Friday, December 28, 2012

He has given animals souls

From Harvard and Yale, this stocky, industrious man who had never graduated from high school received honorary degrees. He was honored by Yale the same day as it honored Thomas Mann, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist. Prof. William Lyon Phelps of Yale said of Mr. Disney: 
"He has accomplished something that has defied all the efforts and experiments of the laboratories in zoology and biology. He has given animals souls."
Presumably Prof. Phelps said that the day Disney received his honorary degree, which, I believe, would have been in the late 1930s. That was long before animals and our attitudes toward them had become a focal concern in the humanities. Which means that his assertion about Disney didn't have THAT particular kind of weight. 

I rather imagine that what he had in mind is simply that Disney (among others) made cartoons about animals that walked about on their hind legs and talked, as though they were humans. What I'm wondering is this: What's the relationship between those cartoons, then, and the present existence of animal studies?

Animal studies didn't come from nothing. It has had to draw on existing cultural resources, both immediately and directly, and indirectly as well. I'm thinking that those cartoons are among the most important of the indirect cultural resources on which animal studies draws. Without those cartoons suffused throughout the society, animal studies would be a much harder sell.

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