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Between Darwin and San Francesco: zoographic ambivalences in Mantegazza, Ouida, and Vernon Lee.

   The animal has its own right, just like the human being; let it run
   about freely--and you, too, my dear fellow man, are still an
   animal, despite everything! (1)

Current debates about posthumanism have highlighted the crucial role of the socalled 'animal question' in the critique of metaphysical humanism. More attention to the philosophical and ethical status of the animal 'other' can provide a powerful hermeneutic tool to challenge essentialist approaches to human identity and subjectivity. Ironically, however, as Cary Wolfe and Matthew Calarco have observed, most posthumanist theories allegedly seeking to dispute the logocentric, anthropocentric subject in fact end up reinstating its very determinations precisely because their investigation does not transcend the human species itself, or, even when it attempts to overcome the dogmatic barrier between the human and the nonhuman, it still tackles the question of the animal with an exclusionary approach. (2)

In the broad field of historical formulations of the connections between human and nonhuman animals, the European late nineteenth century in the aftermath of Darwin's evolutionary theory well shows that the human-animal distinction is founded upon a tension between proximity and differentiation. On the one hand, scientific naturalism discards theological dogmas about the origin of mankind and, by positing rational freedom, supports the prospect of unlimited progress, situating the human species at the apex of creation. On the other hand, however, Darwin's declaration that 'man is descended from a hairy tailed quadruped' not only favours the development of an evolutionary philosophy linking biological and social principles, but also undermines anthropocentrism itself by shaking the borders between the human and the nonhuman in ways perceived as deeply unsettling. (3) Yet the animal is anything but the object of repression. Employed as a contrastive notion to preserve human superiority, or to denounce its inhumanity, or to exorcise the fear of man's latent feral nature, it generates a proliferation of discourses that treats the nonhuman life as an 'other' on which precise individual or collective identity models and identity crises are projected according to the exigencies of the moment.

The philosophical status of the nonhuman animal in post-Darwinian and post-Risorgimento Italy can bring to the foreground intriguing underpinnings of this sort of master-slave relationship, all the more significant because the intellectual debate occurs in a newly-created state simultaneously pursuing self-awareness and international recognition. The proverbial urge to make Italians after making the nation involved not only regular citizens across the different pre-unitary Italian states but also prominent scientists across national frontiers. With the aim of accelerating the integration of Italian culture in a European context, the minister of Education Francesco De Sanctis began to import foreign intellectual capital that was rapidly naturalized, as shown symbolically by the italianization of representative names of this international elite, from Jacopo Moleschott, appointed Chair of the Faculty of Physiology at the University of Turin in 1861, to Alessandro Herzen in Florence, assistant to the less italianized but even more renowned Professor Moritz Schiff, who, since his direction of the Florentine Istituto di Studi Superiori in 1863, committed to bringing Italian experimental research on a par with other European scientific circles. With this cultural cross-fertilization, the Italian scholarly communities became not only international interlocutors on evolutionism, physiology, and experimentation but also sites of an ideological strife between the materialism of positivist science, an idealistic philosophical tradition, and a conservative social morality. (4)

In this battle on the multiple fronts of the science of life, vivisection was the most divisive issue. On the one hand, the creation of the first Italian society for the protection of animals (ENPA) in Turin in 1871 by the hero of Italian Risorgimento, Giuseppe Garibaldi, met the resistance of a partisan humanism still defending the centrality of man and the subjugation of nonhuman animals. On the other hand, the groundbreaking experimental research on animals in Florence became the target of equally radical anti-vivisectionists who, as documented in Herzen's 1874 report Gli animali martiri, i loro protettori e la fisiologia, took Schiff to court with charges of slaughter, triggering a politico-clerical crusade in the press and in the general audience. (5) However, not only foreign intellectuals inflamed Italian souls on the animal question. The local yet internationally renowned leading figure was Paolo Mantegazza, holder of the first Chair of Anthropology at the University of Florence, enthusiastic Darwinist and convinced that vivisection was an inevitable rite of passage in the science of life. Mantegazza's eclectic personality, provocative ideas on the mission of progress, and daring lab tests granted him international attention starting from Tuscany itself. Indeed, together with the scientific justifications of experimental science, Florence also hosted the less favourable views of expatriate English writers like Ouida and Vernon Lee, veritable European cultural mediators who supported animal protection and denounced aberrant scientific practices both in England and in their adoptive Italian homeland.

A comparative examination of the conflicting yet overlapping positions of proponents and opponents of vivisection, of which Mantegazza, Ouida and Vernon Lee offer effective representative examples, not only documents the status of the nonhuman being at a moment of Italian and European history when different paradigms of humanity are struggling to establish ideological hegemony, but also has significant repercussions for contemporary ecocriticism. It can show how the animal condition, alternatively degraded to pure inert materiality or idealized, cannot resist reduction to 'a body of knowledge', (6) and, rather, appears as more complex than the very notion of 'absent referent' with which Carol Adams denotes the absorption of 'the original meaning of animals' fate [...] into a human-centered hierarchy'. (7) Adams identifies multiple ways by which the animal becomes an absent referent. Pushing her argument one step further, I wish to focus on the coexistence and clash of different semantic paradigms that take over the original meaning of the animal. Precisely to account for the tension and instability of the positions on vivisection, I propose to interpret the status of the animal in that debate in terms of what Ernesto Laclau defines as 'the empty signifier', (8) that is, the discursive centre or 'nodal point' around which multiple meanings are gathered to produce a discursive formation. For Laclau, this process of signification is possible only by emptying the privileged central element of its content. Its intrinsic void is each time filled contingently by a particular discourse engaged in antagonistic relationships with other competing formations attempting to establish universal hegemony. Just as the empty signifier is the vessel for articulations that are never fixed or complete and that trigger power struggles, the animal, I claim, is never endowed with a given, positive content, and becomes the central nodal point in a heterogeneous discursive field defined by contending rational, utilitarian, moral, and affective motivations.

