Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-5c569c448b-s84wp Total loading time: 0.506 Render date: 2022-07-05T22:03:41.073Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "useNewApi": true } hasContentIssue true

Article contents

Flocking Together: Collective Animal Minds in Contemporary Fiction

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 October 2020


The remarkable coordination displayed by animal groups—such as an ant colony or a flock of birds in flight—is not just a behavioral feat; it reflects a fullfledged form of collective cognition. Building on work in philosophy, cognitive approaches to literature, and animal studies, I explore how contemporary fiction captures animal collectivity. I focus on three novels that probe different aspects of animal assemblages: animals as a collective agent (in Richard Powers's The Echo Maker), animals that communicate a shared mind through dance- like movements (in Lydia Davis's The Cows), and animals that embrace a collective “we” to critique the individualism of contemporary society (in Peter Verhelst's The Man I Became). When individuality drops out of the picture of human‐animal encounters in fiction, empathy becomes abstract: a matter of quasi‐geometric patterns that are experienced by readers through an embodied mechanism of kinesthetic resonance. (MC)

Research Article
Copyright © 2020 Marco Caracciolo

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Bennett, Jane. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Duke UP, 2010.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bolens, Guillemette. The Style of Gestures: Embodiment and Cognition in Literary Narrative. Johns Hopkins UP, 2012.Google Scholar
Bruns, Gerald L.Becoming-Animal (Some Simple Ways).” New Literary History, Vol. 38, No. 4, 2007, pp. 703–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Caracciolo, Marco. “Form, Science, and Narrative in the Anthropocene.” Narrative, Vol. 27, No. 3, 2019, pp. 270–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Caracciolo, Marco Strange Narrators in Contemporary Fiction: Explorations in Readers' Engagement with Characters. U of Nebraska P, 2016.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Coetzee, J. M. The Lives of Animals. Princeton UP, 1999.Google Scholar
Colombetti, Giovanna. The Feeling Body: Affective Science Meets the Enactive Mind. MIT Press, 2013.Google Scholar
Couzin, Iain D.Collective Cognition in Animal Groups.” Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Vol. 13, No. 1, 2008, pp. 3643.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Couzin, Iain D.Collective Minds.” Nature, Vol. 445, 2007, p. 715.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Davis, Lydia. The Cows. Sarabande Books, 2011.Google Scholar
Decety, Jean, and Cowell, Jason M.Empathy, Justice, and Moral Behavior.” AJOB Neuroscience, Vol. 6, No. 3, 2015, pp. 314.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Deleuze, Gilles, and Guattari, Félix. “Becoming-Animal.” The Animals Reader: The Essential Classic and Contemporary Writings, edited by Kalof, Linda and Fitzgerald, Amy, Berg, 2007, pp. 3750.Google Scholar
Despret, Vinciane. “Responding Bodies and Partial Affinities in Human-Animal Worlds.” Theory, Culture and Society, Vol. 30, nos. 7–8, 2013, pp. 5176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Fludernik, Monika. “The Many in Action and Thought: Towards a Poetics of the Collective in Narrative.” Narrative, Vol. 25, No. 2, May 2017, pp. 139–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gallagher, Shaun, and Zahavi, Dan. The Phenomenological Mind: An Introduction to Philosophy of Mind and Cognitive Science. Routledge, 2008.Google Scholar
Gallese, Vittorio. “The ‘Shared Manifold’ Hypothesis: From Mirror Neurons to Empathy.” Journal of Consciousness Studies, Vol. 8, nos. 5–7, May 2001, pp. 3350.Google Scholar
Glenberg, Arthur M., and Kaschak, Michael P.Grounding Language in Action.” Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, Vol. 9, No. 3, 2002, pp. 558–65.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Goldman, Alvin I. Simulating Minds: The Philosophy, Psychology, and Neuroscience of Mindreading. Oxford UP, 2006.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gregg, Melissa, and Seigworth, Gregory J.An Inventory of Shimmers.” The Affect Theory Reader, edited by Gregg, and Seigworth, , Duke UP, 2010, pp. 125.Google Scholar
Grusin, Richard. Introduction. The Nonhuman Turn, edited by Grusin, , U of Minnesota P, 2015, pp. vii-xxix.Google Scholar
Hayles, N. Katherine. Unthought: The Power of the Cognitive Nonconscious. U of Chicago P, 2017.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Herman, David, editor. Animal Worlds in Modern Fiction. Special issue of MFS: Modern Fiction Studies, Vol. 60, No. 3, 2014.Google Scholar
Holmberg, Tora. Urban Animals: Crowding in Zoocities. Routledge, 2015.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hutto, Daniel D., and Myin, Erik. Radicalizing Enactivism: Basic Minds without Content. MIT Press, 2012.10.7551/mitpress/9780262018548.001.0001CrossRefGoogle Scholar
