Affect, Animals, and Autists
Feeling Around the Edges of the Human in Performance
Explores the emotional responses of audiences to neurodiverse characters and non-human animals on stage to question the boundaries of the human
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When theater and related forms of live performance explore the borderlands labeled animal and autism, they both reflect and affect their audiences’ understanding of what it means to be human. Affect, Animals, and Autists maps connections across performances that question the borders of the human whose neurodiverse experiences have been shaped by the diagnostic label of autism, and animal-human performance relationships that dispute and blur anthropocentric edges.
By analyzing specific structures of affect with the vocabulary of emotions, Marla Carlson builds upon the conception of affect articulated by psychologist Silvan Tomkins. The book treats a diverse selection of live performance and archival video and analyzes the ways in which they affect their audiences. The range of performances includes commercially successful productions such as The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, War Horse, and The Lion King as well as to the more avant-garde and experimental theater created by Robert Wilson and Christopher Knowles, Back to Back Theatre, Elevator Repair Service, Pig Iron Theatre, and performance artist Deke Weaver.
"Provocative, timely, and well-written, Affect, Animals, and Autists raises challenging questions that will be of interest to affect theorists as well as a broad complement of interdisciplinary scholars working in disability, performance, theatre, and/or animal studies.”
—Kirsty Johnston, University of British Columbia
“A timely, exciting and important book that is evidently the manifestation of years of in-depth research and reflection. The evaluation of performances is admirably measured, whilst not underestimating the risks of perpetuating conventional paradigms of animals or autism by influential ‘hits’ like War Horse or Curious Incident.”
—Laura Cull Ó Maoilearca, University of Surrey
Praise / Awards
"In this absorbing study, Marla Carlson brings together the overlapping critical frameworks of performance studies and affect theory to critique humanist ideologies underlying theatrical representation and reception."
"Affect, Animals, and Autists is a crucial contribution to recent scholarship that puts theatre and performance research in conversation with animal and disability studies...[The book] offers a timely deliberation on the artistic impulses, affective responses, and historical implications of troubling the borders of the human."
"Affect, Animals, and Autists: Feeling around the Edges of the Human in Performance is an engaging, lively, and necessary exploration of the interconnections between animals and those humans deemed disabled. ...Affect, Animals, and Autists provides an admirable analysis of disabled voices and representation in performance. The book has opened the door to the difficult arena where able and disabled, human and animal, and neurotypical and neurodiverse make up the “human” in ways that are all unique and wonderfully liberating."
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