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Man and Beast, Volume 15
by Elizabeth Weed and Ellen Rooney
Duke University Press
Paper: 978-0-8223-6568-6

The question of what it means to be human is at the core of Western philosophical and scientific inquiry. As conceptualized in the Western tradition, “humanity” has been understood and defined in opposition to the animal, which is said to lack the rationality and language that we adduce as the clearest evidence of our difference from beasts. Recent scientific research and rigorous examinations of taxonomy, however, have raised controversial questions regarding the relationship between humans and animals. Man and Beast poses these central philosophical and scientific questions from a different perspective, not simply asking where the line is or ought to be drawn between man and beast but examining and analyzing the stakes in transgressing or maintaining species barriers.

The contributors to Man and Beast, writing from an array of academic disciplines, collectively rethink human relationships with other animals. Pointing to the ethical implications of taxonomic classifications and distinctions drawn by the natural sciences, one essay argues that these categories are neither as abstract nor as neutral as commonly assumed. Another essay offers a historicizing study of species barriers to examine the way in which zoological classifications have been breached, relegating some humans to the category of “animal” or, alternately, including in the human circle nonhuman species. Other essays consider the attribution of a human speech impediment to such famous talking cartoon animals as Porky Pig, read the social implications of such popular animal-human hybrids as “Bat Boy” of the tabloid press, and examine the representation of animals as moral agents in fables dating to Aesop, noting the appearance of such tales during periods of social upheaval and instability. All of these suggest that the category of “beast,” like that of human being, has never been either homogeneous or stable.

Contributors. Howard Bloch, Judith L. Goldstein, Harriet Ritvo, Marc Shell, Barbara Herrnstein Smith

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