Speculative Realism and Animal Studies Discussion

The Inhumanities and Speculative Heresy are hosting a cross-blog event on the topic of critical animal studies from the perspective of speculative realism. The first post up – on Levinas, the Other, and animals – has set the stage for what promises to be a lively, rich discussion, centered around the following question:

While speculative realism has critiqued anthropocentrism in ontology, and critical animal studies has critiqued anthropocentrism in ethics, there has yet to be many productive connections made between the two. With each offering the other important insights, the question to be asked is, what is the relation between ethics and ontology? Does a realist ontology require the suspension of any ethical imperatives? Can ethics and norms be grounded in something real? Are nonhuman actors capable of ethical relations?

The submission/participation guidelines:

Besides the participants of the two blogs and anyone we are able to recruit to respond, we are also opening up the field for answers to anyone. All answers must be 1500-2000 words, and submissions for answers must be recieved by Friday, November 13th. Inquiries can be sent to [email protected] or to the email addresses of Scu, Greg, Craig, Ben, and Nick. I hope you are all looking forward to this event as much as we are!

I for one plan to throw my hat in the ring – on the subject of “instinct”, its epistemological history, and the way it shapes dominant scientific and philosophical conceptions of the animal.

Frankly, it’s about time critical animal studies regained some momentum and sparked some genuine interest in contemporary schools of thought. The major post-structuralist thinkers, Derrida excepting, were not too kind to this question, and the embarrassing hole they left for us desperately needs to be filled.

Pirated Theory Sites

Via Mariborcan, see Open Reflections‘ round-up of (and commentary on) the major text, philosophy, and theory sharing sites, which are:

However, as counterpoint to Janneke Adema’s echoing of John Perry Barlow‘s well-known declaration that “information wants to be free“, it should be reminded that information does not just want to be free. As Goldsmith and Wu put it in Who Controls the Internet?:

“The Internet has been celebrated for allowing open, universal communication. ‘Information wants to be free,’ John Perry Barlow famously declared. But information does not, in fact, want to be free. It wants to be labeled, organized, and filtered so it can be discovered, cross-referenced, and consumed.” (Jack Goldsmith and Tim Wu. Who Controls the Internet?: Illusions of a Borderless World. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006: 51)

With so many texts now available online, in searchable pdf format, wouldn’t it be wonderful if they could be searched, cross-referenced, tagged, etc. beforedownloading? The kind of possibilities – conceptual, and research-wise – this would open up for scholarship is mind-boggling if taken to its conclusion.

Bollywood, Rick Astley, and the Israeli Arms Industry

Amid growing international concern over the India-Israel arms trade, the Israeli firm Rafael unveiled the below marketing video — described by Stephen Trimble of The Dew Line as a “catastrophic collision of Bollywood and the arms industry” – at the Aero India 2009 defense convention in Bangalore. In the months since its posting, the video has become the errantposter-child — even earning a reprimand from The Jerusalem Post — for the new age of covert international arms trading.

Noah Shachtmann of Wired‘s DangerRoom has deemed it “the most atrocious defense video of all time, just days into the Iron Eagles — our celebration of the awesomely bad videos of the military-industrial complex”.

Every element of the promotional film is just plain wrong. The sari-clad, “Indian” dancers look all too ashkenaz and zaftig. The unshaven, hawk-nosed, leather-clad leading man appears to be a refugee fromYou Don’t Mess With the Zohan. Then of course, there’s the implication that the Indian military is somehow like a helpless woman who “need(s) to feel safe and sheltered.”

But for my rupees, the worst thing about the video is the damn theme song they’ve concocted for the thing. To pimp its weapons, Rafael produced a sitar-heavy twist on Rick Astley’s love letter to Satan, “Together Forever,” complete with a new chorus: “Dinga dinga, dinga dinga, dinga dinga, dinga dinga dee.” The rest of us now have to suffer for that bad, bad choice.

The video may be as offensive to our tastes as to our morals, but it’s also, perhaps, a sign of things to come. As a kind of post-modern pastiche of traditions and fads, light-hearted pop songs and mechanistic war, the video seems to embody perfectly the brazen disregard — where anything goes, and nothing is sacred — that we would expect from an arms dealer. Even more remarkable is the fact that these videos are themselves the product of a formula of sorts, where diverse archetypical cultural affects are combined, to easy effect. Saurabh Joshi of StratPost, the South Asian Defense news site, inquired further into Rafael’s marketing practices:

StratPost spoke to Assy Josephy the Director of Exhibitions for Rafael about how this video came about. “In Israel we have Jewish people from India, so we know about Bollywood and the song and dance numbers. Israelis are generally aware of Indian culture. This video is to help build familiarity between India and Israel and Rafael,” he says.

But this is not the first time Rafael has exhibited something of the sort. Josephy says Rafael has displayed such videos in many countries with various themes customized to the culture of the locations. “In Brazil we did a video of football. Football is very big there. In Paris the video had a theme that included Napoleon and the Renaissance. In Poland our video had themes of Chopin and Copernicus. In England it was about Shakespeare,” says Josephy.

Though we can only hope to one day get our hands on the Shakespeare defense video — an odd phrase to be sure — the greater point to be taken here is that even arms dealing can be “Epcotized”. The Rafael video is, no doubt, a classic case of a capital enterprise creating an image of cultural understanding that disguises its opposite, a generic, reproducible schema that can be ‘customized’ to capture any given culture. Only in this case, the product is a missile, not international cuisine, and the means for marketing — “culture” in quotes — is also the target.