Posts Tagged ‘animals’

Animal Individualism in “The ‘Nature Faker’ Controversy”

I found the argument about animal individualism by William Long to be one of the most compelling. He states that “birds and animals (and even the insects, especially the solitary wasps and spiders) differ greatly among themselves in individual characteristics and habits…Every animal he studies closely is different from every other animal, for nature seems to abhor repetition as she abhors a vacuum. As among men, the differences, which lie deep, are much harder to detect than the resemblances, which are mostly on the surface (Mazel 127).

This argument correlates so much with the way in which people treat zoos, animals in the wild, and even pets. While usual pets like cats and dogs are frequently seen as having their own personalities, many other animals are thought of as being solely a member of whatever species, and not as an individual animal within that species. Particularly smaller animals, as Long mentions, liked wasps and spiders. Generally people are able to see that larger animals (tigers, deer, turkeys, etc.) do in fact have separate personalities if they consider it, but it is harder to imagine individual spiders and wasps having their own desires and goals.

As we discussed last week this applies easily to zoos as well. People visit zoos, moving from exhibit to exhibit, expecting animals to behave a certain way, and then when the animals don’t live up to their expectations they are disappointed. These animals are individual animals, so “[w]hat do you expect? It’s not a dead object you have come to look at, it’s alive. It’s leading it’s own life” (Berger 24). Although he was referring more so to how awful it is to keep animals on display like that, I think it could apply to individualism as well as he does touch on that a bit throughout his text. Those who visit zoos expect all lions. for instance, to act like their preconceived notion of what a lion should act like, and completely disregard that each lion they view is its own being that will not necessarily act like that.

There is a tendency for people to lump nature together as “all nature,” or even down to individual species, but individual beings are frequently overlooked. This absolutely makes it easier for humans to continue to dominate over them if we believe they are all the same and disregard the fact that like us, they are all different and varying and should be treated as such.


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

Mazel, David (ed). A Century of Early Ecocriticism. Ch./Art: Excerpts p. 26-47, 87-100, 113-147, 154-162. pub. University of Georgia Press 2001


Berger Quote

“The zoo cannot but disappoint.  The public purpose of zoos is to offer visitors the opportunity of looking at animals.  Yet nowhere in a zoo can a stranger encounter the look of an animal.  At the most, the animal’s gaze flickers and passes on.  They look sideways.  They look blindly beyond.  They scan mechanically.  They have been immunized to encounter, because nothing can any more occupy a central place in their attention.” (28)


I found this quote from John Berger particularly compelling because it relates to a theme I want to explore in my final paper, namely isolation from nature.  My paper will focus on the effect on society of people choosing (or, perhaps, being compelled by society to choose) to live apart from nature in largely urban environments.  With this quote, Berger describes how the zoo can fit in with this theme.  Although humans and animals are physically close in a zoo, they are still separated so that human observers can never “encounter the look of an animal” as they would in the wilderness.  Animals become something to be looked at, as opposed to living creatures with which we can actively interact.  This relationship can be expanded to describe human contact with all of nature in more developed urban societies.  Nature becomes something to be looked at instead of something that we can interact with on a daily basis.  Although people may take vacations from their urban or suburban environments, these are only for short periods, and the amount of time living in these developed environments can hinder how they interact with nature during this short time period.

In addition, in my paper I want to explore how technology fits in with this theme, and for this reason I was drawn to Berger’s use of the word “mechanically” when describing the look of the animals in a zoo.  By using this word, he likens these animals’ behavior to that of machines: in their look, there is no deeper understanding of human beings, they only look passively in the same manner one might expect from a toy or mechanical animal.  In isolating these animals from nature, they are also isolated from closer contact with other living creatures.  Similarly, human beings can fall into this trap.  Living in a highly technological, urban world allows people to become isolated from those around them.  As there is less need for physical contact among people, the way people understand each other changes.  In this sense, I believe it is possible for humans, not just animals, to become “immunized to encounter.”

Working through John Berger’s “Why Look at Animals”

“The cultural marginalization of animals is, of course, a more complex process than their physical marginalization. The animals of the mind cannot be so easily dispersed. Sayings, dreams, games, stories, superstitions, the language itself, recall them. The animals of the mind, instead of being dispersed, have been co-opted into other categories so that the category animal has lost its central importance. Mostly they have been co-opted into the family and into the spectacle.”


