Sunday, December 29, 2013

New PhaenEx special issue on Animal and Food Ethics

This is just a quick note to let you know that Christiane Bailey and Chloë Taylor have done a great job editing the new special issue of PhaenEx on Animal and Food Ethics. The issue also features an essay I wrote.

Friday, December 20, 2013

CFP: Legal Bodies: Corpus/Persona/Communitas, May 15-17, 2014. Submit by Feb. 14, 2014

Legal Bodies: Corpus / Persona / Communitas
15-16-17 May 2014

LUCAS (the Leiden University Centre for the Arts in Society) will host a three-day conference on the various ways in which literary and artistic texts have represented, interrogated or challenged juridical notions of ‘personhood’.  The guiding assumption behind our conference is that ‘personhood’ is not a (biologically) given, stable property of human beings (which precedes their interaction with the law), but that ‘personhood’ is assigned to selected (and historically varying) ‘bodies’ by discursive regimes, such as those of law, medicine, politics, religion, and education. During the conference we will study how literature, art and culture form domains in which the implications and scope of legal, political or medical conceptualizations of personhood can be dramatized and thought through, and in which alternative understandings of personhood can be proposed and disseminated.

The symposium broaches the question of personhood on three different levels: those of the body, the individual and the community. Questions to be addressed include (but are not limited to), firstly: From which discourses did notions of bodily integrity historically emerge? Which social, political and medical developments are currently challenging these notions? How do artistic, cultural and socio-political phenomena (such as bio-art, body horror, the right-to-die movement, etc.) invite us to rethink our notion of the human body?
Second, what literary and rhetorical figures made it possible to think of legal personhood in antiquity, the middle ages and the modern era? What is the legal status of ‘not-quite persons,’ such as children, illegal immigrants, the mentally disabled, the unborn and the undead? What could ‘animal personhood’ entail?
Finally: how do collective bodies acquire personhood? How did art and literature represent legal entities such as the medieval city, the seventeenth century trade company or the nineteenth century corporation? Or what is the legally defined status of sects, networks, conspiracies, and resistance movements?

The conference is organized in cooperation with NICA (the Netherlands Institute for Cultural Analysis) and is made possible by LUCAS, the Leiden University Fund and NICA.

400-word proposals for 20-minute papers can be send to Frans-Willem Korsten, Nanne Timmer and Yasco Horsman (LUCAS, Leiden) at

Deadline: 14 February 2014


For more information on LUCAS and NICA, see

Or contact:;;

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Accelerationism, animal ethics, and the factory farm

I am probably not an accelerationist, but I think certain core principles of accelerationism are useful for exploring tensions within the animal ethics community.

Accelerationism is a term coined by Benjamin Noys in his book, The Persistence of the Negative. Accelerationism is a philosophy loosely based on Deleuze and Guattari's Anti-Oedipus, Jean-Francois Lyotard's Libidinal Economy, and Jean Baudrillard's Symbolic Exchange and Death (sidenote, I had an undergraduate class utilizing those three texts back in 2002, weird), along with the writings of Nick Land. As Noys explains, "they are an exotic variant of la politique du pire: if capitalism generates its own forces of dissolution then the necessity is to radicalise capitalism itself: the worse the better. We can call these positions accelerationist." (p. 5) It is important to note that Noys is critical of the accelerationist move. There many who have adopted the mantle of accelerationism as a positive radical political project. You should look to Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek's accelerationist manifesto, as well as Steven Shaviro's talks on accelerationism (this link contains both an video giving an intro, plus the text of another talk). The only animal ethicist I know who has also written on accelerationism is Patricia MacCormack. Though it is not principally on animal ethics. And David Roden has written about accelerationism and posthumanism. While there is a lot about accelerationism I probably would not agree with, I do want to focus on a couple of points I am in agreement with, and how those points pertain to animal ethics and the factory farm.

Accelerationism argues strongly that there is no going back. Or at least, back is not the direction we wish to go. In this sense, Marx (or at least a certain Marx) is a principle figure for accelerationism. Just as anyone who has read Marx understands that he has no wish to move from capitalism back to feudalism, or to destroy the machines of capitalism. Instead, the machines and factories of capitalism are the basis of the general intellect and the powers of social production necessary for communism. The accelerationist, then, is in opposition to the Heideggerian critiques of free floating intelligences, the das man, and en-framing. In other words, we do not suffer from too much calculation and too much abstraction, but rather, from too little or the wrong kinds of calculation and abstraction. As Negri wittily once put it, " But here we are once again, always at the same point: Marx frees what Heidegger imprisons. Marx illuminates with praxis what Heidegger reduces to mysticism." (Insurgencies, p. 29). Animal ethics is stuck in a similar fight: Do we embrace calculative and production capabilities of the present, even with the its taint of the violences of modernity, or do we strive for a premodern remedy to the violence against other animals?

The slow food and locavore movements have clearly embraced the premodern strategy. The issue for them is not one principally of speciesism, or the killing and eating of other animals, but rather of capitalist and modern 'excess.' If we could just turn the clock back (to the '50s, though I am never sure if they mean the 1950s or the 1850s), everything about our food productions would be fine. Thus we see the simultaneous orientalism of the hunting and eating practices of indigenous peoples, the romanticism of the pasture, and the nostalgia for the food preparation of the immediate post-war generation. As my brother has constantly chronicled, such orientalism, romanticism, and nostalgia is frequently the basis of political and social conservatism of the most extreme sorts (pdf). This also brings us to a post by James McWilliams on the work of historian Maureen Olge. Olge is no friend to the animal ethicist or the vegan activist. At the same time, she completely pegs the mythology of the slow food and locavore movements. We will return to this shortly. Unlike, say, the move from feudalism to capitalism, or sovereign power to disciplinary power, it is a bit harder to not fall for the premodern nostalgia. As anyone who has bothered to pay attention to animal agribusinesses and animal science knows, the current move is to fully realize Descartes' belief that animals are just machines. Agribusinesses do this by simply treating animals in factory farms as if they are machines, and animal science is doing this by actively trying to create biological subjects that will behave just as machines (take away animal's sentience, for example, make animals even more docile, etc). And when I have written about the push to treat and make animals into machines, I have not always been clear to not sound like I support a return to a pre-industrial agrarianism. And much of the slow food and locavore people are advocating for a reduction in the violence to other animals (including an attack on some of the intensive forms of violence). Clearly, however, our only choice is not between the present system, and the romanticized past. And make no mistake, it is a romantic past.

Okay, back to Maureen Ogle. She has argued:
As many Americans know, the agrarian past looms large in both our national identity and mythology: The nation was founded by the sturdy yeoman, the rugged individual, etc. Those who work the land are the best among us, etc. Rural values are the bedrock of American society; threaten those and the republic itself is threatened, etc. (See, for example, Wendell Berry.)
This mythology is just that: mythology. Historically, first in the colonies and then in the new United States, American farmers were less interested in yeoman "independence" than in earning profits from a national and global market for food stuffs. (And make no mistake: American agriculture has served a global market since the 1600s.)
Again, make no mistake, Ogle is not on the side of the animal rights advocate. However, her point here is entirely correct. What I came to understand in my work on the history of the factory farm, is that the seeds of the factory farm existed within the time period before the factory farm. If you want an slaughterhouse that doesn't treat an animal as a carcass to be disassembled like a machine, you will need to go back to slightly before 1850s. We would have to go back, as Ogle states, to before the 1600s to get an American production of animal bodies not for a global market. Want to understand animals before interventions to breed for size, docility, etc? Depending on what you mean, we are are going to have to go to at least the `1700s, or basically the entire domestication of animals if you want a broader understanding. Some of our first institutions of higher education in this country were built to do research and teach animal husbandry. Scientific journals on the intervention of breeding animals are some of the first trade journals in this country. The techniques and technologies of the factory farm are found an encouraged in this history of animal agriculture, not because of the excesses of capitalism, but because capitalism's machinic formation are found and encouraged in the same history. You cannot fully disentangle capitalism's violence and speciesism (I really do believe one cannot oppose capitalism without also opposing a certain expropriation of the animal). So, now what?

