Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Animals as Cultural Producers

I was recently forwarded this video

of a Lyre Bird, who has the capacity to imitate the sounds in its environment in order to attract a mate. With the incursion of civilization into their territories the lyre bird starts to imitate the sounds of documentary cameras that surround it, chainsaws, and even a car alarm. In effect, according to the voice-over (in the longer version), the lyre bird appears to be singing of its own doom.

In an oblique way, this reminds me of Wittgenstein's query:

"Why can't a dog simulate pain? Is he too honest? Could one teach a dog to simulate pain? Perhaps it is possible to teach him to howl on particular occasions as if he were in pain, even when he is not. But the surroundings which are necessary for this behaviour to be real simulation are missing."

It has been indicated that the capacity of mimicry, in a particular sense, is what makes the human precisely human. The now intellectually defunct Homi Bhabha describes "mimicry" in the colonial context as an attempt to "educate" the colonized into an imitative relationship to the colonist to serve "the desire for a reformed, recognizable Other, as a subject of a difference that is almost the same, but not quite." This figured proximity between animal life and the "bare life" of humans (as opposed to real or political life) has been commented on by political theorist Giorgio Agamben who suggests that the very basis of the political requires a cut in life, the separation of mere existence from real life, or the human from the non-human. Thus particular lives (human or not) remain subject to the state, killed but not sacrificed.

Whatever we might think of the question of human to animal proximity, the domesticated animal tends to have a quasi-social relationship to the human--it is often integrated into a family structure, perhaps a hierarchy, and it substitutes certain functions of other humans might supply. For example, fronting for your band.

Two hardcore bands recently brought to my attention feature a parrot and two pitbulls producing vocals of sorts:



caninus Pictures, Images and Photos

grindcore act Caninus, recently completing a split with vegan gore-metal pioneers Cattle Decapitation.

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