Jonah: I’m Jonah Chester.
Clay: I’m Clay Catlin, and you’re listening to Animal/Human.
Jonah: This show is a production of IU’s College of Arts and Sciences and a proud part of the 2018 Themester.
Clay: Each episode, we talk with a different IU researcher to examine where we, as humans, belong in the animal kingdom.
Jonah: We also examine the interactions of humans and animals in art, literature and science.
Clay: In this episode, Jonah sits down with Dr. Ivan Kreilkamp, a professor in the English department .
Jonah: Dr. Kreilkamp researches animal representation in Victorian-era literature and how perceptions drawn from those representations impact our current perceptions of animals.
Clay: He also looks at the earliest roots of the animal rights movements and how literature during the 19th century drove the formation of those movements.
Dr. Kreilkamp: I teach in the english department and i've been here since 2001. My main area is Victorian British literature. People like the Brontes, DIckens, George Eliot, and Thomas Hardy.
Jonah: In your past works you’ve written about the relationships between animals and humans. You’ve also written about it in your most recent book ,“Minor Creatures; Persons, Animals and the Victorian Novel.” How did victorians think about the animal/human relationship?
Dr. Kreilkamp: Part of what got me interested in the topic is that a lot of very important stuff went on in this period in britain particularly. The very first animal welfare organisation, the RSPCA, was founded in 1824. The first modern anti-cruelty to animals bill was passed just before that in 1822. So this period (1820s) kind of marks the beginning of this new movement. You also see a bunch of anti-cruelty animal legislation being passed, culminating in 1876 with the cruelty to animals act, which basically aims to regulate vivisection and experimentation on animals. The earlier legislation was mostly about beating animals, such as cattle or horses, in the streets . So 19th century Britain sort of innovated the idea of animal welfare politics, or at least its beginnings. Also notable is that the victorians were sort of famous for loving their pets. It was kind of cliche, a truism. Victorian Britain was known as a nation of pet and animal lovers. Anyway, that's kind of how I got onto this topic I was interested in some works by historians about animal advocacy. It just seemed to me that literary scholars hadn’t thought so much about how these ideas turned up in the literature, so that’s what got me onto it. You know, I can actually remember the first thing that really got me on this topic. I was teaching Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte’ novel. I started to notice that there’s stuff about animals all over that novel and it seemed very important and very little remarked. People would mention it in passing, but to me it started to seem central to the way that novel works. So, to give a couple of examples, There’s a key scene where catherine and Heathcliff are wandering free in the moors, which is depicted as this sort of natural paradise, and they come up to this house called Thrushcross grange, this wealthy neighbor’s house a few miles away in the moors. They peek through the window and what they see is these kids…maybe I’ll actually read a quotation. “Now guess what your good children were doing. Isabella lay screaming in the further end of the room, shrieking as if witches were running red hot needles into her. Edgar stood on the hearth, weepings silently. In the middle of the table sat a little dog shaking its paw and yelping which, from their mutual accusations, we understood they had nearly pulled in two between them. The idiots; that was their pleasure, to quarrel who should hold a heap of warm hair. Each began to cry because both, after struggling to get it, refused to take it. We laughed outright at the petted things, we did despise them.” So that was Heathcliff recounting the story. I just got very interested in that passage in particular. And then the family the lintons send out a bulldog who bites Catherine and there’s just a whole lot going on [in this scene] about the different kinds of pets. Questions of the categories of which pets are the guard dogs and which are the lap dogs. Heathcliff and Catherine sort of define themselves against these kids (who they call petted things), so it's almost as if the kids were sort of coddled lap dogs. And then later Heathcliff, I think in many ways, gets sort of defined as almost like an animal. First the father finds him lost in the streets of liverpool and the scene of his discovery... I mean, it's often been discussed in the last 20 years in relation to race. People talk about how Heathcliff is kind of racialized, he's found in the harbor at liverpool which has symbolic associations with the slave trade. But I argue that, just as much, [this links Heathcliff] to animals and animality, sort of like a lost pet. He also quite explicitly compares himself to a vivisector. He becomes very cruel and he talks about the pleasure he takes in pain and that he would enjoy vivisecting the object of his cruelty. So anyway, just to kind of sum up, this novel, which is one of the most important victorian novels is just completely saturated with this language of pets, animals and sort of defining the continuum of different kinds of animals and also the continuum of different ways to treat animals. From the most cruel vivisectors who torture animals to the most kind (those who take care of them)
Jonah: So why were writers in Victorian-era England drawn so heavily to using this vibrant symbolism and kind of attaching this ideology to dogs? What do you think drew them to that initially? In Bronte’s works, you give the hounds as an example. I’m sure there are other examples, but they seem particularly drawn to dogs
Dr. Kreilkamp: The anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss described dogs as metonymical human beings. They’re sort of part-human. We symbolically move them over from the category of natural animal into the status of being almost like human beings. You know, they live in our house, we can give them names. We often sort of humanize them and think of them as having personalities. This is perhaps especially true in the victorian period where I think that characterization of dogs as partly-human creatures is especially pronounced. So another big topic I’m interested in in my book is what happens when you try to make an animal a character. What sort of character they are and can be. I mean that’s where the title comes from. I think animals can be sort of minor characters in a way where they may briefly attain something like character statues, but it’s always understood that an animal can be thrown back into the mass of other animals you don’t pay attention to and you know you can kill or eat. I mean, you're not allowed to eat dogs in England. Thats a big dividing line, you know, those animals that can be eaten versus those that can’t. Those that can be used for material and those that can't. So dogs, for the most part, in England are at least are given this special status where, for the most part, they’re supposed to be protected. Anyway, so as a result they’re quite interesting in the way the act in novels where they sort of sometimes slide into the space of literary characters and sometimes fall back out.
