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Matthew Calarco ‘Life and Relation Beyond Animalization.’ A Review of Zoogenesis: Thinking Encounter with Animals

The following article ‘Life and Relation Beyond Animalization’ by Matthew Calarco is a review of my book Zoogenesis: Thinking Encounter with Animals (2014) recently published in the open access journal Humanimalia 9:1 (Fall 2017), pp.152-159.

I would like to sincerely thank Professor Calarco for taking such time and effort in order to produce such an insightful, in-depth and generous essay.

It can be accessed here (HTML):


Or here (PDF):

Click to access calarco-iveson-pdf.pdf


‘Life and Relation Beyond Animalization’ by Matthew Calarco

The growth of animal studies from an emergent field of inquiry into a mature set of discourses and practices over the past several years has been marked by two particularly welcome developments. First, concerns and questions about the status and nature of animals and animality have penetrated ever deeper into the core of disciplines across the humanities, social sciences, and physical sciences. This trend has helped to call into question some of the most stubborn dogmas in these disciplines and to provide the space for important intellectual and theoretical transformations. Second, extant approaches and frameworks among animal activists have increasingly come to inform the work being done in animal studies, enriching its ethico-political sensibilities and providing practical support for its enrichment and evolution. What has perhaps gotten lost in the rapid growth of animal studies, however, are deeper questions about what is ultimately at stake in the field. Although the multiplication of disciplinary perspectives on animals and animality is no doubt important, we might ask ourselves: Are some frameworks  more critically insightful than others in terms of trying to discern violence and disrespect aimed toward animals and animalized others? Similarly, we might also wonder: Which perspectives are most fecund for transforming those relations and ultimately arriving at alternative forms of life?

Richard Iveson’s book, Zoogenesis: Thinking Encounter with Animals, seeks to frame and address these important questions. With this ambitious, wide-ranging, and erudite book, Iveson hopes to provide nothing less than new critical and affirmative groundings for future work in animal studies. On Iveson’s account, unless we understand the deep sources of violence toward animals, we will never arrive at a place from which we might begin to contest those sources and eventually reconstitute more respectful relations with animals. In this review, I will track some of the basic elements of Iveson’s fascinating and powerful argument before closing with some questions about some of its possible limitations.

Rejecting the Institutionalized Genocide of Animals. Iveson’s overall project begins from the premise that animals matter for themselves — which is to say, in and of themselves — and not simply in view of how they might shed light on certain questions concerning human nature or human sociality. That the study of animals and animality might illuminate certain aspects of how power circulates among human beings is, to be sure, something worthy of our attention for Iveson; but his primary emphasis is placed on ensuring that animals are seen as beings who have value beyond their instrumental usefulness to human beings. As he writes in the introduction, to accept the chief premise animating his work is

to accept that humans do not have the right to do whatever they like with other animals. It is to accept that our given state of affairs is unacceptable and must be radically transformed. Put simply, it is to no longer accept the economy of genocide into which we have all been thrown. (25)

The overarching aim of his project, then, is to find ways to allow animal lives to matter, that is, to count and become salient in those disciplines, institutions, and practices that have traditionally excluded animals from the circle of concern. Given Iveson’s philosophical background, the natural place to look for allies for such a project is the analytic philosophical tradition, populated by luminaries such as Peter Singer, Tom Regan, and Paola Cavalieri. The standard gesture in this discourse is to extend ethical consideration to animals by way of analogical reasoning, demonstrating that animals are sufficiently similar to human beings as moral patients so as to warrant similar moral standing and consideration. Iveson, though, takes a critical stance toward this tradition, as it tends to gloss over the radical singularity and alterity of animals and to neutralize human-animal differences by way of conceptual and practical schemas. In so doing, he joins philosophers and theorists in the pro-animal feminist care tradition, who seek to ground animal ethics in caring relations between and among human beings and animals. And yet, despite Iveson’s proximity to this tradition, his deeper philosophical commitments derive from the Continental tradition, with Jacques Derrida and Friedrich Nietzsche being among the primary sources of inspiration. From Nietzsche and Derrida, Iveson borrows the notion that the denial of animal finitude and singularity lies at the very heart of the current crisis in human-animal relations. As such, the task of Zoogenesis can perhaps best be read as a meditation on the sources of that denial as well as what it would take to acknowledge and affirm animal finitude and singularity. The latter, affirmative task would not be so much a matter of granting animals their uniqueness and relation to death but of discovering and encountering it in various ways in the shared spaces in which human-animal relations emerge and are sustained. I will track the main thread of this critical and affirmative analysis in Iveson’s work by examining some of the key themes in each of the five main parts of the work.

