Paper delivered at the conference Perspectives in Humanities and Social Sciences, Hinting at

Interdisciplinarity; 3rd Edition: Figures of Migration, Iaşi, Romania, 19-20 May, 2016,
“Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University

Migrating Otherness: Posthumanism and the Rise of Human-Animal Studies

Classifying the line of separation that humans have placed between themselves and nonhuman animals as
“arrogance,” in his 1917 paper “A Difficulty in the Path of Psycho-analysis,” Freud speaks about three important
scientific blows given to Man’s self-love: the cosmological or Copernican one (the discovery that we are not in the
center of the Universe), the biological or Darwinian one (the discovery that we are not different from animals) and
the psychological or Freudian one (the discovery that we are not the masters of our own minds). Yet, almost a
century after Freud, has humanity really stopped being fascinated with its own image? Is it finally ready to move
towards other than its own otherness? This papers discusses the emerging, rapidly growing and profoundly
interdisciplinary field of human-animal studies in the larger context of the migration from humanism to

posthumanism, human-animal studies, interdisciplinarity, alterity, nonhuman other

In Isaac Bashevis Singer’s “The Letter-Writer,” the main character, Herman Gombiner, a Jewish
middle-aged man from Poland whose entire family had been killed by the Nazis during the
Holocaust, works as an editor and lives a reclusive life in New York. One day, a mouse appears
in his book-stacked apartment. To keep it from chewing on the books, he carefully lays out a
little bit of food for her every day. He names the mouse “Huldah.” At one point during the story,
believing Huldah to be dead, Herman composes a kind of eulogy for her in his head, saying:
“What do they know—all those scholars, all those philosophers, all the leaders of the world—
about such as you? They have convinced themselves that man, the worst transgressor of all the
species, is the crown of creation. All other creatures were created merely to provide him with
food, pelts, to be tormented, exterminated. In relation to them, all people are Nazis; for the
animals it is an eternal Treblinka”2.
While the contention that “in relation to them, all people are Nazis” may seem excessively
radical or even antihumanist to some (although, as Anat Pick points out, the National Socialists

“Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University, Iasi

2 I.B. Singer, The Letter-Writer. The Collected Stories, Penguin Classics, London,
2011, p.311.

3. Columbia University Press.” or H. their significance and their 3 A. J. the “dance of relating”5 between humans and members of other species. 50.4. ethologists or behaviorists? One of the popular misconceptions is that human-animal studies focuses only on animals or on studying animals. Feminism. Iaşi. p. research groups or networks. in fact. conferences and even universities offering undergraduate degrees in the field. If fields such as zoology. . Yet.A. as well as its contribution or involvement in the larger movement towards posthumanism. gender. its scope. Main Body The first questions that may usually arise in this case are: “what exactly is Human-Animal Studies and how is it connected to the humanities?” Are animals not already studied enough by biologists. vol. in recent years. 2011. Haraway. 19-20 May. Postcolonialism or even Queer Studies. When Species Meet. Columbia University Press. the mutuallytransforming “becoming-with” the other6. Pick.A. Hinting at Interdisciplinarity. often invoked by those responsible for the Holocaust3) Herman’s question remains a valid one: what do we indeed know about such as them? Cultural Studies. consistently ignored: the nonhuman other. 4 M. p. New York. in the following we seek to familiarize the reader with the emergence of Human-Animal Studies. 2012. University of Minnesota Press. “Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University were not radically opposed to humanism. but also courses. Creaturely Poetics: Animality and Vulnerability in Literature and Film. p. It is about both humans and animals (hence the hyphenated name): animals seen and represented through human eyes. ethology or comparative psychology focus on studying animals per se 7 then human-animal studies explores the points of intersection or the various encounters between humans and animals. This important oversight prompted the emergence of a new scholarly field now commonly known under the general name of “Human-Animal Studies. the idea of human progress was. one particular “other” and perhaps the most “other” or “others. 3rd Edition: Figures of Migration.” was being. but also humans as they might be seen through animal eyes. while all these facets of human alterity were being considered. The key word in this definition is “interaction. 2016.” or as Donna Haraway puts it.S in its abbreviated form.S. DeMello. Margo DeMello defines it as the exploration of “the spaces that animals occupy in human social and cultural worlds and the interactions humans have with them”4. main directions and basic tenets. ethnicity or sexual orientation. 5 D. Consequently. Despite its rapidly growing popularity.25. What initially started as niche scholarly work has. literally boomed into quite a vast domain of its own: there are not only academic journals dedicated to H. Animals and Society: an Introduction to Human-Animal Studies. have endeavored to explore the question of otherness: the otherness involved in the perception and representation of race. Romania.Paper delivered at the conference Perspectives in Humanities and Social Sciences. book series. it still remains largely unknown in many academic circles where mentioning this name risks provoking expressions of puzzlement or even bewilderment. with few exceptions. Minneapolis. Posthumanities. 2008. New York.

