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Discussions

Please see the site menu for the discussion board for “Moving Beyond the Logic of Sacrifice.” Students only need to post in one of the threads. Bonus if you post to two or respond to another student’s post.

Discussion Leaders post to the blog in order to facilitate the in-class discussion through a deeper engagement with the exhibit text and questions for further analysis. When posting to the blog please remember to include the category for your post, which is “discussions.” You can find the category in the the “document” tab to the right of the text window when writing your post.

The Universe of things

The Universe of things by Gwyneth Jones is a short story that takes place in the future where humans and aliens are able to coexist and interact with each other on a daily basis. It’s through the point of view of a mechanic who is trying to help an alien with their car but throughout the story, the mechanic is judgemental and shows disgust and distrust towards the alien for just existing and being around him. For example, when he is in the presence of the alien he judges every aspect of it. From how they look, speak, and their facial gestures. Although, It seems as though a lot of people in this future society are used to seeing and sharing their space with aliens because when the alien walked into the mechanic shop no one acted surprised or amazed but there is still some sort of amazement about them because the mechanic knew that the alien’s car could get featured on the news and it would be good for his business. But there is also this distinction that the mechanic makes of “us vs them”, “human vs alien” because of how different they are and even tries to make the alien seem less worthy or something beneath by referring to the alien as “an animal dressed up, a talking animal from a children’s cartoon”. This story can be seen as humans fearing and feeling anxious towards something that we don’t understand because it’s so different from what we’re used to. For example when the mechanic has a sort of hallucination about his tools coming alive similarly to how the alien’s tools are alive, he is terrified and nauseated and relieved to see that his tools are “normal” and that he’s just an ordinary human.

This short story about a human, looking down upon and judging this alien while also fearing it can also be interpreted as to how in today’s society we treat and view our current “aliens”, immigrants and other minority groups who are viewed as less and treated poorly. One part of the story that stood out to me and helped me make the connection to how we treat immigrants in today’s society was when the alien first spoke to the mechanic. “He wasn’t surprised that it could speak English; he’d only imagine it would not trouble itself to do so.” Many people who immigrate from foreign countries are usually condemned for not speaking English or not even trying/bothering to learn the language.  Also, the way that mechanic judges the alien for how it looks and how it expresses itself with gestures that are seen as different from human gestures can be seen in today’s society and how people hold ethnocentric views about others and their cultures. 

Questions: 

  1. What does this short story show us/reveal about how we treat others for being different?
  2. How is the quote “People fear what they don’t understand and hate what they can’t conquer” (Andrew Smith) relate to or is shown in this story?

The Universe of Things

In Gwyneth Jones’ short story, The Universe Of Things, there is a general understanding that there is a rift between humans and aliens and a strong human stigmatization of the aliens themselves. The story takes place in a futuristic model of Earth where humans and aliens frequently interact with each other, where such interaction is normalized to some extent. However, despite this normalization humans still seem to be disgusted by the alien visitors and mistreat them. This can be highlighted by the fact that the aliens are ridiculed by humans where “people would crowed around [them] heartlessly, pointing their cameras” (54), in other words the aliens are treated like a roadside attraction. The alien also “did not expect humans to behave reasonably”( 53) which implies that it commonly came across humans who treated it in a rude and unreasonable manner thus suggesting that humans typically mistreat the aliens. The fact that it was stated that “aliens traveling alone were rarities” (54) also suggests that aliens are prone to experiencing human violence and as a result travel in groups for protection. Even those who do not directly express hatred and violence towards the aliens, still seem to hold hateful views. For instance, although the mechanic attempts to treat the alien with respect and even offers it hospitality, in reality he is embarrassed by the alien’s presence, is uncomfortable with the thought of having it in his home and is even disgusted by the alien itself when thinking about the bacteria it carries. Although this short story is a work of fiction, it is no coincidence that the human treatment of the aliens is parallel to how humans treat each other in today’s society. Just as the aliens encounter mistreatment in the human society, so do people of color, ethnic/religious minorities, women, members of the LGBTQ+ community and other oppressed groups encounter mistreatment in today’s society.  

