Monthly Archives: November 2013

Next Meeting: December 9th

We have one more meeting coming up before the Christmas break. We will be meeting on Monday, December 9th at 6:30pm – 8pm at King’s College London, Strand campus, room S2.39. As ever, all are welcome and snacks and drinks will be provided!

Victoria Grace Walden (PhD student, Queen Mary University of London) will be talking to us on ‘The implications of the non/human as Other in Holocaust films’.

Here is an abstract of her paper: There are a number of Holocaust films which represent our inability to fully comprehend the years 1933-1945 in European history by abstracting the human body. Using a phenomenological framework, influenced by the work of Vivian Sobchack and Laura U.Mark, I will investigate the replacement of human bodies with non-organic objects and the use of cinematic techniques to turn the human body into object in Kornblumenblau and Zyklon Portrait. Cognitive film theory teaches us we connect emotionally with human forms on screen; as we follow their stories and get “up-close” we sympathise with them. Neuroscience research suggests we mirror the emotions of others, thus when we see happiness we reflect happiness back. But how do we relate to films where human bodies are abstracted – where we do not see the straight-forward “characters” of cognitive theory? I will explore why these Holocaust films disturb our relationship with screen bodies and how this relates to ethical issues of Holocaust representation.

As we only have one paper this time, we will also be discussing a short chapter: Georges Didi-Huberman, ‘Similar, Dissimilar, Survivor’, in Images in Spite of All: Four Photographs from Auschwitz (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), pp. 41-47.

The photographs that Didi-Huberman discusses in this chapter can be found in the gallery on this wikipedia page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sonderkommando

One of the films that Victoria will be discussing is Zyklon Portrait, which can be watched on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nfc8eWZZdrI

We will circulate a copy of this chapter among our mailinglist. If you do not have a copy please email us at being.non.human@gmail.com, and we will gladly send you the reading material.

We hope to see you on December 9th!


Report on November meeting

Our last meeting focused very broadly on how we decide which bodies count as human. What are the limits of the human, the boundaries that define the human? And what happens when we question these limits? Sam Curtis’s paper examined manmade entities such as golems and Dr Frankenstein’s monster, whilst Ben Davies analysed the possibilities that negligible senescence (the idea that, in the future, age-related damage will be repaired so quickly and effectively that the person is not affected by the passing of years, their lifespan increasing and their youth preserved for a greater length of time). Both papers were interested in the idea that there are various levels of ‘humanness’ and the possibility that a body’s claim to humanness can be questioned.

The key question raised by Davies’s paper was whether or not a human body undergoing the processes of negligible senescence can still be considered human. If negligible senescence gradually enhances or manipulates the body, are you left with the same body? Is the body undergoing negligible senescence not equal to the human body, bearing in mind that the human body undergoes replacement at a cellular level over the years? Or does negligible senescence question humanness not so much by altering the body physically but by altering the body’s abilities? And at what stage is a life considering worth living? Should genetic changes only be available to adults or should they be available to embryos? Who controls these changes – can a person determine the genetic alterations made to their child or to a parent suffering from dementia?

Issues of power were also present in Sam Curtis’s paper: whilst creating a golem is an act that brings one closer to God (creation in this case is another form of worship) but does not dispute God’s power, Dr Frankenstein’s act of creation is seen as the transgressive ‘stealing’ of God’s power and so the disruption of the human-God relationship. Curtis’s paper, like Davies’s, also suggested the fragility of the human as a concept. That Frankenstein’s monster during the nineteenth century was often aligned with different ethnic and social groups (notably disempowered groups such as the Irish and the working class) emphasises that the human is not so much a stable scientific category as an entity that is culturally determined. The human as aligned with the perceived normative or perfect body is further suggested by the similarities drawn out between the manmade creations and the perception of disabled bodies. The rarity of manmade female creations adds another layer to this: if we consider the male body to be the normative body, then the female is inherently inferior. Could it be that there are fewer manmade female creations because women are already associated with the ‘less than human’?

Our next meeting is Monday 9th December, where we’ll hear a paper from Victoria Grace Walden on ‘The Non/Human as Other in Holocaust Films’. There is also a very short chapter to be read beforehand: ‘Similar, Dissimilar, Survivor’, in Georges Didi-Huberman’s Images in Spite of All: Four Photographs from Auschwitz (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2008), pp. 41-47.