Apes and Elephants: In Search of Sensation in the Tropical Imaginary

Barbara Creed


This paper will explore the tropical exotic in relation to the widespread European fascination with tropical animals exhibited in zoos throughout the long nineteenth century. Zoos became places where human animals could experience the chill of a backbone shiver as they came face to face with the animal/other. It will examine the establishment of the first zoos in relation to Harriet Ritvo’s argument that their major imperative was one of classification and control. On the one hand, the zoo fulfilled the public’s desire for wild, exotic creatures while, on the other hand, the zoo reassured the public that its major purpose was control of the natural world encapsulated by the stereotype of tropical excess. I will argue that these various places of exhibition created an uncanny zone in which the European subject was able to encounter its animal self while reaffirming an anthropocentric world view.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.25120/etropic.12.2.2013.3339


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