ANIMOTS : ANIMALS AND ANIMALITY IN 20TH- AND 21ST-CENTURY FRENCH AND FRANCOPHONE LITERATURE
A project of Agence Nationale de la Recherche
Head of project : Anne Simon (CNRS, CRAL CNRS/EHESS – France)
Coordinator for THALIM-Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3 : Alain Romestaing (Université Paris Descartes – France)
RELEVANCE OF THE ISSUE OF ANIMALITY : A DISCOURSE ACROSS THE DISCIPLINES
In the intellectual chorus on animality, literary discourses and representations are seldom considered by an academic criticism whose views on animality are limited to traditional approaches (allegorical analysis, regional studies, limitation to « minor » genres). However, since the beginning of the 20th century numerous writers have been interested in sharing contemporary social and epistemological reflections. Therefore, it was crucial to legitimize the research on animality in literary studies and to renew scholarly research by inviting other disciplines into the field (philosophy, ethics, ethology, history, anthropology…).. Additionally, thanks to bilingual collaborative work, francophone and anglophone academic scholars have established a dialogue that includes the fields of Animal Studies and Eco-criticism. This collaboration generated a dialectic and institutionalized in France emergent fields of research (animal studies and eco-poetics, among others), and created a new one: zoopoetics, that is to say literary animal studies with an interdisciplinary foundation.
METHODOLOGY : ANIMALITY, AN EMERGING TOPIC IN LITERARY STUDIES
The animal, so “natural“ on the phenomenological and existential levels, is in fact a flexible topic of research, one constructed and analyzed by the scholars themselves. The plural form of the project title, “Animots” (J. Derrida), aimed at marginalizing the reductive character of the singular form, “animal”, which, as such, presupposes the conglomeration of all instances of a world composed of diversified forms. “Animots“ sought to develop a research conducted at both critical and creative levels. We worked on the accurate definitions of related concepts. At the generic level, we showed that there was a major renewal of narrative and poetic genres traditionally related to animals. In the fields of narratology and stylistics, the question of anthropomorphism was reconfigured and the processes that supposedly account for modes of being commonly hard to achieve for humans were analyzed. At the cognitive level, we asked if emotions such as projection and empathy can lead to a specific otherness and animal subjectivity. At the social and political level, we challenged issues pertaining to the relationship between dehumanization and animalization. Finally, we raised the issues of considering texts within their context of production, as well as the reconfiguration of literary history from the standpoint of the problematic of animality.
SCHOLARSHIP OF THE “ANIMOTS“ PROJECT
15 collective volumes, one single-author book, 20 chapters, 27 articles in refereed journals, 67 lectures helped legitimize, in French and in English, a research topic that was barely emerging at the onset of the project. These publications reexamined a number of questions: the complex relations — from empathy to hybridity, or rupture — between humans and animals; literary genres relevant for animality (the rustic novel, metamorphoses narratives, natural history, poetic art, self-portrait, etc.); the canons of literary history; the social and philosophical stakes of hunting, suffering, ecology, and the communication between species.
MAJOR ACHIEVEMENTS OF THE « ANIMOTS » PROJECT
The “Animots“ research program renewed the studies of literary animality by enacting a zoopoetical approach that combines thematic, stylistic, and narratological investigation methods with other disciplines (philosophy, ethics, ethology, anthropology, sociology, history, etc.) It generated a blog of references for scholars in social sciences and the humanities; an international network of hundreds of researchers; and the training of graduate students via 5 seminars. Life forms (“le vivant”) has become a research axis of the CRAL (CNRS-EHESS), and a project on the impact of natural history on social sciences was filed at Paris 3.
The “Animots“ project (2010-2014), directed by Anne Simon (CNRS), was created in partnership with the CRAL (CNRS/EHESS) and the Research section “Écritures de la modernité” (“Writing Modernity”) (THALIM, University of Paris 3/CNRS). Including eight researchers and two consecutive managers, the “Animots“ project (2010-2014) aimed at widening a still vastly unexplored field of research, in the medium or long run, on animals and animality in 20th- and 21st-century French and Francophone Literature. The “Animots“ project was supported financially by a 190,000 euros grant from the French National Research Agency, for a running total of 218,000 euros.