Saturday, December 27, 2014

Cow-Cross Lane and Curriers Row: Animal Bodies in the Procedural Rhetoric of Early Modern London

Here's my abstract for the "Animal Materialisms" seminar for the Shakespeare Association of America Conference (Vancouver, April 2105)

Of the enormous number of animals that entered London in the latter half of the sixteenth century, few ever left the city alive. This process is captures what Erica Fudge has called the creation of “animal-made-objects,” and by its logic the city itself can be considered a vast tool for turning animals into objects, from food to clothing. But Fudge also coined her term to conjure up its reversed meaning: not animals objectified but “objects constructed from animals” (42). If we extend both meanings of the term to the city, we might say that while early modern London made animals into objects, it was also a city made out of animals: it was itself an animal-made-object. In the past fifteen years, early modern animal studies has explored animal bodies largely through individual details. In what follows, I take a different approach to the issues. Rather than choosing a particular variety of animal (horse, dogs, etc.) or a particular animal-related event (bear baiting, etc.), as so many, including myself, have done before, I explore the value of viewing the various animal-human networks in one place and from a great height. My goal in this essay is to analyze early modern London’s “procedural rhetoric” (borrowing a term from Ian Bogost’s game theory) with respect to the animal bodies that had come to shape the city both economically and materially. I take as a primary source the multiple layers of content created by Janelle Jenstad and others in the Map of Early Modern London project (MoEML), layers which can be combined (GIS-fashion) to demonstrate visually the interrelationship between different stages in animal-encounters, from generation through transportation, processing, and consumption.  I draw also upon a variety of literary and extra literary sources to authenticate in a more familiar textual sense the larger persuasive rhetoric of the city.  Ultimately, I argue that the procedural rhetoric of early modern London constantly drew its human inhabitants into multiple and historically persistent forms of identification with animal material, shaping their behavior, their language, and their sense of communal identity.  The value of approaching animal London as a coherent rhetorical system is that doing so allows us to see how its persuasive logic both underlies and causes the kind of persistently animal-centered textual discourse that has become so familiar to us.

(1) This claim is not as hyperbolic as it sounds. Thanks to the work of historians over the last thirty years, it is well understood not only that early modern Western Europeans were more dependent on domestic animals than other cultures of the time but that England, particularly in the late sixteenth century was even more animal-dependent than other European nations.  

Works Cited

Bogost, Ian. Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2010.

Fudge, Erica. “Renaissance Animal Things.” Gorgeous Beasts: Animal Bodies in Historical Perspective. Ed. Joan B. Landes, Paula Young Lee, and Paul Youngquist. University Park, Pa: Penn State UP, 2012. 41–56.


“MoEML: The Map of Early Modern London.” N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2014.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Why are rivers a traditional part of the pastoral idiom?

    In the conference version of my paper on the great Eastern rivers in English lyric, I wrote from the assumption that rivers had always been “a staple of pastoral poetry.” This is true, but the reasons for it are complex and appear to offer a path to understanding the way that pastoralism, primitivism, and biblical history merged in seventeenth-century English poetry.  The simplest explanation is that since pastoral poetry has an agricultural setting, rivers, as sources of irrigation would naturally play an important part. But this straightforward explanation is eclipsed by the pressures of culture and literary history. 
    Pastoral poetry arose in the classical world, and is first represented in the Idylls of Theocritus. His poems are lighthearted and bucolic, but they are at least partly mythological: the nymph Daphnis, legendary creator of pastoral poetry, is a central topic. Rivers, fountains, and springs had always served as important loci for the place-bound polytheism of the Hellenic world, which is why so many of the stories passed down involve such watery locales. For Theocritus, though, and for his many imitators over the centuries, springs and rivers serve partly as d├ęcor and partly as allusion to the sounds of poetry.   The shepherd Thyrsis exclaims, at the beginning of the first Idyll
Sweet is the music of yon whispering pine
Beside the spring; and, goatherd, sweetly thou pipest.
The goatherd replies,
Sweeter, O Shepherd, is a song of thine
Than the loud murmur of yon waterfall
That plushes down the crag.(1)
Out of this tradition was born the idea that pastoral poetry takes place within the sound of flowing water, and the shepherd/poet is always near a river.  The most famous of the Idylls, #5, begins, “Once upon a time three friends went forth from the city together, / Eucritus, I, and Amyntas, down to the river of Hales.”

Paralleling the classical tradition is a biblical one. In Genesis we are told:
And out of Eden went a river to water the garden, and from thence it was divided, and became into four heads.

The name of one is Pishon; the same compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where is gold.

And the gold of that land is good; there is Bdellium, and the Onyx stone.

And the name of the second river is Gihon; the same compasseth the whole land of Cush.

The name also of the third river is Hiddekel; this goeth toward the Eastside of Asshur.
And the fourth river is Perath. (2:10-14)
The notes in the Geneva Bible are thick in this passage, informing the reader of the location of Havilah, the possible identification of “bdelium,” and the fact that Hiddekel and Perath are the Tigris and Euphrates. Perhaps because it connects a legendary place with a known geography, this passage played an important part in subsequent representations of paradise, and rivers became firmly associated with the idea of an edenic world, the Judeo-Christian parallel to the classical Golden World.  Combined, these threads help explain the prevalence of rivers in primitivist and pastoral settings.

I’ll need to go back to Wyman Herendeen’s book, From landscape to literature: the river and the myth of geography, to see how much of this he has already covered. 

(1) Theocritus. The Idylls of Theocritus. Trans. James Henry Hallard. Rivingtons, 1901.