In addition to drawing parallels between the aliens’ mistreatment in the short story and peoples mistreatment of each other in today’s society, Jones also employs irony throughout the text. Since this is a futuristic society where extraterrestrial life and other life bearing planets have been exposed to Earth, it would be expected that all Earth life forms or humans at least would develop a sense of Earth unity just as people would establish a national unity or identity within a country. There may not be a common culture but there would at least be an acknowledgement of unity. However it is evident that no such Earth unity or even human unity has occurred since humans still seem to alienate or categorize each other and other earth life forms into different groups, despite that the fact they are the same species or derive from the same planet. For instance the mechanic states that he has no connection with earth animals and even compares the alien, a non earth derived life form, to an earth animal. This, in turn, shows that humans still insist on distancing themselves and placing themselves above other life forms rather than acknowledging that they are equal and even derive from the same biological ancestor as expressed by the evolutionary theory.

Discussion Questions

  1. In what ways is the human mistreatment of the aliens similar to how people in today’s society treat oppressed groups?
  2. In what other ways do humans distance themselves from earth life forms within the story and what is the significance of this?

Reading for Tuesday

Hi All,

The text we will read for next week is posted in the Resources page. It begins on page 19 and the selection we will discuss in class is pages 19-31. These are not many pages but you may find them challenging and should make time to read them. They reference the humanities in general and some theoretical ideas that have been important to literary criticism since the beginning of the 21st century. Try not to get bogged down in any one section but try, also, to look some things up when you come across material or words that are unfamiliar to you.

One term that comes up is “affect.” Affect is similar to, but very different from, feeling or emotion. The word refers to the sense of intensity that bodies can pick up on, a sense that is “prepersonal.” Here is a link to a more elaborate and specific definition to the way that “affect” written about in the Humanities.

The first half of this reading–the selection we will discuss on Tuesday–is mostly about the field of Animal Studies and the Humanities. It will prepare us to discuss the course theme, posthumanism, from the perspective of animal studies. The references to subjectivity should remind you of the discussion we had a week ago about the concept of a subject as a person who can exert his (historically male, European) will, freely–separate from the wills of others–upon an external environment or situation in order to achieve his own ends. This traditional Humanist concept of the subject has received criticism and developed greater complexity, especially through the 20th century. The term refers to the “individuality” of a person, but that individuality has been questioned by thinkers who notice our conformist tendencies, on the one hand–in which we take social constructs to be personal preferences and, as part of our “uniqueness,” want what everyone else wants–and it has been questioned by thinkers who notice how interconnected we are with medical and digital technologies. A long line of thinkers have criticized the liberal human subject and we will only be able to look at a few of them this semester. For now, I think it just helps to know that the audience to whom Lynn Worsham has written her essay is very familiar with this long history. Even so, it is a very accessible essay for readers who are not her intended audience.

When we delve into the second half, Worsham will establish a vocabulary for thinking about ethics and trauma, and these may be helpful for thinking about our world today as well as the literature we will read this semester.

If you have difficulty following the text, remember to read ACTIVELY. That is, write questions in the margin, write a definition in a margin, try to write what you read in your own words if you feel it is an important part of the writer’s argument, and freewrite a response to a section of the reading to help you prepare a response and questions for class on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, you will be asked in your in-class writing a kind of “quiz” question. I will ask you to explain the following quotation and what the quotation explains in the essay selection:

“Even if any given terminology is a reflection of reality, by its very nature as a terminology it must be a selection of reality; and to this extent it must function as a deflection of reality.”

The Lives of Animals by J.M Coetzee

The Lives of Animals written by J.M. Coetzee is  discusses the bases and the ethics of social morality, in this case, in regard to the mistreatment of certain individuals or species that lack of either physical, racial, religious or genetic resemblance to certain groups on which the power lays, leading to violence. Coetzee aims to the use his mother’s sympathy, but nonetheless our hypocrisy towards animals and the cruelty and sadism that is the foundation of our relationship with them. Initially, Costello who is the author’s mother, compares and contrast the event of the Holocaust in World War II with the abuses and exploitation of animals. For instance, Elizabeth’s ideals to show us how the connotation given to animals reflect our society, the dehumanization and mass industrialized murder of the Jews in the concentration camps by Nazi Germany is contrasted with the treatment of ‘beasts’ in the meet industry and how similar the views of the people ‘who didn’t know’ or didn’t want to know the brutal reality of the camps is similar to those who ignores the aimless abuses committed by the meat industry or society in general just because society “could not afford to know, for their own sake”(19). In other words, the use of animals can be utilized to represent certain behavioral patterns present within our society that have affected us individually and collectively, because animals aren’t usually seen as equal, therefore their mistreatments are justified as certain behaviors have been justified int the past, and will be justified in the future.

