In Flesh and Blood: Animals in Art and Philosophy

Still from Robert Bresson’s 'Au hasard Balthazar'

The second symposium in the series In Flesh and Blood: Animals in Art and Philosophy run by the Centre for Ideas at the Faculty of the Victorian College of the Arts (University of Melbourne) will take place on Tuesday, 24 April.

The draft program is as follows:


10.30 – 1.30: Animals, the law and politics

Justin Clemens ‘Man is a swarm animal’

What is it about ‘man’ that makes him a candidate for politics and the political? What makes human being-together a properly political question and not just a question of species-activity or genetic determinism? In this presentation, I examine a pun of Jacques Lacan. This is S1, l’essaim; S-one, the swarm. To date, this pun has, at best, been taken as a suggestive metaphor; at worst, as just another meaningless word-game, entirely typical of Lacan. My argument is that — if sometimes a pun is indeed just a pun — this pun is more than that. In fact, it provides a concept that bears centrally upon the relationship between technology, politics, language and psychoanalytic formalisation. At the end we find, indeed, that, for the later Lacan, man is indeed a swarm animal.

Cressida Limon ‘Animal Inventions: Haraway’s dog, Derrida’s cat and Spidergoats-in-law lives’

In this presentation I consider the links between the invention of animals in the creation stories of Genesis and the contemporary practices of patenting animal life forms as intellectual property. The question of law’s invention of animals will be addressed via a consideration of other animal inventions: Haraway’s dog and Derrida’s cat have something to teach us about intellectual property.

Connal Parsley ‘Border: law’s traditions, cinema’s possibilities, and the representation of the animal (and the human)’

This paper considers aspects of the role that the representation of the animal has had in the formation of the human person in the juridical tradition, aspects which I suggest are reflected in the representation of animals in contemporary film and literature. Through a discussion of the recent film Border (Armenia, 2009), and drawing on the work of Giorgio Agamben and Roberto Esposito, this paper asks about cinema’s possibilities for a different use of the representative apparatus and a different approach to the human’s knowledge of both itself and animals

Marc Trabsky ‘Law in the Slaughterhouse’

My aim in this paper is to explore how sacrifice becomes in the specificity of a spatial history an activity of place-making and a practice of lawfulness. I maintain that the relationship between law and the animal is inextricable from the human activity of place-making and moreover critical animal law needs to account for the different traditions of ordering space. I therefore gesture towards a jurisprudential reading of the situation of the animal by tracing the sacrificial rituals that guarantee the lawfulness of the place of the slaughterhouse.


 2.00 – 4.30 pm: Keynote Lecture by Professor Raymond Gaita (University of London and Australian Catholic University) discussing themes raised by his book The Philosopher’s Dog.

The first of the themes I would like to discuss develops a claim that Cora Diamond makes in her seminal paper ‘Eating Meat and Eating People’. She argues that discussion of the significance of the fact that human beings are animals, and more generally part of nature, often betrays a misunderstanding of the nature and importance of the ethically inflected ways we speak of human beings in, as Diamond puts it, ‘our life with language’. In most discussions of these matters, philosophers prefer to speak of persons or of rational agents.

Looking especially at the later sections of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations, I develop in The Philosopher’s Dog what I dubbed a ‘naturalism of surfaces’ — an account of the importance of the living human body, its many inflexions and demeanours in response to other human beings and animals, to the development of concepts as basic as sensation and thought. This kind of naturalism — one that accords great importance, for example, to the fact that we are creatures of flesh and blood, with faces and eyes — enables us to give the right account of why we cannot doubt that dogs have sensations and that they do not think about the problems of philosophy. It also yields a better account than is usually offered in philosophy and science of what should count as anthropomorphic projection onto animals of qualities that are distinctively human (at least on this planet).

But the importance of the concept ‘human being’ to understanding ourselves, what we have on common with other animals and what sets us apart from them, is complex and many layered. We understand this fully, I suggest, only in a cognitive realm that I have called ‘the realm of meaning’. It is a realm in which we strive to see things as they are rather than as they appear, for example, from a sentimental, anthropocentric or anthropomorphic perspective of ourselves on our relation to nature; it is a form of ‘seeing things as they are’ in which form and content, thought and feeling cannot be separated. That being so, I argue that philosophers and scientists should be more appreciative of the importance of art to our understanding of human beings, other animals and the many forms of their relations to one another.

Discussion will follow.

 4.40: David Shea ‘Biomimicry in Design and Architecture’

Date: Tuesday 24th April, 10:30am start

Venue: Federation Hall, VCA, 234 St Kilda Road, Southbank

All Welcome. Free to attend. No Registration Required.