The Inhumanities

Archive for the ‘Zoographies Discussion’ Category

The Passion of the Animal: Derrida

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In reading the comments of the previous installments of this series, it seems like those participating are able to  digest the arguments of the philosophers under consideration and the critiques Matt makes of them (is it ok if I refer to you as “Matt” instead of “Calarco”? The surname address sounds stilted at this point). For that reason, and because life is busy, I am going to eschew a full summary of the Derrida chapter.

Derrida is an excellent capstone to the previous readings. Derrida breaks with Heidegger’s metaphysics and Dasein as the sole possessor of language; he radicalizes Levinas’s ethics in nearly exactly the way I would wish. Matt is kind to footnote Derrida’s many engagements with philosophers on the issue of animals for those wishing to pursue this thread, and in each of those cases Derrida takes the opportunity to unseat a clean split between “human” and “animal.” By juxtaposing Derrida and Agamben one can see the cloaked gravitational center pulling Agamben off course. Matt speaks of a “performative anthropocentrism” in the Derrida that aptly describes the constraints on both. In Derrida’s case, there is a will to respect the animal that is hindered by the philosophical inheritance. In Agamben’s, solidarity with other animals seems like the only logical outcome—what else would move biopolitics out of the realm of idealism?—and yet is avoided, symptomatically, to preserve the whir of the anti-anthropological machine.

There are a few points in Matt’s critique of Derrida that I find myself returning to in my head, and it is on these that I want to focus. First, he calls Derrida out on saying that there are divisions between humans and animals: “not…that there is no limit between ‘animals’ and ‘man’: it is because I maintain that there is more than one limit, that there are many limits” (146). This statement seems, to me, in keeping with a conservative streak underlying much of Derrida’s self-positioning in relation to matters of law. Derrida is no revolutionary: when he revolutionizes philosophy by deconstruction, it is out of an apprehension of the unrecognized excesses of a belief in self-presence (Heidegger being the greatest example, but also the tremendous cruelties carried out in the name of Cartesianism or positivism and kinds of Marxism). So it does not surprise me that Derrida is willing to say “many limits” rather than “no limits.” The question would be whether these Derridean limits would function as gates for oppression, as past generic limits have. The argument I imagine coming from Derrida is that these are transient limits and that they are necessarily instantiated within the ethical moment. Matt’s point is well taken: if Derrida wants a new taxonomic hierarchy, give him the boot. But if he is parasitizing the language of taxonomy to describe singularity, there is no conflict with his typical position (in his written texts rather than interviews) on animals and ethics.

The second major point of discussion is the relation between vegetarianism and deconstruction, specifically in Derrida’s writings. As we know, Derrida gives full ethical otherhood to nonhuman animals. There is a great section of his interview with Roudinesco where he goes on the offensive (as much as Derrida “the power of powerlessness” ever does) in confronting her with the realities underlying her desire to eat meat. It seems intuitive that not eating animals would be a fundamental consequence of this respect for animals. However, Derrida remains agnostic about vegetarianism because it can be deconstructed. This is especially true today, when animal (by)products have been spectralized into seemingly unrelated goods. Are we going to consume nothing? How do we draw a line in the sand without committing the cardinal sin of deconstruction?

Matt concurs with Derrida that deconstruction and a deconstructive respect for animals does not entail vegetarianism (Scu linked to Matt’s article on the subject a couple posts ago; I haven’t gotten a chance to read it, so forgive me if you answer my questions there). For my part I endorse their line of argument. However, this does not mean vegetarianism is incompatible with deconstruction. It means that the pledge of respectful consumption must be renewed continually, as any ethical relation must be continually open to the future and constituted in its arriving. It is somewhat baffling to me that Derrida would not himself sign on to vegetarianism, given the great and senseless suffering inflicted by the meat industry, with the minor human caveat that his vegetarianism remains impure.

