Category Archives: Nietzsche

The End of Humanity: Kant and the Death of God

 

As is becoming well known, the exclusion of the animal functions throughout Western philosophy to inscribe “properly” human ends. To begin, however, it is necessary that we concern ourselves with this invariant, as only by way of a rigorous engagement with philosophy might we come to understand finitude and history as the condition for every animal encounter, and thus counter the traditional operation that excludes nonhuman animals by dissolving their singular beings within the perfect identity of immortal, changeless species. Moreover, by distinguishing between two very different conceptions signified by the phrase “the end of man,” we discover that the proper end of man ultimately resides in the rupturing of humanism itself.

Readers familiar with philosophy will no doubt recognise the above reference to Jacques Derrida’s famous lecture “The Ends of Man,” first presented in 1968, wherein Derrida draws attention to the disjunction between the teleological and eschatological “ends” of man, that is, between telos and eskhaton.

Put simply, within the metaphysical tradition telos marks the end in the sense of the completion of man, of man’s end as his highest and most proper accomplishment in a transcendence of finitude that indissociably links metaphysics with humanism. In this way, what awaits humanity is humanity itself, that is, a fully human humanity. At the same time, however, the end of man in the eschatological sense of the destruction or overcoming of the human cannot be divorced from the thinking of the truth of man within this same tradition.

This problematic doubling of ends, suggests Derrida, can be seen most clearly at work in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. For Kant, the end of man as telos cannot come about by way of finite human knowledge, but only by way of the unmixed concepts of pure a priori reason. The end of man, in short, can only take place after the end of man, that is, only when every specifically human experience has been removed. Conversely, however, Kant simultaneously insists that this end is possible only because man is in essence a rational being, that is, because only man as man thinks the end, and in so doing raises himself above and beyond the absence of reason claimed to characterise every other animal. Hence, it is only the specificity of the human that opens up the possibility of the end as telos.

Here, Kant is confronted with an antimony or aporia that must be dealt with: the telos of a fully human humanity demands both the specificity of the human and the eschatological elimination of that specificity. It is an aporia, moreover, which constitutes a rupture within every humanism insofar as every humanism is metaphysical.

Kant attempts to control this aporia with the notion of universal history. He argues that Reason organises the regular, teleological progress of humanity only at the level of the species, guided in advance by nature and indifferent to the free will of individuals. However, individual free will nonetheless serves to ensure the ongoing trial and ordeal of Reason’s telos, and thus the development of man’s original capacities. By contrast, nonhuman animals pursue their “natural,” i.e., irrational, teleology purely by instinct, meaning that the “law-goverened history” of every other species can be identified by a simple “internal or external” examination of any given animal, each of whom is identified with the species as a whole.[1]

Here we see how “the animal” functions as the constitutive outside of the properly human. On the one hand, humans cannot proceed by instinct, as this would reduce them to “mere” animals. Hence, man must have free will.On the other, the idea that man acts without an innate, divinely-instilled telos is simply unbearable for Kant, not least because this would reduce humans to something less than “mere” animals. This is Kant’s first antimony: the simultaneous free will and machinic programming of humanity. Hence, man’s free will must be subordinated to the guiding hand of history. Only then might man be free while simultaneously assuming his God-given superiority above the mechanical ordering of animal existence.

For this reason, humans alone are finite. Given the empirical specificity of every freely willing human individual, she or he cannot therefore be identical to the species, as Kant claims to be the case for all other animals. Instead, death is necessary to ensure that the germs of reason “implanted by nature in our species” not be squandered by foolish individuals but be passed along through the “incalculable series of generations,” guaranteeing the progress of universal history (43). Nonhuman animals, however, have no need of finitude, and no death in any real sense. Rather an animal is only the species, each example being identical to every other of the same species. Hence, if a particular animal ceases to live, nothing has been lost. An animal, in short, cannot die. Only humanity, while immortal as a species, consists of mortal individuals.

This conflict between selfish mortality and selfless immortality, Kant continues, is the motor constituting society, which is thus only ever human – other animals being ontologically incapable of a separation of individual and group interests. While Kant goes on to argue that bourgeois capitalist society in fact constitutes the divine vehicle to realise the telos of humanity, this should not distract us from our initial problematic, that of the teloseskhaton aporia that this idea of universal history hopes to circumvent.

As we have seen, the movement of history in general, that is, universal history at the level of the species, must once again bracket out every specific human experience. At the same time, however, universal history is for Kant necessarily human history, depending upon the gradual transformation of an incalculable series of specific individual moments. In other words, the divinely-ordained completion of humanity demands the transcendence of human finitude, a transcendence which at the same time has human finitude as its very condition. Here, the same telos-eskhaton aporia quickly reestablishes itself, this time at the heart of historicity itself.[2]

The positing of the telos of a fully human humanity, the continuous but gradual perfection of the species, requires as its condition that every individual human being dies, destroyed in an eschatological moment of transformative limit. Returning to our specific focus, what does this discussion of the ends of the human offer for an encounter with animals?

Put simply, it offers a specific example of how traditional philosophy must exclude other animals in order to inscribe “properly” human ends, that is, to circumvent the intolerability of purposelessness and godlessness. At base, the exclusion of other animals throughout Western philosophy enables the fragile human ego to deal with the anxiety of cosmological insignificance, producing instead reassuring myths of universal importance. With Kant’s particular ideology, moreover, we begin to better understand the importance of finitude and historicity for any thinking encounter with animals.

Finitude, as we have seen, is the condition for history and for the fulfilment of humanity as reasoning being. It thus comes as no surprise to find that, throughout Western philosophy, other animals are somehow reduced to immortality as a result. Our first task is thus to consider how this paradoxical reduction to divine status is accomplished, as this is intimately connected to that economy which opens the space for a noncriminal putting to death. This economy, which I have no hesitation calling genocidal, depends not simply upon the exclusion of “the animal” from “the human,” but simultaneously upon the finite bodies of nonhuman animals being paradoxically constructed as undying (be that as untouched by the Fall into self-awareness or as genetically-determined automata). By this I mean that “the animal,” functioning as both homogeneous category and constitutive outside of “the human,”  is necessarily defined as lacking the possibility of death and thus as sharing a transparent pathic communication.

The choice of the term “ideology” is not fortuitous: the claim that nonhuman animals lack individual deaths is indeed precisely an ideology, one which, as Carol Adams notes, “ontologises animals as usable” (Neither Man Nor Beast, 15). 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 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.

While the kettle logic undergirding Martin Heidegger’s hugely influential philosophy is essential to grasping this process, for the moment it is sufficient to note that, with “the animal” thus constituted as both undying and transparently pathic, the murder of a given nonhuman animal becomes ontologically impossible, even as corpses pile up in exponentially increasing numbers. Our initial question is thus clear: do nonhuman animals “have” finitude? And, if it is indeed undeniable that all animals do in fact die, what does this mean as regards thinking encounter with animals?

 

Infamously, in The Gay Science Nietzsche declares the death of God. While this death undoubtedly occurs in time – with Kant on one side of the fire break, Darwin and Nietzsche on the other – this is not an event that can be simply consigned to history, but is rather one to which we must continue to attend. For us here, it concerns the very future of Kant: what becomes of of the ends of mankind following the demise of the divine?

