Nowhere does the spectre of life and death play out more dramatically than through the flesh. Efforts to subdue, celebrate or consume flesh underpin many aspects of the human experience. This panel invites explorations of the diverse meanings and materialities of flesh.
By turns exotic and banal, enticing and repulsive, threatening and vulnerable, flesh is both materially and metaphorically inextricable from our experience of the world. Papers are invited that explore flesh in all its diversity: from cultural inscriptions of the body, through to fleshly pleasures and their indulgence or suppression. Papers may seek to make sense of the ethics and politics of corporeal control, or cycles of the flesh more broadly, from birth through to death. Ponderings on flesh eaters and avoiders, through to the human as animal, and animal ontologies are welcome here, as are papers probing the commodification of flesh, and the experiences of flesh workers, from doctors, farmers and beauticians through to abattoir workers and chefs.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
I want to be a good predator (a reckoning with kin waste)
A lyrical theoretical paper that excavate issues of material predation and species waste, and how this might be re-imagined in the Anthropocene. Given, material predations have deep implications for creaturely survival and kin relations, I ask who decides the circumstances of kinship, and which kin are to be extinguished for ongoing survival in the Anthropocene. How might we might navigate a lifeboat ethics for planetary times, when our material predations are implicated in extinguishments and wasted flesh.
As long as my material predation is seen as a necessity for my existence, can I even negotiate toward ‘multi-species reconciliation’ (D. Haraway 2010, 106); or contemplate ecological justice? My reluctance to renounce the commodities, and therefore give up the slaughters, must be either taken as hubris/entitlement. If having prey is the consequence of my own just existence, in the context of ecological justice, what are my responsibilities to non-human others?
To consider my existence as a material predator I devise a speculative figuration for Anthropocenic reckonings. ‘Kin carapace’ is my material predator encasement: a carapace of clever things that sparkle and chime, as well a mournful drag of ungainly bits and deaths clumped behind. She is as hungry for Earthly matter as my fleshy self. I have called her ‘kin carapace’ and she has emerged through my thinking with ‘bio-ore’- the ore, tailings, and flesh of fallen kin-waste of mining. She is my carrying device for spent prey and dead ore that comes with my commodity accumulations.
Amongst other events, kin carapace meets up with Donna Haraway at the Anthropocene Bar. In the high carbon stakes of the bar’s warming atmosphere we discuss questions of who does and doesn’t flourish and how do we decide? If all creatures of sea and land are potential ‘oddkin’(Haraway 2016) then which kin do I extinguish when my intransigent material want insists on being sated?
Note: this is a lyrical theoretical paper based on a presentation given at the 2018 ‘Hacking the Anthropocene’ event, held at the University of Sydney.
Blood, sweat, (tears) and death: opening the black box between paddock and plate
This paper will consider the fleshy revelations when the gap between an animal in a paddock and a piece of meat on a plate is scrutinised. It will explore the ethics and practicalities of animal and vegan agriculture, with references to Bull (Dark Mofo), zombies and fake burgers.
The sweet, metallic scent of blood hits my nostrils contacting my brain. "Menstruation" is my first thought. "I'm hungry" is my second. These thoughts are neither expected nor welcome, as I help flense the flesh from the recently removed highland cattle skin. My brain seems to be echoing the slogan of 'sex and death' from the Museum of Old and New Art, and its promotion of fleshy performances.
This paper will explore what happens when we peer into the black box that sits between the bucolic paddock and the urbane dinner plate, revealing what is normally hidden from most western human-animal senses - the sight, smell, taste, feel, noise of non-human animal death, accompanied by an assortment of ethical arguments.
I will be addressing ideas around the ethics of eating non-human animal meat, creeping into the 'modest proposal' (Swift 1729) of eating human-animal meat and the post-apocalyptic zombies who may come for us. I will ruminate: if sovereignty is the exercise of control over mortality, who then has the sovereign right over the deaths of non-human animals?
I will be considering ideas around vegan agriculture and the 'existential threat' (Peters 2018) posed by the Impossible Burger on an Air New Zealand flight, along with Peter Singer's admission that he would eat laboratory-grown meat. From this I will be considering Frankenstein's monsters and the potential for negative unintended consequences when moving from the paddock to the Petri dish.
I won't offer irrefutable answers, but I will tender a degree of disquiet.
Workers in flesh: farmers, hunters and intimate killing
In the climate change era, meat eating is increasingly vilified. This paper explores how a subset of Victorian and West Australian farmers and hunters are re-configuring killing around an ethic of intimacy in their efforts to promote ecological sustainability, animal welfare and human health.
