The Breathless Zoo: Taxidermy and the Cultures of Longing (Animalibus of Animals and Cultures)

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9780271053721: The Breathless Zoo: Taxidermy and the Cultures of Longing (Animalibus of Animals and Cultures)

Featured in The New York Times 2012 Holiday Gift Guide!

From sixteenth-century cabinets of wonders to contemporary animal art, The Breathless Zoo: Taxidermy and the Culture of Longing examines the cultural and poetic history of preserving animals in lively postures. But why would anyone want to preserve an animal, and what is this animal-thing now? The Breathless Zoo suggests that taxidermy is entwined with the enduring human longing to find meaning with and within the natural world. By drawing out the longings at the heart of taxidermy—the longing for wonder, beauty, spectacle, order, narrative, allegory, and remembrance—The Breathless Zoo explores the animal spectacles desired by particular communities, human assumptions of superiority, the yearnings for hidden truths within animal form, and the loneliness and longing that haunt our strange human existence, being both within and apart from nature.

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About the Author:

Rachel Poliquin is a writer and curator engaged with the cultural and poetic history of the natural world. She has curated taxidermy exhibits for the Museum of Vancouver and the Beaty Biodiversity Museum at the University of British Columbia. Poliquin is the author of ravishingbeasts.com, a website dedicated to exploring the cultural history of taxidermy.

Review:

I have long been a fan of Rachel Poliquin's otherworldly online museum, ravishingbeast.com, but after reading The Breathless Zoo I know just what she means when she says that all taxidermy, like storytelling, is deeply marked by human longing. I am already longing to read The Breathless Zoo again. --Jay Kirk, University of Pennsylvania

With The Breathless Zoo, Rachel Poliquin has made a major contribution to the blossoming field of animal studies. This book is the new benchmark on the place of taxidermy in the social history of art, science, and popular culture. Marvelous, rigorous, and extensively well researched, the work is also refreshingly pleasurable to read. Throughout, Poliquin explores the complex questions around the rich cultural texture of taxidermy. And unlike other works on the topic, The Breathless Zoo examines not only what taxidermy is but also what it means. For those of us engaged in thinking about animals, this is the book on the culture of taxidermy we have long awaited a book of great innovation that slices through the history of science, blood sports, and art.
--Mark Dion
The Breathless Zoo is an intriguing and poetic meditation on an unlikely subject: stuffed animals in European museums that seem so familiar and so intellectually musty. Rachel Poliquin teases out of them not just a typological order but also a human longing for beauty and wonder, story and allegory. In the dead specimens she finds immortality; in their stasis, movement across the world. The result is a rich panorama of human ideas and desires.
--Marina Belozerskaya, author of The Medici Giraffe
The Breathless Zoo is the book that the subject of taxidermy has long deserved. Full of provocative opinions, beautifully expressed, it is a subtle and thoroughly engaging exploration of the difficult question posed by all present-day encounters with taxidermy: What is this animal-thing now?
--Steve Baker

What do Roy Rogers' horse, Trigger, Jumbo the Barnum and Bailey circus elephant, and Dolly the cloned sheep all have in common? They were all stuffed. Or, to be more precise, they have all been given life-after-death through the magic of taxidermy. They share this fate with cats dressed in crinolines, ice-skating hedgehogs and gophers doing, well, all manner of things. And with hummingbirds in nineteenth century glass cases at London's Natural History Museum and zebras on display at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. What is it that propels human beings to stuff the dead bodies of other animals or birds? According to [The Breathless Zoo], taxidermy is about longing -- it is a way of staving off the inevitable, of holding onto the past. Vancouver writer and curator Rachel Poliquin presents a delightfully thorough account of a practice that spans centuries. --Michael Enright, host of CBC Radio One Sunday Edition

A wealth of well-chosen illustrations, anecdotes, and deft readings of individual pieces of taxidermy make The Breathless Zoo a rich study that will appeal to a variety of readers. --Anjuli Raza Kolb, Los Angeles Review of Books

With The Breathless Zoo, Rachel Poliquin has made a major contribution to the blossoming field of animal studies. This book is the new benchmark on the place of taxidermy in the social history of art, science, and popular culture. Marvelous, rigorous, and extensively well researched, the work is also refreshingly pleasurable to read. Throughout, Poliquin explores the complex questions around the rich cultural texture of taxidermy. And unlike other works on the topic, The Breathless Zoo examines not only what taxidermy is but also what it means. For those of us engaged in thinking about animals, this is the book on the culture of taxidermy we have long awaited a book of great innovation that slices through the history of science, blood sports, and art.
--Mark Dion
The Breathless Zoo is an intriguing and poetic meditation on an unlikely subject: stuffed animals in European museums that seem so familiar and so intellectually musty. Rachel Poliquin teases out of them not just a typological order but also a human longing for beauty and wonder, story and allegory. In the dead specimens she finds immortality; in their stasis, movement across the world. The result is a rich panorama of human ideas and desires.
--Marina Belozerskaya, author of The Medici Giraffe
The Breathless Zoo is the book that the subject of taxidermy has long deserved. Full of provocative opinions, beautifully expressed, it is a subtle and thoroughly engaging exploration of the difficult question posed by all present-day encounters with taxidermy: What is this animal-thing now? --Steve Baker

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