With the death of God, philosophy is forced from the pale pre-dawn of Kantianism: humanity must leave behind its hubristic myths of transcendence, jolted from its childish dreams of a divinely ordained end (telos). No longer concealed behind the linear teleology of universal history, evolution reveals itself as an infinitely diverse multiplicity of trajectories and transformations. With Nietzsche, the end ceases to be that of a fully human humanity and becomes instead immanent to the creativity of existence itself. Such is the eschatological moment of delirious destruction (eskhaton). Requiring neither divine telos nor human privilege, the death of God thus irredeemably explodes the illusory boundary dividing culture from nature. Ultimately, humanism – theological and secular – necessitates its own demise.

Things do not end here, however. Rather, it still remains necessary to consider the further critique of humanism proposed by structuralism. This critique, as Derrida notes, consists neither in restoring meaning to the metaphysical system as ordered by telos, nor in simply destroying meaning and thereby leaving only that dismal reign of chance so unbearable for Kant. Instead, writes Derrida, “it is a question of determining the possibility of meaning on the basis of a ‘formal’ organization which in itself has no meaning” (“The Ends of Man” 134). The structuralist critique, in other words, centres on transformations in the conditions that produce meaning, and it is both within and outside this anti-humanist space of the structure, at the very limit of sense or meaning, that the eschatolgical encounter takes place. Not, however, as restoration or destruction, but as invention and revaluation.

Thinking such encounters, however, must first and foremost come to terms with a danger inherent in language, with “language” broadly construed here as a species-specific way of being. Insofar as it must “ceaselessly reinstate the new terrain on the oldest ground,” language can never free itself from the risk of repeating precisely that which it aims to critique (Derrida “The Ends of Man” 135). Language, in other words, is at once the condition of transformative critique and that which necessarily entraps us, forcing us in a certain way to remain always on the same terrain, to always move along the same path. Here, we discover the return of our original aporia, eskhaton once again constrained by telos, only now all the delusions of anthropocentric grandeur have been excised.

In direct contrast to the movement of exclusion characterising the genocidal economy, the route to be taken, following both Nietzsche and Derrida, must henceforth lead us to think creatively with animals from within this originary aporia of shared existence.

To think this return without end it is thus necessary to give death to other living beings. Only the giving of a death has the potential to interrupt the brutal economy of genocide. While it perhaps sounds simple, to include other animals within the realm of the finite has explosive consequences, not least for all those animals, human and nonhuman, currently being exploited to death all over the globe. Indeed, to give death means never having the authority to put life to death.

 


[1] “Idea for a Universal History,” 42

[2] The distinguishing within “history” of historicity and historiology was first proposed by Heidegger in Being and Time. At its most basic, historicity refers to the movement of time, whereas historiology refers the discursive construction of History as a discipline.

 

References

Adams, Carol J. Neither Man nor Beast: Feminism and the Defense of Animals (New York: Continuum, 1995).

Derrida, Jacques “The Ends of Man” in Margins of Philosophy trans. Alan Bass (Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press, 1984), 109-136.

Heidegger, Martin Being and Time trans. John Macquarrie & Edward Robinson (Malden, MA & Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 1962).

Kant, Immanuel Critique of Pure Reason trans. Werner S. Pluhar (Indianapolis & Cambridge: Hackett, 1996).

Kant, Immanuel “Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose” in Political Writings 2nd Ed. Trans. H. B. Nisbet (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 41-63.

Nietzsche, Friedrich The Gay Science trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage Books, 1974).

Nietzsche, Friedrich The Will to Power trans. Walter Kaufmann & R. J. Hollingdale (New York: Vintage, 1968).

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Philosophers and their Animals – between Derrida and Rancière

The following paper, part of my “Philosophers and their Animals” series, will hopefully further clarify, along with the thought of Jacques Rancière, that outlined in 3(a): Derrida  as well as serving as a (long) preface to 3(b): Derrida, which remains still to come.

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Stigmata of mastery: Jacques Rancière’s wounded animal

 

The expression ‘degeneration’ designates both the loss of vital, genetic, or generous forces and the loss of kind, either species or genre: the Entartung. … The degenerate is not a lesser vitality; it is a life principle hostile to life.

             Jacques Derrida

 

 

The contribution made by Jacques Derrida to what has recently become known as ‘animal studies’ cannot be overstated – as he himself writes, ‘animals are my concern’.0 Indeed, he describes his own thought in terms of a ‘sort of animal movement’, a movement which ‘seeks to appropriate what always comes, always, from an external provocation’ (Derrida 1995, 352). While animals preoccupy Derrida, haunting his texts with their in-humanity, this is not to suggest, however, that Derrida’s attentiveness to the ‘question of 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. It is precisely this, however, which, it will be argued, is attempted by Jacques Rancière. One of the most subtle and probing of contemporary thinkers and, indeed, one of the few political theorists, as Thomas Keenan remarks, ‘to take serious measure of the impact of deconstruction’ (Keenan 2005, 106), Rancière’s concern with active restaging – the process whereby those ‘outcasts’ denied an identity by the police order become viable discursive beings in and as the enactment of a revolutionary performative – remains central for a thinking of political struggle today. Nevertheless, his definition, via Aristotle, of the political as an essentially human domain dependent upon “the desire to engage in reasoned discourse” which thus disqualifies nonhumans as potential participants, is a circumscription which has serious consequences for his thinking of assujetissement ’.1 By contrasting Rancière’s notion of ‘literarity’ with that of Derrida’s ‘iterability’, it in fact becomes possible to understand how Rancière’s exclusion of nonhuman animals in delimiting the political in fact restages the very machinery of domination through which both nonhuman animals and ‘animalised’ humans are reproduced as subhuman – the very machinery of death which his discourse otherwise seeks to interrupt. Seeking only to extend Rancière’s thinking of politics beyond this contingent, self-imposed limit, this paper thus aims to demonstrate that only a vigilant deconstruction of anthropocentrism in all its guises – as indeed is offered by Derrida’s thinking of the trace – retains the potential to interrupt the genocidal economy of animalisation, and thus of an opening to a radical political restaging such as is plotted by Rancière. In this, it also seeks to attend to Derrida’s assertion that ‘[o]ne understands a philosopher only by heeding closely what he [sic] means to demonstrate, and in reality fails to demonstrate, concerning the limit between human and animal’ (Derrida 2008, 106).

In proposing an exclusively human politics, even as his texts plot the renegotiation of that very delimitation, Rancière ultimately redeploys a teleological, Aristotelian-Heideggerian conception of the human-animal dichotomy, and in so doing restages the very same economy of dependence-exclusion by which is reproduced the insensibility of ‘other’ bodies. In this, Rancière both discloses and conceals the political event, while simultaneously positing an eternal animal oppression and at once denying the very possibility of that oppression. Beyond this contradiction, it is only by refusing Rancière’s ‘flat-out denial’ – a denial by which ‘the master position’ conserves itself – does it become possible to interrupt the murderous theatrics of animalisation. A refusal which is simultaneously a refusal to disavow the billions of beings rendered invisible and at once unspeakably rendered every year within the slaughterhouses of agribusiness and on laboratory killing floors. Never the proper of the human, that which Rancière names assujetissement is instead always an animal encounter, in that it is an encounter which precisely makes explicit that which ‘the Human’ has foreclosed in order to delimit itself.

