Saturday, June 13, 2015

Matthew Calarco has a new book out

Matthew Calarco's Zoographies was one of the first books in animal studies that focused on the intersection of continental philosophers and the ethics, politics, and ontologies of other animals. Now, Calarco has a new, short book: Thinking Through Animals: Identity, Difference, Indistinction. This book has just been released, and I am excited to read my copy when it comes in the mail.

Summary from the Amazon page:

The rapidly expanding field of critical animal studies now offers a myriad of theoretical and philosophical positions from which to choose. This timely book provides an overview and analysis of the most influential of these trends. Approachable and concise, it is intended for readers sympathetic to the project of changing our ways of thinking about and interacting with animals yet relatively new to the variety of philosophical ideas and figures in the discipline. It uses three rubrics—identity, difference, and indistinction—to differentiate three major paths of thought about animals. The identity approach aims to establish continuity among human beings and animals so as to grant animals equal access to the ethical and political community. The difference framework views the animal world as containing its own richly complex and differentiated modes of existence in order to allow for a more expansive ethical and political worldview. The indistinction approach argues that we should abandon the notion that humans are unique in order to explore new ways of conceiving human-animal relations. Each approach is interrogated for its relative strengths and weaknesses, with specific emphasis placed on the kinds of transformational potential it contains.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Soy Calculus? Hypocrisy and Ethics

Do you ever feel like your vegan or vegetarian friends are a little touchy sometimes? Ever feel like someone is being curious, and your friend is acting like they are personally under attack?
Well, one of the reasons is that we are constantly bombarded by bad faith arguments, that are laughably bad, and that we are expected to take seriously. Here is an article that I recently saw on my facebook wall.
In the article, the argument is made that after America, soy production is the highest in Brazil, and that it often involves destroying rain forests to produce land for soy production. And that further, vegans and vegetarians eat a lot of soy, so our dietary needs are not pure and innocent. All true.
But the article itself is totally absurd. It admits that only 6% of all soy produced is consummed directly by humans. Only six percent. The article admits that most of the soy produced is feed directly to livestock. Indeed, in the same article that claims 6% is consumed directly by humans, it points out that 85% is consumed by livestock. So, in an article when all of the facts points to a strong pro-vegetarian/vegan argument, somehow the article furthers an anti-vegetarian/vegan. Straightforwardly the argument should go: Soy production sometimes destroys rain forests. 85% of soy is produced to give to livestock. We should become vegans to significantly lower soy production and demands. But rather somehow this becomes an argument is the opposite direction. This is perplexing, until you realize that these sorts of arguments have absolutely nothing to do with figuring out hard ethical truths, or advancing a vision of a better world, or even figuring out reality. Rather, these arguments are about alleviating guilt, about creating the thinest form of excuse for someone to give in to their addictive and harmful life habits. Once we understand this, the arguments make sense. They are a game of ethical tag, in which the person advancing them is able to prove that the vegan or vegetarian are not pure. It matters not at all if purity or innocence has ever been brought up in these discussions. This is because the arguments being advanced are not concerned with attacking vegetarianism or veganism per se, but rather with attacking the vegan or the vegetarian. They are aimed at delegitimizing the vegan and vegetarian as ethical actors, aimed at erasing our being. This is why vegans and vegetarians are so defensive when arguments are being made, because almost all of the arguments being advanced are meant to be attacks on the vegetarian or vegan as such. It is about turning us into hypocrites so the one attacking can feel better about themselves.
I know I am an hypocrite. My guess is that you (whoever you are) know you are, too. One of the great evils of systemic violences is that those of us who are privileged from such violence (whites with racism, humans with speciesism, men with sexism, straights with heterosexism, etc, always the etc). To care, to give a damn, to try and be ethical or political, requires being a hypocrite. Because the individual cannot singularly overcome the contradictions of the systemic. While we cannot overcome the contradictions, our twinned tasks of short circuiting the systemic violences while building alternative communities and worlds are still left to us.

(h/t to Robert S. for the title of the blog post. But I really liked Dianne B's suggested other title: What are my shoes made of? Why don't you bite me?).

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Digital Manifesto Archvie interviews Jeffrey Schnapp, Co-Director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society

The Digital Manifesto Archive interviews Jeffrey Schnapp (Professor of Romance Languages & Literatures @ Harvard University, Co-Director of the Berkman Center for Internet & Society) about The Digital Humanities Manifesto and the history and future of the digital humanities.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

CFP: When Species Invade: Towards a Political Invasion Ecology (at DOPE Conference).

