Friday, December 24, 2010

Animals get high in order to relieve boredom.

As most of you know, I remain fundamentally suspicious of philosophical anthropologies. That is to say, I have trouble believing there is a single trait shared by all beings we want to call human, that does not exist for any of those plenitude of beings we don't want to call human. Most attempts to create a clear dividing line between human animals and other animals tend to fall into one of two categories. The first is to claim some trait and say only humans have it, when other animals clearly have it, like claiming only humans have self-consciousness. The second way is to claim some action that exists only for some humans as if it defines humanity, like saying that other animals may have language, but only humans have poetry. There is a third way, of course, claiming that the inability to define the human is the special definition of the human. But as Adorno put it in Negative Dialectics, "That we cannot tell what man is does not establish a peculiarly majestic anthropology; it vetoes any anthropology." Lastly, the inability to establish a proper philosophical anthropology should come as no surprise to any of us. Evolutionary patterns tend to repeat themselves, and it seems unlikely that in all of the rest of beings subject to evolution, that we would be special and unique. Humanism always reeks of transcendentalism.

Anyway, I end up collecting information on all the stuff various other animals do that we usually only think of humans doing. Mostly other people give me this, but I always appreciate it. Well, it makes perfect sense, but it seems that some animals consume hallucinogenic fungi in order to relieve boredom (also, animals get bored, take that Heidegger). What I link to mostly talks about reindeer, but other animals do so as well.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Post of Links

I am clearly lowering the blog production for the holidays. However, many people seem to be double-downing on blogging during the holidays. Here are some of the important things you might have missed (and always, let me know what I missed).

Here is the full program for the Animal, Vegetable, Mineral Conference.

Here is some advice for PhD students from one. I think it is fairly sound, and replicates much of a post I have been meaning to write (which was to be entitled, stuff I wish I had known).

Benoit Dillet has a review of Esposito Communitas (and to some degree Bios), here. (h/t Peter with some other links to check out).

Vegan Skeptic takes on some of the arguments that veganism is somehow worse for the environment than flesh eating (h/t

Richard Seymor manages to capture much of my feelings on the Assange Allegations.

Levi has had a string of interesting posts: The Domestication of Humans, with some follow-up here, a post on Uexkull (with a follow-up from Tim), and a guest post up on OOMarxism.

Adrian has a list of the books up of the decade in ecocultural theory. Remember, new blog address, reset the readers as appropriate.

It seems that, according to Google, Critical Animal is 13% Basic, 47% Intermediate, and 39% Advanced. (h/t AnPac).

Here is the Avett Brothers, performing "I and Love and You". You'll like it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What GPS should I get?

I am thinking about getting a gps, but I am not sure which one I should get. Any suggestions?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Post of Links

Here it is, another post of links.

We actually have audio from the Claremont conference of Stengers' keynote and Haraway's response. Thanks to whomever did this.

Tim Morton has added more of his short (I assume twitter length) job advice posts. Read them if you hope to be getting an interview.

I am embarrassed that this slipped through earlier roundups, but here are all of Stuart Elden's chapter updates for The Birth of Territory. Have I told you all how much I am looking forward to this book?

James McWilliams has a wonderful article in The Atlantic's food section on his problems with localvorism. I hope he doesn't give up on mapping out the honest and real environmental impacts of how we eat, though. We need that information, regardless.

Interested in the changing dynamics of what type of animal flesh we are consuming? Of course you are.

A commentator named Jake gave me a wonderful link in regards to my Philip K. Dick and Wikileaks post, the link is to an interesting article on reading wikileaks as a literary production.

These Lovecraft playing cards look totally awesome. Anyone looking to give me a holiday gift, here is a big ol' hint.

Another William Gibson interview. Because this is his world, we merely live in it.

The really big thing I am leaving off is the really large recent dust up between the OOOs and the relationists. There were a ton of posts at a ton of blogs, and I lost track. Some of it was new and awesome, some of it repeated things we had seen a million times. However, in all that was both awesome and boring, there is this really wonderful paragraph from Adrian (remember, he has a new blog address, update accordingly). Namely:
For Whitehead this is still centrally a metaphysical exercise, an attempt to describe the universe. But when we turn to other process-relational thinkers — and here I will insist on a genealogy that Graham Harman may not like, the same “beatnik conspiracy” (as he has called it) that runs from (in my rendition) Heraclitus and Chuang Tzu and Nagarjuna to Bergson and James and Deleuze and Latour — it becomes clear that the central task of philosophy, for these thinkers, has always been not the task of accurately describing the world, but, rather, the task of better living for living. They are existential, intended as aids to a way of life that enriches the universe instead of impoverishing it. They start with the fact that we are always already involved in things, caught up in processes, wound up in matters of concern, facing decisions, navigating currents, moving with and in worlds, and they aim to help us with that. it. Their philosophies are accounts of living,

Now, I'm not sure about this being something specific to process-relational, but for me it wonderfully sums up what it means to do philosophy, or for me to do philosophy. It is a beautiful explanation of why I am drawn to some thinkers more than others (though my genealogy may be different).

If I missed anything, let me know. This week's music comes from the debut album of the band The Like. And even though their name sounds like something tailor made for the facebook generation, their sound is total mod pop from the 60s.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Wikileaks and Philip K. Dick

I don't have much to say about wikileaks, actually. Here are some thoughts, that are not definite and generally jumbled.

