Mark Feldman. Mosaic : A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature. Volume 39, Issue 4. December 2006).
Intuitively, one might expect that late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century American culture would record the retreat of the animal alongside the rise of the urban and the triumph of the machine. Certainly the machine, urbanization, and modernity have been the dominant tropes through which the histories of this period have been told; however, while “real” animals were becoming rarer and less important features of everyday life, animals proliferated in new and newly popular representational and cultural forms. Rather than disappearing, animals multiplied within systems of representation governed by cultural rather than biological reproduction. In fact, late-nineteenth-century America was crawling with representations of animals- in literature, in scientific and social scientific writings, and in visual and material culture. But what was new, in post-Darwinian America, I argue, was the significance and the urgency that attached to the concept of the animal. During this period, representations of animals were used to rethink the human-in particular the structure and nature of human interiority.
Here I should briefly note that I am not interested in the “animal” as a biological entity, but as a historically and culturally constructed concept. Rather than containing the animal within a single definition, I am interested in recovering how the concept of the animal was, at this time, an urgent question.When I use the term “animal” I always intend it to stand in implicit relationship to the human, as it did, in new and urgent ways, at this time.
After Darwin, the animal was no longer a biological given, neatly separated from the human, but a question, a problem that drew the human and the animal into new and at times uncomfortable relationships. Darwin saw “no fundamental difference between man and the higher mammals in their mental faculties” (35); thus the human was a peculiar sort of animal rather than a higher being with a distinct ontology and teleology. Darwin’s theories challenged older ways of conceptualizing the animal and the human and spurred broad interest in the often uncertain dividing line between the two. This led to new understandings of the human self, its genesis, and how it could potentially disappear back into the animality from which it had evolved. The Darwinian self was thought to be a complex and stratified structure that had evolved over thousands of generations, and contained a core of animal vestiges.
While advocates and opponents of Darwinian theory discussed the relationship between the animal and the human, these debates attained a broader visibility in literary and popular cultural representations of animals. The urban zoo and the writings of literary naturalist authors Frank Norris and Jack London most clearly illuminate these changing articulations of the animal and the human. Both the zoo and literary naturalism were new and popular cultural forms for which the status of the animal and its relation to the human were recurring, foundational concerns. The zoo and literary naturalism also both represented the animal through the trope of the cage, which was both physical and metaphorical or metaphysical. The zoo, the most important urban site where live, wild animals were encountered, relied on the architectural structure of the cage, which I term a physics of caging. I use this phrase to designate the zoo’s complex machinery of display, which produced the compelling spectacle of the wild animal body. Norris and London relied on internalized and dematerialized tropes of caging, on a metaphysics of caging,whereby an animal, a relic of our evolutionary past, was imagined to be contained and inscribed within the human self. This was a metaphysics that was putatively scientific and relentlessly architectural and materialist in its representation of human interiority.
Analyzing the urban zoo and literary naturalism together is illuminating because, although both relied on a shared vocabulary and on the trope of the cage, each imagined the relationship between the animal and the human very differently. The zoo cage offered a fantasy of externalization, which caged the animal apart from the human. Literary naturalism, on the other hand, presented a vision, and at times a nightmare, of the animal and the human radically intertwined. By examining this material, we can recover a fuller sense of the significance of the animal in late-nineteenth- century American culture, a significance that extends far beyond the zoo and literary naturalism. By analyzing the zoo as an important site to the cultural construction of the animal, we come to see it as an institution that participated, consciously or not, in contemporaneous debates about evolution and human subjectivity. The zoo provided an architectural vocabulary for reimagining the relationship between the human and the animal and for thinking about the position of the animal in modernity. Donna Haraway, in “Teddy Bear Patriarchy: Taxidermy in the Garden of Eden, New York City, 1908-1936,” argues that the animal, through natural history dioramas, played an important role in mitigating contemporary cultural fears concerning decadence, over civilization, and race suicide. I take her work as an exemplary model of how to connect visual culture to its broader intellectual contexts, and I attempt to offer a similarly rich analysis of the zoo and its physics of caging.
