Monthly Archives: October 2011

Philosophers and their Animals No.2: Martin Heidegger

Next up in the series of philosophers and their animals in 500(ish) words or less . . .

Via the work of biologist Hans Driesch and ethologist Jakob von Uexküll, Heidegger argues in the second part of The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics that nonhuman animals are excluded from the worlding of world as a necessary result of their “captivation [Benommenheit],” which confines them instead within an environment (239). In other words, as far as Heidegger’s animal is concerned, there can be neither anything beyond, nor any differentiation within, the “disinhibiting ring” which marks the absolute limit of her environmental capture. As a result of this essential undifferentiated absorption [Eingenommenheit], an animal can therefore never “have” her own captivation, that is, she can never apprehend her own capture within a set. Because of this, concludes Heidegger, she is therefore “poor-in-world [weltarm].”

More importantly for Heidegger, however, is that this conclusion concerning the way of animals provides the scenery against which we might thenceforth disclose the essence of the human: “In the end our … analysis of captivation as the essence of animality provides as it were a suitable background against which the essence of humanity can now be set off” (282). It would seem then, that the analysis of “the animal’s” way of being is undertaken solely in order that the proper essence of “the human” can be subsequently disclosed through the negation of its negation, that is, through the dialectical disclosing of the essence of world.

The condition of possibility of world for Heidegger, as that which is withheld from nonhuman animals, is the “having” of captivation as such, that is, the apprehension of the undisconcealedness of Being as undisconcealedness (i.e., of the withdrawal of Being). In other words, the human “is” only in this having of “the ‘as’-structure [die ‘als’-Struktur],” which is the condition of the logos. This is because it is only in having the “as” that the human is given to apprehend being as beings—the wonder that beings are which is the worlding of world—and thus, beyond the captivation of the disinhibiting ring, to perceive itself as an individuated being. This apprehension of ontological difference is, moreover, nothing less than the apprehension of finitude, of the possibility of impossibility, and thus at once the condition of the Dasein’s existential projection of its ownmost being-toward-death [eigenst Sein zum Tode].

We can thus see how, in negating the ringed animal as without the revelation of relation and thus poor-in-world, Heidegger is thus free to posit the properly Dasein as that which “is” nearest to Being, and thus reserve for it alone the possibility of authentic existence. It is here then, with the capacity to apprehend something as something, that Heidegger draws the abyssal line between the human-Dasein and the animal, one which permits neither the possibility of a human animal nor that of a nonhuman Dasein.

In my essay “Animals in Looking-Glass World” from which this summary is extracted (available at, I argue–against the dialectical reading–that Heidegger’s existential analytic does break with the traditional metaphysical configurations of the human-animal relation. However, insofar as nonhuman animals are unthinkingly reinscribed as essentially undying, his philosophy nonetheless remains ultimately enclosed within a “metaphysical anthropocentrism” (in Matthew Calarco’s phrase) which, alongside traditional metaphysics, underwrites the industrialised holocaust of animals under the sign of Gestell.

Coming up, Derrida and his animals (early).


Strategic opposition to King Alfred’s new(ish) plans: Gil Scott-Heron, Malcolm X, and animal liberation

Following the opportunistic post-9/11 power grab of the USA PATRIOT ACT of 2001 and then the Animal Enterprises Terrorism Act (AETA) of 2006, for example, animal activism in the United States has been ranked (and thus performatively produced) as the number one domestic terrorist threat. In this, pro-animal activists—branded as irrational, frenzied anti-progress and anti-Enlightenment crazies—are thus demonised as the domestic equivalent of the more familiar “figures of evil” such as (alleged) Muslim fundamentalists, who in turn are “animalised” by way of the concentration camps of Guantanemo Bay and the torture chambers of Abu Ghraib.

Such an imbrication of speciesism and racism is, however, long-established and at once absolutely routine. This can be seen at its most basic level when considering that within racist societies the production of people of colour as “primitive” and “sexually rapacious” (for example) requires for its efficacy the displacing and delegitimising processes of animalisation. Think too of the principal metaphors invoked in hate speech.