Introducing his notion of assujetissement (or ‘subjectivization’) in the first paragraph of ‘Politics, Identification, and Subjectivization’ (1992), Rancière explicitly states that his discussion will be ‘guided by the idea that the activity of thinking is primarily an activity of translation, and that anyone is capable of making a translation’ (Rancière 1992, 58). So far, so good (given that one understands ‘primarily’ as ‘first of all’, in the sense of prior condition). However, immediately after positing this ‘anyone’, this ‘anybody’, Rancière then retracts the ‘any’ and replaces it with an ‘only’: ‘Underpinning this capacity for translation is the efficacy of equality, that is to say, the efficacy of humanity’ (Rancière 1992, 58). The simple fact that Rancière sees no contradiction between the claim that ‘anyone’ can make a translation (can make sense) on the one hand, and that it is the efficacy of humanity which underpins just that capacity on the other, clearly illustrates the anthropocentrism organising his discourse. Indeed, this reactive circumscription of efficacy is already discernible in the reduction of the sensible – that which is aisthēton, i.e., capable of being apprehended by the senses – to the visual and the audible, and the latter, moreover, only insofar as it concerns human speech. In an echo of Plato who, in arguing that material ‘bodily sense’ can only be a hindrance to the acquisition of wisdom, simply assumes that what might be called the senses of contiguity, that is, smell, taste and touch – collected together and dismissively marked as ‘the rest’ – are all ‘inferior’ to sight and hearing (Plato 2003, 65b), Rancière’s reduction of the sensible to the visible and the audible-sayable (a reduction which presupposes that ‘sense’ can be rigorously subdivided) is again symptomatic of an unquestioned anthropocentrism. One which, effectively foreclosing the possibility of encounters which transcend visual and/or verbal exchanges, reiterates the traditional economy of ‘objective’ rationalist (positivistic) discourse.

More than this, however, is that Rancière’s symptomatic misrecognition serves to efface the fact that what he terms the process of politics – the ‘heterological enactment of the other’ (Rancière 1992, 64) – is precisely an encounter with an other as and at the limit of the human, an encounter which must always transcend a visual and/or verbal exchange. However, when Rancière insists that assujetissement is always enacted ‘in the name of a category denied either the principle or the consequences of … equality: workers, women, people of color, or others’ (Rancière 1992, 59), two conclusions are immediately evident. First, that these indeterminate other others can only ever be other, not yet visible-audible human animals; and second, that Rancière is at once assuming a master position which repeats that very same denial by which just such ‘outcasts’ are reproduced as ‘without sense’ when in fact, as we shall see, it is rather that the improper reinscription of sense that is assujetissement necessarily exceeds human efficacy. Thus, in hoping to inscribe such a proper limit, Rancière in fact hopes to efface that very efficacy.

For Rancière, ‘outcasts’ are those bodies positioned and posited ‘between humanity and inhumanity’ (Rancière 1992, 61), and thus any and all beings rendered insensible within a given (human) order of policy.3 Assujetissement, meanwhile, is concerned with their active restaging: ‘the production through a series of actions of a body and a capacity for enunciation not previously identifiable within a given field of experience, whose identification is thus part of the reconfiguration of the field of experience’ (Rancière 1999, 35). In short, politics (as opposed to policy) consists of making sensible that which is insensible (unseen and unheard) within a given police order, a making sense-able of any and all bodies rendered invisible and voiceless. The question then, is how, and under what conditions, those ‘bodies’ which, reproduced as invisible, senseless noise according to an historically contingent ‘distribution of sensible’, thus come to make sense. Such a process, Rancière makes clear, can never consist of ‘an act of an identity’ but is rather ‘the formation of a one that is not a self but is the relation of a self to an other’ (Rancière 1992, 60). The ‘process of disidentification’, in other words, is dependent upon a trope ‘that links the name of a group or class to the name of no group or no class, a being to a non-being or a not-yet being’ (Rancière 1992, 61)—dependent, that is to say, upon a necessarily improper metonymic performative. The question that is of particular interest here concerns the efficacy of the specific transforming performative. In other words, why this positing rather than another? Why the efficacy of this ‘dis-identification’? And what, exactly, becomes visible in its being sayable? Efficacy is rightly of the greatest importance for Rancière, but the question remains as to what, precisely, this might mean. We are given a clue when, in outlining his methodology in ‘Dissenting Words’ (2000), Rancière writes of the need to explicate an event’s political valence, a valence which is to be grasped in the ‘revindication of the efficacy of the literary, of the egalitarian powers of language, indifferent with respect to the status of the speaker’ (Rancière 2000, 116). Here then, the efficacy of an event, which Rancière seeks to revindicate, clearly resides in the literary.

While generously acknowledging his debt to ‘Derridean deconstruction’, Rancière nevertheless prefaces his explication of the ‘literary’ with the assertion that his own approach ‘begins from a different reading of Plato’s critique of writing’ and, in particular, of its ‘silence’ that renders it ‘equally available both to those entitled to use it and to those who are not’ (Rancière 2000, 115). Thus, and starting from this declaration of difference, Rancière goes on to state that what he calls literarity is precisely this inaudible excessiveness of making-available, this ‘excess of words’ which necessarily ‘interrupts Plato’s logic of “the proper” – a logic that requires everyone to be in their proper place, partaking in their proper affairs’ (Rancière 2000, 115). This notion of literarity, he continues, refers to three distinct yet indissociable properties:

at once to the excess of words available in relation to the thing named; to that excess relating to the requirements for the production of life; and finally, to an excess of words vis-à-vis the modes of communication that function to legitimate ‘the proper’ itself (Rancière 2000, 115).

At this point, it is perhaps not immediately obvious in just what way this reading differs from those performed by Derrida around the ‘quasi-concepts’ of différance, trace, and iterability, particularly in ‘Plato’s Pharmacy’ (1968) and ‘Signature Event Context’ (1971), and which could be said to constitute the inaugural moment of deconstruction. Nevertheless, there is indeed one major difference, and it is Rancière’s next paragraph which furnishes the key. Before coming to that, however, it would perhaps be helpful to briefly review Derrida’s three predicates of writing [écriture] as summarised in ‘Signature Event Context’, and which follow directly upon a reading of Plato’s critique (or ‘condemnation’) of writing in the Phaedrus. Writing, insists Derrida, is firstly a mark – a mark that includes, but is by no means restricted to, that of the written word – ‘which is not exhausted in the present of its inscription’ and which can thus give rise to an iteration ‘in the absence of and beyond the presence of the empirically determined subject who … has emitted or produced it’. Secondly, and as a result, such a mark carries with it, given its essential iterability, ‘a force of breaking with its context’, whether that be the so-called ‘real’ context or the semiotic and internal context. Finally, this ‘force of the rupture is due to the spacing which constitutes the written sign’, a spacing which ‘is not the simple negativity of a lack, but the emergence of the mark’ (Derrida 1984, 317). From these three predicates there will thus always be, in that a mark can always be reiterated improperly, an excess of words both over things and, in Rancière’s words, ‘vis-à-vis the modes of communication that function to legitimate “the proper”” (Rancière 2000, 115). Hence, it can only be with the second of Rancière’s properties—the excess of literarity ‘relating to the requirements for the production of life’—that the difference becomes legible.

