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Ecocritics and EcoskepticsA Humanist Reading of Recent French Ecofiction$
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Jonathan F. Krell

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781789622058

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.3828/liverpool/9781789622058.001.0001

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Ethical Humanism and the Animal Question: Vercors’s You Shall Know Them (Les Animaux dénaturés)

Ethical Humanism and the Animal Question: Vercors’s You Shall Know Them (Les Animaux dénaturés)

(p.95) Chapter 4 Ethical Humanism and the Animal Question: Vercors’s You Shall Know Them (Les Animaux dénaturés)
Ecocritics and Ecoskeptics

Jonathan F. Krell

Liverpool University Press

Vercors’s You Shall Know Them, published shortly after WWII, grapples with the question of how to define humans and how to differentiate them from animals. This “animal question” is closely linked to the “law of the strongest” and a long history of racism, imperialism, and capitalism, as exposed in Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism. Archeologists, looking for fossils, discover a tribe of intelligent ape-like hominids in New Guinea, and no one can determine if they are human or another species of great apes. A businessman wants to castrate most males, intern them in camps, and use them as cheap labor in his wool mills, an ominous reference to the Nazi concentration camps that had so recently shaken Vercors’s humanist convictions, laying bare the bestiality of humans. After a long trial, it is decided that the hominids should be considered human, because, worshipping fire, they manifest a spirit of religion. Like Camus’s “Human Crisis” lecture of 1946, You Shall Know Them is a call for the restoration of human dignity, annihilated by the savagery of the war.

Keywords:   Vercors (Jean Bruller), Les Animaux dénaturés, ethical humanism, humane moralism, environmental ethics, animal philosophy, Hannah Arendt, Comte de Gobineau, Albert Camus, existentialism

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