One of the common objections to wikileaks is that the approach is random. The documents leaked seem scattered, unconnected, leaked without any sort of thought as to why or for what reason. Maybe, but that all seems a better description of our current national security culture, one which is obsessed with creating more and more things top secret. Often without rhyme or reason. I think we can agree that such an attitude is dangerous and problematic.
This also reminds me of the novel by Philip K. Dick, The Simulacra. The Simulacra tells the story of a totalitarian society ruled and centralized around a secret. As is described in the novel:
Any failure would have betrayed to the Bes [the underclass] the secret, the Geheimnis, which distinguished the elite, the establishment of the United States of Europe and America; their possession of one or more secrets made them into Geheimnisträger, bearers of the secret, rather than Befehlsträger, mere carry-outers of instruction. (p. 34)

One of the reasons that national security culture of making everything top secret is so problematic is that divides our society, those who get to know the secrets, and those who don't. Those who do get to be the ones who set our policy, get listened to, have opinions that manage to shape and influence our foreign policy. Those who don't know the secrets, don't get to do that. We can't even be listened to, because we those who know the secrets know we don't, and therefore know we cannot know enough to be listened to. This splits foreign policy off from democracy, off from reasoned debate and input of the demos. The obvious example here would be the Iraq war, which was authorized based on all the secrets that Congress knew, all the secrets we didn't know and therefore we could not be listened on (though in fine Philip K. Dick fashion, those secrets turned out to be false, as well. And there was a secret within the secret, the secret that there was no secret). I am not sure yet entirely how I feel on wikileaks. I am not sure if I yet believe it is the right way to go about pushing back on these issues, but I certainly understand it and am sympathetic.

On Forced Genital Mutilation

This post will inevitably lead to a spike in creepy search terms for my blog.

First up, the really, really good news. It seems there has been substantial progress made on combating female genital mutilation in the region of Afar. This is amazing news, particularly because combating fgm has become one of those seemingly intractable problems. Also particularly amazing because the type of fgm primarily practiced in Afar is infibulation, or Pharaonic circumcision, which is a particularly gruesome and extreme form of fgm. As Monkey of Feminist Philosophers describes, "which involves removing the clitoris, the labia minora, and then scraping the labia majora to create raw surfaces, which are then sewn together, leaving just a tiny hole for urination and menstruating." I think we can all agree that this is an important step forward, that both needs to be celebrated and supported.

Originally this was all I had to say on the issue, and had saved this for my next Post of Links, but another post on this post has caused me to want to take this discussion in some other directions, now. I want to move forward somewhat tentatively at this point, because I have had the tendency to offend even I did not mean to when I have talked about this in the past. Extending the post from Feminist Philosophers, was this post over at APPS. I want to expound on some things
Men, think for yourselves: could you sleep at night in peace if you knew that in some corners of the world men were being systematically castrated at a very young age? (Btw, male circumcision is also genital mutilation, but that's a different story.)

I don't want to say that there is anything we do that is worse than infibulation. I am pretty sure we don't, but I also think that sort of comparison are often fairly counter-productive. Besides what is simply called circumcision, there are whole litany of weird and often horrific things we do to genitals, even male ones (and not to mention ones of ambiguous determination). It has been nearly a decade since I did research on this topic, and I have lost all the research I did. I cannot speak in the particulars I would like, but there are many cases of men who are expected to scar their genitals and release blood in coming of age ceremonies (a sort of weird mimicry of menstruation). There are also places where there are even more extreme mutilation of male genitals (again, usually occurring during coming of age ceremonies), with at least a few places practicing partial castration. None of this is to claim that the rates are anywhere near the same of FGM (to be honest, I have no clue), or to take away the importance of fighting against FGM.

However, there is one other thing I need to note on:
FGM of any form, but in particular the most radical forms, entails that a woman will never be able to fully enjoy the right that every single animal has to their sexuality.

There are two ways to read this sentence, but I will go with the one that means: I agree, I believe that every single animal has the right to fully enjoy their sexuality. I think this is sometimes not addressed by animal advocates directly (maybe because we are uncomfortable doing so, or because we will seem like a laughing stock, or both): but one of the many harms we commit against animals in our care, be it pets, lab animals, or farm animals (both factory farm and family farm) is the removal over decisions of their sexuality. Frequently this is done through very invasive means, and often this is done through genetic manipulation. One of the frequent examples given are that modern turkeys have been breed in such a way they can no longer naturally reproduce, they are forever denied the ability to express their sexuality.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Jonathan Safran Foer vs. Bourdain part III: Descartes laughs last

This post was meant to be written at least a couple of months ago. However, I got busy. And once my blogging routine gets sufficiently messed up, it takes me a bit of work to get back on track. This post is only loosely connected to the debate between JSF and Bourdain, mostly it follows up on the previous posts in this series (see here and here).

Descartes somewhat famously declared that animals were machines. Nowadays, people either spend their time rolling their eyes at that pronouncement, or contending that he meant something a little less fanciful by his arguments. At the same time that philosophically and culturally there seems to be little success in Descartes' arguments about animals as machines, there has increasingly been a movement toward treating animals exactly as if they were machines. If you look at this brief article about a debate between a Cornell food science professor and a member of the HSUS (h/t Not only does it continue to highlight the absurd anti-rationalism of speciesists, but it also shows the way that a certain logic of animal as machine has continued to today. And it shouldn't come as a surprise to see a Cornell food science prof be so absurd.* Regenstein (the food science prof) argued that:

“His [Balk’s] argument is very well put together, but violated rational thinking, as the Humane Society is a vegetarian organization committed to eliminating animal agriculture,” Regenstein said.