In 1909, invoking Italian laws restricting vivisection to absolutely necessary cases performed by authorized scientists, Italian writer Augusto Agabiti concludes that, although we ignore the ultimate scope of animals on earth, human beings have a duty towards them, the duty that, as both Darwin and Saint Francis show, binds stronger beings to their younger brothers. (9) Agabiti's ambivalent claim synthesizes the tension between fraternity and hierarchy, sameness and difference, which, in the late nineteenth-century vivisection debate, likens animals to creatures in need of protection yet also implicitly inferior and bound to subjection. Although from allegedly different premises and with apparently different objectives, science, sentimentality, and spirituality converge in the production of a discourse on the animal as an intrinsic lack that the human strives to fill with its own narratives of self-identity and power.

1. Vivisectarianism (10)

In his 1873 seminal work The Physiology of Love, Paolo Mantegazza defines the living world as 'a great laboratory of fecundity', where incessantly reproducing cellules, organs, and species are brought together in an 'intimate brotherhood' as 'members of one great organism'. (11) Yet this supposed harmony and continuity among different creatures does not exclude a hierarchy that legitimizes man's appropriation of nature's laws and the elimination of the animal from man's ethical concerns. Mantegazza already had to his credit pioneering animal grafts for the production of human cells, which culminated in his 1865 Degli innesti animali e della produzione artificiale delle cellule. The transformation of the living animal here does not attain the status of dead consummable meat that Adams denounces as the ultimate stage of oppression (47). Yet, even as live flesh the animal body undergoes a physical process of objectification and fragmentation that Mantegazza verbally reinforces by endorsing past experiments (from transplants of frog testicles to implantation of a rooster's spur into the ear of an ox) in which animal body portions could be employed 'per far cose curiose e mostri artificiali', ('to make curious things and artificial monsters'). (12)

Mantegazza confirms that his absolute authority over living matter is in total conformity with the universal good by claiming that, when we interrogate nature on the mystery of life, it only answers us 'sotto lo strettoio della tortura', ('in the grip of torture'), and, after making us shed blood and create excessive victims, it only yields partial, obscure and even false confessions. (13) Life, he concludes, prefers to be directed than interpreted. Mantegazza here typifies what Elizabeth De Fontenay denounces as the legitimate use of torture in animal experimentation to force nature to give up her secrets, propelled by a curiosity which feels entitled to exterminate with perverse and calculated pleasure in the alleged service of truth. (14) Mantegazza himself admits that experimentation not only has to respond to the scientific community's curiosity and cognitive needs but also has to awaken the general public's interest, hence endorsing the collective thirst for morbidity and spectacle shared by producers and consumers of this systematic infliction of pain. (15) Furthermore, Mantegazza's violent conquest of nature displays the masculine conceptualization of science as a process of sexual subjugation of the female which, as Brian Luke maintains, the vivisectionist exemplifies with his impassive suppression of a sentient, struggling being. (16)

Not surprisingly, therefore, assertions about the universal fraternity and continuity of living creatures disappear in Mantegazza's 1880 Fisiologia del dolore, which justifies different degrees of empathy for the pain of different kinds of beings, according to their proximity to man. For Mantegazza, the presence of pain in human life derives from a mistake of nature. It is hence the scientist's mission to win over nature and correct this mistake to secure happiness. To be sure, Mantegazza clarifies that, since he is performing 'studii tanto crudeli', ('very cruel studies'), he cannot go beyond what is required to conquer truth, and, to be fair, adds that he needs to experiment on himself as well. (17) Yet, these ethical qualms in fact clash with the rhetoric of his painstaking annotations, starting from his critique of Moritz Schiff for his excessive compassion for animals, a mistake which, as Mantegazza adds with satisfaction, he ultimately overcame. Since, in the spirit of physiology, it is not only acceptable but even indispensible for Mantegazza to substantiate previous experiments conducted by leading European scientists like Magendie and Bernard, he can pierce the heart of a finch with a silk string already knowing that the procedure will lead to the bird's instantaneous death, and acknowledging that this occurrence will not foster any notable advancement in science. (18) In accordance with the positive method, his task is just to provoke pain and describe reactions, leaving interpretation to other specialists. However from the progressively strong pinching inflicted upon hens and rabbits to measure bodily temperature variations and cardiac pulsations to the crushing of mice and frogs' limbs or the extraction of their brains, the leitmotif in Mantegazza's reports are expressions like 'atroci dolori' ('atrocious pain') and 'tormenti crudeli' ('cruel torments'), which make animals scream, 'gridare'--a verb that anthropomorphizes the non-living being not out of empathy for its suffering but, instead, for the purpose of human conceptualization and measurement.

Man's distance from his nonhuman alleged brothers emerges even more clearly when Mantegazza describes the effects of his tests on himself and other individuals. Panting and puffing, Mantegazza can ultimately bear the extremely acute pain only with all the efforts of his will, hence establishing an implicit contrast between the typically human ability to control reactions and the animal's unrestrained display of pain. (19) Even more blatantly, Mantegazza adds that two young men subjected to the same cruel experience could heroically resist pain without moving, connoting the valour of these human guinea pigs as masculine one-upmanship --not so surprising for a 'specie zoologica che fu detta con ingenua modestia il re dell'universo', ('zoological species that was defined with naive modesty as the king of the universe'). (20)

If doubts still remain about the quantitative and qualitative asymmetry between Mantegazza's experiments on animals and on individuals, the introduction of a pain-inflicting device he himself invented--'il tormentatore' ('the tormenter') --settles the question, bearing inscribed in its very name the perverse logic governing the relationship between human and nonhuman beings. (21) This technological apparatus for the rationalization and maximization of pain reactions epitomises the workings of instrumental reason behind institutionalized animal exploitation. Skilfully built, as Mantegazza proudly claims, the machine subjects the trapped animal to astonishing cruelties but allegedly conducted 'con molto amore e pazienza moltissima', ('with much love and very much patience'). (22) The suffering of an animal who has neither voice nor space to shun torture is dubbed with a sentimental and moral rhetoric by the scientist, who revels in the voyeuristic consumption of the agony he himself caused, and even furthers his pleasure by inflating the medico-scientific descriptions of his procedures with sensationalistic expressions like 'torturare' [to torture], 'maltrattare' [to mistreat], 'straziare' [to excruciate], 'martirio' [martyrdom].

