Screwworm

Revisiting Reviel Netz’s /Barbed Wire/ and found this in a footnote. He references testimonials from cowfarmers on the issue of ‘screwworm’ [look it up] and how the issue was dealt with: 

“Although this goes beyond the chronological bounds here, it is appropriate to mention the remarkable way by which the screwworm would finally be eradicated from the plains. Insects are much more tenacious than mammals are, and their extermination calls for some ingenuity. The extermination of the screwworm would, in fact, call forth true scientific genius. This method, invented by the biologists Raymond C. Bushland and Edward F. Knipling, was employed in the 1960s on the plains, and the species, with rare exceptions, has never since been seen there. It works like this. Vast numbers of screwworm males are reared; using irradiation during the appropriate time in their growth, they are rendered sterile; then they are released. Now the flies do the work for you. The males seek out the females far better than any humans ever could. They mate, and each sterile mating event renders a female infertile for a cycle. The bona fide males, as it were, are put out of business through a dumping form of competition. It is obvious that with sufficient cycles, and sufficiently large numbers of sterile males released, the species will disappear. In fact, hundreds of millions of sterile flies were released each week over a decade. (A complication of the project should be added: since the extermination was not global but confined to the United States, it had to be defended perpetually on the Mexican border.) There is something truly dizzying about this image of humns mass-producing flies whose contribution is their own destruction. The entire operation was in fact a harbinger of modern genetic control over populations, and so the plains cow, the trigger for an early kind of modernity based on control through iron, served also as the trigger for the contemporary kind of modernity based on the more subtle controls of biotechnology”

…Netz adds, “Barbed wire created the conditions for a new type of cattle industry; simultaneously, it was a constant source of loss to it”

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Someday I want to write this paper…

‘Beasts of Burden’: the Figure of Animality in Frantz Fanon

In the preface to Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, Jean-Paul Sartre writes the following:

By rejecting metropolitan universalism, our soldiers overseas apply the numerous clausus to the human species: since none can rob, enslave, or kill his fellow man without committing a crime, they lay down the principle that the colonized subject is not a fellow man. Our military forces have received orders to change this abstract certainty into reality: orders are given to reduce the inhabitants of the occupied territory to the level of a superior ape in order to justify the colonist’s treatment of them as beasts of burden (Fanon 2004:l).

He continues, however, by suggesting that the false “natives” that are the Algerian people remain human through both their desire to murder the colonists and their “stubborn refusal of their animal condition” (Fanon 2004:lii): “killing a European,” Sartre writes, “is killing two birds with one stone, eliminating in one go oppressor and oppressed: leaving one man dead and the other man free” (Fanon 2004:lv). That is, through violence the colonized subject cleanses himself of his animality and what is left is “[a]nother man: a man of higher quality” (Fanon 2004:lvii).

This dynamic oscillation between animality and humanity is one of the more forceful rhetorical devices utilized throughout Fanon’s decolonial project in general, and The Wretched of the Earth in particular. In the first chapter titled “On Violence”, Fanon makes repeated reference to the animalization of the black Algerian subject, echoing the claims from Black Skin, White Masks that “[i]n West Africa, the Negro is an animal” (Fanon 1967:113). It is the task of The Wretched of the Earth, therefore, to think through the decolonial project as generating a new rhythm, language, and humanity in which “[t]he ‘thing’ colonized becomes a man through the very process of liberation” (Fanon 2004:2).

The purpose of this paper is to critically engage this rhetorical oscillation in light of Fanon’s project “to humanize this world which the imperialist forces have reduced to the animal level” (Fanon 2004:57). It seems strange that in elaborating upon a revolutionary politics primarily directed toward the French occupation of Algeria, Fanon would’ve allowed the distinctively French concept of “humanity” to enter his analysis almost unchecked. Furthermore, as I will argue, Fanon’s employment of the site of animality as an appropriate space in which both subjection and violence can be legibly performed – and this is why we must claim humanity, so that we are not the inert recipients of violence – fails to appreciate one of the positive strengths of his concept of the Black Imago: that with it comes the nonhuman, an extremely powerful category when colonial powers have claimed humanity for their own; we might call it the negation of the colonial. Fanon writes,

To blow the colonial world to smithereens is henceforth a clear image within the grasp and imagination of every colonized subject. To dislocate the colonial world does not mean that once the borders have been eliminated there will be a right of way between the two sectors. To destroy the colonial world means nothing less than demolishing the colonist’s sector, burying it deep within the earth or banishing it from the territory (Fanon 2004:6).

My argument, therefore, takes Fanon at his word. Imagining the concept of humanity as a territory which produces mechanisms of both inclusion and exclusion, the decolonial project is not to establish a right of way between the sectors of human and nonhuman – and, therefore, the Algerian’s acceptance into Sartre’s metropolitan universalism – but to destroy the territory of “man” altogether.

