Accepted Paper:

If I were a horse: mimesis as a means to overcome anthropocentrism  


Cassis Kilian (Johannes Gutenberg-Universität)

Paper short abstract:

As an actress, I learned to embody animals. This learning across boundaries between species resulted in a hypnotic state. I will consider it in the light of findings from neuroscience and argue that it is worth looking at my experience with regard to Ingold’s plea for anthropology beyond humanity.

Paper long abstract:

Mimesis is a travelling concept that has made a career in arts, humanities and sciences. Biologists have distinguished mimesis from mimicry to describe protective or aggressive mimetic phenomena in flora and fauna. Homi Bhabha borrowed the term "mimicry" from biology to analyse human behaviour during colonialism. Today, mimetic experiences with animals are not the centre of academic interest. Anthropologists mostly consider them a "strange" cultural practice in trance rituals, but currently they are studying mainly mimetic phenomena in the context of globalisation.

Scholars often look at mimesis through the lens of highly abstract concepts. However, findings from neuroscience prove that mimetic behaviour frequently bypasses the so-called "higher cognitive functions" of the human brain and acting teachers know that abstract thinking impedes intense mimetic experiences. They value the study with animals because they help actors to avoid self-reflection and premeditation, which hinder them from following mimetic impulses. From an academic perspective, such an attempt may appear an anthropomorphical phantasy. Most anthropologists might object that we perceive animals through the lens of symbolic connotations specific to our culture, but many acting teachers consider embodying animals a purposeful and actual unlearning of cultural patterns that stifle actors.

I will argue that embodying an animal can provoke an inspiration, which undermines the assumption that humans are superior and fundamentally different from non-humans. Humans won't be able to fly like birds, however these mimetic experiences operate metamorphoses worth looking at in the light of findings from neuroscience and Ingold's reflection on anthropology beyond humanity.

Panel P071
Legacies and futures of animism in the anthropocene