(b) current state of knowledge as to this question;
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The following is the abstract of my paper to be presented at the Queering Paradigms 7 conference in the Cayman Islands, 11-12 June 2016.
Following a protracted hiatus, ontology and first philosophy are once again at the forefront of contemporary philosophical concerns. More importantly, in coming after the decades-long deconstruction of the binary pairings such as subject/object, living/nonliving, human/animal, man/woman, white/black and so on that for millennia have served as the unsupported foundation of traditional ontologies, the leading edge of philosophy is today queering a whole range of ontological paradigms in an unprecedented fashion. This queering of ontology, it will be argued, is crucial to the future of Queer Studies insofar as it offers a radical new direction, one that opens up previously unforeseen possibilities for future political engagement.
In different ways, both philosophy and technology are undoing the simplistic distinction between living beings and nonliving objects, inventing instead sites and bodies of unforeseen indistinction. Consequently, entities occupying this area of indistinction are increasingly becoming sites of intense political and ethical contestation. As a result of the queering of ontological paradigms, the battles over such ‘indistinct’ bodyings are, on the most fundamental level, set to become a crucial concern in the fight against Queer/LGBTIQ+ discrimination in the future.
Arguing that the very category of ‘life’ is in fact no longer operational, this paper will outline the political implications arising from a number of contested bodies, as well as why such sites of ‘indistinction’ will become increasingly important to Queer Studies and beyond in the years and decades to come. Lastly, I will then consider how today’s queering of traditional ontology has the potential to provide both academics and activists with innovative intellectual tools for empowerment.
BOOK REVIEW: On Judith Still’s Derrida and Other Animals: The Boundaries of the Human (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015), 416pp.
To cite this article: Richard Iveson (2016): ‘Derrida and other animals: The boundaries of the human.’ Modern & Contemporary France, DOI: 10.1080/09639489.2016.1162142
Well-known for her work on both subordinated economies and hospitality during the Enlightenment, feminist scholar Judith Still here turns her considerable talents to a close reading of the second volume of Derrida’s final seminar, The Beast and the Sovereign. While such a narrow focus can at times reveal nothing more than a lack of engagement with the oeuvre as a whole – something that befalls Derrida perhaps more than most – this is clearly not the case here. Rather, Still brings a deep understanding of Derrida’s philosophical project to bear not only on her readings of Derrida, but also on the core secondary texts addressed by Derrida over the course of the seminars.
As might be expected, Still’s concern for ‘other animals’ is here centered upon the negation of women in being constructed as ‘other’ to Man. While some previous attempts to read Derrida’s late works in this way have, as a result, entirely missed the point of Derrida’s critique, Still instead approaches the systematic exclusion of women through nonhuman animals, clearly cognizant that the latter’s systematic exclusion from sovereign protection is both the necessary condition of, and necessarily reiterated in, the constitution of savages, slaves and women as ‘less-than-human’ in the sense of subhuman. As such, this enables Still to extend, as well as clarify, several complex issues that are key to Derrida’s project.
For this reason, Derrida and Other Animals moves well beyond both summary and critical commentary. That said, however, if a reader is hoping to find a radical new interpretation of Derrida’s animal philosophy here, she will likely be disappointed; Still’s reading remaining comfortably orthodox, even pedestrian on occasion. Nevertheless, what raises this book above straight exegesis is precisely the way contemporary feminist concerns are worked through Derrida. In this, Still stays close to her plan ‘to supplement Derrida’s extraordinary thinking’ by opening it up to writings of the New World concerned with both savage and slave, while simultaneously expanding Derrida’s thinking of sexual difference so as ‘to incorporate women writers writing on or across the animal-human borderline’ (358).
Like savages and slaves, women too share subaltern status with nonhuman animals by sharing with them the fate of being ‘animalized as other.’ Deemed ‘other’ in this way is to be refused any capacity for reason and, reduced in this fashion to the status of a beast, excluded from taking part in the affairs of Man and thus no longer afforded any juridical protection. It is with the aim of further dismantling this instrumental construction of the subaltern that Still introduces into her reading a number of supplementary texts – prominent among which being those by Carol Ann Duffy, Marie Ndiaye and Marie Darrieussecq – that contrast sharply with those addressed in the first instance by Derrida, and which provide for a far more nuanced and subtle result than is often the case, most notably around the question of animal agency.