It is thus neither wrong nor surprising that the analogy linking together the abolitionist and black civil rights movements with contemporary pro-animal activism appears frequently in animal liberation literature (it is not wrong, that is, so long as in proposing this analogy one is careful at the same time to attend to the many specific differences as well as the broadstroke similarities). Good examples include Marjorie Spiegel’s The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal Slavery, and Steve Best & Anthony Nocella’s Terrorists or Freedom Fighters? Reflections on the Liberation of Animals.

What specifically interests me here, however, is the question of doing violence in order to progress towards liberation. As regards the oft-cited analogy, one which implies a relation of either intimate affinity or prototypical model, my question is quite simple: in using the civil rights analogy in support of animal liberation politics, why is it nearly always the case that the argument—in contrast to the civil rights movement itself—stops with Martin Luther King, Jr.? If the analogy is solid, why do the vast majority of its proponents reduce the variety of strategies employed in the battle for civil rights to one particular, relatively early tactic? In short, why stop with Dr. King’s nonviolent protest, why not continue on to Malcolm X and to “by any means necessary”? In the essays collected in Terrorists or Freedom Fighters, for example, Dr. King is quoted half a dozen times and, in the section devoted specifically to the “tactics” of animal liberation, the strategy of civil disobedience advocated by Dr. King is discussed in three of the five papers. Malcolm X, however, is neither quoted nor discussed anywhere. One question then, inevitably leads to another: if the civil rights movement constitutes a model for the animal liberation movement to emulate, is it reasonable to deny both the importance and potential efficacy of violence in furthering the aims of our struggle?

In order to offer something more to this analogy and to begin to redress this omission, it is useful to recall some of the early poems of Gil Scott-Heron, who was a supporter of both Dr. King and Malcolm X. One poem in particular — recalling again our paranoic era of the USA PATRIOT ACT, AETA, son of PATRIOT ACT, Camp X-Ray, Jean Charles de Menezes, the photographs of Lynndie England at Abu Ghraib, etc etc — springs immediately to mind:

The King Alfred Plan

Brothers and sisters, there is a place for you in America
Places are being prepared and readied night and day, night and day
The white boy’s plan is being readied night and day, night and day
Listen close to what rap say ’bout traps like Allenwood PA
Already legal in D.C. to preventatively detain you and me
How long d’you think it’s going to be before even our dreams ain’t free
You think I exaggerate, check out Allenwood PA
And night and day, night and day

The white boy’s scheming night and day, night and day
The Jews and Hitler come to mind
The thought of slavery far behind
But white paranoia is here to stay
The white boy’s scheming night and day, night and day
What do you think about the King Alfred Plan?
You ain’t heard? Where you been man?
If I may paraphrase, the government notice reads:

“Should there at any time become a clear and present danger initiated by any radical element threatening the operation of the government of the United States of America, members of this radical element shall be tranported to dentention centers until such time as their threat has been eliminated – code King Alfred [George, Tony, Obama, David]”

Bullshit, I bet you say, there ain’t no Allenwood P.A.
And people ain’t waiting night and day, night and day, night and day
There we’ll be, without the Motown sound and thunderbird
Wallowing in the echoes of Malcolm’s words:
“There must be black unity, there must be black unity”
For in the end unity will be thrust upon us and we upon it and each other
Locked in cages, penned, hemmed-in shoulder to shoulder

Arms outstretched for just a crust of bread

Watermelon mirages an oasis that does not exist
Conjured up by the bubbling stench of unwashed bodies and unsanitary quarters
Concrete and barbed-wire, babies screaming
Stumbling around in a mental circle because you never cared enough to be black
In the end unity will be thrust upon us – blanketed, stifled, assaulted
A salty taste in your mouth from blood oozing from cracks in woolly heads
Red pools becoming thicker than syrup slow down your face
Spurred matted from the life force sprung loose from wells
Welled deep by the enforcers of mock justice of the red, white and blue
In the end unity will be thrust upon us
Let us unite because of love and not hate
Let us unite on our own and not because of barbed-wired death
You dare not ignore the things I say
Whitey’s waiting night and day, night and day, night and day, night and day, night and day.

