Animal Instances: Relationship with the Animal Image

Throughout human history, the animal has been figured to represent the human’s notion of its attributes and being. Except through visitation to the domesticated and mediated form of the animal, the post-industrial urban human lives at a critical distance from encounter with it. The desire to access and relate with the animal results in the creation of its representation to portray its concept and provides the means for imagined and embodied relationship with it. The relationship instance satisfies an innate desire to continue to co-evolve with the animal, while simultaneously allowing for a dismissal of guilt and shame associated with the act of dominating it. The “animal instance” incorporates both the means and the ends for the adoption of the animals attributes, an avowal of similarity and even envy, while maintaining possession. The result is virtual and meaningful and relies on a mediated distance from the actual animal. Semblance of the animal in media, art and upon human bodily form provide ready example of this occurrence.

Preceding and influencing all forms of human communication and re-creation is imagination. Full or partial, representation situates the self in context with world and others and provides ways of knowing and being. In post-industrial human life there exists a persistent distancing from and disavowal of the animal and animality while at the same time an always/already living with and in many ways through it.

“Animal instances” is a term I use to cite points of contact humans experience – or engineer – with animals including actual physical engagement but especially with the signified occurrences created through media forms, including the human body. The “instances” may function as moments of experiencing the animal beyond a mere witnessing of it. These instances are often embodiments of the animal before us, upon, with and through us, ultimately, if only briefly, “as” us. Animal instances thus refer to the ways in which humans refer to, relate with, embody, represent, fear and revere animals through virtual relationships with them.

The post-industrialized urban human lives at a distance from nature and the animal, yet desires a connection to each to fulfill psychological and psychosocial instincts. In order to experience such relationship, mediated contexts are created for the relationship to exist. By examining instances of the image of the animal, its mediations and figurations, my study asserts that it is through these constructions that the desired relationship occurs, however imaginary, by way of the images, or mediations, created of it.

Human desire for relationship with the animal can be evidenced broadly through two categories, as utility and as companion. Each reference can be real or imaginary and the two are often collapsed, resulting in an actual experience in all cases. As a concept, the imagining of the animal and its attributes and the meaning taken can be as important as it actually existing; in fact it does exist. The concept is provided through the image, through the story, symbol, the artifact representing the animal.

The instance of relationship occurring through the image, concept and association, therefore allows the human to dare to avow its own animality, and often without shame. This achievement is accomplished only through reference to the image since only by distancing can the activity be a safe one; distancing is necessary in order to perceive the experience. Through distance, orders of representation are created and function to provide this immediacy.

The practice of representing the animal has a long history. Its portrayal is found in volumes of of both indexed and metaphorical examples across media formats. I have delimited to collecting and analyzing the mediated image and created form of the animal, and not oral and literary example, though so much of this is integral to the production of the image. I examine various points along this history of human-created representations and the relationships and imaginings maintained through the images.

A persistent distancing from and disavowal of the animal and animality continues to exist yet we continue live with and in many ways through it, by way of the images, or mediations, we create of it and ourselves with it. Representation and mimic of the animal exposes the human’s connection to the relatable aspects of the animal, and maybe allows an acceptance our animality.

In experiencing itself in and through the animal image the human may be able to more comfortably confront its relationship with the animal as friend, foe and food. The association with the image and all that it represents – – reveals and obscures – – offers an associative way of living with the animal, and with ourselves.