By wagging his tail and “saluting” them with typical doggy friendliness and enthusiasm. just to see. one's sex exposed. a stray dubbed by Levinas “the last Kantian of Nazi Germany” 9.153.and multidisciplinarity). 9 E. Critical Inquiry.” 7 M. “Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University representations in fiction. as he points out.38.. especially in its posthumanist strand. or extra-lucid blind person”8. into a single word) has turned him into one of the leading figures in the field of H. Iaşi. visionary. including women and children. 2016. 8 J. The term “becoming-with” is actually borrowed from Deleuze and Guattari’s “Becoming-Animal” in “A Thousand Plateaus. for instance. philosophy and many other areas (we shall shortly return to its inter. 372. “The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow)”. 19-20 May. an encounter which is relayed in his “The Animal That Therefore I Am. Levinas. who threw disgusted looks at the prisoners. animals are already naked): “against the impropriety that comes of finding oneself naked. Animals and. Derrida’s repeated engagement with the question of the animal (although he warns against using the general term “animal” which “encages” all animals. but in its analysis of the intersections between humans and other species. poetry. Bobby “greeted” them by wagging his tail. Derrida. linguistically.” He designates the term “animalséance” to describe the paradoxical feeling of shame experienced when one’s nakedness meets. p. made them aware of their own humanity. DeMello. 6 Ibid. vol. Bobby acknowledged them as humans. thus deepening their already profound feeling of “dehumanization” (although from a posthumanist perspective the term itself is problematic). the gaze of a cat (paradoxical because. coming. Baltimore. mass-media. p. in front of the insistent gaze of the animal.A.2. This particular gesture. Hinting at Interdisciplinarity.Paper delivered at the conference Perspectives in Humanities and Social Sciences. wandered into a concentration camp. 3rd Edition: Figures of Migration. from a nonhuman. surprised or cognizant. edition. it may yield new perspectives on the human animal as well. from that point on one might call it a kind of animalséance: the single. . One famous example of such an encounter is that between Derrida (rather Derrida’s nudity. no.. Romania.” Bobby. From these two examples one may already see how the scope of this scholarly field is not limited to the study of animals. translated by Sean Hean. film. 4-5. Difficult Freedom: Essays on Judaism.. 2002. ironically. pp. a benevolent or pitiless gaze. to be more specific) and his cat. The gaze of a seer.S. qtd. p. incomparable and original experience of the impropriety that would come from appearing in truth naked.28.. In stark contrast with the human passers-by. stark naked before a cat that looks at you without moving. Another such illustrious human-animal encounter is recounted by Emanuel Levinas in a short piece called “The Name of a Dog or Natural Rights. The impropriety [malséance] of a certain animal nude before the other animal. It was precisely this version of humanity seen through nonhuman eyes which re-entrusted them to their own identity. 1997. Johns Hopkins University Press.

It is interesting to note. The “traditional humanist. on the other hand.” Critical Animal Studies. the Discourse of the Species and Posthumanist Theory.Paper delivered at the conference Perspectives in Humanities and Social Sciences. one of the tasks of posthumanist theory is to “decenter the human and the visual from its privileged place as the transcendental signifier to which all other phenomenological differences are referred for meaning”14. 2016. to Wolfe. Iaşi. DeMello. Animals and. humanist. focus 10 M. qtd. vol. being heavily influenced by deconstruction. While the former operates more on the theoretical level. DeMello. Drawing from Freud’s “Civilization and Its Discontents. “understanding. of course. defined by DeMello as “an academic field of study dedicated to the abolition of animal exploitation. p. therefore. 2003.. Psychology or Film or Media Studies to Gender. 16 M. our own (animal) otherness. oppression. 2015. 12 C. Wolfe’s and Haraway’s contributions are representative of the posthumanist line of thought which features prominently in the field of Human-Animal Studies. edition. 19-20 May. 4. “Posthumanist Compassions”. p.1468. The University of Chicago Press. p.130.” Cary Wolfe notes how the repression of man’s animality is tied to the privileging of sight over other senses12. including.. “Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University As DeMello points out. but itself lies at the intersection between various fields from Literary Studies. how we use the term “seeing” to denote the process of understanding: as humans. Animals and Society. 11 Ibid. p.. and by “seeing” she means. Derrida’s. Animal Rites: American Culture. 3rd Edition: Figures of Migration. Philosophy. as we shall see. 5.” he says. qtd. This is why. 13 Ibid. 9. 15 E. and domination” 16 is generally constructed around animal rights activism. Linguistics. p. Human-Animal Studies is both interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary. 4.. Romania.5. DeMello calls it simply “a way of seeing”11. supplies us with a way of understanding both ourselves and the other. Chicago. Wolfe. the posthumanists rather emphasize the idea of compassion. intimidating or “unnerving”13. p. no. Not only does it study intersections between animals and humans. the latter is usually associated with something known as “critical animal studies. coming in contrast with the rationalist.. finds animals’ (other) ways of knowing. that is “it is a field of study that crosses disciplinary boundaries and is itself composed of several disciplines”10. 7. The posthumanists. p.3. however. Hinting at Interdisciplinarity.. Trauma and Disability Studies. we grasp the world preponderantly with our sense of sight. for instance a dog’s way of perceiving the world primarily through his sense of smell.. . Arnould-Bloomfield. edition. As Elisabeth Arnould-Bloomfield shows. 14 Ibid. PMLA.” HumanAnimal Studies.. Enlightenment-based sympathy theory which instead advocates a “justice-and-rights” approach15.