All of that is, however, until the final chapter, helpfully signaled by its title, ‘Wanting Conclusion.’ Focusing on Derrida’s bizarrely bêtise attempt to somehow raise Jeremy Bentham’s famous question ‘can they suffer?’ to the status of universal ethical principle, it appears that Still finds little in this move to concern her, suggesting only that the category of ‘suffering’ should be broadened to include ‘feeling, sensation and sentiment’ (370). At best, such claims are preliminary, contributing very little if anything insofar as it leaves the work of deconstruction only half done. Insofar as Still continues to identify animals with emotion in this way, her conclusion – irrespective of how inclusive an identifying category may or may not be – inevitably remains stalled at a simple reversal of value (the privileging of emotion over cognition); a reversal that is itself a negation insofar as it maintains an abyssal separation between the paired terms. As Derrida insists, however, the work of deconstruction is necessarily double, both negation and affirmation, as without the latter the former is nothing. Missing from Still’s conclusion is just this affirmative staging of multiple différance and differences, of such foldings and foliation as confound every tactical negation and strategic exclusion.
The wanting conclusion aside, Still carefully situates Derrida’s posthumous ‘animal’ texts are within, and against, the crosscurrent of contemporary feminist theory throughout. While broadening and deepening the dialogue between deconstruction, feminism and the nonhuman as well as clarifying and extending Derrida’s thinking, the real conclusion of Derrida and Other Animals is our significantly increased understanding of just what, exactly, is at stake.
My new book, Zoogenesis: Thinking Encounter with Animals, to be published officially on 15 July 2014
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for contact details, review copies, photographs, and author biography
Disrupting the Economy of Genocide
Encountering Other Animals Amid the Necropolitical Exploitation of Life
Published by Pavement Books, Zoogenesis: Thinking Encounter with Animals by Richard Iveson offers radical new possibilities for encountering and thinking with other animals, and for the politics of animal liberation. Arguing that the machinations of power that legitimize the killing of nonhuman animals are thoroughly entangled with the ‘noncriminal’ putting to death of human animals, Zoogenesis shows how such legitimation consists in a theatrics of displacement that transforms singular, nonsubstitutable living beings into mute, subjugated bodies that may be slaughtered but never murdered. In an attempt to disrupt what is, quite simply, the instrumentalizing and exploitative economy of genocide, Iveson thereafter explores the possibility of interventions that function in the opposite direction to this ‘animalizing’ displacement – interventions that potentially make it unthinkable that living beings can be ‘legitimately’ slaughtered.
Zoogenesis tracks several such disruptive interventions or “animal encounters” across various disciplinary boundaries – stumbling upon their traces in a short story by Franz Kafka, in the bathroom of Jacques Derrida, in a politically galvanising slogan, in the deaths of centipedes both actual and fictional, in the newfound plasticity of the gene, and in the sharing of an inhuman knowledge that saves novelist William S. Burroughs from a life of deadly ignorance. Such encounters, argues Iveson, are zoo-genetic, with zoogenesis naming the emergence of a new living being that interrupts habitual instrumentalization and exploitation. With this creative event, a new conception of the political emerges which, as the supplement of an ethical demand, offers potentially radical new ways of being with other animals.
“one of the most thorough and exhaustive treatments of philosophy’s recent encounters with animality … With both impressive scope and penetrating critique, Zoogenesis allows us to think through a comprehensive rearticulation of ‘the human’ in a radically subversive manner” – John Ó Maoilearca, Professor of Film Studies at Kingston University, London, and author of Postural Mutations: Laruelle and Nonhuman Philosophy (2015).
“Encounters between human living, and other living entities, and between fictive and imaginary, Aristotelian and Cartesian animals are here staged with respect to competing notions of life and value, of writing and of literature. … Richard Iveson reads a variety of sources with insight and discrimination, contributing highly effectively to this recently emergent and rapidly expanding new life form: zoogenesis” – Joanna Hodge, Professor of Philosophy at Manchester Metropolitan University, and author of Derrida on Time (2007).
Richard Iveson is Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies at the University of Queensland, Australia. He has published widely on the “animal question” in contemporary philosophy and politics. His current project concerns the emergence of “posthuman” entities, the very existence of whom/which undermine traditional borders between the living and the nonliving.