Scott-Heron penned a number of important civil rights’ era poems, but of course in our own era of omnipresent surveillance it would be utterly foolhardy even to imply a possible overlap between the contemporary animal liberation movement and the aspect of the civil rights struggle documented in the poem “Enough” (and so of course I wouldn’t dream of doing so, although – entirely by accident – I just happen to have appended the words below).

The problem, and the solution, as evidenced by the recent UK riots, is that the revolution will be televised, and the only question then will be: who will wield the camera, who will frame the media?

Enough by Gil Scott-Heron

It was not enough that we were bought and brought to this home of the slave,

Locked in the bowels of a floating shithouse,

Watching those we love eaten away by plague and insanity,

Flesh falling like strips of bark from a termite-infested tree,

Bones rotting turning first to brittle ivory then to resin.
That was not enough.
It was not enough that we were chained by leg irons,

Black on black in black with a piss-stained wall

Forced to heed nature’s call through and inside the tatters of rags that strained our privates.

And evidently years of slavery did not appease your need to be superior to something,

Like a crazed lion hung up on being the king of his corner of the cage.

Backs bent under the wieght of being everything and having nothing,

Minds too like boomerangs curving back into themselves,

Kicked and carved by the face-straining smiles that saved my life.
That was not enough.

Somehow I can not believe that it would be enough for me to melt with you and integrate without the thoughts of rape and murder.

I cannot conceive of peace on earth until I have given you a piece of lead or pipe to end your worthless motherfucking existence.

Imagine your nightmares of my sneaking into a veiled satin bedroom and attacking your daughter, wife, and mother at once, ripping open their bowels sexually like a wishbone.

Imagine that and magnify it a million times when you realize that the blinders have been stripped from my eyes, and I realize that slavery was no smiling happy-fizzies party.

Your ancestors raped my foremothers and I will not forget.

I will not forget at Yale or Harvard or Princeton or in hell because you are on my mind.

I see you everytime my woman walks down the street with her ass on her shoulders.

I see you everytime I look in the mirror and think of the times I used to pat myself on the back for not being too black after all.

I think of you morning, noon, and night, and I wonder just exactly what in hell is enough.

Every time I see a rope or gun I remember, and to top it all off you ain’t through yet.

Over fifty you have killed in Mississippi since 1963,

That doesn’t even begin to begin all of those you have maimed, hit and run over, blinded, poisoned, starved, or castrated.

I hope you do not think that a vote for John Kennedy took you off my shit-list, because in the street there will only be black and white

There will be no Democrats, Republicans, Liberals, Conservatives, Moderates, or any other of the rest of that shit you have used to make me forget to hate.

There ain’t no enough. there ain’t no surrender. There is only plot and plan, move and groove, kill.

There is no promised land. There is only the promise.

The promise is my vow that until we have been nerve-gassed, shot down and murdered, or done some of the same ourselves, look over your shoulder motherfucker—

I am coming.

Philosophers and their Animals No. 1: Alain Badiou

According to Alain Badiou’s theory of the subject, nonhuman animals are necessarily condemned to an eternal oppression for which redress is to be neither sought nor is it possible. This follows from Badiou’s claim that oppression should never be fought against because oppression is only ever a consequence of an appearing of a subject of truth. In other words, oppression is merely the reactive negation of the appearing of an immortal Truth (be it in the form of denial [π] or occultation [C]). As a result, insofar as Badiou’s subject of a truth is always and only a human subject [¢], there can be no possibility of a new present [π] ever emerging for nonhuman animals, thus equating continuous oppression with their ways of being at the ontological level. Eternal animal oppression is, in short, the correlate of the a priori reservation—at least on this planet—of eternal Truths for human subjects alone or, more precisely, for a human body bearing (and thus subordinated to) its subjective formalism that is the trace of the event [ε]. On this, see “Formal Theory of the Subject (Meta-physics)” in Logics of Worlds, pp.43-78.