Well, you can earn for a mythic past. For the vegan, at least, this seems to be a non-starter. Our relationships to other animals, at every level, does not seem separable. Agamben's claim that we should just let animals be (along with any number of animal rights activists) is just so insane. We build roads and productions and houses in animal habitats. We domesticate animals, we eat animals, we use animal bodies for clothes, jewelry, to clarify wines and beers, to make pills and condoms, to test drugs on, to labor for us, and on and on. While the present system of violence and expropriation needs to be abolished, our lives with other animals seems to be so entangled I do not begin to understand how we would just let animals be. Or why that would be ethical. Instead, we have a world to create. The danger and hope of animal science is that life can be created and recreated. The danger and hope of animal agribusiness is that we can achieve levels of vast production of the relations between humans and other animals. The factory farm is a great evil, but I also have no desire to go back, whatever that would mean. We need less appeals to nature and the natural, and more appeals to a future constructivism. I have before called this an ecofeminist constructivism. Constructivist because the ontology is not on the natural, and the politics are not on the level of voluntarism, and aesthetics is not a romanticism of the past, and the ethics is not a withdrawal of relationships. Ecofeminist because the world that needs to be built is one centered on flourishing, on respecting relationships, on understanding intersectionality and interlocking oppressions. Deleuze and Guattari, in What is Philosophy?, called for a new people and a new earth. I have written before of becoming-vegan.  In that I mostly focused on a foucaldian understanding of askesis. But we need not just new human subjects, but a new world. This not the worse it is, the better it is (as Noys put it). But at the same time, this is not something that will come about by going back. Anyway, there is no back to go to.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

"An internet museum of shame for future radicals": On the radical anti-Mandela memes

The title of this post comes from a colleague who was complaining about certain reactions to Nelson Mandela's death. I think you know the kind I mean, the ones from (mostly white) radicals who have greeted the death of Nelson Mandela as cause to ruminate on how he wasn't radical enough, and anti-capitalist enough. I say mostly white. Of course, the only examples I can find are from white radicals, and the ones who have been posting on my facebook feed have exclusively been white. There is, of course, famously the Zizek article in the Guardian. Weirdly enough, the Zizek piece is the one that has been the most respectful. But you can also see this post and this post. A lot of the people who have been sharing these posts are people I like, respect, and generally support. I have also been shocked by this.

First, we can certainly argue about Mandela's support and/or lack of opposition to neo-liberalism. There is a good chance the arguments about his support of neo-liberalism will win the day. Still, he certainly helped create a state that tries to spend significantly on healthcare, education, and housing. He spoke often and persuasively, even in the last years of his life, about ending poverty as an issue of justice, and and not charity. He spoke on behalf of unions, and against the war on iraq as merely a grab for oil. There should be real anger by radicals that Mandela, like other social justice leaders, are being sanitized and whitewashed. But regardless of all of that, what is implicit (or even explicit) in these critiques is the idea that ending apartheid is somehow less of an accomplishment than opposing neoliberalism. These critiques assume a logic in which racism is merely an extension of the structures of capitalism, rather than a social ill all of its own, and that capitalism and racism are structurally entangled, but separate evils. They imply a world in which the fight against racism is somehow less important than the fight against capitalism.

And I worry about the kneejerk reactions of radicals to take the death of someone like Nelson Mandela and go, "Yeah, well, he didn't topple capitalism while he was at it, so I don't know what the big deal is." Honestly, what is the psychic economy behind this immediate reaction to his death? I don't get it. Here is what I do get, however. The next time my white radical friends are confused why our radical spaces are so often overwhelmingly white, or when they get defensive that their radicalism and/or causes are not racist, I am just going to send them a link to this post. If your immediate reaction to the death of a anti-white supremacy leader who was also opposed to capitalism (even if not in the ways or degree you wished) is to question their radical bona fides, then you are obviously engaged in a sort of epistemic blindness and violence. I am not saying we need to turn Mandela into some sort of radical saint, or that no criticism is allowed or warranted. I am saying this sort of kneejerk reaction to his death both have consequences, and is deeply troubling.

EDIT: Jairus, in comments, pointed out my ableism in the term "epistemic blindness". I apologize. He argues convincingly for the concept of epistemic parallax, and you should just make sure you read his comments.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

What happened to all the pardons?

Thanks to Magnus Fiskesjö, I am vaguely obsessed with all things dealing with the Thanksgiving turkey pardon. Make sure you read his short book, The Thanksgiving Turkey Pardon, the Death of Teddy's Bear, and the Sovereign Exception of Guantánamo. The longest title for the shortest book. Also, make sure to read his follow up article, "The reluctant sovereign: New adventures of the US presidential Thanksgiving turkey." Well, this article from the Washington Post continues that (though the stuff about eating humanely raised turkeys is obvious nonsense). In it, we also discover that:
After tomorrow, Obama will have "pardoned" 10 turkeys in all (turkeys that, as best we can tell, haven't actually committed any crimes). By contrast, he will have only pardoned or commuted the sentences of 40 actual living human beings.

Indeed, if you look at the graph in the article, you will notice that there is a huge drop off in pardons and commuting of sentences by Bill Clinton. So, basically around the same time that we have the rise of thanksgiving turkey pardons, we also have a significantly huge decrease in actual pardons.

Monday, November 25, 2013


It’s also true that to attack Spinozism is considered on par with wanting to kill innocent life itself – this poor wastrel of a man, this “innocent life,” as Deleuze puts it. We philosophers and theorists admire those who have been threatened and excommunicated, those who have done their philosophy under the most arduous and dangerous conditions, and by this move we flatter our- selves to think that we too brave the worst in merely being philosophers. It seems rude to our self-understanding to attack a Socrates or a Spinoza, as if they didn’t face enough in their own lives, and especially if that means siding with those reactionary dogmatists who excoriated “Spinozism” for centuries after Spinoza died having left unfinished his chapter on democracy in the Political Treatise. And now, centuries later, he is tellingly judged to be an “innocent life,” as if life itself were a matter of guilt or innocence, or a matter of those “suffused with life itself” or those who are not – as if one can make any such juridical distinctions independent of a fully biopoliticized logic.  

--Peter Gratton, "Spinoza and the Biopolitical Roots of Modernity."

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Animal activists need their own Bechdel test

Animal activists need their own Bechdel test
By Jon Hochschartner*

Animal activists need their own rubric to assess anthropocentrism in fictional work that's similar to the Bechdel test employed by feminists to gauge gender bias.

Named for its popularizer, the Bechdel test has three requirements an artistic piece must meet in order to pass. First, it has to include at least two women. Second, they have to speak to each other. Third, they have to speak to each other about something other than a man.

Despite its limitations, this simple test has proven effective at highlighting sexism in films and other works of fiction. Animal activists would benefit from something similar. I'd like to put forward what might be the basis for such a test. The standard would be simple. To pass, any work with unnecessary violence by humans against animals would have to include some kind of editorial signal that the practice is wrong. Now what exactly does that mean? Because I write about video games, I will use examples from that medium, but the test could easily apply to others.

To begin, the categories of humans and other animals would not be limited to their existing forms. For instance, the creatures of the "Pokémon" series, who are captured in the wild and trained to fight, are clearly analogous to animals. Similarly, despite looking feline, the Khajiit of "The Elder Scrolls" series, who ride horses and practice religion, have far more in common with humans than other real-life species.

Let's clarify some more terms. What's unnecessary violence against animals? An example can be found in "The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time," in which Link can catch fish with a rod. The fish pose no immediate, unavoidable threat to Link, and there's no indication he's incapable of surviving on plant-based foods. This is unnecessary violence against animals. In contrast, in 2013's "Tomb Raider," Lara Croft need not seek out wolves for them to pursue her and cause her lethal damage if she doesn't kill them first. Though wolves don't actually behave this way in life, within the game this violence against animals is much more necessary.

But artists often want their work to reflect the reality of today or the past. And those realities unfortunately include a lot of unnecessary violence by humans against animals. The test would make room for the depiction of these, so long as the work includes editorial signals the practice is wrong.

Some readers may rankle at the idea that games should take a position, however subtly, on anything, let alone unnecessary violence against animals. But like it or not, games transmit value systems. Even games that are infamous for their supposed nihilism, like the "Grand Theft Auto" series, do. While the criminal franchise revels vicariously in the wrongness of its protagonists actions against other humans, it's generally clear their actions are wrong. In contrast, unnecessary violence against animals in video games typically isn't portrayed as problematic. Unlike, say, shooting pedestrians in "Grand Theft Auto," unnecessary violence against animals in video games generally isn't a knowing transgression of moral boundaries. This needs to change.

Editorial signals that unnecessary violence against animals is wrong can be communicated in a number of different ways. Some games, such as the "Fallout" series, include a morality meter, which, based on a player's in-game actions, will assign players an ethical status that will effect how their character is treated. More often though, value systems are transmitted through plot, dialogue, character development and other methods. Most obviously, one knows the villain's actions are wrong because of his or her role in the story. Editorial signals, however subtle, that unnecessary violence against animals is wrong are limited in form only by artists' imaginations.

