n De Arte - The rhetorical animal : considering the exhibition and the anthropocentric reception of animal and amalgamated animal/human representations : research




Consistently throughout the tradition of Western philosophy, as well as materially speaking, animals have long been the most estranged and disempowered creatures on earth. Indeed, the Aristotelian and Cartesian theses proposed animals as being little more than automata. This derisive philosophical treatment has embedded itself in the vast majority of cultural practices and has erased the ancient agency of non-human creatures vis-à-vis human society. Derrida, in a counter assault to this humanist position, points out that the domination of animals is (even) encoded in the structure of language. This article seeks to extend on this notion of the symbolic alienation of animals as a cultural phenomenon that is not purely linguistic, but (manifestly) also embedded in visual signs. Particularly in art and its historical discourse, animals are indexical signifiers, attaching affect or moral allegory to the humans they accompany, merely functioning as allegorical stand-ins for virtue or vice along the ethical spectrum of a particular cultural and historical era. This article examines the use of rhetorical similitude as a phenomenon and device or conceit in animal representation, with applied image discussion of artworks from the exhibition (2009); as well as a limited selection of domestic animal representations. Artworks featuring amalgamated animal/human forms are also briefly addressed. The animalised human form is a trope spanning many historical periods, and persisting in present-day art and culture as a fecund site for the imagining of the human model through the animal index.


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