From Animalization to Zoogenesis. The bulk of Iveson’s book provides a condensed but rigorous reading of the history of philosophy and theory in view of animals and animality. In Part One, he argues that the guiding thread linking together thinkers as diverse as Plato, Martin Heidegger, and Maurice Blanchot is a denigration of animality (both human and nonhuman forms) and a denial of death to animals themselves. In a close reading of Plato’s Meno, Iveson shows how Platonic dualism (the reigning metaphysical system in much of intellectual and Western culture for over two millennia) teaches us to seek the highest truth, beauty, and the Good by leaving behind the sensible world and preparing for a disembodied life beyond death. Although this non-finite mode of human existence is disavowed by post-metaphysical thinkers such as Blanchot and Heidegger, both of whom return the human to its irreducibly mortal mode of existence, such mortality is not understood to be shared between and among human beings and other animals. Instead, mortality and the “capacity” for dying one’s own death come to be seen as  something proper only to human beings. As such, Iveson notes, the post-metaphysical decentering of the human subject that throws the subject outside of itself and toward its singular being-toward-death is insufficient to displace the anthropocentrism at the heart of the philosophical tradition. In order to accomplish this latter goal and to continue the post-metaphysical task of thought require giving finitude back to animals, or rather catching sight of the shared mortality at the heart of all human and animal life.

Failure to recognize the finitude and singularity of all living beings creates the conditions for what Iveson calls animalization. Lives that are animalized are lives that do not matter; such lives are reduced to deathless objects to be annihilated and consumed with impunity. In view of this reduction, Iveson argues that it is

imperative to disclose another way to give death, and to the giving of dying, to animals. To give death to other animals: the gift of and the giving that is the shared finitude of living beings. Only then will the monstrous hubris of an unthinking utilization and consumption of fetishized corpses itself become unthinkable. (94)

If we are to acknowledge the death of animals, Iveson suggests we must begin with the recognition that all singular animal life (whether human and nonhuman) emerges in a process he names zoogenesis.  Zoogenetic relations emerge from a shared, ex-propriated site of encounter. In Part Two, Iveson tracks such animal encounters in literary form with Kafka (“Investigations of a Dog”), in ethico-poetic form with Derrida (in his much-discussed naked encounter with a cat in The Animal That Therefore I Am), and in ontological form with Nietzsche (with the theme of a form of life beyond nihilism). The key to Iveson’s notion of encounter is that it does not ultimately stem from an act of ethical will (which is to say, conscious responsibility for another animal) or a desire for spiritual perfection (understood as seeking out animal encounters as a way of improving oneself and expanding one’s consciousness). Rather, on Iveson’s reading, these thinkers and writers all point toward animal encounters as events, that is, as something that one undergoes — beyond full understanding, presence, and mastery. Thus, animal encounters testify to the ways in which animals are more than a given subject can think. Animal encounters are ways of naming the manner in which animals announce themselves in their singularity and finitude, beyond the strictures of traditional philosophical and theoretical discourses that would seek to strip them of their radical alterity. For Iveson, such unpredictable and astonishing encounters speak to a way of life beyond the nihilism of life-denying transcendence and the incomplete nihilism of the “last man,” a relational encounter with a world that Nietzsche describes in The Gay Science as “over-rich” in all that is “beautiful, strange, questionable, terrible, and divine.”

In Part Three, Iveson explores how such encounters cannot be delimited either to the realm of the inter-human or to one’s preferred forms of animality and nonhuman otherness. As for the former delimitation, he argues that this sort of restriction of the ethics of encounter is at work in Judith Butler’s writings on the recognition and mattering of vulnerability. As with Heidegger and Blanchot, Iveson suggests that Butler’s post-humanist ethics fails to go far enough to displace anthropocentrism. Conversely, he argues that Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s notion of becoming-animal, while radically non-anthropocentric, re-establishes its own zoogenetic limit in the manner in which it configures the outside of the human as populated only by pack-like, feral, and untamed animals and forms of life. In configuring the outside of the human in this manner, Deleuze and Guattari run the risk of missing precisely the kinds of encounters with animal singularities that Kafka and Derrida track and ending up in a kind of undifferentiated, deep ecological holism. While Iveson’s reading of Deleuze and Guattari will be somewhat contentious for some readers, there is certainly merit to this concern with their work and with the manner in which their notion of becoming-animal has sometimes been put to work in pro-animal and ecological discourses.