20 K. DeMello. Human-Animal Studies: Growing the Field. “human” is generally defined as “not animal. they seek to challenge to Human/Animal binary itself. 2008.” even though the human is also an animal19. Basically. Hinting at Interdisciplinarity. qtd. If up to this point we have tackled the “what” (what the field is largely concerned with). there are variations in the posthumanist camp as well: for instance. In this sense. in turn. the second reason for Human-Animal Studies is that we are animals ourselves.Paper delivered at the conference Perspectives in Humanities and Social Sciences. Shapiro. since it tore 17 E. The ignored alterity of animals is not only a radical otherness. 1467-1476. The fact that it was disregarded for so long points to the insufficiencies of both cultural studies in particular and humanism in general. Animals and Society. clothing. p. The second reason for Human-Animal Studies is that when we re-examine animals. but also a pervasive one: it can be observed everywhere. we have barely touched upon the question of “why”: why (do we need) human-animal studies? The answer to this question gives us three main possible directions worth exploring. 2016. the name “human-animal studies” is essentially a misnomer. even the definition of the categories “human” and “animal” is problematic. 3rd Edition: Figures of Migration. in the wild. Iaşi. At the same time..A. although a complete renunciation is impossible. Applying the Field. or in more unfortunate cases.. 19 M. being far more widespread than any facet of human alterity. 15. pp. This repression is so powerful that Freud lists it as one of motivations behind the resistance to both Darwin’s theory and psychoanalysis: “powerful human feelings are hurt by the subject matter of the theory. As DeMello shows.S17. 18 Ibid. Animals and Society Institute. it is as if one said “tomatoes and vegetables”20. in zoos or circuses. edition.. p. 19-20 May. Darwin’s theory of descent met with the same fate. “Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University on the “radical otherness” of nonhuman animals and the deconstruction of “humanist assumptions” still at work in the field of H. forces us to re-examine ourselves. one must define “human” and paradoxically enough. Romania. both as individuals and as a species. since humans are already animals. qtd.1468. we must reexamine our treatment of and encounters with them and this. edition. “Posthumanist Compassions”. on the streets (especially in Romania). or in even more unfortunate cases. The history of the evolution of mankind itself is built on the backs of animals. butchered and served on our plates or turned into things that we wear. p.7 .. In other words. Arnould-Bloomfield. Ann Arbor. diverges from Haraway’s relational model which focuses on the human-animal relational dance of interactions18. repress their own animality. who have diligently “served” as means of transportation. albeit ones that. The first reason is quite simple: we are surrounded by animals. Derrida’s “passivity” approach. as Kenneth Shapiro points out. Our lives are packed with animal encounters: in our homes. To define “animal”. entertainment or protection. To exist in human society we must relinquish the animal in us. food.. based on the idea of the impossibility of comprehending the other’s pain. as we know from Freud.

