Animal Bodies, Renaissance Culture reconsiders interactions between environment, body, and consciousness found in early modern works, from More's Utopia and Shakespeare's Hamlet to husbandry manuals, anatomy texts, and horsemanship treatises.
2013 | 248 pages | Cloth $65.00
Literature | Cultural Studies
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Table of Contents
Introduction: Absent Bodies
Chapter 1. Resisting Bodies: Renaissance Animal Anatomies
Chapter 2. Erotic Bodies: Loving Horses
Chapter 3. Mutual Consumption: The Animal Within
Chapter 4. Animal Architectures: Urban Beasts
Chapter 5. Working Bodies: Laboring Moles and Cannibal Sheep
Conclusion: Knowing Animals
Giovanni Battista Gelli's Circe of 1549 recounts Ulysses' efforts to convince a variety of beasts, transformed from men by Circe, that they should return to their human form and leave her island with him. Ulysses begins with the humblest of creatures, the oyster and the mole (also the simplest and humblest of humans, a fisherman and a ploughman respectively), but upon being soundly rejected, decides to move on to other creatures more likely to understand his appeal to reason: "Thou shalt find some [men] of such knowledge and wit," he remarks to Circe, "that they are almost lyke unto the goddes, and some others of so grosse wytte, and small knowledge, that they seme almost bestes." Assuming he has met only men who were dull witted in their human forms, or "whiles they were men, never knew themselves, nor never knewe their own nature, but they attended onely to the bodye," Ulysses keeps trying new tacks with new interlocutors. Moving through his own version of a great chain of being to a snake, a hare, a lion, a horse, a goat, a hind, a dog, a calf, and an elephant, Ulysses proposes different arguments in support of human superiority. But in each debate, the famous orator's persuasion returns again and again to the idea that reason is the basis of human excellence; so he tells the lion that animals cannot claim true virtues because "amongst beastes there is no fortitude at all, but onle amonge menne," since fortitude "is a meane, determined with reasonne, betwene boldenes and feare . . . because you have not the discourse of reason, whereby you might eyther knowe the good or the honest, and by occasion thereof, onely you put your selves in daungers; but you do it eyther for profyte or for pleasure, or to revenge some injurie. And this is not fortitude" (sig. l4r). Again, he tells the horse, "temperance is an elective habit, made with a right discourse of reason; howe can you then have this virtue in you?" (sig. n4r). However, each and every animal rejects Ulysses' proposed gift of humanity, arguing that its beastly condition is superior. Not until he debates with the elephant, once a human philosopher, does he find someone who shares his philosophical language, and whom he is able to convince that humans are the most noble, the most virtuous creatures because they are rational, and are not limited by the sensory memory, experience, and instinct that is all animals possess. Transformed, the elephant, now restored to human identity as Aglafemos, cries out, "Oh what a marveylous thing it is to be a man!" (sig. t2r).
Of course, having found his convert, Ulysses must then warn him that there are some things that even human beings cannot know, such as the first cause of life, because they are hampered by their bodies and the shortness of their lives. Although he has categorically rejected the claims of all his targets to a better life in animal form by privileging reason and discounting the body, it turns out that the body is a limiting factor even for humans. Indeed, this conclusion of the Circe sends us back to reevaluate the positions of even the very simplest of the animals, each of whom makes a strong case that human bodies are, in fact, far inferior to beastly ones. The oyster, for instance, argues that unlike humans animals do not have to labor to create their food and clothing, and goes on: "I have reason, consideringe besides this that nature hath set so litle store by you, for besides the bringing forth of you naked, she also hath not made you any hose or habitation of your own, wher[e] you mought defend you from th'injuries of the wether, as she has made to us, which is a plaine toke that you are as rebelles and banished of this world, having no place here of your owne" (sig. B4r). Likewise, the mole answers the charge that his condition is defined by lack, particularly of sight, by pointing out that humans come into the world weeping because they are embarking on a life of misery and suffering. "And why for syns it [seeing] is not necessarye to my nature, it is sufficient to me, to be perfit in myne owne kynde," concludes the mole, and reiterates, "for that I am perfecte in thys my kynd" (sig. c3r). Even the oyster and the mole, the lowest of low creatures, see themselves as physically and therefore morally perfect in contrast to humans, and assert that it would defy reason—their "perfect" reason, which accepts their god-given condition in life—for them to return to their human forms.
Gelli's dialogue derives its premise from Plutarch's "Whether the Beasts Have the Use of Reason," also titled Gryllus, in the Moralia. Where Plutarch offers only one recalcitrant pig, however, Gelli explores additional dimensions of animal and human reason and embodiment, as well as issues of class and economic privilege, through his additional animal characters. Gelli's text was popular, enjoying numerous reprints by the end of the century. Its first English translator, Henry Iden, justifies his efforts by recommending the dialogue for those "who know no other language than their owne, to see herein how lyke the brute beast, and farre from his perfection man is, without the understanding and folowinge of dyvyne thynges" (sig. a2r). And indeed, Ulysses' ostensibly rational positions are again and again ignored, inverted, or countered with narrow examples of animal contentment. However, the conversion of Aglafemos hardly counterbalances the influence of the other animals' often compelling positions, nor does it fully vindicate the self-blind and blithely self-congratulatory Ulysses. Where the text underscores human frailty, the tone shifts to pathos, suggesting (perhaps despite its apparent goals) that human reason is small compensation for the evils of existence in a weaker human body, subject to social, political, and economic forces that make life harder, not more rewarding. In this, Gelli expands on elements of Plutarch's original dialogue, in which Gryllus does a pretty good job of defending animal intelligence and impugning human "virtues."
As I've noted, Gelli's Ulysses insists on the perfection of the human based on the exclusive property humans presumably have in reason. Yet the text's debates offer a more complex set of propositions about types of reason, focusing especially on the razor-thin line between sensory knowledge combined with experience and what he calls "understanding," or cognition, the ability to think beyond the body's inputs, to construct scenarios and options that might not exist in reality unconstrained by "quantity, or place, time, or variety, and such like appertaining to ye matter" (sig. r8v). But despite every angle Ulysses covers, arguments about reason and soul, it turns out, cannot be extricated from the condition of the body. The oyster and the mole, being the simplest of creatures, have the simplest connection to their embodiment, and so might be expected to have the most limited perspective on themselves—something Ulysses keeps asserting in defense of his failure to convert them to humanity. Yet the rest of the animals also argue with increasing complexity their superiority to human beings based on the virtues, knowledge, and "perfections" that derive from their particular physical relationships to the world and its challenges. The snake, for instance, who was once a physician, details the miseries of human suffering, while celebrating the fact that animals never fall prey to excessive appetites or other vices; the hind was once a woman, and so cannot be persuaded to return to her life of servitude and submission; the dog points out that humans have to borrow animals' natural skills or imitate animal appendages to make many of their inventions work. Gelli's creatures are all convinced that they are happier, are more secure, and have more pleasurable lives than do any and all humans precisely because they don't have the type of reason Ulysses keeps trying to establish as exclusively human, since it is attended by imbalanced appetites, dissatisfaction, oppression by their fellows, and so on.
Gelli's creatures assert that they do have "reason," and that deriving that faculty from their sensory, experiential interpretation of themselves in the world they inhabit is preferable to whatever "understanding" is. Although Ulysses keeps reaching for examples of how human reason differs, he is in the end unable to call up any of the imaginative cognition that he celebrates as peculiarly human to defend against the charge that "understanding" is essentially error-driven misinterpretation of sensory phenomena, except to assert that the "understanding" resolves the problem of deception by the senses. In fact, the most imaginative argument Ulysses does offer is a kind of precursor to Schroedinger's thought experiment with his cat: that the mere observation of a thing (in Ulysses' case, claiming any natural object must be variable, in motion, as it were, so never the same at any moment) necessarily changes the condition of the object observed—and so, he asserts, there is no such thing as certainty. Yet this is the one proposition that Ulysses cannot apply to himself: whatever the content or direction of debate, he remains utterly, absolutely persuaded that he alone has the truth about human nobility. Further, Ulysses concludes that humans are exceptional in that they can, through will, come to knowledge of the divine. Of course, the will exerted to remain in their "brute" forms of the creatures he has accosted does not occur to him as a corollary. Nor does he see a contradiction in the fact that he describes human will arising directly from the body's ability to discern: "for that the will is so marvelously united and knyt unto the senses" (sig. t1r, my italics).