Immediately after summarising his approach, and of this difference which resides within the three predicates of literarity, Rancière begins the next paragraph with the following, rather hasty conclusion:

We can conclude, then, that humans are political animals because they are literary animals: not only in the Aristotelian sense of using language in order to discuss questions of justice, but also because we are confounded by the excess of words in relation to things. Humans are political animals, then, for two reasons: first, because we have the power to put into circulation more words, ‘useless’ and unnecessary words, words that exceed the function of rigid designation; secondly, because this fundamental ability to proliferate words is unceasingly contested by those who claim to ‘speak correctly’—that is, by the masters of designation and classification who, by virtue of wanting to retain their status and power, flat-out deny this capacity to speak (Rancière 2000, 115).

Leaving aside the second reason for the moment, we can see that with this ‘not only’ Rancière begins by aligning himself with Aristotle’s well known definition of man as zōon logon ekhōn, that is, as the ‘living being possessing language’. A designation which serves to mark out the human as the only living being with the ability to form universal concepts, and to which Rancière clearly alludes when he speaks of ‘the Aristotelian sense of using language in order to discuss questions of justice’. Hence, in seeking to ground the properly human, Rancière calls upon the authority of Aristotle (a recalling which relies in large part upon its apparent ‘common sense’), but does so in order to suggest that the excess of literarity is nevertheless prior to the Aristotelian attribution of language and concepts, and which is itself prior to the zōon politikon of the Politics: ‘humans are political animals because they are literary animals’.4 Here then, the priority of literarity marks its excess as that which is proper to the human and the condition of possibility of language and concepts. (An exclusive property which, while perhaps ambiguous in the first sentence – in that it is not explicitly stated that only humans are literary-political animals, although the reference to Aristotle constitutes a clear inference – is clearly marked as ‘fundamental’ in the next.) In the course of one sentence then, Rancière first refers to the apparent certainty of the Aristotelian linguistic animal only so as to then enable him, after what seems to be little more than an appeal to common sense, to immediately pass on to the more originary structure of literarity. A movement which, in the rapidity and self-evidence of its claim, reduces all language to that of human speech, and with which Rancière thus grounds literarity as both exclusive to, and constitutive of, the human animal as zōon logon ekhōn. The syllogistic movement is clear: literarity precedes language, language consists of (human) words, thus literarity is exclusively human. In short, it is only by way of a re-positing of a traditional human-animal distinction, one which depends upon just such a reduction of language to the verbal, which enables Rancière to thenceforth restrict literarity as exclusively, fundamentally human and, perhaps more importantly, posit the domain of the political – ‘this creative activity of invention that allows for a redescription and reconfiguration of a common world of experience’ (Rancière 2000, 116) – as essentially restricted to the reproduction-distribution of human bodies alone.

Here then, it becomes possible to understand the second property of literarity, of an excess ‘relating to the requirements for the production of life’, as nothing other than the refusal of an excess beyond the ‘mere’ preservation of life to every nonhuman being. It is this marking out of every other living being as, in a sense, nonliving, as mere reactive machinery, that above all differentiates Rancière’s reading of the ‘“silent” word of writing’ from that performed by Derrida. Moreover, it is precisely this difference which ultimately constrains the radical force of Derrida’s ‘quasi-concept’ of iterability, domesticating it in such a way as to precisely limit its efficacy. Indeed, Rancière’s choice of the term ‘literarity’ is in fact symptomatic of this constraining gesture. Whereas Derrida’s term ‘iterability’ refers explicitly to the iteration which a priori structures every mark and which ‘introduces an essential dehiscence and demarcation [brisure]’ (Derrida 1984, 326), literarity functions only to elide this general structure of spacing in favour of a reference to the literary, and thus to the written as the storehouse of human endeavour. This difference thus constitutes a highly traditional gesture which, in its strict reference to a properly human potential, needlessly serves only to hobble deconstruction within a cage of metaphysical anthropocentrism.

Returning to those reasons evinced by Rancière in support of a fundamentally human politics, it may initially appear (in the first subordinate clause of the second sentence) that Rancière is simply reiterating the originary supplementarity of literarity when he states that ‘[h]umans are political animals … because we have the power to put into circulation more words, … words that exceed the function of rigid designation’ (Rancière 2000, 115). It is here, however, that Rancière nonetheless demonstrates his break with Aristotle’s zōon logon ekhōn. Having demonstrated that the silent literary excess which permits an improper enactment is common to all words, in this second movement Rancière seeks instead to separate human verbal language from all other forms of language. Thus, and no doubt well aware of the difficulty involved in denying the existence of nonhuman language, he employs the originary structure of literarity in order to redraw Aristotle’s essential human-animal distinction through Heidegger, in that exclusive to human animals is not the possession of language per se, but rather only that of literarity, that is, of the iterative excess of writing. It is not the case, therefore, that nonhuman animals are denied language after all, but only that they find themselves locked within the confines of a ‘rigid designation’ without excess. Without, that is to say, the ‘as’ of the ‘such’ which marks the excessive translative movement. But, one is compelled to ask, what might such a language be, given that, without the possibilites and necessities of iterability, there can be no language? A possibility and necessity which belongs, moreover, to the formal and grammatical, and thus to the machinic. ‘There can be no use of language’, as Paul de Man writes, ‘which is not, within a certain perspective, thus radically formal, i.e. mechanical … The machine not only generates, but also suppresses, and not always in an innocent or balanced way’ (de Man 1979, 294). It is a machinery which thus works in both directions, not only interrupting the auto-nomy of the human utterance (as in Rancière’s notion of literarity), but also and at once the so-called ‘fixity of animal determination’.5 In refusing this death–machine at and as the origin of all living–be-ing, it can only mean that, for Rancière, every single, singular nonhuman animal necessarily possesses a ‘language’ that is absolutely meaningful, and thus divine. That is to say, (tele-)pathic, in that a given singularity must be fully known without the remainder of a divisive iteration. Such a determined rigidity which, by definition, precludes any possibility of improper positing, thus insists that, in being condemned to the absolute plenitude of robotic designation – to the lack of lack –, nonhuman animals are therefore incapable of pretending to play, for example, incapable of employing irony. And indeed, incapable, as we shall see, of living, of be-ing.

To understand the politics (or, rather, the policing) of this familiar move, it is necessary to recall once again Derrida’s reading of Plato’s condemnation of writing, so as to enable us to better understand the stakes of Rancière’s refusal.6 In rigorously following through the logic of the iter, Derrida is led to necessarily insist of his three predicates that they are found not only in spoken language, not only in ‘the order of “signs”’ and in all language in general, but—

ultimately in the totality of ‘experience’, to the extent that it is not separated from the field of the mark, that is, the grid of erasure and difference, of unities of iterability, of unities separable from their internal and external context, and separable from themselves, to the extent that the very iterability which constitutes their identity never permits them to be a unity of self-identity (Derrida 1984, 318).

This insistent affirmation of iterability as the condition of “the living in general” can be found from the beginning to the end of Derrida’s oeuvre. Thus, more than three decades later, he writes,

It is enough, a minimal condition, that we take into account the divisibility, multiplicity, or difference of forces in a living being, whatever it may be. It is enough to admit that there is no finite living being, human or nonhuman, that wouldn’t be structured by this differential of forces (Derrida 2007a, 59).