Analyzing literary naturalism’s representations of animals corrects a persistent critical blind spot. Early critics, such as V.L. Parrington, Malcolm Cowley, and Lionel Trilling, condemned literary naturalism’s interest in the animal as dehumanizing and unimaginative, as signs of literary failure.More recently, sympathetic critics have also given short shrift to the animal and animality, explaining them through more familiar critical categories. For instance, while Walter Benn Michaels notes that naturalism was interested in the doubleness of the human, its internal split between animal and human, he seems to explain this as the result of the logic of capitalism with its doubleness of use and exchange value. Mark Seltzer generally subsumes naturalism’s interest in animality to the machine logic of industrial capitalism. Other critics have explained literary naturalism’s fascination with the animal before in terms of class and the fear of proletarianization (Howard); masculinity (Dudley); or gender and psychological compulsion (Fleissner). In all of these readings then, the animal is an epiphenomenon of race, gender, class, modernity, or capitalism.
Interestingly, these contemporary critics seem to repeat the uncomfortable kneejerk reaction of earlier critics, insofar as all interpret representations of animals and animality as, fundamentally, being about something else. Michaels, in reading Norris’s McTeague as a novel about gold, writes, “I am arguing […] for the recovery of something like its literal meaning-not a meaning that has been obscured, but a meaning that has been, one might say, read through, as if it were transparent” (176). I am arguing for something similar with respect to literary naturalism’s representations of animals. A careful and historically attentive reading shows how the many animal presences within literary naturalism were used to articulate new, post-Darwinian constructions of human interiority. As will be shown, these representations of the architecture of the human self resemble those of a host of important and roughly contemporaneous thinkers, including Nietzsche, Freud, William James, Joseph LeConte, and G. Stanley Hall.
I am also making a methodological argument about how to study representations of animals. I analyze the animal not from a linguistic or semiotic perspective, but from the perspective of material and visual culture. A linguistic or semiotic approach predetermines that the animal will be accorded, at best, a marginal position; animals, after all, are inarticulate, unable to write, perhaps irrational, and seemingly at crosspurposes with literature itself. Instead, I focus on the animal as a material and visual construction, sometimes embedded within literary works, that registers human beliefs and values.
Urban zoos were immensely popular and an essential public context or stage for producing the animal. Between 1890 and 1910, the number of zoos and aquariums in America jumped from fifteen to forty-nine (Kisling), and these zoos drew huge crowds. The Cincinnati Zoo’s annual attendance in 1900 was around 300,000 and the Bronx Zoo’s was nearly 1.5 million. Somewhat paradoxically, zoos presented the animal as an exhibit of and testament to civilization and progress (Horowitz). In the New York Zoological Society’s second annual report, William Temple Hornaday, the first director of the Bronx Zoo, declared, “the zoological park […] the high-water mark of civilization and progress” (Second 43). Zoos were, moreover, part of a broader movement, in which nature was pressed into the service of various projects of cultural reform and regeneration; these efforts included the Boy Scouts, natural history museums, and the development of national parks.
The cage was the basic cellular unit of the zoo and it was essential in making the animal available for visual consumption. The zoo cage implicitly argued that there was a clear distinction between the human and the animal and that this distinction was not merely spatial but ontological.Zoos were very much part of what Agamben, in The Open, has termed the “anthropological machine,” whereby the human is produced through repeatedly excluding the animal. The bear dens at the Chicago and the Cincinnati zoos illustrate how the cage functioned. The bear exhibit at Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo (Illus. 1), with its rough stone walls and its inward curving bars, provided a sturdy architectural frame that made the animal safely available for visual consumption. The prominent bars made spectators feel secure while also attesting to the wildness of the displayed animal. In this way, the cage argued for its own necessity. The Lincoln Park exhibit also enabled spectators to view the animals from above. Illustration 2, a lithographof the bear dens at the Philadelphia Zoo shows what this overhead view would have looked like. The spectators occupy a position of visual mastery as they look down on animals that cannot avoid their gaze.
Essential to the zoo’s machinery of display was its occasional failure. Animal escapes were relatively common and, in fact, seem to have provided valuable publicity as well as repeated proof of animals, wildness. Animals that escaped, usually only temporarily, from the Bronx Zoo during its first ten years included: a sea lion, a puma, a Bornean sun bear, a black bear, a snow leopard, a python, and a wolf (Bridges 84, 132, 184). In 1905,Hornaday warned that “about ninety per cent of the published stories of fearful adventure by and with the animals of the zoological park are fictitious” (Bridges 184). But nonetheless, real and fabricated animal escapes were essential and enlivening; they showed an architectural apparatus always trying to contain animals that, in turn, were always trying to escape.