Indeed, this is already figured in Badiou’s Ethics, not explicitly in relation to oppression but rather in terms of good and evil. In short, suffering for Badiou only follows and never causes a truth event. This repeats his argument that “animal” human life (everything not subject to truth but rather to private interests and subsistence) is beneath good and evil, and thus there is no evil other than that which follows the betrayal (in whatever form) of a truth event, in contrast to the “good” which is the subject’s fidelity to its truth. “Animal oppression”—with “animal” understood in the sense given to it by Badiou as well as in the sense of nonhuman beings—can therefore never be evil, but nor can it be good as it cannot invoke a subject to truth. And again, in The Communist Hypothesis: the bounds of individualism (selfishness, competition, finitude) are “one and the same thing” as the bounds of “animality” (234) and the incorporation that is being-subject to truth is its overcoming (237).

Who or what then, are Badiou’s animals? Or what, rather, are they for? They are, Badiou writes in Polemics, merely something to draw our human attention, existing amid their oppression simply to “intrigue and charm us” (106). This, I would say in response to Badiou’s “homage” to Derrida in Logics of Worlds in which he writes “Will we say that ØA = inexistence = différance? Why not?” (545), provides one very clear reason why not.


Still to come in this occasional series of “Philosophers and their Animals in 500 words or less …”: Blanchot, Derrida, Heidegger, Agamben, Ranciere, Lyotard, and more …

Next up though, Gil Scott-Heron on King Alfred.

But Hitler was (not) a vegetarian …

In the dialogue with Derrida entitled ‘Violence Against Animals’, Elisabeth Roudinesco brings up the ‘fact’ of Hitler’s vegetarianism precisely in the overdetermined terms so beloved of the humanist opponents of pro-animal activism (Luc Ferry, for example), in which vegetarianism is explicitly linked with the bad conscience of a deflected misanthropy: ‘from a psychoanalytic point of view, the terror of ingesting animality can be the symptom of a hatred for the living taken to the point of murder. Hitler was a vegetarian’ (‘Violence Against Animals’, 68). Aside from the patent absurdity of such thinking, it should be made known that Hitler was in fact not a vegetarian, but rather it was the case that he only seldom ate meat as it caused him physical discomfort (i.e. stomach pains and flatulence). Nonetheless, he continued to eat sausages throughout his life, and a favourite dish was fledgling pigeon. In addition, upon coming to power in 1933 he banned all vegetarian societies in Germany, arrested their leaders, shut down the main vegetarian magazine, and persistently persecuted vegetarians. During the war, all vegetarian organisations were banned throughout the occupied territories, even though, as Charles Patterson points out, ‘vegetarian diets would have helped alleviate wartime food shortages’ (Eternal Treblinka, 127). Historian Robert Payne writes that the myth of Hitler’s vegetarianism was a public relations exercise organised by Joseph Goebbels: ‘According to the widely believed legend, he [Hitler] neither smoke nor drank, nor did he eat meat nor have anything to do with women. Only the first was true. … His asceticism was a fiction invented by Goebbels to emphasize his total dedication, his self-control, the distance that separated him from other men. By this outward show of asceticism, he could claim that he was dedicated to the service of his people’ (cit. ibid. 127-8). What is perhaps more interesting is why this propaganda should continue to be promulgated with such insistence. Why, in other words, do people find it necessary to reiterate this myth ad nauseum, that is to say, what anxiety does this recycled ideology conceal?

Misreading Derrida: Stiegler, originary technicity, and the différance of différance

Epiphylogenesis, Stiegler writes in the first volume of Technics and Time (1994), is the “conservation, accumulation, and sedimentation of successive epigeneses, mutually articulated” (I:140). In other words, epiphylogenesis is the transmission of the “already-there” beyond the lifespan of an individual being. In this, argues Stiegler, it constitutes a break with “pure life” insofar as it is a denaturalisation or, rather, an exteriorisation by way of hypomnemata, that is, by way of artefactual memory aids. As such, he continues, epiphylogenetic beings are always already technical beings. For Stiegler, however, epiphylogenesis is reserved for the human alone. It designates, he suggests, the technicity that is the différance of and from the différance which already structures the “pure life” of every other living being insofar as these latter do not conserve epigeneses, and who can thus only react but never respond. Moreover, this “différance of différance” is, according to Stiegler, and here he cites Derrida, precisely the “emergence of the grammē as such” (I:137).

