Mandy-Suzanne Wong

Turning Tables: Kathryn Eddy and “The Problematic Nature of Flatness”



"A table acting in a frantic manner": making noises "far removed from any approach to common sense" and wiggling unassisted, often with an "agitated ... rotundary motion." (Anonymous, Table-Turning and Table-Talking Considered in Connection with the Dictates of Reason and Common Sense, 1853)

"The futile movements of useless things [in table-turning] are doubly destructive to domestic regulation: their erratic energy prevents persons and things from performing the work expected of them ... thwart[ing] the rules and logic of domestic spaces ... [in a] blatant demonstration that consumers had much less authority over things than they liked to imagine." (Aviva Briefel, “Freaks of Furniture,” 2017)

Conference Table

Figuring that Kathryn – I have permission to call her Kathryn – would offer some tasty thesis with a thick, sweet glaze of evidence that made even the bitter sides of the argument zestfully necessary, I sat in the audience while she sat on the serving side of a six-foot table; and the rest of us attended, agreeable and relaxed, as we would have to a recitation of the catch of the day.

Little did we know Kathryn Eddy would transform that university-issue folding table into another table in a windowless room, where instead of rehearsed professorial assurances the cries of the dead came at us from all directions. And papers, left to speak in silence for themselves, whispered such accusations that made us squirm with deadened stomachs.

She discussed her artwork, The Problematic Nature of Flatness (2012). But this is art with wounding force and incurable affects. Art as interrogation and confession which brooks no doubt as to the identities of the guilty but leaves the vital mysteries unsolved. This is an art of contradiction. With words, pictures, and sounds, Kathryn made painfully present a past and distant installation which was also a twisted performance – nonhumans summoning and playing human beings, turning us into instruments of gut and bone, wresting from us the silences of our complicity in a great conspiracy.

Taxonomy Table

Kathryn was born in Georgia, USA. She describes herself as a “non-medium-specific” artist-activist. So although she trained as a painter, she works with sound, collage, sculpture, wallpaper, closets, paint, tables, video, and more. And for her there’s no distinction between making art and doing animal activism. Both practices are her; they’re Kathryn’s mode of being-in-the-world.

She couldn’t make a requiem for her late husband, for example (Requiem for Lost Souls, 2011), without field recordings of ewes and lambs who’d been separated from each other by a farmer. She couldn’t just say, as she said to me, “Chickens are terribly misunderstood and treated with such little regard by the agricultural complex”: she made a twelve-track sound artwork from the voices of hens henning. She called this piece Interview with a Chicken (2014) after Interview with a Vampire, and the hens sound like they’re laughing. Possibly because Kathryn and I had a good cluckle (sic.) about how exotic, classic, and heroic people think blood-drinking is when it’s done by bleached Brad Pitt à la beautiful-bad-boy-battling-inner-demons – even though we all do it every day. All humans. Call it blood or call it chlorophyll, call it bouillon or fresh-squeezed. Or own up and call it business. Agribusiness. There’s nothing heroic about it.

Meat gets the last word in Kathryn’s work. In Problematic Nature, a table is the axis of it all.

Cage and Table

The Problematic Nature of Flatness is an installation in two parts.

Outdoors: a cage. Five feet wide. “Human sized,” says Kathryn. Two of her paintings are inmates: grinning plastic lamb, beaming toy piglet. The pictures are realistic and adorable. Some people even worry about them.

Outside day and night in “the middle of the field, where you would normally find the animals,” the paintings act out a displacement and status interchange. They suffer deportation and deliberate devaluation – stuck outside like trash to endure acidic snow and the excrement of passing birds, to sacrifice their colors to sunshine and smog – and what does that tell you about the conditions of animal life, the counterpart to painting in this trading-places? The gesture implies that the misrepresentations of farm animals by grinning toys and serene (flat) imagery were never as valuable as they seemed; but viewers' concern about the paintings goes to show you the extent to which we humans cherish convenient dissemblings of the origins of meat.

