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The cultural politics of mourning in the era of mass extinction: Thylacine specimen P762

Citation

Stark, H, The cultural politics of mourning in the era of mass extinction: Thylacine specimen P762, Australian Humanities Review, (63) pp. 65-79. ISSN 1325-8338 (2018) [Refereed Article]


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Copyright 2018 Australian Humanities Review

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Abstract

In the introduction to Loss: The Politics of Mourning, David Eng and David Kazanijan write that ‘as soon as the question "What is lost?" is posed, it invariably slips into the question "What remains?" That is, loss is inseparable from what remains, for what is lost is known only by what remains of it, by how these remains are produced, read, and sustained’ (2). This article considers the remains of the thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger, the last of which died on 7 September 1936 at Beaumaris Zoological Gardens on the Hobart Domain. Since its untimely demise the thylacine has been an enduring presence in the cultural life of Tasmania and has become an international emblem of extinction. This article contemplates the power of thylacine remains to elicit emotions such as guilt, shame or grief in the context of the mass extinction of species that is symptomatic of the Anthropocene. In particular, it considers specimen P762, a female thylacine pup held by the Australian Museum in Sydney but which I discovered on the International Thylacine Specimen Database (ITSD), an amazing digital archive that records the details of over 750 thylacine specimens held in collections all around the world.1 In turning to these poignant images I want to afford this thylacine pup the status not of curiosity or mute museum object but of a creature whose life and death matters. I also want to consider the ‘afterlife’ of this animal. Here, I take the notion of ‘afterlife’ from a Royal Society lecture given by Katheryn Medlock, senior curator of vertebrate zoology at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (TMAG) who talked about the ‘afterlife of animals’ when, after death, they enter a museum collection. Considering thylacine specimen P762 provides an opportunity to dwell on the affective capacities of the remains of one thylacine, a body that can be read as a repository for the complexity of the emotions that attend to extinction in the Anthropocene.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:politics, culture, thylacine, mass extinction, mourning, afterlife of animals, museum collection
Research Division:Language, Communication and Culture
Research Group:Cultural Studies
Research Field:Postcolonial Studies
Objective Division:Expanding Knowledge
Objective Group:Expanding Knowledge
Objective Field:Expanding Knowledge in Languages, Communication and Culture
UTAS Author:Stark, H (Dr Hannah Stark)
ID Code:127091
Year Published:2018
Deposited By:Office of the School of Humanities
Deposited On:2018-07-10
Last Modified:2019-01-29
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