In an era of humanist biopower it’s not animality that gets left behind, but plants.
A few years ago at the annual Modern Language Association conference, it seemed to me that an inordinate number of panels were dedicated to discussions of animal life in literature, culture, and theory. In 2009 a special cluster in the MLA’s flagship journal, PMLA, heralded the official arrival of animal studies in the literary humanities, and a torrent of books and articles has ensued. Going forward, it looks as if strong interest in animals among humanities scholars will continue, as there are a number of established book series and journals now dedicated to the topic. And while I like animals as much as the next person, the Foucauldian in me became preoccupied with trying to figure out how animality had somehow become the “next big thing” in the world of humanities theory and criticism.
The theoretical discourse surrounding animal lives emerged on the scaffolding of the Big Theory era’s master thinkers—Jacques Derrida; Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari; and, most obviously, Foucault, whose work has been key in coming to grips with biopower (how various practices and concepts of “life”—gender, race, etc.—became central for power and knowledge in the modern and postmodern era).