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Narrating Companion Species

Seminar Center for Global Humanities Lecture/Seminar Series

Susan McHugh

Associate Professor of English

The discoveries of bacterial insertions in the human genome, escapes of modified plant genes into corn’s wild relatives, and mutations of Avian Flu into potential pandemics raise concerns about how bioethics remains largely (and inaccurately) premised on the control of discrete bodies like “selfish” genes. Stories of companionship, a term that derives from com panere, or those who break bread together, suggest a more workable baseline philosophical and scientific model. Whether in new evolutionary theories of cells as constituted by partnerships of formerly independent bacteria or more ordinary stories of people and pets training together for sports like canine agility, tales that focus instead on what happens between mutually domesticated messmates (and their inevitable problems with indigestion) demonstrate the alternate aesthetics required of current genomic understandings of our own as irreducible from other species.


Susan McHugh is Associate Professor of English at the University of New England. All of her research and some of her teaching focuses on literary, visual, and scientific stories of animals. She is the author of Animal Narratives: Forms of Species and Social Agency, forthcoming in the University of Minnesota Press’s Posthumanities series, as well as Dog (2004), a volume in Reaktion Books’ groundbreaking Animal series. Her essays on animals and literary theory have appeared in such journals as PMLA, Critical Inquiry, and Literature and Medicine. McHugh serves on the Advisory Board of the H-Animal Discussion Network, as member of the editorial collective for the journal Humanimalia, as an International Associate of the New Zealand Centre for Human-Animal Studies, and as a host faculty member of the Animals and Society Human-Animal Studies Summer Institute.

Assigned Reading

Donna Haraway, When Species Meet, University of Minnesota Press, 2007.


A reception will be held at 5pm at the UNE Art Gallery


Center for Global Humanities


(207) 221-4335

6:00 PM
WCHP Lecture Hall

Portland Campus

Free and open to the public