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Working on the Zoophilia paper for a conference…

…and I found this quote from Stacy Alaimo‘s essay “Eluding Capture: The Science, Culture, and Pleasure of ‘Queer’ Animals” (in Queer Ecologies, Mortimer-Sandilands and Erickson, eds.) particularly interesting:

“Despite the scientific aim to make sense of the world, to categorize, to map, to find causal relations, many who write about sexual diversity in nonhuman animals are struck with the sense that the remarkable variance regarding sex, gender, reproduction, and childrearing among animals defies our modes of categorization, even explodes our sense of being able to make sense of it all. These epiphanic moments of wonder ignite an epistemological-ethical sense in which, suddenly, the world is not only more queer than one could have imagined, but more surprisingly itself, meaning that it confounds our categories and system of understanding. In other words, queer animals elude perfect modes of capture” (67).

This captures (pun intended) my interest in trans-species sexual encounters quite well. The purpose of such a project, I think, is not to rush to a moral condemnation or defense of zoophilic practices. Instead, the fact that erotic desires and relations seem to cross what are usually presumed to be impenetrable species boundaries evokes (for me) the sort of epiphanic moment of wonder Alaimo mentions: a wonder at how bodies and desires as well as the entire notion of species might be rethought and reconfigured when the traditional markers of sexuality are abandoned or, at the very least, radically suspended.

Furthermore, what kind of political possibilities might follow from this inquiry? At the CSU Fullerton conference Thinking Through Animals where I presented the original zoophilia paper, Anat Pick asked me a pertinent question I haven’t been able to answer in a satisfactory way. Citing the 2007 film Zoo based on the life and death of Kenneth Pinyan (Pinyan died while having sex with a horse), Pick pointed out that before these soirees in which groups of zoophiles had sex with horses, they would eat fine meats – the point being that zoophilic relations do not necessarily lead to a vegan or animal liberation politics. It is easy to concede that there is no necessary causal relation between zoophilic explorations of human-animal relations and the animal liberation politics Pick and I would want to see cultivated. But this point can be made on several registers – hence, the need to find linkages between various practical and ideological formations. My only response, then, is that the lack of this causal link does not add weight to the condemnation of zoophilia, only a further exploration and elaboration of its political possibilities.

Another point of interest: in queer eco-criticism, there is still a focus on queer activities within specific specie communities, i.e. the prevalence of female-to-female sexual encounters in bonobo populations. Karl Steel has pointed out to me that it is enough to point to the prevalence of trans-species nonhuman-to-nonhuman encounters. However, why then are these encounters seen as merely curious biological oddities whereas human-to-nonhuman sexual encounters elicit social, political, and sexual anxieties that utilize a number of intense and reactive mechanisms within the heteronormative repertoire? When in Madagacar: Escape 2 Africa (which I watched a dozen times last week thanks to my three year-old nephew) a giraffe confesses his love to a hippopotamus, why are the two animals de-sexualized (we never expect to find them fucking in the African bush)? Why is there not an intense visceral response to the transgression of these species boundaries? By focusing on queer desires and practices within the confines of particular biological communities, does queer eco-criticism risk preserving the very notion of “species” it would seem to find suspicious?

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Points of Convergence: Deleuze, Said, and Chakrabarty

This is my first attempt at writing at length on both Deleuze as well as Postcolonial theory. It’s rough, poorly researched, etc., but hey, “way it goes” – it is just a seminar paper. Here it is:

Something in the world forces us to think. This something is an object not of recognition but of a fundamental encounter.

- Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition

There has been very little conversation between the fields of Deleuze scholarship and postcolonial studies. As Paul Patton and Simone Bignall suggest, Deleuze is often “condemned for his lack of explicit engagement with the body of postcolonial thought and with colonialism as a problematic site of analysis” (Bignall 2010:1). Furthermore, this supposed indifference is “thought to be compounded by Deleuze’s failure to provide concepts of resistance, critique and political society that address the concerns of formerly colonized peoples” (Ibid.:2). The purpose of Patton and Bignall’s edited collection, Deleuze and the Postcolonial, is to provide spaces where encounters between these two fields may occur. It is the intention of this paper to stage a very specific encounter between the work of Deleuze, Diphesh Chakrabarty, and Edward Said. I argue that, far from an insurmountable gap, bringing these three theorists together can help to illuminate very strong analyses and critiques present in the work of each thinker; in particular, in their analyses of Western models of thought and practice as well as non-Western forms of resistance and political possibility.