That would be the test in a nutshell. To pass, any work that features unnecessary violence against animals would have to include some kind of editorial signal the practice was wrong. Further, unnecessary violence against animals does not include defense against an immediate, unavoidable threat. Editorial signals can be conveyed in a variety of ways. But some additional factors must be added that have so far been left out for the sake of simplicity.

For the test's purposes, the definition of violence would need to be expanded to include confinement and involuntary labor. Otherwise, for instance, the "Zoo Tycoon" series, which centers on unnecessary confinement of animals, could potentially pass so long as, within the context of confinement, minimal welfare needs are met.

Some animal activists might believe the depictions of unnecessary violence against animals requiring negative editorial signals should include not just the actions themselves, but the human-desired results of these actions, such as meat, leather or eggs. Ideally, this would be the case. But my initial thought is that, given our society's current anthropocentrism, passing the test would be seen as unattainable and artists would not attempt to do so.

If adopted, hopefully this test would help identify the ubiquity of speciesism in fictional works in much the same way as the Bechdel test does for sexism.

*Jon Hochschartner is a freelance writer from upstate New York.
If you are interested in submitting something to Critical Animal, feel free to email me.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Roadkill Political Ecology

This is a small adaption of a comment I left at James McWilliams blog. McWilliams argued for the superiority of eating roadkill to factory farmed flesh. This is what I said in response. 

First, any factory farmed flesh replaced by roadkill is obviously a good thing, and if someone wanted to be a roadkillavore I wouldn’t spend my time haranguing her. However, there does seem to be some issues I would have with a roadkill Tuesday, or the idea that, “Killers are innocent and the meat is incidental to unintended vehicular propulsion.” I think we can, of course, do all sorts of things to decrease roadkill. Alexandra Koelle has, for example, tried to chart the ways that animal overpasses and underpasses can work to decrease roadkill. Moreover, we can do thinks like lower speed limits in certain areas, we can advocate that driveless cars take into consideration animals before we consider them ‘safe’ to be on the roads, we fight for more public transport and bike friendly policies. And of course, many vegans are doing some of these things. But roadkill is not an unavoidable tragedy of contemporary infrastructure. It persists because we don’t care enough about the harm to animals to change that infrastructure. As vegans, we don’t just need to decrease the number of meat eaters (though that is good, and based on the particular evil of the factory farm, I thoroughly support diet shift as a major focus of our vegan movement), but we have a whole speciesist world to eventually transform. Vegan permaculture (which McWilliams featured a guest post about in the past), different wildlife management techniques for non-native species, changes to our infrastructure, transformations to our medical and scientific communities, etc. are all things we have to face and build in constructing a vegan world. Again, eating roadkill is better than the factory farm, or even the so-called family farm. But at the same time, I think we need to demystify the idea that roadkill is just an innocent by-product of our modern life. It, too, is a collective problem that ideas like innocence is not particularly useful for analyzing. To add one thing in addition, this is part of my idea around an ecofeminist constructivism that I am slowing gesturing towards (see here and here). An ecofeminist constructivism would be opposed to the exclusive ethos of political voluntarism that pervades so much animal abolitionist rhetoric (which is not to say that an ecofeminist constructivism would be opposed to abolitionism or voluntarism).

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Winning the already won argument: Purity in vegan social movements

Bill Martin, in his Ethical Marxism, has called vegetarianism an already won argument. I take this as broadly given. The philosophical argument, made from Aristotle to Hegel, that animals exist only for humans, is largely routed these days. The evils of the factory farm are so apparent and indefensible that no one today seriously tries to defend the factory farm, with the industry simply supporting ag-gag laws and calling (and treating) animal rights activists as terrorists. This is not to say that veganism has really won. Fights over smaller scale raising and killing animals, various medical expropriations of animals, treatment of non-native animal species, and other issues are still major topics. However, the central apparatuses for the most horrible treatments of animals is mostly won. And yet, despite having won the argument, we are living the age of the most intense and inventive cruelty to the largest number of animals.

So, what to make of this? There are still those who are beefing up arguments around non-native species, for example. And there are those who are repacking and rebranding the already won arguments (Veganism--Now in an all new constructivism flavor!). Actually, both those examples are just me. And I do think it is important work. However, I know, and I am sure my compatriots know, that if the argument is already won, simply reframing the argument is not going to have major impacts. The why the already won argument is not working is one that is addressed by various thinkers-- Carol Adams' absent referent, Barbara Noske's/Richard Twine's/David Nibert's animal-industrial complex, Jacques Derrida's disavowal and the global production of forgetting, Bill Martin's carnivorism, and Melanie Joy's carnism.  I am sure there are many more I have forgotten. Despite their differences, what all of these thinkers are trying to get at is some sort of material and/or ideological system that perpetuates our violence against other animals in the face of the already won argument. And as John Sanbonmatsu points out, many of the arguments against a vegan world are made in Sartrian bad faith.

Now, there are those that believe because we have an already won argument, and we seem to be losing instead of winning, that the failure is one of the animal activist community not agreeing 100% on the correct tactic. Whatever that tactic is: non-violent vegan education, direct action, violence against humans, gradual animal welfare reform, etc. In other words, if we are failing to win, the reason is not with my arguments (whatever they are, they are all correct), it is must be because of the activism of other vegans. They are the ones I need to argue with, they are the ones letting the factory farms and labs and hunting seasons still exist. What emerges here is a purity around tactics and the tendency of vegan policing. I clearly think those are bad things. (1) Because I don't really know what tactics are going to work. But also, (2) I think a certain amount of vegan in-fighting tends to come from our own necessary continued imbibing of the disavowal of the absent carn(ivor)ism-complex (or whatever). This two is a harder thing to articulate, and something that makes me glad this is a blog post, and not an article. However, if there really is a material and/or ideological system out there, it is nuts to assume we have escaped it just because we are vegans, or are becoming-vegan. So, the purity of tactics and vegan policing reassures us that we have escaped. But also, in trying to escape, we have often be warped by those systems. We see those we love and care for munching on corpses, we remember ourselves doing the same thing. We are ridiculed, and demeaned. These sorts of traumas become powerful shaping influences. We learn to believe in our rightness, but also our righteousness. We learn to not listen, to be strident, to become distrustful or contemptuous of others, and to even become distrustful and contemptuous of our desires and instincts. It doesn't, of course, have to be this way. And many people are working to not make it this way.

Ecofeminism (and here I am thinking particularly of Chris Cuomo) has often promoted an ethic of flourishing. And we need that. Not just for the other animals we fight for, but for ourselves and communities. pattrice jones has written about the ways activists can use their trauma to transform themselves and their activism. And there is more, of course. The poststructuralist tradition that tries to think a community without sacrifice, or alternatively, a politics of friendship, is certainly important. Such communities are going to struggle with the normalizing and policing priorities and purities we bring with us. Though I am betting that the work of building such communities are every bit as important for the success of vegan social movements as picking up the bullhorn, and certainly as writing another blog post.

On that note, here is more of my schtick about the rebranding and repacking of vegan arguments (and remember, I am laughing with, not at).

Veganism--Try it any of these wonderful ethical flavors!

Mmm, mmm deontological.


Feminist Ethic of Yummy!

Or try the new veganism-lite -- Now with a sliding scale of Morality!

Or poststructuralist veganism -- now not just for Derrida's soul!

(none of these vegan ethical claims are approved by the dead philosophers associated with them, your vegan experience may vary, void where prohibited, and remember, always vegan responsibly).

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

CFP: Towards a new thinking of human/animal relations: queers, monsters and zombies

From here:

The Italian quarterly Liberazioni, an antispeciesist journal, represents an important open ground to the debate on "animal rights" in Italy. It appeared for first time on the web in 2004 and in a paper format since summer 2010 (issue number 15 is in preparation right now). The magazine wishes to help nonhuman animals to cease being considered as property which is a fundamental step towards the ending of the inequality between nonhuman and human animals. The scope of Liberazioni is also to promote a lively debate on "The Question of the Animal" and to this aim, it collaborates with other scholars, institutions and journals in various countries with joint projects and translations.

