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Women's Studies: An interdisciplinary journal
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Juliana Schiesari. Polymorphous Domesticities: Pets, Bodies, and Desire in Four Modern Writers
Rebekah Sinclair
a a

Claremont Graduate University Published online: 24 Apr 2013.

To cite this article: Rebekah Sinclair (2013) Juliana Schiesari. Polymorphous Domesticities: Pets, Bodies, and Desire in Four Modern Writers , Women's Studies: An inter-disciplinary journal, 42:4, 458-463, DOI: 10.1080/00497878.2013.772862 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00497878.2013.772862

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but also those who are objects of research. 2012. Downloaded by [Fondren Library. and caves—names we too use for the spaces most familiar and sacred to us. interspecies relations defy norms of species and sex. edibility. Berkeley: U of California P. The multiplicity of hairy. and Desire in Four Modern Writers .2013. 2013 Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group. and so important for our well being as the spaces we consider home. Polymorphous Domesticities. LLC ISSN: 0049-7878 print / 1547-7045 online DOI: 10. feminist.Women’s Studies. For Schiesari. and hoofed bodies we call “animal” are foremost among the subjects whose strategic exclusion and domestication initiate and organize the private domestic sphere. Schiesari offers a way to identify the production of normative identity. as well as ways to imagine and create alternative possibilities for mutual kinship. Perhaps nothing seems so crucial for our sanity. selective exclusion from or inclusion in our homes. 458 . Looking at four authors whose creative. But which bodies are allowed to inhabit these places with us. but also for those who live in nests. slithering. Rice University ] at 14:07 25 April 2014 BY REBEKAH SINCLAIR Claremont Graduate University In her theoretically sophisticated new book. so close to our deepest desires and values. sex. dens. are functions of proximity and power.772862 BOOK REVIEW Juliana Schiesari.1080/00497878. our gaze. The “domesticated” are those lives whose death. postmodern. and our plates. Bodies. Polymorphous Domesticities: Pets. 42:458–463. Juliana Schiesari weaves strains of psychoanalytic. subduing and containment in zoos allows us to maintain our idea of the domestic space as separate from the wild and the public. and the limited possibilities of kinship and intimacy with them. which remain ever the domain of men (5). domestication refers not only to creatures we name companions and friends. test-ability. and the home. eight-legged. feathered. gender. This is not only true for we bipedal species. and animal theory into a new literary model for reading the animal.

One need not look way back to the transgressive relations and resultant burnings of witches and their familiars to see ways society is troubled by non-normative interspecies relations. Schiesari traced the modern construct of the patriarchal family back to the co-constitution of two forms or discourses of domestication. intimacy. and open the limited. Rice University ] at 14:07 25 April 2014 In her previous work. Our tendency to associate unusual.” and the creation of the home as a uniquely private enclosure where the pater familias rules over his own secluded (and largely homebound) world of women. etc. Beasts and Beauties: Animals. marginalized. and animals in society. and animality in ways that continue structuring the unequal status of men. and sexuality. desire. and Domestication in the Italian Renaissance. and with as much urgency. they are agents and subjects of their own lives whose relations with us constitute our identity. and intimacies that seem perverse. For Schiesari. etc. and intimacy. We can look to the woman who lives down the street with a few too many cats. It insists that while we cannot have unmitigated access to the interiority of animal others (or other animals). 1 . Her figure is culturally intelligible to us in part by being rendered sexually atypical in some way—undesirable by men. Gender.1 Polymorphous Domesticities creates a new literary model that reads from the speciesed margins—the perspective of the animal other. desire. sexualities. animals. beginning in the Renaissance: the rise of the culture of domesticated animals contemporarily known as “pets. This literary model only understands “who we are as human beings in a context where nonhuman beings have as much to tell us in a ‘posthumanist’ world. traditional idea of the Downloaded by [Fondren Library. domesticity and power authored by patriarchy have defined the private sphere by drawing ideological affinities between femininity. and kinship. Building on her archaeology of the co-constitutive domestication of animals and the creation of sexual and gender norms in her previous book. as any of the classic thinkers or theorists” (15). asexual. femininity. This model pays special attention to the identities. backwards. This method affirms that interspecies relationships transform the very core of our domestic space. homosexual. the norms that police interspecies relations in our domestic spaces are part of a discursive network that also regulates appropriate relations of sex. sexuality. women. children. explode our ideas about sexuality.Book Review 459 For Schiesari. servants. atypical creaturely intimacy with sexual deviance evidences the relationship between the discourse of animality.