The excess which Rancière names ‘literarity’ is, as Derrida makes clear, a structural characteristic of every mark, every sense, and thus of every finite living being. In other words, the very economy of excess that is the literary condition must be at once the condition of ‘living on’ or sur-vival – that is to say, ‘for the production of life’ – in its entirety. Refusing this reading, however, Rancière seeks instead to reinscribe its rupturous force within an exclusively human domain. Nevertheless, if literarity precedes and exceeds the word, then it must also precede and exceed the language that Rancière attributes – albeit by default – to nonhuman animals. Further, the consequences of Rancière’s circumscribing gesture become all too clear in the second clause of his argument for a properly human politics. To recap, humans are political animals firstly because of positing power, because of originary literarity, and –

 

secondly, because this fundamental ability to proliferate words is unceasingly contested by those who claim to ‘speak correctly’ – that is, by the masters of designation and classification who, by virtue of wanting to retain their status and power, flat-out deny this capacity to speak (Rancière 2000, 115).

Literarity is, as we have seen, this ‘fundamental ability’ which marks out humans from other animals precisely as political, that is to say, as essentially preserving the possibility of assujetissement. Whereas ‘the masters of designation and classification’ (and one must wonder here exactly who or what might be the master of that rigid designation within which and to which all nonhuman animals are apparently corralled) seek to conserve their mastery by denying that very same capacity to other bodies which this same mastery serves to reproduce as insensible nonsubjects, for Rancière it is therefore not only the human act par excellence to refute – that is, to disseminate and thus render incorrect or, rather, improper – such masterly discourse but, more than that, it is in fact essentially human to do so. The event that is marked by assujetissement is, in short, the proper of the human. Thus, for Rancière, not only do nonhuman animals not count, but they are essentially – ontologically – prevented from doing so. There is, however, a huge irony here, one which centres on this notion of the master’s master word. As Alain Badiou acutely notes in ‘Rancière and the Community of Equals’ (1998), and for reasons that should now be clear, the function of the ‘historian’s operator’ of Rancière’s texts is that it ‘undermines the postures of mastery, and the political or philosophical postures in particular’ (Badiou 2006, 109). Hence, in seeking to distance his own discourse from such modes that reproduce (whether wittingly or otherwise, and if such a distinction could still be made) structures of domination, Rancière –

never refutes anyone, for this would itself confirm the master’s authority. Refutation establishes heritage, succession. … Rancière wants to discredit the master by showing that his position suggests representations whose arrangement is fallacious. And the fact that it is fallacious is established precisely through the local expressions of the non-mastery of the dominated who contradict, at each and every moment, the guarantees of the master’s existence (Badiou 2006, 109).

It is thus ironic that in his reactive circumscribing of the Human, however, Rancière in fact occupies precisely the master position. A position established by way of Aristotelian heritage and succession whereby he flat-out denies the capacity of speech and thus of iterability-literarity to nonhuman animals in a substitution of effect for cause.7

In inscribing literarity as an exclusively human property, Rancière’s recuperation of the radicality of iterability can thus be said to constitute a symptomatic misrecognition which marks his text with, in Derrida’s phrase, the ‘stigmata of disavowal’ (Derrida 2008, 113). Moreover, its ‘symptom and wound’ is at once a violent mistreatment: of nonhuman animals first and foremost, but also of the various discourses which have in fact refused to remain deaf to the ‘audible or silent appeal’ of nonhuman animals (Derrida 2008, 113). It is an exclusion, furthermore, which has serious consequences for Rancière’s own project, in that it both repeats the very logic which his discourse explicitly attempts to interrupt, and simultaneously serves to conceal the very process of assujetissement which it seeks to disclose. Thus, as the historian of the event, Rancière is both its preserver and its disavower, seeking both its genealogical disclosure and at once its concealment in seeking to contain its movement within a specular human economy. Constrained thus to see nothing other than the human, to hear an animal appeal only as senseless noise, one should perhaps recall Nietzsche’s critique of just such an habitual mode of living which –

at length enters consciousness as a law, as dominating – And therewith the entire group of related values and states enters into it: it becomes venerable, unassailable, holy, true; it is part of its development that its origin should be forgotten – That is a sign it has become master … And yet perhaps they represent nothing more than the expediency of a certain race and species (Nietzsche 1968, §514)

Denied the a priori structure of iterability and displaced as a result in some mythic ‘natural’ realm in contrast to sociopolitical domain of humanity, it is not simply that Rancière’s homogeneous mass of animals are denied speech, but rather that they are necessarily denied all sense. In other words, it is both despite and at once because of their possessing of an uncannily rigid, non-iterative (non)language whose designations have been set for once and always which necessarily disallows all nonhuman beings from acting; from responding, in other words, as subjects. As a result, all nonhuman animals are necessarily reduced to a fundamental state of reactive, invisible noise, that is to say, as essentially without sense and hence necessarily without death. In the reiteration of such a move, however, and ‘by virtue of wanting to retain [the] status and power’ of the human, Rancière thus takes on the very ‘posture of mastery’ he seeks otherwise to undermine. In proffering instead only a flat-out denial, an essential animal oppression is thus reproduced at the same time as the very possibility of that oppression is denied, rendered non-sense by the claim that all (other) animals exist in what is an impossible eternal present and presence and imposed upon by forces of which they remain absolutely insensible. Nonhuman animals are, in short, without sense and thus cannot suffer, being essentially blissfully ignorant. Contrary to this symptomatic misrecognition, however, the moment and movement of invention, of reconfiguration, has as its condition nothing other than an animal encounter. That is to say, a singular encounter with that which is always already other than ‘the human’. The subtle phallogocentrism (or rather, carnophallogocentrism) of Rancière’s reiteration of humanism’s founding gesture of dependence-exclusion not only points towards the question of the nonhuman animal as a privileged site for both philosophy and politics, it also serves to illustrate why it is a question which we must never refrain from asking.

In fact, Rancière’s human restraint is of itself quite odd. Unlike Descartes for example (for whom the positing of the mechanisation of the nonhuman animal – absolutely devastating in its effect – is necessary if only so as to ensure the consistancy of his cogito8), his position would seem to have nothing to gain from such anthropocentric stricture, and beyond which his political philosophy – which nevertheless remains of the greatest importance – undoubtedly becomes more radical. In turning now to another dimension of Rancière’s project in the hope of better understanding the reasons behind the restricting of those beings reproduced as invisible-unspeakable as always and only human beings, one should nevertheless recall throughout that, in the obscure spaces of ‘factory farms’, slaughterhouses, laboratories, ‘cattle’ trucks, and so on, it is precisely nonhuman beings who are reproduced all the more forcefully ‘as’ unseen and unheard. Walls – both material and symbolic – are erected around them, ensuring that the beings within continue to be rendered silent and in darkness; and, indeed, to ensure that such nonsubstitutable beings remain to be invisibly, unspeakably, rendered.

