26 March 2013

Questions of difference

Nipper by Francis Barraud.

Somewhere in this famous picture we can trace two apparently antithetical ideas: similarity and absolute difference. The first of these - similarity - is the most obvious: this is a dog with the capacity to listen, not just hear: it is an active rather than passive participant in this world. We know that dogs listen - to cars, other dogs, approaching humans and so on. But this dog is litening to something that is not present in reality. It is listening to a virtual noise. The leap from reality to virtual reality, from an approaching human to a televisual representation of an approaching human, is one that we often believe that only humans can make...The familiar title of the picture - His Master's Voice - however, offers a very different notion of the dog's response. Where the picture represents the possibility of a dog engaging in what would be understood as a human activity - listening for pleasure - he is simultaneously enacting his inferiority by listening for dominion, for his master's voice. The possibility of an animal engaging with music is pictured in such a way that human superiority is reinscribed: even as the dog appears to be more than a dog, to be able to recognize the possibility of pleasure without body, it is reinforcing the status quo. More than this, the fact that this dog is listening to a formless noise, listening for his master's voice, would imply that dominion, the relation that gives humans absolute mastery over animals, is innate to animal itself....
(Erica Fudge in Animal, p .69)

A Tuesday reading.