The Inhumanities

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The Hunt of the Unicorn


Written by Inhumanities

August 17, 2009 at 10:49 pm

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11 Responses

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  1. Great idea! I look forward to the discussion!


    August 28, 2009 at 9:27 am

  2. […] animal studies” themed blog entitled The Inhumanities. Being new, content is quite limited to a picture of a unicorn in a cage, a group statement, and an announcement of our first event, a discussion of Matthew Calarco’s […]

  3. The Unicorn Tapestry, in particular this image, perhaps is suitable one from Critical Animal studies, for as in theory we attempt to grasp what is essential in the “animal”, it stands within our fenced mind, and as such necessarily takes on something of a fantastical projection, the illusionary “horn” which is generated by the very fence of our theorizing.

    One wonders if one can have Critical Animal Studies without turning animals into unicorns.


    August 29, 2009 at 5:21 pm

  4. Huh?


    August 30, 2009 at 1:15 pm

  5. Sorry for the a-grammatical typos, but my point is simply: when you put a conceptual fence around animals, this promotes projections.



    August 31, 2009 at 2:13 pm

  6. I’m not sure I understand what you mean by “conceptual fence”, nor do I understand the specifics of the relationship you seem to posit between “conceptual fencing” and philosophical reflection on questions concerning the being, capabilities, and moral standing of non-human animals.

    Bear with me for a minute here, but I’m guessing that by “conceptual fencing”, you mean something like objectification? And the worry is that objectification runs the risk of idealization–i.e., when we make non-human beings the objects of our philosophical and moral consideration, we idealize them in problematic ways? Am I in the neighborhood here? If I’ve gotten you wrong here, please do straighten me out! 🙂

    As for the relationship between “conceptual fencing” and philosophical questions concerning non-human beings:

    Is your view that (a) reflective analysis of any kind involves “conceptual fencing”, and thus reflective analysis on questions concerning animals is, by extension, as risky as any other sort of reflective analysis? Or is it that (b) reflective analysis concerning animals is somehow a riskier business than reflective analysis on other types of philosophical questions?


    August 31, 2009 at 3:13 pm

  7. Two more requests for clarification:

    You say “when you put a conceptual fence around animals, this promotes projections.”

    (1) This construction would seem to suggest that putting a conceptual fence around things (objectifying them?) and “promoting projections” are two distinct, but perhaps causally linked processes such that conceptual fencing is likely to lead to projecting. Is that what you have in mind? Or is that objectification is always already a projective enterprise in which the assumptions that the objectifier brings to the analysis project a certain understanding of the phenomena in question?

    Or perhaps your view is compatible with both of these, but posits a distinction between first and second order projection: perhaps first-order projection is projection associated with the assumptions that the observer brings to theorizing (e.g., the assumption that non-humans are worthy of moral consideration), and second-order projection is projection associated with or prompted by the outcomes of that theorizing (e.g., a change in public perception of the moral standing of animals that takes place in the wake of scientific and philosophical theorizing about the kinds of beings that animals ostensibly are)?

    (2) The above claim seems to imply that the promotion of projections is a bad thing–that if we “put a conceptual fence around animals” we will be doing something that has adverse consequences: the promotion of projection.

    What’s wrong with “projection” on your view? When you say projection, do you have something like “pernicious anthropomorphization” in mind–that is, attribution of human-like qualities to animals that skews the findings of the reflective enterprise?


    August 31, 2009 at 3:35 pm

  8. Let’s see. By “putting a conceptual fence” around an animal I do not mean “objectification” (at least in the generic sense of turning a subjectivity into an object), though the term “objectification” can mean very specific things in different theories, so I’m not quite sure what I am refusing here.

    In general, when theorizing about the “animal” (as with the “human”) one has to risk/watch how much of your analysis is a product of a genuine theory of agreements (reaching far beyond animals per se) about the world (how “objective” it is), and how much is motivated by a fantasy of the nobility of animals as a class, i.e. a projection.

    Now, you ask What is wrong with projections? Well, in a certain way there is nothing wrong with them. Projections are the fundamental socializing means by which we reach empathy and sympathy with others, and by my own Spinozian/Davidsonian lights I argue the very means by which we make ANY sense of the world. But in a different way there are some things wrong with, or at least dangerous in projections, that is, one has to watch the way in which we tend to deposit aspects of ourselves (both ideal and also profane) onto others, and as such enter into oscillations of the imagination of Good and Evil in the world. I am not thinking so much of anthropomorphisms here, but rather projected essentialized valuations. And because animals in the minds of many are a placeholder for such concepts as “innocence” (as are children, etc.), critical animal studies are ripe for just these kinds of idealizations, however sublimiated. I do not say that these motivations, when made conscious and thought through are “bad” but rather as thinking processes should be watched, made plain.

    Now, when I look at the image you selected to announce your weblog I instinctively see an Idealized animal (one that does not even exist). It may very well be that your theorizing exhibits very little of this kind of projected valuation, I look forward to what you have to say. It is only that the picture condenses for me a certain pitfall when discussing animals theoretically, the tendency to idealize their essence as a certain quality of innocence. Now, if one wants to discuss the issue of the innocence of animals, that is a different story, and perhaps an interesting one.

    What I see, (in my distorted view through a mere keyhole), when I look at the unicorn from the Unicorn Tapestry, is an attempt capture the “unicorn” of animal rights, something that requires a netting of theoretical workings. Perhaps this is not a bad thing to do. Perhaps it is a good thing have such a unicorn. I don’t know, I’ll wait and see. But also my instinct – and my own theoretical position of panpsychism, in perfectly amenable to animal and eco-studies – wants also to wade carefully into the world of projections.


    September 1, 2009 at 12:37 pm

  9. Thanks for the clarification. FYI, “The Inhumanities” is not actually my weblog; I just received an e-mail that it had been instituted and I decided to sign up to receive updates since the content is in one of my areas of interest. I apologize to you and to the moderators if anything I said improperly suggested that the idea for the discussion or the aesthetic decisions regarding the template were my own. I’m just here awaiting the discussion of Calarco’s work. 🙂


    September 1, 2009 at 1:15 pm

  10. Sorry for the author confusion.


    September 1, 2009 at 1:44 pm

  11. No apology necessary! Just didn’t want to take credit for a great idea that isn’t mine. Thanks to the folks at The Inhumanities for providing this forum. I’m greatly looking forward to the discussion!


    September 1, 2009 at 2:18 pm

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