Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I like teaching and researching

This has been an absurdly busy and difficult month. So, sorry for the lack of updates. Hopefully November will be better.

There seems to have been a recent influx of funny videos and posts about what it means to teach, and the current job market. Here is so you want a PhD in the Humanities, and here is so you want a PhD in Political Science (btw, there is a really interesting post to be had about the gendered differences between the two. One has two women talking, one has two men. The first one carries with it concerns about marriage, the second about 'getting laid'. There is more going on to be talked about as well. Maybe someone else will write that post). Also, Adam has a post worth reading about repeating the grim facts about the job market. All of this speaks to something I was very naive about when I went into grad school, and something I was never naive about.

I was incredibly naive about the possibility of getting a job with a PhD. Basically, people warned me I wouldn't get a good job, but I would get a job. We'll see if that works out personally, but in general the job market is far worse than I was lead to believe. Part of that is it has gotten increasingly worse while I've been in grad school, and part of it is simply it got worse since my undergraduate professors were on the market. I was incredibly naive about the state of the job market, and I was incredibly naive about the basic boxes I needed to check in order to even stand a chance at the absurdly random process of getting a job (I am in complete agreement with Adam about how random it is). For example, I had no clue that I needed to get my PhD from a prestigious school to even get my application read. And as someone else said in one of the many job hunt laments (I can't remember where I read it now) applying for a job out of 750 applicants is not a market, it is a lottery.

But whereas I found the So you want a PhD videos to be funny, they are also kinda offensive to those of us who really want to be doing what these professors seem to dismiss. I want to teach, to do research, to be a professor. And this is something I've never been naive about. I've never thought it was the life of the mind, or that it was really any different from any other job. I know it is political, and filled with petty people, and requires a lot of work. You work hard to get a degree that you are never going to get rich with. But, in general I never have had the cynicism that the professors in these videos seem to express. I have never had the contempt for my students, the disgust with my colleagues, or the dismissiveness to my own work. I have never expected academia to be any better than it is, and I am really happy when I get to do the job of being a professor. I understand people who love their jobs want to vent, and again, the videos are pretty funny. But it is worth noting that being a professor is really a pretty damn good job for the people who honestly like teaching and researching.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Judith Butler FTW!

I just got back from a weekend debate tournament, which was long and vaguely nightmareish. As is usual, I have way too many posts on my blog reader to read them all, so if I missed anything interesting, let me know (self-promotion, as always, is encouraged). Also, if I owe you an email or anything, let me know and I will get back to you.

In very good news, though, I found out that I will be presenting on a panel about Judith Butler and non-anthropocentric ethics/politics/ontology at the Sex, Gender, Species conference this coming February. I'll be on a panel with EJ of Deconstruction, Inc. and with Stephanie of VegiFem. I am way excited, and very happy about the conference, about meeting both EJ and Stephanie (finally), and hopefully that some of you might there and I can meet you as well. So, let me know if anyone else who reads and comments on this blog will be there, and I'd love to meet you.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Jonathan Safran Foer vs. Bourdain part II: The magical natural community of animal flesh eaters

