In contemporary race and sexuality studies, the topic of animality emerges almost exclusively in order to index the dehumanization that makes discrimination possible. Bestial Traces argues that a more fundamental disavowal of human animality conditions the bestialization of racial and sexual minorities. Hence, when conservative politicians equate homosexuality with bestiality, they betray an anxious effort to deny the animality inherent in all sexuality.
Focusing on literary texts by Edgar Allan Poe, Joel Chandler Harris, Richard Wright, Philip Roth, and J. M. Coetzee, together with philosophical texts by Derrida, Heidegger, Agamben, Freud, and Nietzsche, Peterson maintains that the representation of social and political others as animals can be mitigated but never finally abolished. All forms of belonging inevitably exclude some others as "beasts." Though one might argue that absolute political equality and inclusion remain desirable, even if ultimately unattainable, ideals, Bestial Traces shows that, by maintaining such principles, we exacerbate rather than ameliorate violence because we fail to confront how discrimination and exclusion condition all social relations.
"Bestial Traces is a brave book! Arguing that our sentiments on animals are unavoidably implicated in politically contentious notions of race and sexuality, Peterson examines this entangled relation in Poe, Wright, Roth, and Coetzee. Insisting that the "irrational phantasm" of race cannot simply be thought away or eradicated in an act of pure disavowal, he seeks to exploit a 'lesser disavowal' to deconstruct racist and metaphysical conventions that imbricate animals and race. Peterson's analysis is sure and sharply honed, his chapters theoretically sophisticated, and his reading of literary texts is finely nuanced. This is an ethical book that searches for less violent relations with others and it makes a superb contribution to our discourses on race, sexuality, and animals, as well as to 19th and 20th century American studies."
– Russell Samolsky, University of California, Santa Barbara
"Masterfully researched, creatively argued, and beautifully written."
– Akria Mizuta Lippit, University of Southern California
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Christopher Peterson is Senior Lecturer in the School of Humanities and Communication Arts at the University of Western Sydney. He is the author of Kindred Specters: Death, Mourning, and American Affinity.