Monthly Archives: September 2011

Derrida’s vegan hors d’oeuvre: Politicians, rapists, and vaches à lait

In his final seminars at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales between 2001 and 2003, Jacques Derrida addresses himself to the questions of the beast (la bête) and/or the sovereign (le souverain), of the “who” (qui) and/or the “what” (quoi), the who or what which is an animal and/or is a marionette, and of the indissociability of liberty and sovereignty, of the “free” decision and the machinery of response and responsibility. In the Eleventh Seminar, in an analysis of sovereign knowledge which depends upon the “possession and mastery of its object” (Beast and the Sovereign I 280), he speaks of a seventeenth century dissection of an elephant “under the orders and under the gaze of the greatest of kings, His Majesty Louis le Grand” (ibid.). Imagine, says Derrida, “think about it, represent it,” for it is a performance [une représentation]: perform for oneself this “enormous, heavy, poor beast … dragged in from I know not where on its side or its back into a luxurious room, a beast no doubt bloody, among doctors, surgeons, or other armed butchers [médecins, chirurgiens ou autres charcuteurs armés]” (284). Imagine, he continues, the king’s entrance and all the doctors and academics bowing down, the crowd and courtesans: “represent to yourselves the whole ceremony,” this “political picture … so much more stylish than … a Salon of Agriculture in the midst of an election campaign.” Speaking thus in March 2002 at the height of the presidential election campaign in France, during which every candidate was expected to perform such a visit, expected to represent such a political picture at the Salon, Derrida points to all those “pretending to the throne” who must—

stroke the cow’s rear end [caressent le cul des vaches à lait] (consenting cows, of course, as thieves and rapists [les voleurs et les violeurs] always say, by definition) and walk around candidly, candidately among the stands, their mouths full of foie gras, beer, presidential pâte de campagne, their mouths also full of verbiage … in a crowd in which it would be harder than ever to tell a beast from a sovereign (284-5).

In this, whilst analysing the performance of an elephant autopsy, Derrida at once performs—without remarking—a deconstruction precisely of the “what” or the “who,” of qui or quoi and the beast or the sovereign. Doctors and surgeons are here species of the genera “armed butchers” in their gaze and their performance that reduces a singular elephant to a piece of meat on a slab. This genera, moreover, is extended far beyond the butchering of murdered nonhuman animals for human and other animal consumption, carrying with it the atrocities of war, of terror, of cannibalistic killers, in a shift of sense which brings “biomedical” practitioners together with the most “beastly,” the most so-called “animal” of “human” acts, these doctors and surgeons who—these doctors and surgeons that—assume to possess together with their scalpels the certainty of knowledge and the mastery of their object. Here then, the highest of rational sovereign beings become, for a moment, indistinguishable from the most bestial, the most “animal.”

While still within the vicinity of the majesty of Louis le Grand, in an overlaying of the contemporary “political picture” we find today’s French politicians caressing the backsides of vaches—but these are not “dairy cows” [vaches laitière] as the translation maintains, but rather such “cows” are those who are easily taken in (with all its certain superiority of the masculine), such suckers [vaches à lait] whose arses politicians caress at election time (and thus we too are vaches à lait, and with the same assumption or presumption of sovereignly given consent). The cows in question, however, are produced as stupidly willing, a consent supposed by those rational men “by definition” in order to justify theft and rape. And yet, by speaking of  political candidates as les voleurs et les violeurs, which in turn carries with it a certain feminist notion of the theft and rape of the world as programmed by Christian-Enlightenment thought, Derrida thus speaks of those so-called “food animals” shown at the Salon not as quoi, but as qui: these specific cows who, stolen and raped, fondled without their consent by those “pretending to the throne” in an intimate public caress, these cows who, in a jolt of recognition, cease to be what, cease to be “mere” beasts but who become sensible, become beings that are no longer invisible noise but are rather being violated by beasts, beasts stuffed with empty words and swollen with the cruelly swollen organs of other animals, an enactment of bestial molestation amidst a crowd in which it is no longer possible to tell the human apart from everyone traditionally supposed to be everything that that—that human—precisely, irredemiably, “is” not.

What is performed, and represented by Derrida who exhorts us to represent it to ourselves, is the autopsic enactment of positivist mastery in which all but “the human”—which is not to say all human beings—are never “who” but only “what,” only things to be inspected and displayed for consumption (one thinks of the recent Channel 4 series Inside Nature’s Giants, displaying “layman” dissections of a variety of the world’s largest animals). Here then, we find what Derrida calls the inspectacular imbrication of the theatrical and the theoretical (296) at the intersection of convention and consent, which is at once the setting of the scene of the possible (that “always necessary context of the performative operation (a context that is, like every convention, an institutional context)” (“University Without Condition”)); such representations that, recognised within an institutional context, are countersigned without consent and thus necessarily nonevents. Other if not opposite to this ob-jectifying performance of the phenomenal elephant “is” the animal encounter, the impossible that is the in-sensée (madness, delirium) that enacts bodyings as and at the limit of sense and thus of existence.

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Foucault in the Slaughterhouse

The following is the draft of a paper I gave at the recent ‘Radical Foucault’ conference at UEL.

The disciplinary underbelly in the margins of control

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I think it is fair to say that the importance accruing to the publication of Foucault’s lectures cannot be overstated. Three in particular, Society Must be Defended; Security, Territory, Population; and The Birth of Biopolitics, insofar as the content of these lectures did not directly result in works published during Foucault’s lifetime, necessitate a rigorous reappraisal of the ongoing relevance of his thought. In particular, they offer a detailed rejoinder to many subsequent critiques regarding the limitations of biopolitics when understood solely as an order of disciplinarity. Donna Haraway’s influential “Manifesto for Cyborgs” from 1985, in which she describes Foucault’s biopolitics as “a flaccid premonition of cyborg politics,” offers a good example of what will become a fairly standard criticism. [i] With the publication of the lectures, however, it becomes clear that, under the notions of “security” and “governmentality,” Foucault had already offered an in-depth engagement with what for Haraway characterises a more “erect,” post-Foucauldian informatics of domination, which she describes as being constituted and differentiated by control strategies which concentrate on rates of flow enabling an unlimited circulation, on reproductive capacities in terms of population control, and on the effective management of stress points or blockages; probabilistic and statistical, she continues, such control strategies are formulated in terms of the costs of constraints and degrees of freedom.

A few years later, Gilles Deleuze, despite having previously made the point that for Foucault there is no abrupt discontinuity between the various historical orderings of power, but rather an always uneven topography of transition with each new formation emerging “with gaps, traces and reactivations of former elements,”[ii] he will nevertheless suggest that, even while Foucault was writing, his time was in fact already past: “a disciplinary society,” writes Deleuze, “was what we already no longer were.”[iii] Again, however, the lectures make clear that not only was Foucault already aware that the disciplinary order had seceded its primacy to the generalised mechanisms of security, but also that fragmentary orderings of disciplinarity and sovereignty not only remain with us, but are vital to our understanding both of history and of practices of resistance. For example, in locating the invocation of right as “taking place on the front where the heterogeneous layers of discipline and sovereignty meet,” it becomes all too clear that not only can the contemporary reactivation of bourgeois right in no way limit the effects of disciplinary power, but also that an entirely new resistance politics is required once we begin to attend to the generalised order of security.[iv]

