the anteater’s umbrella: a critique of zoos (1971)

I thought that this was a nicely-written valid critique that deserved to be reproduced here.

The Anteater’s Umbrella


The Surrealist Group

of Chicago



“…The ostrich, the deer, the jerboa, etc., will come and join forces with man as soon as his company becomes attractive to them, which it can never be in the civilized order!”

-Charles Fourier

It is not without significance that animals in the zoo are captured and brought against their wills to this, the penetentiary of the instincts. The contemptible slavery that man too readily tolerates and allows to dominate human existence provokes an immediate revulsion, a profound disdain, a cataclysmic resistance among those animals of grace and savagery. It is only through the technological brutality of science in the service of oppression that the living are forced into a suspended death, in which dreams are deprived of the future they call forth, and sleep itself crumbles against the bars of destruction.

Here, in the zoo, in this place of hypnotic fascination, human beings come to see their own instincts caged and sterilized. Everything that is intrinsic to humankind, but smothered by capitalist society, reappears safely in the zoo. Aggression, sexuality, motion, desire, play, the very impulses to freedom are trapped and displayed for the alienated enjoyment and manipulation of men, women and children. Here is the harmless spectacle in which everything desired by human beings exists only to the degree that it is separated from the reality of human existence. The cages are merely the extensions of the cages that omnipresently infest the lives of all living beings. Here the animals are placed in the unnatural habitat of a society unnatural to itself.

The incandescent speed of cheetahs, the desparate prowling of leopards, the celestial fever of black swans, the immaculate laughter of seals, the absent-minded tumbling of marmosets, the cabalistic brooding of owls: these veritable emblems of grandeur are imprisoned, severed from the past and the future and turned into empty shells of a previous joy. All that has been natural and a source of pleasure, for animals, has been converted into a performative slavery of a zoological bastille. Ability has been made the toil of suffering.

The condition of slavery automatically poses the question: What are the prospects for liberation? It hardly needs to be stressed that the very notion of the revolutionary transformation of the relationship between humankind and beasts is all but unthinkable today. And yet, in the great myths of the American Indians and ancient African cultures, in the writings of certain thinkers of rare genious (Charles Fourier, Alphonse Toussenel, John Ruskin), in the tradition of so-called “accursed” poetry and in a remarkable popular tradition that extends at least from Mother Goose to animated cartoons, from The Musicians of Bremen to The Call of the Wild, it is possible to perceive at least some faint glimmers of the immense possibilities in this domain. One must heed, too, the invulnerable signals through the flames by the animals themselves: a few years ago, for example, the polar bears at Brookfield Zoo, after heavy rains flooded their lair, swam across the moat, broke into a concession stand and frolicked about as they consumed thousands of marshmallows….

If enslavement begins with humankind, it must end with the simultaneous liberation of humans and animals from the yoke of commodity fetishism and narcissistic effusions. The brutal confinement of animals ultimately serves only to separate men and women from their own potentialities, and to make them victims of their own insidious barbarity.

It is the reality of dreams that necessitates the reintegration of humans and animals in everyday life. In the realization of its deepest desires, humanity will achieve what it has always sought: a universe of the incredible.

The Surrealist Group

of Chicago

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