American Pursuits and the Making of a New Animal Condition

Antoine Traisnel

Reading canonical works of the nineteenth century through the modern transformation of human–animal relations

256 Pages, 6 x 9 in

  • Paperback
  • 9781517909642
  • Published: September 29, 2020
  • eBook
  • 9781452963914
  • Published: September 29, 2020
  • Hardcover
  • 9781517909635
  • Published: September 29, 2020



American Pursuits and the Making of a New Animal Condition

Antoine Traisnel

ISBN: 9781517909642

Publication date: September 29th, 2020

256 Pages

28 B-W Illustrations, 4 Color Plates

8 x 5

"Capture is a major intervention in critical animal studies and an important rethinking of American culture during the period in which the romance of the frontier gave way to the routinized violence of settler biopower. Antoine Traisnel shows how the disappearance of animals generated a countermovement: new modes of representation—aesthetic, scientific, and political—dedicated to reproducing animal life as commodifiable vitality but also as fugitivity and finitude. This is a bracing prehistory of our contemporary situation haunted by both the industrial feedlot and the sixth mass extinction."—Tobias Menely, author of The Animal Claim: Sensibility and the Creaturely Voice

"Investigating figures such as Audubon, Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville, Antoine Traisnel brings extraordinary new insights into our understanding of how technology not only influences but often decides the artistic and philosophical understanding of animal life. Based on rich historical archives but also deeply theoretical, Capture persuasively argues that in the effort to bring to the fore what is unapproachable in the animal, nineteenth-century art redefined what or who counts as an animal and, in so doing, reinvented the human-animal relationship."—Branka Arsić, author of Bird Relics: Grief and Vitalism in Thoreau

"Capture offers a thought-provoking tour through the ways human-animal relations were reimagined in nineteenth-century America."—ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment 

"Capture: American Pursuits and the Making of a New Animal Condition is striking and, one is tempted to say, captivating...a deep, intelligent and well-written  study."—Transatlantica

"A fascinating genealogy of the representations of nonhuman animals that emerged in the United States during the nineteenth century."—Textual Practice

Reading canonical works of the nineteenth century through the modern transformation of human–animal relations

From Audubon’s still-life watercolors to Muybridge’s trip-wire locomotion studies, from Melville’s epic chases to Poe’s detective hunts, the nineteenth century witnessed a surge of artistic, literary, and scientific treatments that sought to “capture” the truth of animals at the historical moment when animals were receding from everyday view. In Capture, Antoine Traisnel reveals how the drive to contain and record disappearing animals was a central feature and organizing pursuit of the nineteenth-century U.S. cultural canon.

Capture offers a critical genealogy of the dominant representation of animals as elusive, precarious, and endangered that came to circulate widely in the nineteenth century. Traisnel argues that “capture” is deeply continuous with the projects of white settler colonialism and the biocapitalist management of nonhuman and human populations, demonstrating that the desire to capture animals in representation responded to and normalized the systemic disappearance of animals effected by unprecedented changes in the land, the rise of mass slaughter, and the new awareness of species extinction. Tracking the prototyping of biopolitical governance and capitalist modes of control, Traisnel theorizes capture as a regime of vision by which animals came to be seen, over the course of the nineteenth century, as at once unknowable and yet understood in advance—a frame by which we continue to encounter animals today.

Antoine Traisnel is assistant professor of English and comparative literature at the University of Michigan. He is author of Hawthorne: Blasted Allegories and coauthor of Donner le change: L’impensé animal.


Introduction: A New Animal Condition

Part I. Last Vestiges of the Hunt

1. Still Lifes: Audubon

2. Land Speculations: Cooper

Part II. New Genres of Capture

3. The Fugitive Animal: Poe

4. Fabulous Taxonomy: Hawthorne

5. The Stock Image: Muybridge

Conclusion: Life in Capture





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