FREN-UA 968-001 Topics: Premodern Animal Literature: Beast As Text (Taught in French)
Premodern animalittérature: beast as text
This course will ask why animals and literature belong together in premodern times. Reflecting on what beasts and texts could be thought to have in common, we will sample different kinds of writing from the period: bestiaries which ascribe theological significance to animals, fables that use animals to model practical learning, and mythological and fairy tales whose plots involve animals (like Red Riding Hood) or animal transformations and hybrids (like werewolves). We will also consider how animals convey meaning outside the domain of the purely literary: as juridical persons that can be tried for crimes they are suspected of committing (animal trials persisted into the eighteenth century); in private zoos and other forms of animal ownership; in clothing and coats of arms; and most basically of all, at least in the early part of the period, in the manufacture of books (made from parchment, a refined form of animal skin). Our research will help us find out why, as Lévi-Strauss put it, “animals are good to think with,” and how reading beasts as texts challenges our understanding of reading (and readers) as much as it does of beasts (and texts).
Most of the texts we shall study are short and will be made available in a course packet or online.