Here is where I think vegetarianism can make a strong claim to the practice of deconstruction. Let us imagine Derrida as a young man. He realizes one day that philosophy, the whole thing, is founded on a couple great untruths or self-deceptions. Rather than saying, “philosophy is a load of bull,” he devotes his life to working from within that tradition to mar it indelibly. He was able to deconstruct philosophy by virtue of, and only because of, a position within philosophy. Today, we find ourselves realizing that the cultural infrastructure of the meat industry called Western Civilization (“carnophallogocentrism”) is a set of self-deceptions. From where do we dismantle it? Vegetarianism is not a position outside of the world, but it is a position within it that allows for different horizons to appear. The work of deconstructing vegetarianism would multiply those horizons, disbanding some and enriching others—but it is only from within such a vegetarianism (becoming-veg!n as Scu calls it) that such futures can arrive. I’m not sure there is much more of interest to be spun out from the culture of meat sacrifice after deconstruction. Veg!sm, on the other hand, puts humans at stake in the ever more fine-grained construction/discovery of living beings.

Written by Greg Pollock

October 3, 2009 at 8:02 pm

Calarco’s Zoographies: Jamming the Anthropological Machine – Agamben

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I. Human, all too animal

In Leland de la Durantaye’s authorative work, Giorgio Agamben: A Critical Introduction, he writes: “In this light [that being how The Open functions in the economy of Agamben’s writing], to read Agamben in the context of debates about animal rights is, though illuminating for those debates, somewhat misleading as a frame through which to understand The Open. For Agamben, the point is not to locate a continuity or an interruption in the line of evolution, not to align himself with those advocates of continuity like Aristotle or those who see a fundamental break between man and animal like Descartes and Heidegger, and not to bring about a more just treatment of animals, but instead to glimpse a new and different paradigm for human life” (p. 333). He explicitly cites Calarco’s “Jamming the Anthropological Machine” as just such a reading. The problem with such a reading by Durantaye is he implies that such an “illumination” is a one-way street. Indeed, Agamben’s work has been very illuminating for those of us committed to bringing about a more just treatment of animals. However, this illumination moves both ways. We in critical animal studies are not merely parasitically mouthing the words of ‘masters’ in an attempt to justify our work. Rather, we also argue that to the degree these authors stay within a metaphysical anthropocentrism their projects run against certain internal limits. They are unable to finish their own radical itinerary. Or to put it another way, it is only by concerning ourselves with a more just treatment of animals that we can possibly glimpse a new and different paradigm for human life.

II. When I grow up I’m going to get me some big words

The first half of this chapter mostly concerns examining Agamben’s distinction between humans and other animals as found in Language and Death and Infancy and History. Agamben’s distinction between the human and the animal rests, unsurprisingly, on the question of language. What is surprising is what it is about language that Agamben believes distinguishes humans from animals. It is not, as we have so often seen, that animals simply don’t have language. That they possess ‘mere’ phone, for example. Instead, the distinction is not that animals do not have language, but that they exist naturally within language. Or, as Calarco quotes Bataille’s phrase, they exist in language “like water in water.” Humans, however, do not naturally have language. Rather, we have to learn language, and it is that process of learning language, or dealing with the fundamental opacity of language, that makes us human and gives us a self. It is not any particular language, but language as such that represents both the “I” and the common for Agamben, the basis and possibility of human existence. This is related to Agamben’s notion of infancy (and while not noted by Calarco, clearly forms the basis of Agamben’s later concept of potentiality and despite the lack of reference, should be heard in conjunction with Arendt’s concept of natality). Humans beings do not naturally have language, which gives us a perpetual state of infancy, a perpetual possibility to be. I also should note that the immanence of being in the world (or language) like water in water is not a guarantee of just treatment. Indeed, if you read Bataille’s Theory of Religion, who can forget Bataille’s declaration that “[t]he definition of the animal as a thing has become a basic human given.” He continues, “The animal has lost its status as man’s fellow creature, and man, perceiving the animality in himself, regards it as a defect. There is undoubtedly a measure of falsity in the fact of regarding the animal as a thing. An animal exists for itself and in order to be a thing it must be dead or domesticated” (p. 39). Until we recognize our human, all too animal status; that is to say, until we overcome our metaphysical anthropocentrism; there will be no escape from this need to render beings into either death or domesticity.

