Doing Animal Studies with Androids, Aliens, and Ghosts

By | May 30, 2023

Guest post by David P. Rando

Androids, aliens, and ghosts: No longer solely the territory of science fiction, the Gothic, and horror, these creatures increasingly cross literary genres as humans renegotiate and rework our conceptualizations of humanity, animality, and life itself in response to ongoing challenges posed by technology, environmental crises, and alterity. Doing Animal Studies with Androids, Aliens, and Ghosts borrows from the strangeness, creativity, and freshness of these emerging and imaginary creatures in contemporary novels, comic book series, and children’s books to reconceptualize often intractable views of nonhuman animals. Because these liminal figures confront anthropocentrism, or human-centeredness, in ways that necessarily push against all forms of species dominance, the android, the alien, and the ghost are literary devices that help us to see nonhuman animals afresh and to fruitfully reimagine the terms of our relationships with them. 

Readers of this book will find androids that provoke a thorough redefinition and reapportioning of traditional humanist qualities such as hope and uniqueness and offer capacious, more-than-human perspectives on love and intelligence from which to understand and reevaluate animal relationships. They will encounter alien visions that unmask the racist and heteronormative roots of speciesism and expose the madness, self-destructiveness, and futility of insisting upon and maintaining human separateness from nonhuman life. And they will meet ghosts and spirits who offer posthumous visions of having-been-human that decenter anthropocentrism and open anthropocosmic possibilities in which humans are no longer at the center but rather within the world and with other animals. 

By availing itself of the rich literary resources of emerging and imaginary figures for the sake of nonhuman animals, this book seeks fresh paths through androids, aliens, and ghosts to better see, understand, and live among nonhuman animals. Study of these figures within a critical animal studies framework opens creative avenues for animal studies and helps to shift the mental landscapes upon which we imagine nonhuman animals. However, instead of concentrating through close reading or quantifying through distant reading, this book searches for the precise focal length at which imaginative and fantastic creatures snap into focus and intersect with nonhuman animal realities and possibilities. They do so not directly, figuratively, symbolically, or allegorically, but rather obliquely, distantly, strangely, and alienly. Indeed, this book avoids reading androids, aliens, and ghosts as literal, figural, symbolic, or allegorical nonhuman animal figures. Moreover, unlike approaches that practice animal studies within the context of genre studies such as science fiction, the Gothic, horror, or the weird, this book focuses on estranging and alienating resonances between the literature of androids, aliens, and ghosts and the realities and experiences of nonhuman animals. Rather than searching for points of identity between imaginary creatures and nonhuman animals, this book prioritizes what Theodor W. Adorno might have called the “nonidentical”: moments of illumination in which androids, aliens, and ghosts intersect with nonhuman animals outside of the familiar, comfortable, and comforting containers of genre, metaphor, symbol, and allegory. 

The fiction examined in Doing Animal Studies with Androids, Aliens, and Ghosts includes contemporary novels, comics, and children’s books: Peter Brown’s The Wild Robot (2016) and The Wild Robot Escapes (2018), Octavia E. Butler’s Fledgling (2005), J.M. Coetzee’s The Lives of Animals (1999), Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968), Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (2005) and Klara and the Sun (2021), Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn’s Alex + Ada (2016), Ian McEwan’s Machines Like Me (2018), Richard Powers’s The Overstory (2018), Salman Rushdie’s Quichotte (2019), George Saunders’s Lincoln in the Bardo (2017), Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation (2014), and Jeanette Winterson’s Frankissstein (2019). When we can locate the perceptual distance at which these android, alien, and ghost texts snap into focus as animal texts, fantastic and mechanical literary creatures can de-automatize human views of nonhuman animals by our shifting perceptions of hope, love, intelligence, otherness, and uniqueness. By extending to nonhuman animals the benefits of the imaginative fiction in which we struggle against, reconcile, and make our alliances with androids, aliens, and ghosts, we open our intractable relationships with nonhuman animals to potentially ameliorative and better futures.

Cover of Doing Animal Studies with Androids, Aliens, and Ghosts

David P. Rando is a Professor in the Department of English at Trinity University, USA. Doing Animal Studies with Androids, Aliens, and Ghosts is part of the Environmental Cultures series.

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