Debra Hawhee, Rhetoric in Tooth and Claw: Animals, Language, Sensation

Debra Hawhee, Rhetoric in Tooth and Claw: Animals, Language, Sensation (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2016) 444 pp. 3 halftones. $45.00 Hb. ISBN: 9780226398174

From the start, Debra Hawhee (1970-) is clear about three major elements in her exemplary and pioneering study, Rhetoric in Tooth and Claw: Animals, Language, Sensation: 1) Nonhuman animals pervade premodern, medieval, and early modern rhetorical theories and style guides; 2) Rhetorical studies is a dynamic perch from which to examine the relationship between human and nonhuman animals; 3) Because animal studies is most frequently inflected by the literary and philosophical disciplines, many scholars continue to underestimate the far-reaching potential of rhetoric for innovative approaches both to animal studies and a host of other disciplines. As Hawhee puts it: “This book, then, seeks to account for the curious and contradictory role animals play in language theories and language training, and that accounting brings forth a decidedly sensuous, lively, and kinetic history of rhetoric and rhetorical education” (3). Soon after, Hawhee states her central focus as she adds: “But its engagement with animals and animality studies, its terminological choices, and its methods are more complicated matters” (3). It is true that terminological choices become the more complicated matters by quite a wide margin. What makes Hawhee’s approach every bit of Tooth and Claw is its close readings of a wide selection from Aristotle (384-322 BC). While Hawhee eventually delves into texts like Demetrius’ On Style (2ndcent. AD) and Longinus’ On the Sublime (1stcent. AD), it is because they are within a larger tradition of rhetorical treatises going back to Aristotle. Hawhee evolves her most critical terminology through well-selected passages in works ranging from Aristotle’s History of Animalsto Politics (4thcent. BC). Specifically, it is the close readings of Aristotle’s Greek which yield the greatest reward and challenge of Hawhee’s work.

To be exact, the reward is an illuminating exposition on the deep relationship between language and nonhuman animals. That relationship begins with the opposition of logos (rational expression) and alogos, which could have easily been a restricting dichotomy. However, it is Hawhee’s purpose to show that the negating a- of alogos does not merely indicate a lack of logosamong nonhuman animals so much as the latter’s capacity for equally crucial forms of communication beyond logos. The logos/alogos dynamic serves as the broad category for Hawhee’s subsequent insights Thus, her explanation of aisthesis (sense perception) as the essential trait of both human and nonhuman animals, is meant to invest both sides of the logos/alogos construct with a commonly shared sense perception. From there, Hawhee takes a page from Aristotle when she divides aisthesis into types: feelingaisthesis, deliberative aesthesis, and phantasia, a triad that maps out quite smoothly onto present, past, and future sense perception. In other words, Hawhee, in reading Aristotle for evidence of the rhetorical dynamacy of animals, uses Aristotelian techniques of categorization. If anything, minute and painstaking categorization of Aristotle’s use of the same term in different contexts is Hawhee’s method. Because of this, Hawhee’s claim that the “connections are not difficult to find in Aristotle’s work; one need only follow animals other than humans” (20) is somewhat misleading.

Take, for instance, the following passage, which characterizes much of Hawhee’s fascinating but demanding etymological mining of Aristotle:

in De anima, Aristotle further develops his conception of aisthesis . . . That definition rests on two infinitives,kineisthaiand paschein, ‘a kind of being moved upon and being affected’ . . . Aristotle then offers a justification, ‘for it [that is, sensation] is believed to be a certain alteration’…The Greek here rendered as alteration, alloiosis, joins the difference indicator (allos) with osis, condition or state. Change of state is therefore at the heart of sensation. (29)

Hawhee’s reading of Aristotle is no less than mesmerizing, and it is passages like those which make the work most memorable. The above snippet juggles, albeit with dexterity, no less than four Greek words. Hawhee has a fellow student of the classical Greek language in this reviewer, but the reader of Tooth and Clawmust bring her analytical A-game to this work, whether a Greek scholar or not. Be ready to look up words in a Greek-English lexicon frequently, preferably Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon (2007) and able to recall those words you do look up because they might help you to understand the later chapters. Though Hawhee writes that she prioritizes the accessibility of her work by not using the Greek script, the terms pile up fast and with complexity. It is one of the underlying themes of Hawhee’s work that the Greek languageallows for a more nuanced interpretation of nonhuman animals’ rhetorical ability.

Zoostylistics becomes the dominating concept throughout the rest of the work (Chs. 2-6). Nearly every author she considers down to Erasmus is engaging in a form of zoostylistics, and this speaks to Hawhee’s panhistoriographic approach, which examines both the large and small of biological and historical developments. Hawhee’s book succeeds at introducing a fascinatingly new approach to animal studies and rhetoric. Rather than unproductively assuming that every human depiction of nonhuman animals is a co-optation that reinforces human superiority, Hawhee shows that we could benefit from engaging the energy of nonhuman animal rhetoric from an array of sources, including the early modern emblematic tradition. Tooth and Clawis a transformative work in the field of classical, animal, medieval (Ch. 5) and early modern studies (Ch. 6)—but most of all in rhetorical studies. Panhistoriographic it certainly is.

Nicholas Gomez, Saint Louis University