For its part, animal suffering remains a non-truth, as Elizabeth De Fontenay observes, outside the sphere of redemption and signification. (23) In Mantegazza, indeed, not even as a sacrificial victim immolated for the noble purpose of diminishing human pain does the animal acquire symbolic prestige. When Mantegazza describes the deformation of the human face from an expression of affection to the 'piu animalesco e vile dolore', ('most bestial and debased pain') he degrades the reference to animal suffering to a metaphor for vulgar animality. (24) Mantegazza's attitude ultimately substantiates Luc Ferry's hypothesis of a 'zoophobic' humanism which 'dictates that compassion toward animals must be ridiculed at any price and qualified as infantile "sentimentality"'. (25) Indeed, Mantegazza concludes that the silly reactions of animal protectors in Italy and England alike deserve to be dismissed as pathetic stylistic cloddishness and holy hypocrisies like those of demure ladies who cannot stand the view of a bled chicken but don't abstain from eating it.

Yet in the discursive field revolving around the animal as the central empty signifier, the tension between sentimentality and the scientist's callousness coexists with another set of pronouncements, namely, the antagonistic claims of religion and of the lay truth of physiology. In his attacks on British antivivisectionism which became particularly vocal after the 1876 'Cruelty to Animals Act' regulating animal testing, Mantegazza condemns the English reactionary movement as the expression of a theological hate against physiology. His opponents' 'arcadica tenerezza per gli animali', ('Arcadic tenderness for animals') is dictated by man's cowardly fear to know himself through the lenses of the microscope, as though experimental analysis could mar the anthropomorphic image that theology and metaphysics had generated and defended for centuries. (26) Therefore, the controversies about the supposedly cruel operations on rabbits and dogs are for Mantegazza just grotesque fantasies aimed at horrifying 'i bigotti dell'Inghilterra', ('England's bigots'), including lunatic mystical physicians making heretic claims against physiology in the journal of the London Anti-Vivisectionist Society. (27) The British Cruelty Act itself demonstrates that the widespread semi-religious hysteria that has sickened Europe at large has also contaminated the apparently sturdy Anglo-Saxon race. (28) But, significantly, this is yet another occasion for him to reinstate the ontological and ethical rift between the human and the animal status through the bestialization of his opponents. For Mantegazza, the Royal Society's denunciation of cruelty towards animals is nothing more than 'bleating'. Furthermore, Mantegazza turns the anti-vivisectionists grotesque bestiality into a moral indictment of what for him is their own hypocritical inhuman treatment of animals. He considers it a more serious crime because it is propelled by personal utility (horses castrated for their luxury or geese nailed and suffocated for their pies) rather than by the 'sacri diritti della scienza', ('sacred right of science'). (29)

Nevertheless, what is most revealing in this querelle is that, in line with the unstable and contingent discourses constructed around Laclau's empty center, those very categories that structure Mantegazza's attacks on antivivisectionists are also employed by animalists themselves and recodified for the opposite agenda, that is, to condemn, in their turn, cruelties to nonhuman beings, and to demonize Mantegazza and his fellow physiologists. Ouida's sentimental defence of animals is emblematic in this respect. Sentiment, she declares, 'is the contumelious charge with which all opposition to these brutal experiments is met by those who practice them'. (30) And unquestionably, Ouida's writings could fit one of those 'cori catarrosi delle vecchie protettrici dei cani e dei gatti', (31) ('phlegmy choirs of old female protectors of cats and dogs'), that the Italian anthropologist despises and that even contemporary theories of animal liberation expose as liable to scorn for similar causes--emotional excesses and unrealistic anthropomorphic representations of animals typical of irrational female 'Bambi lovers'. (32) For feminist ecotheorists like Adams, the animal condition overlaps with the woman's, both subjected to the oppression of institutionalized patriarchal values (42). Yet, in fact, beyond the gender divide, many assumptions in Ouida's female discourse on the animal are as removed as Mantegazza's from the individual existence of each nonhuman creature.

With an intriguing inversion of Mantegazza's rhetoric, Ouida ascribes moral and intellectual superiority to her beloved four-legged friends and personifies the entire species. In her 1891 article 'Dogs and their Affections', dogs 'continually display qualities from which man may with advantage mould his own conduct' --unselfishness, devotion, and dignity, thanks to a heart 'clothed in a canine form' that elevates them above the human populace of 'toadies, liars, fawnies, hypocrites'. (33) Ouida denounces even more harshly the baseness of dogs' human enemies in 'Canicide', targeting a tyrannical British legislation that makes stray and unattended dogs the victims of politicians and citizens with 'hands more cruel than any talons of lion or of puma'. (34) Therefore, despite her proanimal stance, Ouida succumbs to the exclusionary power of human discourse, drawing arbitrary dividing lines between two figurative subcategories of animal species built respectively upon a rhetoric of compassion and of contempt: while animals are humanized and idealized, the human race becomes the epitome of betise itself, precisely in the French double allusion to both animality and stupidity. Either construction constitutes a differential operation in which the animal functions as the other of mankind, although for antithetical reasons.

