Saturday, July 14, 2012

Unruly Creatures I&II

Backdoor Broadcasting has the recordings up of Unruly Creatures (which they have had up for a while), and the more recent Unruly Creatures II. If you click the links, you will get the talks, plus sometimes other things. You will also get a quick summary of the talk.  [sidenote: I am not done with the Feminists Encountering Animals event, just thought I would put this up first].

Unruly Creatures I: The Art and Politics of the Animal. June 14th, 2011. Hosted by The London Graduate School.

Participants include: Cary Wolfe, Vinciane Despret, Steven Baker, and Phillip Warnell (there are also important respondents and introductions).

Unruly Creatures II: Creative Revolutions. June 18th, 2012. Hosted by The London Graduate School.

Participants include: André Dias, Erica Fudge, Jonathan Burt, and Anat Pick (and again, there are also important respondents and introductions).

Friday, July 13, 2012

FEA: Stephanie Jenkins, Judith Butler, Donna Haraway, and killable subjects

Two quick notes: (1) The "virtual symposium" has been extended until at least July 20th. So, if you haven't had a chance to read and participate, you have longer! (2) The comments are coming more quickly than they were in the first few days. There are several lively and interesting discussions throughout the various posts of the symposiums, and I highly suggest you pop on over there and read the comments, even if you have already read all the initial posts. They are worth your time.

Stephanie Jenkins' contribution is a wonder, and particularly close to my own work. She wants an "an affective feminist practice that views animal others as grievable, vulnerable, and valuable"*. Such an understanding gives us (either contra or pace Warkentin, I am not full sure) a different understanding of veganism. As Jenkins argues: 
When built upon feminist ethics, vegan practice is not a universal obligation or a fantasy of purity but rather a “bodily imperative” (Weiss 1999, 129) to respond to another’s suffering and to reject the everyday embodied practices that make certain animate others killable.
This is a strong contribution to a rethinking of veganism that several of us are trying to produce, in which veganism is neither reducible to another instance in the economies of the sacred and the profane, the pure and the polluted, and the innocent and the damned; but also is not reducible to one more consumer choice, one more boycott, one more instance in the transformation of us into homo economicus.  

Jenkins in interesting in contrasting an ethically engaged animal studies with what she, cleverly, called "hypo-critical animal studies". 
Because it isolates ontological inquiry from ethical practice, hypo-critical animal studies constitute a response to animal suffering that is a nonresponse. These studies do not call upon us to change how we eat, dress, or entertain in the world in regard to our everyday relationships with other animals. 
Hypo-critical animal studies would be what Michael Lundblad terms "animality studies".  

The major target of Jenkins attack is Donna Haraway, and particularly Haraway's notion of "killing well" (a somewhat strange translation of Derrida's eating well). For those who have read When Species Meet, Haraway justifies scientific experimentation on animals, as well as killing and eating animals. Both of which are problematized, but ultimately the conclusions are for our right to kill and eat animals in ways that very, very problematic (and conclusions matter, no matter nuanced we get there). For example, Donna Haraway is okay with killing and eating wild boars in California because they are an invasive species. To tie this back into Kelly Oliver's piece, just as pit bulls are seen sometimes in racialized and criminalized codes, the invasive species occupies a similar ground, bringing in our xenophobia and anxieties over immigration (I want to thank my colleague Kevin Cummings for this insight). After all, the invasive species does not belong, replicates too quickly, drains important resources that should be going to other, 'more natural' species that 'belong'. For Donna Haraway, killing well often means a biopolitical justification of killing, that is of sacrificing the individual for the population's sustainability (I have argued this before). Now, for a brief disagreement with Jenkins. 

Jenkins is concerned with articulating a nonviolent philosophy, one that centralizes the idea of though shalt not kill, as opposed to Haraway's formulation of thou shalt not make killable. I am not at all convinced that nonviolent ethics is truly possible (again, see my discussion of ethics and innocence). And I agree with Haraway that the issue isn't one so much of thou shalt not kill as much as it is one of thou shalt not make killable. Haraway failure, and here I come back to full agreement with Jenkins, is that she doesn't actualize this ethos. Jenkins is passionate in her articulation of why the violence of the vegan and the violence of the omnivore is not the same violence. 

