ANIMOTS : Animals and Animality in 20th and 21st century French and Francophone Literature

Responsable : Alain Romestaing

A project of Agence Nationale de la Recherche

Coordinator for EA 4400-Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3 : Alain Romestaing (Paris Descartes - France)

Research notebook on Hypothè

Seminar 2010-2011 et 2011-2012 L’animal entre sciences et littérature

Seminar 2012-2013 Histoires de bêtes : littérature et animalité dans la littérature de langue française


Created in partnership with the CRAL (“Centres de recherches sur les arts et le langage” : CNRS/EHESS) and Research unit “Écritures de la modernité” (U. of Paris 3/CNRS), and including eight researchers, the Animots project (2010-2014) aims at widening a still vastly unexplored field of research, in the medium or long run, on animals and animality in 20th- and 21st-century French and Francophone Literature. Three members of the research team affiliated with American and British universities will follow theoretical developments in the English-speaking world and assess and help set up international projects in English and in French.

An interdisciplinary seminar, a doctoral research seminar, two one-day conferences, two colloquia, an international convention and ten collaborative publications will set forth the latest reflection on the topic in France, the United States and the United Kingdom.


Historical events, in the 20th and 21st century, have given rise to an intense intellectual energy around the question of the animal : from Darwin’s and Mendel’s huge scientific discoveries to contemporary pandemics, from the mechanization of living beings (including human beings) to massive extinction of certain species or the practice of xenografting, the frontiers of anthropozoology have been either dramatically reinforced or fully challenged. From philosophy to biology, from cognitive sciences to history or political science, to name but a few, the animal has become a fundamental research subject. It has led to new and major configurations in many fields of research : the disappearance of natural history, the development of ecology, ethology and ethics…

In this intellectual chorus, literary discourse and representation are seldom considered by academic criticism whose views on animality are limited to traditional approaches (allegorical analysis, regional studies, limitation to minor genres). However, since the beginning of the 20th century numerous writers have been interested in sharing contemporary social and epistemological reflections. Therefore, it is now crucial to legitimize the research on animality in literary studies and to renew scholarly research by inviting other disciplines into the field.


The animal, so “natural” at the phenomenological and existential level, is in fact a flexible and multiple topic of research, one constructed and analyzed by the researchers themselves : inspired by a neologism created by Jacques Derrida, the plural form of the project title aims at marginalizing the reductive character of the singular form, “animal”, which, as such, presupposes the conglomeration of all instances of a world which is, at all events, composed of diversified and unique yet multiple forms. Animots seeks to develop a research that will be done at a critical as well as at a creative level : we will work at precisely defining related concepts such as “beast”, “animal”, “bestiality”, “humanity,” as well as offering a reflection on the pluses and minuses of anthropomorphism. We will analyze which narrative and stylistic strategies may best highlight new modalities that up to now have remained closed to the study of the “human” (von Uexküll), and, at the cognitive level, see if emotions like projection and empathy, often part of the writing process, may offer access to a specific kind of otherness. Through the problematic of animality, we will be able to inscribe texts in their scientific context while simultaneously reconfiguring literary history.

If the animal, of which Moby Dick might be the quintessential paradigm, constitutes the vanishing point of literature (J.-C. Bailly), poetry and fiction, by ways of figures and figuration, nevertheless speak of and for the animal (G. Deleuze), and thus convey a specific knowledge of the living that goes beyond the mere representation of its forms.