Kathryn throws up a barrier to such convenience, knowing human viewers would just as soon not join the animals in the cage, art connoisseurs would rather not watch the fruits of human labor, representatives of beauty and aesthetic practice (which elevated notions are supposed to affirm human sovereignty over other species) given over to the rain and carbon monoxide fumes. "The idea was that this structure would be forgotten and left outside just as the animals that I am referring to are absent from our everyday lives,” she writes. “The inconvenienced viewer walked out into the field and into the crowded confined space to view the paintings ... [an] immersive and performative space that mirrored the often forgotten confinement of the animals."

So the unsettled gallery visitor, who's probably freezing (this is Vermont), feeling put out and perhaps a bit affronted, retreats indoors. But before we follow them, note that Kathryn doesn't exempt herself from the discomfiting exposure to which she subjects her audience. The caged paintings are after all her work, born of physical and mental effort, not to mention time and expense; all of that is in the paintings, and it's easy to see that Kathryn put as much into them as she would into any piece she put up for sale. Yet she banishes these paintings, abandons them, fully aware of the considerable likelihood that no one will venture out to look at them. With them she banishes part of herself, a foundational aspect of her history and artistic identity. That's her in the cage. Not just metaphorically but materially. Her vitality caged under the cold sky.

Kathryn Eddy, The Problematic Nature of Flatness, outdoor installation. Photo by Kathryn Eddy. Used by permission.

In the gallery: a table set for an intimate dinner. Long-stemmed wine glasses. Plates and cutlery, leather-bound menus. At the head of the table, projected on the wall in blue, are numbers. One above the other on a dark background like daily specials on blackboard in a café.

Have a seat. Open your menu. Turns out it's a disguise for recent annual reports published by leading agribusinesses.

You look at your empty plate, look again at the numbers on the wall. You may not make the connection; there's no caption. But if the artist is at table with us (likely), you'll learn the projection is a "kill counter." It shows in clean blue figures how many nonhuman animals worldwide have been farmed, slaughtered, and eaten. These numbers increased drastically over time, but Kathryn projects them randomly so you seem to be in the presence of something arcane. They're no threat as long as you don't know what they represent. And anyway, we're hearing birds. Here come the sounds.

Four loudspeakers, fourteen minutes, enfolding our table in phono. Half-minute of tranquil chirruping, then chickens. Hens cluck-cluck staccato. A sheep brays. A hen steps up to the mic. Off to one side, you hear a lamb cry out. Depending on where you sit, the animals are distant or right up in your face; and they're moving, their ghosts crawl all over the room. While birds and hens maintain a flowing, textured background, more animals, bigger, bolder, come into the foreground. Some distance away at first but then right next to you, close enough to buzz the microphone: the full-bellied holler of a rooster. His fellows join in, and then they dominate the soundscape, with turkeys adding intermittent counterpoint to birds' and hens'. The volume grows and you're startled by a loud, deep, angry moan. Another and another and a full minute of this – only for clanging and banging to join the groaning in a growing din with battering and swishing of thick chains. It's cows. Cows being cows in metal barracks. But suddenly all is quiet – just the birds, the occasional percussive sound, someone's muzzle in a bucket? Sniffing, lapping, then a snuffle – a piglet! In the last minute of the piece, we hear its smacking lips and chewing, not ravenous but quiet, diminuendo. Piggy sounds fade out, hens are gone, the piece ends. Softly with the shimmering of the birds.

Kathryn made her recordings at small New England farms and sanctuaries. So some of these animals are safe; those in sanctuaries will live out their days with the best care humans can provide. Those in farms are bred for slaughter. By the time their voices reach the gallery, some of them are already dead. And yet the “voices of the absent animals float, move, hide, and dance around us. We are hearing fleeting memories of them, an embodiment of their being, a melancholy plea … the voices ask something of us.”