This post follows up, in a very different way, from the earlier post on the debate between Jonathan Safran Foer and Anthony Bourdain. Both posts are ways of thinking community in the midst of a debate about eating animals.
One of Bourdain's major arguments against JSF is that eating animals is a special and unique bond, a special and unique production of community. JSF wonders if we can produce community only through eating other animals, and Bourdain basicallys says no. The example he gives is the tea party, that they probably wouldn't agree on much expect how awesome barbecuing is. Which is odd, because if he decided to say that Obama was a secret Muslim socialist fascist, he'd be able to bond over that. That is to say, community can be produced through other ways, it just depends on what ways we want to produce community, what ways we feel are ethically justifiable. Though of course, maybe Bourdain is right about the uniqueness of flesh eating in producing community.
One doesn't have to be a sacred sociologist in the tradition of Durkheim, Mauss, and Bataille (though it helps) to realize how important sacrifice is to producing community. Remember, sacred life is an ambiguous life: it is both protected and at the same time absolutely killable. It is through the sacred life that we sacrifice that we are able to produce inside and outside, us and them, lives to be protected and lives to be killed or let die. In other words, community (there is of course an entire intellectual tradition that tries to think community outside of foundational violence and separation. See Bataille, Blanchot, Nancy, Agamben, Derrida, and Esposito for some of the more important examples). How else can we possibly understand Bourdain's many incoherent arguments? Rather than trying to respond with rational arguments to JSF, Bourdain treats us to transcedentalism as why we must kill and eat animals. In one of the weirdest moments of the debate Bourdain is going on and on about magic, and about how roasting the flesh of other animals is completely magical and produces community and communion. At this point the moderator steps in and asks Bourdain if he means that it is natural, to which Bourdain readily agrees. Magic=nature=roasting and eating animals. Of course, the structure of sacrifice also equates magic with nature, both a practice of giving to the gods while at the same time producing natural divisions. This is also the way to understand Bourdain's bizarre insistence that the Christmas turkey is an everyday example of dead animals producing culture. As JSF responds, that isn't an everyday example, but rather a one day a year example. [sidenote: This always JSF's maneuver in these discussions: simply refuse to argue about the marginal cases, and insist that we give up eating animal flesh in all the instances everyone agrees that meat eating is indefensible.] This is again the logic of sacrifice, that the exceptional moment of the sacred structures the everyday as well.
Okay, on some level I am being silly here. On some level Bourdain is just speaking gibberish. But I am interested why this gibberish is instead sense to Bourdain and for many other people. I am interested in why the moderator hears one of his guests talking about magic and immediately thinks the natural. By abstaining from our cultural sacrificial rituals, I have also (to some degree) abstained from our sacrificial ritual. And I want to underline this last point, the abstaining from the ritual preceded the abstaining from the logic. This makes such a debate between JSF and Bourdain so interesting and so impossible. The ability to communicate is based in many ways upon a shared sacrificial language and logic, upon a shared community and culture. Bourdain can talk about magic and have the moderator hear the word natural, even though those words are antonyms, because they share a similar logic and language. And in that logic and language sacrificing animals is both at once supernatural and natural. What is gibberish for me living in my different culture is obvious to those within this other, border community.
What I am saying is that in a very real way, Bourdain is right, the sacrifice of animals produces an unique culture. What we have to figure out is if that is a culture we wish to be members of. Think about it this way, for any of you who have lived in the South or had discussions with certain Southerners, many people contend that the Civil War was not about slavery, but instead about conflicting culture, about trying preserve a way of life. And without a doubt, that is true. But it was a way of life, a culture, that necessitated the sacrifice of the black body through rape, murder, and enslavement. The connection between sacrifice and culture explains why Derrida included "Heidegger's Ear" -- an essay on sacrifice, friendship, and animals-- as an appendix in the French publication of The Politics of Friendship, his work on rethinking community (even sacrificing community).
This is one of the main reasons that so many people in the vegan movement have had such reaction against 'localvorism' [.pdf], or at least the pro-meat eating version of localvorism. While in many ways opposing factory farming should make us allies, and in some cases it does, when you read Michal Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver, you realize that both of them are desperately worried that factory farming is destroying the sacred rituals of slaughtering other animals. In other words, the vegan movement wishes to exist from this particular logic of sacrifice, of which the factory farm system is the fullest expression of, meanwhile these particular localvores which to oppose factory farming because they feel it is destroying the sacredness of killing animals. Those of us who oppose the killing of other animals have the particular problem of working from outside the material-semiotic realities of the community that engages in sacrificing animals. These debates almost always replicate the cultural chasm between those eat animal flesh and those that don't.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Post of Links

Abstracts for the Animal, Vegetable, Mineral conference are up. It looks like a wonderful conference. I wish I could attend.

