Monstrous Perfectibility: Ape-Human Transformations in Hobbes, Bulwer, Tyson

  • Susan Wiseman


What is an ape? This question troubled the natural philosophers of the Enlightenment just as much as the early modern mythographers because the ape was where the border between the human and its others was both maintained and dissolved. The work of Edward Tyson, the late seventeenth-century anatomist, in dissecting and analysing a ‘Pygmie … much resembling Man’ enables us to investigate the qualities attributed to the ape — qualities which brought it, despite empiricism’s best efforts, dangerously close to the human. These include the ape’s mythic dimensions, and its perceived transformability. In the epochs before the ‘taxonomic and therefore political … ordering [of] differences’ — what Donna Haraway calls ‘simian orientalism‘ — fantasies around the ape informed both scientific and socio-political writing.2 What — if anything — held apart ape and human?


Eighteenth Century Human Relation Comparative Anatomy Mere Animal Simian Orientalism 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1999

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  • Susan Wiseman

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