Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

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?

Main Content
Current View