Here is a link to the panel on Promiscuous Ontologies (I assume they wore scarlet Os). The panel was composed of Tim Morton, Levi Bryant, Ian Bogost, and moderated by Jeffery Bell.

JJ Cohen has up two excerpts from a conference paper on animals and monsters. Check out here and here.

Speaking of monsters, Prodigies and Monsters has a post on Unconditioning Reason (okay, that isn't really self-explanatory, so click to the link to figure it out!).

Stuart Elden has up the Table of Contents for his up-coming book The Birth of Territory. I cannot really explain how excited I am for this book to come out.

Normally I would post a link to a youtube video at this point, but in honor of the upcoming Halloween, I've made a short mix for you to listen to.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The higher costs of higher education

The costs of some colleges are topping $60,000 an academic year. As Daniel Luzer puts it, that is roughly the cost of a new Jaguar every year. I think we can all agree that such costs are fairly unsustainable. And while not all universities are at this level, almost all schools are seeing costs increasing higher than inflation every year. Which means our entire system of higher education is unsustainable. Basically, colleges have been propped up by two things (1) Money from endowments and donations of the super-rich, both of which are heavily dependent on Wall Street profits. And (2) the student loan industry, aka the US federal government.
I think we as academics need to increasingly pay attention to policy questions about the University. We need to become experts in the financial reform that universities are going to have to go through. Now, some of us already are. But I'm not, and I really don't know many people who are, and yet I know lots of professional academics. But we are clearly working in an industry (can I call it that without offending people?) that cannot continue as it is. If universities and colleges don't change their ways, I have little doubt that at some point the government will step in and regulate in ways that will only seem heavy handed to all of us. As people skilled in research and other tools, we need to be able to step up and be able to argue for concrete changes. I think the recent Charles Taylor debacle is exactly what we need to avoid, but I think it also shows the lack of popular voices interacting with these issues (again, I know there are people out there, I think it needs to be more of us). We need a profession of professors professing concrete and quantifiable economic policy changes in the way universities and colleges are organized and funded.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

intersectionality and animal studies

Without a doubt one of the biggest moves in animal studies these days is to talk about intersectionality. There are basically two ways this gets talked about: One is a discussion of the fact that the vegan/animal rights movement tends to be predominately white (my brother pointed this usage out to me when I was talking about this with him earlier). But the other way is to discuss the methods by which speciesism intersects with other oppressions. The classical example (perhaps the first example) would be Carol Adams' The Sexual Politics of Meat, which deals with the intersection of sexism and speciesism. And while interlocking oppressions (or, oppressions that are enmeshed but still discrete and semi-autonomous) are certainly important, intersectionality has traditionally carried with it a level of subjectivity that seems to be missing in these discussions. To clarify, when Crenshaw first developed the term (and the way it has been updated by Collins), intersectionality referred to a way that interlocking oppressions produced/shaped a subjectivity that exceeded the sum of those oppressions. So, the experience of a black could not be reduced to either the experiences of a white woman or a black man, or even those experiences combined. And while the term has developed a level of plasticity in the last two decades of its existence, in all the work deploying the term I am aware of, intersectionality continues to have a level of subjectivity to it. However, when most animal scholars are using the term, they are not saying that, for example, female animals have a unique intersection of oppression that is different from male animals or female humans (though this might be an interesting topic). What animal scholars are usually saying is that racism, sexism, classism, etc are bound up with speciesism. Now, I think that intersectionality is perhaps a confusing term to be using in these contexts, maybe even a misleading term. Maybe we need a different term, or if animal scholars are going to insist on using the term, at least they need to address the changes the term is undergoing in their work.

Update: My brother points out that in later works by Carol Adams, she does talk about the sort of intersectionality I mean. In that she talks about how female cows and chickens are particularly and uniquely abused because of their gender and species status. Though, I don't think she uses the term (which is more than fine). Fair enough, and vastly important. Still, my larger point remains. Most people who use this term in animal studies tend to gloss over the differences of thinking about intersectionality as a way of relating multiple oppressions to subjectivity to analyzing the way multiple oppressions sustain each other. If people are using the term in more traditional ways, that is fine. But I think people who are shifting its focus should deal directly with that issue. That's all.

