Photo of David Clark

Dr. David L. Clark
Professor, Department of English and Cultural Studies
Associate Member, Health Studies Programme
McMaster University
Hamilton, Ontario
Canada

Half-Buried Dog Project



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The Half-Buried Dog Project (2009)


Francisco de Goya, El Perro Semihundido
(The Half-Buried Dog) 1821-23, Museo del Prado

134 x 80 cm (oil on canvas)

Graduate students in English and Cultural Studies 767 (“Regarding Animals: Theories of Non-human Life”) have been asked to contribute short critical reflections growing out of the course readings but rooted in Goya’s strange painting, El Perro Semihundido.  These reflections were to be submitted at the end of the 2009 autumn term and posted together as a kind of animal assemblage marking the conclusion of the seminar.  But shortly after the course began I started to hear lots of intriguing responses to the materials at hand, and to the larger questions quickening this course;  namely, What does it mean to fall under the gaze of an animal? How does being seen seen by the animal, if there is such a thing, change how we see?  Who, we?  These questions have turned out to be more immediately pressing and disruptive than I initially imagined they would be; the advent of the animal turns out to be both part of the course “content”....and something more, something pressing in a way not easily described as a topic that we are investigating, one among many.  In the wake of these responses, I’ve invited interested students in the seminar to begin posting reflections on “the question of the animal”–the phrase is Jacques Derrida’s--sooner rather than later.  With animals, it is always sooner rather than later.


Responses



[ 3 December 2009 ] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


The Name of the Doggy

“Doggy!” My little one’s first word after “Mamma.” All his human relatives who are so invested in hearing him call them by name seem almost insulted that they have yet to be identified as anything. But he never misses a doggy. Sifting through my papers as I file away notes, he comes across my course outline with the picture of the half-buried dog on it and immediately exclaims his favourite word. I was surprised that he could even decipher it as such, considering that he was looking at it upside down. Usually he is right on the mark, never mistakes a dog for a cat. Except for the only other half-buried animal he has come across in his short life. On the side of the highway, stopped in traffic, he points out the window – “doggy” he cries gleefully. I am dismayed to find that what he is looking at is an unidentifiable furry mass, half covered in leaves. I’m sure it is probably a raccoon or a hedgehog, but imagining that it could be a dog leaves me feeling sickly. Road-kill. What an awful word. I hope my son never learns that one. How many miles of highway-driving does it take before you can convince yourself that these victims of vehicular animal-slaughter don’t really matter? When he is old enough to understand that these animals are dead, do I comfort him the way my Dad tried to comfort me, by telling him that their deaths are just an unfortunate reality of humans needing to get places quickly? Or can we grieve each half-buried body together? (Cathy Collet)

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[ 1 December 2009 ] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


Olivier’s Dogs (Jesse Arseneault)

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[ 30 November 2009 ] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


A Reflection by "Half-Buried Dog"? (Jennifer Fisher)

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[ 30 November 2009 ] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


A Selfish Bitch, or, ‘la pensée de l’animal’ (with apologies to Jacques Derrida)*

Selfish bitch. For a moment I'm not sure whether I'm talking to her or she's talking to me. Her Umwelt and mine collide.

Can't she see that I'm half-buried in my work? Papers to write? Conferences to prepare for? Children to pick up from school? Family to feed? Laundry to fold? I don't have time for a goddamn walk.

For her, is life any more than food/ ball/ squeaky/ walk/ nap/ poo/ pee/ cuddle/ nap/ snack/ pee/ nap/ walk/ roll/ scratch/ fart/ food/ nap/ cuddle/ walk/ sleep? Though not necessarily in that order, for what does my little dog know of order? In truth, is mine much different? Though I might exchange “balls” (no time for those) for “school” and one of those “poos” (hardly time for those either) for “laundry.”

She curls up on the leather couch and tucks her nose to her fat little belly. A big sigh. Is that a sigh of resignation, or one of contented, restful pleasure? And why do I care? I never gave her my word. Nor did she give me hers.

