Animal/Nonhuman Workshop

University of Chicago

Month: May 2015

Monday, May 18, 2015: “The Question of Gentile Bestiality: Shame, Subjectivity, and Sex with Animals in Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 55a-b”

Beth Berkowitz, Religious Studies, Barnard College (in collaboration with the Jewish Studies workshop and the Chicago Center for Jewish Studies)

“The Question of Gentile Bestiality: Shame, Subjectivity, and Sex with Animals in Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 55a-b”

What happens when we include other species in our understanding of subjectivity?” That is the question that Colleen Glenney Boggs in her Animalia Americana sees at the core of animal studies. In one version of animal studies, this means having animals join the ranks of liberal subjects, along with women, African-Americans, gays and other historically marginalized groups. But in another version, that inspired by Derrida, the liberal subject is not expanded, but exploded. Animal studies deconstructs subjectivity rather than redefining it. In this paper I will argue that a talmudic discussion on Sanhedrin 55a-b that asks whether an animal who has sex with a gentile should be tried and executed – does both. This passage expands subjectivity to include the animal, but the passage also, in the course of its argumentation, destabilizes the schemas of subjectivity such that subjectivity itself is questioned. The discussion of talmudic texts in this paper suggests, building on but also modifying Boggs, that subject formation is not distinctive to modernity, and neither is the criminalization of bestiality and its operation as a site of biopolitical regulation and resistance. The talmudic laws serve as a site for exploring spectrums of subjectivity, and they challenge in some ways and reinforce in others the binaries (human/animal, but also animate/inanimate, male/female, child/adult, Jew/non-Jew) that dominate legal discourse.

Request a copy of the paper by emailing kpflaum@uchicago.edu.

Light refreshments will be served.

This event is free and open to the public. Persons with disabilities who may need assistance to attend should contact Katharine Mershon (kpflaum@uchicago.edu).

Monday, May 11, 2015: In conversation with N. Katherine Hayles

N. Katherine Hayles, Literature, Duke University

Unusual details: This event will be from 4:30-6 pm in Classics 110.

Join the Animal Studies workshop for an informal conversation with Professor N. Katherine Hayles about animals, plants, robots, software, and other forms of life. Professor Hayles will be on hand to talk about individual research interests, animal studies as a whole, and to ask questions and offer advice. Please join us for an opportunity to chat with a giant in her field.

Light refreshments will be served.

This event is free and open to the public. Persons with disabilities who may need assistance to attend should contact Bill Hutchison (hutch@uchicago.edu).

Find our full workshop schedule here.

Friday, May 8, 2015: “Lousy Bodies”

—in collaboration with the 18th- and 19th-Century Atlantic Cultures workshop—

Lynn Festa, English, Rutgers University
“Lousy Bodies”

Please note unusual time and location:
this event will be from 12-1:30 pm, Logan Center 801.

Focusing on representations of—and from the point of view of—the louse, this paper examines how Hooke’s treatise on the microscope and the riddle as well as doggerel verse and occasional prose written from the point of view of the louse experiment with the distance between human and parasite, between eater and eaten. The louse finds in the human body an “all-you-can-eat” buffet but it never picks up the tab, a non-reciprocal arrangement that cannot be easily enfolded into the (ostensible) quid pro quo of the market, the political contract, or even the golden rule. The fact that the human body teems with life that is not solely its own proclaims the lie of that basic unit of modernity— the autonomous, self-possessed individual—and exposes the difficulty of defining the threshold of individual beings, where one body—one life—ends and another begins.  The devices, material and linguistic (literal and literary), that I focus on in this paper—the microscope, the pun, the riddle, and the it-narrative—both exploit and undercut anthropomorphism, engineering a deliberate estrangement of sensation, perception, and perspective that makes visible the entangled relations of humanity, other creatures, and inanimate things.

The paper, to be read in advance, is available here. For the password, please email Bill Hutchison at hutch@uchicago.edu.

This event is made possible thanks to the generous support of the Nicholson Center for British Studies. It is free and open to the public. Persons who require assistance to participate fully should contact Sam Rowe at strowe@uchicago.edu or Allison Turner at acturn@uchicago.edu in advance.

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