"Towards a new thinking of human/animal relations: queers, monsters and zombies"

Traditionally, antispeciesism has promoted politics of identity to "raise" the status of the nonhuman animals and to liberate them from human oppression. Nonhuman animals have been considered "right holders" only, and only when, they showed to possess some of the traits assumed to be quintessentially human. Subsequently, a different antispeciesist version has been developed, which share the same aims of the previous one (enhanced consideration of the nonhuman animals and liberation), but promotes politics of difference. This perspective, which is based on contemporary continental thought, challenges speciesism through a multiplication of the differences in the two arbitrary fields of the "Human" and the "Animal" and by rejecting the idea that differences can be ranked on a hierarchy scale. More recently, such a view has evolved into a novel thinking of nonhuman and human animals as inhabiting a shared space of embodied indistinction where the boundaries between creatures and species are blurred by the acceptance of their common vulnerability and mortality. Aim of this call for papers is to investigate from different points of view the nature and the characteristics of such a space through the analysis of creatures that overcome the traditional boundaries of genders, species and identity. This is a particularly difficult task since it requires to think outside the "classical" framework grounded on the self and the subject and, therefore, requires a common effort from scholars in Animal Studies to start mapping such a new territory of freedom and liberation.

Contributions on the following issues are welcomed:

1. History of the evolution of the antispeciesist thought from identity to difference and indistinction.

2. How to think nonhuman and human animals outside the boundaries of subjectivity.

3. How these new ways to think human and nonhuman animals would change the praxis of liberation.

4. Hybrids/monsters/zombies in literature, arts and cinema from ancient mythology to modern and contemporary works.

5. Intersections of Animal Studies with Cultural,Women and Queer Studies.

6. Genealogy of the creation of monsters and the political advantages for the dominant élites.

7. Analysis of the concept of metamorphosis, of the resulting creatures and of their literary and artistic representations.

8. Definition of a new concept of veganism, which is not anymore viewed as a life-style, but rather as a way to call into questions traditionally accepted boundaries.

9. Analysis of the technical procedures to create hybrids and the history of the sciences which have led to a blurring of the biological boundaries from Darwin onwards.

10. The use of the monster-concept to maintain the status quo.

Papers should be submitted in one of the following languages: Italian, English, or French. The deadline for paper submission is 30 September 2014. Papers should not be longer than 9.000 words and can contain pictures (not more than 5 and with permission to be reprinted obtained by the authors) which will be published in black and white. The papers will be peer-reviewed and then, if accepted, published either on the journal (in Italian – translation, if needed, will be provided by the editorial board) and the website or only on the website at the discretion of the editorial board. We do not provide additional editorial guidelines at this stage, since all the accepted papers will be then formatted according to the journal's rules by members of the editorial board.

Papers should be submitted at:

"Verso una nuova prospettiva delle relazioni tra umani e animali: queer, mostri e zombi"

Al fine di "innalzare" lo stato degli animali non umani e favorirne la liberazione dall'oppressione umana, l'antispecismo tradizionale ha promosso una politica dell'identità. Gli animali non umani sono stati considerati portatori di "diritti" quando e solo quando mostravano caratteristiche ritenute tipicamente umane. Successivamente, è stata sviluppata un'altra versione dell'antispecismo che, pur avendo gli stessi scopi di quella precedente (migliorare la condizione degli animali non umani e spingere verso la loro liberazione), ha promosso politiche della differenza. Tale prospettiva, che si riconosce nell'ambito del pensiero continentale contemporaneo, critica lo specismo facendo ricorso a una moltiplicazione delle differenze nei due campi arbitrariamente definiti de "l'Umano" e de "l'Animale" e rifiutando l'idea che le differenze possano essere disposte lungo una scala gerarchica. Più recentemente, questa prospettiva si è evoluta in un nuovo modo di pensare gli animali umani e non umani che sono ora visti come abitanti di uno spazio condiviso di corpeazione indistinta, nella quale i confini tra le creature e le specie sono con-fusi dall'accettazione di un comune destino di vulnerabilità e finitudine. Scopo di questo call for paper è quello di analizzare da differenti punti di vista la natura e le caratteristiche di tale spazio dialogando con quegli esseri che hanno oltrepassato i tradizionali confini di genere, specie e identità. Questo è un compito particolarmente difficile dal momento che richiede di pensare al di fuori della "classica" cornice fondata sul sé e sulla soggettività. E' quindi necessario uno sforzo comune da parte di chi si occupa di Animal Studies per cercare di iniziare a cartografare questo nuovo territorio di libertà e di liberazione.

Sono benvenuti contributi che affrontino i seguenti temi:

1. Storia dell'evoluzione dell'antispecismo da un pensiero dell'identità a uno della differenza e dell'indistinzione.

2. Come pensare gli animali umani e non umani oltre i confini della soggettività.

3. Come queste nuove modalità di pensare gli animali umani e non umani possono modificare le pratiche di liberazione.

4. Ibridi/mostri/zombi nella letteratura, nell'arte e nel cinema, dalla mitologia antica alle opere contemporanee.

5. Intersezioni degli Animal Studies con i Cultural, Women e Queer Studies.

6. Genealogia della creazione dei mostri e i vantaggi politici di tale operazione per le élite dominanti.

7. Analisi del concetto di metamorfosi, delle creature che ne risultano e delle loro rappresentazioni letterarie e artistiche.

8. Definizione di una nuova visione del veganismo, non più inteso come stile di vita, ma come mezzo per revocare i confini tradizionalmente accettati.

9. Analisi delle procedure tecniche di creazione degli ibridi e della storia delle scienze che hanno reso indistinti i confini biologici da Darwin in poi.

10. L'utilizzo del concetto di "mostro" per mantenere lo status quo.

I testi dovranno essere redatti in una delle seguenti lingue: italiano, inglese o francese. Il termine per l'invio dei contributi è fissato per il 30 settembre 2014. I contributi non dovranno superare le 9000 parole e potranno contenere immagini (al massimo 5; gli autori dovranno ottenere il permesso per il loro utilizzo) che saranno riprodotte in bianco e nero. I testi saranno letti da studiosi di queste tematiche e, se accettati, pubblicati in italiano sulla rivista cartacea e/o sul web in lingua originale, a discrezione del board della rivista. Si dà libertà di seguire le regole di editing preferite, ma in ogni caso, prima della pubblicazione tutti i contributi verranno ri-editati secondo le norme redazionali della rivista.

I contributi vanno inviati al seguente indirizzo:

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Hunting power, a correlate to pastoral power. On Grégorie Chamayou's Manhunts.

Jason Read has an interesting and smart post on Grégorie Chamayou's book Manhunts: A Philosophical History. I have been meaning to do a post on that book for a while, and this is a good opportunity. So, make sure to go read Jason Read's post first, then come read this post. Don't worry, we'll wait for you.

First, a couple of quick additions to the feel of the book. It is relatively short--I read it in two afternoons. As Jason Read points out, there is a slightly disjointed feel to the book, as we move from one historical point of the manhunt to another. However, Chamayou does an excellent job coming in reminding us of how this all links up (and if we don't get it the first time, it has a well done conclusion tying it all together). The disjointedness has a theoretical point. Chamayou specifically contrasts his project to Rene Girard's theory of the scapegoat, because for Girard the scapegoat has an ahistorical character. Chamayou wants to try to ground his work in specificity (one can see this also being a critique of Agamben, that Chamayou also contrasts his work with).
Despite the contrast, Manhunts has the feel of a book by Agamben, or Daniel Heller-Roazen, and I mean that in the best sense. Whatever problems I have had with Agamben, I have always enjoyed reading his books, and Manhunts has that remarkable pacing I have always found satisfying in Agamben's books. Now, it is pretty clear that Chamayou is both anthropocentric and a humanist (the book ends with a cry for universal humanism, and the ambivalent nature of humanism with its possibilities for universalism are alluded to more than once), but I still think this is an excellent book for those of us working in posthumanism and critical animal studies.

The nature of this book is to distill and explain the logics and diagrams of a particular form of power--cynegetic (hunting) power. This is exciting because the rise of analysis of biopolitics has taken a problematic direction. In the thanatopolitical understanding of the biopolitical, the Nazi Lager comes to have an almost platonic form of evil, so that analysis of biopolitics come to (a) see everything as an extension of the camp, and (b) all other evils come to be understood only in how close they come to reflecting Auschwitz. While a thorough understanding of the diagrams of power that made the Holocaust possible seems utterly necessary, this platonic evil comes to make analysis of power nearly impossible. The cure is to do something like Chamayou has done, and instead develop genealogies of power that is not just biopolitics (Foucault, I feel, would be the first to agree). So, back to cynegetic power.

