Responding and suffering bodies in human-animal worlds

Responding and suffering bodies in human-animal worlds
By Vinciane Despret



Skin and gut the mice, but do not remove the heads; wash then place in a pot with enough alcohol to cover the carcasses. Allow to marinate for about two hours. Cut sowbelly into small cubes and fry slowly until most of the fat has been rendered. Now remove the carcasses from the alcohol and roll them in a mixture of salt, pepper and flour; then place in a frying pane and sauté for about five minutes (being careful not to allow the pan to get too hot, or the delicate meat will dry out and become tough and stringy). Now add a cup of alcohol and six or eight cloves. Cover the pan and allow to simmer slowly for fifteen minutes. The cream sauce can be made according to any standard recipe”.[1]
This rather odd meal was part of an experiment; a scientific experiment on a human body. The body belonged to a biologist, Farley Mowat, who, in the 60s, was sent to conduct research on wild wolves, in the Arctic. The experiment was about the wolves. Its first part proved to be inconclusive; after one week on a mouse diet the scientist began to develop a craving for fat. Could a diet comprised only of mice be possible anyway? The solution was to follow the way wolves manage it: the little rodents store most of their fat in the abdominal cavity. Wolves eat the whole mouse. Doing this, except for the skin of course, (we are human aren’t we?) the fat craving would eventually be considerably eased.
At first glance, one might think that the author is trying to experiment what is to be a wolf, or what is “to feel like” a wolf — which is a recurrent theme in popular books in ethological literature (and sometimes anthropological reports[2]). On one side, Mark Bekoff, among others, illustrates in writing that he “can feel what animals are feeling (…) My feelings actually know what’s going on inside the animal, and this emotional empathy seems to be innate”. As a cognitive ethologist, he suggests that this possibility of sharing feelings involves “mirror neurons”[3]. Even if it was the case that this is what Mowat aimed to do, we should notice that he goes further: briefly put it, “mirror neurons” are mostly fed by observations.

On the other side, Temple Grandin’s work might also present some similarities. Grandin became a notorious expert in designing plants in humane slaughter systems and she is frequently hired to check meatpacking plants where there are problems. She puts forward that in most cases, problems are due to unnoticed tiny details that frighten the animals, which in turn resist or balk. Grandin sees these details we do not see. Because she sees like animals.
Grandin’s case is different from Mark Bekoff’s kind of empathic posture (what I would call the romantic empathy); she does not pretend she feels like animals. She says she thinks the way animals think. She sees like animals, therefore she may tell people why their animals are doing the things they do. A little plastic water bottle lying harmlessly, a shiny reflection, a yellow jacket hanging on a fence, all those turn out to be, in their world, wrong details; a fans’ blades slowly rotating creates flicker, a shadow on the ground becomes a deep cliff, a dark spot turns out to be a bottomless pit. The world is for the animals, as well as for Grandin, a swirling mass of tiny details.
Of course, one could think that the difference I try to draw here rests on the old contrast between feeling and thinking, all the more so since visual perception is usually considered as a kind of disembodied thinking, or, as Donna Haraway puts it, a (rather perverse) way to “distance the knowing subject from everybody and everything (…)”[4] This is, however, not what I intend. Actually, the body, her body is completely involved, it actively creates the perspective that allows her to “see”: Grandin explains that one couldn’t hope to understand animals “unless you put yourself in their place — literally in their place. You have to go where the animal goes, and do what the animal does” in order to see what it sees and understand what scares it[5]. Grandin embodies another being’s experience: “putting oneself in another’s shoes” is not a metaphor, it has to be taken literally, she insists. Still, this is not enough. You also have to see the world differently. You have to see in details, like animals do. Because, according to Grandin, animals are visual thinkers. And so is she.