Anatomical and physiological sameness is at the root of many modern assaults on the supposedly firm boundary between human and animal, and has historically troubled contrasting efforts to establish human exceptionalism. If, after all, we sleep, eat, breathe, procreate, communicate with others of all species, avoid dangers, and pursue pleasures through the same instrument, the body, how is it that these activities come to mean different things if they are performed by a "human," rather than an "animal"? As Ulysses eventually has to concede, we are like animals in that we perceive the world through sensory data and construct knowledge out of it; how then do we establish that the way we understand the world is appreciably better than the way animals do, especially when our senses are so often clearly inferior? If we share with animals so many crucial aspects of our physiology, how can we be sure that we are in some invisible, undetectable fashion more perfect than animals?
Modern and postmodern upholders of animal rights and those in the various subfields of animal studies have long argued that humans and animals are not categorically different even in the things that we assume comprise "reason," like logic, extrapolation, language use, and so on. Philosophers and critical theorists challenging the ideological uses of humanism have demonstrated its implication in systems ranging from sexism to colonialism; decentering the category of "the human" has made possible a reevaluation of "the animal" as a necessary or viable category in creating distinctions that can be so exploited. After a long period of resistance to anthropomorphizing animals, various fields of science have begun to make similar moves—brain studies and tests of intelligence being performed right now grant many animals far, far greater capacity for what humans call "reason," or "thoughtfulness," than was once evident. The source for this shift is, I would suggest, grounded in the increasing tendency for moderns and postmoderns to locate what once seemed abstract functions, unrelated to the body, in biology, especially in the structures of the brain and nervous system (so the reason that is a kind of soul in Ulysses' usage becomes, for us, a byproduct of the physical processes and changes in the brain). Because the inception of humanism in the Renaissance requires interrogation of the category of "the animal," early modern writers and thinkers encountered similarly important obstacles to establishing human difference in the sheer fact, as well as the various nuances, of shared embodiment despite their very different religious, cultural, and scientific frameworks for interpreting these terms. In a sense, then, we have come full circle with a difference.
This book begins to chart the questions and issues raised by early modern animal embodiment for both early modern and modern theories of the human. How did early moderns perceive the consequences of shared embodiment? How do animals contribute to human culture? Indeed, how human is culture, and how and why have we come to discount animals' roles in constructing it? Given our greater distance in many instances from real animals, our alienation from parts of our environment that once were familiar territory (wild animals, of course, fit this description, but so do many domestic animals), what kinds of interpenetration of the human and the animal do we tend to overlook? Can early modern representations of animal bodies alert us to ways in which we might move forward out of the depressingly deterministic side of biological explanations for emotions, thoughts, attitudes? Despite having begun with a text that thinks it is all about reason, I am particularly concerned to provide an account of animal and human embodiment that does not automatically privilege that faculty as if it were somehow free-floating and independent of the bodies that produce it. I hope, that is, to be less a Ulysses, and more an oyster, a mole, a horse, or a hind during this journey through Renaissance culture.
Gelli's dialogue summarizes a larger debate in the Renaissance over the relative felicity, morality, and physical superiority of animals versus humans. From Plutarch's Gryllus Gelli would have had available the argument that animals were potentially more rational and more virtuous than humans, an argument that stemmed from the materiality of the soul in some ancient thought. Erica Fudge explores the lineage of this idea: it derives from Plato rather than Aristotle, the Renaissance's go-to ancient source, but was nonetheless widely influential in Renaissance literature. Reason, Plato believed, inhered in a bodily organ, "the divinest part," the brain; thus, where Aristotle saw a tripartite form of soul—the nutritive, sensitive, and rational, only the last of which belonged to humans—Plato offered a schema in which animals and humans might share not only the fact of having a brain, but the rational capacity the brain generated. In turn, Plutarch suggests that unlike animals, who act merely to satisfy needs and uncomplicated desires, humans are bound by irrational customs, habits, and social imperatives. In many cases these influences determine whether or not they may achieve happiness.
Where Fudge elaborates this conflict in early modern thought between theriophiles and those who would diminish animals based on their unequal access to self-awareness and reason, I want to reframe it through a lesson that Gelli's Circe could teach us if we resist obsessing over the validity of human reason—that is, the lesson that only animals' and humans' shared embodiment makes the dispute possible at all. For Ulysses to assert a rational soul that is distinct from the sensitive, he must himself understand the sensitive soul—and he must be able to answer the creatures' descriptions of their felicity. Indeed, when Ulysses tries to blame animals for overindulging their bodies, his arguments fail most miserably; it is humans who are most likely to fall into that trap, not animals.
Even the work's English translator falls into logical paradoxes in dealing with the question of reason versus bodies. When Iden justifies his translation by claiming he wants to promote a better appreciation of divine things among humans who wish to avoid resembling beasts, he is being unintentionally ironic on several levels: first, the idea that language is a barrier needing someone to translate (as Iden does) grants Circe, not Ulysses, supreme authority since it is she who enables the beasts to talk. Next, Iden seems to miss the point that if humans can so easily devolve into beasts, they share something rather compelling with animals. And finally, Iden apparently doesn't recognize that Ulysses' own command of language—his ability to translate his ideas so that they raise the animals' attention to divine things—fails utterly. His oratory clearly has no impact on the first ten animals, while the elephant, who presumably commands a level of discourse that the other lower animals don't, ends up actually speaking and arguing the least of all of them. As dialogists, then, the more embodied, less (by Ulysses' definition) rational animals have the most to say.
Renaissance works of medicine and natural philosophy often attempt to provide answers to questions about human superiority, specifically those raised by the relative sameness combined with the observable differences in human and animal bodies—and as often fail to do so satisfactorily. Perhaps the most comprehensive and elegant summary of the position that humans are easily and absolutely distinguishable physiologically from animals appears in Helkiah Crooke's Microcosmographia. Crooke is aware of the views expressed in works like Gelli's, that humans are somehow deficient:
Their unbrideled insolencie is also to bee restrained, that call Nature a cruell Stepmother, because shee casts foorth Man into the world altogether naked and unarmed . . . and therefore holde him to bee of all Creatures the most imperfect. . . . Other Creatures (say they) do perceyve and understand their owne Nature; some betake themselves to the swiftnesse of their feete, some trust to the loftinesse of their flight. . . . Man knoweth nothing, neyther how to speak, nor how to goe, nor how to feede: and in a word, that Creature which is borne to rule and governe all the rest, is enclined by Nature to nothing else but mourning and lamentation.Gelli's mole couldn't have put it better. Crooke also notes the physical attributes of animals missing in humans: "Nature hath given other creature divers coverings, shelles, rindes, haire, bristles, feathers . . . whereby they are able both to defend themselves, and offend others; onely Man she hath prostituted in his very nativitie, altogether unarmed, naked, and unable to helpe himselfe" (9). But Crooke answers these doubters and naysayers with a description of human "excellencie," which he argues far outstrips the supposed beauties or advantages of animals: "The frame and composition which is upright and mounting toward heaven, the moderate temper, the equal and just proportion of the parts . . . Man onely is of an upright frame and proportion" because only man is infused with soul directly from heaven; human bipedal stature allows mankind to exercise the faculties of speech and reason, lets him gaze upward to heaven, and frees his hands to work his will on the world (4-5).