In her 1895 article 'Birds and their Persecutors', where the 'two-limbed human brute' proves 'more cruel than any bird or beast of prey', Ouida ranks Italy even lower than Britain in bird protection policies. (35) With the very Arcadic tenderness for animals that Mantegazza dismisses as ludicrous and pernicious for the advancement of knowledge, Ouida laments the disappearance of the birds' songs from the Italian landscape while the birds' corpses reappear on the tables of that 'nation without a palate'. (36) One of the greatest problems post-unitary Italy had to face was hunger, yet it does not play a role in Ouida's representation of merciless people furiously crunching 'the delicate bodies between their jaws with disgusting relish'. (37) Ouida's aesthetic and elitist approach targets taste and decorum in Italian eating habits rather than consider shortage of food as a possible underlying cause. Unconditionally faithful to the imperative 'Let every winged thing die', the Italians who butcher those 'lovely and useful little lives' cross the border from putting living creatures to death to killing one's neighbour. (38) For Jacques Derrida this ethical blurring suggests the need to rethink the human's relation to the nonhuman other beyond oppositional limits, (39) yet Ouida's attack on the perverse 'pleasure in wholesale slaughter' (40) that allows even children to crush the birds' skull as a treat exacerbates the polarity between man and animal, rendering eating a metonymy for the carno-phallogocentric introjection of the other by an authoritative and autonomous human subject. (41) However, with her idealistic and radical pronouncements, Ouida herself participates in this assimilation of alterity, be it the bird who, as the epitome of the rational and moral being, is as smart as a 'little philosopher' and sings 'songs of thanks', or his human foes, male and female alike, who sacrifice 'the winged traveller' between the peasants' teeth or 'on the head of female fools'. (42)

If on this occasion Ouida explicitly claims that science is not the criminal responsible for the general dehumanization that mercilessly penalizes the nonhuman, this temporary magnanimity does not weaken her enduring enmity against physiologists. It is precisely Mantegazza that Ouida has in mind when, in 'The Future of Vivisection', she sarcastically refers to scientists as supposed 'helpers of humanity' who 'gaze con molto amore e pazienza on the guinea-pig they have larded with nails'. (43) Her direct attack on Fisiologia del Dolore, here quoted as exemplary evidence of animal suffering, is also the culminating point of her extended provocative argumentation on physiologists as 'the augurs' of old times, who render 'the superstitious awe of science' indistinguishable from 'the superstitious awe of religion'. (44) Overturning Mantegazza's binary oppositions between rational, lay science and illogical, bigot animal defenders, Ouida here exposes what Brian Luke presents as the continuity between the foundational form of animal exploitation practiced when superstition governed reason, namely, ritual sacrifice, and the sacrificial structure and ideology underlying modern animal experimentation. (45) Just as Mantegazza had denigrated his opponents as crazy mystics, here an equally radical Ouida disparages vivisectionists as mystics who 'in their blood-stained temples', use their occult power to persuade the public that their experiments are carried out on a small number of animals, numbed by chloroform, and with the aim of validating paramount scientific hypotheses. (46) However, Ouida lays bare the contradictions in the physiologists' discourse by maintaining that, rather than encourage free thought against any form of religion, to support vivisection means to endorse a fanatic brutality and intolerance worthy of 'the priests of the Inquisition'. (47) Intriguingly, Ouida responds to the theological hate against physiology deplored by Mantegazza with a condemnation of implacable professors and defenders of vivisection, accusing them of behaving like 'any persecutor in priestly garb'. (48) Likewise, if Mantegazza scorns maudlin compassion for animals, Ouida, at the opposite extreme, denigrates vivisectionists themselves for their heartlessness.

As Brian Luke observes, although scientists reject parallels between modern animal experimentation guided by reason and superstitious primitive blood rituals, an ideological tension remains, since the connotation of vivisection as religious sacrifice can provide them with a moral justification for their procedures and the aura of a holy sacrament. (49) This ambivalence is central to Ouida's argument in her 1893 article, which defines physiology as 'The New Priesthood' because, pretending to care for mankind's well-being, each of its acolytes conceals the 'pursuit of his own idolatry'. (50) For Ouida, 'ratification' of scientific theories goes hand in hand with the 'gratification' of power, which scientists secretly exercise in their labs, 'temples of sacrifice' inaccessible to the profane. (51) Once again it is Mantegazza's 'instrument 'for loading with nails" that exemplifies the array of 'torturing machines'--by then not only routine practice but also a thriving manufacturing trade. (52) At the same time, Ouida's comments on Mantegazza's Fisiologia del dolore as an open book on vivisection in contrast with English physiologists' denial of their own 'devilish brutalities' underscore the tug of war between secrecy and visibility at work in science's administration of violence. (53) Although experiments are performed behind barred doors, the scientist's skilful mastering of techniques to impose injury needs to be publicly known so as to display 'men's power over life and death'. (54) And, to be sure, despite Mantegazza's downplaying, his artful spectacularization demonstrates this strategy quite well.

Ultimately, however, whether secretive or exhibitionist, the physiologist for Ouida maintains his primacy thanks to the solidarity of his fellows, and continues to be 'worshipped' by gullible political authorities and 'gaping, invertebrate multitudes'. (55) Ouida's metaphor of physiology as the new priesthood, with the 'torture trough' as a modern version of 'the rack of the inquisitor and the torch of the witchburner' hence acquires the Nietzschean tones of science as a sect, not in opposition to religion's sacrificial ideology but, rather, as the latest form of Christianity's ascetic ideal and an equally powerful mystification of nonexistent objective truths. (56) Yet, more extensively, the sect trope applies to both perspectives on the animal question. I hence propose the term 'vivisectarianism' to connote the dogmatic, radical approach shared by both strenuous defenders of vivisection like Mantegazza and equally vocal advocates of animal protection like Ouida, based upon adhesion to partisan beliefs which, although from diametrically opposite ideological perspectives, demonize each other and essentialize the animal. Both the male vivisectionist and the female activist appropriate patriarchal cultural images of animals in their arguments, ultimately participating in the very discourse they intend to challenge.

