Eating Our Neighbors: Giorgio Agamben, Animality, and Essaying North – Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies

I gave a talk with a group of colleagues who all read theory not only as part of our scholarly practices, but also as part of our creative ones. Excerpt from my contribution to the panel below:

I think and write about Alaska. It’s a big place with few people. Home base is the rainforest in Southeast; it’s an archipelago all cut up by glacial fjords. Yes, there’s packaged food and there are trashcans and white bread, but still: we eat a lot of salmon, and king crab, and we eat a lot of venison, and blueberries, and we really like it that way.

But, before I define “we,” let me note that a bunch of indigenous people who were very recently (partly) displaced (and largely) joined and crowded by the western industrialized masses of which I am a part—have a very, very long pre-industrialized history, in this same rainforest, of eating a lot of salmon, and king crab, and eating a lot of venison, and blueberries, and really liking it that way.

So who is this “we” that does all this eating? Maybe “we” is that which needs clean water for healthy fish and rich forests for deer habitat? If yes, there’s a sense in which “we” means every single thing bound in communal exchange with the world around it […] but there’s a sense in which some of “we” is also inherently destructive—of what it needs, and thus, of itself, of its own collectivity.

Theorist Giorgio Agamben comes in here for me, because he writes about the caesura: the divide, the boundary, between us and them, between human and animal, the very concept of dis-connectivity, of separation—and ultimately he says the caesura doesn’t work. That we have to think without it; we have to forego the very notion of separation. Transcript of full talk here.

Background photo credit: Jeremy Pataky.Fonts: Canada 1500 by Ray Larabie and Adobe Jenson Pro by Robert Slimbach.
This was a Hiya, Scout! design.