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Animal Performers

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Chapter Summary

The human experience of discomfiture before the gaze of other animals has a long genealogy. For many centuries the eyes of animals were thought to emit a physical force, an irradiation with the power to transfix or infect those who encountered it. Of course the Enlightenment emphasis on the sovereignty of reason and empirical observation, and the scientific and industrial practices that followed, produced powerful forms of reaction and resistance. These included, in the cultural sphere, Romanticism and Gothicism, which continued to evoke the archaic, the spiritual, the irrational and the supernatural in defiance of the modern, materialistic, rationalistic and positivistic spirit of the age. Amongst the modernist writers who were the literary successors of the Victorians, evocations of the animal gaze were most often elegiac, expressing mourning for a lost, primeval authenticity.

Keywords:gaze of animals; human experience



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