While the cage was necessary to posit wildness, it also often affected the animals displayed within.William Hornaday contended that the zoo cage should register the physical imprint of contained animality: “if there are no cases of assault and battery on the fences and gates, there is a lack of the glowing vigor that rightly belongs in every well-conditioned wild animal” (“New” 598). An article in the 1912 Bulletinof the New York Zoological Society testified to the force of the caged animal by displaying, with pride, a photo of a pail pierced by a charging deer’s antlers and thick chain links that had been twisted by an elephant (824). Such instances proved the enduring wildness of the displayed animals, while listless and complacent zoo animals did the opposite. The zoo cage was thus supposed to make the animal seem still wild, not still.
At times, the zoo cage produced too much wildness or precipitated other unintended cage effects, other signs of abnormal psychology. The director of the National Zoo conceded in a letter that, “Animals in captivity are necessarily placed in unnatural conditions” (Baker 248) and Ernest Thompson Seton, in an article about the National Zoo, declared, “It has long been known that caged animals […] suffer from a variety of mental diseases” (601). Small, enclosed cages concentrated animal violence and aggression. Hornaday, in “Fighting Among Wild Animals,” explained how caging could often lead to violence: “In captivity, where escape is impossible, it is no uncommon thing for elk to kill each other. In fact, with several adult males in a small inclosure, tragedies may always be expected in the autumn and early winter […] and the closer the confinement, the greater their nervousness and irritability, and the more fighting” (132). The New York and National Zoos experienced fatal fights among deer bucks; animals that died after repeatedly hurling themselves against the cage bars; and monkeys that died of “cage paralysis.” The cage also magnified animal wildness through its cramped space and the throngs of often ill-behaved spectators.
What has emerged, then, is a sense of how the animal and the cage were mutually constitutive, interdependent concepts that defined each other. The wild animal gave the zoo’s architecture its purpose and the zoo cage, in turn, produced the wild animal. Indeed the cage was necessary for a new, modern form of wildness.
In Jack London’s most famous pair of novels, The Call of the Wild (first published in 1903) and White Fang (first published in 1906)-essentially mirror image narratives- he uses dog and wolf characters to reflect on the human self, on how it is formed, and how it can change and even disappear. These two narratives of self-development rely on the trope of the cage and the idea that animality is subject to containment, yet prone to escape. The Call of the Wild tells of a dog born into a life of ease in California who returns to his wolfish origins in the Arctic, while White Fang reverses this, telling of a three-quarter wolf, one-quarter dog hybrid who is born wild, but comes to civilized California. In a letter to a friend, London explained the thinking behind this pair of novels, noting that “every atom of organic life is plastic. The finest specimens now in existence were once all pulpy infants capable of being moulded this way or that. Let the pressure be one way and we have atavism […] the other […] domestication, civilization. I have always been impressed with the awful plasticity of life” (Call xv). In describing organic life as plastic, London expresses wonder and terror at the organism’s capacity to change, to evolve and devolve.
In declaring that all individuals were once “pulpy infants,” London makes an argument both about evolution and interiority, about the material composition and properties of the self. London and Norris associated pulpiness and plasticity with evolutionary infancy, with both the infancy of the individual and with the evolutionarily primitive formlessness of organisms such as jellyfish. In his early short story, “Lauth,” Norris represented extreme human devolution as a return to an undifferentiated “horrible shapeless mass […] wherein the line between vegetable and animal cannot be drawn” (Complete 145).
Norris’s and London’s representations of evolutionary infancy and subsequent maturation drew on the widely accepted premise that the developing individual retraced the evolutionary history of the species, that ontogeny recapitulated phylogeny. This formula was introduced by Ernest Haeckel, a German biologist who, in the 1860s, compared the embryological development of different species, all of which were very similar until a late stage in the embryo’s development. These similarities were thought to prove evolutionary kinship; for London and Norris, moreover, this suggested that the organism possessed the potential to return to these earlier evolutionary or developmental moments, especially insofar as the interiority of the human was thought to contain more primitive animal traces.