Temple Grandin is autistic: according to her, that is why she sees the world in details like animals do and why she thus may “translate animal talk into English”[6]. “Animals are like autistic savants”, she writes. In fact, she resumes, “I’d go so far as to say that animals might actually be autistic savants”. Animals have special talents that normal people don’t, some of them have special forms of genius that normal people don’t, the same way that some autistic savants have special forms of genius. Their bodies give them a totally different world in which things affect them in radically different ways. “We’re seeing, hearing, and feeling all the things no one else can”.[7]
Since she is autistic most of the feelings we know are strange to Grandin — she feels, as she once said to Oliver Sacks, considering “normal people’s experiences” like an anthropologist on Mars. She explains the choice of her job by saying that “ animal behavior was the right field for me, because what I was missing in social understanding I could make up for understanding animals”. All that means that her empathy actually is a strange empathy, an apparent oxymoron: it is empathy without pathos. Without pathos, indeed: reading Grandin is a strange experience, it could be like reading a report by Dr. Spock’s —from the Star Trek series (or like meeting the unemotional inhabitants of an alien world in the S.F. novel Foreigners[8]). Just an example: Grandin tells that when she started her work with chickens, she visited a chicken farm. Inside the barn, she found a dead hen. The farmer told her that the rooster killed the hen. He was not happy about that, he said, he just thought that’s the way it was: half of his roosters were actually “rapist-murderers”. Grandin writes, “I knew that couldn’t be right. If roosters killed hens in nature, there wouldn’t be any chickens. But people raising animals in captivity tend to forget this basic fact of life. A lady who raises llamas told me recently that one of her males had tried to bite the testicles off another male. I told her that’s definitively not normal. If llamas bit off each others’ testicles in the wild there wouldn’t be any llamas”[9] And she keeps going throughout the next page, repeating similar cases with the same comment: “it is not normal”; she wants to strongly affirm that it is bad (and she eventually ends up by saying it), but she cannot mobilize the rhetorical emotional strategies we usually rely upon to arouse a shared indignation.
Temple Grandin illustrates what I would construe here, in contrast with the previous figure (that of “romantic empathy”), as a process of the “construction of empathic affinities” in which bodies are literally involved. Of course, the term “construction” does not sound totally accurate for her, since she links her capacities to an innate handicap / gift. However I would suggest that this link is a short cut to something more complicated[10]. Similarities between her own experience and animals’ experience are not given, they are actively constructed. Grandin relies upon a part of her own being to which animals give new powers and meanings (a part of her and not her “particularity” as she would claim) and she links it to a part of other beings, to whom she also gives new powers and significations[11], therefore creating a space where these two parts may be entangled and exchange / create reciprocal meanings. Yes, she transforms her handicap into a gift, which empowers her, as much as she actively transforms mindless animals into meaningful geniuses, which also gives them new powers; but this is not the whole story. She ends up not being the same. Likewise, animals are invited to other modes of being, other relationships, other ways to inhabit the human world and to force human beings to address them differently. She creates, for herself and for the animals, new identities and she does this by disclosing unexpected affinities. This is definitively not empathy by identification — the tourism of the soul, as Wendy Rose puts it[12]. The identities upon which identification could ground itself do not pre-exist; the identity is created by the previous construction of affinities. Identity is the outcome, the achievement.
Grandin[13] transforms what she considers as a marginal essence into a partial perspective that creates— and is created by the possibility of—what Haraway calls “just-barely-affinities” or “just-barely-connections”[14]. “The knowing self is partial in all its guises, never finished, whole, simply there and original; it is always constructed and stitched imperfectly, and therefore able to join with another, to see together without claiming to be another. Here is the promise of objectivity: a scientific knower seeks the subject position not of identity, but of objectivity: that is, partial connection”[15]
Grandin creates partial connections at the margins of two embodied experiences; she re-constructs these margins, she queers the experience of being autistic and of being animals in a “normal human world” in a way that both relies upon and renders possible these connections. This would give us a less problematic version of embodied empathy: feeling/seeing/thinking bodies undo and redo each other, reciprocally though not symmetrically, as partial perspectives that attune themselves to each other.