As Chamayou notes (and I have elsewhere) in both Plato and Aristotle hunting is seen as an essential part of political theory and philosophical anthropology.
In the Sophist, Plato emphasizes the fact that hunting cannot be reduced to tracking wild animals. Among the different branches of the cynegetic art there is also an art of manhunting, which is in turn subdivided into several categories: “Let us define piracy, manstealing, tyranny, the whole military art, by one name, as hunting with violence.” Although not all these forms are equally tolerated—for example, Plato condemns piracy, “the chasing of men on the high seas,” because it transforms those who practice it into “cruel and lawless hunters”—war appears, by contrast, to be a form of legitimate hunting that is worthy of citizens. Aristotle says much the same: “the art of war is a natural art of acquisition, for the art of acquisition includes hunting, an art which we ought to practice against wild beasts, and against men who, though intended by nature to be governed, will not submit.” Greek philosophers conceive manhunting as an “art” or technology of power. There is an “art of acquiring slaves.” From the outset, domination is examined in a technological perspective: what must masters do to be masters? On what procedures does their power depend? (p.5)
Chamayou is particularly interested in charting this cynegetic power, particularly as a correlate to Foucault's pastoral power.
There are several of us in animal studies who are engaging with Foucault's understanding of pastoral power in thinking through human domination of other animals. In particular, you should read Anand Pandian's "Pastoral Power in the Postcolony" in Animals and the Human Imagination, and read Nicole Shukin's "Tense Animals: On Other Species in Pastoral Power." They are both, actually, really good article, and you should actually read them. Chamayou, however, is not just interested in pastoral power, but its correlate or opposition. Here, another long quotation:
Michel Foucault located, on the basis of Hebrew tradition, the emergence of a pastoral power. But I think this genealogy is missing an essential component. To what, in fact, is the pastorate opposed? In the Old Testament, Foucault explains, “the bad kings, those who are denounced for having betrayed their task, are designated as bad shepherds, not in relation to individuals, but always in reference the whole.” But the figure of the bad king cannot be reduced to the case of the failed shepherd. The real counterpoint to pastoral power, what is opposed to it not simply as a defective form of itself but as its true antithesis, its inverted double and at the same time its foil, is Nimrod, the hunter of men. In the long history of the thematization of power that began in Hebrew tradition, there are in fact two opposing terms: Abraham and Nimrod, pastoral power and cynegetic power. What are the characteristics of this opposition? The first principle of pastoral power is its transcendence. God is the supreme shepherd, but he entrusts his flock to subordinate shepherds. The schema is that of the human shepherds’ entire dependency and complete submission to divine authority. With Nimrod the opposite is true: far rom receiving his people from the hand of God, he captures it by force, with his own hands. The reign of the hunter-king is not only the first power on Earth but also the first power that is specifically terrestrial, whose authority is not inherited from a transcendent source. Nimrod is the first figure of the immanence of power. His rationality is that of a physics rather than a theology of power. This is the first major characteristic of the opposition between cynegetic power and pastoral power: the immanence of the power relationship or the transcendence of the divine law as the foundation of political authority. (pp. 14-15)

While Chamayou will frequently disturb this easy division in his book, it still basically functions throughout. Cynegetic power is fundamentally concerned with accumulation (particularly primitive accumulation) and massification. Pastoral power is concerned with growth and good government. It is concerned with the individual health and life of those in its sway. Cynegetic power is none of these things. It is the logic of the levy and raid. It divides, but does not individualize. Abraham grew a flock, Nimrod conquered an empire.
Chamayou's book is concerned with following the historical development of the concept of cynegetic power. We spend time with colonization and the hunt of indigenous people, hunting of enslaved people, the hunt of the poor in Europe, the hunting of lynching gangs, the police hunt, the hunt of foreigners, the hunt of Jewish people, and the current hunt for undocumented workers. The concern for questions of capital, race, and colonization is a nice corrective to certain texts of current biopolitics that finds within the Nazi Lager the entirety of modern political thought (yes, I mean Agamben and Esposito). One could wish that Chamayou did not take the man of the Manhunt so literally, and take seriously some of the more obviously gendered manhunts. In particular, the withhunt seems glaringly obvious in its omission. Luckily, Silvia Federici's Caliban and the Witch has us taken care of on that front. One could also wish he had taken a serious consideration in the ways that hunting of nonhuman animals have contributed to some of these problems, like the connection between hunting and colonial imperialism. Luckily, John M. MacKenzie's The Empire of Nature has us covered on that front. Let us, though, continue on charting the characteristics of cynegetic power.
Chamayou further argues:
manhunting becomes a means of waging cynegetic war—a kind of war that has the following characteristics: (l) it does not take the form of a direct confrontation, but of a process of tracking down; (2) the power relationship is marked by a radical dissymmetry in weapons; (3) its structure is not that of a duel: a third term is mobilized as a mediation; (4) the enemy is not recognized as such, that is, as an equal—he is only a prey; (5) use is made of nonnoble means related to policing or hunting rather than to the classical military register. (p. 73)
Several important points here. A cynegetic war is not a traditional war. Clausewitz famously compared war to a dual, however the entire point of hunting is to never engage in a dual. This is why, for Chamayou's latest book The Theory of the Drone (not yet translated), he explains that the drone turned the battlefield into a global hunting ground. Also, Chamayou's opposition to the view of the hunt as being opposed to a dual is part, as Jason Read pointed out above, his opposition to Hegel's master/slave dialectic.

Cynegetic power is seeks to accumulate, it seeks to capture, it takes territory, it divides and massifies. It sees the other not as an equal or a foe, but as prey, and seeks the subjugation and/or eradication of this prey. I am sure you can see that even though Chamayou is horribly humanist and anthropocentric, I see potential in the concept of cynegetic power. This is something I hope to take up in another post, but the question of non-native ("invasive") species is one that is rooted in cynegetic power. Or at least, one we will have trouble understanding if we only have recourse to pastoral power. Why, after all, if there are non-lethal alternatives to dealing with non-native species (assuming we even do), do we so often turn to hunting? To policies of "contain, control, and eradicate"? Or, as the Park Service and the Nature Conservancy once put it, a "mega kill, poison, and burn" plan? As I said, I hope to come back to this, but I think we will need recourse to cynegetic power to understand such moves.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Increasing the number of female submissions at your conference

Over at Feminist Philosophers there is an interesting post/thread on putting on conferences in line with the goals and aims of the GCC. The GCC, for good reasons, has focused on the keynote and invited speakers at conferences. And the Feminist Philosophers have provided some helpful strategies for avoiding an all-male or mostly male conference.  What I am interested in is the other side, how to increase female applications to your conference. This is particularly focused on smaller conferences. The type that that may have one or two invited speakers (if any), and might get 20-50 abstracts (if even 20). I've organized or help organize a few conferences of that size and scope, and I have never had any real issues with mostly all male submissions. So, what follows are some strategies I believe may have lead to that conclusions. More ideas, and criticisms of my ideas, is very much welcomed. This is list is numbered in no particular order of importance.

(1) When writing the CFP, explicitly invite women to submit papers.
(2) Do you do that thing in your CFP where you suggest possible themes to be addressed, or possible thinkers to think alongside/against? Well, make sure to include feminist themes and women thinkers in those lists.
(3) Okay, your cfp is written. How do you send it out?  Think about posting in places you know feminist and women philosophers might be more likely to see it. Think about posting in SWIP-L if it has specific feminist overlaps. Find listservs, websites, blogs, facebook groups, and newsletters that may not be where you would normally post your cfp, and that can expand the diversity of the applicants to your conference.
(4) Like many CFPs, there are mass distribution channels (as I just talked about), and there are more informal social network channels. Social networks, particularly professional ones, often become gendered. If you are dealing with a field that is already heavily gendered, that is even more true. As Matt Yglesias explained so well:

Unless you can say that your personal network is well-balanced between men and women, then you need to take some moments to step back and look beyond that circle to find some women who'd be well-suited to the job. Otherwise a "gender blind" search process will, over the years, put women in an entrenched position of disadvantage.
This means when you look at who you send your CFP too, you might need to do a bit of research, and send it to people who might be strangers. So, if you are running a conference that you know will be geographically small (like a small state philosophy conference) make sure to send your CFP to female professors and instructors within that geographic region. Encourage them to share the CFP. Encourage their students to apply. If your conference is narrow in terms of focus, look for women doing work within your focus. Send the CFP to those women, encourage them to share, and for their students to apply.
(5) Encourage your female students (if appropriate) to apply. Encourage your colleagues to have their female students apply. 
(6) Have you thought about arranging child care for your conference? Look into it, and if possible, make it happen, and put that on your original cfp.
(7) If you are going to have one or two keynotes, try to make sure they are female keynotes. I know that with the funds of your conference, that might not be possible. But before asking that guy you know, and are sure will say yes and for cheap, think if there are women you can at least ask and try to coordinate with. Maybe it doesn't work, but it is a good idea. 
(8) I am just going to steal this from poster "mm" at the Feminist Philosopher thread I indicated before:
Suppose you are soliciting papers for a conference and these papers will be anonymously reviewed prior to acceptance. Suppose you have slots for 8 papers and receive 80 submissions. Don’t select what you take to be the top 8 papers and stop. Rather, first select the top, say 15 papers. In my limited experience, when there is a sufficiently high number of submissions I have very little confidence that the small subset of papers selected is in any sense “the best”. But I am usually pretty confident that a larger subset consists of papers all of which are worthy of being presented. Once you have selected that larger subset, then de-anonymize them and then narrow the selection further by considering factors like inclusiveness.

