Texas Tech University

Animal/Language: An Interdisciplinary Conference

Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX
21-23 March 2019

Conference Program

How are animals intrinsically linked to and bound up in (human) language? What is the meaning of animals in poetic language? How do human language and animal language relate to one another? Are animal languages, such as bat signals or dolphin calls, more complex than human ones? Is animal communication always intrinsically part of, and co-evolving with, an environment? Might human language, in fact, be a component of a broad spectrum of animal communication? The philosopher Gilles Deleuze famously wrote of birdsongs as what he called "assemblages" – a gathering or conjunction of forces or entities that, though tethered together, persist in their fragmentary multiplicity. What the term allows is a way to cut across the artificial – and very human – divide between animal and environment, Nature and Culture.

Animals and language have a complicated relationship with one another in human understanding. Every period of history evinces a fascination with the diverse modes of communicative exchange and possibilities of linguistic community that exist both within and between species. Recent critics of anthropocentrism are far from the first to question the supposed muteness of the "dumb animal" and its ontological and ethical ramifications. Various cultures have historically attributed language to animals, and we have developed an increasingly sophisticated scientific understanding of the complex non-verbal communicative systems that animals use among themselves. New research complements millennia of human-animal communication in the contexts of work, play, and domestic life.

Some people have extensive experience with real, live animals. Some primarily encounter animals as products of the food industry. Some focus on animal representations in text or image, or deploy the abstract figure of "the animal" as limit or counterpart of the human. These interactions condition different ways of "thinking with animals," including: using them in and as language or in experimentation, recruiting them as symbols and metaphors, incorporating them into idiomatic expressions, projecting moral values onto them, and ventriloquizing them for purposes of cultural critique. A vast archive of literary, artistic, philosophical, historical, religious, and scientific explorations testifies that the boundaries and complementarities relating animals and language have always captured the human imagination.

The boundaries and complementarities relating animals and language have always captured the human imagination. Animal/Language: An Interdisciplinary Conference engages with a central feature of what is becoming known as the 'animal turn' in the Humanities: the recognition that animals and language have a complicated relationship with one another in human understanding. What it means to be 'human' has often been thought through and against the figure of the 'animal', with 'language' traditionally seen as constitutive of human identity. The desire for—and the realities of—communication between animals and humans and among animals themselves put pressure on these mechanisms of distinction in ways that can be both exciting and unsettling.

The conference will be held in conjunction with the 51st Comparative Literature Program Symposium at Texas Tech University and with the art exhibition "Assembling Animal Communication", featuring the work of artists Catherine Chalmers, Catherine Clover, Darcie DeAngelo, Lee Deigaard and Maria Lux. Scheduled events will also include live canine and equine communication demonstrations. The conference will have no registration fees.

Keynote Speakers:

With many thanks,

The Conference Organizers

Dr. John Beusterien (Spanish), Dr. Belinda Kleinhans (German), Dr. Katy Schroeder (Animal & Food Sciences), Dr. Lucas Wood (French), Dr. Pamela Zinn (Classics), in collaboration with Joe Arredondo (Landmark Arts) and Dr. Kevin Chua (Art History)

Support for the conference is generously provided by a grant from the City of Lubbock, as recommended by Civic Lubbock, Inc.; the Humanities Center at Texas Tech University through the Office of the Provost; the Office of Research and Innovation; the College of Arts & Sciences; the J. T. & Margaret Talkington College of Visual & Performing Arts; the Department of Classical & Modern Languages & Literatures; the Department of Animal & Food Sciences; the Ryla T. & John F. Lott Endowment for Excellence in the Visual Arts in the School of Art; the Charles B. Qualia Endowment in the Department of Classical & Modern Languages & Literatures; and Landmark Arts in the School of Art.

Exhibitions and speaker programs in the Texas Tech University School of Art are made possible in part through a generous grant from the Helen Jones Foundation of Lubbock, with additional support from the J.T. & Margaret Talkington College of Visual & Performing Arts.