Farmers and hunters describe pursuing their vocations largely for love of the land, and the animals and plants it sustains. So how do they come to terms with killing animals, particularly in an era where climate change and widespread ecological decline, and increasing concern for the rights of animals, have resulted in their practices being subject to sustained and often vociferous opposition? Among agroecological farmers, resistance to the detriments of the intensification and expansion of scale characterising industrial meat production is embedded in mechanisms such as anti-growth models and onsite abattoirs. In the same vein, hunters argue that being present and accountable is the only means of killing ethically. This paper explores the intimate killing valued by this subset of Victorian and West Australian farmers and hunters who take ecological sustainability, animal welfare and human health seriously in their pursuit of ethical meat production.
"Don't be stupid, your body can't attack itself": navigating the paradox of autoimmunity
Prevailing metaphors of autoimmunity describe it as the body attacking itself, mistaking self for non-self, flesh for foe. This paper explores how women with autoimmune diseases in regional Australia navigate meaning, illness, and life when their immune systems target their own flesh.
Autoimmune diseases (ADs) affect approximately 1 in 20 people in Australia. In many ADs the body alters its own flesh in ways that can be painful, life-changing, and life-ending; with prevailing metaphors of autoimmunity describing it as the body attacking itself, mistaking self for non-self, flesh for foe. This is often the default lay-explanation of autoimmunity provided to the newly diagnosed and is frequently used by people with ADs to explain their illnesses to others. These metaphors have prompted theorising on what the phenomenon of autoimmunity means for the relationship between the body and self, questioning the usefulness or otherwise of metaphors that draw on the self attacking itself (e.g. Cohen 2004; 2017). Despite the persistence and prominence of these metaphors, little is understood about how people with ADs live with this paradox. Drawing on my current PhD research project that investigates the illness and support experiences of women with ADs in regional Australia, this paper explores how women navigate meaning, illness, and life when their immune systems target their own flesh. It questions the place of metaphors of autoimmunity in the everyday lives of women with life-long and life-ending illnesses in a culture where health and illness are considered matters of personal responsibility. In this cultural context, I seek to understand how women might reconcile the expectation that they take personal responsibility for maintaining or improving their health, with the notion that autoimmunity is violence perpetrated on the self, by the self.
Enfleshing Femininities: Being Queer and Femme in Sydney
What does being queer and feminine mean for the body? How are queer femininities inscribed on and through the flesh? In this paper I consider how Sydney Femmes work on and in their bodies to mark themselves and be marked by others as queer.
Queer Femmes in Sydney spend a great deal of time, money and effort marking and modifying their bodies. They shape and are shaped by their piercings, tattoos, corsets, cosmetic surgeries, make up, shoes, lash extensions and fake nails. Their embodied pleasures and discomforts, and pleasure in discomfort, enable them to enflesh their queerness even as they embody gender expressions traditionally seen as enacted primarily in relation to men. In this paper I consider the ways in which Sydney femmes work on, with and against their bodies, enacting femininities through their flesh while ardently arguing that femininity is neither a superficial adornment nor a biological inevitability. Taking femmes seriously as observers and theorisers of their own lives, I suggest that it is not the specifics of what the body looks like, but how it is worked on that marks queer femininity in Sydney's queer communities.
Embracing and distancing the materiality of death through cremation
Funerals organised around burial or cremation engage with the body and with personhood through a sequence of rituals. These rituals orchestrate a dance of intimacy and distancing, and are present in both burial and cremation, but each form orchestrates different possibilities for the dance.
In this presentation I talk about the implications of cremation and burial for the embrace and distancing of the body and the personhood of the deceased. Among other things I observe that in the performance of the rituals and the material work associated with burial and cremation, the body and the personhood associated with that body are made to pass through numerous moments of intimacy and separation.
In both burial and cremation, the presence of the body and the presence of personhood waxes and wanes through the viewing, where the deceased is visible for the last time, to the gathering of the mourners, the entry of the coffin bearing the body, through the eulogies and tributes, culminating in a series of rituals known as the committal, the dismissal, the final disposition, then the final disposal of the body - if indeed a final disposal occurs.
In comparing the cremation and the burial as techniques, I argue that though the same rituals may occur, each technique opens space for the performance of a significantly different committal, final disposition and final disposal, and a significantly different space for the embrace and distancing of the deceased.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.