Taking the multiply-penetrated bodies of nonhuman animals as an example, I aim to suggest that a Foucauldian analysis remains essential if we are to understand the apparent conflict or conflation of orders which today both organises and produces nonhuman bodies, and at the same time to demonstrate some of the ways our society of security remains both supported and constrained by an increasingly marginalised disciplinary mode of production. This is because it is within the windowless walls of Western slaughter-factories that all those apparently outmoded forms of a capitalism of enclosure are perhaps most explicitly maintained right alongside, and meshing with, the most futural informatic and control networks, exemplified both by the working practices of agribusiness transnationals and by the genetically engineered animals of biotechnology, be they oversized blind hens or so-called “pharm” animals biologically modified so as to produce helpful pharmaceuticals along with their more usual bodily fluids. To understand the combined discipline and security of slaughter, however, requires that we follow Foucault and analyse how infinitesimal mechanisms of disciplinary power come to be invested, transformed, displaced, and re-used by the increasingly general mechanism of security in such a way as to disclose how, at this given moment and in this specific formation, such technologies of power become once again economically profitable and politically useful.[v]

In other words, it is only at the intersection of security’s reactivation of disciplinarity that it becomes possible to track the various transformations—of which I can obviously only offer a rough sketch here—which, since the decline of Western meat consumption as a result of increasing health concerns, have led both to the “immigrantisation” of meat production in the West and to the export of an apparently Western “life-style” of meat consumption by agribusiness giants like Smithfield and Tyson, aided and abetted by the World Bank, to various developing nations. This double shift has been achieved in part by way of framing notions of “progress” and “modernity” in conjunction with “status,” “virility” and, somewhat ironically, “health” on the one hand and, on the other, by the targeted construction of enormous institutions of disciplined death and disarticulation on the outskirts of Western towns already devastated by poverty and racial tensions: a geopolitical development which, as Foucault has already shown in his discussion of town-planning, “organizes elements that are justified by their poly-functionality.”[vi] In place of the nineteenth-century spectacle of disciplinary slaughter, however, today the blank walls and blank-faced guards defending the slaughter-factories of the ghettoised North serve in part to mark the fact that such a degree of concentrated, enclosed exploitation is no longer acceptable in the “clean” disembodied information age of postindustrial governmentality—at least, that is, for the “civilised” citizens of the North.

 

Another way to say this would be that, insofar as the marks of the colonial-imperial order are necessarily retained by the disciplinary apparatuses despite their reutilisation, they must therefore be hidden. As Foucault insists, the new technology of power emerging in the second half of the eighteenth century does not exclude disciplinary technologies, but rather dovetails into them, transforming their uses as it embeds itself within them.[vii] Thus disciplinary techniques are thereafter put to work instead upon material givens, upon natural processes and upon flows of people and resources, solely in order to maximise those elements which provide the best possible circulation whilst minimising the chances of blockage—blockages which include not only theft and illness, but also worker solidarity, empathy, unionising, capitalist-worker polarisation, and so on.[viii] In Foucault’s words, the essential function of security is to “respond to a reality in such a way that this response cancels out the reality to which it responds,” a function which makes use of instruments of discipline where necessary.[ix] Central to this process is that of ensuring that everything is constantly moving around, continually going from one point to another—a circulation which paradoxically cancels the very dangers of circulation.”[x] In this way, certain types of “risky” communities and shared knowledges are blocked, while other empty forms, such as those employed by agribusinesses based upon native-foreigner, legal-illegal, and men’s work-women’s work binaries, with all their concomitant animalisation, are naturalised through this constant movement, thus guaranteeing that nothing blocks the smooth functioning of the economic mechanism and ensuring therefore the security of processes intrinsic to production.[xi]

Here, we begin to perceive that, while the archetypal Taylorist and Fordist techniques of disciplinary control remain clearly visible within the slaughter-factory, a new order of power has nonetheless embedded itself within them. While the same unstoppable disassembly lines continue to neutralise the violence of killing and to transform tens of thousands of workers into animate organs of its machine, compelled by its relentless speed to cut out a set number of kidneys every minute, to slice off so many feet and empty out so many stomachs, a major and widespread mechanism of contemporary security is nonetheless explicitly revealed, one which displaces, extends, and works over the figures and spaces of colonialism by organising multiple so-called “natural” ethnic divisions among the workers as an element of control in the labour process. Hence the second reason for the institutionalised blinding of the slaughter-factory.

While Hardt and Negri have noted how transnationals now routinely address different ethnic groups with “different methods and different degrees of exploitation and repression so as to enhance profit and facilitate control,”[xii] it is Foucault, however, who demonstrates how the utilisation by security mechanisms of the same instruments of discipline serve no longer to ensure the artificial standardisation of the worker but rather only the naturalisation of the freedom of production. Such mechanisms, in short, are not strictly economic, but rather ensure the functioning of economic exchange.[xiii] Thus, as Foucault shows, security technologies operate instead upon legislation, upon structures and institutions of society, facilitating in this way population transfers and migration while organising enmities and privileges by placing restrictions on training, instigating national hatreds by modifying certain laws while conspicuously ignoring others, by articulating advantageous oppositions between the legal and the illegal, by imposing routine conditions on aid packages enabling a greater exploitation of foreign grazing lands, and so on and so on.

Furthermore, Foucault’s analysis of neoliberalism as both associative and dissociative enables a move beyond the simplistic notion of liberal individualism which even Deleuze occasionally falls back on, such as when he claims in his “Postscript on the Societies of Control” that transnationals protect themselves from mass resistance by “presenting the brashest rivalry as an excellent motivational force that opposes individuals against one another and runs through each, dividing each within.”[xiv] Against this myth of a capitalist “state of nature,” of a war of each against all, which in fact serves to naturalise neoliberal individualism, Foucault instead introduces the potential for a far more radical critique of neoliberal societies of control, one which focuses on the gap between the “non-local” bond between economic subjects and the localised bonds of sympathy and benevolence and of contempt and malice between some individuals in so-called “civil” society, insofar as it is this gap which enables the economic manipulation of social differences, and yet it is precisely these differences which formally serve as the “medium” of its manipulation. In this way, however, economic manipulation inevitably destroys the very medium of community it requires in order to function. This in turn points to the necessity of resistance networks which function outside of both the oppositions constituting local “civil” society, and the empty formalism of a global economic structure.[xv]

Another, more recent criticism levelled at Foucault is that his analysis of biopolitics cannot account for the extraordinary advances within biotechnology. Eugene Thacker, for example, has recently sought to move “beyond” Foucault by focussing on the biopolitics of biotechnologies defined “as the ongoing regulation of the bioinformatic inclusion of ‘life itself’ into the political domain.” Information in this “new” biopolitics, writes Thacker, accounts not only for the material and embodied, but also can produce the material and embodied, that is, it can produce “life itself,” while at the same time constituting the point of mediation which allows the continuous biopolitical regulation of “the relation between biology and informatics within the context of political and economic concerns” so as to reconfigure ““life itself” as open to intervention, control, and governance.” In short, “life itself” is now being produced as open to governmentality, alongside the various networks of uneven, asymmetrical production, distribution, and exchange. While this can perhaps be extrapolated from Foucault’s analyses, Thacker suggests, Foucault nonetheless leaves the relation between “biological ‘life itself’ and economics in the background,” with the latter being a mere “deviation of the aims of “governmentality.”[xvi] What Foucault’s lectures clearly demonstrate, however, is that governmentality in fact only functions so as to enable and to maintain this very illusion of “backgrounding.” While it is important to understand, as Thacker clearly does, that the way biopolitics manages the relation between “population” (as biological) and “statistics” (as informatics) is mediated by one or more systems of value, this is not, however, to move beyond the original purview of biopolitics as a result.