In Part Four, Iveson tracks this same failure to think zoogenetically at the level of the socius, a restriction that has led to an anthropocentric delimitation of the boundaries of community and the political. Through an analysis of a host of political thinkers, Iveson convincingly demonstrates that no politics based on humanism — no matter how widely or generously the concept of the human is defined — will suffice to constitute a genuinely post-anthropocentric sense of community. Rather than being a neutral designation, on this analysis “the human” nearly always functions in the dominant culture of the West in a performative manner to circumscribe a group of beings considered to be properly human and properly part of the society over and against those who are sub- or non-human. Commenting on this anthropocentric logic in the humanism of Susan Buck-Morss, Iveson explains:

Buck-Morss misunderstands that humanism is only insofar as it sets up a limit between the human and the animal. Such is the demand for line-drawing which humanism can never avoid, and which ever again founds that animalization of the other which is the very condition for those political collectives she imagines her humanism will overcome. (244)

For Iveson, it is only with the more radical Nietzschean and Derridean affirmation of more-than-human life that we can arrive at a conception of community and being-with that overcomes this humanist closure and violence. To say yes to life (and to the finitude at the heart of life) is to affirm that one is always already encountered by singularities that are shared in and with others, that communities and relations pre-exist our encounters, and that community with animals only happens in the midst of these ongoing relations. In Iveson’s words, a community beyond the human is a

“community without limit” … an infinite commonality of singularities which shares and in which is shared all finite living beings. (258)

It is important to note that community and relation, if they are understood in terms of Derridean différance and Nietzschean will to power (as Iveson’s account is), will not issue in a hands-off, rights-based, non-interference ethics and politics but will instead entail considerable transformation among and between those beings called animal and human. Such transformations might even involve a fundamental transformation in the species heritages of human and animal beings, whether through biotechnological transformation or other similar kinds of interventions. In the final section of the book, Iveson explores the question of how his ethics, politics, and ontology both feed into and challenge certain animal biotechnological research. Here, in a complex reading of Bernard Stiegler and related thinkers, Iveson acknowledges that animals and relations can and will change over time and that biotechnological interventions cannot be ruled out a priori; the question is rather one of which relations and transformations to undertake. Iveson suggests that the key limitation with the transhumanist technological project is that it is based on an attempt to master animal life and finitude more generally, seeking to guide zoogenetic becomings along a single dimension or axis (largely structured by the demands of capital). By contrast, Iveson outlines a notion of technicity that is open to becomings that unfold in a variety of un-master-able and unpredictable directions.

On the Scope and Limits of Zoogenesis. The potted overview I have offered here of Iveson’s book fails to do justice to the complexity and intricacy of his arguments as well as the charitable and thoughtful engagement he offers with each of the major figures he analyzes. His book is to be highly recommended for any reader who hopes to gain a deeper understanding of how a critical animal studies perspective might thread its way through the hegemonic history of the West as well as the contemporary theoretical scene. In this closing section of the review, I want simply to pose a couple of questions in view of Iveson’s project for those of us who might take up portions of it in various ways.

Given Iveson’s attempt to think relation and singularity zoogenetically, one wonders about the broader scope of his project. How does the path of thought outlined in the book help to negotiate relations and singularities with non-living beings, systems, and so on? Here the question is not so much one of how mortality and finitude figure in the constitution of living human-animal singularities, but rather one of whether ethics and politics might be extended beyond this particular set of relations. In other words, how should we read Iveson’s call for a “community without limit”? The only example of an ethic of non-animal others discussed in Iveson’s work is deep ecological holism, which is rejected precisely because of its tendency to override singularity in favor of relational wholes. But what if one sought to construct an ethic that recognizes a wider range of singularities, both living and non-living? In other words, how might Iveson’s zoocentrism either be supplemented by or be in opposition to phytocentric, biocentric, or multi-centric environmental ethics? Likewise, how might his project be situated in view of an ethics of the more-than-human world that aims to displace any and all centers in favor of a form of life lived in view of “all our relations”? With Iveson’s close relation to both Derrida and Nietzsche in mind, one can see how such questions and possible tensions might arise. Derrida does not rule out the possibility of thinking through the ethics and politics of such a broad set of relations, but his overwhelming focus is on how différance constitutes the matrix through which living singularities emerge and maintain some semblance of sameness. Nietzsche’s thinking, by contrast, casts a much wider ontological and relational net. He thinks will to power as properly cosmic, insists that the Apollonian and Dionysian agon emerges primordially from nonhuman nature itself, and teaches us to be wary of thinking that life is anything but an exception in the planetary and cosmic order of things.

