Polymorphous Domesticities: Pets, Bodies, and Desire in Four Modern Writers

Polymorphous Domesticities: Pets, Bodies, and Desire in Four Modern Writers

Polymorphous Domesticities: Pets, Bodies, and Desire in Four Modern Writers

Polymorphous Domesticities: Pets, Bodies, and Desire in Four Modern Writers

Synopsis

Polymorphous Domesticities maps out the play of gender, sexuality, and alternative forms of domesticity in the works of four modern European and American writers--Edith Wharton, Djuna Barnes, Colette, and J. R. Ackerley. What these four writers have in common is a defiance of patriarchal paradigms in their lives as well as in their works. Not only did they live outside the norms of the heterosexual family unit, they also pursued and wrote about alternative lifestyles that prominently involved animals. Through close readings from a feminist perspective, Juliana Schiesari reconfigures the ways in which interspecies relationships inflect domestic spheres, reading the "Other" through the lens of gender, home, and family. As she explores how domestic life is refigured by the presence of animals, Schiesari challenges anthropocentric frames of reference and brings the very definition of "human" into question.

Excerpt

It is interesting that in the country in almost every village
there is a man who has not married. … Nobody can take
him very seriously, they often call him familiarly, a hen,
and most of the time he does go a little funny….

There are of course some women not often more than
one in a village who has not married, but she is not so likely
in France to go funny, of course there are always animals,
and animals can become a family, to a Frenchwoman,
but not to a Frenchman.

—Gertrude Stein, Paris, France

This book continues the exploration I began in Beasts and Beauties: Animals, Gender and Domestication in the Italian Renaissance concerning the co-development of two different but related forms of domestication since the Renaissance: the new culture of domesticated animals that issued forth in the modern phenomenon of the “pet,” and the contemporaneous delineation of the home as a uniquely private enclosure, where the pater familias ruled over his own secluded world of domesticated wife, children, servants—and animals. the early modern invention of the pet, I argue, takes place squarely within the simultaneous negotiation of modern family relations that have long defined the unequal status of men, women, and the beings who live with them. the relations between domesticity and power that have emerged in EuroAmerican societies since the Renaissance have drawn on a wide set of ideological affinities between “femininity,” “sexuality,” and “animality” in ways that continue to frame our understanding of how different personal, social, sexual, and species identities are formed and valued today. the patriarchal norm of the modern family with homebound women, children, and pets is, like any norm, only a social convention . . .

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