"But Where's the Bloody Horse?": Textuality and Corporeality in the "Animal Turn" (1)

By Swart, Sandra | Journal of Literary Studies, September 2007 | Go to article overview

"But Where's the Bloody Horse?": Textuality and Corporeality in the "Animal Turn" (1)


Swart, Sandra, Journal of Literary Studies


Summary

In the last decade, "animal studies" has arisen in belated parallel to other counter-hegemonic disciplines. In order to discuss this new departure of considering animals in the humanities rather than solely the natural sciences, we use the case study of the horse. We discuss what the "animal turn" might mean in disciplinary terms. We show that there is a significant move towards embracing new subject matter, and concomitant new sources, in history writing in southern Africa. We argue, however, that it is difficult to label it a new "paradigm" as it remains largely in the social (or socio-environmental) history camp. Instead, it encompasses a continuing process of inclusion and measured mainstream acceptance of the animal as subject, object and even perhaps agent. The "animal turn" (and, indeed, "green social science") is not founded on any one method or approach, instead it remains diverse in terms of its methodology and raison d'etre, mirroring the multiplicity of its object of study. We discuss changes within socio-environmental history that might permit a transformed understanding of the horse as historical actor with the acceptance of the animal as subject, object and even agent--in short, how academics in the humanities might find the "bloody horse".

Opsomming

"Dierestudies" het in die afgelope dekade in 'n vertraagde parallel met ander teenhegemoniese dissiplines ontstaan. Ten einde hierdie nuwe wending te bespreek, naamlik om diere in die menswetenskappe eerder as uitsluitlik in die natuurwetenskappe te bestudeer, gebruik ons die gevallestudie van die perd. Ons bespreek wat die "dierewending" moontlik mag beteken in dissiplinere terme. Ons dui aan dat daar 'n beduidende beweging na die insluiting van nuwe onderwerpe, en gevolglik nuwe bronne, in geskiedskrywing in suider-Afrika is. Ons betoog egter dat dit moeilik is om hierdie beweging as 'n nuwe "paradigma" te beskryf, aangesien dit grootliks binne die kader van die sosiale (of sosio-omgewings-)geskiedenis bly. Dit behels veel eerder 'n voortdurende proses van insluiting en gematigde hoofstroom-aanvaarding van die dier as subjek, objek en moontlik selfs agent. Die "dierewending" (en, inderdaad, "groen sosiale wetenskap") is nie gefundeer op enige enkele metode of benadering nie; dit bly divers wat betref metodologie en "raison d'etre", en weerspieel hiermee ook die veelheid van studieobjekte in hierdie veld. Ons bespreek veranderinge binne die sosio-omgewingsgeskiedenis wat 'n veranderde begrip van die perd as 'n historiese akteur, met inagneming van die dier as subjek, objek en selfs agent, mag moontlik maak--kortliks, hoe akademici in die menswetenskappe die "bloody horse" mag vind.

**********

   You praise the firm restraint with which they
   write--
   I'm with you there, of course:
   They use the snaffle and the curb all right,
   But where's the bloody horse?
        Roy Campbell (1901-1957)
      "On Some South African Novelists"

Animals are roaming the Groves of Academe. They bark and paw at the threshold of the Ivory Tower. Historians have started to open the doors a trifle. This "animal turn" is part of the so-called "greening of the humanities". In the last decade, "animal studies" have arisen in belated parallel to other counter-hegemonic disciplines like Women's Studies. (2) In order to discuss the new departure of considering animals in the humanities rather than solely the biological and geographical sciences, we use the case study of the horse. We search the academic fields to try to find the "bloody horse"--both the corporeal animal and the fictive beast. Horses are absent from the official historical record in southern Africa, except when one detects their hoofprints in some battle, finds an allusion to the gallant exploits of a particular horse, or the tragic slaughter of horses in war, or reads of them amalgamated in a much-desired commodity dyad: "guns and horses". Sometimes one hears a distant whinny in a discussion of post-South-African-War Reconstruction or in descriptions of everyday cultural life. …

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