Such questions arise not simply because of the zoocentric nature of Iveson’s project; this delimitation is entirely understandable given the need to work carefully through the human-animal boundary in particular and the unique forms of violence and becoming that occur along this axis. Rather, what prompts one to consider the scope of Iveson’s framework is his tendency to present zoogenesis as the intractable, sole (“only” is a frequent word deployed by Iveson when considering the necessity of a zoogenetic thinking) site from which to contest the established anthropocentric order and constitute an alternative socius. Were zoogenesis understood as a partial but important aspect of a form of life beyond animalization, there would be no need to pit zoogenesis against ecological or planetary holism. Rather, the latter ethical and political frameworks might come to be seen as supplementary forms of normative consideration, which would themselves be nested inside a host of micro- and macro- singularities and relations that exceed the economy of the living. Of course, to do justice to such a wide variety of singularities and relations, one would have to do away with the desire to privilege any single ontological or normative framework and allow thought to enter into a realm in which plural ontologies (which are rather different from a single pluralist ontology) proliferate in view of doing justice to all our relations. Such questions hover on the edges of Iveson’s project, and it will be of considerable interest to see how Iveson’s forthcoming work on posthumanism and the path of thought he has opened up for his readers will unfold in view of these additional ontological and normative considerations.

Displacing the imperialist fairytale: the tempting of William S. Burroughs

The following is a short piece on William S. Burroughs which was originally written as part of a much larger consideration of the ethical and political causes and consequences of dividing nonhuman animals according to a wild/tame dichotomy. More of a curiosity piece than anything else, I guess … a cut-up, or at least a cut-out. Oh, and apologies for the enormous delay between posts!

The beginning of ethics demands, in some way, the giving of hospitality to all those beings who share our space and take our time, but who are not “us.” One must, in other words, begin by being able to respond to those excluded within the domestic. Following from this, the ethical beginning could be said to reside within what for William S. Burroughs is the detested figure of the centipede. Ethics, in short, begins with being-with the being-there of such monstrosities – a way of being that moves Burroughs’ posthuman beyond its masculinist, liberal-Aristotelian logic and towards a more generous notion of “community.” Such is a community united not by an exclusive contract, but rather by the fact that every living being demands unconditional hospitality from every other, and yet is simultaneously incapable of giving it. Ultimately, it is only upon such a basis that the monstrously improper creature of Burroughs’ dreams at last becomes possible, bringing with her the chance of being together beyond the human.

For Burroughs, the advent of language displaces the human animal, contemporaneous with its coming, outside of nature. A divided being therefore, the human comes to its “self” as an outsider within time:

Man sold his soul for time, language, tools, weapons, and dominance. And to make sure he doesn’t get out of line, these invaders keep an occupying garrison in his nondominant brain hemisphere. … A rift is built into the human organism, the rift or cleft between the two hemispheres (Ghost of Chance 48)

This “cleft,” this caesura ensuring human distance even as it corrupts every nonhuman being it touches, is thus built right into the human brain, a physiological abyss which, in dividing left from right, thus divides human from animal. In light of this properly human “rift” understood as a linguistic displacement marked by an alienating, inalienable temporality, Burroughs thus proceeds, in the conclusion to Ghost of Chance, to rewrite the Madagascan creation myth as a metaphor of the Origin of the human species. Its majestic island birth, launched with fireworks, thus becomes a fable, a fable of a fable of an originary division:

I draw a parallel between this rift separating the two sides of the human body and the rift that divided Madagascar from the mainland of Africa. One side of the rift drifted into enchanted timeless innocence. The other moved inexorably toward language, time, tool use, weapon use, war, exploitation, and slavery (49).

The violent rupture which isolates Madagascar thus allegorises the Origin of Man, offering itself as a mythic representation of the rift in the human brain, of the Epimethean fault that is the appearing of language and of technics in general. At the same time, however, insofar as time is not yet, this arriving of the human can be the result of neither a spatial (geophysical) nor a temporal (evolutionary) shift. Language, therefore, can only be imposed by way of some kind of alien-divine lightning bolt, described by Burroughs as the invasion of the “word virus.”

With language both imposing time and launching the human, the innocent plenitude of its prosimian prehistory is thus torn away, leaving in its wake a gaping wound at the core of the human. To be wounded by this rift is to be human, and thus to be removed from the timeless Eden of interspecies harmony. In this, and along with the nonhumans who “go along” (in the Heideggerian sense) with them, humans too are similarly the victim of its dominance, its enslaving exploitation. The abyssal border, in this sense, is not between human and animal, but between “the wild, the timeless, the free, and the tame, the time-bound, the tethered, like the tethered goose that will forever resent its bondage” (Ghost of Chance 13).

The central point, however, is that for Burroughs the archaic animal that is Madagascar, moored in enchanted calm for millions of years, nonetheless remains secreted within the human as its “other” hemisphere. The impassability and thus impartibility of its border, however, is maintained by the inhuman – and yet properly human – machinery of linguistic domination. One reading of this passage, therefore, founds the origin of the human upon the death or the ceasing to exist of the animal (a cessation which is at once the enslavement and extinction of animals). Such a reading thus reiterates one of the two dominant versions of the humanist dialectical teleology. Coincidental with this reading, however, the one that will concern us here, is one in which the sanctuary of the Lemur People coexists within “us” as an internal outside. Coexisting as repressed, in other words, humanity’s Madagascan sanctuary therefore retains the inevitable trace of this repression, and thus the possibility of thinking differently, that is, of existing outside of sequence and causality.