But when Crooke begins to catalogue the differences between animal and human bodies, his ability to draw a bright line of division wavers. For each case it turns out there is an exception: human eyes are multicolored of various hues, while animals' eyes ("the horse excepted") are all in their kind always alike (so all oxen have brown eyes, all sheep "watry" eyes, et cetera). Humans have eyelashes on top and bottom lids, while animals do not—except the ostrich, which does. Human ears are fixed and immovable, while those of animals are not—except in the apes, which most resemble humans (11). "Furthermore, of all creatures (excepting birds) that live upon the land, Man alone is two-footed" (12). In one thing humans and animals are indeed absolutely different, namely the human need to sit, which Crooke tries to turn from a weakness into a sign of human contemplation and a necessity if the hands are to be freed for practicing the arts (12). Gelli's text may or may not be meant as a laughable rehearsal of human superiority discounted by animal narcissism and obtuseness, but Crooke's very serious celebration of human excellency dangerously tends to refute rather than validate the idea that all humans are bodily different from and superior to all animals.
Thomas Browne's Religio Medici of 1643 runs into a related problem when he too addresses human physical defenselessness: "Thus have we no just quarrel with Nature for leaving us naked; or to envy the Horns, Hoofs, Skins and Furs of other Creatures, being provided with Reason that can supply them all." Like Crooke, Browne takes stock of human deficiencies, but he is not dismayed by them, because, as Crooke puts it, "Reason doth more availe man, then any naturall gift doth the dumbe creature" (10). With reason, human beings can create substitutes for everything that they lack, and so extend their domination over creation (an argument Ulysses uses in Gelli's Circe). Indeed, having particular strengths might encroach on this supremacy of reason by limiting the need for ingenuity. Yet Browne's establishment of reason's compensatory and consolatory role is complicated by the mind's dependence on the information nature provides it. And it turns out, much of what the mind should learn comes from animals: "Indeed," writes Browne, "what Reason may not go to school to the wisdom of Bees, Ants and Spiders?" (336). Browne confesses admiration for Pythagoras, who believed in metempsychosis (the transfer of souls from one animal to another and from animal to human or vice versa). In such a schema, the body that houses the soul does not define or delimit it; instead, all kinds of bodies are capable of housing all kinds of souls. This rejection of distinction inflects Browne's positioning of human intellect as the student of animal behavior (what we humans can learn from animals applies to us, so we are not substantially different), even if Browne concludes that humans have a greater potential to comprehend at once and in conjunction the many specific examples of animal "wisdom." Browne, like Crooke, wants to establish human exceptionalism but finds that shared embodiment complicates his agenda.
This book investigates a select few examples of Renaissance culture grappling with the many kinds of problems posed by shared embodiment. It joins a growing "body" of critical and historical work on animals, and "the animal" in the period. In the decades since Keith Thomas made an early foray into the field with his chapter on animals in Man and the Natural World (1983)—still an important reference for anyone thinking about Renaissance animals—scholars like Erica Fudge, Bruce Boehrer, Laurie Shannon, Simon Estok, Virginia DeJohn Anderson, and Juliana Schiesari (to name just a few) have transformed the study of animals in the Renaissance from hobby history to serious academic subject. At the same time, theories that inform critical animal studies have made consideration of "the animal" an integral part of current debate about "the human." Cary Wolfe's influential Animal Rites begins with the proposition that speciesism is prior to and a necessary basis for all forms of discrimination and oppression: "It is this pervasiveness of the discourse of species that has made the institution of speciesism fundamental . . . to the formation of Western subjectivity and sociality as such, an institution that relies on the tacit agreement that the full transcendence of the 'human' requires the sacrifice of the 'anima' and the animalistic, which in turn makes possible a symbolic economy in which we can engage in what Derrida will call a 'noncriminal putting to death' of other humans as well by marking them as animal." Wolfe's tour de force among the theory giants of the last century makes it clear that the category of "the animal" is a lynchpin in Western philosophical and political thought.
In fact, I think it's fair to say that nearly every academic currently working on the subject of animals is in some way influenced by a version of Wolfe's argument that speciesism is the first principle from which all other forms of oppression and exploitation grow. For those whose field is Renaissance culture, however, the fact that the boundary that divides human from animal is neither fixed nor stable in this period, but is in the process of being established, makes it an especially fruitful field—not only can such scholars demonstrate that "human" is a constructed category, manufactured at a specific historical moment, but they also seem to glimpse something beyond conceptual historicity, some possible alternative version of the human/animal relationship that is important to resurrect.
However, the authors I've cited above, like others working on early modern animals, have so far barely broached the subject of animal embodiment, though all agree it would be a useful turn in the debate over the historical roots of animals' status. For most critics concerned with animals, for example, the influence of Cartesian thought on subsequent constructions of the distinction between human and animal is a crucial historical juncture. Descartes' description of the "beast-machine" is a transformative concept responsible for banishing animals from their prior, problematic, intimate equivalency with humans. Human bodies and animal bodies, Descartes argues, are the same in that they are composed of a collection of parts that operate in unison to produce observable actions. But only the human is endowed with language and with the ability to adjust actions situationally, inspired by knowledge based on reason: "for while reason is a universal instrument that is alike available on every occasion, these organs, on the contrary, need a particular arrangement for each particular action; whence it must be morally impossible that there should exist in any machine a diversity of organs sufficient to enable it to act in all the occurrences of life, in the way in which our reason enables us to act." To achieve this certainty, Descartes discards the sensory functions of the body, like sight, or touch, or hearing, since all can be deceptive. If he sees human beings passing by in the street, Descartes points out, he cannot determine with any reliability their precise nature: "I do not fail to say that I see the men themselves, just as I say that I see the wax; and yet what do I see from the window beyond hats and cloaks that might cover artificial machines, whose motions might be determined by springs?" In other words, neither the evidence of the body nor the presence of a body in another that resembles the human can finally be relied on to establish the distinction between human and nonhuman. Only thought can accomplish that.
Long before Descartes, of course, reason was also already an important characteristic of the category "human." But as Fudge has convincingly shown, before the Cartesian schema and the invention of the beast-machine, explanations of the divide between human and animal were beset by troubling inconsistencies in the rational status of groups or individuals—a child, for instance, clearly was not yet fully rational, while adults could be bestialized by their irrational behaviors. Boehrer has focused on how animal characteristics and categorizations conveyed early modern ideas about marginalized humans, or generated characterological discourses. Descartes, according to Boehrer, solved the problem of defining the human in distinction to the animal by "elevating human reason to the status of a first principle, requiring no proof outside the philosopher's own reference," but that skeptical turn inward constitutes, Boehrer argues, a form of character, "not an Aristotelian taxonomy of shared attributes, but rather a sense of personal identity as singular and doubtful, consisting in particularity and observation, privileging mind over body and interior over exterior." Having charted the Cartesian moment, Boehrer turns to pre-Cartesian literary texts to mine them for alternatives to post-Enlightenment blindness to human-animal connections. Likewise, Fudge is committed to recovering a more complete and balanced (anti-Cartesian) history, and suggests that once animals were rendered objects in Cartesian discourse, they could be made invisible to scholarship and criticism. A Cartesian worldview is so encompassing that it can be difficult to discard: "In fact, many modern critics read the Cartesian human back onto pre-Cartesian writings, even while those critics are assessing the workings of Aristotelian psychology," writes Fudge, making their work anachronistic. There is no study of the human, pre-Descartes, that can omit animals without being therefore incomplete, Fudge concludes.
