Bone by Bone: Reinventing the Animal Metaphor for the Human Animal
McCoy, Erin L.
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Metaphor can reinforce widely accepted truths or it can undermine them. Some of the most pleasurable moments in any poem come from the element of surprise that the latter produces. But those metaphors that fit squarely into the foundation upon which our belief systems are already built are often so subtle or normalized as to be accepted without notice, to the point that — in some cases — we have grown blind to their social implications. This blindness may pose a great danger: the constant reiteration or reinforcement of anthropocentric hierarchies and oversimplified binaries assures the continuity of a world unsafe for nonhuman life and human-but-dehumanized minorities. Metaphors on the page do have consequences in the world. This paper examines metaphors in poetry in which animals are used as tenor or vehicle with the goal of determining when and how they dehumanize vs. when and how they decentralize the human. Chapter 1 comprises a brief history of symbolic animal representation and an introduction to the contemporary field of animal studies. It also investigates metaphors that may commonly be considered “forbidden,” then discusses how dehumanizing metaphors are used to foment racial intolerance. In Chapter 2, I conduct a close reading of Ross Gay’s poem, “The Opening,” and Aracelis Girmay’s book, Kingdom Animalia, with the aim of identifying the ideologies that their metaphors reinforce or subvert. The final chapter offers up some practical suggestions for poets based on both theoretical analyses and close readings.
- English