Jenkins ends her short essay with an appeal to Butler's work. (Stephanie, along with Eric Jonas, presented on Butler and animal ethics/ontology/politics at the Sex, Gender, Species conference. Their work on Butler has been essential for my own). Needless to say, I agree, and I encourage to read it (and all of the comments) in full

*I currently don't have the pdf in front of me, with the page numbers. And cutting and pasting from it caused the weird formating issues from earlier posts. So, I don't have page numbers right now. Also, I will keep to calling Stephanie "Jenkins", even though we are friends, and it seems weird. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

FEA: On Traci Warkentin, veganism, and animal studies

Traci Warkentin writes what is easily the most controversial (in terms of the themes of this blog and to my readers) of the various posts of the symposium. I also want to say that the comments section of that post is particularly lively and interesting, so make sure you don't just read the original article (though read it), also go read the comments. Okay, before going into the more nuanced territory, let me get out the parts that I agree with fully and strongly:

Animal ethics, in both its continental and analytic varieties, have often ignored feminist contributions generally, and ecofeminists contributions specifically. This is particularly problematic in terms of discussions of vegetarianism and veganism, in which so much interesting work has been done by ecofeminists. Even if ecofeminists haven't added work that can't be found elsewhere (and, to be clear, they have), it would still be important to include them as an important part of our archive in animal studies (I've made this point before).

Now, I want to get to the more nuanced parts of Warkentin's contribution. I need to admit that I am not fully sure what Warkentin is arguing, and I hope that I do not read her post incorrectly. Warkentin seems to be ill at ease in two senses of veganism in animal studies. One is a tendency to move from a sense of the Universal and Same Human who is a meat-eater, and then move to another Universal and Same Human, who is now suppose to be a vegan. In other words, it isn't the advocacy for veganism itself that is the problem, but the sort of homogeneity of the subject and intersubjective relations that seem to be problematic. She also seems to feel the idea of veganism as a market choice, and in imposing upon the subject a sense of being a consumer, as deeply problematic. Alongside this last concern is a related one that would see within certain vegan identity formations a belief in veganism as innocent. These are all points I fully agree with and endorse. Many of them are points I have written about before here, and also are included in a forthcoming article of mine in the Journal of Critical Animal Studies. These are valuable contributions. It is vital we do not confuse our veganism with some sort of innocence, and at the same time the reduction of veganism to a mere consumerism (as Peter Singer's understanding of vegetarianism and veganism as boycott) is all unsustainable. 

I have a question and a comment I would advance for Warkentin. The first is what part advocacy for veganism should be a part of animal studies? While engaging with the literature of ecofeminsts are extremely important, it isn't as if this is a settled question in the literature, and from reading your post I am unclear how you see the relationship of veganism and advocacy.
The second is the level to which being a vegan is deeply lonely. I say this particularly as someone living the middle of GA. When I sometimes bring up dietary identity questions, it isn't so much as a way of demanding to see someone's papers before giving them legitimacy, as much as wanting to draw out kinships and connections. So, for example, when I was at the recent Non-Human Turn conference, there was not great vegan options at the lunches that were provided. I was standing in line with Brian Massumi at one point, and he was wondering about if there was meat in a wrap. I asked him if he was a vegetarian or a vegan. This wasn't a way creating some sort of dualism, but a moment of kindred spirits, of seeing someone go through something I go through.
The opposite of veganism is so universal it doesn't have a name. Carnivore? Omnivore? Meat-eater? Carnivorist? None are particularly satisfying or common. And often the events you describe have struck me less as trying to create new dualisms or demanding people's papers before letting them talk, as moments of relations or trying to break free of a profound loneliness against that unnamed universal subject on the other side (which is why I agree that the refusal of a contextual moral veganism is also problematic).