Both of these critics clearly struggle against Descartes' legacy, but do so by returning to issues that seem destined to reproduce precisely the emphasis they wish to remedy. Boehrer's topic is the role of animals in creating "character," a subject thus bound up with identity in ways that naturally tend to privilege thought, behavior, and attitude. Fudge's work takes as its primary field of enquiry the complications and variations in what is recognized by early moderns as reason. Without discounting the important work that both have done (or the work of others like them), I want to note here that given Descartes' absolute rejection of the body as a locus of distinction, it might be more profitable to look to histories and narratives about embodiment for ways to accomplish an end run that fully subverts Cartesianism. As long as we fight over reason, we are stuck on Descartes' playing field.
The promise glimpsed in turning to the body has been acknowledged, if not always thoroughly pursued, in recent debates about animals. Jacques Derrida's ten-hour conference address on the subject of the animal (published posthumously as The Animal That Therefore I Am) investigates the absence of the animal from prior philosophical thought. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari have proposed "becoming animal" as part of an effort to establish the grounds of an ethics that does not exclude animals. Steve Baker, Donna Haraway, and Cary Wolfe have not only continued to think critically about the consequences of dualism for both human and animal subjects, but have turned a critical eye on their philosophical precursors, often from the perspective of problems of embodiment: Haraway challenges Derrida for having avoided "seriously consider[ing] an alternative form of engagement . . . one that risked knowing something more about cats and how to look back, perhaps even scientifically, biologically, and therefore also philosophically and intimately." Baker, Wolfe, and Haraway all differently question the degree to which animals for Deleuze and Guattari are any more than conceptual pieces in a philosophical game—as Steve Baker puts it, "Animals, for Deleuze and Guattari, seem to operate more as a device of writing . . . than as living beings whose conditions of life were of direct concern to the writers." In Derrida's famous cat, which inspires his meditations, in Deleuze and Guattari's obsessive attention to parasitic insects, in Haraway's "knowing more," and in Baker's "living beings" subject to "conditions of life" we get glimpses of this constant but incomplete search for actual animals with actual bodies, animals that have more than just conceptual proximity, the search for a world in which we cannot remain insensible to their or our animal being.
In a forum that grew out of a conference panel on early modern studies and speciesism, Donna Landry and Cary Wolfe both indicated their belief in the primacy of the body in the more successful formulations of a historically informed antispeciesist stance. The field of Renaissance animal studies is already diverse enough to include discussions of animals and national identity, bestiality, and experimental philosophy; authors have examined apes, horses, dogs, cats, bees, even rats, worms, and other vermin. Yet the role of the body in discourses concerning animals has not yet taken center stage or been adequately explored in literary and cultural criticism, let alone in the more narrow historical field of early modern studies. Since much of the recent criticism in the field is materialist and broadly cultural in nature, borrowing heavily from other disciplines, it is the more surprising that this is the case. In literary and cultural studies per se, the history and representation of the human body has been an important recent feature of materialist work. Michel Foucault's groundbreaking work invited critics to take account of the body's construction in conjunction with changing cultural and historical regimes. One consequence of Foucault's influence was a revisionist reappraisal in literary studies of exactly how early moderns understood the link between identity and the body. Gail Kern Paster, Jonathan Sawday, Michael Schoenfeldt, and others have taken seriously early modern epistemological systems like Galenic humoralism, anatomical practice, and medicalized metaphors to explain early modern attitudes toward the self, others, disease, the mind, and so on. Their work, like Foucault's before them, reminds us that it is almost impossible to overstate the significance of the body to almost every area of early modern life: from the nature of interiority to attitudes toward trade and city planning, the body is the bedrock of early modern conceptual organization—albeit one in flux because of seismic shifts in the biological sciences, the humanistic disciplines, theology, and other tools for interpreting the body's physiological and cultural functions.
Indeed, this flux is still with us. Philosophy and science converged in the twentieth century over the question of the body. Even as science was analyzing, codifying, and technologizing the body, revealing more and more of its internal machinery, critics, philosophers, and historians were considering the costs and advantages of scientific knowledge. From Maurice Merleau-Ponty to Alphonso Lingis and Michel Serres, the role of the flesh and sensation has seemed to require rescue from the tyranny of the cogito, from atomism, from erasure by the privileging of language and vision, and from the influence of late capitalism. Donna Haraway, coming at the role of capitalism and nature/culture binarism in late twentieth-century feminism from a very different angle than Merleau-Ponty or Serres, sees in the cyborg an alternative to assumptions about the body's essentially organic constitution. I've already noted that science and psychology have joined up to evolve new answers to the question of what the "mind" is and how it works, answers that reject the same Cartesian dualism that is being dismantled in sensory theories and phenomenology. Models of the "extended mind" take as axiomatic that the mind is grounded in the body and so inseparable from it, as well as impossible to localize in a particular organ. Challenging twentieth-century trends in psychology, including behaviorism and cognitivism, philosophy and science cooperatively arrived at a variety of more flexible, socially and culturally nuanced models of mind. James J. Gibson's ecological psychology, as he delineates it in The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception, argues that animals and humans are radically situated and embodied, that information about what they perceive and how they will act based on their perceptions is entirely contingent upon the environment that delivers stimuli to systems of perception (not isolated senses). The idea of socially distributed cognition, first introduced by Edwin Hutchins, proposes that cognition relies on the operations of social networks and is shared across boundaries that separate individual minds; a certain kind of thought can arise out of a group that resembles what we normally assume is a thought process occurring within a single mind. Andy Clark and David Chalmers, in their essay "The Extended Mind," argue that versions of "mind" or cognition can even happen outside the brain itself. Clark and Chalmers use the example of two people who "know" the way to a particular landmark, one by having located and memorized it via past experience, and the other who (having Alzheimer's) has written down the directions on a notepad. For the latter individual, the notepad is his memory, just as for the former the mind itself contains the memory-function. If we take all of these slightly divergent but related theories together, we arrive at a version of the mind that is not bounded by the operations of the brain itself, that is at times the product of—and entirely dependent on—interactions with others, that may be displaced into other objects, and is always primarily dependent on complex communication among many senses and the environment.
Now thinking about these several models, let's consider some of the most ordinary, unremarkable, and unremarked experiences of early modern life: using a dog to hunt or herd, petting a cat, riding a horse. The very common nature of these working animals and pets leads us to overlook how extraordinary are the implications of early modern human activities involving them—and how much they exemplify postmodern theories of ecological, extended, or socially distributed mind. Normally if we were going to use theory to talk about these animals, we might turn to theories like Wolfe's, which brands most prior attempts to theorize the place of the pet as byproducts of humanism itself. We might alternately turn to Yi-Fu Tuan's influential writing on pets, Dominance and Affection, which by its title announces its perspective on the psychology of pet ownership and pet keeping. Marc Shell, James Serpell, and Donna Haraway have all also written crucial works on these domesticated creatures, cited in most critical animal studies. Wolfe and Tuan would unequivocally conclude that each activity involves a certain (humanist) domination and oppression of the animal; Shell would agree insofar as he sees pets' inclusion in kinship networks as obscuring "the brutally inhumane reality of the doctrine of universal (human) brotherhood." Serpell and Haraway, in contrast, would resist dismissing companion species out of hand, or the uniformly negative conclusions of the other scholars, perhaps balancing the conflicts and contradictions in our treatment of different species. Serpell would most certainly observe the effects of petting a cat on human blood pressure, stress, and hormone levels, while Haraway would note the necessarily extraordinary human engagement with dogs or horses required during the training process. What many of the critics I've named have not yet fully accounted for, I think, is the idea that each of these examples involves a violation of the generally assumed boundaries of perception and cognition. The stroked cat is not a passive object: cats demand attention in a cooperative and fluid relationship with humans, and a human-attuned cat can plant in a human mind the idea that stroking would be welcome and mutually beneficial. Working with a dog requires a shared language that is not English, as does training a horse; as Merleau-Ponty insists, it is only because human and animal share a gestural repertoire that acts as language that the two groups can communicate at all. "When you minde to helpe your Horse therewith, it must be with most milde & cheerful voice, as to say, hey hey: hola, hola: so boy, so, hap," writes Nicholas Morgan in The Horseman's Honour; the sound of the voice is supplemented with "a chirke with the tongue, which may be called clacking." The hand adds "stroking" or "clawing" (scratching), and the leg applies subtly different forms of pressure. These "linguistic" and physical cues are not language per se; rather, they are mutually decipherable signals that let both creatures, human and horse, arrive at a shared set of references for both environmental and direct stimuli (this touch or sound means such a thing, that reaction in such circumstances is not permitted). All three animals function at times as extensions of the human memory (the cat reminds its human that it needs feeding; its alertness indicates mice on the prowl), as part of the social network that creates thought (the dog understands it should flush game, the hunter follows to kill the creatures the dog will retrieve), and as part of the very body of the human that "thinks" as it performs actions (the horse creates the mutual embodied experience that we call "riding").
