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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


CROUS, Marius. "Without soul and anonymous": Elisabeth Eybers' poem "Huiskat" [Domestic Cat] in the context of animal studies. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2015, vol.55, n.3, pp.373-386. ISSN 2224-7912.

This article examines the poem "Huiskat" (Domestic cat) within the context of animal studies. Having discussed the different approaches to concepts such as "animal" and "domesticated animal", definitions of animal studies and related concepts are considered. Animal studies is a sub section of the broader field of ecocriticism and forms part of the so-called "greening of the humanities". It is a common fact that animals have always been represented in literature and when analysing such texts we consider not only the interaction between human and nonhuman animals but also the issue of animal rights and the humane and ethical treatment of animals. Several key texts relating to animal studies are considered in this analysis, for example Derrida (2002), Haraway (2003) and Woodward (2008). J.M.Coetzee's path breaking study on animal rights, The Lives of Animals (1999), is also included to analyse the relationship between human and nonhuman animals. Despite the fact that Derrida regards "the animal" as a clear example of essentialist thinking, he is criticised by Woodward for othering nonhuman animals. Since the Enlightenment, and especially in following Descartes, human animals are seen as the centre of the universe and nonhuman animals are regarded as subservient and, among others, to be unemotional and unintelligent. The aim of animal studies is to deconstruct this speciesist way of thinking and in particular to dismantle the binary opposition between human self and nonhuman other. In analysing the poem by Eybers aspects such as the domestication of nonhuman animals, the giving of names to animals and the projection of anthropomorphic qualities onto the animal are considered. Woodward (2014:6) poses that one often finds an "intersomatic connection" between human animal, the human body and the nonhuman animal. The nonhuman animal is no longer "relegated to the margins of representation". Nonhuman animals are seen as an extension of their human counterparts, playing a vital role in the identity formation of the self. This is not the case with Eybers' poem. The speaker remains distant and unattached and even decides not to name the domesticated animal but merely refers to it as "cat". In representing the nonhuman animal as other the speaker in the poem shows the similarities between the cat and its counterpart in the wild, namely the leopard. In doing so the speaker indirectly comments on the domestication of animals, just as the reference to the spaying of the cat in the poem comments on the intrusive practice of spaying and neutering. The human animal exerts his or her power over the nonhuman animal and in the process robs the nonhuman animal of its potency. This issue, however, is another cause for concern because from a global perspective, the uninhibited breeding of stray animals in most contexts not only leads to overpopulation but also is a cause of concern for those involved in animal rights. The abuse of animals is rife under such circumstances. Included in the article are references to existing examples of animal studies in the Afrikaans and South African context, ranging from contributions to special editions of Journal of Literary Studies with several contributions on animal rights to academic analyses by Swart, Woodward, Visagie and Meyer - to mention but a few. Further research on the issue is encouraged, not only on the depiction of nonhuman animals in literary texts but also on the filial bond between "man and beast" or the intricate relation between humans, nonhumans and the soil.

Keywords : Animal studies; human animal and non-human animal; anthropomorphism; Eybers; the animal gaze; speciesism.

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