ich tier! (du mensch) – du tier! (ich mensch)

i animal! (you human) – you animal! (i human)

аз животно! (ти човек) – ти животно! (аз човек)

abrupt interspecies encounters


creative anthropomorphism - animal forms of sociality and cross species desires,
a lecture by judith jack halberstam

Sunday, 25 April, 7 pm, at corner college (Perla-Mode)

Judith Halberstam

Judith Halberstam (photo: Mathias Danbolt; Trikster)

Creative Anthropomorphism - animal forms of sociality and cross species desires

Based on ideas inspired from her involvement in an Animal Studies group, Judith Jack Halberstam will discuss human-animal bonds, intimacies and antagonisms, about animal forms of sociality and cross species desires among other things.

See also some of Judith Halberstam's published texts on related topics:

Interview with Judith Jack Halberstam

by Cathérine Hug

CH – You are the author of the book Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters (Duke University Press, 1995). Can you tell us a little more about how you use the notion of the “monster” here, and where you see connections to the marginalization of animals?

JH Wow, that is a great question, I have not really thought about that intersection of monster/animal too much but it makes so much sense. In my book, I saw monster as a kind of amalgam of social fears and prejudices and also as a kind of anti-identity to claim and inhabit. In relation to animals, I would characterize the monstrous as the multiple lines of association, identification, disidentification and repudiation between humans and animals. Of course monstrosity is always a form of becoming animal…

CH – You are working on a book on Bats for the acclaimed Animal series from Reaktion books. Can you tell us how your interest for this animal was triggered? What is the concept of your book, how do you build it up and what is your method of analysis?

JH I was writing about animation for a while and I kept going to the Reaktion book series for insights about the animals that were being animated in any given cartoon – ants in A Bug’s Life, bees in Bee Movie, chickens in Chicken Run and so on. So, eventually I was so inspired by the books that I got in touch with the series editor and asked him if he needed a book on “penguins.” He said no but asked if I would be interested in doing Bat given that I had written about Gothic horror and vampires and the posthuman earlier. I was delighted to say yes and am still doing the research for it. I hope to write it up this year as a kind of cross between cultural and natural history of the animal.

CH – You are known worldwide for your research and groundbreaking thoughts on what you describe as “female masculinity.” For several years now you have also been investigating in the rather new, pioneering field of “critical animal studies.” Can you maybe first briefly introduce our younger readers to the notion of “female masculinity,” and how, in extension, your interest has been awakened for critical animal studies.

JH Well, I am really only just beginning work in “critical animal studies” and it is so much about the figure of the animal (in animation say) rather than about animals per se. Still the early work on female masculinity was an attempt to take seriously the asymmetrical treatment of gender variance in men and women. And it was also a deeply personal project, a way of producing an account of my own subject position, for which there seemed to be very little language!

CH – Please can you tell us what you mean by “creative anthropomorphism,” the term you have also used as the title for a lecture you will hold in the context of the exhibition Ich Tier! (Du Mensch) – Du Tier! (Ich Mensch)? Where do the interrelations between creative anthropomorphism, on the one hand, and animal forms of sociality, on the other, lie?

JH You will have to wait and hear the lecture [1] but basically, creative anthropomorphism recognizes that human relations to animals are always anthropomorphic and that instead of denying this, we should try to be more creative in what we make anthropomorphism do.

CH – There is a very interesting illustration on the title-page of the King James Version of the Bible from 1611. It shows the captivating imagery of a pelican feeding its young ones with drops of blood from its own breast, before dying. [2] This should obviously be read as an early example of anthropomorphism. Two things are tremendously irritating though: on the one hand, the act of suicide is considered a sin by the Catholic Church, and, on the other hand, the so-called act of self-murder can normally not be found in the animal kingdom, assuming the lemmings' mass suicide to be a myth or misconception. Are there any other examples to your knowledge of animals that commit suicide in literature or iconography? And would you also consider it “creative anthropomorphism”?

JH Since suicide is a uniquely human concept, I would certainly consider the projection of suicide onto animal self-destruction as anthropomorphic – creative? Not sure, not necessarily. Suicide in a human context is so weighed down by conceptions of self, life and death that I don’t think it is necessarily a term to use for animals any more than “murder” would be.

CH – Generally speaking, where does the “creative” process start and end in anthropomorphism - can you give us some examples?

JH Wait till the lecture.

CH – If creative anthropomorphism exists, does something like “creative zoomorphism” also exist?

JH Maybe.

CH – When thinking of anthropomorphism, rather reactionary images also come to my mind, such as some of the stories cooked in Walt Disney’s kitchen, and particularly Lion King (1994), where the grey, bitter and weakly lion stands for the outsider and big antagonist of the official king lion. Since the former’s health is unstable the king does not really have to consider him a serious rival. How would you judge the claim that anthropomorphism also helps to internalize discriminating clichés even more than we would normally do?

JH I think that a lot of Disney cartoons are, as you say, reactionary in the sense that they simply use animals to tell very dreary human tales about paternal power and static hierarchies. The new Pixar and Dreamworks narratives are far more mobile.

CH – In your opinion, which taboo regarding the relationship between animals and humans would it be highest time to break? And which taboo regarding the exploitation of animals by humans would it be highest time to break?

JH Hmmm. Not sure but I do know that the rather common disgust inspired by bestiality suggests that there is no sexual component to people’s attachment to their pets. However, as Ulrich Seidl’s odd film Animal Love [3] shows, people have very perverse relations to their animal friends.

CH – Where do you identify the most promising development in the positive relationship between animals and humans?

JH I think the most promising work on human-animal divides comes from people like Temple Grandin, [4] the autistic animal science professor who figured out how animals experience pain and fear and how to calm them down. I am also interested in some of the work on social insects by Deborah Gordon [5] and others. It is not simply about having a “positive” relationship to animals, but more about thinking of animals within a framework that extends beyond the human!


[1] The lecture will take place on Sunday, April 25, 2010, 7 pm at Corner College, Langstrasse 84 in 8004 Zurich, Switzerland.

[2] My gratitude goes to Anna Gaskell, who drew my attention to this exciting and unique reference in Christian Iconography of the pious pelican committing suicide.

[3] Original title: Tierische Liebe, Austria 1994.

[4] Cf. also the recent interview with Temple Grandin on National Public Radio (5 February 2010).

[5] Author of Ant Encounters: Interaction Rhythms and Colony Behavior, Princeton Univ. Press, forthcoming in May 2010.

Judith Halberstam is Professor of English, American Studies and Ethnicity and Gender Studies at USC. Halberstam works in the areas of popular, visual and queer culture with an emphasis on subcultures. Halberstam’s first book, Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters (1995), was a study of popular gothic cultures of the 19th and 20th centuries and it stretched from Frankenstein to contemporary horror film. Her 1998 book, Female Masculinity (1998), made a ground breaking argument about non-male masculinity and tracked the impact of female masculinity upon hegemonic genders. Halberstam’s last book, In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives (2005), described and theorized queer reconfigurations of time and space in relation to subcultural scenes and the emergence of transgender visibility. This book devotes several chapters to the topic of visual representation of gender ambiguity. Halberstam was also the co-author with Del LaGrace Volcano of a photo/essay book, The Drag King Book (1999), and with Ira Livingston of an anthology, Posthuman Bodies (1995). Halberstam regularly speaks on visual culture and publishes journalism in venues like BITCH Magazine and The Nation; she is currently finishing one book titled "Notes on Failure" and beginning another on "Bats."