When Species Invade: Towards a Political Invasion Ecology.
Dimensions of Political Ecology (DOPE) Conference | University of Kentucky | Lexington, KY | 26-28 February 2015
Organizers: Matthew Rosenblum (University of Kentucky), Laura Ogden (Dartmouth College)

Scholars from a range of fields loosely organized under the banner of ‘political ecology’ have become increasingly attentive to the lives of non-human beings. Political ecologists in geography have situated their research in sites as diverse as the laboratory and the slaughterhouse, spaces where non-human life is made and unmade, to the end of showing the relevance of non-human bodies in socio-spatial processes. The turn toward affect, experimentation, and liveliness in the ecological humanities and social sciences has produced fruitful accounts of the intimacies involved in ‘when species meet’ but has left much about the being ‘out of place,’ the radically contingent, irredeemably destructive, or invasive species, yet to be said. What has been said in the social sciences, and indeed even in the natural sciences, is often preoccupied with the existing vocabularies of invasiveness and the ways in which the rhetoric of invasion ecology is linked to rhetoric’s of colonialism, nationalism (Olwig 2003, Groning & Wolschke-Bulmahn 2003), xenophobia (Subramaniam 2001), etc., with attention to how these emotive and value-laden discourses implicate the practice of conservation biology Of course the link between the discourses of the natural sciences and modes of human marginalization is important since such taxonomic strategies have facilitated “beastly behavior toward the animalized and the naturalized” (Coates 2006; 135). But beyond these anthropocentric arguments which problematize invasion ecology largely because of its effect on human communities are the violently excluded bodies of the invasive and the feral. In many ways the popular discussions of invasiveness have abounded to the detriment of exploring questions of how metaphor and discourse motivate agents to act upon the world (Bono 2003), to what end these actions endeavor towards, and whether or not those actions are commensurate with a worthwhile ethical framework. After all, “the search for a precise lexicon of terms and concepts in invasion ecology is not driven by concerns for just semantics” (Pyšek et al. 2004; 131), it is about action, and surely a process of categorization that is meant to decide which beings belong and which do not has real, felt, material, consequences. While the discursive focus takes furry, leafy, and other invasive bodies as its object, these beings are, ironically absent. Discussions about what nomenclature is best suited to categorize certain forms of nonhuman life have virtually ignored the fact that the practice of invasion ecology implicates humans as well as nonhumans in an economy of violence directed at the attainment of a certain ecological ideal (Robbins & Moore 2013) through the use of “quarantine, eradication, and control” (Elton [1958] 2000; 110). In this light, even many of the most critically aware scholars has failed to ask questions about the value of invasive lives and whether killing them is in line with a truly political ecology, one that views “ecological systems as power-laden rather than politically inert” (Robbins 2012; 13)- one that includes non-human lives as subjects of politics rather than mere objects of human fascination.

The aim of this session is to move beyond the discourse of invasiveness to explore alternative ways of both politicizing the science and practice of invasion ecology and bringing invasive entities, both alive and dead back into the discussions that implicate them. Topics might include, but should not be limited to:
-Queer critiques of ecological futurism
-Emotional geographies of ecological loss
-The ‘invasavore’ movement
-Non-constructivist approaches to invasiveness
-The biopolitics of invasive species management
-New directions in the discussion of the rhetoric of invasiveness
-The conflict between environmental ethics and animal ethics
-Invasiveness and landscape studies
-Animal Diaspora and non-human mobility
-Political ecologies of bordering
-Hunting power
-Invasiveness and the politics of the Anthropocene
-‘Novel ecologies’ and engagements with scientific concepts such as equilibrium, resilience, etc.  
Anyone interested in participating in the session should send an abstract of 500 words or less to by November 10th, 2014. Participants must also register at the conference website: by the registration deadline of November 17th 2014.