FEA: On Kelly Oliver, disavowal, and the moral community

The first post in the symposium is from Kelly Oliver, who should need no introduction. If for some reason you are reading my blog, and you haven't read her book Animal Lessons, you should fix that right now (you should also read Chloë Taylor's review of Animal Lessons in the special issue of Hypatia).

Oliver's contribution is fundamentally about the avowal and the disavowal of animals other (both about specific and real other animals, and at the same time how the play of avowal and disavowal with regards to nonhuman animals come back to also structure and produce relationships among human animals). She points out that perhaps animal studies can be benefitted from engagements with specific psychoanalytic theories, particularly:
 Freud’s notion of phobia and Kristeva’s reinterpretation of phobia as abjection go some distance toward understanding the dynamics of avowal and disavowal at the heart of our ambivalence toward animals and animality, particularly our own animality. (p. 497)  
Through recourse to theories and phobias and abjection, we can begin to access the particular ways that we displace our own particular psychic constructions onto nonhuman others and ourselves. Oliver points to the ambivalent role of the pit bull, and she also points out the ways this ambivalence often has particular racial codings (added in part by the research of Erin Tarver, and I suggest you go and read the whole thing). Oliver focuses on this ambivalence as foundational to our determining who is, and who is not, part of the moral community. As she writes:
Indeed, I would argue that our sense of a moral community is essentially linked to the ambivalent function that animals and animality play in our fantasies about what is cruelty, what is innocence, and what is natural. (p. 494) 

This contention should remind many readers of this blog about discussions we have been having, such as the relationship between ethics and innocence. By examining the ambivalence of animals as figures and figurations for the moral community, we must turn our attention to what Oliver, in her Animal Lessons, refers to as "sustainable ethics" (see particularly pp. 303-306, this sustainable ethics should also bring to mind Matt Calarco on indistinction and Bull on climate change ). As Oliver explains in Animal Lessons:
What Derrida calls hyperbolic ethics demands that we never give up exploring our own fantasies, especially those in which we are the heroes, the good guys, the just and the true, fighting against the forces of evil and darkness--the fantasies in which we are humane and the others behave like animals. (p. 304)

This is a sense of the ethical in which not only the question of who gets to count in our moral communities radically under review, but the very right and possibilities of our being the counters, of our justness and correctness to count, all radically challenged.
Taylor, in her review of Animal Lessons, writes:
Oliver's book begins and ends as a work of mourning for her cat Kaos: the book is dedicated to Kaos and opens with a poem to her; the conclusion to the book justifies this dedication. (p. 675) 
My own article in the same issue deals explicitly with this question of mourning and disavowal. One the one hand, I explore the ways that mourning is part of a reality that allows  for avowal of relationships and kinships. As I wrote, "Mourning is a practice that opposes disavowal. Mourning both celebrates and grieves our precarious lives. It seeks connections, discovers secret kinships, and recognizes intersubjective relations." However, the threat of mourning often forces a type of disavowal in order to continue functioning, in order to continue existing and relating in the same world as others. Again, I wrote:
Those of us who value the lives of other animals live in a strange, parallel world to that of other people. Every day we are reminded of the fact that we care for the existence of beings whom other people manage to ignore, to unsee and unhear as if the only traces of the beings’ lives are the parts of their bodies rendered into food: flesh transformed into meat. To tear up, or to have trouble functioning, to feel that moment of utter suffocation of being in a hall of death is something rendered completely socially unintelligible. Most people's response is that we need therapy, or that we can't be sincere. So most of us work hard not to mourn. We refuse mourning in order to function, to get by. But that means most of us, even those of us who are absolutely committed to fighting for animals, regularly have to engage in disavowal. (p. 568) 
The ambivalence of animal others are connected to our ambivalences, our abilities to create connections and kinships. And that is why, following Oliver following Kristeva, we have to risk ourselves in the abject, if we are to have a chance for a sustainable ethics. 