London’s sizeable body of work about wolves and dogs begs the question as to why he chose to write about animals. There are a number of related answers to this. One recent critic has noted that London had a “thing” for wolves (Auerbach) and his favourite nicknames were “Buck” and “Wolf.” Auerbach argues that Buck is an “autobiographical projection” (84) and that The Call of the Wild “dramatizes London’s own struggle to gain recognition as a writer” and establish a professional identity (88). The wolf also had broader cultural currency and, while it had long been associated with wildness, cunning, and unbridled sexuality (Lopez), by the turn of the century, the wolf was a besieged and vanishing animal. The wolf, as Barry Lopez argues, was caught by a shift in values: “In a hunter society […] traits that were universally admired- courage, hunting, skill, endurance,-placed the wolf in a pantheon of respected animals; but when man turned to agriculture and husbandry, to cities, the very same wolf was hated as cowardly, stupid, and rapacious” (223). The wolf provided London with a totem animal fitting for his strenuously cultivated, primitive authorial identity. Telling stories about animals and, at times, even from the perspective of animals also allowed London to avoid focusing on human preoccupations with agency, selfrestraint, and morality. Perhaps the most compelling answer to why London wrote stories about animals was that he saw no hard and fast distinction between the human and the animal. Echoing Darwin, he wrote that there “are no impassable gulfs” separating the human and the animal (No 119). In writing about animals, London was always also writing about the human. In fact, The Call of the Wild and White Fang offer two fascinating stories about the structure and genesis of the human self.
As Call of the Wild progresses, Buck’s malleable self changes through a subtractive process of devolutionary sculpting. Buck is kidnapped and pressed into service as a sled dog in Alaska. In the northland—”the heart of things primordial” (15)—he is exposed to an entirely new way of life that is nonetheless uncannily familiar. Although Buck learns and there are several references to his “lessons,” he changes primarily through forgetting domesticated life and recovering a more evolutionarily ancient wildness (12, 18). For instance, when Buck awakens covered in snow, he feels “the fear of the wild thing for the trap.” This, however, is not a fear that Buck knows himself; rather, it is a race memory, “a token that he was harking back through his own life to the lives of his forbears” (19). Later, Buck’s change is described as follows: “not only did he learn by experience, but instincts long dead became alive again. The domesticated generations fell away from him. In vague ways he remembered back to the youth of the breed, […] the old tricks which they had stamped into the heredity of the breed were his tricks. They came to him without effort or discovery, as though they had been his always” (22). Typically, ontogeny was thought to recapitulate phylogeny or evolutionary development, but here this is reversed and Buck is left only with his more primitive, profound, and wolfish self. The belief in racial or organic memory, sedimented in the body, was widespread in the late nineteenth century. Laura Otis, in Organic Memory, argues that organic memory concretized history and memory, making them latent in the body and therefore accessible and material. For Norris and London, organic memory explained the pull of animality within the human self.
The racial or species inheritance that has been reawakened within Buck comes to be ever stronger, and Buck moves steadily towards animality. Eventually, Buck irrevocably becomes a thing of the wild, permanently joining the wolf pack; but before this he leads a curiously split existence, a double life. The prospecting gold-miners “saw him marching out of camp, but they did not see the instant and terrible transformation which took place as soon as he was within the secrecy of the forest. […] At once he became a thing of the wild” (80). Buck is a domestic dog until he crosses a certain line and becomes a wolf, “a thing of the wild.” Buck’s identity, like that of zoo animals, depends on context and position. Later we will see, for both London and Norris, that this capacity to lead an evolutionarily doubled existence was thought to be a crucial feature of being human.
White Fang tells a quite different narrative of plasticity and evolutionary selfdevelopment. The internal dynamics and etiology of White Fang’s self depend on a more explicit the matics of caging. At first thecage, like at the zoo, is external, while by the novel’s end, the cage has been internalized, has become a component of the self ‘s internal structure. White Fang, a wolf-dog hybrid, is born in the wild, but he comes to belong to an Eskimo, who sells him to a vicious trader. This trader displays White Fang, in a cage, as “The Fighting Wolf,” and charges 50 cents admission. “Men stared at him, poked sticks between the bars to make him snarl, and then laughed at him.” This pressures White Fang into greater wildness and he becomes that which he is displayed as: “Nature had given him plasticity” but “his environment, [and] these men […] were moulding the clay of him into a more ferocious thing than had been intended by Nature” (223). Close physical confinement and display change White Fang’s self. Such conditions were relatively common at early zoos, where human aggression toward the displayed animals was routine. According to newspaper articles and zoo publications, spectators would annoy, torment, and even spit tobacco at the animals. One risk of such behaviour was that it would muddy the categorical distinction between human and animal, and in 1938, the director of the Milwaukee Zoo said that zoos must “combat the monkey in man” (Untermann).