One can, for example, sketch out the rudiments of a Foucauldian analysis as regards the emergence of the “transgenic” sheep Polly and Dolly, themselves exemplary of the biotechnological revolution. Whereas the disciplinary order discretised time into minutes and seconds and disarticulated bodies into elemental gestures in the quest for a perfectly efficient worker-tool, the aim of our new postindustrial factories is to both employ and embody “life itself” by displacing the linear irreversibility of “natural” chronological time and instituting an undetermined network in its place. These “new” factories, also known as “bioreactors,” are the transgenic animals themselves: material givens which security mechanisms serve to open to undetermined circulation by the facilitation of apparently “natural” processes. It is no coincidence that the term “bioreactor” also names the machines which both culture cells and subject them to physical stimuli in order to incite nonspecific “protoforms” to self-assemble into specified morphologies. The aim, in short, is not to discipline, but only to facilitate an apparently natural economy of exchange. At the same time, as Sarah Franklin has shown, such facilitation requires that the scientific labourers voluntarily impose upon themselves various regimes of disciplinary technologies in order to protect the articifically enclosed space of their labs from natural processes of contamination.[xvii]

This reworked notion of the genetically-engineered animal-as-factory is symptomatic of the more general shift from life conceived metaphorically as information, to life understood practically as its literal actualisation which can be patented and thus commodified. Constituted as an accumulation of power-knowledges, such a body is thus re-constituted as a mediated and distributed materiality entirely suited to the highly mobile, geographically dispersed networks of postindustrial capital. In other words, as the nonhuman animal becomes at once informatic network, fleshly materiality and speculative capital, at the same time legislation, structures, and institutions play their part in securing control over the flows of a new form of techno-bio-logical reproduction, facilitating for example both the outsourcing of clinical trials from North to South and the unregulated global trade in unfertilised human eggs from South to North. Meanwhile, in the suburban ghettos of the North, the old disciplinary-model slaughterhouse remains, only it is has been deregulated and displaced into the margins, further faciliating the transfer of things and the migration of bodies by way of a continuous noxious counter-circulation from North to South and back again.

Finally then, by analysing the displacement and re-investment of disciplinary technologies within the order of security, it therefore becomes possible to disclose the two contradictory temporalities underpinning their interarticulation. On the one side, the North exports to the South an evolutionary narrative of “progress” and “modernity” as a rationale for market and geophysical coercion while, on the other, we find a second narrative in operation within the North itself, that of post-modernist reversibility, recapacitation, and immortality. This in turn serves to push the South ever further into the margins of “base” industrial production figured by a myth of redemptive temporality: the promise of a “modern” future for which the poor must sacrifice themselves today. At the same time, the poor and marginalised of the North are reduced to desolation on the basis of the capitalist promise of an incalculable future which nonetheless remains dependent upon the historical yet naturalised limits of capitalism, limits which inevitably impoverish—and excuse—the present. We can also better understand the promise performed so conspicuously by Dolly herself. A singular, nonsubstitutable materiality that is at once patentable and, more importantly, infinitely reproducible, she brings together in and as one body the promise of both the industrial and the postindustrial, both discipline and control, in a mutual articulation of informatics, biotechnology and immortality on the one hoof, and a global agribusiness dealing in biotechnologically-accelerated death on the other. She intersects too with the biopolitical pharmacology of health: life-enhancing pharmaceuticals crossing with death-accelerating antibiotics and growth hormones. For a few, Dolly represents the promise of a perpetually-extended human lifespan, while for a great many others she figures only the accelerated death of the slaughter-factory, the two extremes moving ever further apart.

History, in Foucault’s sense, is never the past. Rather it is that which constitutes “a knowledge of struggles that is deployed, and that functions within a field of struggles.”[xviii] This is at the core of all of Foucault’s writings, and I think it remains today a necessary starting point for a radical politics which seeks to struggle against those mechanisms which, all around us today, aim to secure as natural such extremes of control.


[i] Haraway “A Manifesto for Cyborgs” in The Haraway Reader 22

[ii] Deleuze Foucault (1986) 19

[iii] Deleuze “Postscript on the Societies of Control” 3

[iv] Foucault “Society Must Be Defended” 39. At the same time, the reactivation of bourgeois sovereign right—with, for example, the application of rights to nonhuman animals—becomes increasingly untenable as a challenge to disciplinary power. Indeed, Foucault was making this important point long before the publication of Tom Regan’s The Case for Animal Rights.

[v] Foucault “Society Must Be Defended” 30-3

[vi] Foucault Security, Territory, Population 19

[vii] Foucault “Society Must Be Defended” 242

[viii] Foucault Security, Territory, Population 19

[ix] Foucault Security, Territory, Population 47

[x] Foucault Security, Territory, Population 65

[xi] Foucault Security, Territory, Population 353

[xii] Hardt & Negri Empire 200

[xiii] Foucault The Birth of Biopolitics 140-141

[xiv] Deleuze “Postscript on the Societies of Control” 5

[xv] Foucault The Birth of Biopolitics 301-2

[xvi] Thacker The Global Genome: Biotechnology, Politics, and Culture (2005) 28-30

[xvii] Franklin “The Cyborg Embryo: Our Path to Transbiology” (2006) 174

[xviii] Foucault “Society Must Be Defended” 171


What is Zoogenesis (3)?: Derrida & Benjamin, introducing animal studies

The following are the notes from my seminar focusing on the fourth seminar of the first volume of Derrida’s The Beast and the Sovereign (2009) and Andrew Benjamin’s 2008 paper ‘Particularity and Exceptions: On Jews and Animals’ in South Atlantic Quarterly (also included in Of Jews and Animals (2010)).

*      *     *

By way of an introduction I want to give a sense of the importance and scope of critical animal studies. These two texts were chosen because what both Derrida and Benjamin have succeeded in doing, perhaps more so than anybody else, is making explicit the importance of the so-called ‘question of the animal’ to the overlapping domains of philosophy, ethics, and politics. Derrida, for example, suggests elsewhere that—

‘One understands a philosopher only by heeding closely what he means to demonstrate, and in reality fails to demonstrate, concerning the limit between human and animal’ (The Animal That Therefore I Am, 106).

Similarly, Benjamin recently claimed that—

‘admitting and thus allowing the animal would not involve an act of extension but rather a transformation of the philosophical itself. That transformation would be occasioned by allowing into the philosophical an element whose exclusion was often taken to be foundational’ (Of Jews and Animals 19).

This gives a clear sense of the centrality of nonhuman animals for both of these writers, in particular as regards the deconstruction of humanism and all that that brings with it.

Not to be confused with transhumanism, according to the posthumanism of critical animal studies the ongoing reinscription of other animals within the humanities is necessary for two reasons: first, in order to dismantle the machinery of power by which ‘other’ humans are ‘animalised,’ a displacement constituting the sine qua non of exclusive collectives founded upon boundaries of blood, soil or language; and second, and of equal importance, in order to put a halt to the exploitation, torture, and extermination of nonhuman animals by their human kin

Both Derrida and Benjamin seek to complicate the human/animal dichotomy for both of these reasons. In these texts, Benjamin thus affirms a primordial relatedness prior to this distinction, while Derrida begins the necessary task of deconstructing the ‘proper’ of the human which always takes place at the expense of other animals. Important here, emphasised in both these texts, is that this is not simply a case of extending certain human rights to animals which, as Derrida suggests, constitutes a major failure of logic. Hence, one must avoid temptation of countering what Benjamin calls the ‘without relation’ of the human/animal division with a simple ‘with’: ‘no simple extension (by humility or rights), says Benjamin, which only effaces difference, but rather by ‘forcing another thinking’ outside of the without/with opposition as neither negation nor supplement, or, in other words, whereas negation is opposed to an affirmation of anoriginal relatedness, such affirmation rather differs from negation. Affirmation cannot oppose negation as this would place negation within it. ‘It is less a matter,’ as Derrida says here—

‘of wondering whether one has the right to refuse the animal such and such a power (speech, reason, experience of death, mourning, culture, institution, politics, technique, clothing, lying, feigned feint, effacement of the trace, gift, laughter, tears, respect, etc.—…  the most powerful philosophical tradition in which we live has refused all of that to the “animal”). It is more a matter of wondering whether what one calls man has the right, for his own part, to attribute in all rigor to man, to attribute to himself, then, what he refuses to the animal, and whether he ever has a concept of it that is pure, rigorous, indivisible, as such’ (130).

