As part of the 26th Victor J. Emmett Memorial Lecture, literary scholar Andrew Bishop presented his lecture titled “Insensibility or ‘Vicious Sympathy?’ What to Feel About Animal Pain According to The Island of Dr. Moreau.”
Students, staff, and faculty gathered in the Governor’s Room of the Overman Student Center Thursday, Sept. 12 to hear Bishop’s lecture; a reception followed with snacks and drinks where attendants could mingle with Bishop. The lecture was sponsored by the Emmett Family, “The Midwest Quarterly,” and the English and modern languages department.
“So, to be honest, I’d already given a version of this presentation before, so I had a sense of the main argument,” Bishop said. “I wanted to give a title which made the conflict which I’m trying to describe really clear, and that’s the conflict between how are we supposed to feel about animals and pain. I think on the one hand the book is talking about the insensibility. On the other hand, it’s talking about sympathy and vicious sympathy, and I wanted a title that would just make that obvious to the audience. I also just thought that I was going for a title that might attract some attention because it’s nice when people are there to listen to you.”
Celia Patterson, chair of English and modern languages, helped organize the lecture. Patterson said Bishop was chosen among other authors to present his lecture.
“Everyone who had an essay accepted by ‘The Midwest Quarterly’ this year was an eligible person to receive the prize, but then a committee of English professors chose his as the best,” Patterson said.
Patterson said the lecture has two purposes, one being to memorialize the person who the lecture is named after.
“I really enjoyed it because it investigated the book in a way I’ve never thought of it before (it was an) interesting take on it,” she said. “I was glad (Bishop) won.”
Bishop appreciated the opportunity to present his lecture at Pittsburg State, as he is from Ohio State.
“For me, it was amazing… I teach classes to undergraduates but I don’t often have the chance to give talks to undergraduates, so for me it was a good chance to take something I’ve been writing about and turn it into something that would be accessible for a wider audience..,” Bishop said. “Not just professors but a broader community and see how they respond. So… I was really excited about that.”
The concept of Bishop’s lecture entailed what human beings are supposed to feel about non-human beings when they’re suffering, which he delved into by discussing both sides with aid of the book “The Island of Dr. Moreau.”
“… Being somebody who studies literature, I use a book to kind of explore what the book has to say about that question..,” Bishop said. “And, ultimately, I make an argument about the book in the paper. …”
Victoria Martinac, senior in art and illustration, attended the lecture with her friend. She was one of the many students in attendance.
“It was really interesting,” Martinac said. “I thought about the idea of people objecting to animal pain, it seems sort of inherent to me that we should sympathize with something that now we’re taking care of. So, it was interesting to learn that that had been an issue back then, I’d never known.”
Bishop said he had three main purposes he was trying to serve with his lecture.
“I think part of what I’m trying to do is one, show people the history of animal rights goes back well before we often think it does,” Bishop said. “… Second, I’m trying to get people to really think deeply about what emotions are … The most important, most, most important thing I’m trying to do is I really want people to think more about—often we think about human beings as radically distinct from animals, right, as if they weren’t somehow on the same spectrum, I really want to complicate that division. …”
Bishop is currently a graduate student at Ohio State, where he teaches first-year writing courses, in pursue of his doctorate.
“I’m just so thankful of the people here to invite me and give me the chance to do this,” Bishop said.