Bono, J. J. "Why Metaphor? Toward a Metaphorics of Scientific Practice." Science Studies: Probing the Dynamics of Scientific Knowledge. Ed. Sabine Maasen and Matthias Winterhager. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag, 2001. 215-33.
Coates, Peter. American Perceptions of Immigrant and Invasive Species: Strangers on the Land. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006
Elton, Charles S. The Ecology of Invasions by Animals and Plants. Chicago: U of Chicago, [1958] 2000.
Groning, Gert, and Joachim Wolschke-Bulmahn. "The Native Plant Enthusiasm: Ecological Panacea or Xenophobia?" Landscape Research28.1 (2003): 75-88.
Olwig, Kenneth R. "Natives and Aliens in the National Landscape." Landscape Research 28.1 (2003): 61-74.
Pyšek, Petr, David M. Richardson, Marcel Rejmánek, Grady L. Webster, Mark Williamson, Jan Kirschner, Petr Pysek, and Marcel Rejmanek. "Alien Plants in Checklists and Floras: Towards Better Communication between Taxonomists and Ecologists." Taxon 53.1 (2004): 131.
Robbins, Paul. Political Ecology: A Critical Introduction. Maiden, MA: Blackwell, 2012.
Robbins, Paul, and S. A. Moore. "Ecological Anxiety Disorder: Diagnosing the Politics of the Anthropocene." Cultural Geographies 20.1 (2013): 3-19.
Subramaniam, Banu. "The Aliens Have Landed! Reflections on the Rhetoric of Biological Invasions." Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism 2.1 (2001): 26-40.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Forthcoming titles in Italian Philosophy (plus a French one)

First the French:

Grégoire Chamayou -- A Theory of the Drone.
Grégoire Chamayou, who we have talked about before, has a book coming out January, 2015.

Drone warfare has raised profound ethical and constitutional questions both in the halls of Congress and among the U.S. public. Not since debates over nuclear warfare has American military strategy been the subject of discussion in living rooms, classrooms, and houses of worship. Yet as this groundbreaking new work shows, the full implications of drones have barely been addressed in the recent media storm.
In a unique take on a subject that has grabbed headlines and is consuming billions of taxpayer dollars each year, philosopher Grégoire Chamayou applies the lens of philosophy to our understanding of how drones are changing our world. For the first time in history, a state has claimed the right to wage war across a mobile battlefield that potentially spans the globe. Remote-control flying weapons, he argues, take us well beyond even George W. Bush’s justification for the war on terror.
What we are seeing is a fundamental transformation of the laws of war that have defined military conflict as between combatants. As more and more drones are launched into battle, war now has the potential to transform into a realm of secretive, targeted assassinations of individuals—beyond the view and control not only of potential enemies but also of citizens of democracies themselves. Far more than a simple technology, Chamayou shows, drones are profoundly influencing what it means for a democracy to wage war. A Theory of the Drone will be essential reading for all who care about this important question.

Now the Italians:

Maurizio Lazzarato -- Governing by Debt, due out February, 2015.

Experts, pundits, and politicians agree: public debt is hindering growth and increasing unemployment. Governments must reduce debt at all cost if they want to restore confidence and get back on a path to prosperity. Maurizio Lazzarato's diagnosis, however, is completely different: under capitalism, debt is not primarily a question of budget and economic concerns but a political relation of subjection and enslavement. Debt has become infinite and unpayable. It disciplines populations, calls for structural reforms, justifies authoritarian crackdowns, and even legitimizes the suspension of democracy in favor of "technocratic governments" beholden to the interests of capital. The 2008 economic crisis only accelerated the establishment of a "new State capitalism," which has carried out a massive confiscation of societies' wealth through taxes. And who benefits? Finance capital. In a calamitous return to the situation before the two world wars, the entire process of accumulation is now governed by finance, which has absorbed sectors it once ignored, like higher education, and today is often identified with life itself. Faced with the current catastrophe and the disaster to come, Lazzarato contends, we must overcome capitalist valorization and reappropriate our existence, knowledge, and technology.
In Governing by Debt, Lazzarato confronts a wide range of thinkers -- from Félix Guattari and Michel Foucault to David Graeber and Carl Schmitt -- and draws on examples from the United States and Europe to argue that it is time that we unite in a collective refusal of this most dire status quo.

Maurizio Ferraris -- Manifesto of New Realism, due out December, 2014.

Retraces the history of postmodern philosophy and proposes solutions to overcome its impasses.
Philosophical realism has taken a number of different forms, each applied to different topics and set against different forms of idealism and subjectivism. Maurizio Ferraris’s Manifesto of New Realism takes aim at postmodernism and hermeneutics, arguing against their emphasis on reality as constructed and interpreted. While acknowledging the value of these criticisms of traditional, dogmatic realism, Ferraris insists that the insights of postmodernism have reached a dead end. Calling for the discipline to turn its focus back to truth and the external world, Ferraris’s manifesto—which sparked lively debate in Italy and beyond—offers a wiser realism with social and political relevance.

Paolo Virno -- Deja Vu and the End of History, due out February, 2015.