In general, these ideas can be boiled down to three major ideas: (1) Invite, and be inviting, for women to send abstracts to your conference. (2) Break out of your normal social network and places for posting conference materials, and try to find places that will draw upon a diverse group of philosophers. (3) Make diversity an avowed goal in your conference planning. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A Post of Links

Yeah, I know I just did one of these. But I am really busy doing writing not for this blog, and I figured I could just go ahead and throw out some of the more interesting links I have seen. I don't know if I will be able to post the rest of this week.

First, and most importantly, there is a new group blog for animal studies, entitled simply, Animal. It currently features Lori Gruen, Kari Weil, Ann Marie Thornburg, and Beatrice Marovich. Go check it out.

What is a 'safe' classroom, and how do we deal with trauma in our classrooms? I don't know, but this post from Hilary Malatino on teaching trans* issues and trauma in the classroom, and this post from Anthony Paul Smith on a safe classroom might be places to start thinking about these issues.

Tim Morton's Hyperobjects is finally out.

CFP for Humanimalia on Race and Animals.

New issue from American Quarterly on Race and Animals.

James McWilliams on Chipotle's continued use of factory farmed flesh. This is the issue with humane-washing, there is just too much economic incentive to start cutting corners as market demand and share increases.

Weapons of the Strong released an interview with Judith Butler.

Figure/Ground did an interview with Bruno Latour.

Rick Dolphijn did an interview with Donna Haraway.

Mary Zournazi did an interview with Brian Massumi.

This one is a little random, but Ebony did an article on afrofuturism. With Janelle Monáe's new Electric Lady, and Deltron 3030's long waited new album out, something is in the air.

This one is for the government shutdown, Talib Kweli "Get By", from his classic Quality.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

A Post of Links

This post from Tenure, She Wrote has been making the social media rounds. Entitled, "Don't be that Dude: Handy Tips for the Male Academic". Are you feeling clueless on how not to be that dude? Want to make sure you are doing what you need to be doing to not be that dude for those already giving it a try? Well, go check out the post.

David N. Cassuto of Animal Blawg has posted a talk on ethics, the environment, and factory farming. He argues, among other things, that factory farms engage in de-animalizing animals (like we talk about how certain atrocities de-humanize humans). This is a point I tried to make about Agamben and bare life a long time ago, we say that this or that atrocity against humans is so bad because we treated them or reduce these humans to animals, what we are missing is that there is nothing normal or natural about our treat of animals to begin with. De-humanizations so often are part and parcel of a de-animalization.

Cameron Kunzelman, over at the Atlantic, argues for seeing the black tshirt as a type of invisibility cloak.

Over at the new issue of disclosure is an interview with Jane Guyer, Stuart Elden, Russ Castronovo, and Michael Hardt on the issues of security. Check it out (.pdf).

I really liked this review by Miguel de Beistegui of Heidegger's The Event. A sample:
Another response, formulated at exactly the same time, came from the French philosopher of mathematics and logician Jean Cavaillès. A philosopher of the concept in the very sense that Heidegger associates with "the extreme end of metaphysics," and thus entirely blind to the truth of beyng, he was nonetheless entirely lucid about the abomination of Nazi Germany, and acted accordingly, precisely at the time when Heidegger was writing The Event. He co-founded the resistance movement Libération-Sud in 1941 and set up the intelligence network Cohors-Asturies. He was tortured by the Gestapo in 1943, and shot in 1944. His philosophy of the concept didn't stop him from acting steadfastly. It may have even helped. (h/t, oh, both Stuart Elden and Peter Gratton). 

Society and Space has a new Virtual Issue (that is where they take articles they have published on a theme over the years, and make them open access briefly) on Prisons. This being done to complement the US Carceral Society Forum.

James McWilliams has a short post that is critical of the philosophical system of the land ethic.

Speaking of James McWilliams, Christiane Bailey has a post about a recent talk he gave.

Ian McCormick has a new post on recent trends and theories around abjection, transgression, and the grotesque.

Roger Yates and Corey Wrenn each have posts about the need to see veganism not as a diet, but as a social justice subject formation.

Here is an open access review of Graham Harman's engagement with Bruno Latour. Interesting. (h/t Anthem).

Sometimes seeing an animal industry hack repeat his nonsense over and over again can still manage to shock. Like in this Washington Post column.

Speaking of which, check out the King Amendment to the Farm Bill, meant to overturn state regulations of animal industry.

This song from Breathe Owl Breathe, from their album Magic Central, has been out for a few years now. However, I just saw the music video today. Beautiful, haunting, cold!, all of that.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

What is a video game, anyway?

I don't know much about video game studies, so if you do, forgive me. What I do know is mostly what Cameron Kunzelman, and to a lesser degree for me, Ian Bogost has told me. So, this is a post about video games, by thinking through that question through the work of Cameron Kunzelman (from now on, either Cameron or CK). (Also, before you read further, a couple of notes. All of Cameron's games are free browser games, most of them require your volume to be on, and most of them are really short. I suggest you play the games as you read, occasionally, I suggest it in stronger terms as you go through the post).

Cameron's video games raise certain questions about what makes a video game a video game. He clearly has little patience for the normal popular questions around video games, like, are they art? Or what will make them art? Or if they are a craft of auteurs? (He, of course, made a super short video game making fun of these very questions, entitled, wonderfully, "The Citizen Kane of Games"). Instead, Cameron's games pose for us questions around what makes a video game a game, and what, while we are at, does it mean to play a game? (I am sure he is far from the first game developer to raise these questions, all I am saying is, he does so interestingly, and I already said I know shit about video game theory, so why are you giving me a hard time?). Now, he has made some games that are clearly in the traditional indie developer version of a normal video game. Take his first video game, Smash the Patriarchy!, a game that I am terrible at. The game is lower key version of the original Mario Brothers, you jump around, try to avoid enemies and falling. You can win it (or so I have been assured). But take his video game Oh No! In this game, you press keys in order to avoid the giant head of Michel Foucault, who is trying to eat you. You can never win this game, Michel Foucault will always eat you (just like grad school all over again). But, it is still pretty obviously a game. Fun to play after a few drinks in a group. But let's take what is without a doubt CK's most popular game to date, Alpaca Run. (Okay, I really suggest going and playing this game before going further with this post. It won't take more than, say, five minutes, put you need to be on a computer and need to have volume. There are just minor spoilers ahead, you have been warned).