One instance of how extended mind theories intersect with animal embodiment arises in the case of flocks, herds, and schools. Certain animals function in aggregates in a fashion that has "capture[d] our imagination" historically, generating linguistic oddities that can be a kind of game to decipher. Why a murder of crows? A shrewdness of apes? A pod of dolphins? Some of these terms seem to have obvious origins in associations with the animal's motion, character, or the form of its massing—an army of ants, a swarm of bees, a parliament of owls, a scurry of squirrels, a labor of moles—while others relate more to the animal group's social structure, as in packs and colonies of wolves or fox. Recently, flock movements have fascinated computer geeks and engineers interested in the complexities of collective movement. The thing about a herd or flock is that it moves with such precision, each animal keeping a place that is not cramped or dangerous within a huge, morphing unit. Studies of actual animals in aggregates have turned out to be only partially useful, since it is extremely difficult to follow individuals within the group, or to determine how group movements are carried out without chaos. Indeed, the remarkable waves and undulations of fish, birds, and some large mammals like cattle or wildebeest herds have inspired observers to believe that something like a shared mind must exist to account for their fluid and organized but sudden shifts and billows—but this impression is usually dismissed as practically impossible or fanciful. However, new computer modeling and other technologies have revealed the millions of negotiations of space, direction, motivation, force, and so forth that control group movement.
Take birds as one example: it turns out that it is impossible to account fully for the movement of a bird flock by normal individual reaction times. In 1984 Wayne Potts explained the nature of birds' superfast reaction time by analogizing it to chorus line movements, in which individuals are primed to react instantly to the movements of people on either side but do not necessarily decide or recognize the motivation for movement. In 1986, Craig Reynolds examined computer-generated "boids" (birdlike computer artifacts programmed with simple commands) and determined a few general rules most flocking animals follow: separation, or steering to avoid crowding local flockmates; alignment, or steering toward the average heading of nearby flockmates; and cohesion, or steering to move toward the average position of nearby individuals. In fact, while our initial reaction to the idea that a herd is controlled by a single "mind" that has no individual embodiment might be to dismiss this as fantasy or error, the truth may be very close to that image after all. Our increasingly intricate understanding of herd movement suggests physiological responses and behaviors that do not arise from rational or thoughtful choice, but are what we usually call "kneejerk" reactions; yet the overall result is a logical, necessary, and functional movement that protects against predators and maximizes food gathering. In practical ways, human interaction with flocks, schools, and herds also requires that "we . . . think of the school as an animal itself, reacting with all its cells to stimuli." Thus, when Temple Grandin designs a humane slaughterhouse, she takes into account the reactions not only of individual cows, but of the herd as a whole to each of its members, accounting for the ripple of anxiety or recognition of distress that can communicate instantly to the group; she treats the aggregate as if it had a single "mind." Similarly, when a cowherd, shepherd, goatherd, or fisherman (in any century) moves a flock, he cannot lead from the front (no animal in its right mind follows a predator), but must be able to control and direct the myriad minds of a host of individuals making nanosecond decisions about where to turn, which way to move, often based on stimuli imperceptible to humans. Hence the use of the dog (who reacts with nearly equal speed), the horse (like the dog, more agile and responsive and able to cover ground), the motorcycle or helicopter (which drown out competing stimuli), the boat engine and the net (which impose uniform danger and a barrier), and other supplemental technologies that allow the herder to interact with the "mind" of the group. Ironically, to become effective herders, humans usually have to develop their own extensions of mind, whether animal or mechanical.
When the seventeenth-century Royalist poet Abraham Cowley wanted to credit Lord Falkland with the perfect melding of skills for his role, he used the image of the cohesiveness that marks the extended mind of flocks, herds, and schools:
England commits her Falkland to thy trust;
Return him safe; Learning would rather choose
Her Bodley or her Vatican to lose:
All things that are but writ or printed there,
In his unbounded breast engraven are.
There all the sciences together meet,
And every art does all her kindred greet,
Yet justle not, nor quarrel; but as well
Agree as in some common principle.
So in an Army govern'd right, we see
(Though out of several countries rais'd it be)
That all their order and their place maintain,
The English, Dutch, the Frenchman, and the Dane:
So thousand divers species fill the air,
Yet neither crowd nor mix confus'dly there;
Beasts, houses, trees, and men together lie,
Yet enter undisturb'd into the eye.
What Questions Do We Ask?
I am no zoologist or biologist: I know very particular things about some animals and their behaviors, but nothing about many others. However, in each and every instance in which an animal appears in scholarly discussions, whether postmodern or premodern, it is my "instinct" to consider that animal's physical characteristics, reactions, and engagements, whether they are explicitly written about or not—and usually they are not. Animals are being exhumed from oblivion in the scholarship of nearly every historical period; they are being charted and explained by modern science in unexpected ways. Yet animal embodiment is still incompletely available in the critical literature, including—perhaps especially—that which deals specifically with animals in early modern culture.
There are some exceptions to this general absence of animal bodies: Gail Paster, for instance, has written on the extension of humoral theory to animals, and Laurie Shannon has begun useful work on shared corporeality. Older historical works on bestiality, like E. P. Evans's, for instance, provide the case studies that influence Bruce Boehrer and Dympna Callaghan, both of whom find in the sexualization of human-animal relationships a fundamental problem for early moderns concerned with drawing distinctions between species. Histories of livestock, horses, and wild animals in the period naturally entertain animals' physical characteristics, as do histories of veterinary medicine. However, Paster's one essay on animal humoralism is primarily designed to explain Shakespearean references associated with characters like Falstaff and Shylock, rather than pursue the implications of a shared humoral system for the problem of the human-animal bodily relationship, and Shannon's is oriented toward her perception of animals as part of a broad "zoopolitical" spectrum in the early modern world. Evans collects bestiality cases as a legal oddity, while Boehrer and Callaghan draw conclusions that rely more on abstract or fictional erotics than actual bodily encounters; and historians of livestock and veterinary medicine are usually less interested in the implications for cultural assumptions and representational strategies when humans interact with animals' bodies.
