SLSA Annual Conference, Portland, ME, Nov 1 – 4
Posted by lisagbrown on November 9, 2007
This past weekend I had the great pleasure of attending the annual conference of the Society for Literature, Science and the Arts in Portland, Maine. The theme of the conference was “coding” and I spoke on a panel with Ronnie Copeland and Bill Lynn. Ronnie presented, “What’s in a Name? Animal Fantasies and Animal Autobiographies or Blatant Anthropomorphism? Naturalist Novels of Nature Fakers? Sentimental or Subversive?” Bill presented a paper entitled, “Coding Wolves.” I presented my paper, entitled, “The Speaking Animal: Graphic Novels and the Voices of Nonhumans.” (An abstract of each paper is available on the SLSA website, along with a full program of the weekend’s events.)
Our presentations generated a dynamic and spirited discussion about the authenticity of the animal voice in fiction. Some audience members clung to the notion that anthropomorphism is a dirty word. This perspective is not uncommon, so while it was frustrating to have to defend the concept of inhabiting the mind of an animal, it was also useful to be reminded that anthropomorphism is a tool which meets resistance, even within the animal studies community. Those voices of dissent against our panel represented people who believe that the nonhuman experience of life is so foreign to our own that it is impossible for us to relate to them in any genuine way. I find this perspective very limiting, both artistically and politically. The audience members seemed to suggest we don’t have the imagination to explore what it might be like to be a nonhuman. I agree that a dog has a very unique way of seeing the world because of his or her reliance on olfactory sensations, but it would be sad to think we couldn’t even imagine such a unique way of seeing. The disquieting perspective of our human audience members relied very heavily on the differences between humans and nonhumans, and all but extinguished the similarities. This world view has the potential to extend beyond the creative realm and enter into very real policy concerns. How could we pretend to make laws, policies or decisions that claim to be in the animals’ best interests, if we cannot imagine what those interests might be? This is a circular and dangerous form of logic that can potentially threaten the limited progress we’ve made on behalf of animals.
Nevertheless, this discussion was just the start of a compelling weekend which brought together scholars from many different disciplines. With many thanks to conference organizer Susan McHugh (University of New England) animals played a significant role in panels and presentations throughout the conference. Watch my blog in the coming weeks for more information about some of the incredible people I met and heard throughout the weekend.