White Fang is, however, rescued from his cage-induced savagery by Weedon Scott, an animal-lover, who takes White Fang to his ranch in California.While this new existence does not require literal caging, it does require White Fang to cage and restrain his animal propensities, to change his internal architecture. He “had to ignore the urges and promptings of instinct and reason, defy experience, give the lie to life itself” (247), and curb his “natural impulse” to eat chickens and attack dogs (272). The penultimate test of how well White Fang has adjusted to and internalized these new laws takes place in a cage. Weedon bets his father that White Fang can remain inside a chicken coop without eating a single chicken.White Fang passes this test, showing that he has internalized the civilized principles of voluntary caging, control, and restraint.
This external caging mirrors and anticipates the final internal architecture of White Fang’s self; the physics of caging echoes what we might call a metaphysics of caging, in which human interiority is imagined in relentlessly physical and architectural terms, as a cage.White Fang’s new civilized self entails a self-caging in which the wild is restrained and partially subjected: “the chief thing demanded by these intricacies of civilization was control, restraint-a poise of self that was as delicate as the fluttering of gossamer wings and at the same time as rigid as steel”(275). This is London’s way of visualizing and metaphorizing the relationship between the civilized and the wild;White Fang’s new poise of self is delicate enough to preserve his wild instincts and yet strong enough to restrain them. In the book’s last chapter, “The Sleeping Wolf,” his animal instincts are reawakened and allowed out when a dangerous convict enters the ranch house, only to be killed by White Fang. This crisis demands sudden, animal action, not civilized self-restraint, and White Fang is able to act accordingly; his actions are valorized and he is considered a hero. Both White Fang and Buck possess selves that are structured like a cage: they contain animalistic and primitive potentialities. White Fang suggests that to become human, one must internally cage one’s animal instincts, and both novels suggest that to be human is to have a divided self.
While The Call of the Wild and White Fang attest to the inner humanity of animals, Norris’s McTeague: A Story of San Francisco (published in 1899) and Vandover and the Brute: A Story of Life and Manners in an American City at the End of the Nineteenth Century (published in 1914) attest to the inner animality of the human. In these novels, a thematics of caging and animality provides a materialist metaphysics through which to explain the architecture of the human self. They also show how, when self-caging fails, naturalist characters are caged by their environments, to which they relentlessly accommodate themselves. Norris represents human interiority in a new and distinctly Darwinian fashion and he narrates this interiority through a set of conventions markedly different from, though no less sophisticated than, those employed by realist authors.
McTeague, the protagonist of the novel that bears his name, is a brutish dentist, whose self is described in dynamic and animalistic terms: “Suddenly the animal in the man stirred and woke; the evil instincts that were so close to the surface leaped to life, shouting and clamoring.” Strikingly, the awakening of primitive, animal instincts, properly located deep within the self, coincides with the discovery of a “second self, another better McTeague” (23). The second, better self within McTeague struggles to monitor and tame the brute, to force it back down into the depths of the self where it could not act: “The two were at grapples […]. It was the old battle, old as the world […] the sudden panther leap of the animal, lips drawn, fangs aflash, hideous, monstrous, not to be resisted, and the simultaneous arousing of the other man, the better self that cries,’Down, down,’ […] that fights to strangle it, to thrust it down and back” (24). For McTeague to retain self-control and humanity he must restrain the beast at the centre of his self.
Vandover, the protagonist of Vandover and the Brute, is a well-educated, upperclass youth whose interiority is described in similarly beastly and architectural terms. Self-scrutiny reveals not a human soul or heart, but a caged animal: “the other Vandover, the better Vandover, drew apart with eyes turned askance, looking inward and downward, into the depths of his own character, shuddering, terrified. Far down there in the darkest, lowest places he had seen the brute, squat, deformed, hideous; he had seen it crawling to and fro dimly, through a dark shadow he had heard it growling, chafing at the least resistance, restless to be free.” Like McTeague, Vandover attempts to watch over the animal within. Vandover’s self is described as a cage, but one that is unable to contain or display the beast. The brute within Vandover continually escapes, in part because, “distorted out of all size,” it is able to overwhelm its human guardian and overseer; this escape is also a failure of display.While the scene that Vandover sees when he looks into the depths of his own character would seem to be much like the bear dens seen in Illustrations 1 and 2, it violates important tenets of zoo design. Vandover can barely see the beast: once he sees it “crawling to and fro dimly” (215) and later he merely “felt the presence of the brute” (219). The enlightenment logic of the zoo depended upon clarity and illumination to make the display of even the most savage beasts educational and rational.