Go read all of Oliver's contribution to the symposium (again, here). 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

On the "Introduction" of Feminists Encountering Animals

The goal here will be, over the next couple of days, to respond to the various posts of Feminists Encountering Animals. I might not be able to in the time frame, due to ongoing familial commitments and other writing projects, but that is the goal. I had to make some choices about how to respond. On the one hand, I want to encourage other people to engage with those posts, and to make sure there is a dialogue. On the other hand, I feel that the sort of length and general self-talking I plan to do lends itself to separate blog posts over here, with links over there. Also, my hope is that by making blog posts here, people will be more likely to see the original posts. Okay, we are going to start with the intro to the symposium.

The intro is written by the editors of the Hypatia special issue on feminism and animal others, namely Lori Gruen and Kari Weil. While both teach and work at Wesleyan University, in many ways they represent field that have been in tension within animal studies.

One way to exam this is to look at their recent, very good, books. Lori Gruen published Ethics and Animals in 2011, and Kari Weil published Thinking Animals in 2012. Both are wonderful, but also very different. Lori's book is blurbed by people like Peter Singer and Wayne Pacelle, and Kari's book is blurbed by people like Cary Wolfe and Susan McHugh. Lori's book is written in the style and energy of someone trained and very skilled in analytic style ethics, Kari's is written by someone deeply conversant in French theory and philosophy.  And despite those differences (and other, slightly more content oriented ones), their books are very similar. They both deal deeply with themes of grieving and creating personal and empathetic connections with nonhuman animals. They both are interested in a feminist engage with the question of the animal, and also with the gendered realities of animal lives (even if Lori is a long-term ecofeminist, and Kari leans more to a poststructuralist feminism). All of this means that when they work together to bring a symposium on feminism and animal studies, it is sure to be important. And for anyone who has read the entries in the symposium, it obviously is. We have here two great thinkers, each important in the field, and each representing segments of the field that exist in a great deal of tension (analytic and continental philosophy/theory, ecofeminism and poststructuralism).

I don't have much to say about the substance of the introduction they wrote, but I wanted to make sure and highlight how exciting their very working together is for animal studies.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Feminist Animal Studies FTW!

This is just a short note to remind you that the Hypatia/Philosophy Compass special symposium begins today. Go read and participate.

Also, the entire special issue of Hypatia (including my article, and so much smarter stuff) is unlocked and viewable by anyone (for now) over here. What are you waiting for?

More later.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Animals are more than good to think with, part 1.

It seems almost mandatory that nearly all special journal issues on animal studies include the quotation from Claude Levi-Strauss that animals "are good to think" with. What is weird, though, is that is not exactly what he said.  The is an odd issue, occasionally, of misquotation here, as well. As far as I can tell, this is a reference to Levi-Strauss' comment in Totemism:
 We can understand, too, that natural species are chosen not because they are "good to eat" [bonnes à manger] but because they are "good to think" [bonnes à penser]. (p. 89 in the English translation]. 
Edmund Leach, who translated that work into English, had this to say in a footnote in another article [this one, .pdf]:

Several critics have rebuked me for mistranslation, but in fact I cite Lévi-Strauss' own words to avoid this imputation. Literally, bonnes à penser means "good to think," bonnes U manger "good to eat." But "good to think" is not English, and the adjectival plural of the French is untranslatable. It seems  to me  that  here,  as so  often, Lévi-Strauss  is  playing  a verbal  game. Totemic species  are categories of things, and it does in fact convey the meaning better to refer to them as "goods" than my critics would allow. (n. 8, np). 

What is odd is that the way this quotation is rendered is doubly wrong. There is the common move to lose the wordplay and go with the grammatically correct "good to think with", which isn't necessarily wrong, as much as a translational interpretation. But often the quotation is wrong in another way, shortening the idea of natural species into simply animals, and ellipesizing all that is in-between. Thus, we get "animals are good to think with". You can, for example, see this in the Wikipedia entry for Animal Studies (go there before they change it!). And while I don't really mind calling out the anonymous contributer to Wikipedia, I will certainly maintain that this misquotation is used again and again in academic publications. Occasionally you will see other variations, and even other citations (I have seen The Savage Mind cited a few times. I don't have a copy of that with me, but it doesn't seem to be the case in google books). Often you will see the move, like I did in the beginning, and just put the quotation marks around "good to think" or "good to think with", and put the animals before it. This is, of course, entirely acceptable, and these are not the citations I am talking about. This isn't to speak ill of the people, some of whom are friends and scholars I respect a lot, but more of just a comment about this misquotation. Especially following up with the recent discussion of the common misquotation of Adorno.

