Berger quote

“Until the 19th century, however, anthropomorphism was intergral to the relation between man and animal and was an expression of their proximity. Anthropomorphism was the residue of the continuous use of animal metaphor… Today we live without them. And in this new solitude, anthropomorphism makes us doubly uneasy.” (11).

I found this quote very interesting.  Anthropomorphism can definitely be seen as a way to express a certain proximity to animals, however, I never thought of it as something that would create uneasiness as Berger suggest. Usually anthropomorphism is used as a way to create veneration for the animal, by bringing it close to something we understand and relating it to our own humanity. In this way we can appreciate it, because it is like us.

However, Berger suggest that because of the relation we create through anthropomorphism we detect similarities between them and us. Like them we are caged – “isolated productive and consuming units” (13). Our behaviors are also determined by what animals are observed to do (14).  Humanity may be above animals, but we can not to a certain extent separate ourselves from them, we study them to learn about ourselves. And also like animals the worker is reduced to a mere machine – producing only to consume in a sort of an endless cycle. Yet even where we differ from animals – our search for meaning, where we “transcend the mechanical” (12) – Berger suggest causes uneasiness, and envy. Animals are innocent in that he suggest they do not know what is going on, while we work and work in search of something that eludes us, we are machines and we realize this, but we can not break the cycle.

Anthropomorphism links humans and animals in several different ways. I can definitely see the uneasiness that Berger talks about in the way animals have been venerated in several text, but also in the way people wish they were like certain animals – the ability to fly off without having to worry about things etc. Berger also talks about Grandville’s engravings where animals are used as symbolic of men. We use animals not only to accompany us in the loneliness we have created, but also to express it, and as a hope for freedom.

Berger, John. About Looking. InternationalCH./Art: Why Look at Animals? p. 3-28. Pub. Vintage Sept 1991


One response to this post.

  1. Posted by rebsheppard on November 17, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    While I find your analysis of the Berger quote about anthropomorphism compelling, I disagree with Berger’s fundamental assertion that “animals have gradually disappeared…we live without them.” Obviously this text was written in the 19th century, but I think that at the present moment in our culture his position that anthropomorphism is dead is false. For example, today we have cartoons in which animals are made to reflect human emotions and actions, and are narrated with human voices. This fact could definitely be used to support your claim that anthropomorphism is used to link humans and animals.

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