Animal Lives

Erica Fudge asks if, and how, a biography of an animal might be written.

Why are there no entries for animals in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (DNB)? Clearly, an animal’s life can be recorded; but the concept of biography has always been applied uniquely to humans: the life hinted at in the word biography somehow refers only to Homo sapiens. Why?

There is a simple answer: anthropocentrism or the belief in the centrality and superiority of human beings.  But this may be too simple. Perhaps, to write a ‘life’ is not just to present a series of ‘facts’ but to bear witness to that individual’s potential to construct a life-story of him- or herself; to communicate through language the subject’s own self-understanding (or misunderstanding). In these terms, the subject of biography is always potentially the subject of autobiography. But before making so large a leap, it might be worth thinking about the other ways in which animals are always to be denied access to the DNB.

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