III. Shabbat against the (anthropological) machine

The second half of the chapter concerns itself with trying to outline one way to overcome this metaphysical anthropocentrism in the work of Agamben, focusing on the text The Open. In the discussion on Levinas, I contended that one way to read Zoographies is as an explanation and defense of the concept of ethical agnosticism. Just as ethical agnosticism refuses creating a criteria for moral status, Calarco’s reading of Agamben creates a political refusal for such line drawing. Indeed, the refusal of global linear thinking, raised in Schmitt’s The Nomos of the Earth, is at the center of Agamben’s political project. In this particular case, the line drawing we are focusing on is the one performed by the anthropological machine, which constantly distinguishes between human and animal.

The anthropological machine, as Calarco points out, is empty. (As an aside, this is true for all of Agamben’s machines. The state of exception is described as kenotic and the providential machine is said to only work because the throne of God remains empty. The machinery of power, for Agamben, always runs on an essential emptiness). This emptiness is important, even fundamental. It means that the caesuras that are produced by the anthropological machine are not based upon any positive content. It does not a draw its lines because it knows what is the human is, but rather is always trying to decide what the human is not. This has two very real political implications. The first implication is that a line is never finally drawn. Just as with the state of exception at the heart of the legal system, the anthropological machine requires constant decisions to be made. The lines are drawn, and re-drawn—everyone is potentially a criminal, everyone is potentially an animal. The second implication is that many beings will exist in a zone of indifference, not clearly decided in either the category of human or animal. This is the destiny of the barbarian, the slave, the infant savage, the wolf-man, the bandit, the Jew.

Now, there are two ways to try and fight the violence of the anthropological machine. The first way would be to try and finally create the perfect positive content, the perfect trait that will somehow make sure all humans land on one side of the line, and all other beings land on the other side of the line. This is clearly an unacceptable solution to either Calarco or Agamben, both who would be sure that such moves would only fuel the machine even more. Rather, following up on the advocacy to embrace the agnosticism in Levinas’ ethics, we need to embrace the agnosticism is knowing what makes a human or an animal. This alternative is articulated in two figures by Benjamin, the dialectic at a standstill, which will happen in the saved night. The saved night, of course, is saved because it is unsavable, in its being irreparable (to use a figure from a different Agamben work). As Agamben explains on the last page of The Open: “To render inoperative the machine that governs our conception of man will therefore mean no longer to seek new—more effective and more authentic—articulations, but rather to show the central emptiness, the hiatus that—within man—separates man and animal, and to risk ourselves in this emptiness: the suspension of the suspension, Shabbat of both animal and man” (p. 92).

IV: Points for Discussion.

First, I am not as convinced, as Matt is, that The Open signals a rupture in Agamben’s anthropocentric thought. I think, for example, that is telling what examples Agamben uses for those trapped in the zone of indifference produced by the anthropological machine. The barbarian, the slave, the Jew, the bandit, etc. Not, however, the great ape, the talking bird, the dolphin and the elephant. Not only that, but in all of Agamben’s tremendous and thoughtful engagements of Kafka’s work, we don’t see Red Peter, or any of the many animals throughout Kafka’s work, as trapped in that zone of indifference. This concern is amplified in Agamben’s discussion of the profane. In What is an Apparatus? Agamben finds within the apparatus a key moment of anthropogenesis, and seeks to fight against apparatuses by valorizing the profane. However, the privilege example of the profane, found in Profanations, is the flesh of a sacrificed animal being given to the common consumption. (see What is an Apparatus? And Other Essays pp.15-19. Profanations p. 74). I know it seems as if the quotation I reference at the end of the last section is pretty clear on the point, but I always get stuck on this point that the separation happens within the human. It seems to reaffirm a point from Homo Sacer, where he states: “That such a man is defined as a wolf-man and not simply as a wolf (the expression caput lupinum has the form of a juridical statute) is decisive here” (p. 105). Agamben’s work always returns back to the human, and what is separated within the human, which remains decisive.

Second, I am curious about trying to read The Open in conjunction with Agamben’s The Sacrament of Language, which concerns itself so centrally with the question of anthropogenesis. At the same time he refuses the human use of language special importance in terms of effectiveness, power, and beauty with specific comparisons to other animals, he seems to reaffirm that the distinction between the human and the animal rests in language. And indeed, rests in the fundamental opacity of language for humans, and the ethical implications of language that remain for the human.