I have more to say on this quotation, and on Claude Levi-Strauss' work on animals, but that will have to be for later.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012


I am going to talk about a weird little conceptual pet peeve I have been having. There is a tendency to write and talk about something called, strangely now, OOO/SR, which obviously stands for Object-Oriented Ontology and Speculative Realism. Which is odd, if you think about it, because those terms are not synonyms. Historically, Speculative Realism referred to a group of four thinkers, of which Graham Harman's Object-Oriented Philosophy was one strand. So, whenever someone talks about OOO/SR, it is the same as if they were writing deconstruction/poststructuralism. Poststructuralism is obviously something much larger than deconstruction (and it would include several people who rejected or had issues with the term poststructuralism, just as speculative realism includes people like Ray Brassier, who has rejected the term). So, the phrase OOO/SR is really odd. More importantly, it often gets used in strange, univocal ways. In other words, it is often used to talk about the field as a whole, like "OOO/SR doesn't..." or "What OOO/SR allows us to do...", which is all very strange. We are talking about a lot of thinkers, many of whom disagree with each other to various degrees. Again, it is somewhat analogous to people writing "what deconstruction/poststructuralism doesn't do...".  (Btw, I am tempted to always write, after I say object-oriented ontology, if such a thing exists! like Derrida always did with deconstruction)

There exists a conceptual murkiness here I don't really understand. If you want to talk about object-oriented ontology, talk about OOO. If you want to talk about speculative materialism, talk about speculative materialism. If you want to talk about correlationism, talk about correlationism. If you want to talk about speculative realism as a poorly suited grab bag term for a cluster of thinkers working on projects both very dissimilar but also very close, do that (in this sense, speculative realism is a lot like poststructuralism. An evocative term for grouping, heuristically useful, but not really conceptually specific). But please, spare me the weirdness of  the extended and confusing acronym that is "OOO/SR".

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Feminists Encountering Animals

Sorry for the silence here. My mother had surgery recently (she is fine, but still in the hospital), and that has been soaking almost all of my time.

As many of you know, I have a forthcoming article in Hypatia on Judith Butler and animals. I wrote an abstract, but I prefer the what Lori Gruen and Kari Weil say about in the introduction to the special issue:
What bodies are edible and consumable and what lives are grievable are questions that James Stanescu takes up at the meat counter of the grocery store at the beginning of his essay “Species Trouble:  Judith Butler, Mourning, and the Precarious Lives of Animals.”  From the insight that both social and personal pressures are operating in the disavowal of mourning for animals, Stanescu expands Butler’s notion of precariousness as “a way of thinking connections, of claiming kinship and relations. . . . Precariousness is a place for thinking the ethical because it begins with the Other, rather than with the self.” Recognition of vulnerability and of finitude, Stanescu argues, is recognition of our precarious animal lives, lives we honor through mourning. In disavowing mourning, we are not just making such lives unintelligible but are also denying our animality and foreclosing our connections to other animals.  By allowing ourselves to mourn, however, even at the grocery store, we can start making a difference for animals, humans and others.
The article is viewable in early view on the Wiley Hypatia site, but for those without institutional access, I have heard a rumor that you can find it over here.

However, from this special issue also arose a symposium, and it is very exciting. Much more importantly, you will be able to interact with the authors as well as read their papers! All of this starts on July 9th.You can find out who the authors are, and more details over here. And trust me, it is an exciting and amazing group of feminist scholars they have assembled. Assuming I can get some time for myself, I will certainly be participating both over there, and here as well. But regardless, you (YES, YOU!) should follow and participate.