Becoming Animal, Becoming Others: What We Make with Art and Literature

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What is poetry for? How does poiesis or making - the Greek root of the words poetry and poetics - succeed in moving us, in getting under our skins? “Becoming Animal” argues that art and literature are crucial zones of play, transformative modes that work by mixing up self and other, inside and out, human, animal and other matter. The essay moves from a consideration of D.W. Winnicott’s psychoanalytic discussion of the relationship between play and creativity, self and other, to Howard Searles’ investigation of transference and counter-transference as possible models for engaged and sensuously attuned critical stances. The last section of the essay offers an account of the “transgenic” work of Eduardo Kac, which literally mixes genetic material as art. The essay concludes by arguing that art, as poiesis, works by engaging us in constant contact with what is not ourselves as a process of becoming ourselves; it argues that such ‘self-estrangement’ is the way we sort out how to live an ontologically rich and ethically meaningful life.

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