Moreover, Vandover’s self does not even allow for a clear separation of the animal and the human. Rather, his self is labyrinthine, and Vandover realizes that without “guidance he would inevitably tend down again to that fatal central place where the brute had its lair” (219). Vandover’s self is a maze at the centre of which is a beast and his life history is described not as evolutionary and progressive but as devolutionary and repetitive. This maze alludes to and internalizes the classical tale of the minotaur, a half-human, half-bull, who lived in the labyrinth built by Deadalus. Norris suggests that post-Darwin, we are all like the minotaur-half-human, halfanimal- but that this split is internal rather than external.
In these striking descriptions of Vandover’s and McTeague’s beastly interiority, we can also see some of the narrative consequences of Norris’s belief that “so-called humanity still is […] three-quarters animal” (Novels 1104). Norris offers a very different aesthetics of consciousness than that of Jamesian realism, with its rational thought processes and its characters who always resist impulse.Norris does not report the logical progression of his characters’ thoughts or otherwise make the self the principle of its own narration. Indeed, Norris suggested that the self was not coherent enough to be described in terms of what it thinks or says, only in terms of what it does. Norris ruthlessly displays the animal workings of Vandover’s and McTeague’s selves, as a sort of theatrical spectacle. Lee Clark Mitchell argues that literary naturalism tends to show rather than tell states of moral crisis and that this naturalist “perspective suggests that the closer one attends to the self, the less it tends to cohere” (17).
Both McTeague and Vandover quite spectacularly fail to contain the animal within themselves. The animal within is consistently given free rein, upsetting the delicate internal architecture of the human. Vandover, during periodic attacks-possibly of syphilis or rabies-imagines that he is turning into a wolf. During this devolutionary freefall, he loses the ability to paint or read: “His intellectual parts dropped away one by one, leaving only the instincts, the blind, unreasoning impulses of the animal” (309). Eventually this animal grows so large and dominant “that it had taken over everything, even to his very self” (316).Here we have a disturbing image of what happens when the self becomes undifferentiated, when it becomes animal through and through. I would add that Norris and London seemed to be equally afraidof the opposite, of the self becoming human through and through.
As their internalized metaphysics of caging fail,McTeague and Vandover come to be caged and determined by their environments. Both characters prove to be fatally accommodating or plastic, unable to resist the tug of sordid circumstances.When the McTeagues move to cheaper and more spartan accommodations, they “began to sink rapidly lower and lower. They became accustomed to their surroundings” (237). Vandover, when he finds himself in even ruder circumstances, “sank to the grade of those people at once with that fatal adaptability to environment” (317). Both characters are unable to resist thepressures of their external circumstances; this relentless accommodation, this convergence of character and setting is an animal trait. More conventionally human characters are able to preserve a difference between their self and their environment. Indeed, Norris suggests that to be human one must maintain a distinction between one’s inner self and one’s outer circumstances.
The vision of interiority that Norris and London offer is, of course, a masculine and masculinist one. While this same metaphysics of caging cannot explain the subjectivity of female characters, the same terms are useful, as this very brief aside demonstrates. Female subjectivity, in texts such as Kate Chopin’s The Awakening (1900) and “Emancipation: A Life Fable,” Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” (1889), and Alice James’s The Diary of Alice James (1889-93), was also represented in terms of caging and confinement. In these narratives of female caging, however, there is an important reversal. Women were already caged externally, by their social circumstances. Jennifer Fleissner argues that female naturalist domesticity is represented as a sort of caging, in what she terms “the great indoors” (75) of interior space. The goal for female characters, then, was not self-caging, as we saw for Norris’s and London’s male characters; rather it was emancipation or release, unbuilding rather than fortifying the structures of containment.
Thus far we have seen many of the important features of the post-Darwinian architecture of the self. The human self was, according to Norris and London, internally divided, split between human and animal, and dependent on internalized caging structures. The urban zoo provides an architectural vocabulary that helps make sense of these new representations of interiority and of what happens to the animal in modernity. While Norris and London provide striking examples of the search for new narrative modes and tropes through which to represent the internal architecture of the human self, they were part of a much broader post-Darwinian rethinking of the human.
