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miami university
Department of English
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356 Bachelor Hall
Miami University
Oxford, OH 45056
tel:513.529.5221
fax: 513.529.1392
english@miamioh.edu

This page last updated
January 9, 2014

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Tobias Coyote Menely Bachelor 367
Oxford Campus
513 529 1623
menelytc@miamioh.edu

Tobias Menely

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Menely is currently finishing a book, “The Community of Creatures: Sensibility and the Voice of the Animal,” which tracks the development of ethicopolitical community with nonhuman animals in Britain from the Restoration to the first animal welfare legislation, Martin’s Act of 1822. In the Politics, Aristotle establishes the canonic distinction between phone, the animal “voice” that conveys pleasure and pain, and logos, the uniquely human form of deliberative spoken communication with which we build a just community. Menely argues that the eighteenth-century culture of sensibility was uniquely preoccupied with the ethicopolitical significance of creaturely voice, those enigmatic but nevertheless articulate signs that generate identification by communicating affect. The eighteenth-century term for the communicative faculty shared by humans and other animals is sympathy, which David Hume defines as a capacity “to receive” by way of “external signs in the countenance and conversation” another’s “inclinations and sentiments.” As sympathy came in the Enlightenment to be regarded as a foundational resource of ethical relation, political community was reconceived in terms of sovereign answerability. This answerability (the ‘responsivity’ in responsibility) is made apparent, its actualization in cultural practices and institutions if also its inescapable aporias, when we consider claims—above all, the claims of the animal other—irreducible to linguistic mediation. To understand the conditions of our experience of obligation toward animals, so often the very emblem of otherness, and to understand how that obligation is formalized, whether in literary advocacy or positive law, Menely suggests, is to learn something about the history of modern community, the condition of being in-common with others in a biopolitical age. “The Community of Creatures” is a study of the semiosis that intercedes in and reshapes community, the domain of fellowship, responsibility, and law. It explores a historical era in which the communicative animal, the creaturely life that suffers and signifies, comes to be understood as both the origin and the end of the just community.

Menely has begun a second project, tentatively titled “The Climatic Unconscious,” about the temporalities of climate change, from the eighteenth century to the near future. Why, Menely asks, is climate change so difficult for us to apprehend (to know, to fear, to arrest)? How can we live through a catastrophe—a cataclysmic ‘turn’ in time—without taking action or even really noticing it? What does our non-response to climate change say about how we, in our ever-more mediated world, perceive (and fail to perceive) the passage of time? An initial article, “‘The Present Obfuscation’: Cowper’s Task and the Time of Climate Change,” is forthcoming in PMLA.