Imagining Interspecies (NeMLA 2020 session, sponsored by the Society for Critical Exchange)
How do literary and other texts/media engage with boundaries between or among biological or other species? Where and how are boundaries blurred, crossed, superseded, undermined, suppressed, disarticulated, redefined, transcended, permeated, etc., regarding for example hybrid beings, post- or transhumanity, or the in/organic? What implications arise concerning nature, culture, social arrangements, science, technology, metaphysics, and ethics?
This session brings together various strands of current critical thought—including animal studies, new vitalism and new materialism, and studies of artificial intelligence—that apply to material ranging from ancient mythology to contemporary fantasy. Different discourses draw species boundaries differently and for different purposes, with varying results, partly dependent on institutions or political contexts that the discourses serve or are underpinned by. Scientific research and development are especially relevant, given recent advances in genetic modification and agricultural hybridization. Besides questions of where boundaries lie and who can draw them, a central concern is the ethics of relations among species. Cultural considerations include how boundaries change historically—particularly, how the nature of the human becomes defined. For example, species distinctions have often been implied or expressed in articulations of race. Focusing on the human species raises questions about the location of consciousness and subjectivity (prompting similar questions regarding other species), including matters of shared subjectivity amid the sociality of organisms and what constitutes a discrete organism. The distinction between the organic and inorganic comes under interrogation, also, particularly regarding human/technological hybridity. Addressing subjectivity and consciousness involves how a boundary is encountered, affectively or cognitively, and how articulated—its semiosis and the ways it may be experienced. The negotiation and contestation of boundaries raises legal concerns, such as rights and the enforcement of boundaries.
Abstracts for 15-20 minute papers. NeMLA Convention in Boston, 5-8 March 2020.