On the other hand, the author brings up the feelings of superiority that humans portray towards others are based upon our ‘use of reason’ as a primary source for social and collective success. However, the lack of proper reason which supposedly is the human distinction that we as society claims as our strength is the real problem and the origin of our mistreatment and abuses to those who are exponentially weaker to our ‘reason’. It is also worth mentioning the misconception we have of the mental capacities of animals to understand their environment, adapt to it and their response to certain situations. Such is the case of Sultan, which is an ape exposed to scientific brutality in the name of discovery by Wolfgang Kohler in the 1920s, and she also points the aimless nature of this type of abuses, since they bring no benefits to our society, rather they serve a ‘justification’ to feed the fragile ego of those who delight themselves with the ‘beauty’ of power. The experiment never addreses any psychological or physical damage the ape might experience, once again reinforcing our lack of empathy. Nonetheless, Sultan who was repeatedly deprived of his bananas until he figured a proper way into avoiding induced starvation. Confronted a variety of challenges in order to fulfil a basic biological need, but with the use of reason on his own way, Sultan succeeds and by demonstrating this elementary form of reasoning completely destroying this preconception that animals lack of reason, and hence, that trait that enables us to feel superior and with a right over others, get completely crushed.

Ultimately, this novel allows us to reconsider our behaviors towards others throughout history, towards animals, and in some regards towards our own specie.

  1. Is the abuse of animals justified by any means? Or is it a simply self-obtained behavior due to our Darwinian superiority?
  2. How does the phrase ‘treated as beast’ plays a role in the comparison of the Nazi Germany’s mistreatment of Jews with the abuses against animals?

The Lives of Animals

In the reading “The Lives of Animals” it was interesting to see how the family has different opinions about what is the right treatment for an animal and how Elizabeth Costello is questioned for speaking up for what she believes in. As I was reading the story I noticed that Norma and John seem to be distant from Costello because of the things that she says and is questioned as if she was doing something wrong. Norma thinks that Elizabeth’s “books are overrated”(17) and that “her opinions on animal consciousness and ethical relations with animals are jejune and sentimental”(17). Norma does not agree with the ideas of Elizabeth and doesn’t understand why she’s the one that’s going to be giving a lecture. Also Norma’s actions during the lecture showed that she either was irritated or jealous of Costello since she just couldn’t stand to be at the lecture anymore and just wanted to leave. Costello gives various examples about where there has been cruelty to human beings as well as animals. One of the reasons that people rely on animals is because they have sort of a connection together which is why they become a part of a family. There are animals that are mistreated and their lives are risked just for an experiment without knowing what the results are actually going to be. In the experiment done by the Nazis to the Jews it was done without the consent of the Jews because they were forced to. The Jews did not have an option to choose from and their rights were taken away. They were treated as animals which was devastating to even see while some did not even have food to eat. As a result they ended up hurt mentally and emotionally by the situations that they were forced to go through. The story is implying that animals are just like humans because they have feelings and that their existence is very important. There are people who don’t realize the mistakes that they make by hurting animals or even other people can be dangerous and hurtful. 

Discussion Questions: What was the real intention for Coetzee in writing the story about the cruelty of animals? What can people do to prevent animal cruelty?

What does the tone of Norma say about her during the lecture? Is she justified for her actions?

*link fixed!*Revised Grading Contract

*link fixed!*Revised Grading Contract

Here is the link for the revised grading contract that you will sign via Google Forms. The Google account here is a Queens-specific account, contracted by the college, and will not collect or use information or data about you for commercial purposes. https://forms.gle/m1X6pRkMx1qAupfh9

Here is the link for your print copy of the grading contract. Please print it out and include it in your course documents for reference during the semester and for completion of your portfolio at the semester’s end. https://www.dropbox.com/s/8b0p94uymezx9iz/REVISEDGrading%20Contract.docx?dl=0

Here is the link for your print copy of the Participation Journal Log. I will request it as a midterm assignment (as part of the informal writing) and at the end as a part of the portfolio. https://www.dropbox.com/s/sanndu4hl0l8v9m/Participation%20Labor%20Journal.docx?dl=0

Here is a link for a Google Sheets version of the Participation Journal Log if you prefer to keep it in this format. Make a copy for yourself of this template to create a version that you can fill out. https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1q1tF1sRnhhE282jES6mApFKnpzqx11FMGCPRBMfL4FM/edit?usp=sharing

Here is the Checklist for Completed Semester Labor. It will help you keep track of your grade. https://www.dropbox.com/s/wy7ha5fvx8f6wpb/Checklist%20for%20Completed%20Semester%20Labor.docx?dl=0