Jonathan Burt

Abstract

This essay addresses the subject of animal representation via an historical account of the place of the animal in visual culture. It emphasizes the relationship between the animal as a visual image and the technology that produces this image. It explores three examples in a period covering c. 1895 to the 1930s, in Britain, that analyze the relations between animal representation, technology, and the public domain. These are film, zoo display, and slaughterhouse practice. The overall goal of the essay is to move away from emphasis on the textual, metaphorical animal, which reduces the animal to a mere icon, to achieve a more integrated view of the effects of the presence of the animals and the power of its imagery in human history. "[s]i l'animal a le temps, s'il est «constitué» par un «temps»" ["[w]hether the animal has time, whether the animal is 'constituted' by a 'time.'"] (Derrida, 1999, p. 273)

Jonathan Burt

Abstract

This article is a close reading of John Berger's highly influential essay "Why look at animals?" and its implications for thinking about animals in modernity. Berger analyses the alienation of human and animal as a consequence of nineteenth-century capitalism, and contrasts it with an earlier period when human-animal relations were more integrated. Despite the power and simplicity of Berger's argument, which has been taken up uncritically by a number of writers, both his historical analysis and his conception of human-animal relations in modernity are highly problematic and need substantial revision. Furthermore, the consequences of his thesis paradoxically reinforce the very processes he is criticising. Inadequate notions of the place of animals in public visual culture, and a more general bias against visual imagery in favour of text-based notions of the animal, create obstacles to theorising human-animal relations and welfare related issues in the contemporary world. The article suggests other perspectives for understanding what it means to look at animals.