Defining Zoopoetics with Aaron Moe  – ASI’s Defining Human-Animal Studies 31

Defining Zoopoetics with Aaron Moe – ASI’s Defining Human-Animal Studies 31

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[Music] Hello. My name is Aaron Moe. I’m an
assistant professor of English and environmental studies at St. Mary’s
College Notre Dame and I’m here to talk about zoopoetics. If you dig into the
etymology you’ll find it has to do with animals in poiesis, that is animals and
makings, and there’s three main areas I’m going to talk about today. The first has
to do with the culture imagination, secondly gonna talk about form, and third
the ethical dimensions that zoopoetics points toward. Okay. So concerning the
culture imagination, when Derrida said “Kafka’s vast zoopoetics”
he not only coined the term but he also points toward the innumerable ways in
which animals infuse and shape and make Kafka’s stories and the culture
imagination. At the same time though, how the cultural imagination through
storytelling figures the animal. There are many
examples of this rich dynamic, one of which is the indigenous name for North
America which is none other than Turtle Island. Okay.
Concerning zoopoetics and form, I define form as a just oral energy and
one way to take a look at this dynamic is when and where species meet.
So when Koshik the captive elephant stuck his trunk in his mouth and
vocalized five korean words, he experienced an innovation in that
gestural energy moving through his body and the sounds his body could create
through an attentiveness to the gestural energy manifested in human speech sounds.
Okay. Human poets too, like Koshik, will
discover innovations in the forms of their poems through an attentiveness to
that gestural energy of another species. But there’s another way of taking a look
at zoopoiesis and form and that has to do with intraspecies dynamics, that is
the poieses that work within a given species. Now some of you may be listening
and think well wait a second humans are mammals so is that is, is the poesis at
work within the human species, is that a kind of zoopoiesis? And I love that
thinking because it does foreground the fact that yes, we are mammals. And it also
invites us to take a look at the poiesis at work beyond the human. So
let’s talk about sperm whales for a second. We now know that sperm whales
have agency to alter those patterns of sound, oh their clicks within clicks
within clicks within clicks all the way down on that millisecond level and
smaller. That they can change that pattern of sound within the millisecond
level. And as they send forth these these burgeoning sounds through two other
conspecifics they’re changing those images that they’re able to share with
one another. Okay. And what I find fascinating about this is that this
poiesis, this gestural energy coming forth through sound, is fractal. There’s a
self-similar pattern of clicks within clicks within clicks and down at that
millisecond level there’s complexity and there’s complexity across all scales.
Okay. This is not unlike the human poem, right? Because there’s this gestural
energy involving sound that brings forth the form of the overall stanza.
But within a stanza we’ll have a line and within line there are phrases or there’s
words and within words they’re syllables. And a poet with an auditory imagination
is going to be working down on that micro level of sound, that cauldron of
sound within the syllable. This is one reason why Emily Dickinson has said that
there’s an elemental freight in a delivered syllable. We might also say
that there’s an elemental freight within a delivered click within sperm whale
poiesis. Okay. And I do see similarities between human poiesis and the poiesis of
sperm whales. But there are also differences and there are own votes to
consider and to respect. And this you know in – in Derrida, after talking about
zoopoetics, he talks about how his project is not to erase the line or the
limit between humans and other species but to complicate that line, to fold it in
on itself, to thicken it, to delinearize, to make it divide and multiply
until that limit becomes its own vast abyss. And I hope I’ve Illustrated for
you how a discussion in zoopoetics and both the cultural imagination as well as
a discussion of the gestural energy evolving form, how that contributes to
creating a rich limit between humans and other species. But this brings us to the
ethical dimensions that zoopoetics points toward because we know that we’re
pushing sperm whales toward extinction. We know that we’re pushing insects
towards extinction through the use of pesticides. And so I do think that a
discussion of the poiesis of butterflies or of bees or of sperm
whales, it reminds us that humans are not the only makers on this planet. And I
think that it can help develop an ethic of care and it can enrich empathy and
the empathetic imagination as we all try to find better ways of coexisting with
other species on this shared planet. Okay. Thank you. [Music]

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