He added that he believed the HSUS only references studies that support its own agenda.

In other words, rather than actually refuting the studies made by Balk, he argues implicit bias and automatically assumes anyone working toward eliminating animal agriculture violates rational thinking. Talk about putting the cart in front of the horse (or the slaughterhouse in front of the cow). However, the real problem emerges with this exchange:

“Each hen laying eggs for Cornell is given less space than a single piece of paper to live for her entire life,” Balk said. “These birds are crammed so tightly in small wire cages that they cannot even spread their wings.”

To this, Regenstein responded that Balk was appealing to anthropomorphic expectations.

“Birds don’t think like us; birds don’t function like us. They react to different things. If there is a thunderstorm, egg production decreases. If you wear red and walk around the hens, egg production decreases. When you put hens in cages, production increases,” Regenstein said.

Now, maybe you are thinking we aren't all that different from chickens anyway, after all if you change the thickness of which you are reviewing an application on, it seems to change how you feel about the application. Or any other weird insight into the ways humans process the world around us (or conversly, any of the weird ways that the world around us process us. We are all benommen [captive] to the world, Heidegger has this wrong. But there is something even more profound that I want to point out.

Regenstein believes that the best way to point out that chickens are different from humans is to go immediately to the questions of production, rather than ethics. That is, the best way to handle this question to shift the focus from ethical questions of the boundary line between humans and other animals, and the ways we should treat each other, to questions about how to think of the animal as a series of inputs that can be manipulated to change outputs. In other words, animal science has doubled down on Cartesianism, they are firmly committed to the idea of animals as machines. Anyone who has spent time reading the trade magazines and academic journals of animal sciences and animal businesses knows this truth. If you want to skip that step, may I refer you to Jim Mason's and Peter Singer's book, Animal Factories. Animals are transformed from living, individual creatures into black boxes whose importance is as a converting machine. How do we convert feed into eggs, into milk, into flesh? (The feed question is also important. One of the historical shifts of America into a factory farming system from a more classical European system of farming animals came from a need to extract value from the overproduction of corn by converting that corn into animal flesh for selling and shipping). Here is another quotation (taken from Animal Factories):

Forget the pig is an animal. Treat him just like a machine in a factory. Schedule treatments like you would lubrication. Breeding season like the first step in an assembly line. And marketing like the delivery of finished goods. - J. Byrnes, "Raising Pigs by the Calendar at Maplewood Farm," Hog Farm Management, September 1976, p. 30.

In this sense, even a mild proposal of switching to cage free eggs is treated as the height of irrationality, because it opposes the pure economic rationality of production that dominates animal sciences. Even the most mild of criticisms of the ways that animals are treated are responded to with extreme denunciations. This is because while Descartes' view that animals are machines has become an absurdity to most of us, it is also the practical reality with the way humans treat the vast majority of animals under our 'care'.

* Weird note about Cornell and their food science. My fiance use to be a student at Cornell, and I spent a lot of time on their campus. It just so happens that one of the best vegan burritos I have ever had were made in the cafe in the lobby of the Mann Library, their agriculture and food library. Well, that means and I would go and eat these awesome vegan burritos, and then go work in the library. When I was bored or blocked, I would walk around and look at the journals, the books, etc. This is actually what shifted my dissertation from a purely theoretical and history of philosophy dissertation into one that gets into the practical genealogy of our relationship to the animals we raise, kill, and consume. It also led to a goldmine of archival work. Cornell agriculture and animal/food sciences is crazy. They have this cow they have created a hole in her body so that you can look inside the living cow and see inside it. They are all into hardcore all the factory farming and genetically engineering of animals. They also, as animal sciences in this country generally, have a long-ago strong connection to the American eugenics movement. The stuff you learn because of awesome vegan burritos. Never pass up the opportunity to eat awesome vegan burritos.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Post of Links

Last time I linked to Dr. J's job advice, JJ Cohen has some interview advice. It is worth reading, and it also links to this worthwhile post with advice about skype interviews.

Speaking of those non-anthropocentric medievalists, Nicola Masciandaro has a post up on the unknowing animals. To give you a hint of what is at stake, here is how it ends, "The weird, taskless task that animal theory may inherit from the Cloud-author is to see the human into being what Heidegger thought animals are." Why aren't you already reading it?

Speaking of cool, interesting things on animals, Reza Negarestani has a rare and great post on rats and becoming-animal.

Maybe you have interesting things to share? Well, the deadline for the next issue of Speculations is coming up.

Graham Harman live-blogged the Claremont conference on Whitehead. Remarkably interesting, and very useful service. There are lots of things to add There are all sorts of gems in there I want to address at some point. Let's jump to one, though. Paul Reid-Bowen was interested into Stengers' interest in neo-pagan witchcraft. In recommending a few things for him to read, I came across this article, which I read a while back. It is a beautiful, insightful, stunning article. I highly suggest it. I think she manages to sum up my feelings about critiques and being critical. Both necessary and excessive.

Love this slogan.

The new republican Governor of Wisconsin wants to make opening up and running factory farms all the easier.

As always, I am sure I missed things, let me know what they are.

