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Forms Of Life: The Search For The Simian Self In Ape Language Experiments

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Chapter Summary

In her seminal work on representations of the nonhuman primate, Haraway has evoked tropes of reflection: "monkeys and apes mirror humans in a complex play of distortions over centuries of western commentary." While the great ape has indeed served as a mirror to shifting notions of human agency and identity, critical questions remain underexplored in these tropes: who, or what, is reflected in the visage of the great ape? What kind of selfhood, what kind of agency, emerges in representations of simian subjectivity? How can this allocation of selfhood to the animal agent be connected to a broader metaphysics which separates humanness from animality? To answer these questions, this chapter traces a cultural and philosophic history of representations of ape agency and language. Even at the onset of ape language experiments, it was clear that there are significant differences of opinion and divergences of practices among the ape language researchers.

Keywords: animal reflection; ape agency; ape language experiments; Haraway; monkeys; nonhuman primate; simian



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