"In many disciplines, for the majority of graduates, the Ph.D. indicates the logical conclusion of an academic career." Marc Bousquet

Monday, July 11, 2011

Surprise! Conservative Christian English Instructor Finds Animal Studies and Posthumanism Objectionable

I am not going to dignify the opinions expressed here by writing a defense of Animal Sudies (Go ahead and take a look and then tell me why again have I linked to this in my blogroll? Sometimes they do post insightful pieces, but this? Meh...). I think scholars working in Animals Studies, a few of whom are mentioned in the article, do a fine enough job of articulating why their work is valuable to the humanities. It's easy enough to deride the titles of academic papers, as the author does -- especially those that suggest ideas one finds objectionable -- for reasons of religious belief, rather than engaging with the arguments meaningfully.

But, forget engaging meaningfully with key scholars. How about simply reading what the Institute for Critical Animal Studies says about the field in an introductory paragraph? While Conservative Christian English Instructor does cite and even quote from the ICAS website, she seems to have lost the capacity for basic reading comprehension. She writes,
Adherents of Critical Animal Studies generally look with contempt on animal-welfare organizations and “animal studies” not preceded by the word “critical.” 
But the whole point of Critical Animal Studies, again according to the ICAS's website (from the description of their journal, JCAS), is
to breakdown and mediate oppositions between theory and practice, college and community, and scholarship and citizenship, in order to make philosophy (in a broad sense) again a force of change and to repatriate intellectuals to the public realm.
In other words, far from looking with contempt upon these related fields, Critical Animal Studies seeks to bring together the activist work of "real world" animal welfare organizations and the theoretically oriented academic work of Animal Studies. The whole point is that theory and practice work best -- and accomplish more -- together.

Sure, interpretation can be political (pick your side), but critics owe it to their political opponents to understand their positions before disputing them. To do so, basic reading comprehension is a prerequisite, and Conservative Christian English Instructor fails to meet it (BTW, she doesn't identify as a conservative Christian in the article, but if you Google her name, that's the first thing that comes up, a self-description on her website).

Moreover, she struggles with the term "posthumanism," another prerequisite to "getting" either Animal Studies or Critical Animal Studies (she'd have some real fun with Animality Studies). Admittedly, posthumanism has a host of differing and complex definitions, as well as varying origins, but if the whole business of poststructuralism isn't your cup of tea (and it is clearly not CCEI's), please stay away from Foucault.

Far, far away...

What CCEI does get is that posthumanism is indeed a response to Western humanism, what it's done and what it stands for -- that posthumanism represents a rejection or at least a critique of the anthropocentric notion that humanity is golden, that whatever serves "Man's" interests is right and good in the eyes of God, that God Himself created Man in His image to do His work on Earth....

But here we are, at the end of Conservative Christian English Instructor's essay, back to square one, for she does, indeed, recognize exactly what posthumanism (and fields like Critical Animal Studies that draw upon it) means to her own core beliefs: Making such critical moves signifies
the rush to embrace the primitive and the popular in order to undermine the Judeo-Christian ethic of man’s dominion and the Enlightenment emphasis on reason and reasonable discourse.  This is just one of the ominous aspects of  Critical Animal Studies.
Well, exactly. But why is such a challenge "ominous"? Isn't there a way to approach posthumanist and other poststructuralist positions through reason?

In fact, reason never really went anywhere, even as we critique it. We just no longer think of it strictly in opposition to emotion, in a relationship of positive to negative, male to female, human to animal, etc. (pick your Derridean pair). But.....can we have some, please? Can't we do more than simply point and say, "Look! There's a fly in my Golden Chalice. Look, see? It's a fly!"

Or, a sphinx in our historical vista:
Or a freakin' snake in the Garden:

Posthumanism and Critical Animal Studies may be relatively new, but it's not as if there isn't a fairly long history of humans turning to animals in the search for identity.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

What's new is that in the last century and a half since Darwin published The Origin of Species, it has become less and less reasonable to presume upon mere faith that humans are entirely exempt from the rules that govern the coming, going, and changing of all the other species that inhabit the planet Earth. In other words, the opposition between "human" and "animal," whatever differences you might point to, itself has become less than a rational one.

The ultimately ominous portent of posthumanism for someone like CCEI is surely that, implicitly, it embraces a Darwinist narrative and suggests that humanity itself will, over time, eventually either evolve into something "posthuman" or go extinct.

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