Archive for July, 2008

Review of Animal Subjects

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

I was pleased to receive this early review of Animal Subjects, edited by Jodey Castricano. Dr. Ralph Blunden is a retired Australian academic with an interest in animal ethics. He moderates a monthly Ethics Café in Melbourne, and last month they discussed Animal Subjects. His review of the book follows.

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In this volume Jodey Castricano has gathered together an interesting and challenging series of articles that address ethical issues arising from our treatment of animals. The viewpoint is one that is pertinent to Cultural Studies. The collection will be of interest to those who already have some background in the areas of ethics and our treatment of animals and our conception and understanding of them – this latter area being one more of ontology than ethics. The writing is varied and will sometimes strike a reader trained in the analytic tradition as a little offbeat in its approach.

The strength of the collection is in its diversity and its difference from existing literature on the subject. The weakness is that the relativities of postmodernism are not given more prominent analysis and defence even if that defence were couched in terms other than the analytic.

There are chapters on the largest areas of animal abuse – on chickens and on animal experimentation. However, some of the more interesting thoughts belong in other areas. John Sorenso, for example, has a chapter on animals kept in marine parks and (by extension) zoos and aquariums, how they are trained to entertain humans and how this runs counter to their interests. Sorenson writes:

 It is possible for aquaria to conduct educational programs and to promote and interest in conservation and protection of animals. However, it is widely agreed that the educational services currently provided by these institutions typically remain superficial, offering approximately the same level of information that might be gained from browsing through any popular book on animals.

Angus Taylor, ‘Electric Sheep and the New Argument from Nature’, addresses an important argument that conservationists sometimes appeal to in rejecting demands for the rights of individual animals based on sentience. For many conservationists it is species, rather than individuals, that matter. Further, the argument is advanced (and rejected by Taylor) that what is natural is also what is right. Thus, (it is suggested) having evolved as omnivores it is right that humans continue in that habit. Taylor rebuts that position.

Ecologists, environmentalists or conservationists who argue that what is natural is right are still advancing a moral imperative, appealing to a non-natural property of the world. As David Hume pointed out in his distinction between the is and the ought, we cannot consistently argue that what is actual – such as the empirical fact that we have evolved as omnivores – is neither right nor wrong, but is also right! Thus, our treatment of animals cannot be justified by appeal to the natural order of things – us being the superior predator and therefore right in our oppression of animals. This argument conflates the difference between is and ought and commits Hume’s fallacy.

Michael Allen Fox and Lesley McLean explore the concept of moral space and suggest that we must develop new ways of thinking both about ethics and animals. In a chapter entitled ‘A Missed Opportunity’ Paola Cavalieri looks at the big name Continental philosophers Foucault, Derrida and Levinas. Although she finds some sympathy for animals in their work she thinks that they have missed the opportunity to adequately explore the animal issues pretty much because their particular methodological approach prevents them from doing so.

The issues that arise from the interface of humans and non-humans continue to be one of the most revealing tests of the relevance and scope of moral philosophy and one, in spite of several decades of some very good academic minds working in the area continues to largely be ignored by the popular media. The issues involved not only are deeply troubling and difficult questions of ethics, but also depend on knowledge from a number of scientific disciplines particularly in establishing what kind of subjectivity we might ascribe to different species of animals. These difficulties are part of the reason why the popular media shy away from the subject, but it is also why many ordinary people don’t engage with it – the topic is not only difficult it also calls for personal change that at the very least would be inconvenient for many. It is thus an important focus for Cultural Studies.

This book, ranging over many aspects of the subject and including what we might regard as the question of what is central to ethics, is a worthy and original addition to the literature and anyone who reads it will find that its ideas continue to nag.

New for Fall

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

To whet your appetite for fall reading, here are a few titles from our Fall/Winter 2008 catalogue:

The Agent in the Margin: Nayantara Sahgal’s Gandhian Fiction, by Clara A.B. Joseph, is a comprehensive study of the literary works of Nayantara Sahgal, daughter of Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit—the first woman president of the United Nations General Assembly—and niece of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister.

Blues and Bliss: The Poetry of George Elliot Clarke, selected with an introductin by Jon Fiorentino offers readers an impressive cross-section of the poet’s many voices. Jon Paul Fiorentino’s introduction focuses on this polyphony, his influences—Derek Walcott, Amiri Baraka, and the canon of literary English from Shakespeare to Yeats—and his “voice throwing,” and shows how the intersections here produce a “troubling” of language.

