Cruel Insensibility and an Ethics Without Authority

  • Amanda Boetzkes
Keywords: Animal cruelty, representation, primal scene, virus dumping, sensus communis


This article considers the phenomenon of being insensible to animal cruelty, and how such insensibility relates to human transgressions of the planet. I consider the visualization of animal culls that appeared upon the emergence of the coronavirus pandemic. The spectacular wasting of animal life, I argue, discloses the economic logic by which humanity secures itself as a sovereign species. Such a logic and its visuality are not only underpinned by a broader necropolitical paradigm, moreover, they co-constitute a primal scene that enables the liquidation of animal life to the point of extinction. Following the evolutionary biologist Rob Wallace, I consider animal culls in relation to the phenomenon of virus dumping, a systemic perturbation of forest ecologies preceded by the influx of capital in agricultural markets that results in the release and rapid evolution of viruses. I therefore recapitulate the relationship between animal cruelty and the economy of planet wasting that subtends it. In this vein, I consider how the visuality of animal cruelty is predicated on a banal violence. Yet, drawing from Hannah Arendt, I call for an ethics without authority, a version of the Sensus Communis by which we might witness cruelty from within the depths of planetary transgressions.

Author Biography

Amanda Boetzkes

Professor, Contemporary Art History and Theory
University of Guelph,
201 Zavitz Hall, Guelph, ON N1G 2W1


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How to Cite
Boetzkes, A. (2021). Cruel Insensibility and an Ethics Without Authority. Stasis, 11(1).
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