HRAE Public lecture: '"Steer Flees City": Animal and Literary Challenges to the Politics of "Humane Slaughter" in Post-war America' by Dr Robert McKay, University of Sheffield

Date: Tuesday, June 24, 2014 - 17:30 to 19:00

Venue: Linkway, level 4, John Medley (Building 191) (off Grattan St), University of Melbourne, Parkville, VIC 3010

"Steer Flees City": Animal and Literary Challenges to the Politics of "Humane Slaughter" in Post-war America

Beginning with the astonishing story of a heroic white-faced ox who escaped from a Manhattan slaughterhouse and swam across the Hudson to New Jersey in July 1954, this talk considers several stories in post-war America of animals’ resistance to being killed. I look at journalism, literary fiction, memoir, letters and film, and their philosophical, political and legislative contexts but focus on the work of the Pulitzer-winning novelist, Oscar-nominated screenwriter and America’s first major film critic, James Agee (1909-1955). Reading Agee alongside E. B. White, Senator Hubert H. Humphrey, and staff writers at the New York Times, and in dialogue with the contemporary political thought of Giorgio Agamben, Jacques Derrida, and others, I will explore the ethical stakes of these accounts of the animal killing.

What, in particular, can we learn from the priorities and preconditions of literary, moral and political thought about slaughter and animals' resistance to it in post-war America? What can we learn from what is shown and what is hidden in this picture of animals' lives and deaths? I suggest that in the postwar period a number of radically competing conceptions of animal life exist, in particular about the concept of suffering shared across species; these different conceptions, when through fully, might allow for a different imagining of and response to animal killing now.

HRAE is pleased to announce this exciting lecture by Dr Robert McKay from the University of Sheffield. Please join us for drinks and canapés at 5.30pm to welcome Dr McKay, with the lecture to follow at 6pm.