The Emotional Bond (2013)

The Emotional Bond:
Deepening Relations Between Animals, Humans, Nature

Saturday, October 26, 2013
Rhode Island Hall, Room 108

This all-day workshop was an exploration, with specialists from multiple vantage points, of the con-social in cognitive and emotional terms; topics to be addressed include the creation of extended societies (or extended families), anthropomorphism, and the theological issue of animal “souls”. Each 30-minute talk was followed by a 15-minute question-and-answer period.


10:00am            Stephen Houston, Brown University
10:05am          Sue Curry, Brown University
“Nero was a Pussycat: Animalizing Humans in Ancient Rome”
10:50am          Short Coffee Break
11:00am          Erica Fudge, University of Strathclyde
“Farmyard Choreographies in Early Modern England”
11:45am     Lunch Break
2:00pm           Kari Weil, Wesleyan University
“Putting the Horse before Descartes: The Affective Bond in Reading and Riding in Nineteenth-Century France”
2:45pm           Eduardo Kohn, McGill University
“How Forests Think”
3:30pm           General Discussion


Sue Curry, Brown University
“Nero was a Pussycat: Animalizing Humans in Ancient Rome”

What is the journey a non-human animal makes from its natural habitat to becoming a tool human beings use to denigrate and “dehumanize” other human beings? This paper uses an episode from the life of the notorious Roman emperor, Nero, in which the emperor dresses and behaves “like an animal” for his own sexual pleasure, to begin to unravel the connections between real-world human-animal relationships and the use of animal references in language to “other” other human beings in ancient Rome. In particular, I consider two problematic relationships:  first, the connection between an appreciation of the qualities of a specific species of animal and the general concept of the “animal”; and second, the connection between self-identifying as a particular kind of animal and having a generic “animal” identity thrust upon oneself by others.  If animal-related rhetoric arises from real-world relationships, we also return it to the world.  By trying to better understand the symbiosis of human-animal relationships, might we also begin to better understand the symbiotic relationship between rhetoric and real-life, the violence of language and actual violence towards animals and those rendered “animal” by others?

Sue Curry is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Program in Early Cultures at Brown University as part of the Mellon-Sawyer Seminar, “Animal Magnetism: The Emotional Ecology of Animals and Humans.”  She has been a Lecturer in Classics (2009-2013) and Faculty Fellow in Culture and Sustainability (2012-2013) at the University of New Hampshire and Fellow (2009) of the American Academy in Rome. She is completing a project on the animalization of Nero in Suetonius’ Lives of the Caesars and is interested in how non-human animals help shape human identities in life and literature.

Erica Fudge, University of Strathclyde
“Farmyard Choreographies in Early Modern England”

This paper uses original archival research found in the Essex Record Office and the London Metropolitan Archive to begin to trace out what was perhaps the most common and vital of all human-animal relationships of the early modern period: that of men and women and their livestock. It will read these materials alongside current work on human-animal relations by, among others, Haraway and Despret, to think about the history of what John Law calls the  'unfolding embodied and material process’ that is care. My focus will be on aspects of care like the correct milking of cows, the identification of ducks, and other prosaic human-animal encounters, and will think about what tracing care for real (as opposed to theoretical) animals in written records means for an understanding of the human social world in the period which is often seen as the moment of the emergence of modernity, and of intensive farming.

Erica Fudge is Professor of English Studies in the School of Humanities, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. She has written on early modern printed debates about humans and animals in Perceiving Animals (2000) and Brutal Reasoning (2006), and is now working on a project on human-livestock relations in the period. Early work from this project is already out, or about to come out, in the journals Angelaki, New Formations, History and Theory, and Theory, Culture and Society. She is the director of the British Animal Studies Network, the interdisciplinary meeting point for those on human-animal relationships from within the Humanities and Social Sciences in the UK and beyond.

Kari Weil, Wesleyan University
“Putting the Horse before Descartes: The Affective Bond in Reading and Riding in Nineteenth-Century France”

It was the eighteenth-century French naturalist, the Comte de Buffon, who declared the horse “the most noble conquest of man,” a statement that the French proudly took to heart by pointing to their winning cavalry and the famed school of riding in which they trained. Perhaps in homage to Buffon, Napoleon asked that his 1800 portrait portray him “calm on a bolting horse,” the horse’s nobility conferred upon the Emperor through talent rather than birth. During the course of the nineteenth century, however, such an image of the horse was increasingly in contest with that of an abused animal who suffers the ignoble whippings of cruel masters. In the opening scene of Eugene Sue’s popular novel, Godolphin Arabian, awe is replaced by sympathy or outrage as the equine title character elicits an emblematic, empathic response. My talk will address this contest of emotions in the representation of 19th century human-horse relations, asking what it says about the powers (and limits) of empathy, about the horse as an affective (and cognitive) subject, and how and why an affective bond between human and non-human animals could became a legitimate subject of literature.