Back now to Mowat and his wolves, about whom I was drawing the contrast: Mowat, as I proposed, uses his body (eating a wolf’s diet) as an experimental tool. The aim however is neither to feel like a wolf (as the romantic figure seeks), nor to create / construct partially connected affinities, as I reconstructed Grandin’s work. Although it sounds like Grandin’s embodied experience, in the sense that it is an experiment in which one uses one’s own body to meet the needs of another, Mowat’s device pertains to a more modest embodiment.
At this point, I first have to explain the stakes for which he submitted his own body to this mice diet. Why was it so important to experiment with what wolves eat?
In the 60s, wolves were hardly known by scientists and actually did not arouse much of their interest. However, they were the subjects of hot political controversies. Most of the complaints were coming from fishing and Game Clubs — with their allies, the manufacturers of brands of ammunition— who affirmed that wolves were killing all the deer. More and more hunters were coming back from more and more hunts with less and less deer. Some people however suspected that there were fewer deer because the hunters had increased to the point where they outnumbered the deer. The Canadian department of Mines and Resources decided to launch a scientific investigation and sent Mowat to the wolves.
After some months observing the animals[16], Mowat discovers that when the caribous migrate for the hot season the wolves eat mice. Nobody, Mowat (rightly) thinks, will ever believe that this mythical character, these wild, powerful carnivores and savage killers as they were believed to be, could survive on a diet of mice only —and, he confesses, the idea, at first, even for him, seemed ridiculous. Even if he collected some empirical proofs in the feces, these empirical proofs would support only the idea that, sometimes, some wolves eat some mice, not the hypothesis that they survive on them, for a good part of the year. Mowat, therefore, uses his own body as a mean of scientific proof, and turns it into an apparatus for validity.
It is not empathy, neither a mere romantic dream of being a wolf — back to the recipe; wolves do not add cream and alcohol in their diet, because they do not, like urban Canadian scientists, lose appetite with boredom for bland meat. It is a technical device. The body is the witness. It will be the experimental group and the control group: for a length of time, it will be given only mice, and for an equal length of time, canned meat and fresh fish. At the end of each period, Mowat would run a series of physiological tests and compare the two sets of results. While not absolutely conclusive as far as wolves are concerned, as Mowat concedes, if he finds evidence that his metabolic functions remained unimpaired under a mouse regimen, it might indicate that wolves too could survive on the same diet.
Here again, I would suggest that this embodied experiment builds affinities, partial affinities. But these affinities are not created with the aim of feeling, knowing or seeing like a wolf. It is an experiment that leads to something rather unusual: feeling or being like a wolf is to be taken in a radically non-psychological sense. Experiencing (or sharing) the inner life of a wolf receives here an unusual meaning (and rather odd, for us, contemporary western psychological subjects): it means experiencing in the gut. This is the beginning of a companion story, cum panis, the ones with whom we share the food[17]. The same food, even if not at the same table in this case.
To embody the way other beings solve their survival problems does not only answer the question “what (or how) would it be like if I where in your place?”, it may also set up solutions for another one: “what would you do if you were in my place?” This question is raised, for example, when scientists deal with the contradiction between a field’s necessity and the limits of their own endurance. Most ethologists and primatologists are faced with this problem, though they hardly mention it in their reports: what can we do or are we allowed to do with our body when we are with our animals? I encountered, in my readings, two motives for these worries. The first one takes the form of the “what can we do?” questions and they mostly raise the same problem: something always happens in the field (at least with particularly socially active animals), scientists are therefore anxious about missing something when constrained by biological necessities. The other motive , much rarer, takes the form of cautious politeness: the scientist’s body shouldn’t disturb the animals under observation. We will come to that point later.
In laboratories, the problem of “what can we do with our bodies’ needs” is, unfortunately for the animals, quickly solved. In the worst cases, animals are simply submitted to human biological constraints. As pharmacologist Michael Chance pointed out, research with rats is carried during daytime, which is the most convenient for researchers, but, as it happens, is the middle of the night for the rats: submitting a rat to an experiment is like kicking it out of bed and asking it to go through some fairly active procedure[18]. In better cases, the laboratory is cautious to apply reverse lighting procedures. However, in both cases, the animal is the one who adapts (or tries to).
