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The Moth-Eaten Page: Animals and Language in Angela Rawlings’s Wide Slumber for Lepidopterists
October 14, 2013 @ 3:30 pm - 5:00 pm
Dana-Allen Dissertation Fellow (2013-2014)
Angela Rawlings’s experimental long-poem Wide Slumber for Lepidopterists evokes an insect collector’s dream in which the forms of moths and butterflies become confused with the form of the text itself. While exploring this connection between bodily and literary form, Rawlings asks questions about the physical and metaphysical boundaries that separate human from animal, disturbing species boundaries in often unsettling and even erotic ways. As language deteriorates (becoming moth-eaten) and meaning becomes increasingly elusive, lepidoptera emerge not only as symbol and metaphor, but as embodied creatures who are subject to human violence. Within the text, the lives and deaths of these animals are represented in a way that challenges the anthropocentrism of human language. Conflating the “pinning down” of a moth in a scientist’s collection with the “pinning down” of words and meaning, the text considers the ethics of representing animal deaths within literature, and what it takes for animal bodies to escape the confines of human frameworks. Ultimately, the text demonstrates the way in which animal endings dramatically affect narrative and poetic endings, causing fractures in language yet also creating a new means of communication that places human experience alongside, rather than above, the experience of animals.
Sarah Groeneveld is a Dana-Allen Dissertation Fellow and a PhD Candidate in the department of English Literature at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she also received an MA in 2010. Her research focuses on transnational literature and engages with the discourses of critical animal studies, postcolonial ecocriticism, biopolitics and posthumanism. Her dissertation has also been supported by a Wisconsin-Mellon Summer Dissertation Fellowship and the English department’s Sally Mead Hands Summer Dissertation Fellowship.