Feral Ecologies: A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Media
Swain, Sara Ann
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This dissertation wonders what non-human animals can illuminate about media in the visible contact zones where they meet. It treats these zones as rich field sites from which to excavate neglected material-discursive-semiotic relationships between animals and media. What these encounters demonstrate is that animals are historically and theoretically implicated in the imagination and materialization of media and their attendant processes of communication. Chapter 1 addresses how animals have been excluded from the cultural production of knowledge as a result of an anthropocentric perspective that renders them invisible or reduces them to ciphers for human meanings. It combines ethology and cinematic realism to craft a reparative, non-anthropocentric way of looking that is able to accommodate the plenitude of animals and their traces, and grant them the ontological heft required to exert productive traction in the visual field. Chapter 2 identifies an octopuss encounter with a digital camera and its chance cinematic inscription as part of a larger phenomenon of accidental animal videos. Because non-humans are the catalysts for their production, these videos offer welcome realist counterpoints to traditional wildlife imagery, and affirm cinemas ability to intercede non-anthropocentrically between humans and the world. Realism is essential to cinematic communication, and that realism is ultimately an achievement of non-human intervention. Chapter 3 investigates how an Internet hoax about a non-human ape playing with an iPad in a zoo led to the development of Apps for Apes, a real life enrichment project that pairs captive orangutans with iPads. It contextualizes and criticizes this projects discursive underpinnings but argues that the contingencies that transpire at the touchscreen interface shift our understanding of communication away from sharing minds and toward respecting immanence and accommodating difference. Finally, Chapter 4 examines a publicity stunt wherein a digital data-carrying homing pigeon races against the Internet to meet a computer. Rather than a competition, this is a continuation of a longstanding collaboration between the carrier pigeon and the infrastructure of modern communications. The carrier pigeon is not external but rather endemic to our understanding of communication as a material process that requires movement and coordination to make connections.