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Writing the nonhuman : The octopus and I : anthropomorphism and posthumanism in narrative

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Hortle, EG 2018 , 'Writing the nonhuman : The octopus and I : anthropomorphism and posthumanism in narrative', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

Representing a nonhuman animal consciousness in literature is problematic, because we human animals cannot know what nonhuman animals think, or indeed, how nonhuman animals think. This means that when we imagine a nonhuman animal consciousness, we have no choice but to use the tool we have available to us: human language. By shaping nonhuman animal thought with human language, we anthropomorphise the animal: we shape (morphos) its internal sequences with human (anthropos) language.

This thesis mobilises recent debates in critical animal studies and posthumanism as a conceptual framework to investigate anthropomorphism as a narrative device. Drawing upon Bruno Latour’s conceptualisation of text as an anthropomorphous construct, and theoretical debates in the humanities spearheaded by Jacques Derrida, Cary Wolfe and Donna J. Haraway, which challenge structures of human privilege organised around a narrow and implicitly ableist conceptualisation of the human subject, this thesis contends that while a piece of writing will be anthropomorphic on a very fundamental level, it does not mean that it must be anthropocentric, and does not mean that it must serve or reify the speciest logic of humanism. Rather, the act of shaping nonhuman animal consciousness with human language forces us to bump up against the limits of humanism and so see the structure for what it is: a historically specific model of both comprehending the world and maintaining the supremacy of a specific idea of Man.

This thesis is part exegesis, part artefact, and the two uneven halves are foreshadowed by an introduction. The exegesis is a theoretical meditation on anthropomorphism’s humanist and posthumanist potential. It takes as its case study Cerdiwen Dovey’s collection of short stories, Only the Animals—a sustained, creative examination of anthropomorphism as both a literary device and thematic concept. The novel is a story about a breast cancer survivor, some other humans, some mutton birds (or short-tailed shearwaters), some Australian fur seals, and some octopuses who make Eaglehawk Neck, on the Tasman Peninsula, and its surrounding waters, their home. While the majority of the novel is focalised through its human characters, this narrative is crosshatched with stories focalised through the nonhuman animals whose lives brush up against the lives of those humans. It is driven by the following questions: how might anthropomorphism, as a literary device, produce a posthumanist frame for, or thread of, the narrative? In other words, what might these anthropomorphic animal stories do to the larger human-focussed, or anthropocentric, narrative? How might they unleash new or different ways of experiencing the story? The novel is titled The Octopus and I.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Hortle, EG
Keywords: Anthropomorphism, posthumanism, nonhuman, animal, affect, narrative, octopus, creative writing
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Copyright 2018 the author

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This thesis is not to be made available for loan or copying

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