Anna Barcz. Animal Narratives and Culture: Vulnerable Realism.
Lawrentians will be mainly interested in a single chapter of this book: "On D. H. Lawrence's 'Snake' that Slips out of the Text: Derrida's Reading of the Poem." For those interested in theoretical developments in Animal Studies Anna Barcz offers an introduction to posthumanism, zoocriticism, and debates about realism and vulnerability. For those further interested in the cultural range of Animal Studies, the last three chapters of this book discuss a single painting, circuses, and war memorials to animals, respectively. Three problems presented themselves to this reader early on. First is the awkward language which is either poor translation or convoluted thinking: "The reader becomes nonhuman not through the process of or any belief in reincarnation, but by shifting their experience into territory completely unknown to them, which opposes technological progress and is available here and now, partly anchored in their animalistic past." I think this is about empathy and affect, but the extremity of expression ("completely unknown"?) undermines its possibility. Second is the author's reliance upon the explication of earlier theorists to such a degree that it is difficult to discern when her own original points are being made, a problem only too evident in the chapter on Lawrence's "Snake." Thirdly, an unsettling unfamiliarity with her sources is suggested by her assumption that the ecocritic Dana Philips is female, the misnaming of Timothy Clark and the naming of Graham Huggan and Helen Tiffin as the editors, rather than the authors, of Postcolonial Ecocriticism. More seriously, Barcz seems to think that there is a Lawrence book titled Remembering Pan when, in fact, this is a title given to an extract from "Pan in America" by the editor of The Green Studies Reader, Laurence Coupe. Lawrence, we are told, took an interest "in other cultures, such as South America." So it is no surprise to find that Barcz's commentary on Derrida's essay in Critical Enquiry "The Animal That Therefore I am (More to Follow)" consistently refers to it as a book title.
However, the commentary begins promisingly enough with Derrida being read as critical of cultural constructions of animals (the snake as Biblical serpent) and favouring "Snake" as an encounter with a real snake. Sadly this point is made by contrast to the rest of the poems in Birds, Beasts and Flowers that are apparently constructing "pastoral nature" as an "escape from humanity" and the Great War. (Long ago I argued that these poems challenge such a construct in an essay in Etudes Lawrenciennes, (No 12, 1996, pp.7-16)). There are two reasons given for Derrida's perceiving Lawrence's respect for the snake. First is the argument that individuality is given to the snake by "emphasising that 'he' in the poem refers to a person" thereby "adopting alternative perspectives that encourage us to think of animals as particular individuals of whom we might want to think of [sic] as persons, no matter if they represent wild or domestic creatures, in order to break from the subjection and unlimited violence that is done toward them." This begs so many questions that the possibility of representation of animal individuality is brought into doubt. The second is that, in Derrida's words, "The first sign of respect for the other is 'after you'." We are told that "for Derrida, the phrase 'there he was ... before me' is deliberately ambiguous" meaning either (Barcz casts these as alternatives) "I had to face him," or "he was there first," or "he was there in the world before us, before human beings." Here Barcz would have benefitted from reference to Carrie Rohman's book Stalking the Subject: Modernism and the Animal (2009) in which an argument is carefully constructed to demonstrate Modernism's, and Lawrence's, post-Darwinian ambivalence towards recovering respect for not only animals, but animality in the human. Rohman's discussion of Derrida and of Cary Wolfe is much more sophisticated and developed than the rather clumsy and undifferentiated approach of Barcz.
It is probably unnecessary to continue to chart Barcz's explication of Derrida's response to "Snake" in order to convey the unsatisfactory nature of this undertaking. That Derrida "considers the situation between the man and the animal as ethical" in this poem is hardly revelatory, and the final sentence of the chapter displays not just a lack of scholarship, but the inadequacy of the notion that the snake somehow "slips out of the text": "The experimental language of poetry helps, after all, to grasp a sense of the reality of the animal, because the poem re-creates a situation of meeting with a real snake, very probably once encountered by a poet."
Bath Spa University
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|Publication:||D.H. Lawrence Review|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2017|
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