Kathryn says part of what they ask is that we stop trying to impose structures of human meaning onto their nonhuman sounds.

Not easy. For it seems almost intuitive to make sense of unfamiliar sounds by comparing them to familiar ones: unmarinated, unsandwiched chickens (unfamiliar) “sound like” laughter, e.g. (human, familiar). But if this kind of mistranslation “seems almost intuitive,” it proves just how deeply we've internalized anthropocentrism. Kathryn invites us to resist that kind of “ideoagricultural” conditioning by embracing the simple fact (no embrace is simple) that some things just don't make sense: “When humans start listening to the nonhuman and stop trying to translate everything into our own language, perhaps we will reach a more hospitable understanding. Perhaps listening is the first step towards decentering the human and overturning our anthropocentric perspectives.”

Is the listening Kathryn’s after like listening to music? Since I like Western classical, I’ll use it as my for-instance. Listeners who like Western classical music can usually identify various hootings as the sounds of clarinets or flutes, washes of sound as emanations of a string section, &c. This identification involves a translation of sounds into sounds of things. Identification’s habit-forming; so we go ahead and translate sound-of-tuba into some emotional impression. Flute-chirping in Beethoven’s Sixth invites me to snuggle down in the idyllic tranquility I feel in the Vienna Woods; the oboe theme in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake is a javelin to the limbic system as I watch pirouetting lovers yearn for each other. And I think what Kathryn’s after is like this. Having translated clean dining-room geometry into inhuman cries of the devoured, if you just can’t kick the translating habit, Kathryn hopes what you’ll do next is translate the cries into sympathetic emotions which in turn encourage you to recognize the voices’ loveliness and the beauty of their living-chicken origins.

I've compared Problematic Nature to Romantic musical works which happen to be programmatic pieces about “nature.” Problematic Nature isn’t music (Kathryn said so) even though its timbres and dynamics suggest a musical arc. And Kathryn isn’t a Romantic. She doesn’t fetishize “untouched” "nature”; she does the opposite, working the fraught "contact zones” where animals and humans participate in a strange, not entirely conceivable intimacy with one another's bodies and voices; she makes the very concept of "nature” problematic. Her intention is nearer (sort of) that of musique concrète composers like Pierre Schaeffer, who used audio equipment to defamiliarize train sounds and other urban noises by exploring their musical potential. Kathryn arranges nonhuman-animal sounds in a quasi-musical structure in order to defamiliarize them, to make us hear how strange they are.

The contextual shift invites a perspectival one: I hear roosters’ voices differently, no longer as the squawks of the cranky, feral varmints that terrorize Bermuda’s national parks but as the material potential of artistic beauty. The very presence of their voices makes familiar creatures unfamiliar; most of us are accustomed to the silent, plastic sort of lamb that appears in Kathryn's painting, not the irritating creature who screams over the loudspeakers. Cage and table “play off of each other” to this disquieting effect: paintings outside, animal noises inside, humans in the cage, beasts at the table ... At Kathryn’s table I hear sounds of eating, lapping, lip-smacking – but they’re the sounds of the eaten. When she brings babbling ghosts of prey animals into the dining room, she turns that cozy, familiar place into an estranged site of dissection and consumption. In Problematic Nature, spaces and denizens are problems and questions.

Dining Table

Problematic is full of flat surfaces: walls, projections, reports, paintings, plates, tabletop. Kathryn has a “problem with flatness.” Traditional portraits like pictures and sculptures reduce nonhuman animals to surfaces and silences that Kathryn finds “unnerving.” She thinks such picture-makers rely overmuch on their “human filter,” which represents animals not as they present themselves but as it's convenient for humans to perceive them. In that sense all the flat surfaces in Kathryn’s installation are morally compromised: their distortion (flattening) of nonhuman animals affirms the ideology that nonhuman animals are resources. They’re the numbers in the annual reports. They’re the plastic things in the paintings, created to be stared at, played with, and collected. Kathryn’s flat surfaces accentuate the problems with flatness.

The tabletop and plates, the convenient, sterile surfaces whence humans are accustomed to taking food, are where the reductive qualities of flat representations turn “nature” into a problem. If animals are resources, why not chop them up and eat them? Why not make them in factories? Why not reduce them further to monetary and nutritional “values”? There's nothing at all natural in how humans procure and eat their prey. Pigs no longer have the chance to escape into the forest while we scramble to keep up. We no longer eat corpses, we don't have to deal with the guts and bones; that happens in the factory, we have citrus-marinated fillets with caviar and confit. The animal is absent from the meat even as it is the meat. The dining table is the threshold where the present-absent corpse of elided prey is absorbed by the chattering, laughing body of the idle predator. “Through butchering” and the apparatus of (not mere eating but) “dining,” the activist Carol Adams says nonhuman “animals become absent referents”:

Animals in name and body are made absent as animals for meat to exist ... If animals are alive they cannot be meat. Thus a dead body replaces the live animal ... Animals are [also] made absent through language that renames dead bodies before consumers participate in eating them. Our culture further mystifies the term “meat” with gastronomic language, so we do not conjure dead, butchered animals, but cuisine ... Live animals are thus the absent referent in the concept of meat. The absent referent permits us to forget about the animal as an independent entity; it also enables us to resist efforts to make animals present.

As if “absent referent” is a synonym for “ghost.”

I can’t resist a comparison between The Problematic Nature of Flatness and the cave paintings at Lascaux which so fascinated Georges Bataille and the radical ecologist Mick Smith. In one of the paintings, a man is prone before a bison; the latter has been disemboweled by a spear, but the man is also apparently dead. “[T]his image represents the transitory vitality of human and animal lives and deaths, together with the recognition of human responsibility for the deadly consequences that the fulfillment of their desires has for other living beings,” Smith writes. The painting acts out prehistoric humans’ awareness of the hunter-prey relationship between them and their food. They knew what dining and farming industries allow us to forget: the procuration of food as a body-to-body confrontation between two living things, both with their lives at stake; the mysterious ways in which the bodies, lives, and deaths of human and nonhuman animals are “entangled, twisted together.” What a chilling contrast is the dining table with its edible squares, stripes, and circles.

The empty table in Problematic Nature is part of the equipment that conceals the hunter-prey relationship to the point of elision and a figure for the absence of that relationship, a materialization of the rift between hunter and prey in consumer cultures. It's silent and uninscribed, this plain table, masquerading as the least forceful element of the artwork when in fact it’s the most insidious. Every dining table is a dissection table where the insides of living nonhumans are bared and ripped with knife and fork, consumed. It’s the public side of the kitchen table, where the latter is an undertaker's operating table making damaged dead bodies look good enough to eat. It's the site of consumers’ conspiracy with capitalism to conceal what consumption actually entails. Even as the bodies of consumer and consumed become one and the same entity, the industrial artifices and apparatuses of dining permit us not to know it: the dining table is the stage of an ideological fantasy.

Kathryn Eddy, The Problematic Nature of Flatness, indoor installation. Photo by Kathryn Eddy. Used by permission.

As a site of inclusion and exclusion (I take meat and veggies into my gullet but exclude animals and plants from my consciousness), the dining table is what’s called a zone of exception in Giorgio Agamben’s philosophy. A zone of exception is where a sovereign power declares an exception to its own laws against violence and killing, first because the victims in question are considered apolitical, subhuman, disposable beings (bare life: turkeys, cabbages), and second because the reasons for the violence are considered vitally important (my babies and I are hungry).

Kathryn seems to understand the contradictory, obscure, half-empty-half-infinite threshold between animals and the people who eat them as both an ideological problem and an existential necessity. The assumption that it's possible to excise this threshold or rift – in other words that animals can be fully understood and that to translate them from complex beings into useful goods is to understand all there is to know about them – follows the assumption that animals are resources. Kathryn strives to maintain the rift while creating a “contact zone” where animals present themselves in such a way that their bodies touch, stir, and disturb our own. She does it by swarming the table with sounds.

Animals’ sounds are vibrations of the animals’ insides that are and are not those insides; the timbre of a sound depends on the form of the sounding body, so the animal is materially there in its voice, and yet it’s clearly not reducible to its voice. Neither is an animal’s sound reducible to its voice, to the animal itself, or to what we think we hear when we hear the sound. In an animal sound is the presence and absence (ghost) of the animal. Kathryn accentuates the latter (materialized absence of the absent referent) by including no real animals or pictures of real animals in her installation, leaving us to guess which animals we’re hearing. And though these animals speak and sound emotions, we can’t presume psychological categories designed for humans by humans will suit these other animals. Problematic Nature preserves that gulf, that difference.

So yes, it’s true: you never know what you’re hearing. Even when you guess where the sound comes from.

Unlike a barbeque-glazed nugget, an animal’s voice is its selective presentation of itself. Yes, Kathryn’s soundtrack is artificial: she selects the animals, digitally isolates their voices from ambient sounds, and arranges them quasi-musically. But the assumption that grounds her artistic interventions isn't that nonhuman animals are equipment. Instead, she assumes nonhuman-animal voices are material vitalities whose potential for beauty is often overlooked because we can’t quite tell what they are or what they’re doing even when we know they’re sound-of-chicken–this is what categories do, but the psyche of a chicken is where our categories fail.

So Problematic Nature is a simultaneous performance of two clashing ideologies: capitalism and radical ecology. In radical ecology, nothing is reducible to a resource; in capitalism everything is. At Kathryn’s table the dissembling, calculable flatness of capital meets the invisible, resounding who-knows-what of radically untranslatable individual vitality. She wants her viewer-listeners to experience that friction physically – visually and aurally – because we’re diners with a choice.

From the dining table shadowed by the pale glow of the kill counter, I hear the animals’ deaths. Sounds are traces of the lives, sufferings, and potential whence they come. But that’s not all sounds are – they’re also just themselves – and not all traces are audible. I could choose not to see beyond the menus, whose message is that agribusiness generates income and jobs for humans. The rifts of willful misunderstanding and inevitable mistranslation are drawn out from behind their veils and thrown into our faces as Kathryn summons sonic ghosts that animals leave behind in their absence.

There are so many layered lacunae in Problematic Nature that absence is an oppressive presence in it. The rift between humans and the nonhumans we eat. The rift between consumption and consciousness, between perception and knowing. The rift between beings.

Interrogation Table

Veneer of comfort. On Problematic Nature, Kathryn says: “I ... wanted a title that was ambiguous enough to sound interesting but not descriptive of the actual content. I have found that factory farming is not an easy topic to engage the art seeking public so if I could get them into the room, perhaps they might stay and listen.” So the title is a lure. It makes you think you’re here for something with white light, geometric shapes, monochromaticism, paper and prostrate perspectives; something meant to show that flatness is never flat but deep and that means something complimentary about the depths of the human spirit. You enter the little room expecting something safe and affirmative when in fact Kathryn's title mobilizes the rift between humanistic concepts and the actual, bleeding subject of the piece, drawing you unawares into the chasm.

Dining set: safe enough. Chairs provide somewhere sensible to sit. The table designates a configured area for convivial congregation. Numbers on the wall like a TV ticker tape. A welcome change from the cage and cold outdoors. But sit down and screams and moans hem you in from every corner, stalk you if you change seats. Fourteen minutes of this Kathryn asks you to endure, knowing “the average time a viewer spends in front of a painting or sculpture is seven seconds.” You’re more fixture than visitor, more apparatus than audience. Rooted to your spot – the sounds beseech you to stay – you respond to the summons with your confusion: the menus, the numbers, the noise, the table, how does it fit together? And then perhaps, as alien sounds invade the haven of the dining room, a menagerie stampeding the orderly center of nutritious family life, you wonder what one has to do with the other: what does this have to do with me? You look at your plate, at your menu in disguise, and you see that it has everything to do with you because you eat. The installation forces you to admit your complicity in what you see, the numbers; what you hear, the shrieking lamb; and what surrounds you, the dissembling apparatus. This is a summons, interrogation, and confession where the absence of crime-scene images speaks volumes.

You start to wonder if you were safer in the cage. Now you’re inside but exposed: you can’t look away from sound, sound invades your body with the touch of a stranger. And in Problematic Nature the sound is recorded, its original producer is absent. Absence invades: you are exposed to the absent other’s vulnerability. Exposed to the numbers that result from what you eat as agribusinesses' vital and mortal statistics are exposed. “The concept of exposure here is crucial,” says Ron Broglio, an animal scholar: “a physical exposure that haunts all that happens to the animal body.” Kathryn and her audiences “risk a certain fragility in their opening ... to the spaces of the nonhuman.” They risk “the social discord” that may attend the undermining of a profitable industry that rides coasting on the human right to nourishment and life. You risk exposure to the internal discord wrought by Kathryn's summons, interrogation, and confession.

There are other people who use aestheticized sound to coerce questionable admissions of complicity. Some of those people belong to the US military. The technique is music torture, and one of its venues is the Guantánamo prison. There, as in Kathryn’s dining room, artistic sound is deployed as a forceful impact and invasion of human bodies with the aim of making "detainees" admit that they’ve done wrong. "As my work often walks a fine line between art and activism," Kathryn says, "I also wanted to detain my audience for long enough to make an impact, which is something that does not always happen when showing visual images of animal abuse."

Don’t misunderstand. Kathryn Eddy is no torturer. She’s an activist for human victims of domestic violence too. And while she uses sound’s physical and emotional forcefulness to encourage us to change our minds, no human animal involved in Problematic Nature is at any risk of physical harm. Kathryn risks association with music torturers’ ilk for the sake of the nonhuman animals who really do suffer. Braving the ethical limits of art, she takes her chances with potential critics.

I'll say it again: Kathryn Eddy wants nothing to do with sound weaponry and music torture; she courageously risks that association in the interests of animal activism while demonstrating that humans in general are in fact insulated from the violence we inflict on nonhuman animals. For the most part, Kathryn shelters viewer-listeners from that violence – but not entirely. The cage is a strong hint at the high level of empathy that Kathryn hopes to cultivate between her human audiences and the animals we eat. The concealment of the animals' transition from living bodies to abstract cutlets is foremost among the issues that Kathryn's installation aggravates; but so is our exposure to an interrogation that reveals our role in that concealment.

So yes: our comfort level inside Problematic Nature is ambivalent. Kathryn manipulates it. We have the lure of the title, the dining room, a quasi-musical soundtrack with a symmetrical structure that begins and ends with the peaceful twittering of birds: all very comfortable, definitely art. The implication is that activism and nonhuman animal voices can conform to traditional notions of beauty and comfort; coexistence with animals as beautiful living beings, not edible resources, isn't such a huge leap from aesthetic appreciation and self-interest. This to me is what Kathryn's saying: she's not asking a lot. At the same time, her installation is embroiled in all sorts of dissemblance and relies on role-reversals that would appall a humanist.

Conference Table

In Kathryn’s ideal scenario, Problematic Nature and its nonhuman participants (animals, sounds, table, numbers) elicit from their human audiences discursive sounds of confession, confusion, and questioning. They are the performers: animals and things. Visitor to the dining room, I am the instrument. But the converse is also true: they remain vulnerable to me. On such vibrant instruments I play the convoluted fugal dissembling processes of capitalism. In turn they make me sing my own exposure. I am – yes – objectified, instrumentalized, commodified, as the installation appropriates me into one of its components, an apparatus. "You are an active part of the work," Kathryn says. Active, yes, but part. As in gear and cog, mechanism. As an agent of de-anthropocentrism that undermines any claim of human sovereignty over other beings, challenging our right to a state of exception and hurling a rock into the great whirling engine of the anthropological machine, Problematic Nature cannot be outdone.

