Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Schuster, Joshua


This project elaborates a concept of “species panic,” a severe and often violently-charged reaction to the notion that one’s privileged species status as a human being is under threat. In this project’s post-1900 American literary archive, species panic is often provoked by nonhuman eros, which provokes and threatens the fantasy of human exceptionalism. Theoretically, this project yokes animal studies and posthumanism (Donna Haraway, Dominic Pettman, Kathy Rudy) with queer theory and critical race studies (Mel Y. Chen, Zakiyyah Iman Jackson, Alexander Weheliye) as its central driving forces. This theoretical backdrop informs my reading of American authors Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, Philip K. Dick, Toni Morrison, Linda Hogan, and Joy Harjo. Species Panic is divided into five chapters, each of which organizes around a particular species of nonhuman animal: dogs, bulls, androids, cows, and horses. While this project’s first three chapters deal with the yoked constructions of masculinity and (straight white male) humanity, the fourth and fifth chapter dramatize the unique and different experiences of female authors depicting human-animal erotic relations. What I add to the analysis of animal studies thinkers such as Donna Haraway is a sustained focus on interspecies erotics as a cultural driving force, manifested in the panicked literary case studies I explore.

Cumulatively, the texts I analyze show an American literature still threatened by Darwin’s radical intervention in the history of science. In its conclusions, Species Panic reveals a threatened human clinging to the husk of species exceptionalism as the closet of animality looms loudly in the backdrop. What my research reveals is that interspecies eros is a central and under-analyzed component of thinking around nonhuman animals. I do not, however, suggest that rejuvenated attention to interspecies and nonhuman eros will rehabilitate human-nonhuman relations. Instead, I simply suggest that interspecies eros—in all its prickly complexity—must become a central factor in how we think about nonhuman animals. The erotic, this study insists, is a central component of how we interact with, conceive, and construct nonhuman life. But that eros is not an intrinsic source of redemption; interspecies erotics remains complex, multifaceted, and mired in panic.