Los Angeles Review of Books
March 12, 2019
“Stimulating and lyrical, her book suggests a unique, trans-species approach to understanding ourselves as well as the limits of human cognition and the hubris that inheres in all the things we create…Intellectually fierce reading for philosophically minded readers, especially dog lovers.”
In this original and provocative book, Colin Dayan tackles head-on the inexhaustible world, at once tender and fierce, of dogs and humans. We follow the tracks of dogs in the bayous of Louisiana, the streets of Istanbul, and the humane societies of the United States, and in the memories and myths of the humans who love them. Dayan reorients our ethical and political assumptions through a trans-species engagement that risks as much as it promises. She makes a powerful case for questioning what we think of as our deepest-held beliefs and, with dogs in the lead, unsettles the dubious promises of liberal humanism.
Abused dogs, prisoners tortured in Guantánamo and supermax facilities, or slaves killed by the state–all are deprived of personhood through legal acts. Such deprivations have recurred throughout history, and the law sustains these terrors and banishments even as it upholds the civil order. Examining such troubling cases, The Law Is a White Dog tackles key societal questions: How does the law construct our identities?
In Haiti, History, and the Gods, Joan Dayan charts the cultural imagination of Haiti not only by reconstructing the island’s history but by highlighting ambiguities and complexities that have been ignored. Dayan’s ambitious project is a research tour de force that gives human dimensions to this eighteenth-century French colony and provides a template for understanding the Haiti of today.
The revelations of prisoner abuse and torture at Abu Ghraib and more recently at Guantánamo were shocking to most Americans. And those who condemned the treatment of prisoners abroad have focused on U.S. military procedures and abuses of executive powers in the war on terror, or, more specifically, on the now-famous White House legal counsel memos on the acceptable limits of torture.