There are actual youtube videos of people playing Alpaca Run for the first time. Several of them. One of the things that are fun about these videos is the first time their alpaca character should die, and doesn't. The other time is at the end, when the alpaca finally transcends. People just get happy. But here is what is odd. Though in many ways an inverse to Oh No! (in Oh No there is no win state, in Alpaca Run there is no fail state), Alpaca Run feels like less of a game. I often have referred to it as an interactive music video, a way of pulling you further into the charming song by Samantha Allen.  I often end up referring to the video games by CK as interactive this or interactive that, instead of as a video game. Take his most recent story based game, Catachresis . (There are, of course, other story games, like the always popular twine game about Slovaj Zizek making a twine game). (Also, btw, I was done like a character from the game, here). Catchresis is game that is a weird cross of HP Lovecraft, Ghostbusters, occultic technobabble, and walking (so much walking). It is both funny, and, spooky (not scary, but spooky). There is a brilliant blog post about this game here, and I am going to quote it a bit before coming back to my point. It starts with a definition:
Catachresis, a fygure, wherby the propretie of a worde is abused: as, Facies simillima lauro [A face most like a laurel tree], where facies oonely belongeth to a man, and not to a tree, although it doth signifye there a similitude or fygure.
-The dictionary of Sir Thomas Elyot, 1538
The author of the blog post goes on:
Apocalypse from the Greek means uncovering.  In English it was rendered as Revelation, from the Latin revelare, to “lay bare.”  To tear away the veil — to show that which has been hidden.
We live in a time when these words mean the End of the World.  We are now inundated with narratives of Apocalypses — biological, ecological, technological, religious, vampiric, zombie, whatever.  The issue with this use (abuse?) of the term however — this catachresis — is that it is a slide from the original meaning of the Biblical “Revelation.”  John of Patmos had the future laid bare or uncovered or revealed to him — the Apocalypse was not the end of the world itself, but the position of seeing it before its time.
By conflating the revelation with the thing revealed, I think we foreclose on its possibilities — its immensities, for one.  At the end of Catachresis nothing is revealed in any sense beyond the basic — you find out the world is ending and then it ends, welp!  But furthermore, there is not a call to speculate as in some games, no sense that you need to piece together the mythology that has led up to this point, because the event (it is clear) is so much larger than us.  There is no uncovering, but a descent into sublime unknowing.
So yeah, that happened. In way, very little happens in the game Catachresis. You walk around a lot, you engage with things, technobabble happens. Once or twice you solve a really puzzle. But at the end of the game, more or less the same thing happens to everyone that plays the game. First you are the cause of the end of the world, and then you are powerless to stop it. One can ask why CK didn't just write a little spooky story about the end of the world. Well, because at the end of it, playing the game (if you can call it playing or a game) is that you become complicit in everything. Sure, there are characters, but you are the character. You make the world end, and then you fail to stop it. One can understand this as the video game version of what Scott McCloud explains in Understanding Comics as the gutter. For those that want the parts of McCloud I mean with examples and references, check out this SEK post. The gutter, of course, is the way that comics make you complicit in their storytelling (indeed, one assumes most mediums most have a way of making you complicit in their triumphs and atrocities).

Perhaps, in Cameron's work, this is clearest in his short (and very appropriate for this blog) game Laika. The historical Laika was a dog, and she was the first animal to orbit earth, and among the first to be in space. She died, through heat, in the craft. And though she died in flight, she was going to be killed no matter what. Science, and all that. In the game, Laika, you do very little. You press one button, over and over again, which slowly leads to the take off of the craft. You even have to press the button for each number of the countdown. At the end, you are treated to what, for my money, is the most haunting ending of any game Cameron has given us so far.

In William Burroughs' album Dead City Radio (and in his book Interzone), there is a short track entitled no more Stalins, no more Hitlers. See here. Or watch here, start it 3:32 if it doesn't start automatically there for you.

For those that can't watch, it goes like this:
We have a new type of rule now. Not one-man rule, or rule of aristocracy or plutocracy, but of small groups elevated to positions of absolute power by random pressures and subject to political and economic factors that leave little room for decision.
They are representatives of abstract forces who have reached power through surrender of self. The iron-willed dictator is a thing of past.
There will be no more Stalins, no more Hitlers.
The rulers of this most insecure of all worlds are rulers by accident. Inept, frightened pilots at the controls of a vast machine they cannot understand, calling in experts to tell them which buttons to push.

In a very real sense, Cameron's games (maybe video games in general) are ways of forcing us to confront complicity in all these buttons that we are pushing.

(PS, if you would prefer to hear CK talk about games, in a smart way, rather than my late night unable to sleep thoughts, go to this video. He start speaking around 25:10. It's smart, talks about Ranciere and the rise of French Pantomime, because...).

Friday, September 27, 2013

Intersex, teratology, zoology

I am currently working on other projects, so, just a short post.

Hilary Malatino gave a talk entitled "Intersex 101, or Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Intersex But Were Afraid To Ask". It is clearly geared for being accessible to a beginning audience or undergraduate audience, however, it is still really interesting. Particularly, she engages within the history of how we come to understand intersex today. Here is the video:

Now, that is all interesting, and she explains the connection between the history of intersex and teratology, the academic study of monsters (and therefore this is connected to what Jeffery Cohen has called Monster Theory). I want to add something a short bit. Hil brings up the person who coined terms like teratology and ethology, namely Isidore Geoffroy St. Hilaire. Now, over at A Monster Observatory, we have a rather old but interesting post that is "an excerpt from a British Review Article on M. Isidore Geoffroy St. Hilaire's General and particular History of Anomalies of Organization in Man and Animals which appeared in The British And Foreign Medical Review (Vol 8, No. 15) July, 1839." What this excerpt makes clear is that teratology is stapled to zoology. I am sure there is more to say, but I have to run.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Right of Obscurity Must Be Respected

Chela Sandoval, in her book Methodology of the Oppressed, points out that the problems of the postmodern world--problems of fragmented identities and diffusions of self--are problems that have been confronted and theorized by Women of Color. I think about this as I read about California having passed a bill that will give minors the right to delete, or erase, their online history. This seems to be a small step of our own, American version of the le droit à l’oubli, the right to oblivion or the right to be forgotten. But just like fragmented identities were already being theorized by Women of Color, the right to oblivion already has a theoretical history in minoritarian thought.

Perhaps ground zero for such thinking is Edouard Glissant's amazing book, The Poetics of Relation. In that book, Glissant develops the theoretical concept that you can find throughout his work, namely, the right of opacity. The right of opacity is more foundational than the right to difference (because, indeed, the right of opacity is foundational for the right of difference). As Glissant makes clear, the right of opacity is first a right against the slave master's push of transparency against the enslaved people. It is also a right of the dominated not to replicate the colonial people's displays of ostentation. But the right of opacity goes further. It becomes a right of language and culture, and it goes further still. The right of opacity becomes the right not the be understood, not to be reduced to epistemic violence of comprehension and judgement. Or, colloquially, "You don't know me; don't pretend that you know me".
As Saidiya Hartman furthers this analysis, and provides the title of this blog post, in Scenes of Subjection:
Rather than consider black song as an index or mirror of the slave condition, this examination emphasizes the significance of opacity as precisely that which enables something in excess of the orchestrated amusements of the enslaved and which similarly troubles distinctions between joy and sorrow and toil and leisure. For this opacity, the subterranean and veiled character of slave song must be considered in relation to the dominative imposition of transparency and the degrading hypervisibility of the enslaved, and therefore, by the same token, such concealment should be considered a form of resistance. Furthermore, as Glissant advises, "the attempt to approach a reality so hidden from view cannot be organized in terms of a series of clarifications. " The right to obscurity must be respected, for the "accumulated hurt," the "rasping whispers deep in the throat," the wild notes, and the screams lodged deep within confound simple expression and, likewise, withstand the prevailing ascriptions of black enjoyment. (p. 36)

Fred Moten, in an interview published in his B. Jenkins, riffs on Hartman's analysis:
In the end, however, as Saidiya Hartman says, “the right to obscurity must be respected.” This is a political imperative that infuses the unfinished project of emancipation as well as any number of other transitions or crossings in progress. It corresponds to the need for the fugitive, the immigrant and the new (and newly constrained) citizen to hold something in reserve, to keep a secret. The history of Afro-diasporic art, especially music, is, it seems to me, the history of the keeping of this secret even in the midst of its intensely public and highly commodified dissemination. These secrets are relayed and miscommunicated, misheard, and overheard, often all at once, in words and in the bending of words, in whispers and screams, in broken sentences, in the names of people you’ll never know. (p. 105). 

The issues that we presently face ourselves with, surveillance in the age of the internet of things, NSA spying and the secret holders that believe only they have a right to secrets, are not fundamentally new issues, but rather new manifestations of very old issues. The right to opacity is, without a doubt, a right to see a stranger as a stranger, and the right to have secrets (the right to all be Geheimnisträger). Thus, Hartman quotes Paul Gilroy, from his The Black Atlantic, there exists "politics ... on a lower frequency." This politics exists because words will never be enough to "communicate its unsayable claims to truth" (p. 37).

Therefore, as James C. Scott and Robin D. G. Kelley have shown, there exists an infra-politics of hidden transcripts.  As Maria Lugones has argued, these infra-politics should be understood in opposition to the Habermasian notion of the counter-public. The politics and ethics of these unsayable claims to truth cannot be understood through more transparency, publicity, and comprehension. Rather, we have to conceive of a networked world of relations that take seriously the right of opacity.

