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Possibilities of Living: What Bestiaries Are For

Online Event
The Waqwaq Tree, Deccan School, Golconda, India. Early 17th century.
Wednesday, January 27, 2021, 11:00 am – 1:00 pm

Animals figure prominently in the oral tradition of myths, fables, and fairy-tales, as well as in religious texts, philosophical writings, and scientific treatises. Animal stories serve a diverse range of purposes, including explaining humankind’s place in the world; developing implicit arguments for the value of civilization, domestication, and subordination of nature to reason and culture; teaching moral lessons; providing model scientific accounts of physiology and structure of living organisms; and attesting to the discovery and colonization of new territories and imperial expansion. My talk focuses on one specific genre of animal stories, the bestiary, examining its potential to open up new ways of speaking of forms of living that verge on the imaginary. In the talk, I will propose different ways of thinking about the bestiary, tracing how the specific exemplars crystallize the anxieties, desires, and fears of their place, age, and context. I will also discuss the challenges inherent in the search for a form of writing that could help bear witness to the extinction not only of endangered animal species, but also of those forms of human life that may disappear or change beyond recognition over the twenty-first century.