I should have added this last night, but I forgot. The section on spends little time grappling with concepts like bare life and zoe and bios. One can only assume this was intentional. I continue to think that bare life does not provide a particularly emancipatory model for animals, or, for that matter, humans. I think we have to refuse a category that turns animal life into something synonymous with natural life, while giving human life a privileged or at least different place as the only form of artificial life. It ignores all we have come to know about the complex interactions, learned behaviors, strategies and mechanisms of different animal lives. Indeed, it ignores all we have come to know about the existence of animal culture and animal society.

Not only that, but the concept of bare life as being the moment when a human is caught in between bios or zoe, seems to indicate that something like the Muselmann would be natural if he was an animal. Such an understanding can be found in phrases like, “They were treated as if they were animals.” But, such arguments are clearly silly. There is nothing about animals that resemble the zombie-esque descriptions of the Muselmann. Animals are full of affect, and interaction. Animal life is never mere life, and as the intensive amount of science and violence dedicated to creating increasingly docile animals for factory farms show, the have to turned into bare life just like the human animal.

Written by Scu

September 24, 2009 at 4:54 am

A Short Comment on Calarco’s Zoographies

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In my summary, I avoided editorial and interpretative comments insofar as it were possible, focusing instead on the chapter. I would like to take a moment to commend Calarco on his style of writing and exposition, which is admirably clear and unpretentious, unlike so much other writing in “continental philosophy.” I should also like to commend him for keeping citations to a minimum, thus concentrating his attention on the texts at hand rather than on the excessive critical apparatus surrounding his chosen texts. Finally, I should also like to commend him on his style of argumentation, which more closely resembles that of “analytic philosophy,” presenting arguments, presenting rival interpretations, and then presenting the position anew rather than concentrating on never-ending exegesis.

Written by Craig McFarlane

September 13, 2009 at 12:14 pm

Calarco’s Zoographies: Metaphysical Anthropocentrism – Heidegger

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[My apologies for the delayed posting. Duties in the physical world imposed themselves on my time.]

In a sense, the second chapter of Matthew Calarco’s Zoographies: The Question of the Animal from Heidegger to Derrida on Martin Heidegger is the real introduction to the book because Calarco identifies Heidegger’s work as “an essential reference and ideal point of departure” for posing the “question of the animal” in relation to modern continental philosophy. While being both “essential” and “ideal,” this should not be taken to imply that Heidegger actually succeeds in posing the question of the animal–let alone adequately–it must be recognized that Heidegger presents a major intervention into the history of philosophy which subsequent philosophers in the continental traditional (rightly or wrongly, I’ll return to this below in my comments) take as “an essential reference and ideal point of departure.” Indeed, the subsequent chapters, on Levinas, Agamben and Derrida, could be read “as an attempt to deepen and extend certain lines of Heidegger’s thought while simultaneously holding open other lines of inquiry that his work brushed up against but ultimately forecloses.” Presented in this light, it is little surprise that Carlarco’s comments on Heidegger are, in his own words, “deeply and, at times, harshly critical.” Like Heidegger’s corpus, this chapter is wide-ranging and of great scope (about forty pages). Consequently, it is not possible to give a complete overview of the argument. Rather, I’ll concentrate on highlighting the concepts in Heidegger’s thought that Calarco engages with.

First Analysis: Demising, Dying and Perishing – as is well-known, in Being and Time, Heidegger develops an outline of the various modalities of finitude proper to various beings. Obviously, Heidegger’s primary concern remains with Dasein, the form of being specific to humans, but he often develops the analysis of Dasein in relation to the being of animals, or animality. The analysis of death presents one such example. Dasein relates to death both in the form of “as such,” but also in relation to its own death. Death, for Dasein, occurs in relation to time and being. Hence, when Dasein dies, its life does not simply come to end. This simple ‘coming to an end’ is the form of death proper to the animal, which Heidegger calls perishing. Thus, in relation to death, animals do not have excess to the modes of death proper to Dasein, which implies a significant gap or abyss between the humanity of humans and the animality of animals. Among other reasons, the importance of this analysis of death is important because it demonstrates Heidegger’s willingness to adopt rather dogmatic positions devoid of either sufficient argumentation or scientific evidence. The grounds upon which Heidegger determines that there is an essential difference between the ways in which the lives of humans end and the ways in which animal lives end are not presented or even indicated beyond assertion.

