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Towards Day 20 (Mon, Apr 7): Reflections on The Lives of Animals

Anne Dalke's picture

I. coursekeeping
applications for Fall 360s
are due tomorrow night--
please apply or encourage your friends to!

Dinner on 16th
won't work; how about M-T-W, Apr. 28-29-30
(to reflect on the story slam/next steps?). Sophia will send a doodle poll.

Race conversation
@ 4 going/facilitating a small group--and hope you can join me..

We are ending today our second section of this course,
the one asking "how much latitude we can allow."

You have a 5-pp. paper due this Sunday @ 5,
reflecting on this question,
by drawing explicitly on some of the material we read in the past six weeks.
There's a lot for you to look over:
the section started with Ozeki's novel All Over Creation and
ended with Coetzee's novella The Lives of Animals; in between,
we looked @ various profiles of Camden and
the history of Wissahickon Valley Park; there was
Dorceta Taylor's essay and talk about environmental justice activism;
all our eco-artists (and your own art);
and our recent discussion of the hockey stick graph,
and the upcoming material about cemeteries.

I do not need to talk with you about this paper (though I'm happy to),
but we will spend some time in small groups on Wednesday, you all can
help one another along in the process & I'll work my way around the room.
So: come to class with a proposal for a paper topic,
and be ready to help others brainstorm how to move forward with theirs...

We will also make the shift on Wednesday to the third and final section of the course,
Re/presenting: A Space for Justice; to help us across the divide, please look over and
bring back those two essays we already read (but didn't get to talk about)
by SueEllen Campbell,Magpie & The Land and Language of Desire;
read also Tim Burke's Last Collection Speech, Swarthmore, 2002, in his blog,
Easily Distracted: A Jackdaw Perspective on Culture, Politics, Academia, and Other Shiny Objects

(the "jackdaw" of his blog title is another term for "magpie"--Tim's practicing just the sort of
"eclectic and improvisatory appetite" that Campbell celebrates as being "a good model
for ecological writers and critics"); and  read also Teju Cole's essay on
 The White-Savior Industrial Complex, The Atlantic. March 21, 2012
(which I think has been referenced in Jody's class, and will really get us
going into the question of what activism is "allowed" us as U.S. citizens...

II. But! first we have to finish up this section!
We're not done yet with J.M. Coetzee
's philosophical novel--and today we
focus on the four "reflections" that follow the fictional portion of his text.

Split now into 4 groups, 3 each, to re-present each speaker:
Marjorie Garber (the literary critic)
Peter Singer (the philosopher)
Wendy Doniger (the religious scholar)
Barbara Smuts (the primatologist)

Confer, come back to the group ready to explain
to the rest of us what "your" function is in this text:
What dimensions do you add to it?
(Why are you needed, in this "ecosystem"? What is your role?)

Then we'll talk about the function of the reflective responses as a whole:
What do they accomplish, that is not already accomplished
within the story itself? Why do we need four more views?

III. Provocative quotations (if needed!)
* from Jonathan Safran Foer, Eating Animals, p. 213:
"the entirety of human society and moral progress represents an explicit transcendence of what’s ‘natural’”

* from Coetzee, Doubling the Point: "my subject steers clear of the right. As a child ...
he has seen enough of the Afrikaner right,  enough of its rant, to last him a lifetime...
he has perhaps seen more of cruelty and violence than should have been allowed to a child.
So as a student he moves on the fringes of the left without  being part of the left.
Sympathetic to the human concerns of the left, he is alienated, when the
crunch comes, by its language – by all political language, in fact..."

*from Rena Fraden's Imagining Medea: Rhodessa Jones and Theater for Incarcerated Women:
“Jones finds theatrical ways to interrogate the personal, surrounding the contemporary with the mythical, providing more texts, and thus context, for these women, so that each individual’s story is not isolated but always seen in relation to others…autobiography alone neither guarantees new insights nor changes behavior. As Joan Scott has argued, experience is not transparent but is ‘at once always already an interpretation and something that needs to be interpreted’
(p. 21). "Storytelling can be a con game, a trick used against one’s foes.  It can also be the beginning of a different drama
—a way to imagine, if not live out, a new life" (p. 48).

IV. I had asked you to post last night your  responses to the question of what possibilities
the book offers to hosting "difficult conversations" among people who differ. Can people
w/ decidedly opposed views actually enter into dialogue? Or are the divisions so deep that
common academic training, common culture, or even familial ties can not bridge the gap?"
I want to return to your answers, now that we've added four more commentators to the mix:

Sophia: Being open to, and listening to other perspectives is a necessity.

"productive dialogue"…is often an oppressive construct….
forcing marginalized people into interactions that are fundamentally harmful to them.


Kelsey: systems are the source of social inequalities… and will not
change if we only engage in dialogue to change individual minds

While neither of the parties may fully change their minds, they may become more aware of the range of thoughts and ideas out there and perhaps eventually become more porous to them.

Does dialogue all have to be productive?


that phrase, “productive dialogue”… can have a layered meaning.  Sometimes, even an incredibly problematic, unproductive, skewed, or even downright absurd dialogue…can have so much value….
I find value in having experiences that make me realize what I think isn’t right, or productive, or problematic.



in making connections…sometimes we…go a little overboard…it feels important to evaluate and reevaluate those claims…. finding common ground can take us too far….



via Lisa: “What can we learn from mystical experience that we can bring into a room of angry people?"

aphorisnt: Communicating from a place of anger can be effective in that anger can inspire passion and serve as a driving force behind continued efforts to try and speak even in the face of heavy opposition, and that anger can also silence all other voices outside of oneself.

: …I’m wondering if … I’ve actually not been allowing enough latitude… inhibiting me from being porous enough to consider other representations….

: I think we need to decide which views and which connections are more urgent, more valued, more valuable, and more relevant. We can't keep passing anxiety around in circles like a game of political hot potato.

I think that would be the start of a productive dialogue between meat eaters and vegetarians. The idea of respect, honor, and valuing a life…. whether it is a human or an animal. 

Taking away one life means causing pain and suffering on those related to that life….There cannot be such a thing as painless killing.