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AnimalitiesLiterary and Cultural Studies Beyond the Human$
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Michael Lundblad

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9781474400022

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474400022.001.0001

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“Sparks Would Fly”: Electricity and the Spectacle of Animality

“Sparks Would Fly”: Electricity and the Spectacle of Animality

(p.104) Chapter 5 “Sparks Would Fly”: Electricity and the Spectacle of Animality

Anat Pick

Edinburgh University Press

Pick traces the ambiguous and problematic history of electricity in relation not only to early cinema in the U.S., but also to its use in electrocution as capital punishment, in the torture of vulnerable bodies, and in electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) in psychiatric institutions. Focusing primarily on the film that Thomas Edison made depicting the electrocution of Topsy the elephant at Coney Island in 1903, as well as Sylvia Plath’s work in The Bell Jar and other poems, Pick follows the development of electricity as a less visible instrument of control in democracies supposedly committed to human rights and the monitoring of punishment and interrogation methods, up through and including the current use of Tasers by police targeting communities of color. But there are surprising inconsistencies and ambiguities in these histories as well, such as constructions of nonhuman agency in which an elephant can be judged culpable and therefore deserving of capital punishment, while Sylvia Plath can exemplify the logic of ECT that can claim the ability to restore human agency in the mind of a schizophrenic or psychotic person.

Keywords:   animality, electricity, Topsy the elephant, Sylvia Plath, electrocution, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), human rights, capital punishment

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