This post's music comes from my happy discovery that there is a new Jay Munly album out, entitled Petr & the Wulf. For those that don't know Jay Munly, he is one of the great voices of Southern Gothic music. Here is a review of a much earlier album that I think covers Jay Munly very well:
His is a singular presence, even amongst the odd-looking bastards that make up the Auto Club: his hollow eyes, intense expression and funeral director's taste in couture convince you that he's the real deal long before his tales of weird gothic strangeness can. Sure, much of the Southern Gothic attitude is an act, but it's an act into which he pours his whole soul; it's an act, but it's an act the way that Elvis' sex appeal was an "act".

I give you the song, Petr.

Friday, December 3, 2010

CFP: The Revolution of Time and the Time of Revolution

The Philosophy, Interpretation, and Culture Student Alliance at Binghamton University (S.U.N.Y.) Presents:

The Revolution of Time and the Time of Revolution
A conference

The 25th – 26th of March, 2011

Keynote Speaker: Dr. Peter Gratton, Assistant Professor of Philosophy
University of San Diego, CA

What sense of time is produced through radical politics? Is the understanding of time as future part of a radical imagination? If the commitment to radical social change involves looking forward into the future, will that leave us with a sense of futurity that depends on the linearity of yesterday, today, and tomorrow?
To interrogate the emergence of radical creations and socialities, we welcome submissions that theorize time as it relates broadly to politics, cultural conflicts, alternative imaginaries, and resistant practices. Time has historically been thought and inhabited through a variety of frameworks and styles of being. At times the present repeats or seems to repeat the past. There are actions that seem to take place outside of time, to be infinite or instantaneous. Theories of emergence view time as folding in on itself. Indigenous cosmologies and Buddhist philosophers put forward the possibility of no-time or of circular and cyclical time.
The radical question of time is one around which the work of many scholars has revolved: Derrida on the to-come [a-venir] of democracy, Negri’s work on kairos, Agamben on kairology, Santos on the expansive notion of the present, Deleuze and Guattari on becoming. This heterological list is far from exhaustive, while hinting at the depth of the theme that our conference cultivates. A central political concern, time invokes our most careful attention and the PIC conference provides the setting for this endeavor. We must find the time for time.
At its core, this conference seeks to explore the relationship between time and revolution. Time here may mean not just simple clock and calendar time but rather a way of seeing time as part of a material thread that can go this way and that, weaving together the fabric of political projects producing the world otherwise. Ultimately, the question of time fosters a critical engagement with potentiality, potency, and power; as well as with the virtual and the actual, of the to be and the always already.
We seek papers, projects, and performances that add to the knowledge of time and revolution, but also ones that clear the way for new thinking, new alliances, new beings.

Some possible topics might include:

• Radical notions of futurity, historicity, or the expansive present.

• Conceptions on the right moment of action.

• The political reality of time as stasis or cyclical.

• The colonial creation of universal time, and decolonial cosmologies of time.

• Work on thinkers of time and revolution.

• Work on potentiality, the virtual, and the actual.

• Capital and labor time.

In keeping with the interdisciplinary emphasis of Binghamton University's Program in Philosophy, Interpretation and Culture, we seek work that flourishes in the conjunction of multiple frames of epistemological inquiry, from fields including, but not limited to: postcolonial studies, decolonial studies, queer and gender studies, ethnic studies, media and visual culture studies, urban studies, science and technology studies, critical theory, critical animal studies, continental philosophy, and historiography.
Workers/writers/thinkers of all different disciplinary, inter-disciplinary, and non-disciplinary stripes welcome, whether academically affiliated or not. Submissions may be textual, performative, visual.
Abstracts of 500 words maximum due by Feburary 1, 2011. In a separate paragraph state your name, address, telephone number, email and organizational or institutional affiliation, if any.

Email proposals to: with a cc: to

Or by surface mail to: Cecile Lawrence, 14 Alpine Drive, Apalachin, NY 13732
Emailed submissions strongly preferred.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Post of Links

So many links, so little time.

Tim Morton is live-streaming the UCLA OOO conference. It is already in full swing, but maybe you can see some of it before it ends.

I missed a lot of Thanksgiving links, but let me cover an important one. Magnus Fiskesjö's pamphlet, The Thanksgiving Turkey Pardon, the Death of Teddy's Bear, and the Sovereign Exception of Guantánamo (.pdf. Also, the longest title for the shortest book) is one of my favorite little tracts. Jason Read integrates this book with a critique of Thanksgiving and our current political situation. Magnus Fiskesjö recently commented on this blog to share that he has a new article out updating much of his analysis in his pamphlet. Fiskesjö, Magnus "The reluctant sovereign: New adventures of the US presidential Thanksgiving turkey." Anthropology Today (October 2010), Volume 26, Issue 5, pages 13–17. Sorry, no link. But if you have some problem accessing this article, let me know and I will help you out. He also points out, "Note, though, that a major aspect I tried to debate there has been obliterated: the Disneyland tour of the post-pardoning turkey. It will now go to the old home of George Washington(back yard?)! See: "George's house, not Mickey's, for pardoned turkey"".

Dr. J has a some useful notes up on the other side of the job market. Definitely worth a read if you are planning on going on the job market, and are curious how the people interviewing you look at the process.