This book places two key notions up against each other to imagine a new way of conceptualizing historical time. How do the experience of déjà vu and the idea of the “End of History” relate to one another? Through thinkers like Bergson, Kojève and Nietzsche, Virno explores these constructs of memory and the passage of time. In showing how the experience of time becomes historical, Virno considers two fundamental concepts from Western philosophy: Power and The Act. Through these, he elegantly constructs a radical new theory of historical temporality.

Paolo Virno -- When the Word Becomes Flesh: Language and Human Nature, due out May, 2015.

Originally published in Italian in 2002, When the Word Becomes Flesh provides a compelling contribution to the understanding of language and its relation to human nature and social relationships. Adopting Aristotle's definition of the human being as a linguistic and political animal, Paolo Virno frames the act of speech as a foundational philosophical issue -- an act that in its purely performative essence ultimately determines our ability to pass from the state of possibility to one of actuality: that is, from the power to act to action itself. As the ultimate public act, speech reveals itself to be an intrinsically political practice mediating between biological invariants and changing historical determinations. In his most complete reflection on the topic to date, Virno shows how language directly expresses the conditions of possibility for our experience, from both a transcendental and a biological point of view.
Drawing on the work of such twentieth-century giants as Ferdinand de Saussure, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Edmund Husserl, and Gottlob Frege, Virno constructs a powerful linguistic meditation on the political challenges faced by the human species in the twenty-first century. It is in language that human nature and our historical potentialities are fully revealed, and it is language that can guide us toward a more aware and purposeful realization of them.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Guest Post: Toward An Abolition of Keeping "Pets"

The following is a Guest Post written by A. Marie Houser. It is a rejoinder to my post "On Pets: A Provocation for Uncanny Ethics." It has been cross-posted at her new blog, Human[e]Species. The recipient of a 2013 Culture & Animals Foundation grant, A. Marie Houser is a writer and editor currently in her second master's program. Her poetry and prose have been published in various journals; essays have recently appeared in the The Feminist Wire and The Journal of Critical Animals Studies. She's edited an anthology of fiction and hybrid-genre literature for nonhuman animals that is now under consideration.


There’s an eyot in the Mississippi where prairie grasses come up in startled tufts. From a bridge, the island appears as a softly quilled rodent emerging from water. Victorian homes, built by lumber barons and land stealers, lurch up from the ground. Tall and narrow, aching with age, they appear shocked too: shocked by their own skeletons. They haunt themselves. Sometimes structure is a kind of imprisonment.

Often you see a cat bunch up inside a window, looking for a whiskerclutch of sun. The island is dewy, shaded. I walk through it struggling to conceptualize my belief that “pet-keeping” must become a temporary phase on the way to abolishment of the practice. I am thinking, at the same time, of heartbreaking ends, the sinus rhythm of a relationship that could flatline. This island, where two people looked at each other and chose love, is suspended in tension: tension between freedom and containment, and the mutuality that keeps the two in balance.

So I begin thinking of that mutuality, how it also holds in suspension companionship and the letting go of it. Begin with the anecdote: a woman, not unlike me, and the cats she loved. Begin with the specific case, how the woman and the cats had lived as particles in turmoil: separate, come together, separate, the woman and her partner, until he left for good, the flat was half-empty, and the cats startled at noise. The boy cat’s need had an adhesive quality; he pawed until you sat, then clutched your lap in sleep.

She did not mean for her companions to live that way. Nor did another friend, a man who is a more outspoken advocate of nonhuman animals. But he had adopted a dog from a shelter when he had neither the resources nor the temperament to care for a traumatized Bully. He would have excoriated another person for doing what she eventually did—rehome the dog—but he found himself without many choices. This is the dirty secret of nonhuman-animal rights activism: we aren’t infallible. Of the activists I’ve known, most of us have had shameful secrets about our failures in “pet-keeping” than not.

There isn’t much data on just how many nonhuman animal companions arrive at shelters already traumatized—nor, of course, is there consensus as to what constitutes traumatization. Behavior ratings, which shelters use to assess which lives are disposable and which are not, instrumentalize even grief and trauma: feeling becomes behavior, that behavior mapped according to human need and desire. Their pliancy is our true North.

James writes beautifully of farmed animals, “Our tendency to breed animals with the thought of the corpse backwards, so that life is but preservation for the animal's flesh, has made it so that there are some animals that are no longer born living, but born deading.” But he questions whether such a thing is true of companions we bring into the house, our pets; perhaps, James writes, they are still living.