There is, then, both a gap in scholarship here and a clear incentive to fill it. I borrow from a number of discourses to do so: literary works, livestock manuals, medical treatises, vermin-killing manuals, and anatomy books all make their appearances as primary focal texts, but I also draw on architectural theory, studies of urban geography, legal and philosophical debates, biological and zoological studies (early modern and postmodern), and a number of other relevant fields. Just as it is impossible to put together a complete picture of any particular animal, real or imagined, without having recourse to many sources of information in our own moment, it is equally impossible to do so with past representations of animals. My overarching argument is that animal bodies were as troubling to the emergent early modern divide between animal and human as was animal reason; in fact, the division of reason from the body is, I would say, an erroneous step influenced a posteriori by Cartesianism's pervasive influence in the sciences and the humanities. In fact, there is a rapprochement happening in both those domains that provides a useful template for exhuming the Renaissance animal body. "Science" once dismissed animals for being unworthy of study; the idea that animals might have verifiable moral reason or ethics, that they might be capable of abstract thinking, or that their DNA was relevant to anyone but breed enthusiasts, was once mocked. But in recent years, animal ethologists like Mark Bekoff have demonstrated sophisticated systems of moral behavior governing some animals' actions; the DNA of Boxer dogs has been coded and used to help isolate the source of heart disease in both dogs and humans; experiments with animals as diverse as parrots, dogs, cats, and dolphins suggest degrees of cooperative intelligence unmatched even by chimpanzees and other human relatives. Animal ethology was only invented in the twentieth century, and as the field has grown it has contributed to the understanding of human-animal relationships with scientific backing for what has often been dismissed as anthropomorphism, poetic enthusiasm, dewy-eyed sentimentality, or simple wishful thinking when expressed by nonscientists.
What once seemed like silly claims—dogs "read" human emotions, or cats manipulate their owners' behavior, or animals grieve lost animal or human partners—have in recent decades garnered their own scientific proofs. These discoveries, relying on the analysis of bodily responses through information from brain physiology, psychology, evolution, and ecology, test the limits of human willingness to surrender exceptionalism: for instance, Irene Pepperberg's famous experiments with her parrot Alex, who learned to "speak" English, or similar experiments with chimpanzee and gorilla sign language, have provoked endless debate, some of it furious and angry, about the degree to which animals can ever be said to "have" language that conveys original thought, rather than the repetition of rote learning enhanced by human-delivered cues. (So does the chimp sign its own real desire, or does it respond to microscopic hints in the body language of its human interlocutor? Does the parrot really "know" what its phrases mean to it or its human partner, or is it just being trained to give the appearance of interaction?) On the other side of the argument are human beings for whom Alex and Koko the "talking gorilla" are confirmation that there is little or no difference between humans and animals.
These debates, ironically, replay an old scenario familiar to some early modern scholars: the case of "Bankes's" horse, Morocco, which traveled in England and Europe in the sixteenth century demonstrating its ability to count, read minds, and "speak" back to and about human viewers (Figure 1). Thomas Nashe, Richard Brathwaite, Thomas Bastard, George Peele, Thomas Morton, Thomas Heywood, Ben Jonson, William Prynne, and John Taylor all reference the horse, according to Erica Fudge's detailed research on the subject. Morocco is a fine example of both human resistance to and celebration of displays of animal intelligence, as well as of the crucial role of the body in what we tend to think of as "mental" functions like reason, logic, and language. Fudge has detailed Morocco's "infamy," the dozens (perhaps hundreds) of references to him in the literature of the period, while framing his activity in terms of the challenge an apparently rational animal presented to Renaissance thought. Morocco was able to recognize individual members of his audience, count the coins in their purses or the marks on dice, dance, and generally earn a good living for himself and his owner with his tricks. As Fudge points out, efforts to explain away Morocco's performances (he was unnatural, a demon; he was exceptionally well trained; he was merely a performer, a juggler and crowd pleaser) did not defuse the implication that an intelligent animal threatened human superiority in reason:
To state that animals are inferior to humans is to state something that, within a Christian, Aristotelian framework, appears to require no further explanation. . . . However, what is clear in numerous texts available in early modern England is that such a statement of animal inferiority is not always present—not only because of the breakdown in the logic of the discourse itself or the reemergence of a lost philosophical tradition, but because all the complications of humans' everyday existences alongside animals challenge it. In this sense, Morocco comes to represent what was already known. Animals are not the same as humans, but that does not mean that they are incapable, or that they are not in themselves subjects. . . . Animals think.For centuries after Descartes, however, the implications of a Morocco seemed clearly different: the animal was merely mechanically generating actions based on training and a close reading of its owner's physiological behaviors. In 1907, Clever Hans, another "intelligent horse" was exposed as a fraud: like Morocco, Clever Hans made money for his owner, a German named Wilhelm van Osten, by performing higher intellectual tasks, including mathematical calculations, keeping time and dates, and reading and understanding German. The psychologist Oskar Pfungst, however, examined Osten and his horse, and concluded that the animal was not independently arriving at the answers to questions posed it, but was instead "reading" the unconscious behavior of his owner and trainer. The phenomenon is now called the "Clever Hans effect," and it surfaces most often now in those debates about parrots, primates, and language. Pfungst found that having learned the cues himself, he could not repress them sufficiently to prevent Clever Hans from reacting to them—that is, human reason and consciousness were defeated first by the human body's need to express what the mind holds, and second by the horse's extraordinary sensitivity to the most minute physical reflexes of a human. Indeed, as Vinciane Despret puts it, "Who influences and who is influenced, in this story, are questions that can no longer receive a clear answer. Both, human and horse, are cause and effect of each other's movements. Both induce and are induced. . . . Both embody each other's mind. . . . If we can see, according to Pfungst's hypothesis, how human bodies influence the horse's answer through his peculiar sensitivity and talent, shouldn't we also imagine the converse situation: the horse has taught the humans, without their knowledge, the right gestures to (involuntarily) perform." Morocco and Clever Hans were not "intelligent" in having human-defined reason and ability; they were geniuses as horses in being physically attuned beyond human comprehension to environmental cues provided by their partners. In fact, neither horse probably had much more equine skill than the average horse, now or then, who must sort out a confusing and changing vocabulary of signals from its trainers and riders, and perform feats of athleticism on command. Such skills, ethologists are beginning to inform us, may in the end amount to as significant a kind of genius as human intellect ever has.
The Human-Animal Sensorium
One of the principal ways that early moderns interacted with animals (or each other) was through their bodily senses. This seems so obvious it is hardly worth mentioning. But recent scholarship on the way sensory experiences intersect with cultural expectations and beliefs, as well as that on early modern senses in particular, suggests it is not so self-evident that we understand what such a fact meant to early moderns. Early modern defenses of human superiority often assert reason as the sole proof and justification of such a hierarchy because they must concede (as we have seen Crooke does, for instance) that animals have far better senses: not even the most committed apologist would claim that people can smell scents better than can dogs, or hear sounds better than can cats, or see better than can birds. In the sensory domain, humans are clearly challenged, dull, thinly endowed; they assume the right to control and exploit animals based on their ability to outthink most animals in most circumstances. In fact, human utilization of animals in various occupations only confirms human sensory deprivation. What need is there for a hunting hound except to smell out game that no human would perceive? What need for a household cat but that it hears so much better the tiny sounds of mice and rats, the better to stalk and capture them, and so on. The stupidest animal still outperforms the smartest human in these tasks.
But each sense has attached to it a whole spectrum of cultural associations and implications. Take, for instance, a cat's ability to hear, which is the basis of its hunting skills. William Baldwin's Beware the Cat, a sixteenth-century narrative meant to be a thinly disguised attack on Catholicism, capitalizes on the cat's extraordinary abilities by giving its various felines a rich world of discourse usually inaccessible to humans, and then by using the idea that cats somehow communicate outside normal human ranges to create anxiety about their access to the world of their human cohabitors. Baldwin's protagonist takes a magical potion that enables him to understand feline "speech," and what he discovers is not just that cat screeches mean something, but that cats have a developed, far-reaching system of communication, as well as their own history, politics and laws, morals, and so on. Now, by analogy this is meant to suggest that Catholics exist not just sub rosa, but sub audio. But it relies on actual human observation of cats' sensitivity to sounds that humans cannot perceive, alongside what naturalists like Edward Topsell call their shrieking, wailing "speech." Ultimately, Beware the Cat testifies not just to Protestant fears about Catholics, but to human fears about inferiorities in their "rational" perception of the creatures (human and animal) around them. We may not hear what they hear, and so what they "say," or we may hear, yet not understand. Baldwin's attack on Catholics is thus reminiscent of the suspicion and hostility so many harbor toward human groups who speak different languages—those too are sometimes portrayed as sounding like the inarticulate cries and screeches of animals, but the awareness that they are language makes the listener the more anxious about her or his lack of perfect perception or comprehension.