still belongs to the same category as the big animal” 22. toys or superheroes that usually have animal features. more deserving than them?” Whether a complete deconstruction of anthropocentrism is possible or not is debatable.R. The Standard Edition of the Complete Works of Sigmund Freud. The Resistances to Psycho-analysis. Freud. p. as Freud would say. 54. Hinting at Interdisciplinarity.” it cannot question or “destabilize” the “schema of the human who undertakes such pluralization”24. 19. the third reason for Human-Animal Studies is the need to challenge. theology.A. In their eyes. Doidge. What is Posthumanism? Posthumanities vol. 2014. he observes. history or literature). Drawing from a passage in Freud’s “Totem and Taboo. 2001. Iaşi. 22 S. As outlined above. 19-20 May. 134.Paper delivered at the conference Perspectives in Humanities and Social Sciences. philosophy. what is certain. In other words. The Standard Edition of the Complete Works of Sigmund Freud.” Norman Doidge uses the term “animalphilic stage”23 to refer to children’s ease. 8. University of Minnesota Press. Romania. Karnac Books. psychology. If the second reason is provided by our own repressed animality. 20. vol. H. but also fascination with animals which is evident. p. is by definition to continue to be anthropocentric. however. not only that exaggerated line of separation between humans and animals. the grown man. London. Symptoms and Anxiety. the line of separation between humans and animals is very thin or even almost nonexistent as they “do not as yet recognize or. In children. at any rate. to continue to work within the humanistic framework. p. Minneapolis. Freud. As Cary Wolfe indicates. “from without”. 2001. 24 C. p. Vintage Books. London. the question is not only “what do we know about such as them?” but also “how can we truly know about such them if the preexistent premise is that we are better. 221. vol. “Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University down the barrier that had been arrogantly set up between man and beasts” 21.S and H. 3rd Edition: Figures of Migration. 23 N. is that it cannot take place within the confines of humanism. to deconstruct the deeply-embedded human/animal binary. which although part of ourselves is pushed into an otherness. 2010. “Dreams of Animals” in Cultural Zoo: Animals in the Human Mind and Its Sublimation. Inhibitions.A.S-related works strive to challenge the idea of anthropocentrism (wherever it appears: whether in language. 103. Conclusion The current migration from humanism to posthumanism has opened to possibility for new interdisciplinary fields such as Human-Animal Studies to appear on the academic scene. While liberal humanism may become inclusive of “previously marginalized groups. lay such exaggerated stress upon the gulf that separates human beings from the animal world. even when analyzing animals. the object of their fear and admiration. in cartoons. . but also the absolute centrality and supremacy of Man itself. for instance. London. 2016. to bring novel perspectives 21 S. Wolfe. Vintage Books.

Cary. When Species Meet. Posthumanities. London. 2001. The Resistances to Psycho-analysis. Symptoms and Anxiety.Paper delivered at the conference Perspectives in Humanities and Social Sciences. Vintage Books. Wolfe. 1997. 2014. Freud. Haraway. 2003. Chicago.5. Animals and Society: an Introduction to Human-Animal Studies. London. Sigmund. 2010. Levinas. vol. 19-20 May. 2012. Karnac Books.2. Columbia University Press.1467-1476. 2008. Minneapolis. the Discourse of the Species and Posthumanist Theory. Elisabeth. Romania. Animal Rites: American Culture. by Sean Hean. 2008. The Collected Stories. Singer. vol. The Standard Edition of the Complete Works of Sigmund Freud. Margo. University of Minnesota Press. 19. whether it refers to the othering of nonhuman animals or the othering of our own human animality. Iaşi. 2016. Creaturely Poetics: Animality and Vulnerability in Literature and Film. The University of Chicago Press. Human-Animal Studies: Growing the Field. Minneapolis. Pick. DeMello. Wolfe. 2011. University of Minnesota Press. 2011. Donna Jeanne. pp. p. Shapiro. 3rd Edition: Figures of Migration. Norman R. London. 8. “Dreams of Animals” in Cultural Zoo: Animals in the Human Mind and Its Sublimation. Jacques. Difficult Freedom: Essays on Judaism. New York. Baltimore. Isaac Bashevis. Cary. Animals and Society Institute. Emmanuel.28. What is Posthumanism? Posthumanities vol. vol. trans. Penguin Classics. Doidge. as well as to shed new light on the more general process of othering. Bibliography Arnould-Bloomfield. Hinting at Interdisciplinarity.130. The Standard Edition of the Complete Works of Sigmund Freud. Applying the Field. Kenneth. no. “The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow)”. Columbia University Press. Johns Hopkins University Press. London. no. Sigmund. 2015. 20. Vintage Books. 2002. “Posthumanist Compassions”. PMLA. 369-418. vol. The Letter-Writer.3. Derrida. . New York. to re-examine the representations of these relationships in various other fields including and especially the arts. 2001 Freud. Anat. Ann Arbor. Critical Inquiry. vol. “Alexandru Ioan Cuza” University on the intricate relations between human and nonhuman animals. Inhibitions.