The Private Lives of Animals and Advocates

This panel proposal will look at the performative aspect of public animal advocacy from philosophical, literary, and dramatic perspectives. The work of Coetzee’s The Lives of Animals, for instance, dramatises his own animal advocacy through the alter-ego of Elizabeth Costello, while also creating a new form of counter-public based on an openness to a kind of non-human people. The Dutch artist Katinka Simonse’s performances as the fictional ‘Tinkebell’ also involve a public persona, but one who is completely naïve in her actions concerning human-animal relations. In an attempt to raise awareness of our social hypocrisy, where animals are publicly embraced but privately exploited, Simonse’s performances sometimes involve real violence against animals and consequently raise the question whether the artist is still responsible for reprehensible acts peformed as a means to a noble end. Such questions have a long lineage in performance art: from Joseph Beuys to Marcus Coates, artists have long endeavoured to find a form of ‘becoming animal’ that can challenge clear-cut distinctions between what is ‘human’ and what is ‘animal’, but often without exploring all the public implications (political and ethical) that may attend the deconstruction of the human-animal binary. Indeed, the literary aspects of such continuities go back to Thoreau’s Walden and the chapter entitled ‘Brute Neighbors’, where the protagonist attempts to become a bird (the ‘loon’). Thoreau performs an extended experiment where a new kind of neighbor, and so a new kind of public, is enacted through performance.

John Mullarkey
Matthew Goulish
Laura Karreman
Gunnar Eggertsson

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