Before I go
I’m supposed to get a last wish:
Generous reader
burn this book
It’s not at all what I wanted to say
Though it was written in blood
It’s not what I wanted to say.
No lot could be sadder than mine
I was defeated by my own shadow:
My words took vengeance on me.
Forgive me, reader, good reader
If I cannot leave you
With a warm embrace, I leave you
With a forced and sad smile.
Maybe that’s all I am
But listen to my last word:
I take back everything I’ve said.
With the greatest bitterness in the world
I take back everything I’ve said.
- Nicanor Parra

Monday, September 23, 2013

Vegan Feminist Killjoys (another willful subject)

Sara Ahmed has an important essay, "Feminist Killjoys and Other Willful Subjects", which is also part of her book, The Promise of Happiness.

The feminist killjoy is an "affect alien" who does feel happiness when it is socially enforced to feel happiness.[1]  "A killjoy: the one who gets in the way of other people's happiness. Or just the one who is in the way—you can be in the way of whatever, if you are already perceived as being in the way. Your very arrival into a room is a reminder of histories that  'get in the way' of the occupation of that room." The feminist killjoy cannot just take a joke, or is always going on again, as in, 'there she goes again, talking about sexism'. But this alienation from proper affect is also an insight, "To become alienated from a picture can allow you to see what that picture does not and will not reflect." And, as Ahmed goes on to explain, "The word "dissidence" for instance derives from the Latin dis—"apart" + sedere "to sit." The dissident is the one who sits apart. Or the dissident is the one would be unseated by taking up a place at the table: your seat is the site of disagreement." And Ahmed puts all of this in context of upsetting the dinner table. I think you already see where this is going, this being one of those blog posts that almost write themselves. The vegan (or indeed the vegetarian, or anyone whose diet seeks compassion or justice for other animals) is one of Ahmed's willful subjects, one of those whose very presence becomes a source of conflict and uncomfortableness.

As Ahmed points out:
To be involved in political activism is thus to be involved in a struggle against happiness. Even if we are struggling for different things, even if we have different worlds we want to create, we might share what we come up against. Our activist archives are thus unhappy archives. Just think of the labor of critique that is behind us: feminist critiques of the figure of "the happy housewife;" Black critiques of the myth of "the happy slave"; queer critiques of the sentimentalisation of heterosexuality as "domestic bliss." The struggle over happiness provides the horizon in which political claims are made.
We can add so easily in the vegan critique of the idyllic farm and happy meat. The vegan is expected to not make waves if some small parts of animal products end up their food, hell, the vegetarian is expected to be okay with chicken stock in their food. Not to eat food would be rude to the hosts. To not be rude is one of the major critiques against vegetarianism and veganism. As BR Myers points out:

One must never spoil a dinner party for mere religious or ethical reasons. Pollan says he sides with the French in regarding “any personal dietary prohibition as bad manners.” (The American foodie is forever projecting his own barbarism onto France.) Bourdain writes, “Taking your belief system on the road—or to other people’s houses—makes me angry.” The sight of vegetarian tourists waving away a Vietnamese pho vendor fills him with “spluttering indignation.” That’s right: guests have a greater obligation to please their host—and passersby to please a vendor—than vice versa. (here). 
It is, indeed, the vegan's refusal to just get along that is justified for so much hatred. However, as any vegetarian or vegan will tell you, it matters little how polite you are. Your very being there disturbs everyone. "An attribution of willfulness involves the attribution of negative affect to those bodies that get in the way, those bodes that 'go against the flow' in the way they are going. The attribution of willfulness is thus effectively a charge of killing joy." (As a side note, you can see how this concept from Ahmed is a pretty effective critique of grounding our politics in spinozian conatus). As someone who became a vegetarian as a teenager in south Georgia, let me tell you, no one wants you over for dinner. It doesn't matter how much you apologize, how much you stammer that it is about environment and personal aesthetics and whatever, and it certainly doesn't matter how much you don't bring it up--it will be brought up for you, you will be challenged, and most likely made fun of. Years of dealing with such abuse is what politicized me. After all, if it really was a small personal affectation and minor environmental move, it certainly wasn't worth putting up with this much shit, and if it wasn't, that meant I needed to be more serious about it politically.
My experience as a feminist daughter in a conventional family taught me a great deal about rolling eyes. You already know this. However you speak, the one who speaks up as a feminist is usually viewed as "causing the argument," as the one who is disturbing the fragility of peace. To be willful is to provide a point of tension. Willfulness is stickiness: it is an accusation that sticks. If to be attributed as willful is to be the cause of the problem, then we can claim that willfulness as a political cause.
Every feminist, every anti-racist, every queer theorist, every animal scholar, every person who has ever seriously engaged with the vicissitudes of identity and justice are all sick and tired of being that woman. Trust me, I know I am sick of being that guy. The one at the seminar or conference, after an anthropocentric and unsupportable point is made (we are humans because we play, or write sonnets, or whatever the idiocy is), and I sigh and raise my hand and they don't want me to be that guy, but trust me, I don't want to be that guy even more. It gets so bad that other people make me into that guy even when I am not being. I was at a recent conference, and I was asking a question not at all about animals or anthropocentrism, and the speaker decided my question was setting her up about animals and started answering a question totally different than the one I asked. Of course, is that persistence, that constantly being that person even though no one, especially you, wants to be that person that makes you willful.
We can make sense of how willfulness comes up, if we consider a typical definition of willfulness: "asserting or disposed to assert one's own will against persuasion, instruction, or command; governed by will without regard to reason; determined to take one's own way; obstinately self-willed or perverse" (OED). To be called obstinate or perverse because you are not persuaded by the reason of others? Is this familiar to you? Have you heard this before? When you are charged with willfulness it is as if your being is an insistence on being, a refusal to give way, to give up, to give up your way.
The vegan activist and the animal scholar are killjoys and affect aliens, ones who sit apart at tables. I have argued elsewhere that such sitting apart can allow us to build new communities and new commons. I still believe that. However, it is important to note that such communities often produce their own normalizations of affects that are suppose to make you happy. A feminist vegan, an anti-racist vegan, etc (and always most importantly the et cetera) can as easily disturb the normative happiness of the vegan community as they can other communities. Our willful subjects can be turned against others, to not hear for the thousandth time how our campaigns are sexist, racist, and exclusionary. We are affect aliens, and affect aliens walk among us. And our community, especially in its most public manifestations, are no better dealing with these affect aliens. I am sorry, really I am, to end on such a negative, killjoy note.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

A post of links

There are two recent books out by friends of this blog that make us work through how ecologies, thinking, and affect intertwine.

Adrian Ivakhiv's Ecologies of Moving Image is the the first one.
Anthony Paul Smith's A Non-Philosophical Theory of Nature is the second one.
Read them, buy them, get your libraries to buy them, grapple with them.

There are a couple of important reading groups going on that I forgot to link to last time.

First, over at AUFS, there is a discussion of Esposito's Living Thought: The Origins and Actuality of Italian Philosophy. Go check it out.

Second, there is a reading group going on over Bruno Latour's recent An Inquiry into the Modes of Existence, organized by the always interesting Adam Robbert. Go check out the reading group.

Jason Read had an interesting and useful post on Chamayou's Manhunts, a book which I am finishing a post on as well.

There is an interview with pattrice jones here. I read jones' book Aftershock after it was suggested by Greta Gaard at a conference a couple of years ago, and I enjoy the book a lot. The interview itself is filled with explosive topics like transphobia and trans* issues in ecofeminism, and the academicification of queer theory and animal studies. I am not necessarily affirming full agreement with the interview, but is certainly interesting. Feedback welcomed as I think through it.

In other interview news, 3AM magazine interviewed Todd May, mostly on poststructuralist anarchism (h/t Foucault News).

This came out a while ago when I wasn't really blogging much, but here is a very detailed polemic by Richard Iveson of Elisabeth de Fontenay's Without Offending Humans.

The CDC released a report, explaining:
The agency’s overall — and, it stressed, conservative — assessment of the problem:
Each year, in the U.S., 2,049,442 illnesses caused by bacteria and fungi that are resistant to at least some classes of antibiotics;
Each year, out of those illnesses, 23,000 deaths;
Because of those illnesses and deaths, $20 billion each year in additional healthcare spending;
And beyond the direct healthcare costs, an additional $35 billion lost to society in foregone productivity.
“If we are not careful, we will soon be in a post-antibiotic era,”
And yes, you are right, antibiotics being fed to animals in agricultural production is a major reason why.

Chipotle released a beautifully animated ad that is unsurprisingly messed up. In way, here, there is nothing new. There is a trend of using people's guilt over eating animal flesh as a way of selling them, well, different animal flesh. Think of chic-fil-a's ads to eat more chicken.

What's that you say, Janelle Monáe has a new album out, even better than her last one? Speculative fiction hip-hop rock 'n roll to the rescue!