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.