Before opening up the discussion, I just want to mark what I think are two very important points which underlay both of these texts. The first concerns iterability, performativity, and the mark, and the second, the idea of an ethics of the nonfellow.

For those of you not familiar with Derrida, it might appear that his later focus on ‘the animal’ is something external to, and thus distinct from, his thinking of différance, trace, iterability, and so forth. Rather, this concern both with the diversity of animals and with the philosophical conception of ‘the animal’ is indissociable from deconstruction itself. One cannot, in other words, affirm the differential double movement of protention and retention whilst simultaneously rejecting the deconstruction of human exceptionalism. By this I mean the necessary iterability of every recognised mark which, in order to make sense, must, upon its ‘first’ appearance, always already be repeated, and hence differing and deferring from its apparently indivisible presence. Moreover, the effacing of singular differences in the reiteration of sense is the necessary idealisation which permits one to identify it as the same throughout possible repetitions. Important here, is that this iterability, this making sense, cannot be restricted to human being, and it is this which Derrida attempts to show in his deconstruction of Lacan’s opposition of human language and animal code (118-119), already long since marked by his shift from a thinking of the ‘signifier’ to that of the ‘trace’, and thus of the very traditional distinction between the instinctive or mechanistic programmed natural reaction and free human response. Always a question, as he says, of liberty and the machine. For Derrida, however, the machine must always interrupt the human just as much, or as less, as the animal, and that the possibility of its rupture inheres in the totality of “experience” beyond any reduction to species and property. The problem of the purity of the distinction between (human) response and (animal, machinic) reaction, he writes,

will always inscribe a destiny of iterability, and therefore some reactional automaticity in every response, however originary, free, decisive and a-reactional it might appear’ (119).

Iterable excess, he makes clear, is a structural characteristic of every mark, every sense, and is thus an excess which ‘relates to the requirements for the production of all life’. With this, he is suggesting, against Lacan, that all living beings—and not only living organisms—are also ‘prey to language’, with all its implications for thinking the unconscious, and for psychoanalysis. Benjamin also addresses this in his discussion of Freudian animal drives, which he says marks the impossibility of a founding unity but which rather insists on a primordial relatedness and thus continuous negotiation (85).


The second point concerns the very foundation of the ethical, and thus of responsibility to the other. On this, Derrida speaks of—

‘A principle of ethics or more radically of justice, in the most difficult sense … which is perhaps the obligation that engages my responsibility with respect to the most dissimilar, the entirely other, precisely, the monstrously other, the unrecognizable other. The “unrecognizable” … is the beginning of ethics, of the Law, and not of the human. So long as there is recognizability and fellow, ethics is dormant. It is sleeping a dogmatic slumber. So long as it remains human, among men, ethics remains dogmatic, narcissistic, and not yet thinking. Not even thinking the human that it talks so much about’ (108).

In what seems a very simple point, insofar as the Law refers us only to the similar, to the mirror of the self, then one’s ‘obligations towards the most similar and the nearest’ are intensified, constructing a hierarchy of obligations or responsibility: ‘More obligation toward men than toward animals, more obligation toward men who are close and similar than toward the less close and less familiar’. Such may indeed be a fact, Derrida writes, ‘But this fact will never have founded a right, an ethics, or a politics’.

This crosses with Benjamin’s attempt to theorise and interrupt the ‘work of figures’ which institutes what he calls the ‘without relation’. Exemplary in this regard is the figuring of ‘the animal’ in a simple oppositional relation to ‘the human’ which unifies both elements in their absence of relation while at the same time erasing both the enormous diversity of species and the already existing complex of relations (as Derrida says too on page 120). In this way, an identity is constructed whose function is in large part external to the concerns of the identity itself. In the first part of his paper, Benjamin marks a crucial distinction between the two determinations which figure the two dominant forms of the human-animal relation. In the first, the production of the human is based upon the death or nonexistence of the animal—the human, in other words, begins where the animal ends, whereas in the second, the human remains in a constant struggle with his or her own animality, an animality which must be repeatedly overcome in being-human. One or other of these twin metaphysical configurations, it should be noted, underwrites the great majority of contemporary Continental philosophy—in the first camp, for example, there is Heidegger, Blanchot, Deleuze and Guattari; with Badiou, Ranciere, and Agamben falling within the second, and with Stiegler oscillating somewhere between the two. Both of these determinations work to continually reiterate the without relation of the human and the animal, and they both do so by defining the nonhuman animal by what he or she lacks within a humanist teleological dialectic in such a way as to mark every nonhuman animal as therefore incomplete, as sub-human. This has extremely serious implications, insofar as it is a production which simultaneously serves to ground, in its appeal to an evolutionary tēlos, the reconfiguration of ‘other’ humans, be they women, people of colour, workers, or others’, as irrational in opposition to normative rationality, that is, as primitive, as ‘uncivilised,’ and thus, as not-yet properly human, as subhuman. The repeated overcoming of animality in becoming-human thus underwrites the so-called ‘civilising mission’ of imperialism as well as current neo-colonialism while at the same marking its indissociable complicity with racism. Without the underlying humanist tēlos, however, such degeneration of ‘others’ – human and nonhuman – ceases to be possible. For this reason Benjamin seeks to disclose not only the originary presence of the animal with the human, but also the mutual articulation of all such figures which externally impose normative identities which then have to be lived out. It is this mutually-articulating ‘work’ which underpins the conjunction of Jews and animals.

This leads back to Derrida who, on page 109 writes that—

‘once there is cruelty only toward the fellow, well, not only can one cause hurt without doing evil and without being cruel not only toward humans not recognized as true humans and true brothers … but also toward any living being foreign to the human race … without ever being suspected of the least cruelty’ (109)

Finally, I offer up the following questions,

Benjamin: What of Agamben’s ‘bare life’ as undifferentiated, as the ‘mere capacity to be killed’ (79)? Especially in relation to a transformed concept of sovereignty, understood as the capacity to discriminate, and thus as the capacity to produce ‘bare life’ (the movement from neutral to bare bodies) (81-2)?

What of Agamben’s utopian redemption of ‘bare life’ in or as the coming community (84-5)?

Derrida’s question: What becomes of animals and ‘the animal’ following the deconstruction of the essential, transcendental humanist Subject (111)?

How does the ‘question of the animal’ affect the discourse of human rights, and of universal human rights in particular? Schmitt would be important here, with his argument that the supposedly ‘political’ notion of a universal humanity is always a mask of private economic interest, one which, moreover, authorises the most extreme inhumanity.

What too of animal rights discourse? What exactly is its major failure of logic, and what are the consequences of this?

What are the implications of extending Law, Crime, and peccability (sin) to nonhuman animals (106)?

What of the qualitative limit, irrespective of numbers and time, Derrida speaks of on pp109-110, especially as regards the humanist privilege and the taking of the malformed embryo as the subject or object of his thought experiment?

What of the ethical obligation to the nonliving—dead living beings and living beings not yet born (110)—how does this impact upon both ecology and ethics and heritage and ethics?

What is the difference between a dogmatic legacy and a critical inheritance (113)?

What of the need—and what are the ‘easily imaginable’ consequences—of inscribing death in the concept of life? Animals are generally figured as lacking death, that is, pathic and thus infinitely substitutable, and hence undying; what then if animals are ‘given death’ (and thus ‘given time’)? Death and thus finitude and nonsubstitutability (123)

What of ‘Thou shalt not kill’?

What about the cultural constructedness of ‘personhood’ (re: Kant)?

What of Descartes’ contention and AI, and how does this return to the question of the animal (112n20)?


What is Zoogenesis (2)?