Jonah: So you mentioned, can animals be a character. From what I understand, you’re saying they can be sort of a malleable character. They can jump to the foreground of the novel when they’re needed or they can fall to the background if they’re not necessary any more.
Dr. Kreilkamp: Yeah, exactly. One example is in Thomas Hardy’s novel Far From the Madding Crowd there’s a scene where a character is nearly starving to death and she’s about to collapse and possibly die and this dog shows up, sort of out of nowhere, and helps guide her and she basically leans on this dog and the dog takes her to a place that will take her in. Thomas Hardy was very interested in animals. His second wife was actually heavily involved in animal welfare politics. More so than for other authors, for Hardy this was an explicit political topic. So, in this chapter the dog is very much like a character. He’s heroic and he saves this other character. And then when she becomes conscious, she asks the person who took her in what happened to the dog and the person says, “Oh yeah, I saw it outside and stoned it away.” And to me that’s very paradigmatic. Hardy kind of gives the dog this moment of heroism, but of course it's not going to be able to continue as a character. It’s, you know, fundamentally something that can be chased away.
Jonah: So aside from a few instances, it seems like most animal representation in the victorian era is in a protagonistic role. I mean, there are antagonists (like you mentioned the hounds in Wuthering Heights ). But for the most part, they seem to kind of portray what humans seek to be. Is that a fair assessment?
Dr. Kreilkamp: Yeah, I mean it’s often thought that dogs are very influenced by their owners. So you sometimes see dogs that are savage attack other dogs because they’ve been trained that way. There's a sense dogs can be an extension of their master and can become cruel. But you know, for the most part its felt that if they are made to be cruel it's because of human influence.
Jonah: You mentioned animal cruelty legislation really get its start in england. How did it spread out after that?
Dr. Kreilkamp: There’s sort of a parallel history between England in the U.S. One thing that’s sort of interesting is that there’s a number of links between ideas about and legislation trying to prevent cruelty to children and cruelty to animals. A case can be made that some of the first legislation trying to bar child abuse was actually influenced by the slightly earlier anti-animal cruelty legislation. So that's an interesting back and forth. There’s also certainly traditions that came from outside the west, like Hinduism and it’s respect for animals. Some of the earliest vegetarian activists in England were actually soldiers who came back from India and had been influenced by Hindu Traditions.
Jonah: On your bio, you describe your most recent research as “Considering animals as objects of sympathy and enmity, as companions and cohabitants, as subjects of experiment as minor or vulnerable characters, and as figures of radical alterity.” Can you expand upon these ideas? Specifically, the “radical alterity” aspect?