Whether it is objectified as mere biological material or as a human (if not superhuman) alter ego, whether it inspires sadism or compassion, the animal, as Luc Ferry states, remains 'a dreamed object', hence the construction of an anthropocentric fantasy, the byproduct of a humanism beyond gender. (57)

2. Taming the Feral

When Mantegazza died in 1910, the crowd of intellectuals lamenting his disappearance included also Vernon Lee, yet her final homage to this charismatic and controversial scholar does not erase the major divergences in their respective thoughts about the mission of progress and the humanizing or dehumanizing effects of science. Lee shared her critique of Mantegazza and her defence of animals with Ouida herself, who was one of the many guests of the Florentine Casa Paget, although Vernon Lee was not enthused by her fiction and never interacted too much with her. (58) However, whereas Ouida responds to the animal question in affective terms, Lee adopts an intellectual and moral standpoint, engaging with experimental scientists' own rational premises. On the one hand, Lee seems to overcome the gendered dichotomy of reason and emotion, rejecting the female subordination to male-constructed ethical paradigms in the struggle for animal rights. On the other hand, she also raises the issue of what Brian Luke defines as 'patriarchal metaethic', that is, an approach to animal liberation structured by 'elements of the ideology of male supremacy' such as patriarchally constructed notions of control and respectability. (59)

In her 1882 article 'Vivisection: An Evolutionist to Evolutionists', while she admits her lack of full sympathy with both supporters and detractors of vivisection, Lee intends to challenge the premises of scientists from within by presenting vivisection as a 'psychological anomaly'. (60) The fact that, unlike other experimental sciences, physiology needs to work with living bodies rather than with lifeless or unsentient materials does not justify the power asymmetry between the victimized animal who bears all the suffering and is deprived of all agency and the human victimizer who acts as 'the sole culprit, accuser, and judge in the matter'. (61) Lee censors the cold rationality of Mantegazza and other European physiologists who 'smile benevolently at any ideas of horrors' against animals. (62) Yet she is no less critical of the 'sentimental twaddle' with which antivivisectionists naively expose the otherwise strong evidence of cruel experimentation--'pamphlets far too full of the "Merciful God" and "Faithful Dog"', where Ouida's own writings belong. (63) Rather, Lee intends to persuade 'the intellectual waverers' that the moral legitimacy or illegitimacy of vivisection transcends its scientific value and its potential benefits to mankind. (64) Vivisection is unfair, hence 'dishonourable', because it spares the many by sacrificing the few without allowing them to profit from the results of their suffering. (65)

Different from mercy or pity, honour for Lee is the endpoint of an 'evolutional morality' which has eliminated 'the baser motives of our nature' and perfected the human spiritual organism by endowing it with a conscience able to prioritize rights over self-interest and desires 'at the expense of wholesale and profitless agony to another race'. (66) Therefore, although Lee seems to reject the ethical implications of the survival of the fittest, she recodifies this strictly biological Darwinian principle in moral terms, as we can also gather from a chapter of her 1886 Baldwin, 'Of Honour and Evolution', which rewrites in dialogical form the argumentation of her essay. (67) In both texts, Lee intends to found a morality that condemns 'an abomination abetted by science', yet without appealing only to 'silly pietistical old maids'. (68)

Lee's evolutional morality seems to imply continuity between human and animal life when it refuses to restrict our duties only to morally responsible individuals, since for Lee this stance authorizes mistreatment, if not vivisection itself, of 'infants, idiots, and madmen'. (69) She hence alerts us to the risk of arbitrarily crossing the invisible boundaries between species hierarchies and social, political and racial ones, as in her reflections on 'the case of the feudal serfs and the negro slaves'. (70) Ouida, too, in 'The Future of Vivisection', underscores how the rationale of the end justifying the means can legitimize torture of 'of all criminals, of all persons suffering from incurable disease, and, indeed, logically [...] all the brutalised and ignorant classes of the population'. (71) Along the same lines, 'tolerance of canicide' is for Ouida the byproduct of a liberticidal British government blending 'State Socialism' and 'rampant Imperialism', (72) just as, in 'Some Fallacies of Science', she denounces the scientists' complicity with a despotic political regime providing the ideological justification for aberrations like military conscription or experimentation on human subjects (73) Prophetically, both Lee and Ouida understand that logical steps are already in place for an alarmingly smooth transition from vivisection to euthanasia, infanticide, and, indirectly, even genocide.

However, while Ouida and Lee link interspecies and interhuman violence in their condemnation, their common argument pragmatically differentiates between 'lower and [...] baser forms' of existence. (74) Presented as 'one of those choices of the higher rather than the lower', Lee's antivivisectionism is less a question of animal rights than of a noblesse oblige imperative propelled precisely by an aristocratic morality. (75) By highlighting the scandalous imbalance between 'creatures who have not our innumerable consoling pleasures of thought, sentiment, hope, and aesthetic perception' (Ibid.) and 'us, their lords, rich with a hundred inherited riches', Lee reinstates with a vengeance what Calarco defines as the 'metaphysical anthropocentrism' responsible for the oppositional and vertical conceptualization of the human-animal distinction. (76) The nobler, more honourable soul that refrains from exploiting and mistreating animal life reveals the subtle, totalizing power deriving from the containment and sublimation of force over the nonhuman--'acts of cherished forbearance from the coveted, of fortitude in pain'. (77)

Quite ironically, despite the overt ideological conflict between Vernon Lee and Mantegazza on the animal question, it is a text by Mantegazza himself that can substantiate the logic of control and domestication inscribed in Vernon Lee's own argument. One year before Fisiologia del dolore, Mantegazza published Upilio Faimali: Memorie di un domatore di belve, an intriguing biographical account of an Italian animal tamer who, from his hometown Piacenza, became famous throughout Europe for his travelling wildlife shows. The focus here are not innocuous domestic animals powerlessly tied to the physiologist's dissecting table but, rather, dangerous felines which, from the apex of scientific rationalization, bring man back to primordial struggles for life. Yet, significantly, the protagonist of Mantegazza's memoir acquires power and moral superiority thanks to magnanimity and sublimation of violence instead of brute physical strength. In the struggle between muscle and brain, the 'povero bipede'['poor biped'] without claws, poison or fangs becomes the master and sovereign of 'i titani del mondo animale' ['the titans of the animal world'] (Ibid. p. 10) only thanks to his soft hand and to his intellect. (78)

