Posts Tagged ‘John 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



Lion Country Safari

As I mentioned in class there is a park in South Florida called Lion Country Safari and has been open since the 1960’s I believe.  I did some research to try and find the origin of why and who opened the park and it turns out that a group of South African men decided to open up a park to make money where they could experience the safari that they were accustom to in South Africa.  Majority of the animals are from Africa that are featured on the safari drive.  I found it very interesting especially after reading Berger that the people who run the park are disillusioned by the animals who are just in a really big cage.  The park management believe that the animals are able to function and breed as if they were in Africa just because they are in a larger enclosure than most zoos and that the climate is very similar so the animals won’t know the difference essentially.  But what I wanna know is how can an animal be natural if humans supply them food, shelter, and medicine not to mention that everyday hundreds of cars drive through the exhibit, which is only a four mile tour.

I have attached the website for the park but was unable to attach the video I wished you to see, but if you scroll down you will see a video with a picture of a giraffe that says “Take A Video Tour” click on that and you’ll here an explanation of why the park was created and how they are striving to keep the exhibit natural.

Oh and as far as the lions, they were free roaming in the exhibit until 2005 when they were placed in a fenced enclosure due to guest opening their doors and windows near the animals.

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

An Intriguing Quote from John Berger

“In the past, families of all classes kept domestic animals because they served a useful purpose—guard dogs, hunting dogs, mice killing cats, and so on. The practice of keeping animals regardless of their usefulness, the keeping, exactly, of pets is a modern innovation, and, on the social scale on which it exists today, is unique,” (14).

This quote from Berger stuck out to me because of the immense truth. In reality, the majority of humans, especially in the United States, keep domesticated pets for alternative reasons than their use. In fact, the majority of domesticated animals, specifically dogs and cats, kept are for companionship. Granted there are owners, who will use their dogs for hunting purposes, but the animals are always given names, and most of the time there are emotional bonds between man and animal.
I also related this quote to an early quote from Berger’s essay. “Animals were seen in eight out of twelve signs…And Dog brought fire to man,” (8). This full paragraph details the mythological visions of what animals have represented. When Berger discusses the “Nuer of the southern Sudan,” he quotes how man and animal lived together in peace. It was interesting to read how Berger saw the transition from coexistence of man and animal, to man keep animals as domesticated “pets”.

A statistic that Berger offers also interested me. “It is estimated that there are at least forty million dogs, forty million cats, fifteen million cage birds and ten million other pets,” (14). There has to be a realization with these statistics that, the majority of these pets are not serving a “useful purpose” besides companionship. I am curious as to why so many people have pets (and yes, I am one of the forty million dog owners). Are animals no longer seen for their use because of the overpopulation of America? As more houses are built on top of each other, animals that require more room are nearly impossible to have. The relationship, or understanding, that once existed with animals, no longer exists.

I do agree with Berger when he says, “the keeping of pets is unique,” (14). This quote is especially intriguing to me when applied to indoor pets. People take in animals that originally stayed outdoors, and now, we punish animals who act like animals indoors. I feel like humans expect household “domesticated” pets to relinquish their animalistic behaviors. For me, this can explain why so many dog owners invest in obedience courses.

I found the entire essay from Berger intriguing, but these selected quotations were the ones that especially made me think. As a pet owner, I never thought too much, on when pets stopped serving a useful purpose. I do not see the domestication of animals as a bad thing, but I do believe it shows how humans expect to be dominant over animals and nature.

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

Group 1’s 6th (and Final) Blog Post

For your last blog post, pick one of the following options:

  1. Choose one quote from John Berger‘s “Why Look at Animals” that you find interesting, confusing, problematic, surprising, or otherwise compelling. In your response, work closely with the quote. Why did it stand out to you? If you chose a quote that you found confusing, use the response to work through your confusion. If you found it interesting or compelling, explain why. If you choose this option, choose a long quote (a few sentences). Type your quote at the top of your post, then follow with your 300-word response (the quote is NOT considered part of the minimum word count). Be sure to give the page number for your quote in parentheses. You are not required to bring in additional quotes for the response if you choose this topic.
  2. Write an analysis of the depiction of animals in either P.T. Barnum’s The Wild Beasts, Birds and Reptiles of the World: The Story of their Capture (1889) or Wild Animals I Have Known (1898) by Ernest Thompson Seton.
  3. Write an ecocritical analysis of Barnum or Seton. This is a very open prompt, so you can focus on any trope of your choosing.

Remember, your posts should follow these requirements and guidelines:

  • Posts must be at least 300 words.
  • Posts must include at least one quote from the text. If you are writing about both texts, then you’ll need at least one quote from each as support.
  • Stay focused on answering the prompt question above. Avoid repeating the question and be as specific as possible in your answer.
  • Please note that you do not need to answer every “thinking question” I have posted (the questions after the bold directive). These are just options, so you could focus on one or a few. Avoid writing a response that looks like a Q & A or laundry list of answers to these smaller questions; make sure your response flows smoothly and has unity.
  • Your response should make an argument, not summarize the text.
  • Use specific moments from the text(s) to support and illustrate your argument.
  • Be sure to introduce, quote, cite, and comment on all quotes.
  • Don’t forget to tag your posts! Before adding a new tag, check the “choose from the most used tabs” menu to make sure it is not already listed.

Group 1, your blog response is due by class time on Tuesday, November 15.

Group 2, blog comments are due by class time on Thursday, November 17.