Dr. Kreilkamp: So it sort of goes back to the point I was making that the animal ,in western thought and thinking, is thought to be both within the human and something that has to be expelled from the human. So the human sort of defines itself as finding the animal within and casting it out. So there’s this very unstable process where the animal’s the thing that is both completely opposite to the human but is also understood to be in the human. So it's this process that's sort of never ending, where you always have to prove you’re not an animal Derrida has this line about the “deranged theatrics of the holy other that they call animal.” His point there is partly that there’s this whole argument on the sort of outrageousness and stupidity of the term animal. He's saying, “The superabundance of non-human creatures,” So you know there’s a million different kinds of creatures in the world, “is linguistically subsumed into a single term, the animal. A catchall concept including all the living things that man does not recognize as his fellow neighbors or brothers.” Part of the argument is that the very term animal is ridiculous because its so overgeneral. It’s sort of a mark of human arrogance that it thinks it can have one word for everything that is not human. So that’s sort of what is meant by radical alterity, the animal is that quality and those beings that need to be defined as the most other. In some ways it goes back to Darwin. Sigmund Freud famously argued that before his own revolution in thinking there were two great human revolutions in thought. The Copernican that made humans realize they weren't the center of the universe, and the darwinian that made humans realize they aren’t at the pinnacle of creatures. And that’s part of what Derridas is talking about. There’s almost, like, this outrage at the thought that humans can be animals. So, part of defining radical alterity is sort of like assuring us, “Well that's not me it's completely different from me.” But then of course, it gets complicated by pet keeping and that we treat animals well and bring animals into our house. I mean, it might be simpler if human beings simply hated and feared animals. Kind of like the animal is the thing you’re always worried is going to kill you. But you know, if you look at Darwin, his writing on domestication is very interesting. He basically says you can go back as far as you want and you can't really find any human culture that does not involve domestication of animals. For Darwin, I think he expected to find evidence of human beings before domestication, but he decides it doesn't really exist. Human beings always define themselves as humans by deciding which animals would be brought into the human circle. Like those dogs that are allowed to approach the fire and have partial access to your homes.
Jonah: How does animal representation in the Victorian novel differ from other literature representations of animals at this time? What are the major differences and similarities between victorian novels and, let’s say, an American writer of the same period?
Dr. Kreilkamp: There’s a lot of common ground. American-British cultures influence on another strongly in this period so it can be a little bit of a falsehood to see them as totally separate. One thing both cultures share is a similar sort of veneration for domesticity. The so-called cult of the home and the idea that the role of the good, proper woman is to oversee the home and create the right kind of domestic space. This connects a lot to pet keeping. When we think about 19th century domesticity, the pet plays an important role. Part of the way you define a good home is showing that you sort of know where to draw the line, like you don’t let the wrong animals in, but you do lets some animals in. One historian writes that the child and the pet were both family-constituting beings. One difference is that in America you get someone like Jack London. There’s this whole American obsession with the frontier and with men going out into the wild and sort of confronting savagery. I mean, there certainly are versions of that in British writing, but I do think people who are interested in animals in American literature often think a lot about the dogs in Jack London novels and it’s a little bit unique, I think.
Jonah: How has the victorian representation of animals in literature trickled down to us? How does it influence the ways we view animals today?
Dr. Kreilkamp: I think in many ways we’ve inherited these ideas. I mean British Victorian fiction was hugely influential on 20th century American culture and all of these novels continue to play pretty important roles in the education system. I certainly think a lot of ideas I investigate in the book are sort of still with us, or at least versions of them. I Mean that is one difference is that I think a much more radical animal rights politics has developed. In some cases, quite violent radical animal rights action of a new kind. The other big difference is the rise of industrialized meat production. It’s something we can see the origins of in the 19th century and in something like Sinclair’s the Jungle. So I do think a lot of the ethical questions have just gotten more intense. You know they’ve simply become routinized and multiplied. A lot of different kinds of pushback like vegetarianism and veganism have evolved. You know, the fact that I have teenage daughters and that veganism is mainstream now. You can say that some of the various issues have been sharpened and intensified. I do think, that for us today, the disaster of climate change and global warming kind of overshadows everything. So, I’ve even seen arguments saying that keeping dogs is problematic, because the meat they use for dog food is quite harmful to the environment. So there are complicated questions there that I feel we’re fairly oblivious to. And then there’s cloning and you know...
Jonah: Kind of a whole new set of ethical dilemmas we have to face now?
Dr. Kreilkamp: Absolutely yeah, like bioethics. So some things are the same, some things have gone in new directions.
Clay: This show has been a project of the Indiana University College of Arts and Sciences Themester.
Jonah: Thank you to Dr. Kreilkamp for taking time out of his day to talk with me.
Clay: Editing, hosting, and mixing for this episode was provided by Jonah.
Jonah: On the next episode, Clay speaks with Dr. Jonathan Crystal. Dr. Crystal researches how animals, particularly rats, think and learn, as well as how they’re affected by degenerative neurological issues.
Clay: Dr. Crystal uses this information to better understand how those neurological issues affect humans. He hopes to use his research to learn how to alleviate those disordered cognition in people suffering from diseases such as alzheimer's.
Jonah: Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you next time.