Second Analysis: World-forming, poor in world, and worldess – a goal of Heidegger’s early work in fundamental ontology is to set humanist and scientific research on the proper footing. A significant confrontation occurs between philosophy and biology in relation to fundamental ontology. Heidegger wishes to distinguish methods of analysis proper to the being of animals and plants from the methods of analysis proper to the being of humans. Again, Heidegger wish to establish an essential difference between the being of non-human lives and the being of human lives. If the difference is essential, then the methods of study must likewise be essentially different. Here, Heidegger is opposed to all forms of reductionism and thus defends a version of what we might call the relative autonomy in the various domains of life. Thus, the study of plants and animals should not be reduced to the study of physical and chemical processes. Likewise, plants and animals should not be studied in terms of human categories, such as with vitalism or psychology. However, there must be the recognition that humans are, in some sense, animals (biologically, perhaps) and that animals are, in some sense, physical beings (e.g., chemical processes). The question becomes one where physical explanation must give way to biological explanation and where this, in turn, must give way to “humanist” (my word) explanation.

Hence, it is important that reductionist arguments be avoided; i.e., reducing the explanation of humans to animals; of reducing the explanation of animals to physical entities. The opposite movement must likewise be avoided; i.e., elevating the explanation of animals to the explanation of humans (a contemporary trend here is evolutionary psychology and sociobiology). The study of animality must resist any temptation towards mechanistic explanations (as machines, as mere chemical or physical processes, what we might call neo-Cartesianism) and anthropomorphized explanations. At the same time, Heidegger resists using the categories of biology and zoology to understand the being of humans, this would be a biological reductionism. In effort to get around these risks, Heidegger develops an analysis of the relation different forms of beings have with other beings and the world; i.e., world-forming, poor in world and worldless. The human is world-forming, the animal is poor in world and the stone is worldless. Further, each analysis must be conducted in terms of the beings proper to that domain of the world: the animal must be studied on its own terms (i.e., it is inappropriate to use concepts from the human sciences or the physical sciences). This is where an opening–unpursued, however–is created whereby the animal is analyzed “on its own terms” and, better, where it is posed philosophically whether there is even a distinction to be made between human and animal being or even between living and non-living beings. Thus, this is an unexplored chance to analyze beings without recourse to anthropocentric or anthropomorphic explanations. Also of great significance, is that Heidegger resists an attempt to organize beings along a hierarchy: just because humans are world-forming, this does not imply that they have an ontological priority to animals which are world-poor or even to rocks which are worldless. Consequently, there are no grounds upon which to rank beings in terms of differences in degree. The result, however, is that beings end up being ranked in terms of differences in kind. This result follows from Heidegger’s refusal to explain animals in terms of humans and humans in terms of animals. Ultimately, “the question concerning whether such a distinction between human beings and animals can or even should be drawn is never raised for serious discussion.” The result of Heidegger’s analysis of beings in relation to the world is that he has recourse to two dogmatic theses: “the human beings and animals can be clearly and cleanly distinguished in their essence; and that such a distinction between human beings and animals even needs to be drawn.”

  • The “as” structure. The most significant difference between humans and animals identified by Heidegger is the idea of “as.” Humans are able to relate to beings “as” beings: to a tree “as” a tree or a rock “as” a rock. According to Heidegger, animals do not have this relation, which accounts for why their being is “poor in world.” (This is a specific version of the thesis that humans differ from animals specifically in their possession of language.)