Emerging Powers in Global Governance: Lessons from the Heiligendamm Process, edited by Andrew F. Cooper and Agata Antkiewicz, is a co-publication of WLU Press and CIGI. In this book, leading international relations experts examine the positions and roles of key emerging countries in the potential transformation of the G8 and the prospects for their deeper engagement in international governance.

German Diasporic Experiences:Identity, Migration, and Loss, edited by Mathias Schulze, James M. Skidmore, David G. John, Grit Liebscher, and Sebastian Siebel-Achenbach. More than 40 contributors. Part I focuses on identity, with essays exploring the connections among language, politics, and the construction of histories—national, familial, and personal—in German-speaking diasporic communities around the world. Part II deals with migration, examining such issues as German migrants in postwar Britain, German refugees and forced migration, and the immigrant as a fictional character, among others. Part III examines the idea of loss in diasporic experience with essays on nationalization, language change or loss, and the reshaping of cultural identity.

New this summer

Friday, July 18th, 2008

We have a bunch of great titles coming out in the next little while and a really exciting slate in our next catalogue. I’m heading off for a couple of weeks of holidays but before I go I will give you a brief outline of what you can expect to see in your local bookstore soon. The next post will focus on fall titles.

This Spot of Ground: Spiritual Baptists in Toronto, by Carol Duncan, arrives just in time for Caribana. This fascinating book represents the first detailed exploration of an African-Caribbean religion in the context of contemporary migration to Canada. Toronto is home to Canada’s largest black population, a significant portion of whom are Caribbean migrants and their descendants. The book examines the ways in which the immigration experiences of church members, the large majority of whom are women, have shaped the development of the religion in Canada, in tandem with the ways in which religious experiences have mediated the members’ experiences of migration and everyday life in Canada.
Programming Reality: Perspectives in English-Canadian Television, edited by Zoe Druick and Aspa Kotsopoulos, is the next volume in our new Film and Media Studies series. It is the first anthology dedicated to analyses of Canadian television content and is a collection of original, interdisciplinary articles, combining textual analysis and political economy of communications. It will be in stores in early August.

Asian Canadian Writing Beyond Ethnography, edited by Eleanor Ty and Christl Verduyn, explores some of the latest developments in the literary and cultural practices of Canadians of Asian heritage. The essays in this collection demonstrate the ways representations of race and ethnicity, particularly in works by Asian Canadians in the last decade, have changed—have become more playful, untraditional, aesthetically and ideologically transgressive, and exciting. Look for it mid-August.

Afghanistan: Transition under Threat, edited by Geoffrey Hayes and Mark Sedra, is a co-publication from WLU Press and the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI). Leading Afghanistan experts examine Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban and the launch of internationally sponsored state-building and consider future prospects with NATO’s and specifically Canada’s presence. It will be available in September.

Publishing and Web 2.0

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

Web 2.0 VisualI recently attended a seminar in Toronto put on by the Interactive Advertising Bureau of Canada that featured a presentation on Social Media Marketing and Web 2.0. The presenter was Mitch Joel from Twist Image in Montreal and the day was packed with learning and fun.

His message was essentially that we (anyone who has a product to market) should jump in with both feet to embrace the many ways we can foster communication and forge networks of people with an interest in our subject (in our case, our books and authors). I learned about blogging, about podcasting, about MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter, and how companies are using those spaces to get the message out. He was very clear that the connections must be personal, that people don’t really want corporate connections. I’m dabbling in a lot of those applications now and getting to know some really cool people who read our books and who write our books.

Because blogging and RSS feeds are such a staple of the idea of Web 2.0 (participation and interaction) I’d like to hear from people who have a blog and from people who read and/or subscribe to this one. If you leave me a comment I’ll enter your name into a draw for a free book. If you have a blog that relates to publishing (or content areas that we publish in) I’ll link to you and I hope you’ll link to me.

Before I head off for vacation next week I want to let you know about some of the titles that are coming up for the fall. I’ll blog about them later in the week, but if you’re a Facebook user you can check them out here.

New Film Studies Title

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2008

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We’re thrilled to announce the first title in the Film and Media Studies series. Edited by George Melnyk, The Young, the Restless, and the Dead is the first volume in a series of interviews with Canadian filmmakers.

This book features an interview with a late director (Jean-Claude Lauzon) whose work is recognized in the canon as outstanding; interviews with filmmakers who are accomplished in their fields and have to their credit a sizeable body of work (Blake Corbet, Andrew Currie, Brent Carlson, Guy Maddin, Lynne Stopkewich, Anne Wheeler, Gary Burns, and Mina Shum); and an interview with a young director new to the field (Michael Dowse). Together these players in the Canadian film scene capture the energy, success, and tribulations of a fascinating cultural industry.

Available in finer bookstores everywhere.