I would speak more of this if only we had the time—what? Already five o’clock? And damn it all, it had to be raining. She swallows hard as I snap the collar around her neck and can’t help but wag her tail, if only a little. I get out her leash and make her wear a raincoat because she doesn’t like to get wet (or I don’t like the smell of wet dog... Is there a différance?) I am ashamed to stand before her and not have acknowledged that I have half-buried her in my own selfish work, my own selfish words. There you have it. Let’s go, fatso. 

[* In true Derridean form, ‘La pensée de l’animal’ can be translated, loosely, as both “thinking regarding the animal’ (as David Wills renders the phrase for that text) and “the thinking of the animal” [that therefore I am])] (Sonya Zikic)

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[ 30 November 2009 ] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


Words/(We)apons

A whimper echoes, reverberates in a vacuum edged by confused whispers.
  I aim, and hurl my ammunition at the target, always missing it, but
there are explosions nevertheless. Shrapnel embeds itself into
vulnerable flesh. Again. Ready, aim...

**“For not only is the animal held within the imaginary and unable to
accede to the symbolic[...]”.**

..can it suffer? It sounds like suffering. But what can I know? I
follow the others, let us bury this creature. Who will put the first
layer upon it? Again:

**“The animal is at once open and not open- or better, it is neither
one nor the other [...]”. **

He?She? has felt the blow this time. Another whine, a drooping tail.
Panting, trying to catch some air..but it doesn’t matter, the next
round is on its way:

** “Thus, at one and the same time the animal is deprived of the right
to respond, of course, and therefore responsibility [...] yet it is
also deprived of nonresponse, of the right of nonresponse that is
accorded the human face by means of secrecy or in death.” **

It is wounded, barely visible- and yet...did someone say human? Who?
 And so we turn and aim our ammunition at ourselves, and re-patch after
every blow. The scar tissue forms instantly...and the whine of that
creature on the periphery is nothing, silence, and melodic background
music. (Kirin Gill)

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[ 30 November 2009 ] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


While this course has been grounded within discussion of realms outside the day-to-day, its content it still able to sink into my daily life.

I often find myself asking:
What is this animal that occupies the same living space as me?
Can she die? Will she merely perish? What impact would that have on my mourning?
How much can she experience? How trapped or confined is she within her disinhibitor?
To what extent has my relationship with this friend been problematized merely from the question "What is the animal?"

While my contribution is entirely made up of questions, and while I have yet to answer any of them, it draws attentions to the difficulty that comes from trying to understand this animal figure that is so often a part of our lives but is so far from being understood and still remains a part of the unknown.

Heidegger and the Death of the Animal (Joanna Paddock)

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[ 28 November 2009 ] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


Happenstance (Dave Boylan)

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[ 27 November 2009 ] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


Consider this Artistic Statement... (or, "A Critique of Symbolic Rendering")

"The Other Half of 'The Half-Buried Dog'", oil on canvas, 2009 - My piece is an adaptation of Francisco de Goya's 1821-23 painting, "El Perro Semihundido". I created a replica, as faithfully as I could, of the artist's original work using oil paint on canvas and similar colours. The changes I made to the top of the painting are significant. I wanted to add something to the top half of Goya's image to make it seem more balanced...something more pleasing to my eye.

I used a rough stenciling method to trace the image of the figure submerged in the ground in Goya's original and translate it onto the top of my canvas -- upside down in a kind of mirror image. In my adaptation, it appears that another half-submerged figure is looking down at the original figure across the orange space. I say "figure" because my rather experimental stenciling process yielded a muddled version of the top figure, making it indistinguishable as a dog. The only real difference between the figure looking down and the figure looking up is that one has a more dog-like set of ears, a more dog-like face. I decided halfway through my painting that the figure in the top made more sense as a man's face so it became a man. The viewer may notice this difference in the translation, but it should not upset the new balance of the image that I was going for in my adaptation.

