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Melancholia’s Dog

Reflections on Our Animal Kinship

Bred to provide human companionship, dogs eclipse all other species when it comes to reading the body language of people. Dog owners hunger for a complete rapport with their pets; in the dog the fantasy of empathetic resonance finds its ideal. But cross-species communication is never easy. Dog love can be a precious but melancholy thing.

An attempt to understand human attachment to the canis familiaris in terms of reciprocity and empathy, Melancholia’sDog tackles such difficult concepts as intimacy and kinship with dogs, the shame associated with identification with their suffering, and the reasons for the profound mourning over their deaths. In addition to philosophy and psychoanalysis, Alice A. Kuzniar turns to the insights and images offered by the literary and visual arts—the short stories of Ivan Turgenev and Franz Kafka, the novels of J. M. Coetzee and Rebecca Brown, the photography of Sally Mann and William Wegman, and the artwork of David Hockney and Sue Coe. Without falling into sentimentality or anthropomorphization, Kuzniar honors and learns from our canine companions, above all attending to the silences and sadness brought on by the effort to represent the dog as perfectly and faithfully as it is said to love.

216 pages | 13 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2006

Art: Art--General Studies

Biological Sciences: Natural History

Culture Studies

Literature and Literary Criticism: General Criticism and Critical Theory


“In this skillful blend of psychology, philosophy, art, and literature, Alice Kuzniar sets a new standard for discourse about dogs. She shows how the love of dogs, far from being sentimental and idealistic, is marked by sadness and loss. The anguish of pet love is often shrouded in secrecy, just as its intimacy transcends the exchange of words, but Kuzniar refuses to treat animals as purely and unknowably other, just as she resists reducing pets to projections of ego-driven fantasies. Dogs are worthy of our devotion, just as they are worthy subjects of great literature and art, and this book suggests that understanding animals and art best takes place where those passions intersect.”

Stephen H. Webb, author of On God and Dogs

Melancholia’s Dog is a risky and improper book; that is, Kuzniar gives us an acutely intelligent work—intellectually and emotionally—that actually takes seriously what goes on affectively between dogs and people. This is writing attuned to the sadness of unavowed and repudiated attachment across species difference. Kuzniar addresses us, human beings, who refuse to understand that it is we who must learn to comprehend—or even just to notice—the depth, difficulty, and urgency of canine-human relations, so that we might learn at last to speak properly about such matters as pet loss and death, shared vulnerability, and resonating empathic shame. Melancholia’s Dog lovingly inhabits works of visual and literary art in order to make palpable the urgent need to stop our silliness about dogs and to nurture the practice of articulate respect for the complexities of our attachments across the bounds of species difference.”

Donna Haraway, author of The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness

“What does it mean to be alone, but in the company of dogs? Daring and rigorous, Alice Kuzniar’s beautifully realized book explores a conundrum that is as interminable as it is consequential: non-human animals are always elsewhere and otherwise, but never more so than when they are nearby. Dwelling in the strange space of intimacy and distance that we share with canines, she negotiates the unfathomable worlds of vulnerability, shame, love, and loss that join us to animals to the precise degree that they mark our infinite separation from them. Unsparing in its refusal to sentimentalize our attachments to dogs, Kuzniar’s book is a profoundly moving reflection on the ways in which our lives are enraptured by the lives of animals. Melancholia’s Dog is an elegant and forceful call for understanding and, above all, respect.”

David L. Clark, McMaster University

"Melacholia’s Dog cites an astonishing array of luminaries—from Homer and Kafka to the French philosopher Jacques Derrida and the contemporary Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu—all interested in the way our interactions with dogs color our understanding of the world. . . . As a scholarly treatise, [Kuzniar]’s work is a striking combination of intuition and analysis."

Andrea Walker | The Bark

"This is probably the first time that a scholar of Kuzniar’s ability has shown the courage to tackle the deeper aspects of our relationship with dogs....Our dogs are metaphors for ourselves, something that many of us may have long suspected, but because the idea had never been articulated, or not fully, perhaps we did not appreciate the fact. Or perhaps we didn’t want to face it. Thanks to Alice Kuzniar, we know it now."

Elizabeth Marshall Thomas | London Review of Books

"[The book] is unusual both in its respectful and imaginative engagement with the uniqueness of individual animal lives and in its consistent refusal to sentimentalize or anthropomorphize. Kuzniar follows Derrida throughout in questioning and subverting the simplistic human-animal binary that dominates Western philosophy. . . . Above all the book is timely in making us reflect on the ethical treatment of both dogs and the natural world in general."

Jane Walling | MLR

"Melancholia’s Dog reminds us of how much we share with the beasts around us, how much of our ’mortality and vulnerability’ speak to theirs, It is a lesson that transcends boundaries, both of species and professional idiom, and Kuzniar does her audience a distinct service by reminding us of it."

Bruce Boehrer | Modern Philology

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1. Muteness
2. Shame
3. Intimacy
4. Mourning
Works Cited

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