I tasted my first oyster in college at a Manhattan dinner party, goaded on by the hostess, who told me it was like eating the sea in its totality. Rather like Alice and her tinctures, the oyster seemed, in its own self-contained container, to say, “Eat me and I'll transform you, midwesterner.” Current scholarly debates about the agency of things, the vibrancy of matter, and the trajectory of posthumanism guide Steel's exploration of medieval conceptions of the boundaries, ethics, and limitations of community. Oysters arrive at the end of Steel's book. As a “border creature,” the oyster's slippery being unravels the perceived division between humans and animals. How can we be certain that we humans are sentient, suffering, and soul-full, whereas animals are not? What distinguishes humans from animals and how we can know is an age-old line of questioning entertained by...

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