playful. the book’s three chapters demonstrate the ways Edith Wharton. the concept at the heart (or hearth) of Schiesari’s method. Rice University ] at 14:07 25 April 2014 . refers to the overlapping. Ackerly reveal its existence through their “deviance. gender. and to the multiple disciplines from which she draws. it is not only the authors. Djuna Barnes. and multivalent identities. Schiesari looks for non-normative moments of kinship—in sex. human-centric.R. where sexuality itself is the repression of “animality” by the human species (37). then the acquisition of particular attributes that accomplish a heterosexual. love—and uses them not as examples of perversity. we consider polymorphous domesticities the ground of infinite possible familial relations with infinite beings. Her analysis suggests the human/animal divide at the heart of Freud’s sexuality is merely another construction—one that has linked productions of sex. It is a witty.460 Rebekah Sinclair family to the more complex creaturely community from which it was carved. interspecies community. but as exceptions that make evident the plain of possibility we all have access to but so anxiously repress. Using her literary model. This concept is Schiesari’s most important contribution to the creaturely bodies about which she is concerned. and sexy perversion of Freud’s idea of polymorphous perversity: the preexisting ground of all eroticism prior to the repressions that prescribe heteronormative sexuality. Freud’s perversity relies on an instantiating human/animal distinction. etc. gestures toward the preexisting ground of all community and intimacy before the repressions that prescribe the identities and limits of species. It is perverse because Freud—in his personal and structural anthropocentrism—would not have condoned this revision. If. gender. Polymorphous domesticity. as Schiesari suggests. on the other hand. and sex according to patriarchal norms. but also their creaturely companions who resist patriarchal domestic norms and find joy by co-creating and refiguring a domestic space full of novel familial bonds. friendship. and animal identity in unparsable ways. orientation Downloaded by [Fondren Library. and J.” and draw upon in it their lives and work. homosexual. unregulated relations from which the concept of sexuality as such is carved. If her introduction sets up the concept of polymorphous domesticities as the ground of kinship possibilities. Collete. Significantly. Schiesari’s domesticity.

aren’t we anthropomorphizing? Isn’t anthropomorphizing an inherently anthropocentric project even when used with the best of intentions? Schiesari not only anticipates this criticism in her introduction. For Schiesari. is not limited to discussions of an originary ontological distinction between humans and animals which anthropomorphism either can or cannot bridge. and human/animal norms. the suppression of anxieties. it becomes clear that current forms of domestication and identity are “but one possibility among many” in the polymorphous community (13). In other words. Centrally. metonymies. anthropomorphism. then the refusal to extend certain traits to certain bodies—even as we willingly extend the absence of certain traits— may be merely a matter of anthropomorphic degrees. and anthropomorphisms” (1965). and J. conceived as the projection of certain human traits onto others.Book Review 461 are produced through the resolution of conflicts that have. but incorporates a self-reflective anthropomorphism into the heart of her theory. But if we are talking about the animal in mutual relationship with humans. prioritize. Even Nietzsche famously called truth a “mobile army of metaphors. overlapping. and the violence that “animality” has justified against indigenous and other populations. non-rational processes by which subjects form. deeper relationships with those we call animal—both as a way of reducing violence performed on their bodies. If so. Thus one of the ways to witness (or read) the polymorphous domestic space is to watch the multiple. Jaques Derrida. and stubborn refusal. In a move similar to that of Guyatri Spivak. Coetzee. and understand their relationships and their own identities. but also how we relate to those with whom we do share speech. Precisely by looking at the ways these authors and their companions appropriate for themselves a space now unbound by sex. gender.M. Schiesari argues we are as likely to speak outside of anthropomorphism as we are to get outside of culture and language. as their aim. selective repression. Rice University ] at 14:07 25 April 2014 . anthropomorphism may not only be the way we relate to those without opposable thumbs or spoken language. Schiesari and her model are motivated by an ethical impulse to create increasingly mutual. Schiesari proposes we lean into the anthropomorphic impulse—the impulse to imagine the other as both resembling and differing from us—while also remaining Downloaded by [Fondren Library.