Post-Darwin, many prominent philosophers and scientists came to rethink the relationship between the animal and the human and to imagine human evolution and history as processes of internalizing and caging the animal within the human. Placing the theories of the self offered by Norris and London into this broader intellectual context illuminates a shared effort to represent the post-Darwinian subject. This not only underscores naturalism’s affinities with Nietzsche and Freud, but also shows how “the naturalists were engaged in thinking through this collapse” (Mitchell 124) of the autonomous subject so important to later thinkers such as Derrida, Foucault, and Lacan.
G. Stanley Hall, an evolutionary psychologist, believed that the human mind contained “paleopsychic” traces of its evolutionary history. Joseph LeConte, an advocate of evolutionary theory, and a professor ofFrank Norris’s at University of California, theorized that the human brain was made up of concentric layers, representing phylogenetic stages. Illustration 3, an illustration from LeConte’s Evolution: Its Nature, Its Evidences, and Its Relation to Religious Thought (1897), shows how the human brain contains its own evolutionary history.
Friedrich Nietzsche, in The Genealogy of Morals (1887), argued that the history of human morality entails an interiorization of man’s animality, until we arrive at modern man, “rather like a caged animal” (Birth 277). Nietzsche posited a predatory phase during which humans were in harmony with their instincts and force and violence reigned supreme. At some point, however, historical changes demanded that man check his animal instincts: “All the instincts that are not allowed free play turn inward. This is what I call man’s interiorization” (217). According to Nietzsche, this “violent severance from his animal past” has given rise to “bad conscience” (218), which is marked by an internalization of the will to power. The will to power is redirected toward controlling the “old animal self” (220). In the absence ofexternal, physical enemies, Nietzsche notes that “man began rending, persecuting, terrifying himself, like a wild beast hurling itself against the bars of its cage” (218).
Sigmund Freud, like Nietzsche, also believed that the human psyche contained animal vestiges and that human history has seen aggression come to be directed inwards. In Civilization and Its Discontents (1930), Freud, seeking to understand the modern psyche, speculated about its deep history: “In the realm of the mind […] what is primitive is so commonly preserved alongside of the transformed version which has arisen from it” (15). The Freudian self is an archaeological, stratified structure in which the new is sedimented onto the old.Not only does Freud argue that the self contains ancient traces, but also that civilization is a set of conventions that cages the animal within the human. As man becomes civilized, his “aggressiveness is introjected, internalized; it is, in point of fact, sent back to where it came from-that is, it is directed toward his own ego” (70). For Freud, this perpetual self-torment leads to widespread modern neurosis.
These various thinkers meditated on how the human and the animal, after Darwin, were thought to be knit together, forming a new sort of subject. Hayden White, in “The Forms of Wildness: Archaeology of An Idea,” terms this shift the “interiorization of wildness.” He argues that while the wild man was once associated with remote and little known places, he came to be internalized: now “the Wild Man is lurking in every man” (7). I have been arguing that the broad acceptance of evolutionary theory was crucial in this interiorization of wildness. Evolution gave this interiorization a putatively biological basis. After Darwin, the human subject was thought to be divided and fragmented, with human and animal, modern and ancient layers.
Tony Bennett, in Pasts Beyond Memory: Evolution, Museums, Colonialism, argues that Darwin precipitated “a rival structure of the self which depended upon the introduction of a historical split into theorganization of the person” (3). According to Bennett, after Darwin, the self was imagined palimpsestically or archaeologically, as so many strata superimposed one on top of the other. Bennett follows Deleuze’s suggestion that Foucault’s explanation of how the self is structured depends on a “fold” whereby an outside is folded into an inside. Bennett’s account is worth quoting at length: “As a result of this folding operation, the self is formed through its relation to a non-self or other that has been folded into the self as an immanent presence. The outside that is immanent within the self creates an interior space that allows an action of the self on self to take place. […] In this way, relations of power that structure the organisation of the social are translated into a principle of internal regulation in which the mastery of others is doubled-echoed and rehearsed-in a mastery of the self” (95).While Bennett imagines this outside that is folded inside the human self broadly as that which is primitive and ancient, I have been arguing that nineteenth-century writers and scholars saw this immanent other more specifically, as animal. Bennett’s argument depends upon Foucault, who in Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison speculates that Jeremy Bentham, in designing the panopticon, may have been thinking about the royal menagerie at Versailles (203). Foucault then suggests that the human self came to take the place of the displayed animal.While Bennett is interested in how this folded architecture of the self led to new, liberal programs of social reform that operated according to the logic of Foucauldian governmentality, I am interested in how it led to new ways of imagining, representing, and narrating the self.
