Animality and Alterity : Species Discourse and the Limits of 'the Human' in Contemporary South African Art.

Lipschitz, Ruth Adele. 2015. Animality and Alterity : Species Discourse and the Limits of 'the Human' in Contemporary South African Art.. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]


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Abstract or Description

This thesis examines how the language of species pressures the construction of ‘the human’ in post-apartheid democracy in selected recent works by South African artists Nandipha Mntambo, Jane Alexander, Elizabeth Gunter and Steven Cohen. It responds to Achille Mbembe’s call for a “self-writing” that not only answers the historical and contemporary violence of animalisation, but opens onto an “ethics of mutuality.” However, while Mbembe’s “self-writing” criticises the Western model of the subject, it does not disturb what Jacques Derrida describes as its “sacrificial” or “carno-phallogocentric” structure. My argument explores the ways in which these artworks trouble this structure through the ambiguous return of its constitutive sites of exclusion. The theoretical framework is informed by Derrida’s “metonymy of ‘eating well,’” Mbembe’s critique of necropolitical violence, Julia Kristeva’s theory of abjection and Donna Haraway’s readings of inappropriate/d, interspecies relationality. The argument foregrounds the limitrophic complication of the political, psychoanalytic and ethical limits between self and other, human and nonhuman, edible and inedible bodies, and literal and figurative ingestions. In so doing, it marks alterity as the opening to a non-anthropocentric and relational subjectivity.
Chapter one deals with Mntambo’s re-articulation of black woman-human-animal and introduces the figure of the inappropriate/d subject as heterogeneous at the origin. Chapter two analyses the foreigner-as-animal in Jane Alexander’s uncanny animot and explores the hauntological and non-ethical opening to ethics that inhabits the constitutive violence of ‘eating well.’ Chapter three examines two drawings by Elizabeth Gunter and considers the how we touch the dead and are touched by them. Framing the thesis is a discussion of Steven Cohen’s performance piece, Dance with Nothing but Heart, which is used to position both the sacrificial logic of the subject as well as an ethics of mourning that writes the self-in-relation as the trace of the inappropriate/d.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


Animality, alterity, human/animal binary, abjection, Derrida, Haraway, Achille Mbembe, Kristeva, Jane Alexander, Steven Cohen, Elizabeth Gunter, Nandipha Mntambo, South African art, postapartheid, posthumanism, non-anthropocentrsm, "Eathing Well", inappropriate/d, interspecies, relationality, carnophallogocentrism, species, race, sex, gender, animalisation

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Visual Cultures


30 April 2015

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

22 Jun 2015 09:58

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 09:14


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