The APRA Foundation Berlin Multi-Disciplinary Fellow 2011
Project Proposal: Three Little Pigs
Our relationship with other animals is vexed and conflicted. Animals are neighbours, food, pets, pests, friends, curiosities, creatures imbued with spiritual significance, and so on. We read stories of anthropomorphic animals to our children and then serve them up the cooked flesh of these same animals on the dinner table. “Mary had a little lamb” is disconcertingly ambiguous. Our conflicting views about animals reveal an anxious tension in the inescapable fact that we ourselves are animals: making sense of who we are as human animals requires coming to terms with the “animal” half of that expression as much as the “human” half.
My aim is to develop three short plays and three essays about the indistinct distinction between humans and animals, which complement, rather than comment on, one another. The three plays are a trio of black comedies called Pork, Ham, and Bacon, which will be staged together under the title Three Little Pigs. Each play uses dark humour to unearth some aspect of our conflicting attitudes toward animals.
The essays are not so much commentaries on the plays themselves, but rather comment on the plays obliquely by exploring in a philosophical idiom some of the themes I explore in the dramas. The first essay explores the question of a distinction between humans and animals, and why it should matter to us. The second explores the distinction between philosophy and literature, made particularly pertinent by the juxtaposition of play scripts and essays that I propose, but also brought into relation with the first essay by J. M. Coetzee’s The Lives of Animals, which worries the human/animal and literature/philosophy distinctions simultaneously. The final essay connects our anxieties about the human/animal distinction to our anxieties about mortality: the most salient feature of our animality is that we are condemned to die, and our diet of dead animals is a constant and painful reminder of this fact.
Project Report: Three Little Pigs
I had a good draft of Pork before the beginning of the fellowship tenure. I wrote a first draft of Ham in the autumn of 2011 and revised the draft in the summer of 2012, and feel it is now nearly ready for performance. Bacon has posed more difficulties. In the winter and spring of 2012, attempts at revising an earlier draft persuaded me I need to start from scratch, and a second version of the play also proved to be fundamentally flawed. Work on a third version of Bacon is now progressing, however, and I have good reason to hope to have a solid first draft by mid-September 2012.
Through the spring and summer of 2012, I wrote fragments of drafts – ranging in length from 500 to 4,000 words – taking note of how the fragments relate to one another and how they might flow together. At this stage I have over 15,000 words, representing perhaps half of the raw material I hope to shape into essays.
My thinking about the plays and essays has been greatly helped by some related projects. I taught a course on the place of animals in contemporary technology and society at McMaster University in the spring of 2012. My preparation for the class, as well as the contributions of an outstanding group of students, helped my thinking on this subject considerably. I also wrote two essays – a short piece for McMaster University’s Incite magazing and a longer piece for The Point, a Chicago-based literary magazine – which treat themes that will appear in my essays for this project. Lastly, I have adapted Pork into a short screenplay, which I am developing with a New York filmmaker.