The following is the draft of a paper given at the “Zoontotechnics” conference at Cardiff University last year under the title “Nietzsche’s posthumous placeholder: demanding animals and the technics of posthumanism”:

“To begin with,” writes Nietzsche in “On Truth and Lie in the Extra-Moral Sense,” “a nerve stimulus is transferred into an image.” With this deceptively simple statement, Nietzsche inaugurates a post-humanism which explicitly deconstructs any notion of metaphysical pre-fixity. Making clear that “image” refers not solely to human perception but to the production of sense in its entirety, Nietzsche thus puts forward an explicitly nonanthropocentric understanding of “language” which is always a transference or translation within a nonnecessary relationship. Given that any such movement of translation necessitates an over-leaping from one sphere into a second, absolutely discontinuous sphere—an overleaping marking the image as vehicle to the stimulus-tenor—every image is therefore a “perceptual metaphor.” It is a discontinuity, moreover, which makes of every perceptual metaphor “a stammering translation into a completely foreign tongue.” Nothing less than a material laying-claim in and as which a body comes-to-be, the sense-image is thus a vehicle ever lost to an errant transmission, to dissemination. At once then, living beings possess only discontinuous metaphors of physical responses, responses which themselves mark the taking-place of material encounters. Hence, in coming to be doubly displaced in and as a metaphorical vehicle always radically divided from an originary being-with which can be neither perceived nor known nor re-presented, the sense-image is thus never in a relation to or of truth, but is—“at most”—an aesthetic relation. Further, given that this being-disposed-outside that is to be attuned to a condition is the aesthetic production of sense, it follows that that which appears to us simply as “our bodies”—that is to say, the sense of a body as well as the sense of the self—is necessarily founded upon an a priori infolding of the outside which always already interrupts any such delimitation. Every passion is thus at once an act of interpretation, just as every action depends upon a passive infolding of externality. This ek-static production of sense is thus irreducible to the modern Cartesian notion of egological “consciousness” and divested of both anthropocentric and organismic restriction; every nonhuman animal too is first of all be-ing outside itself, and thus, as Nietzsche insists, they too come to their senses only in and as metaphoric perceptions.

Sense thus carries an imbrication of the material and the semiotic that always exceeds any reduction to the words spoken by human animals alone. The taking place of sense is at once the opening of and as language, and to a necessary movement which, in the proximal distancing of the “as,” installs a technics at and as the origin of life, irredemiably fracturing the distinction between the “natural” and the “artificial.” In and as the transfer and thus in and as existence, all living beings thus inhabit, and are inhabitated by, machines for generating meaning, and it is this which renders untenable any recourse to the myth of a “natural” pathic animal communication and, ultimately, to the ideology of the undying—and thus infinitely substitutable—nonhuman animal.

Given that the image which remarks every perception is always an inadequate interpretation of a relation, it can only be that the experience which Nietzsche calls the “first” image—the “unique and entirely individual original experience”—is the perception of a singularity. That is to say, this “first” image is the perception of being as such, the immediate perception of this uniquely situated relation of be-ing—the discontinuous aesthetic relation that remarks our exposure such that it is only as it is. This “original” relation, however, can never be perceived as such—that is, can never be the translative production of an image—in that it is precisely this immediate relation which must escape in the transference into the discontinuous domain that is its sense. Thus, writes Nietzsche, the X of the original “acquaintance” remains always “inaccesible and undefinable for us.” In short, the sense-image can only ever mark the escape of the individual relation as such in its being-sensed, the translation having always already taken-place of and in language. As a result, Nietzsche’s “first” image, the sense of this singular being as such, must thus be read as that which re-marks only the taking place of the “as” which has withdrawn. The original experience is, in other words, that alien, uncanny transport that gives a being to apprehend that beings are in the blunt materiality of their withdrawal, a zoo-genesis in which the attunement of Heidegger’s “profound boredom”—a sense only of the reserve of being as such in the withdrawal of sense—is one shared potentially by every living being. Moreover, as the condition of possibility for the image, this sense of that which withdraws is necessarily a pure performative, referring only to its senselessness. This follows necessarily from the fact that, for any perception to “make sense”—that is, for an image to be recognised as an image—it must, upon its “first” appearance, always already be repeated (and so come to differently divide its indivisible essence in a double movement of protention and retention); an idealization which, as Derrida says, “permits one to identify it as the same throughout possible repetitions” and which is indissociable from the constitution of historicity. In that the stammer of perception must necessarily ignore singular differences—must, in Nietzsche’s words, “omit the aspects in which they are unequal”—in order for an image to be recognised as an image, for sense to make sense, this movement is at once reiteration and habitual perceptual response.

Here then are two distinct but indissociable sites of non-sense: the taking place of language that is the necessary withdrawal of being as such that is the condition for the production of sense on the one hand and, on the other, language having always already taken place in the violent elision of singular differences in the recognition of sense. Thus, withdrawing in giving itself in and as the everyday finite state of affairs, the impossible event of infinite being as such is no-longer perceptible in its being-recognised and at once notyet perceptible, the reserve of pure potentiality. In short, originary being-with prior to any recognition—and thus prior to the constitution of the “human” or the “nonhuman”—“is” (and is not) absolutely inter, no-longer and not-yet.

This deafening, benumbing reproduction of sense which places every living being “in” language thus presupposes machines of habitual recognition that are both constitutive of bodyings and coextensive with the reproduction of materialisation. Indeed, the very materiality which fixes the common sense boundary of “the organism” is just such a reproduction. As Judith Butler writes, “materialisation is coextensive with its investiture with power relations, and materiality is the effect and gauge of this investment.” Nevertheless, the unique Nietzschean acquaintance remains to haunt every actualisation as the unlivable trace within every repetition, the spectre of pure potentiality foreclosed in and as the contingent reproduction of its caricatured materialisation. As a result of this habitual effacement of difference, the unlivable excess can thus be “actualised” only as withdrawn—as a sense, that is, only of its without sense. The call and demand of the singular laying claim of being as such is thus a pure formal telling only of itself, exceeding every structure of meaning upon which its affective manifestness nonetheless depends. This for Nietzsche is the singularity, the individual experience of an unheard-of correspondence which does not live, does not exist, but rather out-lives every determinable form. Hence, as Werner Hamacher asserts, rather than “being a social or psychic form of human existence, the individual—exceeding type and genus—is the announcement of the Über-mensch.” Nietzsche’s out- or über-human is thus a demand which, remaining to come, withdraws from all re-cognition and, as such, exceeds all specular delimitation in marking the singular relation in and as a silent announcing which necessarily out-lives or sur-vives any enclosure of the properly “human.” An announcing, in short, of the post-human which, announcing itself in proclaiming only that the fact that this (other) be-ing has no sense is an issue, calls forth an “invention beyond the limits of experience.”

Such an announcing remarks the dis-posing of the “I” in and as what Giorgio Agamben describes as “the suspension and withholding of all concrete and specific possibilities.” The encounter as such—the untimely impossibility of possibility and thus heterogeneous to the state of affairs in which an “I” always already finds itself—“is” thus that from which an “I” can only return, but never experience as such. Moreover, in that its demand calls forth that which cannot be predicted from within the everyday state of affairs, the certainty of being the “I” that “is”—both the secure sense of self as self, and the surety of repose within the world—is thus violently dis-located. This “other I” thus bodies a transformed relationality, an intensive, maddening relation of forces in and as which there can be nothing recognisable, nothing properly human in its attunement of an intensive composition without sense. Our “serious endeavour,” Nietzsche writes, is “to abandon our selves temporarily to life.”[i] Whereas one only ever calculates the human, such an encounter is precisely that which interrupts its most proper of properties: at once a nonhuman moment that exceeds every stable delimitation of the self and any fixed contour of the body, and an inhuman movement through the technicity of language.

