Taxidermy’s Literary Biographies
A key problem with animal biographies—their inability to represent a single historical subject—emerges through the representation of taxidermy in literary history. Fiction writers from Charles Dickens to H.G. Wells to Ernest Hemingway sow a seediness into taxidermists that blossoms in recent bestsellers by Téa Obreht and Kate Mosse, where practitioners draw taxidermy more explicitly into stories of murder, sex crimes, and revenge among humans. But taxidermists’ literary biographies are shadowed by those of taxidermy itself, and its associations with exterminationist politics across species lines. Through fictions by Gustav Flaubert, Julian Barnes, and Gergely Péterfy, I sketch a parallel tradition of attempting to recover the lives more directly represented by the objects, and its consequences for human, animal, and human-animal relationships. Museum specimens and a performance-art reconstruction by Brett Bailey bookend the discussion to underscore the biological and cultural catastrophes at stake in these recovery efforts.
KeywordsTaxidermy Fiction Art Colonialism Racism Angelo Soliman
- Alban, D. “Books Bound in Human Skin: Lampshade Myth?” Harvard Law Record (2005). http://hlrecord.org/2005/11/books-bound-in-human-skin-lampshade-myth/. Accessed November 11, 2005.
- Alberti, Samuel J.M.M. “Introduction: The Dead Ark.” In The Afterlives of Animals: A Museum Menagerie, edited by Samuel J.M.M. Alberti, 1–16. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2011.Google Scholar
- Aloi, G. Speculative Taxidermy: Natural History, Animal Surfaces, and Art in the Anthropocene. New York: Columbia University Press, 2018.Google Scholar
- Bailey, B. “Personal Communication.” 20 February 2016.Google Scholar
- ———. “Third World Bun Fight: Exhibit B.” http://thirdworldbunfight.co.za/exhibit-b/. Accessed September 15, 2017.
- Baker, S. The Postmodern Animal. London: Reaktion Books, 2000.Google Scholar
- Barnes, J. Flaubert’s Parrot. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1984.Google Scholar
- Cheatham, G. “‘Sign the Wire with Love’: The Morality of Surplus in The Sun Also Rises.” Hemingway Review 11.2 (1992): 25–30.Google Scholar
- Fanon, F. Black Skin, White Masks. New York: Grove Press, 2008.Google Scholar
- Firla, M. “In Search of the Viennese African, Angelo Soliman (ca. 1721–96): From Educator of a Hereditary Prince to Stuffed Exhibit.” Tinabantu 2.1 (2004): 72–90. http://m.delphiforums.com/cltalk/messages/811/26. Accessed September 15, 2017.
- Grill, G. The World as Reality in Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities. Rochester: Camden House, 2012.Google Scholar
- Humphries, R. The American Horror Film: An Introduction. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2002.Google Scholar
- Jameson, F. Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham: Duke University Press, 1991.Google Scholar
- Morris, P. A History of Taxidermy: Art, Science, and Bad Taste. Ascot: MPM, 2012.Google Scholar
- Mosse, K. The Taxidermist’s Daughter. London: Orion, 2014.Google Scholar
- Niesel, J. “The Horror of Everyday Life: Taxidermy, Aesthetics and Consumption in Horror Films.” Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture 2.4 (1994): 61–80.Google Scholar
- Obreht, T. The Tiger’s Wife. New York: Random House, 2011.Google Scholar
- O’Mahony, J. “Edinburgh’s Most Controversial Show: Exhibit B, a Human Zoo.” The Guardian, August 11, 2014. https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2014/aug/11/-sp-exhibit-b-human-zoo-edinburgh-festivals-most-controversial. Accessed September 15, 2017.
- Orzóy, A. “The Stuffed Barbarian/Kitömött Barbár.” Literaturhaus Europa, 2015. http://www.literaturhauseuropa.eu/en/observatory/blog/thestuffed-barbarian-kitomott-barbar. Accessed September 15, 2017.
- Poliquin, R. The Breathless Zoo. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2012.Google Scholar
- ———. “The Matter and Meaning of Museum Taxidermy.” Museum and Society 6.2 (2008): 123–134.Google Scholar
- Read, E.E. Angelo Soliman Then and Now: A Historical and Psychoanalytical Interpretation of Soliman Depictions in Modern German Literature. Master’s thesis, University of Tennessee, 2006.Google Scholar
- Rothfels, N. “Trophies and Taxidermy.” In Gorgeous Beasts: Animal Bodies in Historical Perspective, edited by Joan Landes, Paula Young Lee, and Paul Youngquist, 117–136. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2012.Google Scholar
- Scholtmeijer, M. “What Is ‘Human’? Metaphysics and Zoontology in Flaubert and Kafka.” In Animal Acts: Configuring the Human in Western History, edited by Jennifer Ham and Matthew Senior, 127–143. New York: Routledge, 1997.Google Scholar
- Star, S.L. “Craft vs. Commodity, Mess vs. Transcendence: How the Right Tool Became the Wrong One in the Case of Taxidermy and Natural History.” In The Right Tools for the Job, edited by Adele E. Clarke and Joan H. Fujimura, 257–286. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992.Google Scholar
- Swinney, G. “An Afterword on Afterlife.” In The Afterlives of Animals: A Museum Menagerie, edited by Samuel J.M.M. Alberti, 219–233. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2011.Google Scholar
- Thorsen, L.E. Elephants Are Not Picked from Trees: Animal Biographies in Gothenberg Natural History Museum. Aarhaus: Aarhaus University Press, 2014.Google Scholar
- Turner, S. “Relocating ‘Stuffed’ Animals: Photographic Remediation of Natural History Taxidermy.” Humanimalia 4.2 (2013): 1–32.Google Scholar
- Wakeham, P. Taxidermic Signs: Reconstructing Aboriginality. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008.Google Scholar
- Weheliye, A. Habeas Viscous: Racializing Assemblages, Biopolitics, and Black Feminist Theory. Durham: Duke University Press, 2014.Google Scholar