UC Santa Barbara
Being Imaginary: Responsibility and the Literary Animal
- Author(s): Sanders, Sharalyn L.
- Advisor(s): Gutierrez-Jones, Carl
- et al.
In systems of structural violence, the question of imagination is often elided from
pragmatic considerations that determine responses: individual, collective, institutional, and
state. At stake in these calculations is an unacknowledged deployment of imagination:
“rational” thinking is a mode of imagining a way forward that can be achieved within
existing constraints, as we understand them. This work examines the potential of a critical
imagination to transform constraints into opportunities, to redefine what we understand as
reason, to enhance our imaginary skills so that the worlds we imagine-into-being are livable.
Gathering fictional and nonfictional works, in order to shape the contradictions
between these categories as resonances rather than oppositions, Being Imaginary:
Responsibility and the Literary Animal closely examines the resonances between Western
conceptualizations of “man” and “animal.” Engaging literary with philosophical explorations
of human and animal subjectivities, Being Imaginary opens perceptions of Western
epistemology, ontology, hierarchy and teleology – through Madeleine L’Engle’s science
fictional tesseract – in order to offer a transformative engagement, via witnessing, with
wounded, and so wounding, (white, heteropatriarchal) Western subjectivity.
At the center of this work, as at the center of the Western imaginary, is the dynamic
relation between hu(man) / animal. Engaging our relations with / as literary animals, this
work argues for (re)situating Western philosophy within a framework that does not attempt
to orient its priorities according to choices between reason and imagination, justice and care;
the world we imagine is the world we enact, and so we must recognize: a just act is a kin(d)
act. Interdisciplinary, as befits the scope of the question, this work engages perspectives –
including animal studies, science and speculative fiction, science fiction studies, continental
and woman of color philosophies, trauma studies, feminist studies, and genocide studies – in
order to ask the no longer elided question: what are the responsibilities of being imaginary?