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Animal Skins and the Reading Self in Medieval Latin and French Bestiaries$
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Sarah Kay

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780226436739

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2017

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226436876.001.0001

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Cutting the Skin: Sacrifice, Sovereignty, and the Space of Exception

Cutting the Skin: Sacrifice, Sovereignty, and the Space of Exception

Chapter:
(p.87) 4 Cutting the Skin: Sacrifice, Sovereignty, and the Space of Exception
Source:
Animal Skins and the Reading Self in Medieval Latin and French Bestiaries
Author(s):

Sarah Kay

Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226436876.003.0005

Although bestiaries promote what can be learned from other creatures, increasingly their pages portray humans killing animals and animals killing them. This chapter analyzes the import of this violence relative to the concepts of sacrifice (Derrida), which tends to humanize animals, and bare life (Agamben’s homo sacer), which results from a sovereign decision demarcating human from nonhuman. The alternatives of sacrifice and sovereignty, humanization and dehumanization, affect the status of parchment which can seem more or less human; hesitation about the status of the human calls attention to the arbitrariness of the decision in either direction, the “state of exception” of sovereignty disclosing the “space of exception” that is the page (compare chapter 1). This chapter examines the development from a benign view of human-animal relations in Physiologus through to the interspecies violence depicted in Second-family manuscripts, and in French bestiaries that seem similarly designed to appeal to aristocratic appetites. It focuses mainly on pages depicting the Pelican (a benefactor beast), the Unicorn and Ape (examples respectively of a sacrificial quarry and a victim of sovereign decision), the Crocodile (a threat to man), and the Lion that can fulfil all three roles.

Keywords:   sacrifice, sovereignty, interspecies violence, Second-family bestiary, pelican, unicorn, ape, crocodile, lion, bare life

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