Simone De Beauvoir will claim that it is not by giving life, as women do, but rather by risking life that man rises above the animal. (79) Yet in Mantegazza's admiration for Upilio we can detect the ambivalence of the more complex Nietzschean brave man who knows and 'conquers fear [...] with pride' because in his prehistory he competed in courage with the wildest animals and became man by robbing all their virtues, 'refining and spiritualizing their courage'. (80) Mantegazza, indeed, acknowledges the enduring drive of an 'atavica crudelta', ('atavic cruelty') which now can only be satisfied by savages' hunts and tamers' dangerous games in the animal cages. (81) Only after sending spectators into a frenzy and securing public recognition of his courage and endurance does Upilio show milder aspects of his personality--tenderness, forgiveness, gallantry. When a tiger, accidentally instigated by the audience, seriously wounds his arm, he excuses its aggressive reaction. The animal, in its turn, responds with deference by humbly prostrating in front of him after reading his strength in his eyes. Upilio hence strokes the skin of that powerful beast asserting his masculine power by eroticizing and feminizing the tiger's seductive and submissive body. (82) Even more overtly, he apprehends a fugitive jaguar and brings it back to his enclosure in his arms, wrapped in a wool blanket, because 'colle signore bisogna sempre esser galanti', ('one should always be courteous with ladies'), hence also indirectly connoting women as wild beasts that can be subdued by male strength and chivalry. (83) Precisely his 'cuore gentile' ('gentle heart') elevates Upilio from a Herculean hero to a Greek god whom 'l'olimpo belvino', ('the Olympus of beasts') devotedly obeys, while the insensitive human public turns out to be 'piu crudele di una belva' ('more cruel than a beast'). (84)

This game of roles that humanizes the beast, divinises the male individual, and bestializes the human collectivity undergoes an intriguing twist when the binary relationship between tamer and animal is disrupted by a third party, the woman destined to become Upilio's wife, to whom the book is dedicated--Albertina Parenti Faimali who, 'colla gentilezze dell'animo e con le grazie del corpo sapeva domare il piu illustre domatore di belve', (with the kindness of her soul and the graces of her body knew how to tame the most distinguished animal tamer'). (85) The encounter with Albertina determines a new stage in Upilio's evolution, a literal and symbolic farewell to the politics of flesh and meat. After embodying the 'erotics of male predation', Upilio himself becomes the prey of the gentle sex's domestication: he promises his wife he will abandon beasts to devote himself to family and agriculture. (86) Upilio now seems to endorse values like measure, compromise, and control, which connote civilization precisely as cultivation--overcoming of savage customs through culture, of wilderness through the growing of crops, hence of beastliness through the shift from the animal to the vegetal realm. Yet, significantly, the common Latin etymology shared by culture and cultivation, namely, colo, is also the root of colonization, and Upilio's subjection to Albertina validates this connection quite effectively. The Upilio who tills the soil is 'un brav' uomo, pieno di cuore e di criterio', ('a good man, full of heart and of discernment'), whose previous feral impulses survive only metaphorically, as in his 'espressione leonina della calma e della forza', ('leonine expression of calm and strength'). (87) And although he attempts to escape, just as the beasts in his cages, Albertina's all-powerful love brings him back, not to a cage but to the 'nido della famiglia,' ('the family nest'). (88) In light of the hierarchical cultural distinction that Karen Davis exposes between the masculinity of wild beasts and the female quality of farm animals, Upilio is hence feminized, yet, paradoxically, under the aegis of a woman who, as a tamer of excesses, enforces the patriarchal values of reductionism and restraint. (89)

However, precisely when Upilio seems to have abandoned the Derridian carno-phallogocentric ideology in favour of the Foucauldian 'docile body' subject to transformation through strict disciplinary acts, it is Mantegazza himself who reinstates the male predatory drive by presenting his own psychology of wild animals. (90) His characterization of felines as 'fanciulli, che si vogliono piegare al bene', ('children whom we have to bend to the good'), employs a simile which, borrowed from the late nineteenth-century European anthropological discourse on non-Western civilizations, proves very useful to the imperialist ideology. (91) Just as in Vernon Lee the human individual's honourable duty towards the nonhuman means at once ethical responsibility and authority, Mantegazza's humanization of beasts serves, once again, an anthropocentric purpose. The tamer-educator has to teach his four-legged children that love for them is inseparable from the power exerted upon them, a concept which, Mantegazza insists, has to be inculcated in the animals with a variety of physical and symbolic means--'collo scudiscio violento, colla voce alta e collo sguardo imperioso', ('with violent whipping, loud voice and an imperious look'). (92)

Whereas for Vernon Lee human superiority results from moral evolution, for Mantegazza it is a universal essence that has defined the human species since its origins and that continues to serve a 'macho mystique' with often grotesque underpinnings. (93) For instance, Mantegazza endorses the tamer's nudity to awake in the wild beast the memory of 'quell'essere fantastico, che apparve ad essa nelle spoglie di Adamo prima del gran peccato', ('that fantastic being who appeared to the beast in the guise of Adam before the original sin'). (94) Animals will thus learn that 'quel Dio nudo', (that naked God) has always been and still is the arbiter of good and bad things in the enclosed world of their cages. (95) Curiously, nakedness in front of an animal is a condition that also Derrida examines in connection with the alleged uniqueness of human beings. However, his purpose is to deconstruct the binary opposition between human and animal: 'Before the cat that looks at me naked, would I be ashamed like a beast that no longer has the sense of nudity? Or, on the contrary, like a man who retains the sense of his nudity? Who am I, therefore?' (96) For his part, even when Mantegazza's tamer merges with the animals and hence seems to dissolve the difference between human and nonhuman, in fact 'gli [sic] domina tutti quanti e gli [sic] dirige a sua voglia' ('he dominates and directs all of them as he wants'), hence preserving his sovereignty as a primus inter pares, first among equals. (97)

Mantegazza closes Upilio Faimali by declaring that the world is no longer an extended menagerie. It has become a garden where the last surviving wild beasts are enclosed for the sake of scholars' investigations and artists' aesthetic curiosity. Yet this ecological transition to vegetable life may settle the animal question and suggest new ways of thinking about human coexistence with nature only if it also engages with Mantegazza's conviction that 'Man is the recapitulation of all the forms of living nature', hence 'the first because he contains within himself all the forces from the secondary to the highest'. (98) The legacy of late nineteenth-century zoographies to contemporary ecocriticism thus remains the semantic and ethical ambiguity of what is proper to man, at once in the sense of what is decorous, respectable, honourable and of what can be owned. These are two faces of the same homocentric morality, as likely to exterminate alleged nonhuman and human brutes as to disseminate the supposed good of civilization in the name of a white man's burden which, at the time of Mantegazza, Ouida, and Vernon Lee's animal controversies, both Britain and Italy were eager to take up.