HJM of the always awesome Prodigies + Monsters has an essay out that you can all read. It is entitled, “Medical Histories, Queer Futures: Imaging and Imagining ‘Abnormal’ Corporealities” (.pdf), and I swear to you all it is awesome. Here is the abstract:
This paper explores the political and epistemic work done by ostensibly denotative and reproducible imaging technologies in the process of establishing a scientific concept of sexual dimorphism. Beginning with an account of the prehistory of medical gender assignation in cases of intersexuality, it examines medical photographs of queer corporealities in order to ask after the political and epistemological work done by these images as well as the politics of biomedicine traceable in the orchestration of these images. Building upon Foucault's writing on hermaphroditism and Thomas Laqueur's work on the decline of a 'one-sex' (1990) system of sex intelligibility, it pairs these insights with Deleuze and Guattari's theorization of the function of faciality in the service of subjective biunivocalization (1987) in order to examine the function of the black bar or blurred face in medical photography. I argue that this trope of medical photodocumentation works to both secure the authority of the medical practitioner as modest witness (Haraway 1997) as well as place the queer body imaged in an ontological caesura while proper – that is, male or female – subjecthood is adjudicated upon. This tropology of desubjectivation is often coupled, in the medical photography of queer corporealities, with what Linda Williams has called the 'principle of maximum visibility,' visually indexed by perspectival multplication. While Williams theorizes this principle in the context of an analysis of pornography, this paper maps a certain consanguinity between medical photography and pornography insofar as both seek to image certain heretofore ineluctable 'truths' of sex.

The Sex, Gender, Species conference I will be at now has information on all of the speakers and the schedule for the conference. Check it out.

Over at Anarchists Without Content, we have a recording of Michael Hardt giving a talk entitled "Empire: A Retrospective". He also has a summary of Christian Marazzi's talk, "Financial Entropy: Struggle Within and Against Empire".

I have not been posting about the struggles in the UK like I should be. Not because they aren't important, or even important to me. I just don't have much to add. However, Nina Power has a great post up entitled Against Generations which examines the current struggle and the desire to compare and contrast it with previous struggles. Peter has some interesting follow-ups on this post over at his place.

David Cassuto has a map up that shows where the factory farms are located in the US, with a link to where it comes from with even more maps. This actually reminds me of Noelie Vialles important and under-read book, Animal to Edible. There is a lot of thought and work that goes into where to put factory farms and abattoirs so that slaughtering of other animals remains largely unregulated and, more important, forgettable.

Following up on that note, the Food Empowerment Project has a short essay on the expansion and exportation of the factory farm to the rest of the world. Not a surprise, but important to read.

I have two pieces of music to share today. The first comes from the 21st Century Monads about the lack of women in philosophy. You can read an interview about the song and find the link to listen to it here. But to my knowledge, there isn't a youtube video of this song (yet?). So, in that spirit I want to give the bizarre pairing with Dire Straits' "Les Boys".

Monday, November 29, 2010

I'm back, what did I miss?

I spent most of the break in the mountains of north GA, without internet access. So, I am trying to catch up on emails and blog reading. If you tried to contact me, and you haven't heard anything from me in the next 12 hours or so, just email me again. It means your email got lost in the mix, sorry. Also, if there were any really interesting posts out there over the break, let me know. As always, self-promotion in encouraged.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Stuff on comments

Two important things. (1) I just noticed that several legitimate comments to my blog were flagged as spam. Not sure why, but if you ever have problems with comments, drop me an email. (2) We are having troll issues here at Critical Animal. My immediate reaction has been to make all comments moderated. Which I don't enjoy. If anyone has better ideas about how to deal with trolls, let me know. (Also, the troll went on random rants against AUFS folks, so Adam, I blame you).

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Post of Links

You might remember my reservations regarding the string of videos making fun of undergraduates who wanted to go on to secondary school. Well, Karl Steel shares this wonderful video of a professor and student seriously discussing graduate school. My only reservation is the idea of the life of the mind. Whatever else graduate school and being a professor is, it isn't the life of the mind. But nothing is, and I think that's okay. Click the link, watch the video.

Jason Read has a smart review of Simon Choat's Marx Through Post-Structuralism. This review came at a time I was having a series of discussions about the relationship of Marxism and poststructuralism with my colleagues in the communication studies department here. Now my only annoyance is the absurd prices that Continuum wants for this (and so many other) books.

Speaking of my colleagues here in the communication studies department, I have been wondering what would happen if I ended up in a tenure track job in a department of communication or rhetoric or something of the sort. I have sort had a lot psychologically built into this label of philosopher. Which is odd, because I freely admit that some of the best philosophy I read is from people not working in philosophy departments. Or, I should say that I read good philosophy both in and outside of philosophy programs. I say this, because whenever I see Brian Leiter get up on his tautological horse about how only people in philo departments are doing philosophy, I feel a lot better about being associated with any department that is doing interesting work. So, go here and go see comments on Leiter's ranking of Continental programs, and also read the comments to this post, where Leiter engages in his usual tautological comments. (h/t Tom Sparrow).

I guess this shouldn't come as a surprise, but it seems that South Carolina will soon be running the largest dairy farm in the state, by using prisoners. (h/t

[update] I forgot this link. Here is an interview with Catalin Avramescu about his book, The Intellectual History of Cannibalism. The interview was fairly interesting, and now I have to pick up the book.

