Calarco’s Zoographies: Introduction
Hopefully those of you planning on reading along have managed to get a copy of the book. If not, this post is just devoted to the relatively short introduction by Calarco, so you should have time to still get the book and catch up easily.
Kant famously contends in his Logic that “philosophy in the cosmopolitan sense of the word” can be summed up in four questions: “What can I know? What should I do? What may I hope for? What is a human being?” This final question, the question of the human, will be the domain that Kant claims all four questions can be answered. There are those of us resistant to Kant, and to his humanism. Calarcro’s book, with its philosophical ear finely tuned not toward the question of the human but toward the question of the animal, helps advance such an intellectual resistance.
Calarco’s book is written for two audiences. On the one hand, it is written from the field of continental philosophy to those in the field of animal studies who feel they need stronger philosophical (ethically, politically, and ontologically) arguments. In this way, Zoographies seeks to contest the calculative logics of Peter Singer’s utilitarianism and the metaphysics of the subject in Tom Regan’s rights-based Kantianism. On the other hand, and just as importantly, this is a book written from the field of animal studies to those in the field of continental philosophy. In this way, Zoographies is a work of immanent critique (though that phrase is never used). The question of the animal becomes almost a methodology, a way by which a thinker’s project is tested against the pitfalls of anthropocentrism. Calarco gives us a Heidegger beyond Heidegger, a Levinas beyond Levinas, an Agamben beyond Agamben, even a Derrida beyond Derrida.
Despite a clear attempt to write to both of those audiences, Zoographies is heavily weighted toward the later category. In so doing, Calarco extends the two major insights of animal studies that he identifies to the work of the major thinkers that are the focus of the book. The first insight is a critique of the essentialism of ‘animality.’ In many ways this critique resembles similar critiques advances on issues of gender, sex, race, etc. This critiques the ability completely demarcate what is the animal, and insists on the radical heterogeneity of all animal beings. If one insight of animal studies has been to insist on difference and anti-essentialism, the other complimentary insight of animal studies has been to insist on the commonalities. These commonalities problematize any static species borders, and this certainly includes the species border that draws a line between the human and the animal.
The refusal of the human/animal distinction, and all the anthropocentric baggage that goes along with it, has profound implications for questions of subjectivity and political projects of universalism. Calarco remains sympathetic to those theorists that believe the need to overcome or go past the subject has gone too far. Some notion of subjectivity is necessary for a radical ethics or politics. However, such a notion of subjectivity remains in the grip of a metaphysical anthropocentrism even if it escape a metaphysical humanism (I admit that the distinction between these two terms remains hazy for me). This becomes clearest in political philosophers who propose a radical universal project, like Zizek and Badiou, but whose notion of universality ends at the human (I would like to take this moment to refer to John Mullarkey’s excellent critique of Badiou’s anthropocentrism in Mullarkey’s Post-continental Philosophy for readers who would like to explore this point in more depth). Such an arbitrary distinction to end the project of emancipation at the borders of the human undercuts the radical force of such universalist philosophers (a point that will be developed more in the chapter on Agamben).
Comments for us to explore more on:
Calarco’s project to eradicate anthropocentrism in ethics and politics is explicitly seen as working in conjunction with Graham Harman’s and Ray Brassier’s attempts to rid ontology of anthropocentrism. Considering the number of speculative realists that follow this blog (hopefully including Harman, if he is not too busy), we will be able to explore this conjunction in more detail. I also wanted to end on this note of universality because everywhere I turn my head recently I notice the increasingly fragmentary nature of both those in the animal emancipation movement and the relationship of the animal movement to other emancipation movements. I am not sure how I feel about universalist projects, even those devoid of anthropocentrism, but I increasingly feel the need to overcome such a fragmented movement, a movement that truly eats itself (bringing to mind Derrida’s claim that vegetarianism and veganism requires a deconstruction as well, a topic that Calarco has written about elsewhere). Hopefully, in our reading of Zoographies, we can explore not just the insights of animal studies for philosophy, but also how the philosophical project in Zoographies might inform those of us, scholars and activists, who have been taken by the question of the animal.
Next week, Craig on chapter I, “Metaphysical Anthropocentrism: Heidegger.”