*     *    *

In considering various political configurations in On the Shores of Politics (1992), Rancière argues that the demos is necessarily discontinuous with the ochlos, in that the demos is in fact ‘the rallying-dividing power’ which comes to divide the ochlos in any of its ‘conjoined’ or ‘disjoined’ forms (the One of a collectivity that assigns ranks in the former, the helotism of individuals in the latter) in the positing ‘of the equality of any One to any other One’. An equality the very ‘essence’ of which is to ‘undo the supposed naturalness of orders’ (Rancière 2007, 32). Of particular interest for the argument being put forward here, however, is the zoopoetic tropological economy by which Rancière figures that antagonism. First of all, the ochlos is figured as the ‘animal rule of politics’ (Rancière 2007, 32), a rule which can be subdivided into three specific configurations: ‘the great collective body, the zoology of orders justified in terms of cycles of nature and function, the hate-driven rallying of the pack’ (Rancière 2007, 33). Already, it should be noted, these three figures all figure a lack of language or, more precisely for Rancière, a lack of literarity, and thus are figures of fixed, machinic reaction (and thus precisely that which can have no figure): the undifferentiated pathic herd which constitutes the mindless collective body of the One; the rigid, non-iterative designation which produces an eternal order that permits neither improper positioning nor incorrect positing; and finally the unthinking, ‘instinctive’ reactivity which, in the mirror of ecstatic oneness, produces the barbarism of the pack. Hence it becomes clear why Rancière assembles these various figures of the ochlos beneath the concept-metaphor ‘animal politics’, a displacement which is then figured in opposition to the demos. That is to say, in opposition to the sovereign, auto-nomous and properly (literary) human response which ‘tears politics away from the[se] various figures of animality’ (Rancière 2007, 33). It is indeed, as Derrida writes in The Beast and the Sovereign, ‘[a]lways the question of liberty and the machine’ (Derrida 2009, 104).

Here, Rancière is clearly marking these three ‘animal’ figures as the organising tropes of reactive power in the Nietzschean sense, that is, as police configurations which, only insofar as they appear natural, seek to render the disruptive dividing power of the demos inoperative. However, in reiterating a traditional analogical reduction of the everyday socius to the apparently apodictic ‘truth’ given to us by an equally reductive zoological poetics, Rancière’s discourse simultaneously reproduces its ‘naturalness’ – that is, reproduces the unquestioned bestiality of so-called ‘animal nature’ –, when, by contrast, it is precisely this appearing of naturalness, a naturalisation marking the operation of power in its discursive production as prior, which calls for genealogical disclosures as to how such naturalisation is differentially articulated and regulated. Hence, in positing the ‘ever-replayed’ decisive movement of and as the demos as a ‘humanising power’ (one which he argues is synonymous with the name of ‘class struggle’), Rancière thus simultaneously reiterates the very naturalisation of power (Rancière 2007, 33).9

The demos then, with literarity as its condition, is the overcoming, the humanising and at once the politicising, of ‘natural’ animal force as manifest in and as a given State. In other words, Rancière posits an exceptional nonnatural politics, that is, a properly human culture in opposition to dumb animal nature, in what is a profoundly traditional gesture. Made visible through a reading of Rancière’s animal, this contradictory relay between rupture and conservatism, between disclosure and concealment, is clearly evidenced three years later in Disagreement. Pointing to the conserving function of power behind the performative politics of ‘animal’ tropes, Rancière states that ‘[t]he metaphor of the large and powerful animal is no simple metaphor: it serves to rigorously reject as animals those speaking beings with no position’ (Rancière 1999, 22). Here then, Rancière marks the exclusionary economy of animalisation, the rigorous rejection as animals of nonspeaking beings with no position, while at the same time reiterating the rigorous rejection of animals as nonspeaking beings with no position which is precisely its condition of possibility. Thus, in positing the animality of every given social order, Rancière necessarily remains caught within its police mechanism, a machinery whose evental rupture he otherwise seeks to disclose. Only this enables him to claim that being a militant necessarily means ‘no longer being a member of a lower order’ in and as an ‘assert[ion of] the unacceptability of all unequal distribution, all fixing of social ranks on the model of animal species’ (Rancière 2007, 33). In other words, in the process of (militant) politics an animal ceases to be an animal in coming to be human (a claim which necessarily conflicts with Rancière’s later refusal of even the possibility of literarity to the animal – a conflict which appears to centre on the problem of figures, and of the undecidability of the literal and the figurative readings around ‘the animal’).

Nevertheless, we can now clearly see why the movement of assujetissement is for Rancière a movement between humanity on the one hand, and inhumanity or animality (the terms having become synonymous) on the other. There is, however, neither inhumanity nor animality here, in what is solely an anthropic struggle. Rather, and even while tracing its rupture, Rancière’s notion of assujetissement ultimately reproduces one of the dominant ontoteleological figures of humanism, that of the necessary (and necessarily repeated) overcoming of one’s own animality – understood as simple (bodily) reproduction, as ‘mere’ or ‘bare’ life – in and as the coming-to-be of the human.10 This reiteration of a traditional ‘overcoming’ has serious implications for Rancière’s philosophy in that, and as a result, the nonhuman animal equally necessarily comes to be defined by what he or she lacks within a teleological dialectic. A move which thus marks out as subhuman every nonhuman animal and every ‘animalised’ human (that is, every human being excluded from the domain of the ‘properly’ human through the violent conserving operation of power, be they, in Rancière’s phrase, ‘workers, women, people of color, or others’).11 This reproduction of the subhuman animal is the condition for the reconfiguration of the ‘other’ human which, in its appeal to an evolutionary tēlos, constitutes its target group as ‘uncivilised’ (as irrational, emotional, primitive, and so on, in opposition to the normative rationality of dominant power), and thus as not-quite-human, as subhuman. The repeated overcoming of one’s own animality in being-human thus underwrites the murderous violence of the would-be ‘civilising mission’ of imperialism-globalisation while at once marking its indissociability from the ‘dark side’ of racism. The second dominant ontoteleological figure, that of the production of the human predicated on the death or nonexistence of the animal, similarly reproduces ‘the animal’ as pre-human, yet in this form the human is configured as ontologically discontinuous, and thus allowing of no possible passage in either direction. Hence in Nazi Germany Jews were reconfigured as essentially subhuman and at once always other to the human, a refusal of any possible ‘civilisation’ which thus already reserves the possibility of genocide.12 Without the underlying humanist tēlos, however, such degeneration of ‘others’ – be they human or nonhuman – ceases to be possible.13 In this one can better hear Nietzsche’s insistence that any way of being which is cut off from – or which cuts itself off from – all radically other ways of being necessarily de-generates, having excluded itself from that which reserves the possibility of its regeneration.