But walking this eyot, grids and curves risen from earth by a kind of bureaucratic necromancy and pinned to our conception of things with street signs and addresses, I view “pets” as ghosts already, d[h]eading from leash to euthanasia table, living being to corpse: they are a simultaneity of here and not-here states. Maybe the possibilities of their lives end in a whiskerclutch of sun, maybe they end in terror. But the point, of course, is that the possibilities of their lives largely collapse into one end or the other because of choices humans make.

The HSUS reports that six to eight million nonhuman animals arrive in shelters each year; of those fifty percent, or three to four million, are killed. Welfarists anticipate a future in which the numbers flatline to zero. They divine a future in which the tension of human-animal companionship resolves into harmonious affiliation, and pets aren’t killed because they’re inconvenient. Pet euthanasia has, according to The HSUS, significantly dropped since the 1970s, from 25% of total dogs and cats to 2%. But perhaps I and other abolitionists ask more of our victories: to me, every murdered and discarded body is one too many; three to four million is a horror show of obliteration. Structurally, a genocide; structurally, a holocaust.

I stop outside the house that draws me nearest. This house, with its own small prairie and nearby railroad tracks, which have almost passed from their function as accomplices to machines of conquest into the quaintness of tableau, strikes me as uncanny. I experience the uncanny as a fullness that feels like love. So I approach the house and ache to be let in; I want to be held fully in the space of the mysterious. I once said to my lover, “I’m on all fours and pawing your feet.” He replied, “I get scared at the thought of a world without you.”

Mutuality holds in its suspension companionship and the letting go of it. But when we hold fast to domestication, willing to contain and hold captive individual lives rather than risk the end of “pet species,” our relationships with other beings cease to be mutual. The human decides; the companion animal must make do with those decisions. That’s not to say that domestication is a process consciously initiated. But if humans do not consciously initiate domestication of animals as pets, then animals who have become pets can hardly be said to have chosen domestication.

What did the first cat want when she scratched at our doors? What did my lover want when he came up to my city in that first season? Something takes shape without pre-determination: we choose love but cannot predict where it takes us. Need or expectation presses a relationship too hard, flattening possibility. The first cat perhaps wanted something less than to be locked in the treasure box of a house within which she would be worshipped. She wanted to be let out as well as in.

But no matter how long certain animals have lived with us in domestication, “petness” is far more elastic than its tendency to be affiliated with certain species: the fleet and furry dogs and cats who are the only animals counted in The HSUS’s survey of pet euthanasia rates. Petness doesn’t burst out of animal-DNA like milkweed; it is made and maintained with each being brought into—and largely shut inside—our homes. Even animals happy with a whiskerclutch of sun strain against human expectation, strain against harnesses, leashes, and invisible boundaries around counters and sofas.

It has become increasingly obvious that petlike behavior has the potential to emerge from members of most species. Recently a video made the rounds of an eel and a diver. In it, the eel peeks from a shelter of corral, recognizes the diver, and swims into her arms as though to seek embrace. The diver feeds the eel a smaller fish as reward; according to the narration, diver and eel have met before. Judging by comments about this video, viewers apprehend the eel with wonder and joy—but only once she becomes petlike. The tension waves of domestication move further and further outward, enfolding more types of animals within, rather than collapsing back. And I wonder: do we stop only when there are no animals left to tame?

Some animals may be particularly adept at expressing their needs or desires through behaviors preferable to humans. But that means neither that those animals cannot live without us nor that they are inevitably to live among us as pets. But if animals regarded as pet-able can live without us, we do not allow them to. Those pets who commit the offense of not acting petlike—or those animals identifiable as members of species that should act like pets, but instead behave as ferals—are often contained in more restrictive enclosures: cages in shelters rather than rooms in houses. Pets don’t get to grow up, leave the house, and develop self-determination. They don’t get to leave when relationships within houses go awry.

I realize now that it may sound as though I’d advocate turning pets out of houses, rather than the usual abolitionist phase-out plan: cease breeding of nonhuman animals we regard as pets, adopt all the ones remaining in shelters, carry out trap-neuter-return initiatives, then let the species die out. I am not. I cannot bear the thought of animals resembling the ones dear to me roaming winter streets. I am tempted to conclude, then, that pets have domesticated me. But such a conclusion would be a foolish conceptual inversion of a structural inequality: I will always be the one deciding for my cat the trajectory of her life more than she.

On the island, where two humans might form a helix holding hands, a relationship may form in which one person determines its course more than the other. That may satisfy. That might not. And when it doesn’t, one of those two humans might find herself one day revisiting those grasses, those railroad tracks, that house, unsure of what to do next—wanting in, wanting out, wanting in.