As animals recede from our world, what tale is being told by literature’s creatures? Behold an Animal: Four Exorbitant Readings examines incongruous animals in the works of four major contemporary French writers: an airborne horse in a novel by Jean-Philippe Toussaint, extinct orangutans in Éric Chevillard, stray dogs in Marie NDiaye, vanishing (bits of) hedgehogs in Marie Darrieussecq. Resisting naturalist assumptions that an animal in a story is simply—literally or metaphorically—an animal, Thangam Ravindranathan understands it rather as the location of something missing. The animal is a lure: an unfinished figure fleeing the frame, crossing bounds of period, genre, even medium and language. Its flight traces an exorbitant (self-)portrait in which thinking admits to its commerce with life and flesh. It is in its animals, at the same time unbearably real and exquisitely unreal, that literature may today be closest to philosophy.
This book’s primary focus is the contemporary French novel and continental philosophy. In addition to Toussaint, Chevillard, NDiaye, and Darrieussecq, it engages the work of Jean de La Fontaine, Eadweard Muybridge, Edgar Allan Poe, Lewis Carroll, Samuel Beckett, and Francis Ponge.