Hence, through the figure of ‘the animal’ upon which it depends and excludes, Rancière in fact offers a refusal of naturalisation which itself naturalises, which reiterates that which it refuses, just as the machinery of domination is reiterated in the refusal of its reproduction. A movement which at once undermines itself in its masterly disavowal of the animal. It is a disavowal, moreover, linked to the metaphysical necessity of reinscribing an end – of inscribing human meaning and of ascribing meaning to humanity – and of simultaneously reserving that notion of ‘ends’ for humanity alone. In short then, Rancière thus unwittingly redeploys the very same logic of dependence-exclusion by which is reproduced the insensibility of other human bodies – a reproduction which will continue unavoidably for as long as what counts is determined by the concept of a delimited and delimitable humanity. As Kelly Oliver writes,

Until we address the denigration of animals in Western thought on the conceptual level, if not also on the material economic level, we will continue to merely scratch the surface of the denigration and exploitation of various groups of people, from Playboy bunnies to prisoners at Abu Ghraib who were treated like dogs as a matter of explicit military policy (Oliver 2009, 38)

By contrast, and to use what for Rancière is a privileged example of the reconfiguring performative, the animal encounter preserved by ‘we are all German Jews’ – ‘an identification with an anybody that has no body’ (Rancière 1992, 62)is precisely not a humanisation, but rather an encounter with the insensible and thus the nothuman, an encounter which calls in anxiety to an intensive co-responding. It is, in other words, an encounter as such which necessarily interrupts any notion of a ‘natural order’ in calling forth an improper metonymy which jams the smooth functioning of what Giorgio Agamben terms the modern ‘anthropological machine’ – that which produces the outside through an exclusion of an inside, which produces, that is, the ‘inhuman’ by an animalising of the human (Agamben 2004, 37). Stalling the mechanism, it gouges its anguished mark in the surface of an everyday state of affairs.

Hence, Rancière’s encounter can only ever be, in that it is a dis-identification, a nonhuman encounter with a radically other – an other that ‘refuses evidence or argument’ (Rancière 1992, 62) – which, necessarily unthought, escapes the reproduced propriety of the oppressively Human. In other words, identification is impossible precisely because it is nonhuman, external to humanity properly defined and thus inhuman or, rather, animal, in that it is an exposing to that which is excluded from ‘the human’ as its constitutive outside. The only (im)possible disidentification, therefore, is with the radical alterity of nonhuman be-ing, the very nonhumanness of which marks, and in so doing interrupts, the measure and the limit of humanity. To posit this encounter as ‘the efficacy of humanity’, as Rancière does, is thus to efface that very efficacy. Instead, the encounter stages both a disavowal of disavowal – a sacrifice of that sacrifice by which a singular, nonsubstitutable being is included solely through an exclusion –, and at once an opening to an ethics of the unrecognisable that refuses the hierarchy of the same which serves to organise every properly human ethics according to distance and closeness. An ethics, moreover, that intersects with the philosophical and the political. Firstly, the ongoing reinscription of other animals within these three domains is a strategic necessity so as to ensure that ‘Man’ is not reconstituted as the transcendental Subject by other (humanist) means, and thus to repeatedly put into question such anthropocentric sedimentation that – implicitly or explicitly – inscribes the putting to death as a right of man. Secondly, the vigilant refuting of the human-animal distinction at once refutes the animalising or inhumanising movement – the sine qua non of collectives (national or otherwise) founded upon boundaries of blood, soil and/or language and consolidated by hate – by which the human subject of its tropological displacement is reduced to an ‘essential’ identity which is in turn reconfigured as ‘animal’. Lastly, and beyond even this, the sheer scale of the exploitation, suffering, torture and extermination both of nonhuman animals and of animalised humans occuring right now demands, before even the question of ethical respond-ability can be raised, that we come to being-together outside of the genocidal economy, a machine which calculates death and consumption as the only (exchange) value of (mere) life.14 It is a question of com-passion, of shared finitude. Theodor Adorno summarises this perfectly: ‘Auschwitz begins wherever someone looks at a slaughterhouse and thinks: they’re only animals [Auschwitz beginnt da, wo jemand auf Schlachthof steht und denkt: Es sind ja nur Tiere]’ (cit. Patterson 2002, 51).

The animal encounter is that which always already exceeds ‘the human’ so as to reconfigure the very notion of humanity. The chance of the political then, is an exposing to – rather than a self-certain misrecognition of – the nonhuman animal (which includes the ‘animal’ body of the multitude as well as the so-called ‘subhuman’), so as to constitute the relations necessary to disrupt the twinned machines which serve to reproduce both ‘the Animal’ and the animalised, as well as all the murder machines they set in motion. It is, in other words, always again to question the limit of the human. This is a vigilance which begins in the same place where Auschwitz begins, and yet which moves in precisely the opposite direction – it begins, paraphrasing Adorno, ‘wherever someone looks at a slaughterhouse and can no longer think: they’re only animals’. Vigilance is, in short, the impossibility of such a thought.

Notes

0. This phrase, ‘[l]es animaux me regardent’ (Derrida 2006: 58), in addition to ‘animals are my concern’, can also be translated as ‘animals look at me’. In his lecture at the Cerisy conference in 1997 (translated into English as The Animal That Therefore I Am), Derrida offers his own brief autobibliographical summary of this concern as it has manifested itself throughout his oeuvre (2008 pp. 35-40).

1. This was Rancière’s response to the question as posed by Jane Bennett at a conference at Goldsmiths College in 2003. See Bennett Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2010), 106.

2. On this, see in particular Friedrich Nietzsche [1873] (1993), ‘On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense’ in Philosophy and Truth: Selections from Nietzsche’s Notebooks of the Early 1870’s, NJ: Humanities Press International Inc., pp. 79-97. Important related texts include Jacques Derrida (1984), ‘White Mythology’ in Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 207-71; Sarah Kofman (1972), Nietzsche and Metaphor, Paolo Alto: Stanford University Press; and Paul de Man (1979), ‘Rhetoric of Tropes (Nietzsche)’ in Allegories of Reading: Figural Language in Rousseau, Nietzsche, Rilke, and Proust, New Haven: Yale University Press. See also Richard Iveson (2010), ‘Animals in Looking-Glass World: Fables of Überhumanism and Posthumanism in Heidegger and Nietzsche’ in Humanimalia 1(2) (Spring), pp. 46-85.

3. One can perhaps compare Rancière’s notion of the ‘outcast’ with the ‘subaltern’ defined by Gayatri Spivak as ‘a person at the ground level of society who is already a victim of patriarchal practices’ and who is ‘epistemologically violated by longstanding cultural formations that have bound her mind in unreasoned responsibility’ (Spivak 1999, 102n143, 102). The further question thus being traced here is: what if we can no longer consider such a ‘person’ as necessarily (epistemologically?) human?

4.Here Rancière is reiterating the claim made five years earlier in Disagreement: ‘The modern political animal is first a literary animal’ (Rancière 1999, 37). As to this seemingly unquestioned authority, see Daniel Heller-Roazen The Inner Touch, esp. ‘Historia Animalium’, in which Heller-Roazen demonstrates that Aristotle’s now canonical definition was opposed at the time by a great number of pre-Socratic philosophers, many of whom affirmed the impossibility of any such distinction.

5.Derrida, The Beast and the Sovereign, p. 115. It is just this thinking of ‘the animal’ as fixed (in being rigidly determined) which Derrida in these final seminars refers to as the ‘tried-and-true biblico-Promethean tradition’ (Ibid.).

6.A refusal, moreover, which at once gives us to understand Derrida’s claim that ‘the politics of invention is always at one and the same time a politics of culture and a politics of war’ (Derrida 2007b, 10).

7.‘Every culture institutes itself through the unilateral imposition of some “politics” of language. Mastery begins, as we know, through the power of naming, of imposing and legitimating appellations’ (Derrida 1998, 39). Even though Badiou’s analysis of Rancière’s position was made almost a decade prior to the ‘Dissenting Words’ interview, this is not to suggest, however, that the later text would occasion Badiou to revise his judgment of Rancière that he never refutes or refuses anyone, simply because in Badiou’s own conception of the political subject-of-truth there is an absolute stone deafness to the call of nonhuman animals, who exist simply to charm and intrigue humans (Badiou 2006b, 106).

