Posthuman Postmortem Postcards: Othering and Identification in Condolence Cards for Bereaved Pet Keepers

Monday, 11 July 2016: 16:45
Location: Hörsaal 4A KS (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
David REDMALM, Uppsala University, Sweden
Drawing on the work of Giorgio Agamben, this paper analyzes the text and imagery of condolence cards for humans who have lost a nonhuman animal companion. Although previous research has suggested that there is a taboo on grieving lost pets, there is a growing global market for cards designed for people who mourn a companion animal. The grammar and aesthetics of these cards show what is possible and acceptable when it comes to the display of grief across species borders, and what is not. Most of the cards available recognize the loss of a pet as the loss of a person rather than a belonging, or the loss of grievable bios (political life) rather than expendable zoē (bare life). The analysis shows that while the cards recognize the privileged status of some nonhuman animals in the life of humans, they are concurrently dependent on using the kind of familiar anthropocentric language and imagery that also fuel human exceptionalism. On the one hand, the cards’ rhetoric opens up representations that risk belittling or rejecting the grief for a lost companion animal. On the other, cards also challenge the hierarchical human/animal distinction, emphasizing non-human animals’ status as kin, in spite of the difference in kind. This balancing between othering and trans-species identification provides the cards with a posthuman quality: in accumulation the cards shed light not only on the othering operations categorizing nonhuman animals as bare life, but also on the volatile notion of a human ‘we’. These posthuman postmortem postcards thus challenge what Agamben calls the anthropological machine; that is, they unsettle the idea of humans as exceptional animals and the discursive othering mechanisms that produce the distinction between bios and zoē.