Berger Quote

“And so, by comparison and despite the model of the machine, the animal seems to him to enjoy a kind of innocence. The animal has been emptied of experience and secrets, and this new invented “innocence” begins to provoke in man a kind of nostalgia. For the first time, animals are placed in a receding past” (Berger 12).

I found this quote specifically intriguing because I believe it encompasses all of the ideas presented in Berger’s text, along with the ideas we discuss in class. The nostalgia that humans feel for the lost innocence in animals explains their need for keeping animals in zoos, keeping them as pets, and humanizing them. It is also the reason for the human destruction of animals. In our attempts to preserve them for our emotional benefit and satisfaction, we destroy their life and world; our zoos have caused the animals to “become utterly dependent upon their keepers…most of their responses have changed” (Berger 25). No longer are the animals a part of nature, they are now a part of our world and our used for our scientific understandings and to satisfy our “nostalgia.” Although we preserve them, they are only preserved as “specimens [to] facilitate their taxonomic arrangement” (Berger 25). Once again the selfishness of humans is responsible for the destruction of nature. Our history and our needs determine our relationship with animals; we use them and then disregard them. Berger is entirely correct in his discussion of this phenomenon. When we needed animals to physically survive, we used their abilities and worshiped them; but, when we managed to stand on our own, we kept them as mementos of the “golden age” and nostalgic past—we forget that they are not toys, and that they have their own rights and intrinsic value and deserve to share this world with is us, instead of under us. We have reached the point where we objectify animals, completely “de-animalizing” them. As in the example presented by Berger of the patient and her wish, we easily forget that animals have their own world, judgments, emotions, and reactions.

This quote also relates the envy and jealousy of man for an animal’s innocence. The animal is supposedly detached from the “anguish” that surrounds the human life because they lack a conscious. They do not feel for their actions, their loss, and their fellow animals—this removes all emotional pain, stress, and want. In a way, an animal has constant tranquility and this is what man envies. Man’s envy manifests itself in the creation of zoos and the invention of pets; he wants to contain this innocence. This reminds me a lot of Thoreau and “Walden.” Thoreau wants to experience that same simplicity and innocence of nature, and so he ventures into nature and contains himself there. Nature can replace the animal in this quote because a same desire exists for both. The difference is that in our attempt to obtain the innocence of nature we do not destroy as we do with animals. Berger has presented a very insightful yet problematic discussion on the influence of the human race on other species. Once again, the fate of nature and its parts (the animals) depends on the evolution and need of man.

Berger, John. About Looking. International Ch./Art: Why Look at Animals? P. 3-28. pub. Vintage Sept 1991


3 responses to this post.

  1. Fascinating blog post!! What interests me the most is the way you mentioned how when we *needed* animals to survive, there was an attitude of respect and even worship. But when humans can “stand on our own,” then that is when animals become so marginalized. I sense the cushy-innocence that you describe in your last paragraph mainly pertains to a first-world country’s experience of animals (which Berger also emphasizes). First-world countries can “stand on our own,” so we lose our sense of respect and awe for animals. They just become these strange vehicles of innocence that don’t feel or grieve or live. And that innocence breeds abuse.

  2. Posted by al002 on November 17, 2011 at 10:25 am

    I found that your analysis of Berger’s quote to be spot on and very enlightening especially after Tuesday’s lecture. The part where you stated, “The nostalgia that humans feel for the lost innocence in animals explains their need for keeping animals in zoos, keeping them as pets, and humanizing them,” is Berger’s main point summarized in eloquent manner. The connection between human’s nostalgia for their lost innocence that is found in animals is very interesting but does Berger mention why this is? If humans were to return to being wild or animals would there still be a need to fulfill this lack of innocence? Or would the innocence be returned to humans? I think Berger would agree with the last question that it is the innocence of returning to the wild that humans lack and wish to capture through animals as pets and spectacles.

  3. Posted by michaelmichaelsmith on November 17, 2011 at 1:53 pm

    Agreed Agreed! A very insightful post. What jumped out at me was when you mentioned that humans can now stand on their own. It made me think historically, we have used animals for our betterment, and as time has passed technology has made some of these uses unnecessary. As technology seems to continue in leaps and bounds, when can humans “stand on their own” without nature? A current example is a urban city. While it holds massive amounts of humans, nature is “placed” in parks (much like a zoo) If we ever “out-tech” the need for vegetation for oxygen, and we continue to urbanize, “nature” will be preserved in designated areas much like animals in a zoo. This may seem a bit dystopian sci-fi but when everything material we encounter is synthetic, what connection will be have with organic matter? Will we be nostalgic for the solitude and vitality of a forest like we are for the lost innocence of animals? Let’s hope we never find out.

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