Now, I know this song has been out for a while, but I have only recently been made aware of this wonderful performance by The Heavy on the Late Show, particularly the encore is just pure, unadulterated fun. (it seems the embedding isn't working right, but I don't know why. Anyway, if you can't see the video, click here).

Books that changed my mind

This post follows up on the meme I picked up from Joshua Miller.

The purpose is not to list books that made me think more deeply about a subject (that's most books), or to list books that made me think a new thought (less books, but still important). This are books that specifically changed my mind about something.

(1) Marx's German Ideology. I picked this up early in college, and it destroyed the humanist, idealist leftist I had been until then. Like many a good leftist out of high school, I was very concerned with individualism and with the power of ideas. Basically, I had read Thoreau's "On Civil Disobedience" too many times. Marx allowed me to think a radical thought outside of the liberal tradition of individualism, and also made me think of collective productions of society. In so doing, I also developed a strong materialist outlook, that also dethroned my "knowledge is power" outlook.

(2) Maria Lugones' Pilgrimages/Peregrinajes: Theorizing Coalition Against Multiple Oppressions. It is hard to separate reading Maria's work from working with her. Either way, my early encounters with Maria and her work overturned a certain domination of a particular brand of poststructuralism on my thinking. In particular, I realized the violence inherent with the desire to get rid of identity, to leave behind all forms of identity politics. This, shall we say, nomadic desire for becoming-imperceptible ran into its own limitation. I was forced to confront how my desire to give up my name, history, and identity was strongly rooted in my desire of not being held accountable, of being able to think from what Haraway would call the god-trick. It also made me realize how vital identity, history, and names were for others. That demanding that people give that up or not be radical was the worst sort of reactionary claptrap.

(3) Subcomandante Marcos et al. Shadows of Tender Fury and William Haver's "The Ontological Priority of Violence". Again, I have trouble separating working with Bill Haver from reading Bill's work, but both of these works changed my mind on the issue of pacifism. I had considered myself to be a sort of generic pacifist, but I don't think I had ever really thought through the position. For example, I was convinced that the Zapatistas were already at war before the first gun had ever been picked up. I was convinced that there is an ontological relationship, that we need to pay attention to things like dignity and the need "to have been dangerous for a thousandth of a second" (see Haver's piece for commentary and citation). In other words, pacifism had become a way of delegitimizing certain survival strategies in genocidal cultures. Pacifism, as I had understood it, had become a way of furthering various forms of violences. This isn't really against pacifism, but rather against the sort of generic and default leftist position of something called pacifism.

(4) Agamben's Homo Sacer and State of Exception. I had really inherited Foucault's belief that sovereign power was mostly a reactive and repressive mechanism. Agamben really returns sovereign power to its properly productive functions.

(5) Ranciere's The Ignorant Schoolmaster, and really Ranciere's work more generally. The same sort of individualism that conflicted with Marx had never entirely left me. In particular, I was often given to beliefs of elitism, especially when it came to students. Well, an early encounter in grad school with this text really finally changed my mind. I am a pretty strong believer in egalitarianism at this point. Also, it was Ranciere's article, "Who is the Subject of the Rights of Man", that brought me off the fence about the importance of rights. Until then, I basically shifted my position on the question of rights from whatever the last thinker I had read felt about the subject. (Deleuze is against it, must be bad. Foucault is for it, must be good. Etc.). This tends to put me in some level of conflict with most of the other continental or critical animal scholars, almost all of whom echo Derrida's belief that the idea of rights does more to hurt animals than help other animals. This is not to say that I don't think the question and issue of rights doesn't need some sort of critical intervention, but I don't think it can go on the dust heap of history.

(6) Peter Singer's Animal Liberation. This book didn't change my mind in any of the obvious ways. By the time I read it, I had long been on the same side when it came to the animal question. What it changed my mind on was the issue of utilitarianism. Like most good radicals, particularly of a poststructuralist stripe, I had long felt that utilitarianism was some sort of clownishly evil system of 'ethics'. I am sure there are probably people reading this blog who basically feel the same way. After reading Animal Liberation, I decided there was a lot more going on with utilitarianism than I had ever allowed for. This is not to say that I became an utilitarian, but I began to more seriously engage the work of consequentialism.

I am sure there are more, but these are ones I have been able to come up with over the last 24 hours or so. Most of the things that have changed my mind have not been books, but conversations. Just saying, comments always open. Also, I'd love to see this meme spread. What books have changed your mind?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Giorgio Agamben and Judith Butler

Recently, I and Joshua Miller got into a discussion over the importance of Judith Butler over at his blog (bonus, see what books and essays actually changed his mind about something. Which is a great meme that I would like to see reproduced). One of the points he made was that he felt that much of what Judith Butler has been arguing about with precarity is secondary literature on Agamben. I don't think so, and I think this is a great opportunity to clarify the relationship of these two thinkers.

I think it is pretty clear that Agamben has long been an influence on Butler's work. However, I doubt you could call her work on precariousness as secondary literature. First of all, it has none of the form of that (no long textual exegesis, etc.). But the more substantial point is to distinguish Agamben's notion of bare life from Butler's notion of precarious life.