Before we can approach this possibility, however, it must be remembered that the two sides – the nondominated (and thus nondominating) freedom of the wild as opposed to the dominated (and thus dominating) enslavement of the tame – are necessarily discontinuous by virtue of the impassable caesura that is language’s taking place. Hence, it follows that, for Burroughs, “any attempt at synthesis must remain unrealizable in human terms” (48, emphasis added). Insofar as “merging the two is not viable,” he continues, one is inevitably “tempted to say, as Brion Gysin did, ‘Rub out the word’” (49). Confronted, in other words, with the a priori impossibility of negating the negation, Burroughs is tempted to affirm the possibility of a simple reversal, of a return that is a human turn to a “wordless world.” This is indeed a temptation, insofar as it promises a utopian posthuman version of Burroughs’ earlier homosexual sanctuary in which packs of wild boys freely roam, indulging in every desire.1

Such a romantic, fairytale reversal, predicated upon the traditional metaphysical distinction between eternal nature and human culture, offers very little to a thinking of ethics. It is a temptation, moreover, which Burroughs ultimately refuses, insisting in his final journal that the “promised land” of utopian figures is “bullshit” (Last Words 112). Instead, Burroughs attempts to refine and clarify Gysin’s lure and, along the way, a possible opening to the ethical begins to emerge.

While tempted, then, by the suggestion that we “rub out” the word, Burroughs nonetheless senses that this would be a mistake:

perhaps “rub” is the wrong word. The formula is quite simple: reverse the magnetic field so that, instead of being welded together, the two halves repel each other like opposing magnets. This could be a road to final liberation, as it were, a final solution to the language problem, from which all human “problems” stem (Ghost of Chance 49-50)

Rejecting the utopian erasure of the trace – rejecting, that is, an impossible dissolution within the timelessness of eternity – Burroughs suggests instead a further forcing open of the division. He suggests, in other words, a radical displacement of the human-animal discontinuity; a displacement which, as we will see, ultimately permits the denaturalisation, with all its attendant risk, of the phantasmatic constitution of “humanness.”

Rather than a simple reversal which, through an erasure of the word, would transform the human into its opposite, i.e., a wordless being, we instead find here the reversal of force and at once a distancing or displacement from inhabituation, that is, a dis-placing from and within the habitual domination of language in its broadest sense. We find, in other words, revaluation and rearticulation. As such, we can begin to perceive with Burroughs something akin to the movement that Judith Butler describes as a “crossing.” Always a forced distancing from inhabituation, every such “crossing,” writes Butler, necessarily goes by way of repetition “in directions that reverse and displace the originating aims” (Bodies that Matter 123). There can, however, be no “final solution to the language problem,” but rather only the reiterated movement of reversal-displacement in which the gap between the two coincident operations must be ceaselessly marked and remarked.

The time has now come for us to visit to “The Museum of Lost Species,” wherein one might lovingly contact a living corpse as opposed to reproducing the walking dead. Here, its timeless dioramic exhibits may be observed only from within the distance of time. This distance is the iterability of language that imposes a divisive temporality upon the so-called harmony of the wild, opening a space of conflict and pain which, insofar as it coincides with the arriving of Man, cannot be overcome even through the saving and salving power of animal Love. Instead, a very different “coinage” is required:

The Museum of Lost Species is not exactly a museum, since all of the species are alive in dioramas of their natural habitats. Admission is free to anyone who can enter. The coinage here is the ability to endure the pain and sadness of observing extinction and by so doing to reanimate the species by observing it (Burroughs Ghost of Chance 51).

Paradoxically, then, these living artefacts are no longer and at once not yet. They retain, that is, the potential to be “reanimated” by the regard of anyone who can enter into their space – a can that here suggests a movement outside of the parodic economy of exchange, one that attends instead to the pain of observing that which has been wiped out, and which thus makes sensible the no longer and not yet in a moment of authentic “contact.”