In the field, things are much more complicated, notably with the sleeping issue. Wolves are, according this aspect, particularly problematic for human scientists. During the day, Mowat remarks, he observes that the female and the pups in the group are active, while the hunters (two males) rest in short naps of 10 minutes. During the night, the males go on their own activities. For fear of missing something vital, Mowat prevents himself from sleeping. After a few days, he reaches the limits of his endurance. The solution comes from the animals: the human observer has to learn to nap like a wolf. The first trial is not a success: Mowat fails to wake up until several hours had passed. “The fault was mine, for I had failed to imitate all the actions of a dozing wolf, and, as I eventually discovered, the business of curling up to start with, and spinning about after each nap, was vital to success.”[19]
When bodies interfere


In the chapter called “The watcher watched”, Mowat tells an anecdote that could sound familiar to Derrida’s readers. He is at the beginning of his field research, in the middle of nowhere. Since his arrival, several weeks ago, he has met the wolves only twice, both times by pure chance. The second time he saw them however, they were entering a cave, probably their den Mowat guesses. However, the next day when he returns to the site, no wolves seemed to actually inhabit this cave. The scientist is totally discouraged; the prospect of getting within visual range of a wolf except by the luckiest of accidents, as he says, turns out to be in the same range of possibilities as finding a diamond mine. “The esker remained deserted (…) By 2:00 PM I had given up hope. There seemed no further point in concealment, so I got stiffly to my feet and prepared to relieve myself. Now, it is a remarkable fact that a man, though he may be alone in a small boat in mid-ocean, or isolated in the midst of the trackless forest, finds that the very process of unbuttoning causes him to become peculiarly sensitive to the possibility that he may be under observation. At this critical junction none but the most self-assured of men […] can refrain from casting a surreptitious glance around to reassure himself that he really is alone. To say that I was chagrined to discover I was not alone would be an understatement; for sitting directly behind me, and not twenty yards away, were the missing wolves.”[20]

The human psyche is truly an amazing thing, Mowat remarks; under almost any other circumstances, he would have been panic-stricken. Instead of which, outraged, he turned his back on the watching wolves and hurriedly did up his buttons. And “when decency, if not my dignity, had been restored, I rounded on these wolves with a virulence which surprised even me: “Shoo!”, I screamed at them. “What the hell do think you’re at…you…you peeping Toms! Go away for heaven’s sake!” On the same evening, Mowat tries to analyze what really happened to him. The problem, he confesses, was that he was facing the question of who is watching whom. “I felt that I, because of my specific superiority as a member of Homo Sapiens, together with my intensive technical training, was entitled to pride of place”. He laconically concludes, “I was the one who was under observation”.
Who is watching whom: we are reminded here, all the more so as the watcher seems to take the watched as being at fault, of Derrida’s narrative in The Animal Therefore I am[21]. Derrida, in that story, says that he realized that his cat, his small female cat, was actually looking back at him, one morning, in his bathroom, while he was naked. Derrida all the more felt that he was in the presence of someone, as his cat “enters this place where it can encounter me, see me, see me naked.” However, if Derrida, as Haraway writes, “comes to the edge of respect”, in paying attention to the fact that the animal looks back and responds, his worries about his shame of being naked in front of his cat seem to lack something I found in Mowat: humor. Derrida doesn’t laugh at his own worries, neither does he scream “peeping Tom!” Even that I would have preferred. Because this lack of humor means something that Haraway didn’t miss, the shame of being naked is not about the cat, it is only about himself: “he knew there is no nudity among animals, that the worry was his”. And he goes on and on, thinking about his shame: yes, the cat responded, but so far, she is not really concerned. The naked body is a pretext, a pre-text for more philosophy; a kind of blank screen, all the more so since reciprocal gazes do not lead Derrida to share sensualities — or to write about them— nor to discuss the choreography of the morning greeting ceremony. Seeing Derrida naked does not change anything for the cat; the question, for the philosopher, is not what it means for her, but what it involves for philosophy. “Derrida, writes Haraway, failed a simple obligation of companion species; he did not become curious about what the cat might actually be doing, feeling, thinking, or perhaps making available to him in looking back to him that morning”[22].
