Bestial Traces: Race, Sexuality, Animality

Bestial Traces: Race, Sexuality, Animality

Bestial Traces: Race, Sexuality, Animality

Bestial Traces: Race, Sexuality, Animality

Synopsis

In contemporary race and sexuality studies, the topic of animality emerges almost exclusively in order to index the dehumanization that makes discrimination possible. Bestial Traces argues that a more fundamental disavowal of human animality conditions the bestialization of racial and sexual minorities. Hence, when conservative politicians equate homosexuality with bestiality, they betray an anxious effort to deny the animality inherent in all sexuality. Focusing on literary texts by Edgar Allan Poe, Joel Chandler Harris, Richard Wright, Philip Roth, and J. M. Coetzee, together with philosophical texts by Derrida, Heidegger, Agamben, Freud, and Nietzsche, Peterson maintains that the representation of social and political others as animals can be mitigated but never finally abolished. All forms of belonging inevitably exclude some others as "beasts." Though one might argue that absolute political equality and inclusion remain desirable, even if ultimately unattainable, ideals, Bestial Traces shows that, by maintaining such principles, we exacerbate rather than ameliorate violence because we fail to confront how discrimination and exclusion condition all social relations.

Excerpt

On February 18, 2009, Sean Delonas published a controversial cartoon in the New York Post depicting two policemen shooting and killing a monkey with the caption: “They’ll have to find someone else to write the next stimulus bill.” On the adjoining page was a photo of President Obama signing this very piece of legislation into law. The proximity of these two images, together with the longstanding racist association of blacks with apes, led many readers to accuse Delonas and the newspaper of racism. In response, the New York Post claimed that the cartoon contained no racist intent, but was meant to caricature both the shooting of a chimpanzee who mauled a woman in Connecticut two days before (an incident that was widely covered by the media) and “an ineptly written federal stimulus bill,” which, after all, was authored by House Democrats, not Mr. Obama. Whatever the intent might have been, the divided reaction to the cartoon was made possible by a fundamental split within the image itself, which plausibly refers to the Connecticut chimpanzee’s unfortunate demise as much as it invokes the stereotype of the black ape. Did Delonas use the opportunity presented by the chimpanzee’s wellpublicized death as cover for a revivification of racist stereotypes? Or is Delonas himself aping a timeworn association of which he is not fully conscious and whose meanings he is humanly unable to determine?

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