This quote proved rather troubling to me. Although I wholly agree with Berger’s comments about pets, especially the interesting transition from “useful” to unnecessary, but ever more important. The problem I had with the above quote is that I don’t believe that all animals fit into these two black-and-white categories. The most glaring example, to me, is that of a cow or chicken being killed for meat. Whether by a small-town farmer or a large-scale industrial farm, an animal being killed for human’s food does not fit into either of these categories. The idea of a person being able to kill their “family” is completely ingrained in our culture as wrong; the thought of watching in wonder at the death of an animal is also incredibly taboo.

I understand that Berger’s point was probably to say that these situations, with the death of an animal to further humans’ situations, is so far removed from our lives that we do not even recognize it as a part of the circle of life, nor as a significant portion of the animals on our planet. This point got me to thinking about the incidence of animal death in a  zoo. Of course, if a family pet were to die, this would be considered a tragic loss, with the possibility of a funeral or memorial service for the animal. But with Berger’s assertion that zoo animals are seen as spectacles, how would this convergence be handled by the public? While I am sure a zoo animal’s death (especially an untimely one) would be seen as a horrible loss, I think there is a possibility that the public would even begin to hurt for this animal, as if it was a pet. This possible convergence of Berger’s two categories is, to me, very interesting. Further dissection of Berger’s quote proved to me how fluid these two categories can be, allowing for the human population to  feel compassion and companionship when it is “socially necessary,” but to also easily put the rights and welfare of animals out of their mind when needed.  


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

Berger’s Interesting Quote!

“A zoo is a place where many species and varieties of animal as possible are collected in order that they can be seen, observed, studied.  In principle, each cage is a frame round the animal inside it. Visitors visit the zoo to look at animals. They proceed from cage to cage, not unlike visitors in an art gallery who stop in front of one painting, and then move on to the next or the one after next. Yet in the zoo the view is always wrong. Like an image out of focus. One is so accustomed to this that one scarcely notices it any more; or, rather, the apology habitually anticipates the disappointment, so that the latter is not felt. And the apology runs like this: What do you expect? It’s not a dead object you have come to look at, it’s alive. It’s leading its own life. Why should this coincide with its being properly visible? Yet the reasoning of this apology is inadequate. The truth is more startling” (Berger 459).

I find this quote to be very interesting because the quote unmasks the deceitful nature of Zoo’s and reveals how superficial human beings have become. Zoo’s might have been established with the sole purpose of educating the public about wildlife, help endangered animals reproduce, or to learn more about animals in their “natural habitat.” However, these attractions as good as their initial intentions may have been established have turned the wild and its animals into robotic and sad institutions. Yes, the animals are given food, an artificial home, and medicine but have robbed the animals of their true wild side. Have you not noticed how excited children are to go to the zoo? They expect to find these exotic animals, such as the Lion go on an exciting hunt and instead stand 100 feet away from a lazy lion resting under the shade. I’m not saying these wild animals should never have a time to simply rest. What I am saying, however, is that the Zoos environment is basically a case of magic tricks. The homes in which the animals live by are nothing more than a tainted reality. I could imagine that if most of the animals in the zoo are released into the wilderness then most will die because they have become so accustomed to the wildlife. It is unjust that we partake in attending these institutions because we are giving our approval so that these animals can be exploited for financial gain. It has come to the point that these animals are unresponsive to outside stimuli. These animals have become so used to the attention that whenever a new person or persons come by the animals seems to just remain seated and calm. Where is their wild spirit? Where is their uncontrollable desire to conquer? Where is the savagery? This spirit might still be in them it just might be dormant. The next question is, when do these Zoo animals stop being wild animals and where does the domestication of animals begin?  In essence, the institutions of Zoos allow for the exploitation of animals and create a false concept of naturalness to wilderness.


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

Berger quote: The Issue of Language Again

“If the first metaphor was animal, it was because the essential relation between man and animal was metaphoric” (Berger 7). I found this quote to be interesting because it seems to be an underlying problem of almost all the more persuasive essays or stories we have read. Emerson first hinted that our language is based in the natural world, comprised of earthly symbol and thus our culture is an earthly culture only people have turned their eye away from it, and have forgotten it. However, the issue of relativity or relate-ability becomes compromised. Writers want to distinguish what is animal and man only through language based on what was symbolically an animal.

So, here again we see another advent of language and its affront or dislocation to the natural world. Berger, while claiming the origin of language derives from the emotional necessity to emote, he also concedes that the desire for origin whether it be symbolic or biotic, is an endless and inexhaustible quest that seems to only be able define what comes after, an exceptional observation and also a difficult concession if he believes what he thinks the origin of language is. His assumption is practical and approachable, but inevitably, it is and always will be half full of doubt. Also, with language culture follows, which is consummately symbolic. I’m not sure whether Berger considers that animals also display culture. Culture is not something unique to humans. Anthropologists have studied and demonstrated that lions, chimpanzees other primates among the wild and domestic have displayed their own forms of what can be considered culture.