Shirley Strum, on the other side, would escape these criticisms. The question she raises has practical consequences, for her and for the baboons she works with: this is not a question raised in a bathroom and allowing speculation on philosophy; it is a question that might have vital consequences in the field. She recalls, in her book Almost Human, that in the beginning of her field studies with baboons in Kenya, she used to go a long way to hide behind her bus when she couldn’t help but relieve herself. But the risk of missing something was worrying her more and more; she decided after a while that she could try to urinate while staying among the baboons. She cautiously undressed, looking around. They were, she says, astonished by the noise. They never saw her eat, drink or sleep. Nothing made them believe that she could be a baboon. They knew human beings, but they had never been so close to one and probably they believed that humans didn’t have this kind of physical need. Next time, she concluded, they would not even react.
The story Strum tells us is linked to the second question I noticed (though rarely) in ethological and primatological literature, the polite question: “what am I allowed to do with my body when I am with the animals?” What Strum shows is that the question about not disturbing the baboons with her body ends in an other story: her body made her enter into relationships with the animals in a new mode, — their surprise testifies to that—as a living person like them. She creates with them an embodied proximity, some embodied affinities. To look and to look back, this very day, is not only in the gaze of the ones who meet and learn to know each other: it flows in urine, in noise, in surprise. Maybe this time, we might say that the empathy was on the side of the baboons.
Using one’s body to make the animal respond (even if in Strum’s case it was in a kind of unexpected way) renders visible a change in some practices, if I compare these to the way that behaviorists construe their practices. The animal does not react; he / she responds[23].
I have to mention in passing (but I don’t have room to explore it further) that if the field is the site where these events have more chance to happen, this issue of “animals responding” to their scientists seems however to be beginning to find its ways into some laboratories, especially with primates (we could have expected that), but also with dogs, and rats. Jenkins, Barrera, Ireland and Woodside, for example, have reproduced Pavlovian conditioning experiments with dogs (and bells and saliva)[24]. But this time they cared to observe the dogs, the dog’s whole body (and not only inside of their mouths). They noticed that the dogs showed all the behaviors they have when they interact with human beings (play bow and other play solicitations, wagging their tail, meeting the gaze): the food was not the real stake, for the dogs, they were welcoming and responding to propositions of interaction. I wonder, did Pavlov know anything about dogs? Another, though rather different example I enjoy mentioning is the experiments conducted by the famous neuro-scientist Jaak Panksepp[25]. Panksepp tickles rats in order to hear them laugh (a 50kHz ultrasonic vocalization), and he teaches other scientists to perform it correctly in order to induce this laugh (not only does it sounds like laughter but rats also do it when they play and when they mate). Panksepp’s aim is to study social joy in mammals. It is worth mentioning, about this experiment, that it is linked to new issues in “animal welfare”, and to the methodological problems they raise: studies are beginning to focus on positive emotions instead of stress and suffering. However, positive emotions show weak bodily evidence (contrary to negative ones, evidence of which is easy to obtain, easy to measure, and relatively easy to interpret). So scientists are seeking for conclusive evidence, robust data, and if possible, reliable localizations in the brain.
Back to the field, I would like to resume the line that I was following: how scientists involve their bodies, sometimes in response to the ones they observe, sometimes in order to make them respond. The second case is much rarer, at least in field reports, for some reasons that are easy to guess (we will talk about that later, anyway). The most astonishing case comes from Fairley Mowat.
Having found the wolves’ den Mowat decides to pitch his tent near to it in order to observe the wolves, day and night. The wolves completely ignore him. This was, he writes, at first, disconcerting, further, it became problematic. As he explains, “it was true that I wanted to be inconspicuous, but I felt uncomfortable at being so totally ignored”[26]. Actually wolves were regularly passing by the tent and never evinced the slightest interest in him.