8.Richard Sorabji succinctly summarises the strategic importance of the human-animal dichotomy to Descartes’ project as follows: ‘If we do not recognise the enormous difference between ourselves and animals, we may fancy that we, like them, will not be liable to punishment after death. Conversely, once we do realise how much the animals differ, we can understand much better the arguments proving that our souls are independent of the body’s death’ (Sorabji 2001, 206). More even than this, however, as Heller-Roazen makes clear, is the fact that ‘[o]nce the sensation proper to human beings was understood as a modus cogitandi like every other, it could by nature have nothing to do with the multiple operations performed in the world of beasts’ (Heller-Roazen 2007, 165). Hence Descartes is compelled to claim that ‘the movement of the inhuman animals bore witness to a mechanical nature from which consciousness was by definition absent: that of divinely crafted but utterly mindless automatons, “machine-animals”’ (Heller-Roazen 2007, 166). As to the ‘grounding’ of this claim in simple opinion, one by which ‘men’ are ‘indulgently’ ‘absolve[d] from the suspicion of crime when they eat or kill animals’, see Descartes ‘Letter to More, 5 February 1649’ in Descartes: Philosophical Letters.

9. On the need to resist the temptation of the traditional analogical reduction of the social to ‘merely disguised manifestations of animal force’, see Derrida The Beast and the Sovereign, pp. 14-15. In terms very apposite to our discussion, Derrida continues: ‘We could also invert the sense of the analogy and recognise, on the contrary, not that political man is still animal but that the animal is already political, and exhibit, as is easy to do, in many examples of what are called animal societies, the appearance of refined, complicated organizations, with hierarchical structures, attributes of authority and power, phenomena of symbolic credit, so many things that are so often attributed to and so naively reserved for so-called human culture, in opposition to nature’ (Derrida 2009, 14-15).

10.On the ‘two original and importantly different determinations … [which] already configure two of the dominant forms taken by the relationship between the human and the nonhuman animal’, see Andrew Benjamin ‘Particularity and Exceptions: On Jews and Animals’, pp. 76-77.

11. Any such list of ‘groupings’ with the potential of being constituted by power as ‘not-quite’ human is, as given by Rancière’s undetermined ‘others’, finite yet unending.

12.These two forms, and the two examples which follow, are of course extremely schematic. While the underlying mechanisms can never be entirely dissociated from one another, nor do they exist (together) in isolation, but rather function within the hugely complex fields of making-sense-ability.

13.‘Degeneration’ is here being used in the sense given to it by Derrida in his reading of the ‘living feminine’ in Nietzsche (Derrida 1985, 27), and which stands as the epigraph to this paper.

14.The contemporary genocidal economy is indissociable from the machinery of capitalism. It is this indissociability which explains why – following the opportunistic power grab of the PATRIOT ACT of 2001 and then the Animal Enterprises Terrorism Act (AETA) of 2006 – pro-animal activism in the United States has been ranked (and thus reproduced) as the number one domestic terrorist threat. In this animal activists too, branded as irrational, anti-progress anti-Enlightenment and positioned on a par with those other all too familiar ‘figures of evil’, fall prey to the exclusionary logic of animalisation.

Works Cited

Agamben, Giorgio (2004), The Open: Man and Animal, trans. Kevin Attell, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Badiou, Alain (2006), ‘Rancière and the Community of Equals’ in Metapolitics, trans. Jason Barker, London & NY: Verso, pp. 107-113.

Badiou, Alain (2006b), Polemics, trans. Steve Corcoran, London & NY: Verso.

Benjamin, Andrew (2008), ‘Particularity and Exceptions: On Jews and Animals’, South Atlantic Quarterly, 107:1 (Winter), pp. 71-87.

Descartes, René (1970), Descartes: Philosophical Letters, ed. & trans. Anthony Kenny, Oxford: Clarendon.

De Man, Paul (1979), Allegories of Reading: Figural Language in Rousseau, Nietzsche, Rilke, and Proust, New Haven & London: Yale University Press.

Derrida, Jacques (1984), ‘Signature Event Context’ in Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 307-330.

Derrida, Jacques (1985), ‘Otobiographies: The Teaching of Nietzsche and the Politics of the Proper Name’ in The Ear of the Other: Otobiography, Transference, Translation; Texts and Discussions with Jacques Derrida, ed. Christie V. McDonald, trans. Avital Ronell, NY: Schocken Books, pp. 1-38.

Derrida, Jacques (1995), ‘A “Madness” Must Watch Over Thinking’ in Points … Interviews, 1974-1994, trans. Peggy Kamuf, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, pp. 339-364.

Derrida, Jacques (1998), Monolingualism of the Other; or, the Prothesis of Origin, trans. Patrick Mensah, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Derrida, Jacques (2006), L’animal que donc je suis, Paris: Galilée.

Derrida, Jacques (2008), The Animal That Therefore I Am, trans. David Wills, NY: Fordham University Press.

Derrida, Jacques. (2007a) ‘The Transcendental “Stupidity” (“Bêtise”) of Man and the Becoming-Animal According to Deleuze,’ ed. Erin Ferris, in Derrida, Deleuze, Psychoanalysis, ed. Gabriele Schwab, NY: Columbia University Press, pp. 35-60.

Derrida, Jacques (2007b), ‘Psyche: Invention of the Other’, trans. Catherine Porter, in Psyché: Inventions of the Other Volume One, eds. Peggy Kamuf & Elizabeth Rottenberg, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, pp. 1-47.

Derrida, Jacques (2009), The Beast and the Sovereign, Volume One, trans. Geoffrey Bennington, Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press.

Heller-Roazen, Daniel (2007), The Inner Touch: Archaeology of a Sensation, Cambridge, MA & London: The MIT Press.

Keenan, Thomas (2005), ‘Drift: Politics and the Simulation of Real Life’, Grey Room 21 (Fall), pp. 94–111.

Nietzsche, Friedrich (1968), The Will to Power, trans. Walter Kaufmann & R. J. Hollingdale, NY: Vintage.

Oliver, Kelly (2009), Animal Lessons: How They Teach Us to Be Human, NY: Columbia University Press.

Patterson, Charles (2002), Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust, NY: Lantern Books.

Plato (2003), Phaedo in The Last Days of Socrates, trans Hugh Tredennic, London: Penguin Books, pp. 97-199.

Rancière, Jacques (1992), ‘Politics, Identification, and Subjectivization’, October Vol.61. The Identity in Question (Spring), pp. 58-64.

Rancière, Jacques (1999), Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy, trans. Julie Rose, Minneapolis & London: University of Minnesota Press.

Rancière, Jacques (2000), ‘Dissenting Words: A Conversation with Jacques Rancière’, conducted & trans. David Panagia, Diacritics 30.2 (Summer), pp. 113-26.

Rancière, Jacques (2007), On the Shores of Politics, trans. Liz Heron, London & NY: Verso.

Sorabji, Richard (2001), Animal Minds and Human Morals: The Origins of the Western Debate, London: Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty (1999), A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present, Cambridge, MA & London: Harvard University Press.


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