Monday, October 11, 2010

I highly suggest reading the original

Ever since I put up a statcounter for this blog, the thing I have enjoyed most has been looking at what search terms have gotten people to find Critical Animal. Without a doubt, the single most common search is some version of Foucault Society Must Be Defended Summary. In which case, you end up with this rather old essay I wrote. I have no clue why so many people look for it (at least a few a day, every day). But, if you are looking for a summary, that's fine. But you should read the whole thing. Not only is it awesome, it is also very, very readable.

Oh, and for those of you looking for a summary of Michal Pollan's "An Animal's Place", seriously? It's an essay, and it is relatively short. Bite the bullet.

Friday, October 8, 2010

JSF vs. Bourdain part I: Ethics is hard to do, Ethics is easy to do.

In my last post of links, I linked to this debate between Jonathan Safren Foer and Anthony Bourdain. I had started this post talking about that debate in more depth, but sort of decided not to finish writing. But after this post by Dr. J, and also with the comments from AnPac, I think it is probably a good idea to finish this post. So, here it goes. There is a lot that could be said about this discussion, but I want to talk about the issues of community.

Bourdain argues that meat is fundamental to community. He goes so far as to say: "To me, the human experience, human communication and curiosity, trump any ethical concerns one might have with killing and eating animals" I really love this in the debate, because Bourdain has this revealing pause between ethical concerns and the rest of the sentence. As if to some degree, Bourdain sort of believes that experience, communication, curiosity trump ethics as such. And on some level Bourdain certainly doesn't believe that ethics takes a second seat to experience, communication, and curiosity. On the other hand, I'm sure he does. We all do. We all have moments where those three seem far more important than the well-being of our fellow travelers.

Ethics is remarkably isolating.
I'm sure we have all felt this way (or at least, I kinda hope we all have). We've been around someone who tells a horribly sexist, racist, and/or heterosexist joke and everyone else around us laughs. It's an utterly debilitating moment. We are suddenly left with several choices: Do we give in? Do we play along? Do we laugh, or at least sorta smile and wince? Do we wait for that slap on the back of camaraderie, and whispered voice, "I always thought you were a stick in the mud before, I'm glad to know you're just like the rest of us"? Do we instead speak out? Do we confront people? And we know, we know we will be that person again. The predictable one, the one who always brings up these issues. So, instead of having the backslap of camaraderie, we get the disgusted tones of "Why can't you take a joke?" But we know why, we know what is at stake, we know how important it is to change. So, we have these moments where being ethical means shutting off culture, means shutting off communication. It is profoundly isolating.
Sometimes it isn't just a moment, though. Sometimes we experience a whole culture that is dedicated to destroying a livable life for those around us. Sometimes we see not just a small group of people, but we see people we respect and love and care for engaging in actions we also know are terrible and wrong. And because of the very way society is structured, you know you cannot get through the day without in some part taking advantage of a system that systematically exploits other beings. All of this can be true without ever talking about animals. Being ethical is hard to do. As Derrida puts it in "Eating Well", "responsibility is excessive or it is not a responsibility."
This is one of the brilliant and honest things that J.M Coetzee does in his lectures/stories "The Lives of Animals" (.pdf). In them the main character Elizabeth Costello carries with her a wounded nature (the phrase comes from Cora Diamond's reading of it in Philosophy & Animal Life), part of which is the way in which she is often separated from others. This happens twice in the stories around the table. The reader can be under no illusion that Costello's attempt at living a more ethical life is one that divides her many of the people around her.