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Two Theses on the “Human Project”

This short paper was written for an anthropology graduate seminar with Mei Zhan titled “Humanism and Posthumanism.” In writing it, I intended that it would only be an outline for the final paper and that this final paper would be written in conjunction with another course I’m taking titled ‘Deep Ecology’ — and then perhaps that would be my MA thesis? We’ll see. Here it is:

The purpose of this paper is to briefly introduce two theses: the first, to suggest that the Western project of determining the proper parameters of the human, especially as this is determined negatively over and against its Others, is bankrupt; the second, to suggest that we should not attempt to resuscitate such a project but, instead, think through this “logic of man” in order to engender new forms and practices of life. The reader will find, already here, a set of unjustified normative statements. This paper embraces the perhaps overused, yet helpful, notion of a cyborg politics in which one is “resolutely committed to partiality, irony, intimacy, and perversity” (Haraway 1991:151); an affirmation of the groundlessness of ethico-political concerns after the death of God.

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Zoophilia: Thinking Through Trans-species Sexuality

This paper was written for a course, Queer Anthropology, with Tom Boellstorff. I will also be presenting this paper at an Animal Studies conference at CSU Fullerton titled “Thinking Through Animals”. This is a second draft of the paper and I’m fairly happy with it, though I think I’ve been looking at it too long to be as critical as I should be (I mean, aside from knowing that it still needs to be greatly expanded to be anything but a conference paper). Feedback, as always, is much appreciated!

The old religious taboos were primarily based on kinship forms of social organization. They were meant to deter inappropriate unions and to provide proper kin. Sex laws derived from Biblical pronouncements were aimed at preventing the acquisition of the wrong kind of affinal partners: consanguineous kin (incest), the same gender (homosexuality), or the wrong species (bestiality). - Gayle Rubin, Thinking Sex

Within the field of Critical Animal Studies, Jacques Derrida is perhaps the most common reference point when it comes to questions about the implicit anthropocentrism that accompanies most, if not all, elaborations of subjectivity. In an interview with Jean-Luc Nancy on the question “who comes after the subject?” Derrida remarked that he very rarely spoke of the “subject” or of “subjectivity” because “the discourse on the subject, even if it locates difference, inadequation, the dehiscence within auto-affection, etc., continues to link subjectivity with man” (Derrida 1991:105). This holds true, I would suggest, within the discourses and analyses of sexuality.  Even in queer analyses, where the heteronormative subject (Butler 1990) has been the object of rigorous scrutiny, sexuality has nonetheless remained a largely inter-human affair.

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‘Walking With Zeke’: Friendship and Mourning Beyond the Limits of Man

This paper was written for a course in the East Asian Language and Literature department titled “Friendship and Mourning.” I’m a bit happier with this paper though it is certainly in need of expansion as well as a more rigorous engagement with the theoretical texts — oh, and the conclusion is a “wtf?” kind of moment.  I essentially wrote this paper three times: the first 7 pages I lost when my computer decided to finally crash and pages 7-14 were lost because of my unfamiliarity with PCs.  But, I got it done and now I can share it here:

Certitude dismisses the fractal structure of the world, paves it over, turns meadow into concrete slab and then ignores the grasses struggling up through the cracks…At times I imagine a world laden with a trillion untold tales, entombed in silence.  All those who once remembered them are long gone.  They are a blanket on the earth.  They push their way through the sodden ground in spring.  - Chris Clarke, Walking With Zeke

In the summer of 2009 I held in my arms a thirteen-year-old Cocker Spaniel, Samantha, afflicted with a malignant tumor the size of a football on her right underbelly, as the veterinarian injected a high dose of pentobarbital into her front right paw.  It seemed that before the shot was complete, Samantha indolently ambled across that indistinct border between life and death and the death of this dog, this dog I barely knew, crippled me in mourning – a mess of tears, wailing, and snot.

There are certain strains of Heideggerean thought that would suggest that only I, as human Dasein with a relation to finitude as such, could relate (or, better, respond) to the death of this dog.  This is, however, a problematic proposition – if not logically, at least experientially.  A few months prior, in a bout of unusually intense depression, I lied on the couch in my partner’s living room staring at the stucco of the ceiling searching for consolation in at least one absurd figure in its relief.  Samantha, who until that moment had seemed indifferent to me, not by choice (at least I hope not) but because she was deaf and nearly blind, walked across the living room, that tumor as oppressive as ever, and nudged my shoulder.  I tried to ignore her.  She barked.  I turned and she licked my face and lied with me until my spirits returned and we both resumed our daily routines of eating, sleeping, and playful mischief.

The purpose of this anecdote is to raise questions about response, affect, and relationality in inter- or trans-species relations.  I avoid the term “inter-subjective” because, as Jacques Derrida has noted (1991), it has almost always functioned as a variant of “inter-human.”  I argue that by thinking through the categories of “friendship” and “mourning” in a non-anthropocentric analysis (that is, in contradistinction to the traditional “friendship among men”), we are able to develop a richer context from which to think about such ontological structures and themes as co-relationality, co-affectivity, and co-responsivity; of a coeval constitution of subjects through an Other that is not only human, but a whole series of indeterminate beings.

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