Much of Giorgio Agamben's work is centered around identifying and explicating a series of metaphysical machines that produce modernity. Thus, we have the state of exception in law, we have the anthropological machine in anthropology broadly construed, and we have the providential machine in theology. All of these machines operate in zones of indecision, and all of these machines are fundamentally empty, kenotic. What this means is that each iteration of the decisions of these machines are completely up for grabs each time. There is always a chance that what I do is interpreted as criminal even if it was interpreted as legal last time. The mundane example here is a speeding ticket, where one cop might decide that going 12 over is legal, and the next time the cop might decide it is illegal. The importance is that the machines produce their own justifications in these zones of indecision as if by fiat. Therefore, we all potentially can be seen as killable, we all exist within the nomos of the camp. This is what is meant by bare life-- life that is fundamentally confused between bios and zoe. [1]

Judith Butler's work on precarious life is very different from Agamben's work on bare life. First of all, there are not these monolithic metaphysical machines populating the work of Butler. Partially this is because Butler is far more interested in the nuances of how certain lives are considered livable and mournable than Agamben is. For Agamben, we all live in the nomos of the camp, and therefore you see Agamben taking up the idea of the archeologist from Foucault, and not the genealogist. To take up the mundane example from before of speeding, you would not see in Agamben any detailed discussions of the types of car your drive, or your race, or the part of town you are in as mattering for how the cop determines to pull you over or not. His metaphysical machines never seem weighted down by history, and their decisions never seem overdetermined by identity. For Butler, the frames by which we determine what gets to count as human, what gets to count as livable life, are all explored with a remarkable specificity. Gender, race, sexuality, ability, etc. all seem to play key roles in figuring out the protocols by which we determine which lives we mourn, and which lives we don't mourn.
The more important distinction, however, is that Butler does not seem to believe in bare life. As she has argued, the tasks you do to reproduce your biological existence (eating and finding food, creating shelter, etc) are all politically and culturally relevant. These are never the tasks of zoe, or of mere existence. This is why Butler talks of the bios of the non-human animal, an insight that I doubt you would ever see from Agamben. Thus, for Butler precariousness is not a condition to be overcome or critiqued, in the way that bare life would be for Agamben, rather precariousness becomes a place to think and organize from. Agamben is never a thinker of vulnerability as enabling, as productive. So, precariousness is not an ahistorical and legal condition, and it is actually something foundational to ontology, ethics, and sociality as such.

[1] I have so far treated Agamben's earlier work in Homo Sacer and State of Exception as being consistent with his later work in The Kingdom and the Glory. I have done so for some conceptual ease. However, these various works exist in some tension. Peter Gratton makes this argument frequently on his blog, and will be part of his chapter on Agamben in his The State of Sovereignty (SUNY Sometime).

Monday, November 15, 2010

Some More Thoughts On Cheating

I assume most of you have seen this CHE story (h/t Joey) written by someone who writes custom papers for students who pay for it (and they pay a lot). It's interesting, if not terribly noteworthy (except for how much he and the company he worked for gets paid. Particularly the company, which seems to be extracting close to a 100% profit). However, certain responses to the story are worth noting. Take this one, for example (h/t Craig). There seems to be a general argument from both the author of the CHE story and the author of the blog post that rampant cheating is somehow the fault of the faculty. But I don't care about that, here is what I care about: That in a desire to better police cheating, many educators seem willing to decrease the effectiveness or excitement of their pedagogical assignments. I have before taken a stance for anti-cheating measures, but only because they allowed me to become less of a cop and more of an educator. However, many educators admit to going to only in-class writing assignments or in-class tests in order to deal with such for-hire plagiarism services. Other educators admit to moving toward smaller and more narrow focused assignments in order to thwart such cheating.
Now, there are surely many appropriate times and places for tests, in class writing assignments, and certainly for narrow focused assignments. However, it seems many professors are moving to these assignments, and almost exclusively toward these assignments, not because of any pedagogical demand, but because of a policing demand. I am tempted, at this point, to write something cliche, like: If you assign this the cheaters have already won!
What really galls me from the CHE article is how the author seems oblivious to how his work and his stated goals are at cross-purposes. It is exactly the sort of assignments that the CHE author claims he supports, open-ended assignments that allow for the maximum creative and academic freedom, that are the most vulnerable to the sorts of services he provides. Most professors do not read the CHE article and feel that an effective response is to provide more academic freedom to students. I don't think anyone here believes that students are willing to pay $2000 (!) for an assignment simply because they felt it was too restrictive.
Anyway, if I am ever going to have to choose between being an educator or a cop, I am going to choose educator every single damn time.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Post of Links

I've been very negligent in keeping up with the various blogs and discussions, so I am sure I am going to miss a lot of important stuff. If it seems I have missed some things, let me know.

I just saw this cool looking conference over at SUNY-Buffalo, Animal.Machine.Sovereign. If I still lived nearby, I would have to be going. As it is, you still might want to think about going. (h/t Complete Lies).

Here is Levi on Hyperobjects and OOO. Deleuze and Guattari's What is Philosophy? was the first book of theirs I read from cover to cover as well, I also read it my first year in undergrad. Jason Wirth called it their deceptively simple book, and I have always agreed with that assessment.

At this year's ASLE, the panels on "The Vegan Challenge to Posthumanism" looks pretty awesome. Two abstracts have been posted, Craig on CAS & OOO, and Eric on Derrida, Hospitality, and Veganism. I really wish I could be at this conference, but I will be on my honeymoon. So, maybe I don't wish it that much...

Speaking of awesome conferences I wish I would be at, Devin is getting ready for the Radical Philosophy Association Conference. You can follow that link to get a link for what is going on at that conference. I really don't know why I didn't my act together in time to try and go, but I will make going to the next one a priority.