Being ignored to such an extent, as time passed, becomes more and more intolerable for Mowat.
By this time, he has discovered that wolves were not, as universally believed at that time, nomadic roamers; they have territories, they have, as he qualifies them, strong feelings of property rights and they ritually and regularly mark their boundaries. Therefore, Mowat plans to use this knowledge to make them at least recognize his existence. One night, after the wolves had gone off to hunt, he stakes out “a property claim of his own”, surrounding his tent and including one of the wolves’ regular paths. This takes most of the night and requires, as he meticulously explains, frequent returns to the tent to consume quantities of tea. He retires to the tent just before the first wolf appears. As usual, the animal ignores the tent and its human owner, until he passes by a marked bush: “his attitude of fatigue vanished and was replaced by a look of bewilderment. (…) After a minute of complete indecision he backed away a few yards and sat down. And then, finally, he looked directly at the tent and at me. It was a long, thoughtful, considering sort of look.”[27]
At this moment, Mowat becomes very worried: hasn’t he transgressed a wolf law of major importance and shouldn’t he pay for it? The wolf keeps looking at him. In an effort to break the impasse, the human turns his back on the wolf, “to indicate, as clearly as possible, that I found his continued scrutiny impolite, if not actually offensive.” Then the wolf slowly began a systematic tour of the area and carefully placed his own mark on each of the ones the human had marked. From then, Mowat concludes, the human’s enclave existence has been ratified by the wolf, and each of them, wolves and human, regularly pass one after each other, to freshen up some boundary marks, each one on his own side of the border.
Of course, the reasons why you don’t find this kind of extravagant description in real scientific literature are obvious — but I wouldn’t be surprised to find at least some in informal conversations, or still more probably, in the work of the lab caretakers. Actually, it is not only the conventions of writing that render this unlikely; it is the very codes of practice.
When she began her first fieldwork with baboons in Kenya, the primatologist Barbara Smuts did exactly what she had been taught to do in order to habituate her animals to her presence: trained to the conventions of objective knowledge, she was advised to be as neutral as possible, to be, as Haraway phrases it “like a rock, to be unavailable, so that eventually the baboons would go on about their business in nature as if data-collecting humankind were not present”[28]. She continues by saying that “good scientists are those who, learning to be invisible themselves, could see the scene of nature close up, as if through a peep-hole”.
Progress in habituation was painfully slow: not only did the baboons not seem to be impressed by her efforts to render her body invisible or looking like a rock, but they frequently looked at Smuts. And the more she ignored their looks, the less satisfied they seemed. Ignoring social cues is far from neutral social behavior: “I imagine the baboons as seeing somebody off-category, not something,” Haraway writes, “and asking if that being were or were not educable to the standard of a polite guest”.
So the question that weighed most heavily in the field was probably not the scientist’s question, “Are the baboons social subjects?” but rather the baboon’s inquiry; “Is that being a social subject?” And the answer was probably “No”. Do people have a face? The baboons would have had some doubts about it. Do people have a body? It was apparently a discovery for the ones Shirley Strum met in her own field. As Haraway says, “the monkeys, in short, inquired whether the woman was a good social subject as an ordinary baboon, with whom one could figure out how to carry on relationships, whether hostile, neutral, or friendly”.
Smuts therefore had to learn to be polite, in the ethical, political, and epistemological senses of the word. She learned to respond, to acknowledge, to look back, perhaps to greet, as she says. She learned to respect and to make this respect the core of her practice, the condition of learning. And, as she tells us, her own being was transformed: “I… in the process of gaining their trust, changed almost everything about me, including the way I walked and sat, the way I held my body and the way I used my eyes and voice. I was learning a whole new way of being in the world — the way of baboons… and I was gradually learning to send such signals back to them”. She explains that, having learned the way baboons express their emotions, motivations or intentions, she could respond to them in ways she picked up from them and be understood. As a result, the baboons started to give her very deliberate dirty looks, which made her move away. This signaled a profound change: Smuts was not treated like an object (to avoid), but was recognized as a subject, a reliable subject with whom baboons could communicate, who would move away when told to do so, and with whom things could be clearly established.
