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Political Repression and Human-animal Transformation in Ian Holding’s "Of Beasts and Beings"

Culture and languages

At this Work in Progress (WIP) seminar, we are pleased to welcome Professor Maria Olaussen who will be presenting her recent work on animal narrators and political oppression in the Postcolony. All interested are welcome!

30 Mar 2021
15:15 - 17:00
Online via Zoom, please email the contact person for link

Professor Maria Olaussen, University of Gothenburg
Good to know
Seminar language: English and Swedish

For a copy of the paper to be discussed, please contact the chair, Dr Zlatan Filipovic (see Contact).
Department of Languages and Literatures

Animal protagonists in present day African fiction inhabit complex and often contradictory positions between preconceived notions of indigenous tradition, racialized colonial legacies as well as postmodern and environmentally inflected challenges to essentialised human identities. This essay focuses on the trope of human-animal transformation in contexts of political violence and repression in Ian Holding’s novel Of Beasts and Beings (2010). Here the animal figure is linked both to human suffering through animalization and to acts of atonement through an allegorical rendering that recalls the Christian nativity scene. While the novel stresses similarities between human and beast when taken captive and forced to labor under deprivation and duress, it also explores the functions and limitations of literary representation. Viewed within the context of white Zimbabwean writing, particularly Holding’s two other novels Unfeeling (2005), Of What Happened to Us (2018), the essay argues that the animal figure as well as representations of animal suffering rely on what Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o identifies as the “zoological image” in colonial human-animal juxtapositions. Drawing on the work of Giorgio Agamben and Matthew Calarco, the essay argues that Holding’s use of the suffering animal body perpetuates rather than challenges the racial rhetoric of animalization.