Lastly, here is Henry Salt on the ridicule of vegetarians. Still mostly true.

The band Dark Dark Dark have a new album out, and it is completely gorgeous. They seriously have one of the best sounds around. Here is the 'single' off that new album Wild Go, "Daydreaming". You will not regret listening to it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

How states raise revenues: something of a rant.

I haven't posted in a while. October was a rough month, and then I got sick. Also, once I fall out of the habit of posting, it is hard to get myself back into it.

Recently my fiance got a speeding ticket. In general, most speeding tickets annoy me. They tend to be rather obvious attempts to raise revenue, rather than promote any sort of general welfare. But, whatever, we paid the absurd $245 fine. However, I just got another notice, this one from the state, which feels my fiance is a super speeder, and therefore we also have to pay the state $200. This is for going less than 20 miles over the speed limit on the interstate, and not in any sort of construction area or other high danger place. The state law went into effect January 1st, 2010. Despite all the sound and fury over sticking it to speeders, the law is clearly about raising revenues.
This is what happens when the state is suffering from falling revenues and yet won't raise taxes. This is one of the practical problems that emerges when you demand that states continue the same level of services while cutting taxes. And the sad thing is that I am pretty sure that many people would still support more fines and fees over a regulated progressive tax structure. Oh well, rant over. And here is music video for how all of this makes me feel.

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).

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Butler, animals, mourning

I'm working on this paper (with another academic blogger, more on this as appropriate) about Judith Butler and her anti-anthropocentrism. And it caused me to try and remember when I got interested in thinking Butler's work alongside the question of the animal. Because, her explicit comments about animals seems to have occurred mostly after I started looking toward her work. And I remember it started because of mourning. Butler has long insisted that questions over who gets to mourn whom is at the heart of the political, at the heart of social intelligibility. This makes a lot of sense, historically, because of issues of mourning were very much at the heart of queer identity and the AIDS crisis. I still remember a playwright that I knew in high school, who had a moving one man show about the death of his partner. The show centered around less the death itself, but all the problems of mourning his lover. From institutional problems of not being family and being unrecognized to stay after visiting hours, to a family that refused to recognize his relationship. He therefore was constantly grieving, but denied all the socially recognizable paths and protocols to mourn. And at the funeral, his relationship to his partner was completely whitewashed over, as if it never existed. Mourning is a way of making connections, of establishing kinship, and of recognizing the vulnerability and finitude of the other. The protocols that refuse to recognize our mourning refuse all sorts of tangible, social intelligibility. This brings me to animals.
Sometimes we are allowed to mourn animals. Particularly (perhaps even only) pets. Sometimes we are allowed to mourn species that go extinct. But to mourn particular nameless animals, to mourn the animals who cut flesh is on display, to mourn the lobster with the cracked and bound claws in the tank, to mourn the dead animals on the side of the road. To mourn, in other words, the pain and death we dish out, is something that profoundly refused. It is one thing, controversial enough, to become a vegetarian or vegan for ethical reasons, to fight for animal welfare and rights. People don't like it, but to some degree it is understood. But to be in the grocery store and to suddenly be overcome by the reality that exists behind the animal flesh on display, to be able to see their muscles and fat and bones for what they are: the cut up pieces of a being, and to mourn. To tear up, or have trouble functioning, to feel that moment of utter suffocation of being in a hall of death is completely unintelligible. Most people's response is that you need therapy, or you can't be sincere. And so most of us work hard to not mourn. We do it to function, to get by. But that means for most of us, even those of us who are absolutely committed to fighting for animals, have to also and regularly engage in disavowal. Butler's insistence that mourning is political, and it is bound up in a matrix of norms, subjectivity, and relationships is important. I am glad that her work has moved to an increasingly anti-anthropocentric place, and that she understands that at the heart of grief is also the question of what gets to count as a life, or an intelligible life.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Post of Links

It seems my post of links is having competition, in the form of the same rundown over at Prodigies & Monsters. Check it out (ps, tell them they need to add music to theirs).

Speculations is up with a CFP for their next issue. I think I am going to try to have something for them this time.

Just in case you missed it, Nina Power has an article in Comment Is Free on the 20th anniversary of Carol Adams' The Sexual Politics of Meat. (original h/t Craig, but thanks to everyone who pointed it out to me). The comments there are, predictably, absurd and go fairly far into proving Adams' points. Nina interacts with everyone there for a while, and I almost wish she hadn't so I would have given up reading the comments earlier. Meanwhile, Nina also has some meta-comments on comments.

Antonio Negri's video conference at the Commonalities conference has been posted. I'll have to take the time to watch it later on.

Kwame Anthony Appiah has an op-ed at the Washington Post on what practices we are engaging in now that future generations will be shocked by. After establishing some criteria of how to determine that, he lists four: our prison system, factory farming, the warehousing of the elderly, and our destruction of the environment.

Tim Morton has a link to a video of Karmapa talking about vegetarianism and ecology. (plus, check out his new blog layout, damn).

William Gibson, for whom my love knows no bounds, has a new book out that I need to read. Here is a pretty good interview with him, conducted after this most recent novel.

I've been pretty busy as my lack of real posts attests to. What attests to it even more is I finally watched the last episode of True Blood yesterday. In honor of that, here is The Eels, "Fresh Blood".