The great wash of negative space so famous in Goya's original is maintained in my work between the two figures. Both figures look at each other and it is up to the viewer to decide whether the gazes are of longing, curiosity, or if each figure is just trying to keep it's head above the ground that surrounds and contains it. Regardless, the effect of this mirror-like image should be harmonious and natural to the modern viewer's eye.

[Technical note from the artist: I urge the gallery hanging my piece to make sure the painting is hung correctly, as this is easy to confuse. It just won't make sense if it is hung upside down and Goya's familiar dog is not the figure looking up. The upside-down man should be on top.] (Reiko Milley)

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[ 26 November 2009 ] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

 

To Me You

-I-

To me, you are more of a mouse
Mouse ears and mouse eyes, these are the things that make me decide.
I enter them into my calculating device and out the other side helpfully pops
Truth; also,
Your eyes are crosshatched, they are a bull’s eye
I just can’t decide
To save or to savor, my little mouse, so I pick
the former and think I
think Perfect I don’t even have to try
(as I stoke the flames that scorch the sky of the pyre upon which I’ll what?
Cook you?  Warm you?  Use to keep you at bay?)
But you might be halfway out and only pretending to be halfway in—
what a new game this is, to me
You are out of bounds.  So I allow my brainfull head a shake.
I’ll have to guess and guess anew at you, you with the blood of the blood as your
Legacy, with your being here what we might call a “variable,”
too minor to die in the crash and me here for it.
And there she is, our uncommon ancestor, waiting in the wings.
But wait you are a dog, and also the remainder.
The leftovers.  You are a
lump sum.
It does not matter what you are
mouse/dog/stone/world and it does not matter what you have,
the only thing that matters is that you are
not me/me.  To me you
are there because of you.  To me this is a revealing.  To me you
are-nothing-but what you are.
I tremble, a little, at your back.
I want not to be beseeched by what is not living to never die…
When you thrash a little I start to scream:
“but you are my best friend.”
But what is this love that could so easily be hate or nothing or best of all
alien feeling that I for once and in the end won’t ever know.
And then I think: “stop screaming stop screaming stop”
Because now you are my dearest enemy and I will do
anything you ask just to
          Shut You Up.

-II-

I have been waiting for you.  I have been waiting all this time.
You, fully formed, pale.
You, finally upright, finally ready to reveal my purpose.
For years I waited, until at last those hands that could grasp—
and that mind that could too, I guess—
grasped what it is that needs grasping and stroked me gently, expertly
into being.  Quiveringly, I am here now, and you tell me I’m
half-buried and I should obey (I want to obey) but I feel half out of this ancient
mess already (you were right to wonder) now that I’ve a way in the world.
You see me as half-buried, sinking, a ghost.
But I’m just a word away from being re-born.
And even into space and infinity I’ll keep waiting,
waiting until the beginning of time,
history is now and the future is never and that
is your riddle not mine. (Sabrina Veilleux)

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[ 26 November 2009 ] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


Half-Buried Secret

I see it there—over there.
“It” because she is sexless, or perhaps always sexed
“It” because he is nameless, or perhaps always named

I see it half-buried under the metaphysics of its kind,
Under the weight of its kinship,
Mired in the domesticity of it (s) kin.

It is there because I put it there.
I dug the trench with a shovel that was passed down to me,
But I wield it—I keep it (hidden).

Why didn’t I bury it completely? Cover it over? Tramp it down?
It is my secret in the open (and yours)
An open secret that needs (re)telling and (re)minding
We need to see it seeing us seeing it, seeing them—Do they see?

I bury only enough to keep them still, quiet—static and unchanged,
But now...
I realize that I cannot move.
The silt and muck of my intentions consume me,
Keep me half-buried with one limb free digging and scraping in perpetuity.