However, our culture is differentiated by animal culture in the existence of symbol, which Berger declares is irreducible from language. But, if human language is comprised of animalistic metaphor, how do we then define what Garrard describes as the “insuperable line” or use it in a practical manner? If animalism is inextricably linked to our cognition, our way of thinking, can there really be a legitimate way of expressing our differing qualities between man and animal? For example, Garrard states, “the skeptical attack on sentimental views of animals risks making it impossible to describe animal behavior at all. The problem therefore is to distinguish between kinds of anthropomorphism, which is often a very practical matter” (Garrard 138). He then goes on to quote Berger, referencing the duality of animal observing human. Through Berger, this idea of distinguishing anthropomorphism easily becomes very difficult, after all isn’t our syntax comprised of animal metaphor. Hasn’t everything said been based on the metaphor of animal?


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

Garrard, Greg. Ecocriticism. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Depiction of animals in P.T. Barnum’s Novel

Throughout his tale, Bob anthropomorphizes the leopards; he believes the female mate of the male leopard he shot is seeking him for revenge. Bob is constantly referred to as a “youth” which seems to highlight his inexperience and naïveté while downplaying and dismissing his assessment of the leopard. This could also mean that Bob will one day value the life of an animal more than he did at this time in his life. Bob will look back on the events in South Africa differently one day and with regret. Bob believes he has overpowered the leopard because as a human he has a greater ability to hold a strong commanding gaze and deems the leopard as “unequal to the test.” He describes her claws as having a “nervous twitch” and believes she cast “furtive glances” at Bob. Bob wants to believe she is “darting her eyes in fear” (21) but the fact the she is advancing upon him demonstrates that clearly she is not afraid. Bob applies the stereotype of women being less than men to animals because he believes that due to her being female she must not be as courageous as a male leopard and seems surprised that she is as “fully courageous as her mate” (21). Bob and his cousin Dick also view the animals as commodities. Bob seems to view the animal as already dead because he would very much like to use her coat as a furnishing earlier when he killed the male Bob was upset that there was not enough time to skin the animal because it would make “a handsome trophy” (17). Dick is happy to hear Bob has killed a male and female because they are parents to some kittens nearby and now Dick can easily take them for the circus without their protective parents in the picture Dick is surprised that the kitten is trying to break free of him and when successful he bemoans the fact the young leopard did not realize he was “well off,” when a life of captivity is not what is best for wild animals. It is odd that Bob believes the leopardess was intelligent enough to seek revenge on behalf of her male but the kittens are too young to realize their parents are gone even though they try to fight off their captors.

Barnum, P.T. “The Wild Beasts, Birds and Reptiles of the World and the Story of Their Capture”. R.S. Peale, 1889.

Hunting and Animal Deaths in “The Pioneers”

Characters’ identities with “The Pioneer,” particularly their sex and class, are very important in relation to the hunting and animal deaths within the story.

Cooper incorporates stereotypical views of women to indicate how a young woman would react during a hunt. The first buck that is hunted shows the sexist depiction of women as emotional, passive creatures as opposed to strong, independent men. When the buck gets away unharmed, Elizabeth’s view of the scene is completely different from that of her father. The narrator states that “the whole scene had passed with a rapidity that confused the female, who was unconsciously rejoicing in the escape of the buck” (Cooper 7), yet her father remained calm and unfazed by shooting at the deer. In this, the idea that women are closer to nature and more empathetic, not only to other people but also to other creatures, is seen. In each other hunting scene, the men and boys who are killing the animals have no qualms about the death, even to the point of killing them in excess for fun.

More obviously within this text is the juxtaposition of the views of the rich and poor when it comes to the deaths of animals. Hunting is depicted as a necessity for the poor and as a sport for the wealthy. The sole exception to the men being uncaring about the excess killing of animals for sport is the character or Leather Stocking, though this is due not to his sex but to his class. He is offended by all the boys killing large amounts of pigeons while “none pretended to collect the game, which lay scattered over the fields in such profusion as to cover the very ground with the fluttering victims” (Cooper 250). Yet all of the richer characters within the story see hunting as primarily a sport, and only secondarily a source of food. Like women, the poor are depicted as being closer to nature and less brutal. While this plays on a sexist stereotype for women, it actually serves to show the poor of this story in a positive light as opposed to the brutish behaviors or the richer men.

Sex and class are both represented as being relevant factors in the characters’ views of animal deaths as well as nature as a whole.



Cooper, James Fenimore. The Pioneers. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1958. 1-255. Print.