This work of mourning, in short, reverses in displacing the destructive touch of time, and thus allows for the re-membering of those “others” whom language has annihilated or rendered partial. However, in reanimating or enlivening a corpse in this way, that is, in the creation of a posthumous monstrosity that out-lives its type and genus, one must at the same time endure the pain that accompanies every radical exposure to extinction. As Burroughs explains, “cats are living, breathing creatures, and when any other being is contacted, it is sad: because you see the limitations, the pain and fear and the final death” (Cat Inside 70). Such is the cost, the “coinage” of creative contact. Moreover, insofar as the destruction of life is reversed by displacing the commodification of zombie flesh that marks both the arrival and the way of being human, one thus ceases being human in being exposed in and to our shared finitude. Before this, however, we must return to Burroughs’ earlier, cut-up novels.2



Stammering hospitality

The aim of Burroughs’ infamous textual experiments, christened “cut-ups,” was simple: to escape the domination of language, and thus to chance upon a contact that exceeds the constraints of sequence and causality or, more precisely, exceeds the historically contingent horizon of the possible. Premised upon a random chopping up and placing alongside of generically heterogeneous texts, Burroughs describes it is a process that cuts into the present in such a way as to allow the future to leak out. The cut-up method, in other words, is said to interrupt the mechanisms of control whose function is to ensure the apparent “transparency” of language, and it does so through an inaugurating moment or movement which, in its taking place, at once escapes the present in opening itself to an unforeseeable other.

Burroughs’ cut-ups, however, are not simple random compositions. Rather, insofar as they are composed through the disjunctive repetition of random fragments and obsessive phrases, they explicitly oppose any narrative closure of meaning, thus exposing traditional narrative to an unrelenting stammer that discloses the emptiness of all such attempts. Indeed, upon reading it soon becomes clear that Burroughs’ entire oeuvre – from the “cut-ups” through to the chance dislocations that mark his final diary entries – consists of an unceasing attempt to open a crack within the oppressive habituation of language.

This way of working language, of working it over, of doubling and redoubling it, is a way of working that Gilles Deleuze locates in the works of both Heidegger and playwright-prankster and author of Père Ubu Alfred Jarry. As such, both are “unrecognised precursors” of Burroughs, while at the same time the “wildness” of Burroughs’ writing machine forms a strong rhizomatic connection with that of Deleuze, as Deleuze himself acknowledges in various places.3 Heidegger and Jarry, writes Deleuze, “work in principle with two languages, activating a dead language within a living language, in such a way that the living language is transformed and transmuted” (“An Unrecognised Precursor” 98). Furthermore, continues Deleuze,

The affect (A) produces in the current language (B) a kind of foot stomping, a stammering, an obsessional tom-tom, like a repetition that never ceases to create something new (C). Under the impulse of the affect, our language is set whirling, and in whirling it forms a language of the future, as if it were a foreign language, an eternal reiteration, but one that leaps and jumps (98, my emphasis).

While the contrast between “dead” and “living” languages in Burroughs is not the literal contrast that we find in Heidegger, it is nevertheless this interval between the living and the dead that marks the stammer of an inaugural citation as foreign to a given state of affairs.4 Put in terms of the argument being proposed here, the form of the language of the future inheres in the posthumous reanimation of a dead phrasing within a “living” context. Potentially disclosed by a stomping, stammering repetition, this monstrous form of the future must therefore outlive every determinable form and, thus, outlive the human. Only in this way, I argue, can we approach the notion of “posthuman contact” as exemplified for Burroughs by a cat-human creature not seen for millions of years.

The problem here, however, is that, in the relentless stutter of his texts, Burroughs in fact attempts to force, even to mime, the chance and necessity of an animal encounter. Reiteration, as we know, necessarily carries a double risk: the risk of becoming unrecognisable on the one hand and, on the other, the risk of reiterating the very hegemonies of oppression such a miming seeks to disrupt. As Judith Butler writes,

precisely because such terms have been produced and constrained within such regimes, they ought to be repeated in directions that reverse and displace their originating aims. One does not stand at an instrumental distance from the terms by which one experiences violation. Occupied by such terms and yet occupying them oneself risks a complicity, a repetition, a relapse into injury, but it is also the occasion to work the mobilising power of injury … to acknowledge the force of repetition as the very condition of an affirmative response to violation (Bodies that Matter 123-4).

In fact, as we have seen with Nietzsche, the moment of parody inheres in every repetition, making every affirmative posthumous phrasing always already a “mime,” a walking ghost complicit with the hegemonies of oppression. Indeed, the chance of an encounter is the risk of becoming unrecognisable and at once of becoming complicit. More than this, however, in seeking the animal outliving of the human while at the same time placing conditions upon openness – that is, while refusing hospitality to certain beings – Burroughs enacts a sovereign gesture fully complitious with the injury of enslavement.





1. On this, see William S. Burroughs Wild Boys: A Book of the Dead (1971), especially the languidly beautiful chapters “The Wild Boys” and “The Wild Boys Smile.”

2. While Burroughs continued to employ the cut-up method throughout his entire writing career, it is nonetheless possible to identify the three novels – The Soft Machine, The Ticket That Exploded, and Nova Express, all of which were composed between 1957 and 1963 – as the principal “cut-up” texts.