Third Analysis: animal rationale – here Calarco turns to a discussion of Heidegger’s lectures on Nietzsche and Parmenides. According to Heidegger’s well-known thesis, Nietzsche fails to overcome the metaphysical tradition, but rather completes it in his analysis of humans as the animal rationale. Nietzsche’s concept of the “will to power” re-arranges the terms of “animal” and “rational,” privileging the bodily, or animal, nature of the human being rather than speaking, discursive or rational part. Thus, the difference here is between “the rational animal” and “animal who is also rational” (my gloss). For Heidegger, this does not present an overcoming of metaphysics, but a playing out of the final permutation. Calarco’s view, here, is that Heidegger is wrong in his assessment in that Heidegger appears to confuse “subjectivity” and “human subjectivity.” For Calarco, Nietzsche is engaged in an attack on the latter, or what he calls anthropocentrism. Here, Calarco cites the well-known passage from “Truth and Lie in a Nonmoral Sense” on the history of some “clever animals invention of knowledge.” The question Calarco would like to pose in relation to Nietzsche (and also Rilke) is the hypothetical: “What would be lost of human beings were somehow to become ‘animal’ and leave behind their ‘higher’ faculties?” Such a hypothetical is a direct attack on the entirety of Heidegger’s project, which seeks to uncover and guard the secret of the essential difference between humans and animals. The importance of this section is that it begins the critical move from “metaphysical humanism and metaphysical anthropocentrism” to a non- or anti-anthropocentric conception of the world where humans become beings among many other beings, opening up the possibility for divergent perspectives upon the world where one perspective is not necessarily privileged over another; e.g., why privilege the human capacity for rational thought over the bat’s radar or the dog’s nose? Why is one way of engaging with the world “better” than another?

Fourth Analysis: metaphysical humanism and metaphysical anthropocentrism – the final section turns to a consideration of the connection between humanism and anthropocentrism, a question which Heidegger raises in his essay, “Plato’s Doctrine of Truth” where he notes that the “beginning of metaphysics in the thought of Plato is at the same time the beginning of ‘humanism.'” Here, Heidegger notes the connection between human subjectivity and anthropocentrism under the heading of humanism, which differs from the later account in the “Letter on ‘Humanism.'” At issue is whether humans should be thought of as one of the living beings among many others (which Heidegger continues to identify with biologism) or should humans be thought of in exceptional terms? In fancier terms, what is at issue is whether the being of humans belongs to animalitas or humanitas? Here we return to the question of language: where does language arrive from? Simply put (and not how Calarco explains it, by the way), language does not appear in animals, but it does appear in humans, thus language must arise from something specific to humans. Consequently, it cannot be said that language, that which is specific to humans, arises out of animalitas, but only humanitas. (One thinks of Chosmky’s “universal grammar” as an essential difference between humans and animals.) While Heidegger’s analysis here is moderately novel, Calarco notes that Heidegger has not said anything fundamentally new about the distinction between humans and animals (language is a standard dividing line), thus despite his efforts, Heidegger remains trapped within the tradition of humanism. In this sense, Heidegger also remains trapped within an anthropocentric vision of the world.

Points of Discussion

Admittedly, despite having gone through a Nietzschean-Heideggerian phase late in my undergraduate education, I am not especially knowledgeable of Heidegger’s works beyond the classics; e.g., Being and Time, “The Question Concerning Technology,” “Letter on Humanism,” “The Origin of the Work of Art,” and “The Age of the World Picture.” Certainly, more than I’ve read of other important philosophers, but limited in the context of Heidegger’s own thought. Another influence in my intellectual development (for better or for worse) was an engagement with Alexandre Kojeve’s lectures on Hegel, which were just as influential on subsequent continental philosophy as Heidegger’s thought. As is well known, students in Kojeve’s lectures were a veritable “who’s who” of French thought including, for instance, Georges Bataille, Jacques Lacan, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. In his lectures, Kojeve considers, among other things, the relation between time, death and history, including an extended engagement with the differences between human and non-human life, such as in the lecture “The Idea of Death in the Philosophy of Hegel.” The question I would pose in this context concerns the possibility of writing a different history of the animal in light of Kojeve-Hegel rather than in light of Heidegger. What would the question of the animal be in the context of Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of perception? of the flesh? or Georges Bataille’s work on sacrifice, excess and death?

Written by Craig McFarlane

September 11, 2009 at 4:02 pm

Calarco’s Zoographies: Introduction

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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.”

Written by Scu

September 1, 2009 at 2:12 am