Week 19 — more questions than answers

That significant news thing happened this week. I’m not going to talk about it at all. Read this for a break from that discourse.

I finally made my way to Senate House library. Gorgeous! I can’t believe I spent 2 essays in some dilapidated corner of Goldsmiths when I could have been surrounded by lovely, dark paneled bookshelves and desks with those little lamps like in a movie library. Speaking of beautiful libraries, I’m dying to visit this one.


Ch 1 “Is the animal the new black?” in Afro-dog: Blackness and the animal question
by Benedicte Boisseron

I’d venture to say that most people are aware of the racist and negative comparisons made between black people and animals, a bedrock of slavery discourse and still widely prevalent. Boisseron criticises animal studies using race as

a platform to set the scene of animal studies rather than viewing it as a permanent presence inextricably part of the animal question.

Boisseron takes an intersectional analysis of animal studies and racism, and argues that race is “the platform on which the animal question should be addressed”.

The core value of abolitionism is that all systems of oppression, be they against humans or nonhumans, are interrelated; but as history shows, animal and black oppression, more than other oppressed groups, have had a particularly tight connection throughout history.

The chapter is full of case studies and examples that she ties her arguments to, which is quite refreshing after quite a lot of abstract theory.

Again, and this is the case with most of the readings in this module, the chapter just whets my appetite for the rest of the book. Which of course I don’t have time to read, growing my to-read list to infinity.

Emoji summary: 🐕 ⛹🏾 🥗

Ch 5 “Racializing cruelty: dehumanization in the name of animal advocacy” in The Speaking Animal
by Alison Suen

Another chapter from the Suen book in the first week. She mainly covers how

…animal advocacy can be employed to reinscribe white privilege, or even to further racist and xenophobic agendas

For example, people getting all up in arms about eating dogs, dolphin hunting, and other non-white flavours of animal cruelty, while unironically chowing their beef burgers or what-have-you. But also,

…human superiority reasserts itself in animal advocacy.

And especially how these two overlap.

She raises questions which I grapple with as a white person and “unwilling heir of colonizers” (Haraway phrase)

…what should ecofeminists do when their ecological commitments appear to be at odds with their anti-colonial sensibilities?

…how do we voice our dissent about the oppressive features of traditional cultural practices in a way that does not reinscribe both colonialism and human exceptionalism?

Good questions that Suen does some good work to address.

Emoji summary: 🐬 🙅🏻‍♀️ 🗯

‘Race’ in The Edinburgh Companion to Animal Studies
by Christopher Peterson

This paper made my brain hurt so much. It was a visceral feeling of being stretched. It covered so much in the space: violence (Derrida, esp), race before race (Darwin), plants and zoocentrism, critiques of analogous theories, democracy, “ranking evils”, and more.

It was such a unique take and I can’t do it justice, so please read it. (Email me for a copy if you are paywalled)

To disturb racism’s privilege does not require that we ‘take sides’ with regard to which forms of violence committed against sentient beings are worse than others. Such verdicts can only result in arbitrary, crass determinations. Anti-racist politics are justifiably concerned with the persistence of dehumanising racial stereotypes. No doubt it is troublesome to link species and race as I have done here, but that is precisely the point. The ‘dreaded comparison’ in Marjorie Spiegel’s famous phrase, is so-called because it names what we – both white and non-white people – do not want to confront: namely, the intertwined legacies of humanism and racism. The dreaded comparison is the disavowed comparison, a resemblance whose legitimacy we affirm even as we deny it.

Emoji summary: 🤯 🔪 ♾

‘Queer Theory’ in The Edinburgh Companion to Animal Studies
by Carla Freccero

I found the chapter above so good that I tried out another one. This chapter starts by discussing the affinities between queer theory and animal studies, namely that they both sit outside of the normative

…if queer theory's theoretical achievement was to disentangle the threads that bind biological sex, gender and human identity, then it also becomes possible, through similar modes of critique, to open up the category of the human. If a certain arrangement as normative (that is, ideological) also permits a prying apart of other bedrock assumptions, including the human/animal divide.

After that, it started getting into psychoanalysis and Lacan and it kind of lost me there. The argument was a bit flimsy. It didn’t really go further than drawing parallels and not very imaginative ones at that. Unlike the Peterson chapter, it didn’t really open up any new avenues of inquiry. Meh.

Emoji summary: 🌈 💆‍♂️ 🔀


Disabled man starved to death after DWP stopped his benefits
by Patrick Butler

This article made me cry in the first sentence, and it just gets worse from there. It’s unbelievably tragic and heartbreaking. Words which seem so trite and overused in the face of this.

Why have we let things get this way? I’m so angry and sad.

Emoji summary: 🆘 ❌ ⁉️

Counting the Countless
by Os Keyes

This article is great. It tracks a lot of my current thinking about data. Sadly not academic so I can’t use it as a reference but it does have quite a few follow up references for me. Follow the biblio trail and all.

So perhaps a more accurate definition of data science would be: The inhumane reduction of humanity down to what can be counted.

So the long and the short of it is that, as currently constituted, data science is fundamentally premised on taking a reductive view of humanity and using that view to control and standardize the paths our lives can take, and it responds to critique only by expanding the degree to which it surveils us.

I like the generative ending. Plural ways of being.

For me, my ethics of care says that we should be working for a radical data science: a data science that is not controlling, eliminationist, assimilatory. A data science premised on enabling autonomous control of data, on enabling plural ways of being. A data science that preserves context and does not punish those who do not participate in the system.

Emoji summary: 🗃 🧮 ⚧

Normal Novels
by Becca Rothfeld

This article describes everything that annoyed the hell out of me about those Rooney books. I think if I just read them without expectation, I would have been ambivalent. But the hype, gees what was that about?

However funny, cerebral or Marxist Rooney may be in person, her fiction is about as politically radical as it is formally adventurous—which is to say, not very.

I’m very glad this article covered the bdsm thing too because it probably was the thing that annoyed me the most about Normal People. Also, the comparison to Fifty Shades is both apt and amusing.

Rooney eschews political didacticism, but she does not shy away from flat-footed moral sanctimony. … If sadomasochism is a running theme in Normal People, Conversations with Friends and Fifty Shades of Grey, it is not because any of these novels evince the slightest interest in the transformative potential of subversive sex but rather because sexual quirks are readily legible as a form of deviance in want of normalization.

Emoji summary: 📚 👫 🤔

Also…

Blundering into War by Patrick Cockburn about Trump and the Soleimani and Iran and Iraq.

But Trump is impulsive, ill-informed and keen not to appear weak. He is surrounded by neoconservative interventionists, equally ignor­ant, but instinctively aggressive. The result is that US policy in the Middle East – the on-off US withdrawal from Syria last year was typical – is a chaotic compromise between different factions in Washington.

Does anyone have the right to sex? by Amia Srinivasan. This is a really good article, and it references some of my favourite’s: Rebecca Solnit and Andrea Long Chu

…the sex-positive gaze risks covering not only for misogyny, but for racism, ableism, transphobia, and every other oppressive system that makes its way into the bedroom through the seemingly innocuous mechanism of ‘personal preference’.

The question​ , then, is how to dwell in the ambivalent place where we acknowledge that no one is obligated to desire anyone else, that no one has a right to be desired, but also that who is desired and who isn’t is a political question, a question usually answered by more general patterns of domination and exclusion.