In reaching this conclusion, however, Stiegler in fact conflates this emergence of the grammē as such to the appearing of consciousness: an articulation that is produced within, and from out of, différance as the history of life in general. Hence, the différance of différance is the production of consciousness understood as the emergence of the grammē as such (I:137-8). As a result, for Stiegler there can be neither nonhuman consciousness nor nonhuman technics. All other animals therefore, insofar as they lack co-constitutive technicity, are paradoxically reduced yet again to mere Cartesian machines.

Returning to Derrida, however, we find that, in the passage from Of Grammatology cited by Stiegler, there is no suggestion whatsoever that the “emergence that makes the grammē appear as such” is the emergence of consciousness (84). In fact, the opposite is the case. Rather, for Derrida, it is the originary movement of différance—“the trace as the unity of the double movement of protention and retention”—which always “goes far beyond the possibilities of ‘intentional consciousness’” (84). It is, he makes clear, this movement, this “new structure of nonpresence” that is the emergence of the living (from the amoeba to homo sapiens), which “makes the grammē appear as such” and at the same time “makes possible the emergence of the systems of writing in the narrow sense” (84). There is, therefore, no suggestion that it is the emergence of consciousness which makes the grammē appear as such, but rather that its emergence is already the emergence of différance. It is the trace, in other words, which constitutes the “new” program in the sense of the mark of the living on the nonliving that is the emergence of life itself.

Whereas for Stiegler exteriorisation constitutes the break with “pure life,” for Derrida it is the denaturalising movement of life, that is, the originary technicity of living being. Indeed, this could not be clearer: “from the elementary structures of so-called ‘instinctive’ behaviour up to the constitution of electronic card-indexes and reading machines … it at once and in the same movement constitutes and effaces so-called conscious subjectivity” (84, emphasis added). Being “alive” is, in short, already an exteriorisation in which the living being is no longer a simple body but is already a technical bodying, which is another way of saying the “already” of the “already-there.” It is always the case, in other words, that “life has freed itself from life” (Derrida Demeure 89). While I am by no means suggesting that human technical evolution does not have its own distinctive character, nonetheless there is clearly no “double rupture” in the history of life, as Stiegler claims, no “two coups received by différance in general from a specific différance” (Technics and Time I:138).

In fact, Stiegler simply assumes the conflation of consciousness with the appearing of the grammē as such. This allows him to then move on directly to the task of specifying this “stage,” that is, the “stage of différance out of which emerges the possibility of making the grammē as such, that is, ‘consciousness,’ appear” (I:138; emphasis added). This stage, he argues, is the emergence of time in the anticipation that is human “technical consciousness” (I:151) or simply that of human consciousness (I:137).

For Stiegler then, the human-animal discontinuity is a distinction in relation to the what, and thus, via exteriorisation, to time, insofar as the evolution of the technical “what” returns to effect the “who.” It is the co-determination of cortex and tool, in other words, which differentiates “the human” differently in its relation to the nonliving, and thus to death (I:154). However, following Derrida, it is the trace which “is” temporalisation, that is, the technicity of the constitution of living being in and as language. It is this, moreover, which in turn permits epiphylogenesis, and which is therefore not the proper of the human (as seen, for example, with the transgenerational transmission of the Addo elephants[1]). This is not, however, to efface the specificity of co-determining technical relations. Rather, it simply marks the impossibility of a difference (or différance) of kind. Instead, it is a question only of speed: a question of differing (and deferring) temporalities and of the unimaginably, unbearably ancient.

[1] In 1919, farmers attempted to murder 140 elephants from the South African park of Addo, of which between sixteen and thirty survived. Even today, recounts Barbara Noske, the Addo elephant group is “mainly nocturnal and responds extremely aggressively to any human presence … they obviously have transmitted information about our species even to calves of the third and fourth generation, none of whom can ever have been attacked by humans” (Beyond Boundaries 111-2). These elephants are thus “the cultural heirs of the fear and hatred among their ancestors for our species” (155). This also, in reference to Derrida’s point regarding the necessary link between transgenerational transmission, law, and therefore crime and peccability, appears to mark an elephant social taboo.