Throughout the world, people spend much of their time with animal companions of various kinds, frequently with cats and dogs. What meanings do we make of these relationships? In the ecocritical collection Reading cats and Dogs, a diverse array of scholars considers the philosophy, literature, and film devoted to human relationships with companion species. In addition to illuminating famous animal stories by Beatrix Potter, Jack London, Italo Svevo, and Michael Ondaatje, readers are introduced to the dog poems of Shuntarō Tanikawa, a Turkish documentary on stray cats as neighborhood companions, and the representation of diverse animal companions in Cameroonian novels. Focusing on “Stray and Feral Companions,” “The Usefulness of Companion Animals,” and “Problematizing Companion Animals,” Reading Cats and Dogs aims both to confirm and topple readers’ assumptions about the fellow travelers with whom we share our lives, our streets and fields, and our planet. Fifteen contributors from various countries reveal the aesthetic, ethical, and psychological complexities of our multispecies relationships, demonstrating the richness of ecocritical animal studies.
Françoise Besson is emerita professor at the University of Toulouse-Jean Jaures, in Toulouse, France
Zélia M. Bora is founder of the Commission for Animal Welfare and contributes to the postgraduate program at the Federal University of Paraiba in Brazil.
Marianne Marroum is associate professor of English and comparative literature at the Lebanese American University in Beirut, Lebanon.
Scott Slovic is university distinguished professor of environmental humanities at the University of Idaho in the US.
Table of Contents
Prologue by Kev Reynolds
Introduction by Françoise Besson and Scott Slovic
Section I: Stray and Feral Companions
Section II: The Usefulness of Companion Animals
Section III: Problematizing Companion Animals
Epilogue by Françoise Besson, Zélia M. Bora, Marianne Marroum, and Scott Slovic
Within a mile of my home I encounter animals along a wide spectrum of constraint and freedom, ranging from pampered hyperdomestication to lethal neglect. This fascinating collection of chapters extends that variety to the international, exploring animal-centered works of literature out of Beijing and Brussels, Soweto and Sri Lanka, Cameroon and Brazil. Spilling over into the philosophical and affectingly autobiographical, the contributors collectively challenge and valorize anew our views of animal companionship. Above all they emphasize that, enveloped by cross-cultural globalization, mass species extinction and slaughter, zoonotic pandemic and climate change, human and non-human animals’ fates are irrevocably entwined.
This fascinating and important collection enlivens the scope of ecocritical thinking by bringing together perspectives on how literature, film, and philosophy deepen the human-animal relationship. This book complicates what we think about when we think about companion animals. It disrupts what we consider domesticated versus feral. The international scope breaks open new avenues of reflection and feeling. A Cameroonian novelist writes of a man who forms a transformative companion relationship with a buffalo. Stray cats in China, Brazil, and Turkey reveal cultural histories that shape the human-animal bond. Michael Ondaatje’s beloved memoir Running in the Family is seen anew as a family story limned by the presence of animals. An understanding of South African apartheid broadens from race and class to species. University students in Wuhan, China, deploy social media in their care of feral cats. A French philosopher writes with profound lyricism of sharing thought with her dogs. Many pleasures await the readers of this brilliant collection.
Reading Cats and Dogs: Companion Animals in World Literature surveys a fascinating array of companion animals from a wide range of cultures and national literatures. The contributors explore dynamic and often moving relationships between humans and various companion species, primarily through literary texts but also through the personal experiences of the authors and editors. The volume’s diversity is one of its strengths, inviting writers who might be familiar with Donna Haraway’s dog or Jacques Derrida’s cat to consider other cats and dogs as they are represented in literature from around the world, from countries and contexts as diverse as Sri Lanka, China, Italy, Japan, Cameroon, South Africa, Europe, and the US, including important indigenous voices.