We get a sense of Nietzsche’s out- or post-human in Derrida’s encounter with his “little cat,” an encounter which offers—

the abyssal limit of the human: the inhuman or the ahuman, the ends of man,… the bordercrossing from which vantage man dares to announce himself to himself. And in these moments of nakedness, as regards the animal, everything can happen to me, I am like a child ready for the apocalypse. I am, I follow, the apocalypse itself,… the ultimate and first event of the end, the unveiling and the verdict.

In this non-moment “of extreme passion,” of absolute receptivity that is to encounter the “unsubstitutable singularity” of this cat, everything can happen, but within which no one possibility, no one configuration can be actualised. Be-ing this apocalyptic suspension, the pure potentiality of the not yet taken place, thus necessarily precludes every “I” and, insomuch as “I” am, “I” can only ever follow. That is to say, an “I” comes to its self only in the anxious trace of the encounter’s having already taken place: “I” follows the apocalypse as a remarking of pure ex-position; its sense of the without sense the trace of that which exceeds making-sense-ability in a making manifest of that which was previously foreclosed, a manifesto in the most literal sense. “All telling refusal,” as Heidegger has demonstrated, “is in itself a telling.” Responding to and as this call, the “I” that comes back to its self is an other, obligated to a response exceeding all knowledge, all self understanding and certainty. This call which out-lives, which proclaims itself, in Derrida’s words, “only under the species of the nonspecies,” in the mute, formless form of monstrosity, necessarily marks with its posthumous demand only that which remains to come, an eternal return of the same. Hence Zarathustra comes to be other—all prior certainty destroyed—only in following the fall into the well of eternity that is the impossible apocalyptic (non)moment, the “golden round ring,” of the world’s singular perfection.

The question remains, however, as to how the as yet formless form of monstrosity, this posthumous demand, come-to-be reenacted, its sense only that of the taking-place of sense prior to its recognition? How, in short, might one recognise the unrecognisable? For Nietzsche, it is the affirmation of life in the face of the inartistic, reactive violence of habit. In an announcing of that which is without sense, its foreclosure of sense is thus performed—a performative which at once posits the limit as (contingent) limit, as the prison of delimitation. Hence, as the sense only of exclusion, its sensible void marks the opening of a space and a time of invention by which that which was once effaced can potentially come to be recognised. Thus it is that such “originality” is never creation ex nihilo, but rather that of a forbidden metonymy remarking an unheard relation: the becoming-perceptible of that which Nietzsche describes as having “no name as yet and hence cannot be mentioned although it stares us all in the face.”[ii] The affirmative response which remarks the singular, unmentionable relation which out-lives every determinable form is a response which materialises the silent announcing which sur-vives the properly human, and which Hamacher acutely contends comes-to-be “only in the form of one who, having outlasted the death of its type, has returned to haunt the living: a living corpse.” This posthumous monstrosity thus out-lives its type and genus in an exceeding of its proper sense and limit: its “dangerous” reiteration constituted by an originary technics which interrupts all life by which life out-lives itself. In this, the affirmative turn of a phrase—or rather, a phrasing, that is, a relation of spacing which does not necessarily refer to a (human) speech act—its improper parataxis, interrupts a given state of affairs in announcing the return of the repressed which “out-lives” its “proper” sense—that is, its actualisation in a given state of affairs—in being raised again and catachrestically posited within contexts where it had not previously belonged. This positing of a prosthetic, placeholding metonymy preserves the opening of a space of recognition to-come in disrupting the linear temporality reproduced by the ideality of iterability. While such an untimely reinscription refuses complete subsumption to the Same, it nonetheless remains immanent to sedimented power relations, its chance the necessity of our passive being-thrown. Agency, as Butler writes, is “a reiterative or rearticulatory practice, immanent to power, and not a relation of external opposition to power.” It is thus irony which permits the untimely call without sense to become sensible, that is, which makes it possible to constitute an effect. Inaugural and citational, its impossibility is the impossibility of invention itself: both a reiteration and at once absolutely other to that which is possible—which can make sense—within a given state of affairs, and which thus puts into question the previously apodictic propriety of the prevailing order. “We can destroy only as creators,” writes Nietzsche, “But let us not forget: it is enough to create new names in order to create new “things.”’[iii] Through the improper metonymic prosthesis, the “impossible” sense of the enactment—the mute manifesto of a content-less relation—thus comes-to-be-ing, becomes manifest; a restaging in which the new-old language refuses to make sense, that is to say, in its being between senses it both no longer and not yet makes sense, but rather constitutes a space-time of intensive correspondence—the sense of the materiality which exceeds its placeholder being precisely the content out-living its phrase as its phrasing.

In short then, the dislocating trace thus calls to an untimely deterritorialisation of sense which, dependent upon the fact that a context is never fully determined, thus functions as a meaningless placeholder which explicitly refuses identity, mimesis and surrogacy. As a result, that which the prevailing order must exclude comes-to-be reinscribed as the outside of that order and thus, outside of consensual reflection, as a division within that ordered state of affairs. Thus it is that the death machine of living be-ing, which is both the condition of possibility of proprietary norms and of their “out-living,” reserves and thus enables—in a being-thrown of Nietzsche’s die—the shattering return of the oppressed. A conjuration from unnameable monstrosity to resurrected corpse as a calling upon death to summon the future and invent the impossible. It should nonetheless be recalled, however, that such an encounter can never be restricted to the human, both as that which necessarily exceeds “the human” and as that from which a nonhuman animal in her ways of being can never be excluded, just as she can be excluded from neither time nor historicity: “Artistic force,” affirms Nietzsche, “inheres our becoming, not only in that of the human being, but also in that of the animal.”

Whereas the monstrous mute announcing addresses itself perhaps more obviously to the founding exclusions upon which the ideology of liberal consensus depends, more than even this its an-archic call to dis-order makes perceptible the whole murderous theatrics of animalisation, that is, the institutional reconfiguration along a humanist teleological dialectic of a constructed “identity” as synonymous with “subhuman.” An economy which, reducing “other” humans to the “non-status” of “mere animals” and at once reproducing the limit and limitation of the “properly” human collective, is largely reducible in the modern era to the demands of capital. Such tropological displacement depends, of course, upon the reproduction of “the animal” as the constitutive outside of the properly “human,” and thus singular encounters with other animals, with the radical alterity of a nonhuman or inhuman be-ing, constitute the primary challenge to this anxious delimitation, marking, and thus disrupting, the measure and the limit of humanity in making explicit that which “the human” has repressed in order to delimit itself. In contrast to the genocidal economy of animalisation, the call without sense is nothing less than the call of and to tropes that function in precisely the opposite direction: a calling forth not of reductive metaphors of “proper” identity, but rather the coming to be of improper relations which make it unthinkable that other living beings—whether human or nonhuman—can be put to death with impunity. Improper, transforming metonymies have nothing to do with the identification of recognised rights, whether human or other animal, which, however important, are nonetheless doomed to repeat the exclusionary posture of mastery. Against anthropomorphic border extensions with passport applications and limited citizenship, what is needed are encounters with animals that call to disidentifications—singular encounters of finite be-ing calling forth transformed and transforming relations without relation which, demanding responsibility before and beyond the human, breach the enclosures of property and propriety. Paraphrasing Adorno, this begins in the same place where Auschwitz begins, and yet moves in precisely the opposite direction—it begins, that is, “wherever someone looks at a slaughterhouse and can no longer think: they’re only animals.” It is, in short, the impossibility of such a thought.


[i] Werke XII, i, 21; qtd. in Kofman 134

[ii] Gay Science, 261

[iii] Gay Science, 58


What is Zoogenesis (1)?

