Posts Tagged ‘Berger’

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

“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


Question 1: Berger Quote

“In these books the zoologist, Desmond Morris, proposes that the unnatural behavior of animals in captivity can help us to understand, accept and overcome the stresses involved in living in consumer societies.” (Berger 26)

In the text “Why Look at Animals” Berger makes an argument about the historical intersection of man and animal as significant in the development of language and expression. He extends this by focusing on the moment of “the look”, the shared gaze between man and animal, as responsible for a kind of self-awareness which would otherwise be impossible for humans. This awareness can be likened to an understanding of agency and autonomy separate from the individual, as it exists within those others which surround him/her, thus reflecting back onto him/her a new understanding of these concepts. In other words, through the evaluation of the animal as an other—with subjectivity which differs from the individual— this allows for a greater understanding of self. However, as Berger’s argument continues he explains what is threatened by a society which has no room for this moment of intersecting gaze. And, what this signifies.

The quote on page 26 is in reference to the zoo as a site of enforced marginalization, where the captives are idealized by an audience, but necessarily disappoint. What is at stake in this critique is the idea of what is being looked at as: “rendered absolutely marginal”, based on the manufactured setting. If we compare this to the stresses of a capitalist society, and allow the metaphor of a zoo to extend past man/animal interactions, it is possible to indict consumerism as a manufactured environment. In this reading there is a complicated dynamic of spectacle and spectator: both the poor and wealthy are idealized, but the poor are the ones which exist on the margins. However, it can be argued that perhaps the group which exists as the spectacle is the poor, serving as a warning for what exists outside of the capitalist construct. In this way, much as the wild animals in the zoo represent savagery contained— the domination of society over wilderness— poverty is similarly contained. In both situations, what is presented to the spectator is an idealized form of the other, the marginalized.

Berger, John. About Looking. InternationalCH./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