Film-Philosophy Conference, Film-Philosophy Conference 2012

Creaturely philosophy: Kathy High’s video essayistic explorations of interspecies collaboration

Brenda Hollweg


Working in the area of documentary and experimental film for over twenty years, American visual/media artist Kathy High has produced videos and multimedia installations that circulate around issues of animal/interspecies collaboration. This paper will focus on two of her video essays, Lily Does Derrida: A Dog’s Video (2010) and Animal Attraction (2000) and look at the multifaceted ways High’s documentary work translates and challenges Derrida’s reflections on our complicated (and mostly violent) relationship to “the animal”. Using Derrida’s essay “The Animal that Therefore I am (More to Follow)” (2002) as a template for her own queer/feminist interventions, High both re-enacts and occasionally subverts his discourse on the ethics of human-animal relationships, touching on issues of self, compassion and mortality. The particular mode of enquiry that characterises the essay as a mode of thinking – one that challenges the established order, one that is ‘heretical’ (Adorno) and shows a ‘disavowal of closed, systematic ways of thinking’ (Sontag) – is matched by a mode of being, an experiential approach to the world that finds its object of enquiry and expression in the most ordinary and concrete. As any essayist, High deploys a rhetorical figure who both thinks and feels, speaks and perceives, and in doing so keeps an ironic or humorous distance between the self and what is being explored in audio-visual terms. Often, this “I” or persona is a non-human animal (a cat or a dog), which also functions as projection “screen” for her/our imagination and the film’s imaginary, evoking a performative game of reflexive self-inscription. My own understanding of High’s video work is informed by the writings of Italian feminist philosopher Adriana Cavarero, her insistence on relational subjectivity and the desired “other” as prerequisite for the constitution of the self. 

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About the Presenter

Brenda Hollweg
University of Leeds