Oct 3, Week 6: Cary Wolfe, “From Dead Meat to Glow-in-the-Dark Bunnies: The Animal Question in Contemporary Art,” What is Posthumanism?, Minnesota U Press, 2010.
Sue Coe, “Standing Pig” (1993) Thomas Eakins, “The Gross Clinic” (1875)
In chapter 3 of his book, Wolfe states, “my point here will be not to pursue a kind of “more-posthumanist-than-thou” sweepstakes but to bring out in a detailed way how the admirable impulses behind any variety of philosophy that challenges anthropocentrism and speciesism – impulses that I respect wherever they may be found – demand a certain reconfiguration of what philosophy (or “theory”) is and how it can (and cannot) respond to the challenge…of sharing the planet with nonhuman subjects and treating them justly. (62) The present moment, he suggests, is one in which “[t]he human occupies a new place in the universe, a universe now populated by what I am prepared to call nonhuman subjects. And this is why, to me, posthumanism means not the triumphal surpassing or unmasking of something but an increase in the vigilance, responsibility, and humility that accompany living in a world so newly, and differently, inhabited.” (47)
Chapter 6, for instance, compares the art of Sue Coe to that of Eduardo Kac. Although each figure addresses “the ethical standing of (at least some) nonhuman animals” (145), there is an important difference – one that illustrates very clearly the spectrum of posthumanisms identified earlier by Wolfe. Coe’s work is posthumanist in an “obvious and thematic sense” (166), but is “humanist in a crucial sense…[because] it relies on a subject from whom nothing, in principle, is hidden” (167). In her representationalism, looking looks healthy; “Man” lives to see the light of day. In Kac’s art, by way of contrast, “visuality itself – as the human sensory apparatus par excellence – is…thoroughly decentered and subjected to a rather different kind of logic” (162). Unlike Coe, Kac “subverts the centrality of the human and of anthropocentric modes of knowing and experiencing the world by displacing the centrality of its metonymic stand-in, human (and humanist) visuality.”