3. In this, Heidegger and Jarry, in addition to Burroughs, are also (largely) unrecognised precursors of Deleuze. Indeed, I think an exploration of Deleuze’s philosophy in the light of these three figures would undoubtedly provoke a fascinating reading.

4. According to Heidegger, it is precisely the alleged correlation between ancient Greek and modern German that accords to Germany its privileged destiny.

Foucault in the Slaughterhouse

The following is the draft of a paper I gave at the recent ‘Radical Foucault’ conference at UEL.

The disciplinary underbelly in the margins of control


I think it is fair to say that the importance accruing to the publication of Foucault’s lectures cannot be overstated. Three in particular, Society Must be Defended; Security, Territory, Population; and The Birth of Biopolitics, insofar as the content of these lectures did not directly result in works published during Foucault’s lifetime, necessitate a rigorous reappraisal of the ongoing relevance of his thought. In particular, they offer a detailed rejoinder to many subsequent critiques regarding the limitations of biopolitics when understood solely as an order of disciplinarity. Donna Haraway’s influential “Manifesto for Cyborgs” from 1985, in which she describes Foucault’s biopolitics as “a flaccid premonition of cyborg politics,” offers a good example of what will become a fairly standard criticism. [i] With the publication of the lectures, however, it becomes clear that, under the notions of “security” and “governmentality,” Foucault had already offered an in-depth engagement with what for Haraway characterises a more “erect,” post-Foucauldian informatics of domination, which she describes as being constituted and differentiated by control strategies which concentrate on rates of flow enabling an unlimited circulation, on reproductive capacities in terms of population control, and on the effective management of stress points or blockages; probabilistic and statistical, she continues, such control strategies are formulated in terms of the costs of constraints and degrees of freedom.

A few years later, Gilles Deleuze, despite having previously made the point that for Foucault there is no abrupt discontinuity between the various historical orderings of power, but rather an always uneven topography of transition with each new formation emerging “with gaps, traces and reactivations of former elements,”[ii] he will nevertheless suggest that, even while Foucault was writing, his time was in fact already past: “a disciplinary society,” writes Deleuze, “was what we already no longer were.”[iii] Again, however, the lectures make clear that not only was Foucault already aware that the disciplinary order had seceded its primacy to the generalised mechanisms of security, but also that fragmentary orderings of disciplinarity and sovereignty not only remain with us, but are vital to our understanding both of history and of practices of resistance. For example, in locating the invocation of right as “taking place on the front where the heterogeneous layers of discipline and sovereignty meet,” it becomes all too clear that not only can the contemporary reactivation of bourgeois right in no way limit the effects of disciplinary power, but also that an entirely new resistance politics is required once we begin to attend to the generalised order of security.[iv]

Taking the multiply-penetrated bodies of nonhuman animals as an example, I aim to suggest that a Foucauldian analysis remains essential if we are to understand the apparent conflict or conflation of orders which today both organises and produces nonhuman bodies, and at the same time to demonstrate some of the ways our society of security remains both supported and constrained by an increasingly marginalised disciplinary mode of production. This is because it is within the windowless walls of Western slaughter-factories that all those apparently outmoded forms of a capitalism of enclosure are perhaps most explicitly maintained right alongside, and meshing with, the most futural informatic and control networks, exemplified both by the working practices of agribusiness transnationals and by the genetically engineered animals of biotechnology, be they oversized blind hens or so-called “pharm” animals biologically modified so as to produce helpful pharmaceuticals along with their more usual bodily fluids. To understand the combined discipline and security of slaughter, however, requires that we follow Foucault and analyse how infinitesimal mechanisms of disciplinary power come to be invested, transformed, displaced, and re-used by the increasingly general mechanism of security in such a way as to disclose how, at this given moment and in this specific formation, such technologies of power become once again economically profitable and politically useful.[v]

In other words, it is only at the intersection of security’s reactivation of disciplinarity that it becomes possible to track the various transformations—of which I can obviously only offer a rough sketch here—which, since the decline of Western meat consumption as a result of increasing health concerns, have led both to the “immigrantisation” of meat production in the West and to the export of an apparently Western “life-style” of meat consumption by agribusiness giants like Smithfield and Tyson, aided and abetted by the World Bank, to various developing nations. This double shift has been achieved in part by way of framing notions of “progress” and “modernity” in conjunction with “status,” “virility” and, somewhat ironically, “health” on the one hand and, on the other, by the targeted construction of enormous institutions of disciplined death and disarticulation on the outskirts of Western towns already devastated by poverty and racial tensions: a geopolitical development which, as Foucault has already shown in his discussion of town-planning, “organizes elements that are justified by their poly-functionality.”[vi] In place of the nineteenth-century spectacle of disciplinary slaughter, however, today the blank walls and blank-faced guards defending the slaughter-factories of the ghettoised North serve in part to mark the fact that such a degree of concentrated, enclosed exploitation is no longer acceptable in the “clean” disembodied information age of postindustrial governmentality—at least, that is, for the “civilised” citizens of the North.