As the recent proliferation of academic texts, artworks, manifestos, political treatises and so on clearly demonstrate, the so-called “question of the animal” can no longer be penned within the traditional domains of biology and ethology. As a matter of life and death which always exceeds the lives and deaths of “mere” animals, the “animal turn” is rather central to contemporary thought and politics. Nevertheless, the multidisciplinary domain that has become known as “animal studies” and/or “posthumanism” is still very much a newly emergent and emerging discipline. The French philosopher and psychologist Vinciane Despret, for example, states that even as recently as 2006 her work would have been sidelined by way of a (gender-based) accusation of sentimentality—the same accusation which, far from coincidentally, had for so long served to bar women from access to the sciences.[1]

Even now, in 2011, thinking with animals outside of the natural sciences nevertheless remains largely a marginalised pursuit. Refused incorporation or assimilation, anyone who feels unable not to “bring up” animals, anyone for whom the right of putting to death sticks in their throat, who cannot not see industrial murder, who cannot not respond to the consumption of flesh, will all too soon become familiar with the dismissive reply: “Why bother?” In a sense, this nonresponsive question has already defeated every answer, insofar as it is a question which can only take place from within the privileged space of humanism. The animals in question, therefore, must always include human animals.

It is here, in fact, that the discourse of “animal rights” already falls down, moving as it does within the same or another humanism, redrawing again and again the same unthought lines of exclusion, the same metaphysics of either-man-or-animal. The utilitarianism of Peter Singer, for example, remains inevitably inscribed within the calculus of ends, a human mastery which thus views the animal only according to its enclosure within an ordered technological schema. Tom Regan’s neo-Kantian approach, in its turn, determines the place of the nonhuman animal only according to an essential human morality, and in so doing inscribes human subjectivity as the ground of the animal. In both cases then, it is man who must determine, and thus delimit, the animal.[2]

Instead, there is only one response to the question “Why bother?,” and that is to always again put “the human” itself into question. Such a response is not only required, but it is of the utmost urgency, even for those who dismiss animal concerns as perhaps laudable but nonetheless most definitely secondary, maybe even somewhat self-indulgent or sentimental. This is because the killing—rather than the “murder”—of nonhuman animals actually serves as the excluded support of all other structural excludings, namely those which exclude, extort, and distort others on the basis of race, gender, class, sexuality, and so on. A support, it is important to note, which is nonnecessary. All values constituted in and as the exclusion of their binary opposites must thus be understood as both historically contingent and mutually articulating, each one supprting the proper standing of every other.

The question of the animal, in other words, cannot await the answer of the human. It cannot, that is to say, await the inauguration of a utopian human community before being given its turn, the very impossibility of the answer to “the human” serving in such a case to condemn nonhuman animals to an interminable death. One cannot discharge oneself of the responsibility of thinking with animals simply by claiming for oneself a “more important” concern with human oppression—an all too familiar repose marked by the delusion of a nostalgic desire for a purely human anything. No one would suggest that one must unfortunately support racism, at least until the exclusion and abjection of women is undone, or that one is free to sexually abuse women, at least until racism has been eradicated. Nor would anyone suggest that politics can and must be limited to single issues existing in isolation. When it comes to speciesism, however, such opinions are not only generally tolerated, but are often explicitly celebrated.[3] However, it is only by tracing the interrelations and interarticulations of oppression that an affective genealogy becomes possible. One cannot, for example, put into question the privileged sexuality afforded to the ideal of whiteness, without an understanding of the speciesist machinery which devalorises people of colour by way of a displacement which shifts nonwhite sexuality towards “animality.”

Beginnings and ends: the human

We can thus begin to understand how the exclusion of “the animal” is inseperable not only from a determining of “the (properly) human,” but also from questions of autonomy and sovereignty, of the subject and of subjection. The exclusion of the animal, in other words, functions to inscribe properly human ends, that is, to inscribe stable human meaning and to ascribe stable meaning to humanity. Hence the link, as philosopher Jacques Derrida insists, between the impossibility of “murdering” an animal and “the violent institution of the ‘who’ as subject” (“Eating Well,” 283). One result of this interminable quest for the ends—and the end—of “man” is the privative determination of “animality” which, albeit variously and fabulously clothed, pads mutely throughout Western philosophy.

According to Plato, for instance, nonhuman animals lack reason and thus an immortal soul. Aristotle then marks out the human as zōon logon ekhōn, “the living being possessing language” who, insofar as she is the only animal with the ability to form universal concepts, thus designates the site of teleological reason. Scripture thereafter delivers over every nonhuman animal into the hands and mouths of men, refusing them freedom and reducing them to meat. Descartes then transforms these “mere” bodies into clockwork, simple meat machines experiencing neither pleasure nor pain. After this Kant, in a renewal of Platonic ontoteleology countersigned by Aristotle, insists that only the rational being—by which he means the human animal—can think the unconditional law of morality. This is again repeated, mutatis mutandis, by Hegel, for whom only the human can possess an infinite relationship to self. Moving rapidly then through the twentieth century, while Freud avers that nonhuman animals are without conciousness and Heidegger claims they are without death and thus “poor-in-world,” Levinas in his turn refuses every nonhuman animal a face, and thus any claim to an ethical response.[4]

In fact, the list of what animals are alleged to lack is at once finite yet endless, depending as it does upon the ever-shifting requirements of what it means to be “properly” human. One can, nonetheless, offer in its place a short and brutal summary: throughout Western philosophy—albeit with some notable exceptions—“the animal” is constituted as an unfeeling object under the technical mastery of man and definable only by negativity. One cannot murder such an animal, only kill her over and over again, and moreover one can do so with impunity. It is this all too human construction of “the animal” therefore, which holds open the space for what Derrida describes as a “noncriminal putting to death,” be it the site of war, of capital punishment, or of the unprecedented subjection and subjugation of human and nonhuman beings all around us today.

Exploring the movement by which such a space is opened in which a human animal can be “legitimately” murdered, alongside and entangled with the exclusion of nonhuman animals, is thus a major preoccupation in the articulation of zoogenesis. This movement, in the “animalisation” of a specifically targetted human or human grouping—an identity the posited homogeneity of which is always imposed from outside—, functions to exclude the subject of its tropological displacement and, in so doing, constitute a non-subject that can be killed with impunity. By way of this reactive movement of sedimented traces—the solidified dregs of ressentiment and bad conscience—one can always again redefine the slave, the barbarian, the foreigner, or the immigrant as a “mere” animal. One thinks here of the Nazi demonisation of Jews as Saujuden (“Jewish swine”), but also of the photograph taken in the Abu Ghraib prison showing Private Lynndie England leading an Iraqi prisoner around on a dog leash. Indeed, to reduce a singular, nonsubstitutable living being to an essential identity which is in turn reconfigured as “animal” is nothing less than the economy of genocide. Excluded from itself through a murderous theatrics of displacement, a nonhuman animal or an animalised human is effectively rendered speechless, a subjugated body which may be killed but never murdered.

The interruption of this murderous logic is therefore of the utmost importance, not only for other animals, but also for those millions of “other” humans displaced and thus excluded by the regulatory norms of gender, sexuality, race, and/or class. We are thus faced with an extremely pressing question: are there perhaps tropes that function in the opposite direction, that make it unthinkable that living beings can be put to death with impunity? Whilst at the same time remembering that the question of what, exactly, is meant by “living being” is far from being resolved, it is this question which the thinking of zoogenesis attempts to answer.

Neither beginning nor end: the undying animal

“The human,” I have suggested, depends upon the exclusion of “the animal,” a logic which reserves the space for a noncriminal putting to death. This genocidal logic is, however, further complicated by the fact that this movement itself depends upon the finite bodies of nonhuman animals being paradoxically inscribed as undying. By this I mean that “the animal,” as a single undifferentiated body in opposition to the human, is defined both as lacking the possibility of death and as sharing a transparent pathic communication. With each of these reciprocally grounding the other, the murder of a nonhuman animal, as we shall see, becomes ontologically impossible, even as corpses are produced in exponentially increasing numbers.

