Saturday, June 18, 2011

totem animals

Over at Village Dog ( scroll view | mosaic view ) I've been keeping a list of "totem animals" - kind of a journal in animal images, or animal avatars perhaps. The idea came from the late great Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, who would start off a seminar by asking students to take turns naming their "totem animals," and going around the room reciting each other's totems. I had the privilege of taking my very first graduate course with Eve in the olden days. My totem that day was completely uninspired - I think I just said my Chinese zodiac sign. So this is my attempt to do better. Another day (or two, or three), another ice-breaker.

Here are a few recent entries (strange that sleeping and sound technology seem to be on my mind lately):
#68: Lucian Freud, Eli

#67: Todd Baxter, Fox on Reel to Reels (toile pattern based on photograph)
#65: Charles Dury, young grizzly cub born in Cincinati Zoo, 1870s
#62: Toadfish, from the Reanimation Library visual archive
All 68, altogether.

Friday, June 10, 2011

gold star for settler colonialist paranoia

American culture really hurts my brain sometimes. Imagine poor Catherine Jourdan getting this as a reward for her academic labor.

From Princeton Library's collection of Awards of Merits from the 1820s onward - not sure exactly of the date for this one. Less pedagogically twisted examples here.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

flipper, we are not in san diego anymore

Another military animal story: this time a photo essay at Mother Jones. Some of the images are quite surreal. As is the final quote in the caption below. I guess we all have different opinions of what San Diego is like?

"like ghosts, dogs are enigmas"

I'm posting what I hope will be the first of a few passages from Colin Dayan's engrossing new book The Law is a White Dog (chapter 1 available for download).

Dayan's dogs are quite a different lot from the flak-jacketed K9's that have been in the news of late, or the progressive modern pets that grace the pages of the Bark. In this book we find dogs in the company of slaves, prisoners, and detainees - "extraneous persons" on the precipice between being subjects and being nothing. Here we find canis familiaris outside the ideological safe house of sentimental (or, for that matter, military) domesticity...
Howling through the shadows at Hecate’s crossroads, sitting at Pontius Pilate’s feet, snarling at Jesus crucified, or accompanying the souls of the dead to the other side, dogs inhabit both divine and demonic realms. Like ghosts, dogs are enigmas. So speaks Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, haunted by his own thoughts:

Then, suddenly, I heard a dog howl nearby.
Had I ever heard a dog howl like this? My thoughts raced back. Yes! When I was a child, in my most distant childhood:
—then did I hear a dog howl like this. And I saw it too, bristling, its head up, trembling in the stillest midnight when even dogs believe in ghosts.

Ghosts like dogs are drawn to the familiar, the everyday, even as they tend toward the paranormal and supernatural. They appear as if somewhere between the real and supernatural, returning as a nightmare white phantom, a silent shade, or heavy with flesh, overripe and in need. In the meeting of the actual and the imaginary, ghosts and dogs bear down on the world of social relations and morality. Dogs and ghosts constantly cross boundaries, visit what they coveted most in life, counting on the heaviness of things to give them pleasure, to make them grieve. Ultimately, no matter how much they suggest the impalpable or transcendent, ghosts always come in bodies. They never obey the command to be wisps of air, some kind of steam, wet in the night or voices on the wind. (pp 15-16)
See also: this previous post on pit bulls and Dayan's essay "The Dogs"