Today Manning delivered a lively and thought provoking plenary titled 'Another Regard' at the Nonhuman Turn Conference currently taking place at that University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. I absolutely loved this talk, and I plan on returning to it often this week to ensure I absorb as many of her amazing insights as possible. I hope to post some of the notes I have taken and will be taking if I get a chance. For now I present both the abstract and video of Manning's talk below. Enjoy:
In a recent piece entitled “The Silence Between,” Dawn Prince writes of an encounter with a Bonobo Chimpanzee. Known for her earlier work on gorillas, especially Songs of a Gorilla Nation: My Journey Through Autism, Prince already felt a deep connection to gorillas, who, she writes, “regarded her.” In “The Silence Between,” Prince returns to this “regard,” recounting an experience of playing with the Bonobo Kanzi by running along the fence on all fours: “Naturally, I fell into the gorilla language I knew, a language of body, mind, and spirit. Kanzi and I played chase up and down the fence line, both of us on all fours, smiling in a sea of fun and deep breaths.” Then something uncanny occurred: “He stopped suddenly and grabbed his word board off the ground. He pointed to a symbol and then pointed to me and made a hand gesture with his eyebrows raised. It was clear that he was asking me a question. He repeated this series of words and movements over and over, until I said, out loud, "I'm sorry, I can't understand, Kanzi. Let me get Sue and maybe she can help me." At first, she was at a loss. Then after asking him to point to the word again, she realized he was pointing to the word "gorilla" on his board and making the American Sign Language sign for question after pointing to me. It was clear he was asking me if I was a gorilla.”
This paper takes this occasion as a starting point to rethink the question of regard in terms of Alfred North Whitehead’s notion of concern. Where regard often extrapolates the terms of the encounter from their eventness -- setting the human/animal relation as primary to the event and creating expectations based on the presumed differences between their species -- concern does not take the relation as pre-composed. As Whitehead writes: “The occasion as subject has a ‘concern’ for the object” (1976: 176). This concern “for the object” is not about the already formed but about the affective tonality, the edgings into experience of an occasion’s coming-into-itself. This concern for the event in its concrescence is a regard for what cannot pre-exist it: an affective tonality which will always be singularly tied to this or that occasion. “Concernedness is of the essence of perception” (Whitehead 1967: 180). Concern is never added on to a perception -- it is the very how of perception: “It must be distinctly understood that no prehension even of bare sensa, can be divested of its affective tone, that is to say, of its character of a 'concern'” (Whitehead 1967: 180).
This notion of concern has deep implications for the rethinking of a field of relations such as that generated in the example above. Rather than departing from a narrative of identity politics (which takes the “human” and the “animal” as given), I will explore how this singular example’s concern for the event in its eventness provokes a emergent fielding (a motif, as von Uexküll would call it) that creates an excess of species (what I call a speciation) that ties in with Whitehead’ work on nature.#c21nonhuman