What Mowat partially has done, in acting like a wolf while marking a territory in order to be seen, may be linked to Smuts’s process of undoing and redoing her own body. They become responsible, in a slightly different sense of the word; the one to whom it is possible to respond, the one who constructs him / herself in order to be available to a response. I think that it is close to what Smuts has called, in a later article, “embodied communication” comparing it to a dance: embodied communication, like greetings in baboons or between a dog and his / her human partner, all at once expresses the relation, and creates and changes it[29]. Embodied empathy, therefore, once again shifts slightly. Contrary to Grandin, Smuts doesn’t assume thinking, or seeing like a baboon; she is acting like a baboon, which means she just acts as if, which in turn transforms her, as William James nicely puts forward in his theory of emotions. Empathy is not, in this case, experiencing with one’s own body what the other experiences: it is creating the possibilities of an embodied communication. The “as if” constructs partial affinities between bodies, it is a creative mode of attunement. Which also means that Smuts does not (and does not aim to) think like a baboon: she thinks with the baboons. When they gave her dirty looks, she had to learn to act with them, to leave room for them to resist her proposition or her presence. Acting with them is not the result but the very condition of acting like them. The body, in that case, actively creates partial affinities, learns to connect experiences as one goes along, and learns to become what it becomes when it acts “as if”. And this seems to me what Smuts has achieved; she found that all at once the conditions and the stakes of reliable knowledge is to learn how to “think with”.
A last thought, to conclude: this definition I construe from Smuts’s work has the merit of relieving empathy, and the body, of the question of authenticity and truth, as usually defined. Authenticity is definitively no longer at the source of the event when bodies meet. It can’t be all the more since the beings who meet “act as if” in order to disclose and create connections and affinities — and I am certain that baboons do their part of the job in that story, from the beginning: what would be the meaning, otherwise, of the fact that greeting rituals express and create the relation?—but authenticity is not lost: it testifies to the achievement.
[1] Farley Mowat, Never cry Wolf, New York, Bantam Book, 1981, first ed. 1963, p. 77.
[2] See for example Jean Briggs book « Never in Anger » about her field studies of Utku Eskimos.
[3] The Emotional Lives of Animals, Novato, Ca., New World Library, 2007, p. 128.
[4] Haraway, « Situated knowledges : the Science question in feminism and the privilege of partial perspective » in Simians, Cyborgs and Women. The reinvention of Nature, London, Free association Books, 1991, p. 189.
[5] Grandin, op. cit., p. 31.
[6] Ibid., p. 7.
[7] Grandin, op.cit., p. 67.
[8] Written by Carolyn Janice Cherryh. The people living on that planet do not feel any emotions. But it is hard for the human diplomat to notice it (and to prevent him from construing their behavior in emotional terms). These “other beings” have created a social web made of allegiances and loyalties which organize alliances and conflicts in such a way that it leads the human observer to mistake them with “our” feelings like friendship, love, envy, hate, …
[9] Grandin, op. cit., p. 69. For those who are curious (as I was) about the causes of this strange behavior (of the roosters, of course): the rapist roosters were a side effect of single-trait-breeding, which causes the loss of a fixed action pattern that makes roosters perform a dance ritual before mating. This ritual triggers another fixed action pattern in the hens, so that they crouch down into a sexually receptive position. Since the roosters did not perform this dance, the hens stopped crouching down for them, so the roosters had become rapists. Besides that, I have the same feeling of oddity (the fact that she disaffectively comments on the story and at the same time disagree – she ends up saying this is bad) when she narrates the day she met the father of behaviorism, Skinner: as she asked him if one could learn how the brain works he answered « we don’t need to learn about the brain, we have operant conditioning ». She writes « I remember driving back to school going over this in my mind, and finally saying to myself : I don’t think I believe that » (Ibid. p. 11)
[10] Moreover Grandin probably has, like most people diagnosed with autism, excellent reasons for privileging the innate hypothesis for autism. I am not contesting this hypothesis here.
