- Curbside Quarantine:A Scene of Interspecies Mediality
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Blogs, news Web sites, and content aggregators of all kinds feed a vast stream of stories about domesticated animals ostensibly "gone wild." The Huffington Post even has a regular specialty-features page called "Animals" that channels them from various cybermedia outlets. City-focused Web sites like New York's Gothamist and HuffPost New York also have a keen sense of the newsworthiness of four-leggers implicated in scenes of bad animus. Extreme behaviors occasionally emerge—usually due to humans' own acts of abuse or irresponsibility—and sometimes with horrific consequences (Freccero). But far more often, behavior condemned as feral tends to consist in some merely human-censured shift within a normal, creaturely behavioral continuum. Fear of such shifts has many sources, from dread of civic disorder to ontological anxiety, and the close-quartered urban lives of companion species are especially prone to entanglements—not only of bodies in close proximity but also of the complex animas that drive them. No matter where humans and their companion species go, we are bound to find ourselves ensnarled, smack in the middle of the unrest that makes good copy.
Whether tabloid-style or more responsibly journalistic, such stories have a profound effect on how increasing numbers apprehend and manage the shared conditions of interspecies life. The great profusion of these stories can, unfortunately, effectively metastasize our fear of the potential threat posed by nonhuman animals, at the same time that these stories misleadingly exceptionalize the quotidian messiness, excitement, unpredictability, and usually sublethal—indeed at times comical—violence of interspecies encounters. Even for those with relatively limited access to cyberspace, in-the-flesh relatedness has become almost impossible to experience as something separate from digital transformation of the phenomenology of perception and the politics of representation, or as something irrelevant to our own and others' imperfect apprehensions of how this transformation is proceeding (Poster, Hansen).
The particular piece of digital ephemera I discuss below exists in the still challengingly new (or newly recognized) crossings of two forms of here-and-now relatedness: that of the pulses and bloodlettings of interspecies sociality's variously forced and unbidden breakdowns (Haraway, Freccero), and that of radically decentered yet also broadly intensified fusions of sociality through digital modalities and platforms (Massumi). This dialectical relation between the evental and the systematic will prompt some readers' interest in my remarks and in the video itself. Some will lean toward the evental take and others toward the systematic. Other readers, whom I hope for most of all, will find themselves stuck somewhere in between and will thus have to think for themselves about their own experience of impasse, that "curbing" or "quarantining" for which the man in the video so very dramatically and movingly stands as both subject and object. Could we make better use of that nexus than he seems to do?
This linked video of a recent big-dog-on-little-dog attack near the corner of New York's East 10th and Broadway has circulated through a number of cybervenues. It's a short clip of panic, poor judgment, bewilderment, and the need to locate blame—a drama that plays out a thousand times a day in a country with well over eighty million dogs. More than that, it highlights the uncanniness of suddenly finding yourself in the thick of violence involving an aggressor-animal that belongs to you—an uncanniness erupting here as part of a present history of human-canine relations overwhelmed by breed mythology. Identified rightly or wrongly as a Pit Bull, the aggressor-dog becomes, in the video and in its later circulation and viewing, the focus of a struggle to confirm him as a profoundly impaired form of an otherwise commonly hypervalorized interspecies attachment. Unedited and impersonal, without the coordinated emplotments of more conventional cinematic media, the video captures and refracts the crisis of me/not-me that any dog-identified dog owner might someday have to face. Perhaps most strikingly, it is faced...