Cannibals, Apes, and the London Conference in Critical Thought

The following is the abstract of the paper** I will be presenting as part of the ‘Question of the Animal’ strand at the inaugural London Conference in Critical Thought (LCCT), which takes place at Birkbeck College, University of London on June 29th and 30th, 2012.

**The full paper has subsequently been posted on this blog at

This year’s conference is FREE (you only need to register), so hopefully as many people as possible will be able to attend.

Cannibals and Apes: Revolution in the Republic

By way of Derrida’s ethical injunction to “eat well,” this paper explores the relation between “eating the beast,” popular revolt, and Plato’s worker-ape. I take as my starting point Plato’s claim that those in whom the rational soul sleeps are unable to control what is both the beast of the body and the body of the beast, thus wallowing shamelessly in incest, bestiality, and cannibalism. For Plato, the “despised” manual worker exemplifies this monstrosity because he cannot rule but only serve his beastly corporeality, thus becoming an “ape.”

In Plato, the figure of the cannibal functions as a technique of control linked via instinct to the jurisdiction of power. Here, the Law of the Father is aristocratic, evidenced by Plato’s fearful hatred of both worker and democracy. There being no food that the worker-ape refuses to eat, the horror of the cannibal thus overlaps with the fear of the starving. Not by chance, this figure of the beast rampaging through the domestic arena follows on directly from Plato’s claim that the “equal freedoms” characteristic of democracy, in being shared also by domestic animals, constitutes both origin and symptom of imminent tyranny.

To prevent the letting loose of cannibalistic animality, for Plato both the worker and the democratic urge or instinct must be controlled by enslaving the unruly mob of apes beneath the “best,” the proper instrument of which is, quite simply, the mouth, described by Plato as that through which the necessary enters and the best exits. The best thus exits but never enters the mouth, is never ingested or digested, but rather, in being installed through other orifices, places within the body an external guardian of the Law to take the place of sleeping reason. The worker-animal, in short, must incorporate the Law as both foreign and determining, “set free” only once the cannibalistic instinct that is revolution is imprisoned within a further crypt.

It is this constellation of eat-speak-interiorise which Derrida puts into question, in the process tearing apart the dominant schema of subjectivity and the order of the political and of right. This paper thus centres upon two questions: first, when to “eat well” means learning to give without grasping the endless procession of partial objects which pass through the orifices by way of interminable mourning, what remains of the cannibalistic worker’s revolution? And second, how might Derrida’s injunction be restaged to incorporate both the transformative cannibalistic “instinct” that is revolution and the offer of infinite hospitality to the “living in general,” including those beings whose physiology has no need of orifices?

*          *          *

And here is the provisional schedule:

Panel 1: Consumption and the Question of the Animal


Richard Iveson, ‘Cannibals and Apes: Revolution in the Republic’

Kamillea Aghtan, ‘Wolf-biters and Over-Groomers: (Self-)Consumption as Ethical Reciprocity’

Karin Sellberg, ‘Molar Ethics and Aesthetics’

Panel 2: Animal Life: Beyond Good and Evil

Daniel van Strien, ‘A Marxist response to ‘the animal question’?’

Hyun Sook Oh, ‘Deleuze and an Ethics of Suffering: Toward the Zone of Indiscernibility of Human and Animal’

Angela Bartram, ‘Art from the Dead: the moral and ethical transformation of the animal pet into cultural artifact’

Panel 3: Animals in Domestic and Urban Space

Aaron Santesso, ‘The Panoramic Animal: Authenticity and Living Exhibitions’

Lucia Vodanovic, ‘Animal-life in the London Zoo: architecture, consumption and display’

About Richard Iveson

Postdoctoral Research Fellow I have a PhD from Goldsmiths College, University of London; my teaching and research interests include animal studies; Continental philosophy; posthumanism; cultural studies; biotechnology and cyberculture; post-Marxism. Books; Being and Not Being: On Posthuman Temporarily (London & Washington: Rowman & Littlefield International, 2016), forthcoming. Zoogenesis: Thinking Encounter with Animals ( London: Pavement Books, 2014). View all posts by Richard Iveson

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