[11]This has equally to be understood in the most concrete and practical sense. As Grandin is most of the time hired to implement a welfare audit; she checks the meatpacking industry for the way people treat animals. Most often when an animal resists or balks it is because it sees, hears or feels something that scares it. Usually, in such cases, people use electric prods. Grandin decided that plants couldn’t pass her audit if the employees used the electric prod on more than 25 percent of the animals. This led the farm industry to raise new questions and to address animals differently: when an animal is balking, they have to think, to pay attention to tiny details, to translate in a world constructed and perceived by human bodies, the way other bodies perceive; while doing so, they change the meaning of things, the meaning of attitudes, and relationships. In other words, Grandin empowers the animals in the sense that she gives them the power to force human beings to transform their habits and to address them differently.
[12] In Haraway, « Reading Buchi Emeta », in Simians, Cyborgs and Women. The reinvention of Nature, op.cit., p. 113.
[13] To be honest, I should confess that my interpretation raises some problems and is— deliberately— candidly optimistic. In Grandin’s work, there is no place for doubt, neither about the way she constructs herself (and the term “construct” is mine, she “is” herself), nor about the analogy she is creating, nor about the way animals perceive — it works. The “as if” which could remind her that analogies are engaging problematic constructions of created affinities (“I see the world “as if” I was an animal”) is absent. But I consider that part of my work as a philosopher is about disclosing promises and possibilities in reconstructing narratives with slight shifts that enable us to inherit, as politely and fruitfully as possible, from these experiences.
[14] I take this from Haraway (ibid., 113) who writes about the way that « women’s experience » is particularly liable to derive from and to contribute to appropriation.
[15] Haraway, « Situated knowledges » op. cit, p. 193.
[16] There have been many controversies about this field. Mowat was suspected of having invented a good part of the story. For some, he stayed only four weeks (and not a few months, as he claimed) in the field, for others, the whole story is a fiction; moreover, scientists claim today that wolves never eat mice, etc. I will not try to seek for the truth. My interest is raised by the fact that a biologist (which he is) could imagine (or say) that a biologist in the field (the “I” in that story) could do in the 60s things that will be (hardly) allowed only decades later. These practices were disallowed in primatology first, before becoming stigmatized in other fields.
[17] See Haraway, When Species Meet, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 2008, p. 17.
[18] Robert Kirk, « A Chance Observation : Ethology and the Recovery of Nature of the Laboratory Animals », conference given at the seminar Animal Subjects under Observation, Max Planck Institute, Berlin, July, 10-12, 2008.
[19] Mowat, op. cit., p. 60. Let us note in passing that Mowat was so enthusiastic about this way of living that he decided to keep the wolf’s nap habit after his return to civilization, which renders this return rather more complicated: “a young lady of whom I was enamored at the time parted company with me. She had rather, she told me vehemently, spend her life with a grasshopper who had rickets, than spend one more night in bed with me.”(p. 61)
[20] Mowat, op. cit., p. 48.
[21] L’Animal que donc je suis, Paris, Gallilée, 1997.
[22] Ibid.
[23] Despite my criticisms, thanks to Derrida for introducing this into philosophy.
[24] Mentioned in Dominique Guillo, Des chiens et des humains, Paris, Le Pommier, 2009, pp. 178-179.
[25] « Neuroevolutionnary sources of laughter and social joy : Modeling primal human laughter in laboratory rats » Behavioral Brain Research, 2007, 182, 231-244.
[26] Op. cit.,p. 54.
[27] Ibid, p. 56.
[28] Excerpts from Strum, and the comments given by Haraway are taken from Haraway, When Species meet, op. cit., pp. 24-26.
[29] B. Smuts « Embodied communication in non-human animals », in Alan Fogel, Barabara King and Stuart Shanker (eds) Human development in the Twenty-First Century, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2008, 136-146, p. 142.