In this new audio interview on the New Books Network, Lance Thurner speaks with Peter Sahlins about 1668: The Year of the Animal in France. Click here to learn more about the book. Click here to listen to the full interview. An excerpt appears below:
“Q: … Physiognomy is such an important part of this book [by] making the link between animal subjectivity and human subjectivity. Could you explain a little bit more about that thought … and what is developing out of it during this [time] period?
A: … What I was struck with within this was not so much entering debate about the author of these drawings and whether he was trying to argue about the identity of animals and humans or the difference between animals and humans. What I was struck with was the class dimension of these projects because the human-like figures who are used in the illustration of the passions and the physiognomy of the passions are men from the lower social orders — artisans, peasants, workers. We know this from the clothing that they wear in these drawings; but [it is] also instantly recognizable from their faces, which are unshaven and unkempt …. And so, partly what I argue what [the artist] was doing was not just exploring the difference and convergence between humans and animals in his portrayal of these animal-human faces; but also insisting on the distinction between the civilized and the bestial. And … it is mapping [that distinction] onto a social hierarchy that found its foremost expression at the court of Louis XIV.”