale, e inclusiva.

L’uomo è l’animale irritato. Una rilettura distopico-odeporica de Il pianeta irritabile di Paolo Volponi

Looking at italian contemporary literature, specifically novels, there are some literary works that emerges with predominance for their precursory blend of genres and also socio-cultural perspectives. This is the case of Paolo Volponi’s Il pianeta irritabile, a sort of stratified novel in which sci-fi, fable, bildungsroman, allegory, social complaint, experimentation on language, philosophy enquiries etc. form a new way of analyzing the complexity of a modernity totally involved in an economic and capitalistic trend, renewing the idea of a literature that is conflict and also a warning for the future generations. This paper intends to address and often overlooked issue for an approach to the Volponi’s novel that is at the same time a dystopian one, for the environmental issue, for example, but also for the “post-apocalyptic” point of view, but especially an hodoeporic one, because the macro-phenomenon of voyage intended as a transformation force is an undeniable fulcrum of the entire novel.

Nonhuman Moralities

Non dovevo ucciderlo nemmeno?: Interspecific Killing and Kinship in Giovanni Verga’s Jeli il Pastore

My paper presents a close reading of Giovanni Verga’s novella “Jeli il pastore” and investigates how this canonical 19th century verismo text undermines human/animal difference through its zoomorphic protagonist and its violent conclusion. Throughout the text, the narrator overtly characterizes Jeli in zoomorphic terms, and while Jeli’s bestial kinship initially permits him success in his line of work, it eventually makes him an outcast in the rural Sicilian community in which he lives. Southern, poor, orphaned, cornuto, animal: Jeli epitomizes the marginalized subject. In the novella’s dramatic conclusion, Jeli slits the throat of his rival Don Alfonso in a manner directly analogous to the killing of a non-human animal: “gli tagliò la gola di un sol colpo, proprio come un capretto.” This human murder parallels animal killings that Jeli witnessed in the past, encouraging us to question not only the humanity of the zoomorphic protagonist but also the humanity of killing non-human animals in the first place. Drawing from archival research conducted at the Fondazione Verga in Catania, I bring to light passages from early unpublished “Jeli il pastore” drafts which directly confront the question of non-human animal communication and which, I argue, provide a key to unlocking Jeli’s seemingly unexpected final act. By examining the inherent liminality of human/animal difference, this paper sheds light on the relevance to animal studies and posthumanist theory of Verga’s famed verismo.

“Through a Glass Brightly: A Posthuman Re-reading of Fausta Cialente’s Cortile a Cleopatra”

“Through a Glass Brightly: A Posthuman Re-reading of Fausta Cialente’s Cortile a Cleopatra” begins by arguing that posthumanism is both a new paradigm in the humanities and the theoretically ill-defined sensibility of the Anthropocene.  A pressing invitation to reimagine what it means to be human that is traversing simultaneously scholarship, political activism and popular culture, posthumanism can also be seen as a powerful lens that colors our perception of the past. While I make no claim for the historical continuity of a tradition of environmental consciousness and do not wish to project onto the past the philosophical stance of today’s posthumanism, my reading of Fausta Cialente’s 1936 novel Cortile a Cleopatra builds on contemporary feminist ecocritics’ and posthuman philosophers’ impatience with the legacy of humanism. Joining a new generation of scholars who bring to their construction of modernism a nuanced understanding of the continuum of the bond between the human and non-human, I argue that revisiting the novel through the hyperopic lens of a posthuman sensibility uncovers the outsize presence of the non-human and enables new interpretation of it. While also partaking in the modernist attack on realism, Cialente’s consistent attention to the non-human – animals, the weather, the material environment – also reads as an alternative figuration of the human and a valuable iteration of the “aesthetics of care” furthered by Josephine Donovan, as “a participatory epistemology” of the human animal bond.