IJken, Jan van. The Art of Flying. Jan van IJken, Scholar
Jamieson, Dale. Reason in a Dark Time: Why the Struggle against Climate Change Failed—and What It Means for Our Future. Oxford UP, 2014.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Penguin, 1992.Google Scholar
Keen, Suzanne. “Empathetic Hardy: Bounded, Ambassadorial, and Broadcast Strategies of Narrative Empathy.” Poetics Today, Vol. 32, No. 2, 2011, pp. 349–89.10.1215/03335372-1162695CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kuijpers, Moniek M., and Miall, David S.Bodily Involvement in Literary Reading: An Experimental Study of Readers' Bodily Experiences during Reading.” De stralende Lezer: Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek naar de Invloed van het Lezen, edited by Hakemulder, Frank, Eburon, 2011, pp. 160 -74.Google Scholar
Latour, Bruno. “Agency at the Time of the Anthropocene.” New Literary History, Vol. 45, No. 1, 2014, pp. 118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Levine, Caroline. Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network. Princeton UP, 2015.Google Scholar
Leys, Ruth. “The Turn to Affect: A Critique.” Critical Inquiry, Vol. 37, No. 3, Spring 2011, pp. 434–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lipps, Theodor. “Zur Einfühlung.” Psychologische Untersuchungen, Vol. 2, nos. 2–3, 1913, pp. 111491.Google Scholar
McFarland, Sarah E., and Hediger, Ryan. “Approaching the Agency of Other Animals.” Introduction. Animals and Agency: An Interdisciplinary Exploration, edited by McFarland, and Hediger, , Brill, 2009, pp. 120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
McHugh, Susan. “Literary Animal Agents.” PMLA, Vol. 124, No. 2, Mar. 2009, pp. 487–95.Google Scholar
Nagel, Thomas. “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?Philosophical Review, Vol. 83, 1974, pp. 435–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Noë, Alva. Action in Perception. MIT Press, 2004.Google Scholar
Pick, Anat. Creaturely Poetics: Animality and Vulnerability in Literature and Film. Columbia UP, 2011.Google Scholar
Powers, Richard. The Echo Maker. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006.Google Scholar
Pulvermüller, Friedemann. “Brain Mechanisms Linking Language and Action.” Nature Reviews Neuroscience, Vol. 6, No. 7, 2005, pp. 576–82.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Reynolds, Dee. “Kinesthetic Empathy and the Dance's Body: From Emotion to Affect.” Kinesthetic Empathy in Creative and Cultural Practices, edited by Reynolds, and Reason, Matthew, Intellect, 2012, pp. 8393.Google Scholar
Shapiro, Kenneth J.A Phenomenological Approach to the Study of Nonhuman Animals.” Anthropomorphism, Anecdotes, and Animals, edited by Mitchell, Robert W. et al., State U of New York P, 1997, pp. 277–95.Google Scholar
Sheets-Johnstone, Maxine. The Primacy of Movement. Expanded 2nd ed., John Benjamins, 2011.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Verhelst, Peter. The Man I Became. Translated by David Colmer, Kindle ed., Peirene Press, 2016.Google Scholar
Waldau, Paul. Animal Studies: An Introduction. Oxford UP, 2013.Google Scholar
Warkentin, Traci. “Thinking like a Whale: Interdisciplinary Methods for the Study of Human-Animal Interactions.” Experiencing Animal Minds: An Anthology of Animal-Human Encounters, edited by Smith, Julie Ann and Mitchell, Robert W., Columbia UP, 2012, pp. 129–41.Google Scholar
Weik von Mossner, Alexa. Affective Ecologies: Empathy, Emotion, and Environmental Narrative. Ohio State UP, 2017.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Willerslev, Rane. “Not Animal, Not Not-Animal: Hunting, Imitation and Empathetic Knowledge among the Siberian Yukaghirs.” The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. 10, No. 3, 2004, pp. 629–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wolfe, Cary. What Is Posthumanism? U of Minnesota P, 2010.Google Scholar
Zwaan, Rolf A., and Taylor, Lawrence J.Seeing, Acting, Understanding: Motor Resonance in Language Comprehension.” Journal of Experimental Psychology, Vol. 135, No. 1, 2006, pp. 111.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Cited by

Save article to Kindle

To save this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Flocking Together: Collective Animal Minds in Contemporary Fiction
Available formats

Save article to Dropbox

To save this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Dropbox account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Flocking Together: Collective Animal Minds in Contemporary Fiction
Available formats

Save article to Google Drive

To save this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you used this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your Google Drive account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Flocking Together: Collective Animal Minds in Contemporary Fiction
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *