Yesterday I attended an interdisciplinary symposium on the topic of “animal humanities.” A friend helped to organize the symposium, and had invited me to the lunch with the presenters and other graduate students. There had been some difficulty organizing a vegetarian lunch, apparently; the catering services in the student union building tend more toward barbecue. But that had been straightened out, and the morning panels and speakers were fine. The first plenary speaker talked about the uses of animals in modern art — especially the kind of art that looks more like taxidermy — and warned his audience before showing some slides that their content was disturbing. I’m extremely soft-hearted about animals, but I didn’t find the images terribly bothersome; some people in the room clearly did, though, and appreciated the warning.
At noon we graduate students walked into the dining room where the lunch had been laid out and saw, with a kind of giggling horror, that the chandeliers were all constructed of huge antlers. “Oh, no,” said one of our professors. T. squinted up at the antlers and said quickly, “No, they’re fake. They’re all exactly the same, they’re not real.” And he was right — they were cast ceramic, carved and painted. But they hung there over our heads while we ate our salads and our vegetable-stuffed pastries, and I still sort of wanted to giggle.