Professor Fran Bartkowski: In Praise of Mixing
IAS/St Mary's College Public Lecture
This talk will take up the questions surrounding contemporary ideas of kinship. How in times of constantly expanding knowledge from the biological sciences, neurosciences, and genetics do we continue to determine in our daily lives those whom we invest with intimacy? Who counts as our kin? What are the forms of care to which we commit ourselves? What about our relations with our pets, or companion animals, as some suggest we call them?
The history of human cultures is founded on mixing: we are enjoined to go forth and multiply. To do so we must encounter difference—the tribe must increase. Why is it that this same injunction leads some to patrol the borders of difference with a kind of vigilance that may lead to forms of discipline and punishment as severe as death when the differences courted exceed unstated boundaries?
When our new American president gave his first press conference full of promises to deal with our currently depressing global conditions, a last question was posed by a reporter about what kind of dog the first family would be choosing. Obama’s reply gave me much to contemplate as he said: the family favoured a shelter or rescued dog, but his daughter’s allergies would require certain breeds of dogs. Shelter dogs, he said, tend to be “mutts like me,” directly addressing his mixed race identity.
It is the history of our mixing with others and the powerful potions of difference that surround us today that I want to address in this talk about the many borderlines crossed by current conditions of kinship, intimacy, proximity.
Professor Fran Bartkowski is a feminist theorist and literary critic from Rutgers University, New Jersey, who is currently an IAS Fellow at St Mary’s College. She has published two books: Feminist Utopias (University of Nebraska Press, 1989); and Travelers, Immigrants, Inmates: Essays in Estrangement (University of Minnesota Press, 1995). Her third book entitled, Kissing Cousins: A New Kinship Bestiary was published in August 2008 by Columbia University Press. This book takes up the disciplines of anthropology, primatology and genetics as they come to terms with the rewriting of kinship in the 21st century as evidenced in literature, film, art and current events.
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