Franz Wolfgang mounts another kind of attack on cats in his History of Brutes of 1672. Although Wolfgang credits the cat with extreme cleanliness, he nevertheless accuses it several times of bad smell: "The breath of a Cat is very unwholsome, and the smell of his urine is very strong, and therefore we use to say, that a Cat alwaies leaveth a stink behind him; he is naturally very hot, his skin is very warm, he being alwaies so hot, hath a bad scent about him. His breath is exceeding strong and unwholsome (as we said before) and therefore those that let them lye with them in bed are seldome free from diseases." Now it is true that male cats who mark their territories can carry that scent on their fur for a time, and the marking itself is pungent; however, Wolfgang is unique in finding this scent to be extraordinary, extrapolating it to all cats (females do not mark or smell) and finding it the cause of diseases for those who keep cats as pets. It is actually a bit difficult to imagine that cats are any more notably stinky than their other companion-species peers, or than humans for that matter, given standards for bodily cleanliness in the period.
A previous account of cats in a similar compendium, Topsell's History of Four-Footed Beasts, includes numerous identical "facts" about cats (suggesting that Wolfgang cribbed from Topsell), among them the story that their eyes shine like carbuncles, an account of their resemblances to lions, and their distinction from dogs in loving places over people. Topsell also gives accounts of cats' "breath" poisoning or causing diseases in those who sleep with cats. But Topsell means "breath" to reflect the cat's actual exhalations, while Wolfgang's account seems to blur "breath" with "smell"—in the quote above, it is actually unclear whether breath means respiration or the odor breathed in by the pet owner, the "stink" a cat "alwaies leaveth behind him." Nowhere, however, does Topsell mention that cats create bad odors or "stink," so we may assume that aspect of cats is Wolfgang's own preoccupation.
Constance Classen David Howes, and Anthony Synnott outline one reason for Wolfgang's peculiar move: "Smell is cultural, hence a social and historical phenomenon. Odours are invested with cultural values and employed by societies as a means of and model for defining and interacting with the world. The intimate, emotionally charged nature of the olfactory experience ensures that such value-coded odours are interiorized by the members of a society in a deeply personal way." Smells, good and bad, are both social and biological markers; in fact, the two domains overlapped in the early modern world. Bad odors were considered pathogenic—plagues were believed to be caused by putrid smells. At the same time, foul odor was associated with sin, whether as a reminder of its presence in all humans, or to distinguish certain individuals or groups of humans from others, to hierarchize them, and to attach moral or other meanings to their existence. Classen, Howes and Synott, and Alain Corbin all argue that early moderns were just beginning to create the conceptual systems of distinctions and regimes of hygiene that would find their ultimate expression in today's bias against odorous bodies, witnessed in advertisements for soaps, deodorants, and home sanitizers. Ethnic and racial groups are now sometimes ascribed inherent odors, one part of a network of assumed "essential" characteristics used to marginalize or exploit certain groups. I would suggest we can find in Wolfgang's harping on cat odors an expression of this cultural use of smell: in Wolfgang's account, the cat is clearly a lecherous, duplicitous, repellent animal—and so it must smell bad, even pathogenically foul, as well.
If the social is produced from the interactions of perceptive senses with the environment, it turns out that the senses are in turn always already socially determined. And yet, the senses are inescapable encounter zones between species. Excavating the social significance of sensory interaction, however, can be difficult. When early modern texts discuss cats, they rarely if ever dwell on the haptic zone that for postmoderns may be the most significant source of pleasure for both parties: petting cats simply does not figure in early modern texts or cultural artifacts, although we must assume that it happened. Not until the early eighteenth century were cats in paintings depicted as lap cats, being held—and presumably petted—by their owners. Thus we are missing a core sensory experience in any attempt to reconstruct the encounters of cats and humans, along with the social meanings that experience conveyed. We are left with cats who speak, who smell, but who have no tactile being, an inversion of our modern encounters with the species.
In contrast, the flea was the inhabitant of, and even a kind of ambassador on the human body's haptic zone. Like scholarship on cats, which is more often than not dismissed as hobby history, too cutesy to be serious, work on the common insect life of the early modern social world is lacking. But the shared sensorium of early modern humans and animals includes, in far more overt ways than we might always appreciate, the tiniest creatures—fleas, lice, flies, bedbugs, gnats, and so on. Not only do domestic and other animals share pest insects with human hosts (and vice versa), but many of those insects may be keys to human success as a species. The idea that we actually share our bodies with nonhuman life has reemerged with a vengeance in the early twenty-first century: almost 90 percent of the cells within the human body are microbes, not human cells at all, and we literally crawl with microscopic organisms, some of which we could not survive without. Internal parasites are now so unusual in Western countries that their occupation of our organs is considered a momentous and awful event. Fleas and lice are somewhat more common, but they are often categorized as the pests of children or pet owners, not of the general populace. Granted nobody writes love poetry like they used to, but surely no one these days would address to his beloved a poem about a flea; yet, of course, Donne's little gem "The Flea" testifies to the absolute ubiquity of fleas on even the most elevated human corpuses and belongs to a recognized subgenre of early modern poetry. Lice and fleas were leveling influences in early modern life: commoners and royalty were equally subject to both head and pubic lice, according to the recent examination of the mummy of Ferdinand II of Aragon. Nearly every human body in the period, like every cat, dog, or rat body, was thoroughly explored and colonized by tiny life-forms. And the flea or louse was credited with a kind of knowledge unavailable to fellow humans: the flurry of flea-poems of the seventeenth century, including Donne's, relied on the idea that where the flea could travel, the lover wished to go, but couldn't. Intimate, yet alien, the flea occupied the body of its host like a tiny explorer searching its fleshly world like a cornucopia, the most secret or taboo places wide open to its small hairy feet.
A social history of fleas and lice might trace their gradual removal from the explanatory discourses of religion, according to which they are evidence of the flesh's corruption and a tribulation that can elevate the soul by reminding the suffering individual of her or his body's transience. Fleas and lice mortified the body for some zealous Christians. Hans Zinsser repeats the tale of Thomas Becket's dead body, laid in state, and found to be wearing layers of clothing that included a hair shirt, infested with scores of lice and fleas: "As the body grew cold, the vermin that were living in this multiple covering started to crawl out, and, as MacArthur quotes the chronicler: 'The vermin boiled over like water in a simmering cauldron. . . .'" Since he wore the hair shirt under his rich vestments, and since he clearly must have suffered the discomfort of constant biting from the vermin in it, Becket's infestation was taken as a sign of his real piety. Whether his embrace of the itching and misery of bites was really intended as a form of penance is impossible to determine, although there was a rich tradition of such use for tiny creatures that devoured flesh and blood (for instance, Francis of Assisi considered the flea the "pearl of poverty").
But by the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, vermin like fleas and lice had acquired a different significance. As Linda Woodbridge points out, beggars and vagabonds were associated with their vermin, so that not only was their filth subject for condemnation, but "beggars themselves seemed like lice, parasitic on the body politic." Piero Camporesi likewise finds that disease and vermin become compelling images for the poor, who are characterized as hordes of "human insects" who threaten the prosperity and integrity of a nation. Suffering the touch of vermin like lice and fleas was, by the late seventeenth century, more a marker of personal failing than of sanctity. Dutch art depicting flea hunts is, for instance, meant to convey the idea that hygiene is the path to spirituality—cleanliness next to godliness. To have one's skin crawl with the touch of tiny insects is no longer occasion to meditate on God, but a source of shame. The sensory message of infestation has done an about-face in the space of a century or two.
