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Dialogues in Contemporary Thought VI | On Life

Prof. Branka Arsic | Marvelous Extinctions: Melville on Animal Suffering
Thursday, May 30, 2019
4:00-5:30 PM
3222 Angell Hall Map
Prof. Branka Arsic (Columbia University) will be giving a public lecture on Thursday May 30th, at 4 p.m. QA to follow.

Description: My talk starts out from remarks Melville left in his Encantadas concerning the Galapagos tortoises and goes on to examine the scientific and historical archives to which he had recourse, from Cuvier and Broderip to Porter and Delano. On that basis I seek to reconstruct exactly what, in the early 19th century, prompted scientists, doctors, and naturalists, as well as traders and ordinary seamen, to obsess about the tortoise as a life form, one that was brought to the brink of extinction by the middle of the century. I argue that the reason why both physiologists in Continental scientific laboratories, and whalers traversing Antillean waters in trade ships, chose this particular animal to answer the question of what life is, derived from their ideas about what constituted pain, suffering, and cruelty. By rehearsing such debates over the presumed expressions of suffering, apathy and indifference on the part of the tortoise, I work to suggest that what scientists understood as apathy towards pain licensed the production of a bizarre taxonomy of life forms based on a creaturely capacity to resist violence. I, therefore, pay significant attention to the differences that science advanced between biologically - as opposed to psychologically - rational and irrational life forms, which leads to my concluding analysis of why, as a consequence, the irrational was designated as available for experimentation and vivisection.
Building: Angell Hall
Event Type: Lecture / Discussion
Tags: american culture, Anthropocene, Art, Books, comparative literature, conference, Contemporary, Contemporary Literature, Culture, Department Of English Language And Literature, Ecology, English, English Department, English Language & Literataure, English Language & Literature, English Language And Literature, English Languange & Literature, Environment, Environmental Humanities, Free, Graduate School, History, Humanities, Interdisciplinary, Lecture, Literature, LSA200, Philosophy, Rackham, Research, Scholarship, Social Impact, Talk, World Literature
Source: Happening @ Michigan from Department of English Language and Literature, Comparative Literature, Institute for the Humanities, Romance Languages & Literatures, Department of Philosophy, Department of American Culture, Department of Political Science, Germanic Languages & Literatures, Slavic Languages & Literatures, Central Concepts in Contemporary Theory Rackham Interdisciplinary Workshop