Vol. 2 No. 2 (2013) Animals and Aesthetics

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Mandy-Suzanne Wong

Introductory Editorial:  Snail, Shark, Spirit (pp. 1-17)


Gray Kochhar-Lindgren and Kanta Kochhar-Lindgren

Collision:  Scratch:  Garbage, Scores, and the Event (pp. 20-33)

This essay examines the scratch as it relates to garbage, scores, and the event. Garbage is that which is cast aside as social systems form themselves, and, as such, is always destined to return. Scores are both methodological maps and experimental artistic methods. And the event, in this context, is the opening that enables both the determination of form and the emergence of the unexpected.

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David Cecchetto

The Sonic Effect:  Aurality and Digital Networks in Exurbia (pp. 34-62)

This essay examines the problem of medial specificity in music and sound art, giving particular attention to Seth Kim-Cohen’s call for a non-cochlear sound art based on the notion of “expansion” that has been decisive in visual arts discourses. I argue that Kim-Cohen’s non-cochlear intervention in In the Blink of an Ear might be productively pressured towards the concept of a “sonic effect” that acknowledges the material-discursive particularity of sound without recourse to the phenomenological claims of authenticity that Kim-Cohen correctly abhors. In service of this argument, the essay extensively discusses a sound and media artwork – Exurbia, created by myself and William Brent – that leverages the metaphorics of sound against existing understandings of specific forms of network communication. I argue that the conceptual and material dimensions of the project stridulate in a hum of recursive vectors for considering the constitution and consequences of networked aural interaction. Exurbia can thus be parsed in terms of medial specificity precisely because its digital aural materials are themselves discursive.

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Animals and Aesthetics

J. Marie Griggs

Collision:  Failed Aesthetics:  Life as a Rupturing Narrative (pp. 64-77)

For this collision, the role of nonhuman animals as woodland theater and naturalizing agents is questioned. In remediated sites, animals are actors that legitimize everyday pollution, oppression and violence. How can the lived realities of nonhuman animals be embraced without naturalizing the discourse that externalizes those lives? As life and industrial-nature cohere, how might aesthetics engender agency in recovery?

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Holly Watkins

Music Between Reaction and Response (pp. 78-97)

Two Greek myths attest to the power of music to blur distinctions between humans and nonhumans: Orpheus made music that inspired human-like attention in animals, trees, and stones, while the Sirens reduced passing sailors to the level of animals incapable of resisting their song. Recast in terms employed by Lacan, these myths portray music as calling forth a response in creatures thought merely able to react and, contrariwise, stripping away the capacity for response in humans, leaving nothing but reaction in its place. Critiquing Lacan’s dogmatic distinction between human and animal behavior, Derrida questioned the “purity and indivisibility” of reaction and response and recommended that critics explore the involvement of both in “the whole differentiated field of experience and of a world of life-forms.” In this essay, I take up Derrida’s challenge with regard to music as it has been understood in the European aesthetic tradition. While music has long been considered capable of provoking highly refined cognitive and emotional responses, it also acts upon the body in a wide variety of ways, many of them involuntary – a fact that has struck music’s advocates as alternately promising and disturbing. Revisiting eighteenth- and nineteenth-century commentaries by the philosophers and critics Johann Georg Sulzer, Johann Gottfried Herder, and Eduard Hanslick, I first illuminate persistent anxieties over the admixture of reaction and response in musical listening. I then turn to recent ethological studies in order to argue against any decisive separation of the human from the nonhuman in the arena of musical aesthetics.

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Andrew Hageman

Collision:  Dead Whale Watching  (pp. 98-110)

This collision explores ecological aesthetics through two encounters with dead whales: one literary and one osseous . The literary animal is the taxidermied whale that drives the narrative of László Krasznahorkai’s 1989 novel The Melancholy of Resistance, and the osseous encounter involves a bench made of one jawbone and one rib from a baleen whale. Considered together, the immense totality of the taxidermied whale and the metonymic bones provide unsettling aesthetic insights into ecological matters of interconnectedness – of the relationships between parts and wholes and amongst parts within a whole or wholes. Through analyses of the visual, literary, and haptic aspects of these encounters, this paper raises questions about what it means to perceive and think about ecology through aesthetic encounters with non-human animal bones and taxidermied bodies.

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Eric v.d. Luft

Bullough, Pepper, Merleau-Ponty, and the Phenomenology of Perceiving Animals (pp. 111-123)

The process of optimizing psychical distance to achieve the best possible aesthetic effect has been well-known among philosophers of art ever since Edward Bullough formulated the concept in 1912. Although it is typically analyzed as a one-way process, it nevertheless becomes a reciprocal or intersubjective process when the object of our aesthetic perception is our “other.” This is equally true for animal “others” as for our fellow human “others.” Anything animate can fix us in its gaze and thereby prompt or even force us toward self-confrontation as an object of someone or something else’s perception. This reciprocity may be manifest as a sort of psychological pas de deux between the two confronting subjects, each confronting the other as object, each recognizing the other as subject, and each confronting its own self as recognizer of this relationship and recipient of this attention. The level of our awareness of our being an object for some “other” subject has a proportionately significant impact on our aesthetic perception of this “other, ” i.e., the fact that an “other” perceives us adds a dimension of “unnatural” intersubjectivity which changes our aesthetic appreciation of that “other.”

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