"Anthropological machine" is Agamben's term for conceptual apparatuses that insist again and again on an abyss of difference between nonhumans and humans. The machine functions ideologically, seeming to excuse the segregation, exploitation, and genocide of those thought to occupy the nonhuman side of the divide by depriving them of any political voice. In Problematic Nature nonhuman animals instigate discussions about their own fates. Their sounds make their listeners resound with questions which continue after the lapse of fourteen minutes in discursive spaces beyond the gallery.

Problematic Nature throws up the hood on the industrial hardware that encourages ideological misconceptions about human animals' relationships with the nonhuman animals they eat: the dining table, the menu, the absence of the animals from anywhere near the sterile eating room, are revealed as the equipment of dissemblance and denial. But at the same time, Kathryn hopes their ghosts, their alien voices, and the hermetic traces of their passing hidden in the numbers scattered all over the work will revitalize the dining table qua site of dead-meat consumption as a site of lively productive discussion. "Over and over again, people sat down at the table and stayed," Kathryn writes. "Some started discussions with friends and strangers across the table." The table itself summons awareness of what goes on around it and why it was made.

Examination Table

But it’s not just about discussion. Problematic Nature is about eating, listening, and discussing as making-contact. You want a metaphor, I want to say: if archaeology is a quest, via exposure to too much light and dirt, to bring nonhuman things into contact with our surfaces, then Kathryn excavates ghostly sounds of prey animals from the dust of their dissembled absence, bringing her guests into a strange kind of contact with nonhuman animals themselves – physical contact, closer than close, across the infinite thresholds of time and death.

But the risk of "archaeological rhetoric," says archaeologist Bjørnar Olsen, is misconstruing excavated things as "a means to reach something else, something more important – cultures and societies: the lives of past peoples, the Indian behind the artifact” – as if nonhumans are just human expressions, "mirror images of ourselves and our social relations," so that archaeology amounts to nothing more than a look in the mirror. The same goes for critique. Critique is necessary, we must excavate the ideologies that determine physical forms: cow becomes steak because of capitalism, four-legged plank masks a dissecting-dissembling machine because humanity thinks it’s above blood and guts (speciesism, anthropocentrism, &c, &c). But even this amounts to humanistic translation – the human(ism)s behind the de foie gras – and there's more at stake than that. There's more to nonhumans than anthropology. And because we’re only human, we can’t ever really know what more-than-human is. Kathryn Eddy loves to say, “Some things are untranslatable. And I’m okay with that.”

Although critique is at the heart of Kathryn's work, so are affirmations of the inexplicable material beauty of animal voices, the contradictory potential of the dining table as a space for discourse and interrogation as well as comfort and consumption, and the wonderful inexorability of the rift between consciousness and the untranslatable. Sounds are shimmering contact zones that make possible a fleeting, “surface” understanding of themselves and the things who make them but are both too distant and too bound up with our own bodies to afford any deciphering of the kind that could masquerade as knowledge.

Through sound, Problematic Nature makes contact with nonhuman animals while preserving the distance that makes them irreducibly other. So this “contact zone” is also an unbridgeable ravine. Kathryn's many-sided table is a material site of the rift. Despite its critical potential as the openness of questioning, the rift is simultaneously a terminus. It's the last stop for slaughtered nonhuman animals and a dead end for thought. On the far side of the ravine, Agamben says, nonhumans exist in “a zone of nonknowledge” for humans; beyond the rift each nonhuman “stands serenely in relation with its own concealedness.”

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