Animal transference: a "mole-like progression" in C. J. Cherryh

Turner, Lynn. 2011. Animal transference: a "mole-like progression" in C. J. Cherryh. Mosaic: a journal for the interdisciplinary study of literature, 44(3), pp. 163-175. [Article]

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Abstract or Description

Writing in 1996 and thus prior to Derrida’s extensive treatment of the ‘animal question’ though simultaneous with her own book of anecdotal stories entitled Dog Love, Marjorie Garber suggests that the turn to animals in cultural studies is wholly describable as an effect of transference and that this transference concerns the displacement of an idealised humanism no longer tenable in such studies. Assuming that this transference occurs for the humans involved onto animals, here dogs, Garber does not imagine a counter-transference. She does not ask the question whether animals also transfer. Within her terms such a question would surely founder in anthropomorphism. Yet after Derrida we can no longer assume that we know in advance the grounds of the human that anthropomorphism is said to project. The anchorage of a human/animal division in a corresponding division between response and reaction is one to which Derrida has given specific attention as it surfaces in writings on subjectivity from Descartes to Lacan (2001, 2003). A kind of first-degree metaphysics of presence is interrupted by the psychoanalytic insistence upon an Unconscious: the ability to conduct a spontaneous and self-sufficient response is marred by a transference that classically expresses a repetition modelling a new edition of an old desire. However, Derrida argues that human self-presence – or self-presence as human – is problematically reinstated in the ethical conditions of the analytic session during which the analyst must attend to the so-called ‘Full Speech’ of the Unconscious. The analyst, like Garber, presumes to know who transfers onto whom.

This paper investigates the necessarily combined question of animal transference and technology through C. J. Cherryh’s astounding science-fiction (which has received surprisingly slight critical attention). In How we became Posthuman (1999) N. Katherine Hayles glosses aspects of Cherryh’s usage of the virtual technology she calls ‘tape’ in her major novel Cyteen (1988), yet she positions it as largely anachronistic: the novel was written in the eighties after all. This paper assumes that there is something more to tape – and the transference it both facilitates and figures. In Cherryh’s related novel Forty Thousand in Gehenna (1983), a political experiment lands 40,000 humans including their emotionally unstable cloned companion ‘azi’ temporarily upon the strategically situated planet Gehenna. When all supplies run out including the ‘tape’ designed to condition and maintain the azi, all must learn to live and to become differently including with the assumed to be irrelevant indigenous species. Mystifying all with their continual insistence on shifting substantial quantities of earth around to no apparent end, the indigenous lizards’ practice of writing on Gehenna’s surface is not recognized as such until the ‘rescue’ mission belatedly arrives, to a dramatically altered species-scape, some generations later.

In his later work, Derrida hyphenates the inorganic, repetitious and reactive machine with the organic, spontaneous and responsive event thus indexing their non-exclusive relation: this paper makes clear that the organic components of such a machine-event cannot be assumed to circumscribe the human.

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Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Visual Cultures


September 2011Published


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British AcademyUNSPECIFIED

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Date Deposited:

03 Oct 2011 09:31

Last Modified:

29 Apr 2020 15:30

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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