Nicoletta Pireddu

Georgetown University

Address for correspondence

Nicoletta Pireddu, Department of Italian; Comparative Literature Program, Georgetown University, Washington, DC 20057, USA. Email:


(1) Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), p. 78.

(2) Cary Wolfe, (ed.), Zoontologies (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003); Matthew Calarco, Zoographies (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008). Wolfe discusses attempts to extend ethico-political status to the animal other by replacing the notion of the subject with that of a subjectivity no longer depending on any 'single identifiable attribute' (Zoontologies, p. xii). In fact, Wolfe claims, not even a 'formally empty subject' (Ibid.) can erase the inequalities between the subjects at the top of the ladder and their human and nonhuman others. Likewise, Calarco highlights the 'anthropocentric norms and ideals' (Zoographies, p. 8) underlying most animal rights discourse, which draw new boundaries between animals worthy and unworthy of moral concerns.

(3) Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man (Chicago: Benton Publishers, 1952), p. 591.

(4) M. Panarari, 'La societa degli animali. Percorsi di un dibattito culturale dell'Ottocento', Contemporanea, 3.1 (2000), pp. 31-54.

(5) Alessandro Herzen, Gli animali martiri, i loro protettori e la fisiologia, (Firenze: Bettini, 1874), p. 47.

(6) J. C. Bailly, The Animal Side (New York: Fordham University Press, 2011), p.13.

(7) Carol Adams, The Sexual Politics of Meat (New York: Continuum, 1991), p. 42. Subsequent quotations are taken from this edition, and will appear in parentheses in the body of the text.

(8) Ernesto Laclau, Emancipation(s) (London: Verso, 1996), p. 44.

(9) Augusto Agabiti, La vivisezione (Roma: Carlo Colombo, 1910), p. 20.

(10) The title of this paragraph will become clearer as my argument progresses.

(11) Paolo Mantegazza, The Physiology of Love, (ed.) N. Pireddu (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007), p. 84.

(12) Paolo Mantegazza, 'Degli innesti animali e della produzione artificiale delle cellule; notizie del Prof. P. Mantegazza', Il Politecnico XXIV, Fasc. I (Jan 1865), p. 26.

(13) Mantegazza, 'Degli innesti animali', p. 26.

(14) Elizabeth De Fontenay, 'La bete est sans raison', Alliage 7-8 (1991), p. 19.

(15) Mantegazza, 'Degli innesti animali', p. 39.

(16) Brian Luke, Brutal (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2007), p. 137.

(17) Paolo Mantegazza, Fisiologia del dolore (Firenze: Paggi, 1880), p. 43.

(18) Mantegazza, Fisiologia del dolore, p. 49.

(19) Mantegazza, Fisiologia del dolore, p. 71.

(20) Mantegazza, Fisiologia del dolore, pp. 72. 436.

(21) Mantegazza, Fisiologia del dolore, p. 99.

(22) Mantegazza, Fisiologia del dolore, p. 101.

(23) Fontenay, 'La bete est sans raison', p. 19.

(24) Mantegazza, Fisiologia del dolore, p. 289.

(25) Luc Ferry, 'Neither Man nor Stone', in P. Atterton and M. Calarco, (eds.), Animal Philosophy (London: Continuum, 2004), p. 150.

(26) Paolo Mantegazza, 'Movimento reazionario contro le vivisezioni', Nuova antologia di scienze ed arti, 37.7 (Jan. 1878), p. 382.

(27) Mantegazza, 'Movimento reazionario contro le vivisezioni', p. 383.

(28) Paolo Mantegazza, 'La legge inglese contro le vivisezioni', Nuova antologia di scienze ed arti, 34.4 (Apr. 1884), p. 884.

(29) Mantegazza, 'La legge inglese contro le vivisezioni', p. 885.

(30) Ouida, 'The Future of Vivisection', The Gentlemen's Magazine, 252 (Jan-Jun. 1882), p.415.

(31) Mantegazza, 'La legge inglese contro le vivisezioni', p. 884.

(32) Luke, Brutal, p. 188.

(33) Ouida, 'Dogs and their Affections', The North American Review, 153.418 (Sept. 1891), pp. 312, 315, 317.

(34) Ouida, 'Canicide', Fortnightly Review, 381 (1 Sept. 1898), p. 581.

(35) Ouida, 'Birds and Their Persecutors', Nineteenth Century, 37 (Jan. 1895), p. 55.

(36) Ouida, 'Birds and Their Persecutors', p. 46.

(37) Ouida, 'Birds and Their Persecutors', p. 46.

(38) Ouida, 'Birds and Their Persecutors', p. 47.

(39) Jacques Derrida, '"Eating Well", or the Calculation of the Subject', in E. Cadava, P. Connor, and J. L. Nancy, (eds), Who Comes After the Subject? (New York and London: Routledge, 1991), p. 114.

(40) Ouida, 'Birds and Their Persecutors', p. 52.

(41) Derrida, '"Eating Well,' or the Calculation of the Subject", pp. 113-15.

(42) Ouida, 'Birds and Their Persecutors', pp. 55, 53, 55. Here Ouida hints at the thriving feather fashion in Victorian and Edwardian Britain, the object of bird protection campaigns that would lead to the 1921 Plumage Act.

