Skip to:

Workshop with Carla Freccero: "Humanism in the Making: Animals Before Descartes"



Friday, February 13, 2009 - 12:00pm


Workshop with Carla Freccero: "Humanism in the Making: Animals Before Descartes"

A lunch seminar with Carla Freccero, U.C. Santa Cruz, Building 260, Room 252. Lunch will be provided. RSVP to Ryan Zurowski.


This workshop will be about how to think about doing pre-modern posthumanism, how to theorize pre-modernity's theories of sentient life before the great Cartesian animal-human divide. I have begun to explore the genealogy of what retrospectively might be called a minor tradition in Western literary, philosophical, and scientific thinking: the inseparability of orders of being comprising human and non-human life. From certain classical writers, such as Pliny and Herodotus, and early Christian thinkers such as Augustine, to medieval and early modern theological, literary, philosophical and scientific writers such as Marie de France, Rabelais, Montaigne, Léry, Paré, La Fontaine, Pascal, and even Descartes himself, to name a few, a capacious conceptualization of the living may be seen to be at work, one that ranges from a view of the relative insignificance of the human in the order of things, to the hybridity of kinds of living beings (monsters, angels, mixtures of human and animal, mixtures of human and divine, and other permutations), to a model of living differences called Nature. I hope to examine some of these conceptualizations of life alongside what will emerge as Humanism, the dominant strain of Western philosophical thinking about the living. Readings in a course I taught on this subject included early modern texts that work to define the human as distinct from, even opposed to, the animal (such as Pico della Mirandola's "On the Dignity of Man"), as well as those that figure the living otherwise.  In addition, the course engaged the thinking of a number of current theorists who have, through animal studies and philosophical posthumanism(s), enabled the posing of the question of pre- and post-modern alternatives to humanism. I hope we will be able to read a selection of texts together at this workshop and discuss some of these questions.