Mirror Tests: Anthropocentrism and Cross-Species Understanding in The Lives of Animals

Essay completed 3 March 2017

J.M. Coetzee’s work The Lives of Animals calls language into question by framing a discussion of animal rights through fictional academic lectures, conversations, and debates. In her response to the work, Majorie Garber argues the narrative destabilizes the reader’s ability to choose which authoritative voice to trust through its metafictive structure and ultimate establishing of “partitions of knowledge” between disciplines (73). I concur with Garber and wonder whether Coetzee’s intention for The Lives of Animals is to ask “What is the value of literature?” more than “What is the value of the animal?” (84). Throughout the fictional debates, Coetzee asks us to question what kinds of language can be trusted as an accurate way to represent the essence of animal experience. What kind of language, then, brings us to the best model of understanding the relationship between the human and nonhuman?   Continue reading “Mirror Tests: Anthropocentrism and Cross-Species Understanding in The Lives of Animals”

Existential Action: Criticisms and Hypothetical Responses

Essay completed 7 December 2016

In his 1946 essay “Existentialism is humanism,” Sartre defends existentialism against several recurring criticisms. The most superficial criticism of existentialism asserts that existentialists dwell too much on human degradation while denying the seriousness of human achievement. In essence, this criticism asks why existentialism focuses so much on negative aspects of life, when there is so much to celebrate. Another common criticism Sartre identifies is the charge that existentialism fosters nihilism because it denies objective morality, condemning people to live without meaning. The underlying assumption of this criticism is that a life is only worth living if there is objective morality. Another criticism is that existentialism encourages quietism and discourages solidarity in the face of life’s meaninglessness. These charges assert overall that if objective solutions can never be found in existentialism, “we should have to consider action in this world as quite impossible” (Marino 341-342). Continue reading “Existential Action: Criticisms and Hypothetical Responses”

The Incomprehensible Man: The Stranger and Living Absurdly

Essay completed 28 November 2016

In The Stranger, Albert Camus characterizes the absurdity of the human condition. Meursault, the novel’s protagonist, lives his life detached from everything around him. Even the death of his own mother does not seem to affect him. External stimuli and his basic, internal needs are his only sources of motivation. Morality does not concern Meursault, who describes his friend Raymond’s abuse of his girlfriend in the same passive, detached tone he uses to recount what he ate for breakfast. Meursault’s moral indifference brings him into conflict with society, particularly in the second part of the novel when he is tried for the murder of an Arab man, a crime for which he never shows remorse. After my first reading of The Stranger, I thought Meursault perfectly represents Camus’ philosophy of living absurdly. Continue reading “The Incomprehensible Man: The Stranger and Living Absurdly”

Freedom and Egoism in The Ethics of Ambiguity

Essay completed 2 November 2016

At this point in our class, any reconciliation between morality and existentialism seems impossible to me. If everything is subjective, how can anyone establish ethical imperatives? Why would anyone feel any obligation to others if individuals are free to determine how they live? In her 1947 work The Ethics of Ambiguity, Simone de Beauvoir confronts these questions as she considers how to approach some form of ethical process even in the midst of existentialism’s rejection of inherent moralities. Continue reading “Freedom and Egoism in The Ethics of Ambiguity”