Ethics brings us together.
Coetzee is honest to depict that wounded nature in "The Lives of Animals". At the same time, it is only half of the story. I'm sure we have all felt this way (or at least I hope so), the moment of being around a group and realizing they get me. They get what I think is important, where I come from. Being at a conference and coming back energized and refreshed. Going to a rally, protest, or other event and despite what you are opposing being so horrific, feeling the profound high of being part of a community. Again, all of this can be true even without talking about animals and vegetarianism. However, it is interesting to note one vegetarian story.
As Leela Gandhi relates in her wonderful book Affective Communities, Mahatma Gandhi came to England without any strong anti-colonial desires. He was a vegetarian not out of personal ethical or religious reasons, but out of a promise he made to his mother. However, being vegetarian often forced him into marginal associations, groups that were more at the fringes of British society. Particularly, he fell in with Henry Salt and the Vegetarian Society by eating at their restaurants. It was while he was with them that he became radicalized. He embraced vegetarianism, anti-colonialism, and anti-capitalism. Gandhi's promise to his mother first isolated him, and then gave him a community. It fundamentally changed the way he would have experienced British culture and society, it fundamentally changed his life.
In this sense, ethics is not about isolation, but it can often cause that. Ethics is about changing and shifting where we find our community, where we find our energy and joy and connections. Vegetarianism has not been a deprivation for me, it has only opened up new vistas for experience and experimentation that I could not have found while my desires were rooted in the eating of flesh.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Post of Links

First up, university administrators are targeting whole programs for elimination. Howard University is targeting its philosophy department, and SUNY-Albany is targeting its languages, classics, and theater. Click the links to get information, and some suggestions of things to do to help those programs.

My review of Jean Kazez's Animalkind in Between the Species has come out (no subscription required!). Here you can find Kazez's comments on my review. It also includes a link to her talk deepening her views about respect without equality. I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but I might have some more comments when I do. This discussion, between equality and respect, reminds me a bit of Cora Diamond's promotion of justice over rights her "Injustice and Animals" found in Slow Cures and Bad Philosophers (ed. Carl Elliott). In that piece Diamond, echoing Simone Weil criticisms of rights, advocates a notion of justice rather than rights. She does so partially because of her own feelings that equality is a problematic framework in which to address other animals. No real point there, just thinking outloud.

Prodigies & Monsters has a smart and moving post on the bullying of queer individuals. I cannot agree with them more:
Frankly, though, here at P+M we are sick and tired of having to memorialize our folks, endlessly; of having to place at the center of our political imaginations the question of the livable life (as in “what are the existential conditions necessary for someone like Clementi to not head to the George Washington Bridge”) because we deeply want to see the suiciding and the other-annhiliation stop.

Jonathan Safran Foer debates Anthony Bourdain over eating animals here. JSF continues to impress me in all of his media appearances. If you haven't read Eating Animals, I highly suggest it. (h/t

Devin Z. Shaw has a great review of Loïc Wacquant's Prisons of Poverty. This book's work is continued in Wacquant's Punishing the Poor. Both have been on my list to read for a while now, and I can only say that after reading Devin's review, they have jumped to the top of the list. Read his review, and then read the books.

JJ Cohen will has a handout of a lecture he will be giving in Buffalo. Can we collectively pressure to get a copy of the talk after it is given?

This week is Mark Ronson's "Bang Bang Bang", featuring Q-Tip and MNDR. It's just a wonderful jam.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Blogs I should read

I've been blogging for a couple of years now, and I often think I know most of the important and established blogs in theory and animal-oriented blogs. But every so often I come across another blog that seems very important, has been around for a long time, and that I haven't seen before. This time it is Jason Read's blog, Unemployed Negativity (h/t MLA). Anyway, if you know a blog I need to be reading, but you don't know if I am, let me know.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Should I get on twitter?

I have nothing against twitter. But blogging and reading other people's blogs already eats up more free time than I really have, so I've been worried about devoting more to following people's twitter accounts.

However, it seems that not only are there lots of interesting conversations that seem to be happening on twitter, but with the collapse of things like blogginglines, tweeting when I have new post makes a bit of sense.

Thoughts? Suggestions? Have at it (but not on twitter, where I won't see what you are saying).