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Posthumanities

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Surface Encounters

Thinking with Animals and Art

Ron Broglio

What it is like to be an animal? Ron Broglio wants to know from the inside, from underneath the fur and feathers. In examining this question, he bypasses the perspectives of biology or natural history to explore how one can construct an animal phenomenology, to think and feel as an animal other—or any other.

Until now phenomenology has grappled with how humans are embedded in their world. According to philosophical tradition, animals do not practice the self-reflexive thought that provides humans with depth of being. Without human interiority, philosophers have believed, animals live on the surface of things. But, Broglio argues, the surface can be a site of productive engagement with the world of animals, and as such he turns to humans who work with surfaces: contemporary artists.

Taking on the negative claim of animals living only on the surface and turning the premise into a positive set of possibilities for human–animal engagement, Broglio considers artists—including Damien Hirst, Carolee Schneemann, Olly and Suzi, and Marcus Coates—who take seriously the world of the animal on its own terms. In doing so, these artists develop languages of interspecies expression that both challenge philosophy and fashion new concepts for animal studies.

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The Universe of Things

On Speculative Realism

Steven Shaviro

From the rediscovery of Alfred North Whitehead’s work to the rise of new materialist thought, including object-oriented ontology, there has been a rapid turn toward speculation in philosophy as a way of moving beyond solely human perceptions of nature and existence. Now Steven Shaviro maps this quickly emerging speculative realism, which is already dramatically influencing how we interpret reality and our place in a universe in which humans are not the measure of all things.

The Universe of Things explores the common insistence of speculative realism on a noncorrelationist thought: that things or objects exist apart from how our own human minds relate to and comprehend them. Shaviro focuses on how Whitehead both anticipates and offers challenges to prevailing speculative realist thought, moving between Whitehead’s own panpsychism, Harman’s object-oriented ontology, and the reductionist eliminativism of Quentin Meillassoux and Ray Brassier.

The stakes of this recent speculative realist thought—of the effort to develop new ways of grasping the world—are enormous as it becomes clear that our inherited assumptions are no longer adequate to describe, much less understand, the reality we experience around us. As Shaviro acknowledges, speculative realist thought has its dangers, but it also, like the best speculative fiction, holds the potential to liberate us from confining views of what is outside ourselves and, he believes, to reclaim aesthetics and beauty as a principle of life itself.

Bringing together a wide array of contemporary thought, and evenhandedly assessing its current debates, The Universe of Things is an invaluable guide to the evolution of speculative realism and the provocation of Alfred North Whitehead’s pathbreaking work.

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What Would Animals Say If We Asked the Right Questions?

Vinciane Despret

“You are about to enter a new genre, that of scientific fables, by which I don’t mean science fiction, or false stories about science, but, on the contrary, true ways of understanding how difficult it is to figure out what animals are up to.” —Bruno Latour, form the Foreword

Is it all right to urinate in front of animals? What does it mean when a monkey throws its feces at you? Do apes really know how to ape? Do animals form same-sex relations? Are they the new celebrities of the twenty-first century? This book poses twenty-six such questions that stretch our preconceived ideas about what animals do, what they think about, and what they want.

In a delightful abecedarium of twenty-six chapters, Vinciane Despret argues that behaviors we identify as separating humans from animals do not actually properly belong to humans. She does so by exploring incredible and often funny adventures about animals and their involvements with researchers, farmers, zookeepers, handlers, and other human beings. Do animals have a sense of humor? In reading these stories it is evident that they do seem to take perverse pleasure in creating scenarios that unsettle even the greatest of experts, who in turn devise newer and riskier hypotheses that invariably lead them to conclude that animals are not nearly as dumb as previously thought.

These deftly translated accounts oblige us, along the way, to engage in both ethology and philosophy. Combining serious scholarship with humor that will resonate with anyone, this book—with a foreword by noted French philosopher, anthropologist, and sociologist of science Bruno Latour—is a must not only for specialists but also for general readers, including dog owners, who will never look at their canine companions the same way again.


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