Other Empathies: New Directions in Literary Animal Studies
‘Our capacity to see animal suffering in a new light – or rather, to see animal suffering at all – depends on our willingness to include emotion’.
This panel, covering a range of historical contexts, cultural perspectives, and media, examines how questions of empathy have taken a central position in literary animal studies, and how the relationship between human and nonhuman animals challenges traditional understanding of culture, aesthetics, theory, and politics.
Animals and Empathy in Indigenous Contexts (Emma Barnes)
Emma Barnes is an AHRC PhD Student in Nineteenth-Century Literature at the University of Salford.
Speaking of animals, Jeremy Bentham asked is it not, ‘Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?’ This notion of suffering and sentience has been pivotal in the provocation of empathy towards animals and the formation of animal rights, particularly in relation to Western cultures. Within Indigenous cultures of North America, however, animal kinship, empathy, and animal suffering are not necessarily mutually exclusive. This paper draws upon the work of Indigenous writer, Tekahionwake, to explore how Indigenous fiction navigates the tensions that arise between empathy towards animals, animal sacrifice and indigenous hunting rights that are central to the survival of tribes, Indigenous self-rule, and the sustainability of Indigenous lands. By engaging with Indigenous fiction, the concept of empathy towards animals and its complexity within different cultures can be examined.
‘Their blood does not stain our hands’: Insect Ethics, Aesthetics and Empathy (Danielle Sands)
Dr Danielle Sands is Lecturer in Comparative Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London and Fellow of the Forum for Philosophy at the LSE. She is the author of Animal Writing: Storytelling, Selfhood and the Limits of Empathy (Edinburgh, 2019).
This paper tracks the flying and scurrying of disparate unpinned insects, emphasising both their instrumental and intrinsic value and the necessity of supplementing empathetic with non-empathetic approaches when thinking and writing with them. It will examine three figures of the insect: the first, the insect as other other in Damien Hirst’s work, exposes the limitations of empathetic responses to nonhuman life. The second, the queer insect, draws on Elizabeth Grosz’s reading of Darwin, Roger Caillois’ interpretation of mimicry, and Lee Edelman’s work in queer theory to argue that the insect provides a figure of the inhuman that counters logics of heteronormative futurity. The final figure, that of the disgusting insect, is generated through Braidotti’s reading of Clarice Lispector’s novel The Passion of G.H and Derrida’s reading of Kant’s third critique. The paper concludes by advancing disgust as a useful tool in the development of an inhuman insect ethics.
‘I Like the Ants’: Animal Life, Empathy, and the Politics of Adaptation (Timothy C. Baker)
Dr Timothy C. Baker is Senior Lecturer in Scottish and Contemporary Literature at the University of Aberdeen. He is the author of Writing Animals: Language, Suffering, and Animality in Twenty-First-Century Fiction (Palgrave, 2019).
Anna Tsing, Donna Haraway, and Judith Butler have influentially posited precarity and vulnerability as the central questions of twenty-first-century life. This paper highlights the relationship between precarity and nonhuman life in Jonathan Glazer’s adaptation of Michel Faber’s Under the Skin (2013) and Lynne Ramsay’s adaptation of Alan Warner’s Morvern Callar (2002) to ask how the representation of animals challenges traditional understandings of individual psychology and the politics of the nation-state. The added focus on nonhuman life in these films allows for the formulation, in Rosi Braidotti’s words, of ‘a new collective subject, a “we-are-(all)-in-this-together-but-we-are-not-one-and-the-same” kind of subject’ that creates a space for transformation and new forms of being-with, where empathy replaces traditional notions of agency.