While We Look Away

Oh, it’s a good day. Everything’s running like a well-oiled machine. We’re even on time. I holler so they’ll send the next one down the chute. She’s small and feisty, but no match for professionals. Besides, where is she going to go? Her life was designed exactly for this end. We loop her hind legs with the strong cables of the block and tackle pulley and hoist her up into the air. She kicks and squirms and swings back and forth in a jerky arc. Sure, she’s making noise, but she’s just an animal. It’s not like she’s aware or anything. My co-worker steadies her while I take up the sledgehammer in my capable hands. Some people use a bolt-gun, but I guess I’m old-fashioned. I’ve done it a thousand times, maybe more. My grasp is firm and confident, and I’m focused on the space between her eyes. A blank space—a target.

I am aware of everything in that moment: the heavy way my steel-toed boots press down on the stained concrete floor, the muscles in my legs flexing to steady my stance, the coarse fabric of my coveralls chafing my elbows, the odd quiet that is produced by a multitude of sounds competing in the air around my head. But something happened then, something in the back swing of the sledgehammer, something as I shifted my weight from right leg to left leg. It was a millisecond, a flutter, a glitch in the mechanicity of my movement—I caught her eye. I was paralyzed in an instant, and the sledgehammer clattered to the floor. It echoed like the sound of breaking pottery in a mausoleum. She was looking at me. She stared silently, waiting. Waiting for what? Animals can’t even think, so how could she wait? But she was, and she did. We looked at each other and I began to feel ashamed. I couldn’t bear the weight of her gaze as she dangled there. She was my prisoner and I was her executioner. As I dropped to my knees amongst the piss, shit, and blood that stained the floor, her eyes followed me. They were inescapable, and so was my shame. I looked away. (Vikki Winkler)



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[ 26 November 2009 ] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


Here I am! I am for you.
And as our gazes meet,
(What) I ask, are you (doing) for me?

"To be oneself is, for Levinas, to be for the other. To be a self is to be a subject in the accusative-not "I think" or "I see", but "Here I am." The other impels the acknowledgment of oneself as responsibility, or response to the other's address." -Cathryn Vasseleu, "The Face Before the Mirror-Stage" (1991)

The Half-Emerging Dog: Or, "(What) Are You (Doing) For Me?" (Valerie Savard)

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[ 23 November 2009 ] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


A Return (Sarah M. Bezan)

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[ 19 November 2009 ] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


Untitled (Brandon Kerfoot)

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[ 17 November 2009 ] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


A contribution...

My cat (not such a little cat) stares intently as I turn the page. I imagine accusation:

     —Philosophical abstractions are bad enough, but dogs now?

His gaze commands my attention but I know the words are mine. And I admire his muteness, thinking of the times when I have nothing to say. (Laura Taylor)

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[ 5 November 2009 ] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


In anticipation of next week's class on Agamben, who worries the two-faced work of what he calls the "anthropological machine," i.e., the autonomous animalization of the human and the humanization of the animal, let me share an evocative piece by Faith La Rocque, a Toronto-based artist.

http://www.faithlarocque.com/she-wolf.html

Why does Agamben trouble us with such a sustained examination of Heidegger's lectures on animal life (only to set it aside, and dream, after Benjamin, of a sabbatical from the anthropological machine that those lectures exemplify)? Is it because he admires the unabashed way in which the German thinker acknowledges that animal life calls for a new philosophical rhetoric, a language as deeply defamiliarizing as its "object"....an "object" that is no object, but a being, and a heterogeneous site where the question of being finds itself radically refigured: not, or no longer, "why is there anything, why not nothing at all?" (the question that captures the "wonder" that Heidegger argues should quicken thought, and from which he excludes the "animal"), but, in effect, "why is there life, why is there death, why not stones, and nothing but stones?" What words will need to be invented in order to pose that query, and to be that query? Is that what Goya's painting evokes in its asymmetrical juxtaposition of, on the one hand, masses of colour, and, on the other hand, the unexpected emergence--more like a stain than a figure, and arriving as if out of nothing, out of a non-life that is neither life nor death--of an animal? (David L. Clark)

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[ 31 October 2009 ] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


The Flood (Joseph Frank)

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[ 11 October 2009 ] - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


Bobby? Is that you? Are you “still-born or still to be born”? (David L. Clark)

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