[-empyre-] Introducing Week 2: Mediated Natures, Speculative Futures and Justice and thank you to Week One

Benjamin Schultz-Figueroa baschult at ucsc.edu
Thu Oct 12 05:06:17 AEDT 2017

Dear Meredith (and soft skinned folks),

Thank you for your thoughtful response. You're right to point out the
function of allegory in these films, and here the cinematic medium was
crucial for building these allegories. Mowrer mentions in a lecture about
his film that one of the most common reactions by the rats was attempting
to escape the experiment all together by jumping out of the testing
apparatus. Scenes of these escape attempts were cut out of the film in
order to create a clearer illustration of the scientific model/metaphor he
is creating.

On the other hand, I do think there might be something more ambiguous here
than simply a debased form of scientific anthropomorphism. For instance,
while Mowrer's film certainly hopes to use rats as mirror images of humans,
it is also built on the claim that capitalism is an issue of organizing
nature and infrastructure--perhaps not unlike Moore's description of it as
a "planetary system of power, capital, and nature”--rather than simply a
human phenomenon. The nature/culture divide is interestingly undermined by
seeing rats as subjects of capital, where the possibility for nonhuman
members of capitalist classes are opened up. What might the rats persistent
attempts to escape the simulation of capitalism that Mowrer chose to edit
out of the film mean in this context? (There are dangers here too.
Foucault's critique of behaviorism was that it expanded the laws of market
economics to all living things and therefore made capitalism seem to be an
omnipotent force of nature.)

I also think the form of some of these films belie their makers' attempts
to portray the rats as smaller, more disposable, humans. Wieland's film,
with its unstable editing and loose narrative never seems to entirely
explain the behavior of the onscreen "rats" (they were actually gerbils).
She includes long sequences where the animal characters don't seem to be
playing any particular role or illustrating a specific theory, leaving them
as largely inscrutable subjects. This effect is very similar to watching
Calhoun's unedited footage (which the NIH library has) where the rats
refuse to reflect the framework of human behavior that Calhoun would later
ascribe to them. Here, we watch the rats inhabiting human-made spaces and
models, but not necessarily responding in ways that clearly look like, or
map onto, human behavior:


(Apologies for going down a rabbit hole with these esoteric examples!)

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