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 not–yet 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.