As theoretically progressive as Schiesari’s strategic anthropomorphism is. psychoanalysis necessarily assumes a universal economy through which all subjects are constructed. and the universalism and structuralism that it portends. the subject in psychoanalysis does not itself have unmitigated access to other subjects. psychoanalysis has a complicated relationship with anthropomorphism. Instrumentalized imagination resembles strategic anthropomorphism in its ethical impulse to extend. while Schiesari’s use of psychoanalysis is refreshing in its commitment to the creatures we call “animal” and the possibilities of the polymorphously domestic space. It might even be argued that psychoanalysis requires the exclusion of the animal to determine the specificity of the Homo sapiens psyche. Yet on the other hand. such a self-reflective.462 Rebekah Sinclair self-aware that they are projections (19).” I would be delighted if Schiesari would continue to elaborate her method with this imagining in mind. self-reflective or otherwise. In lieu of anthropomorphism. We can embrace our similarity with other creatures. Rice University ] at 14:07 25 April 2014 . Spivak and Coetzee both suggest an instrumentalization of the imagination: a willingness to imagine oneself in the eyes of the other.” but a humanity that is at the same time disassembled by the extension. This anthropocentrism at the heart of the psychoanalytic economy cannot be assuaged merely by leaning Downloaded by [Fondren Library.” This method assumes every individual can imagine—and imagine others imagining—without needing to rout this through concepts of “humanity. A polymorphously domestic ground would be inconsistent with any anthropomorphism. in a sense extending our “humanity. and undo our identity through imagining kinship with others. To this end. the possibilities of projection are not limited by the object’s “essence. open. but interacts with the world through projections and self-creations. On the one hand. her claims could be radicalized slightly. self-critical [anthropomorphic] stance works to undo our own anthropocentric frames of reference via an eccentric or ex-centric anthropomorphism” (9). But it also demonstrates that imagining can be done without maintaining the “human. “By letting us get closer to animal realities. Anthropomorphism assumes a unified concept of the human species and it’s capabilities in ways that foreclose the very human/animal deconstruction Schiesari argues for. Additionally.” but by our imaginations.

The usefulness of Schiesari’s method could be increased substantially if she explicitly mapped out her use of psychoanalysis in the context of this dilemma. and hairless bodies in ways limited only by our imaginations. especially if we maintain that projecting onto “humans” and “animals” are inherently different projects in either kind or degree. Gender. 1965. Refreshingly. Walter Kaufman. queer studies. We are encouraged to perform our identities and live with other fleshy.” The Portable Nietzsche . New York: Norton. But much even more touchingly. and trans. and animal theory in spaces other than shared oppression. Beasts and Beauties: Animals. hairy. “On Truth and Falsity in an Extra-Moral Sense.Book Review 463 Downloaded by [Fondren Library. By leaning into an anthropomorphic imagining that promotes similarities and differences— deconstructing the boundaries of the human by extending mutuality—Schiesari goes a long way toward creating a technique of reading (and living) no longer subservient to speciesist and heterosexual norms. and Domestication in the Italian Renaissance . Juliana. Toronto: U of Toronto P. and victimization. Schiesari helps us trace the exclusion and repression of possibilities in literature and our daily lives. Rice University ] at 14:07 25 April 2014 into an anthropomorphism. Schiesari. By creating a method that assumes existing domestic spaces are only the beginning of infinite interspecies relations. furry. . Friedrich. Works Cited Nietzsche. she unites these three in a preexisting space of possibility that is as much about co-constitution as the possibility of mutual kinship. earthy impulses. Ed. 2010. Schiesari’s work unites the theoretical and political efforts of feminism.

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