- The Ethics of Interspecies Performance:Empathy beyond Analogy in Fevered Sleep's Sheep Pig Goat
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How can humans change the way they perceive nonhuman animals? What would it take to see animals differently and what role might empathy have in this process? If humans could perceive the world from the animals' point of view, would this change how humans perceive animals and, in turn, how they behave towards them? What role might performance play in allowing humans to occupy the animal's world as produced by its specific embodiment—its powers to affect and be affected that both differ from and overlap with human worlds (that are themselves differential)? And what happens if performance itself is seen from the animal's perspective? I begin with these questions in an attempt to mark out the fundamentally ethico-political stakes of engaging animals in performance: the urgent question of how performance might contribute to addressing anthropocentrism, speciesism, and the violence toward animal bodies such perspectives enable. In my ongoing work, I am interested in the capacity of performance to produce reciprocally transformative encounters, in which the affective worlds of both human and nonhuman bodies can be un-made and re-made, and wherein "animals are invited to other modes of being, other relationships, and new ways to inhabit the human world and to force human beings to address them differently."1 These interests have led me to the project I will focus on here: Sheep Pig Goat (2017) by the UK-based performance company Fevered Sleep, a project in which I played the role of "research advisor" when it was first staged in March 2017. I am also collaborating with the company to develop a new iteration of this work which will be hosted at the Vet School at the University of Surrey in February 2020.
In this essay, I consider Sheep Pig Goat alongside the work of foundational animal studies scholar and philosopher of science Vinciane Despret, whose important book What Would Animals Say If We Asked the Right Questions? (2016) was one text among many others that the company themselves read as part of the preparation for the project. In particular, I draw from Despret to explore multiple possible understandings of the notion of "interspecies empathy," noting that, for Fevered Sleep, a core aim of the project was to investigate how performance might "increase understanding of, and empathy towards nonhuman animals" (both their own as a company and those of the audiences who encounter their work).2 Here, however, the mode of empathy I am reaching toward is not one that operates through analogy or identification, but an "embodied empathy" that operates as a mode of affective thinking alongside rather than "about" the animal, and as a performative encounter between human and nonhuman animals that produces both parties anew.
Both embodied empathy and attention have key roles to play in securing greater ethical consideration of nonhuman animals in relation to the production of knowledge. As Donna Haraway suggests, the etymology of seeing––from the Latin verb respecere, to look again––invites consideration of the relationship between attention and respect: to taking care in an ethical sense and the careful, iterative act of observation that does not judge on first impressions, but considers others as worthy of re-spect, or a second [End Page E-2] look.3 But this ethics of attention is not just about vision or sight, and this is why performance might play a leading role in its investigation. Rather, as Amanda Boetzkes has argued, if "the fundamental ethical question" concerns "how we might develop a complex sensibility of and for non-human animals"4 or if ethics is a matter of embodied behaviors improvised between actors within the uncertainty of specific contexts, then performance practices surely have much to contribute to the development of our understanding of what constitutes an interspecies ethics. Interspecies performance practice might be understood as a primary domain for the creation and investigation of what Traci Warkentin also describes as "an...