Posing a challenge to constructivist and deconstructive approaches in animal studies, Claude Lévi-Strauss, citing Jean-Jacques Rousseau, characterizes the human association with animals as a condition rather than a consequence of symbolic activity. Sensibility accounts for such association by conceptualizing the significance of creaturely voice, while also considering its “public” remediation. Eighteenth-century poetry incorporates impassioned voices and creaturely perspectives into verbal meaning-making at the same time that it identifies its social relevance with its capacity to humanize the reading public. Sensibility’s account of advocacy and sovereign answerability may be contrasted with a liberal contractual politics premised on formal equivalence and the decisionist theory of sovereignty that, for Giorgio Agamben, underlies modern biopolitics. Walter Benjamin’s negative dialectics of “natural history” (Naturgeschichte) provides a method attentive to voice as symbolic remainder, exemplified by his recovery of the onto-theological category of the creature. Sensibility understands the human as a creature whose unique capacities for reflection and responsibility begin in a susceptibility to the signs of others.
Keywords: Claude Lévi-Strauss, Walter Benjamin, Giorgio Agamben, creature, poetry, animal studies