Kari Weil is University Professor of Letters and Director of the College of Letters at Wesleyan University. She is the author, most recently, of THINKING ANIMALS, WHY ANIMAL STUDIES NOW? (Columbia UP, 2012) and co-editor with Lori Gruen of the recent special issue of HYPATIA entitled "Animal Others," (Volume 27, Number 3 2012). With Lori Gruen she also co-authored, “Teaching Difference, Sex, Gender, Species” in TEACHING THE ANIMAL, Margo de Mello ed. (Lantern 2010) and co-sponsors the ASI-WAS summer fellowship in Human-Animal Studies at Wesleyan University.  She has also published on human-horse relations in 19th-century France and more widely on feminist theory and representations of gender. Her course, “Animal Subjects” which she first taught at the California College of the Arts, won the United States Humane Society’s “Best Course Award” for 2006.

Eduardo Kohn, McGill University
“How Forests Think”

Forests think. This is neither a metaphor nor is it a claim specific to any “ontology.” What kind of claim, then, is it? What right do we have in making it? And what might happen to our social theory –and the human– if we take it seriously? Thought emerges with life; it is not restricted to humans. The tropical forest of the Upper Amazon, one of the world’s most complex ecosystems, amplifies the way life thinks. In the process it makes over the thoughts of those who engage with its living logics–be these Amerindians, rubber bosses, or anthropologists. Ethnographic attention to how the Amazonian Runa interact with the many beings that ‘walk’ the forests–animals, but also the dead, and spirits– renders visible some of the strange properties of living thoughts that are occluded by the ways in which our distinctively human ways of thinking have colonized how we think about thought. Allowing ourselves to think with and through forests permits us to craft conceptual tools from the world itself in ways that provincialize more distinctively human forms of thought. In the process our fundamental assumptions about context, complexity, and difference come into question, and so do the humanist forms of thinking we unwittingly take with us even when we seek to venture beyond the human. Here I explore how thinking with forests reveals a counter-intuitive “absential” logic that is central to living thoughts. Grasping this changes how we think about materiality as well as kinds, selves, futures, and the many deaths that make life possible. Learning to think with forests is crucial if we are to hold open spaces where the sylvan thinking we share with all of life (a veritable pensée sauvage) can flourish –a form of thinking that is under dire threat in this, our Anthropocene.

Eduardo Kohn is the author of How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human (September 2013, University of California Press).  He teaches anthropology at McGill University.

Karl Taube, University of California-Riverside
CANCELLED: “Of Birds, Bugs and Butterflies: Aesthetics of the Soul and Paradise in Ancient Mesoamerica”

Among the Classic Maya, one of the most developed mergings of animal and human are the spirit beings known as Wahy, an aspect of the soul related to concepts of dreaming, the night and forest wilds. Graphically portrayed and explicitly named on Late Classic Maya vases, these Wahy spirits are typically appear as dangerous, unwholesome beings blending both human and animal characteristics, including such creatures as jaguars, bats, predatory birds and insects as well as putrescent gods of death and disease. Because of the rich corpus of visual and textual material available for research, they and the wholly unpleasant underworld realm of Xibalba have dominated much of our recent understanding of Classic Maya concepts of the soul and afterlife. However, in ancient Maya thought, there was also the breath soul, which frequently appears as a bead, flower, or quetzal plume before the face of gods and nobles. Rather than dark and dank Xibalba, this breath soul pertains to a bright solar paradise of precious birds and flowering plants. In this study, I focus on the symbolism of the quetzal as a symbol of not only the floral diurnal paradise, but also the soul as well in Classic Maya thought. In addition, I describe the presence of a very similar complex at the roughly contemporaneous site of Teotihuacan, located in Central Mexico (ca. a.d. 250-600). However, in sharp contrast to the Classic Maya, the Teotihuacanos and later Aztec also considered butterflies as embodiments of the soul, whereas in Classic Maya art they only appear in the context of Teotihuacan-related imagery. With their segmented and rigid exoskeletons, insects were solidly part of the morbid Way complex rather floral paradise among the Classic Maya. Nonetheless, butterflies as well as quetzals and other precious birds do appear in portrayals of paradise at Early Postclassic Chichen Itza (ca. a.d. 900-1250), where they wear bracelets and necklaces to denote their supernatural nature as human souls, a tradition that continued to the contact period Aztec.

Karl Taube, in addition to extensive archaeological and linguistic fieldwork in Yucatan, has participated on archaeological projects in Chiapas, Mexico, coastal Ecuador, highland Peru, Copan, Honduras and in the Motagua Valley, as well as the Peten of Guatemala. Taube currently serves as the Project Iconographer for the San Bartolo Project in the Peten of Guatemala.Taube has broad interests in the archaeology and ethnology of Mesoamerica and the American Southwest, including the development of agricultural symbolism in pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica and the American Southwest, and the relation of Teotihuacan to the Classic Maya. Much of his research and publications center upon the writing and religious systems of ancient Mesoamerica, including most recently concepts of souls and the afterlife in native thought.