(43) Ouida, 'The Future of Vivisection', p. 423.

(44) Ouida, 'The Future of Vivisection', p. 412.

(45) Luke, Brutal, p. 109.

(46) Ouida, 'The Future of Vivisection', p. 412.

(47) Ouida, 'The Future of Vivisection', p. 417.

(48) Ouida, 'The Future of Vivisection', p. 417.

(49) Luke, Brutal, p. 131.

(50) Ouida, 'The New Priesthood', The New Review, 45 (Feb. 1893), p. 151.

(51) Ouida, 'The New Priesthood', pp. 151, 162.

(52) Ouida, 'The New Priesthood', p. 162.

(53) Ouida, 'The New Priesthood', p. 162.

(54) Luke, Brutal, p. 150.

(55) Ouida, 'The New Priesthood', pp. 160, 161.

(56) Ouida, 'The New Priesthood', p. 164 ; Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy and the Genealogy of Morals (New York: Doubleday, 1956), pp. 284-5.

(57) Ferry, 'Neither Man nor Stone', p. 149.

(58) Vineta Colby, Vernon Lee. A Literary Biography (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2003), p. 50.

(59) Brian Luke, 'Taming Ourselves or Going Feral ? Toward a Nonpatriarchal Metaethic of Animal Liberation', in C. Adams and J. Donovan, (eds), Animals and Women (Durham: Duke University Press, 1995), pp. 290, 291.

(60) Vernon Lee, 'Vivisection : An Evolutionist to Evolutionists', The Contemporary Review, 41 (May 1882), 788.

(61) Lee, 'Vivisection : An Evolutionist to Evolutionists', p. 789.

(62) Lee, 'Vivisection : An Evolutionist to Evolutionists', p. 797.

(63) Lee, 'Vivisection : An Evolutionist to Evolutionists', p. 797.

(64) Lee, 'Vivisection : An Evolutionist to Evolutionists', p. 798.

(65) Lee, 'Vivisection : An Evolutionist to Evolutionists', p. 799.

(66) Lee, 'Vivisection : An Evolutionist to Evolutionists', pp. 803, 811, 804.

(67) Vernon Lee, Baldwin (London: T. W. Unwin, 1886). The dialogue occurs between the eponymous character Baldwin and Michael, an Oxford undergraduate disaffected by science after learning about vivisection, especially upon John Ruskin's resignation from his Oxford professorship in protest of that practice.

(68) Lee, 'Vivisection : An Evolutionist to Evolutionists', p. 796; Baldwin, p. 141.

(69) Lee, 'Vivisection : An Evolutionist to Evolutionists', p. 808.

(70) Lee, 'Vivisection : An Evolutionist to Evolutionists', p. 808.

(71) Ouida, 'The Future of Vivisection', p. 415.

(72) Ouida, 'Canicide', pp. 585, 586.

(73) Ouida, 'Some Fallacies of Science', The North American Review, 142 (1886), p. 148.

(74) Ouida, 'The Future of Vivisection', p. 415.

(75) Lee, 'Vivisection: An Evolutionist to Evolutionists', p. 811.

(76) Lee, 'Vivisection: An Evolutionist to Evolutionists', p. 811, Calarco, Zoographies, p. 74.

(77) Lee, 'Vivisection: An Evolutionist to Evolutionists', p. 811.

(78) Paolo Mantegazza, Upilio Faimali. Memorie di un domatore di belve, (Milano,: Brigola, 1879), pp. 9, 10.

(79) Simone De Beauvoir, Le deuxieme sexe (Paris: Gallimard, 1976), Vol I, p. 113.

(80) Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra (New York: Penguin, 1954), pp. 288, 303.

(81) Mantegazza, Upilio Faimali, p. 12.

(82) Mantegazza, Upilio Faimali, p. 77.

(83) Mantegazza, Upilio Faimali, p. 89.

(84) Mantegazza, Upilio Faimali, pp. 83, 82, 105.

(85) Mantegazza, Upilio Faimali, p. 7.

(86) Luke, Brutal, p. 81.

(87) Mantegazza, Upilio Faimali, p.114.

(88) Mantegazza, Upilio Faimali, p.112.

(89) Karen Davis, 'Thinking Like a Chicken: Farm Animals and the Feminine Connection, in Animals and Women, p. 196.

(90) Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish (Harmondsworth: Peregrine, 1977), pp. 138-9.

(91) Mantegazza, Upilio Faimali, p. 129.

(92) Mantegazza, Upilio Faimali, p. 129.

(93) Davis, 'Thinking Like a Chicken', p. 196.

(94) Mantegazza, Upilio Faimali, p. 131.

(95) Mantegazza, Upilio Faimali, p.132.

(96) Jacques Derrida, The Animal That Therefore I Am (New York: Fordham, 2008), pp. 5-6.

(97) Mantegazza, Upilio Faimali, p. 133.

(98) Mantegazza, The Physiology of Love, p. 99.

Notes on Contributor

Nicoletta Pireddu is Associate Professor of Italian and Comparative Literature at Georgetown University. Her research revolves around European literary and cultural relations from the nineteenth-century to the present, with particular attention to the Italian, English and French domains. She is the author of Antropologi alla corte della bellezza. Decadenza ed economia simbolica nell'Europa fin de siecle (Fiorini, 2002), a study of the connections between decadent aesthetics and the anthropological discourse on ceremonial expenditure. The volume received the 2003 American Association for Italian Studies Book Award. She is also the editor of Paolo Mantegazza's The Physiology of Love and Other Writings (University of Toronto Press, 2007) and The Year 3000. A Dream (University of Nebraska Press, 2010). She is currently writing a book on the European consciousness in modern and contemporary literature, a project for which she was awarded fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Howard Foundation at Brown University.
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Title Annotation:Paolo Mantegazza
Author:Pireddu, Nicoletta
Publication:Gothic Studies
Article Type:Essay
Date:May 1, 2014
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