Robert N. Watson has written brilliantly on the early modern approach to the body as a cornucopia of life, taking literally and literarily Thomas Browne's remark in Religio Medici that the self is "a Microcosm, or little world," a digest of the teeming, diverse forms of life that comprise creation. Watson observes that the deconstruction of discrete selfhood implied in Browne's image is omnipresent in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, suggesting that early modern models of a nonautonomous, ecologically embedded "self" are worth recuperating and align remarkably well with current scientific understanding of the body. The "hidden symbiotic universe" Watson describes included a human haptic system that was never closed, never sanitized, constantly under assault by tiny invaders that swarmed regions of the flesh that few humans ever saw, creatures that took up persistent residence on the human body, making it their globe and horizon. Interior and exterior, cleanliness and filth, corrupt and sanctified—binaries and boundaries fall prey to these miniscule mortifiers.
Restoring the Animal Body
The animals that populate the chapters that follow this introduction are the ordinary creatures of early modern daily life—horses, sheep, dogs, cats, moles, rats, worms. I have not chosen a particular group or set of animals, but rather representative cases in which animal bodies become suddenly crucially important in specific literary or cultural discourses. Thus, both the first and second chapters revolve around horses: in the first chapter, I look at the implications of early modern horse anatomies, consciously constructed to mirror human anatomies like Vesalius's De Humani Corporis Fabrica, while in the second I revisit the limitations of arguments about animal-human eroticism that collapse into discussions of bestiality, taking as my texts both the poetry about horse love and the literature of horsemanship. My third and fourth chapters deal with mammalian and invertebrate parasites: I discuss cats and dogs in the context of early modern architecture in Romeo and Juliet, and rats, mice, worms, and other tiny vermin as they inform early modern attitudes toward the problem of interiority as it is explored in Hamlet. Finally, my fifth chapter examines two examples of animals caught up in discourses of property: Hamlet's mole and the sheep of Thomas More's Utopia. If the material of the individual chapters does not pretend to be comprehensive, the domains of animal embodiment addressed—how animals figure in the discovery of the body's material functions, how they participate in erotic life, how they influence external human structures, how they in turn inhabit human bodies, and how they alter ideas of property—seek to be fairly broad and complete.
I begin and continue with the assumption that there is no such thing as a "human" without animals, not entirely in the manner that recent theory has affirmed that proposition as a philosophical problem (although I am happy to entertain that theory), but rather in the material sense that there is no such thing as human identity, history, culture, without the prior cooperation, collaboration, habitation, ideological appropriation, consumption of animals, without animals as the "always already" of both materiality and culture itself. That is the larger argument of this book. Raymond Williams reminded us of this long ago: "Society, economy, culture: each of these 'areas' now tagged by a concept is a comparatively recent historical formulation. . . . 'Culture,' before these transitions, was the growth and tending of crops and animals, and by extension the growth and tending of human faculties." When early moderns turned inward, looking for Hamlet's "that within which passeth show," when they sought the essence of the self that distinguished them from all other mammals (and all other human beings), they not only found the potential for self-fashioning understood as regulation of the body's material condition, they found animals dwelling there, aiding or resisting (or simply ignoring) their efforts at self-discipline. No one in early modern Europe lived without a load of parasites; what it meant, therefore, to be an "individual" was highly contingent upon interanimality, the shared experience of bodily existence. Indeed, where early sciences like anatomy converged with everyday experiences of multitudes was on the subject of the body's inevitable openness to its environment, a fact that precluded its absolute conceptual or physical division from animal creation.
I also question the idea that erotic encounters with animals are a one-way street, or that the erotics of human encounters with animals are reducible to genital sexuality. As the etymology of "pet" suggests, physical contact with an animal is always something of an erotic encounter; the process of riding a horse (at least, riding one well according to Renaissance horsemanship treatises), because it more completely engages the body, is that much more of one. Although many early modern horsemanship treatises begin and end by asserting human dominance, they cannot escape the consequences of the physical process they attempt to shape—indeed, their efforts to encourage sensitivity in the aspiring horseman require that they harp on moments when pleasure arises from the process of exploring bodies, a mutual process that can't exclude the agency of the animal involved. Scholarship that reads only for examples of bestiality misses a great range of early modern emotions, experiences, and exchanges; and the politics of speciesism, which dictates that bestialization necessarily involves the victimization of the abject animal, misses the more interesting problem of cooperative erotics that marks some of the most canonical works of Renaissance literature. Again, the erotic landscape laid out in horsemanship manuals, as well as in literary references to horses, tends to confirm that both human and animal bodies are open to an erotics of contact, a pleasure in union, even the pleasure of a collapse in individuated identity.
Humans and animals share architectural spaces and geographical places like the rural farm, city streets and squares, the urban household. Humans traditionally see themselves as sole creators, builders, labelers of these domains. But Renaissance theories of architecture, and the material processes of city planning, do not cooperate in making humans solely responsible for these things. Given the array of complex social and cultural ideas based on the division of space, expressed through binaries like inside/outside, wild/tame, barbaric/civilized, urban/rural, the question of who or what controls and directs the construction of architectural spaces is crucial. Not only do animals play a fundamental role in architectural divisions, but individual species of animals in early modern Europe—horses, cats, dogs—had specific and concrete influence over both the material nature of built environments and the ideological uses to which versions of the environment could be put.
Finally, it may have appeared to later readers and theorists that the exclusion of animals from concepts like property ownership was simple and straightforward fact; however, if the basis of ownership begins with the body itself—that is, a human being owns a thing because the labor of his body, which he unequivocally owns, has improved it—then animals again interrupt and problematize such confident logic. Locke tries to solve that dilemma by invoking biblical fiat: "The earth, and all that is therein, is given to men for the support and comfort of their being. And tho' all the fruits it naturally produces, and beasts it feeds, belong to mankind in common, as they are produced by the spontaneous hand of nature; and no body has originally a private dominion, exclusive of the rest of mankind, in any of them, as they are thus in their natural state: yet being given for the use of men, there must of necessity be a means to appropriate them some way or other, before they can be of any use, or at all beneficial to any particular man." However, the theological argument about dominion created points of tension. The earth feeds beasts and humans alike, but God gave animals to Adam and his offspring to use as he saw fit; individuals may appropriate the fruits of the earth, including beasts, with their labor. Yet God also gave animals the ability to create, to labor, to seize, and to make territorial claims. Can the consequences of these attributes always be so easily contained? And when mankind labors for his beasts, and not the other way around, who then "owns" the labor—indeed, who owns whom, the man his beast, or the beast "his" man? Reconsidering the role of animal bodies in constructing theories of labor and property not only in Renaissance texts but also in subsequent economic models like Marx's might give us a new way of conceiving the repressed links between human and animal production, labor, and ownership.
In my view, when current criticism focuses on the faculty of reason as the weak point in the construction (and therefore the best point at which to engage in deconstruction) of the human/animal divide, it goes exactly wrong. Humans are remarkably consistent in insisting on or reverting to difference, even when those humans call themselves "animals" and agitate for a posthuman world. Exploring problems of human and animal embodiment in Renaissance culture, however, lets us demonstrate that where the body is concerned differences are and have always been simply impossible to maintain. Again, rather than join Ulysses in endless debates about reason, I would instead imitate the majority of Gelli's talking animals and argue that the body is a site of shared (but not necessarily identical) experience, a site of shared consciousness, a kind of zone of exchange where we can come together with animals and comprehend them as ourselves—literally, as part of ourselves, indistinguishable from the supposedly individuated "selves" that we believe we have.