The apparent “fact” that nonhuman animals do not know or “have” language, do not know or “have” death, is simply and precisely an ideology, one which, as feminist writer Carol Adams notes, “ontologises animals as usable” (Neither Man Nor Beast, 15). Whether as untouched by the Fall into self-awareness, or as absolutely determined by genetics and thus infintely substitutable automata, this figuration of the undying animal remains central to human exceptionalism. Moreover, the ideology of the undying animal must be understood as an entanglement of both material and symbolic economies. The “question of the animal,” in other words, is a question of and to Capital: a question of the literal rendering of animals’ bodies, and at once a demand which infinitely exceeds the democratic order founded upon, and conserved by, the semantics of an agent-centered subjectivity and of the sovereign human subject of rights and duties. That the ideologically undying animal, as well as presupposing human exceptionalism, simultaneously reproduces the machinery of Western patriarchy founded upon the illusion of a freely willing human subject, can be seen most clearly in the context of previous justifications of slavery. Indeed, the argument will no doubt be familiar: the white male oppression of people of colour depends upon the latter being configured as incapable of resisting their “natural” bodily inclinations—that is to say, incapable of overcoming their animal instincts—and thus, excluded from “pure” reason, are thereby fit only to be ruled.

With this example, I am simply suggesting that nonhuman animals cannot be overlooked when it comes to putting into question the humanist hubris which claims on its own behalf an inalienable free will or, at the very least, an ontologically exceptional status. Rather, the infinitely diverse ways of being—both human and nonhuman—irredeemably explode the illusion of a boundary dividing responsive Culture from reactive Nature. In this way, one hopes, the delusion of liberalism will finally be dispelled—a delusion constituted, as Spinoza maintained so long ago, in ignorance of the disposition of bodies, a delusion in which subjected bodies come to desire their own subjection.

Encountering posthumanism

Rather than seeking to prop up those tottering relics of reductive division, it is rather the case that to efface originary relatedness on the basis of the destructive yet empty concept of “the human” serves to severely constrain what animals—both human and nonhuman—might become. By contrast, it is an open relation to this potential becoming which for me defines what I understand by the term “posthumanism.”

Here, however, it is first of all necessary to differentiate posthumanist thinking from the notion of the “posthuman” or the “transhuman” as construed by a number of (mainly liberal) writers. For the latter, as philosopher Cary Wolfe writes, the “post-” prefix rather marks an “historical succession in which … the human is transformed and finally eclipsed by various technological, informatic, and bioengineering developments” (“Bring the Noise” in Serres The Parasite, xi). According to my understanding, however, posthumanism refers rather to both the interruption that always already takes place before and beyond every conception of “the human,” and to our historical situatedness as subsequent to the deconstruction of the delimited human subject, be it in terms of soul, cogito, ego, or body. In short, “posthumanism” is that which doubly marks us as “coming after” the interruption of the human, and as such demands a thinking which takes place beyond any humanist metaphysics.

I take here as the starting point for any genuinely posthumanist discourse a movement beyond the traditional (Christianised) forms taken by the relationship between the human and the nonhuman animal. These dominant forms, as philosopher Andrew Benjamin demonstrates, are configured by two “original and importantly different determinations” (“Particularity and Exceptions,” 76). In the first configuration, the emergence of the human is predicated on the death or nonexistence of the animal, whereas in the second the human remains in a constant struggle with his or her own animality, an animality which must be repeatedly overcome in being human. These two types or configurations endlessly reiterate a logic of dependence-exclusion. Moreover, insofar as both determinations fallaciously define the nonhuman animal by what he or she lacks within a teleological dialectic, every nonhuman animal is thus figured as incomplete, as subhuman. Consequentially, “the human” is not a site of ontological exception, but rather an effect of this reiterated exclusion of “the animal,” a reiteration which in itself presupposes a primordial relatedness.

Arguing that posthumanist discourse must interrupt such anthropomorphic hubris, however, is not to say that the movement of humanist exclusion should simply be inverted, positing instead some kind of homogeneous inclusive equality. While such a simplistic inversion would merely reinstate the human-animal dichotomy in its refusal, it is rather the case that a given human only “is” in an originary and complex relational network with nonhuman ways of being.

Articulating just such a posthumanist thinking is thus to explore the philosophical, ethical, and political implications of a rigorous deconstruction of the human-animal division, as well as some of its less-than-rigorous articulations within contemporary “posthumanist” discourses. Along the way, it becomes clear that the figuration of the nonhuman animal as undying is essential to the two determinations of teleological humanism and, by extension, to figuring it a human right to do whatever we like to other animals.

We can thus already begin to perceive why the giving of a death potentially interrupts such brutal, murderous hubris. Only initially paradoxical, such a gift returns to this nonhuman being his or her place, that is, the singularity of his or her nonsubstitutability. The “having” of death, furthermore, marks the exposure of every living being across an indissociably doubled abyss: on the one hoof, an abyssal technicity of language which necessarily exceeds any reduction to the verbal and, on the other, an abyssal embodiment which exceeds any delimitation of the organism. A rigorous posthumanist thinking, therefore, must concern itself with an exposition which already confounds every distinction between the interior and the exterior and the organic and the technical.

Zoogenesis: the apocalyptic arriving of monstrosity

“Zoogenesis,”  in short, names those potential tropes which make it unthinkable that living beings can be put to death with impunity. In contrast to the limited anthropo-genesis explicated by Martin Heidegger, such tropes trace the movements of an excessive zoo-genetic transport virtually promised to every living being by an originary technicity. This originary technicity of being is the condition of both that which for strategic reasons I am calling the animal encounter, and of the monstrous zoogenesis to which such an encounter gives rise. A priori excluding both vitalism and biological continuism, its difference as and at the origin of sense necessarily derails every judgment of absolute truth and value, undoing every hierarchy of proximity and any narcissistic notion of identity politics. (For more on this, see my “Animals in Looking-Glass World: Fables of Uberhumanism and Posthumanism in Heidegger and Nietzsche” here: http://www.depauw.edu/humanimalia/issue02/pdfs/Iveson.pdf.)

Instead, originary technics demands the affirmation of an encounter with another whose language “I” do not recognise, an “other” with whom or with which consensus remains impossible. In this way, “language” (in a narrow sense) ceases to be the privileged site from which one can sovereignly attribute to another only a mute bestiality. Instead, with Friedrich Nietzsche we discover the imperative of active forgetting which is, in short, zoogenesis—the call of which shatters the psyche in calling forth unheard-of and forbidden monstrosities. Ultimately, the promise of zoogenesis resides in the responsibility of a vigilant Nietzschean betrayal, a response which always again offers itself as a curative to the poison of a certain neoliberal notion of the transhuman. Such a thinking encounter with animals, in other words, seeks to replace reductive calculation with an ethics of emergence.


[1] As recounted by Florence Burgat in her preface to Despret Penser comme un rat (2009), 4.

[2] Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation (1975) and Tom Regan’s The Case for Animal Rights (1983) are generally considered the founding texts of contemporary animal rights’ discourse.

[3] On this privileging of oppressions, see Carol J. Adams The Sexual Politics of Meat, 200-201. On the “intersectionality” of exclusions, see also Rosi Braidotti Transpositions: On Nomadic Ethics (2006).

[4] For two excellent intellectual histories of “the animal” in Western philosophy, one crafted in meticulous detail and the other brief yet highly illuminating, see Elisabeth de Fontenay Le silence des bêtes: La philosophie à l’épreuve de l’animalité (Paris: Fayard, 1998) and Gilbert Simondon Deux leçons sur l’animal et l’homme (Paris: Ellipses, 2004). Interesting perhaps, is the fact that neither text has yet been translated into English, despite their quality and influence.