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  • Close Call: Sagan’s Humpbacks and Nonhuman Politics

    Margret Grebowicz

    Chapter from the book: Mandic, D et al. 2023. HEAR.

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    Today’s argument for whale personhood seems to have put the dimension of communication between whales and humans at its periphery. This chapter argues that language is absolutely primary, but not for the reasons we tend to think. Whale sounds are living proof that at the heart of the voice lives everything about language that is not reducible to logos. This means that with both whales and humans we are dealing not with the concept ‘person’, but with actual persons. What does that distinction mean for the place of hearing in political life?

    When Carl Sagan sent whale sounds into outer space on the Voyager Golden Record it was as part of the United Nations greetings. This was not because he mistook whales for humans, but because the difference was irrelevant from the point of view of his project. Cetacean behaviour and social organisation show that linguistic communication is taking place, but the sphere of human rights still doesn't quite know how to manage this discovery. The language problem haunts the production of the human, endlessly managing its animality. Protection of the human in the sphere of rights is the protection of language – of what we don’t understand, or what has yet to be said. This chapter argues that that yet-to-be-said is coextensive with an animality that announces itself vocally, and that this is what the modern concept of the human actually protects.

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    Grebowicz, M. 2023. Close Call: Sagan’s Humpbacks and Nonhuman Politics. In: Mandic, D et al (eds.), HEAR. London: University of Westminster Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.16997/book62.d
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    Published on Feb. 14, 2023

    DOI
    https://doi.org/10.16997/book62.d