Agnes Malinowska, The Committee on Social Thought, University of Chicago
Mark Twain’s Human-Animal Studies: “Imperial” Morals, Biological Training, and the Politics of Nature
As it stands, this vey unfinished first attempt at a dissertation chapter on Mark Twain does not yet have a unified argument, but is composed of three more-or-less related sections. In the first section, I consider how Twain’s deliberations about the human-as-animal inform his famed anti-imperialism. Here, I focus in particular on Twain’s articulation of the moral sense and the individual “I,” two key features by which humans have traditionally distinguished themselves from animals. In the second section, I turn to The Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court to delve deeper into the relationship between the human conceived as individual and imperial ideology. I then argue that biological determinism emerges as a surprising source of resistance to empire in a key moment of this text. In the third section—thus far quite distinct from the other two—I examine the multiple and often conflicting perspectives that Twain’s body of writings take on the human and animal. I suggest that we can read these as explorations in the simple, but important point that the model of the natural world that we take on produces diverging ethical and political commitments or outcomes (and vice-versa). In concluding, I offer an extended reading of Connecticut Yankee alongside Twain’s late philosophical dialogue, What is Man? to flesh out this point about the relationship between metaphysical models and ethical or political programs.
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