Although the architecture of the self that I have outlined depends on a logic of caging, seemingly amenable to the exercise of disciplinary power, Norris’s and London’s representations suggest that the internalized cage is, paradoxically, a figure of freedom. This is a freedom that depends upon structure and hierarchy, and is thus very much unlike Deleuze’s notion of becoming animal. For Norris’s McTeague and Vandover, the animal within the self must be watched over, if there is to be any hope of domesticating or containing it. Essential to this is the capacity for evolutionary self-spectatorship. The human components needed to be able to distance themselves from and observe the animal components of the self. Darwin described the moral sense as “an inward monitor [that] would tell the animal that it would have been better to have followed the one impulse rather than the other” (73). For Darwin, morality was a “self-regarding” (96) virtue.
In McTeague and Vandover, a structuring of the self that would allow for such selfscrutiny proved impossible to maintain. McTeague has almost no self-consciousness and seemingly no reflective awareness of what is happening within his self. Vandover attempts to engage in self-spectatorship but ultimately fails. The cage also, according to Norris and London, provided the self with human capacities for restraint and reflection. This was a curiously biological, individual, and internal way of imagining freedom; Norris and London, through this metaphysics of caging, represented agency and freedom as something that the subject secured for him or herself, as something biologically rather than socially given.
Although Norris and London speculated that the modern self must contain animality they did not argue either for total extermination or total subjection of this inner animality. In his article, “Evolutionary Ethical Dualism in Frank Norris’s Vandover and the Brute and McTeague,” Donald Pizer suggests that Norris was influenced by LeConte, who suggested that the animal was not an “essential evil to be extirpated” but rather a “useful servant to be controlled.” The animal impulses within man should be held “in subjection as servants to the spirit” (374). For LeConte, the animal within man was only evil when it was in control rather than controlled. “True virtue consists, not in the extirpation of the lower, but in its subjection to the higher. The stronger the lower is, the better, if only it be held in subjection” (375). LeConte envisioned a way in which the evolutionarily doubled subject, divided between the animal and the human, could emerge as more fully human through controlling rather than exterminating the animal within.
Both Norris and London are, I think, suggesting something similar to LeConte, minus the religious aspects of his argument. These authors believed in the necessity of a self tensely balanced between animal and human, of the need to live an evolutionary double life. The potential for animality, for instinctive violence and action, needed to be preserved, but almost constantly held in check.At the same time, the civilized structures within the self that caged these animal capacities needed to be semi-permeable; the animal needed to be able to escape and act at culturally condoned moments. My reading of Norris’s and London’s representations of human interiority thus differs from June Howard’s. She writes that the brute is something “perpetually to be cast out as it inevitably reappears with [the] self” and she argues that the brute registered fears of proletarianization, of being de-classed. She contends that literary naturalism’s “ultimate terror is the loss of stable personal identity, the collapse of self into Other” (95). I argue, instead, that the animal was a constitutive feature of the naturalist self, something to be managed and contained, but not cast out, as that would also lead to a collapse of the self. Norris and London argue that to be human is to have a divided self, a self that is, paradoxically, significantly animal.At the level of narrative, this is a self that cannot be fully explained, only displayed.
While Norris, London, and other evolutionary thinkers presented the animal and the human as commingled, the zoo offered a fantasy of externalization, whereby the animal and the human were neatly separated. Despite this fundamental difference, both constructed the animal as an object of visual spectacle.Moreover, both suggested that the animal must be watched; and both argued, in rather different ways, that spectatorship of the animal was humanizing. The zoo and its physics of caging provide an important visual and architectural vocabulary for understanding the place of the animal in modernity. The zoo shows the animal marginalized and re-presented as educational spectacle, amusement, or token of empire (Berger). At the same time, the zoo cage and its dynamic of containment and escape also mirrors how the animal was accorded a new significance and centrality, as an integral component of the human self. This cage within the self that contains an animal was a physical and material way of envisioning something invisible and metaphysical (at least until science makes great strides): namely how evolutionary history had incorporated the animal rather awkwardly into the human.