Another way to say this would be that, insofar as the marks of the colonial-imperial order are necessarily retained by the disciplinary apparatuses despite their reutilisation, they must therefore be hidden. As Foucault insists, the new technology of power emerging in the second half of the eighteenth century does not exclude disciplinary technologies, but rather dovetails into them, transforming their uses as it embeds itself within them.[vii] Thus disciplinary techniques are thereafter put to work instead upon material givens, upon natural processes and upon flows of people and resources, solely in order to maximise those elements which provide the best possible circulation whilst minimising the chances of blockage—blockages which include not only theft and illness, but also worker solidarity, empathy, unionising, capitalist-worker polarisation, and so on.[viii] In Foucault’s words, the essential function of security is to “respond to a reality in such a way that this response cancels out the reality to which it responds,” a function which makes use of instruments of discipline where necessary.[ix] Central to this process is that of ensuring that everything is constantly moving around, continually going from one point to another—a circulation which paradoxically cancels the very dangers of circulation.”[x] In this way, certain types of “risky” communities and shared knowledges are blocked, while other empty forms, such as those employed by agribusinesses based upon native-foreigner, legal-illegal, and men’s work-women’s work binaries, with all their concomitant animalisation, are naturalised through this constant movement, thus guaranteeing that nothing blocks the smooth functioning of the economic mechanism and ensuring therefore the security of processes intrinsic to production.[xi]

Here, we begin to perceive that, while the archetypal Taylorist and Fordist techniques of disciplinary control remain clearly visible within the slaughter-factory, a new order of power has nonetheless embedded itself within them. While the same unstoppable disassembly lines continue to neutralise the violence of killing and to transform tens of thousands of workers into animate organs of its machine, compelled by its relentless speed to cut out a set number of kidneys every minute, to slice off so many feet and empty out so many stomachs, a major and widespread mechanism of contemporary security is nonetheless explicitly revealed, one which displaces, extends, and works over the figures and spaces of colonialism by organising multiple so-called “natural” ethnic divisions among the workers as an element of control in the labour process. Hence the second reason for the institutionalised blinding of the slaughter-factory.

While Hardt and Negri have noted how transnationals now routinely address different ethnic groups with “different methods and different degrees of exploitation and repression so as to enhance profit and facilitate control,”[xii] it is Foucault, however, who demonstrates how the utilisation by security mechanisms of the same instruments of discipline serve no longer to ensure the artificial standardisation of the worker but rather only the naturalisation of the freedom of production. Such mechanisms, in short, are not strictly economic, but rather ensure the functioning of economic exchange.[xiii] Thus, as Foucault shows, security technologies operate instead upon legislation, upon structures and institutions of society, facilitating in this way population transfers and migration while organising enmities and privileges by placing restrictions on training, instigating national hatreds by modifying certain laws while conspicuously ignoring others, by articulating advantageous oppositions between the legal and the illegal, by imposing routine conditions on aid packages enabling a greater exploitation of foreign grazing lands, and so on and so on.

Furthermore, Foucault’s analysis of neoliberalism as both associative and dissociative enables a move beyond the simplistic notion of liberal individualism which even Deleuze occasionally falls back on, such as when he claims in his “Postscript on the Societies of Control” that transnationals protect themselves from mass resistance by “presenting the brashest rivalry as an excellent motivational force that opposes individuals against one another and runs through each, dividing each within.”[xiv] Against this myth of a capitalist “state of nature,” of a war of each against all, which in fact serves to naturalise neoliberal individualism, Foucault instead introduces the potential for a far more radical critique of neoliberal societies of control, one which focuses on the gap between the “non-local” bond between economic subjects and the localised bonds of sympathy and benevolence and of contempt and malice between some individuals in so-called “civil” society, insofar as it is this gap which enables the economic manipulation of social differences, and yet it is precisely these differences which formally serve as the “medium” of its manipulation. In this way, however, economic manipulation inevitably destroys the very medium of community it requires in order to function. This in turn points to the necessity of resistance networks which function outside of both the oppositions constituting local “civil” society, and the empty formalism of a global economic structure.[xv]

Another, more recent criticism levelled at Foucault is that his analysis of biopolitics cannot account for the extraordinary advances within biotechnology. Eugene Thacker, for example, has recently sought to move “beyond” Foucault by focussing on the biopolitics of biotechnologies defined “as the ongoing regulation of the bioinformatic inclusion of ‘life itself’ into the political domain.” Information in this “new” biopolitics, writes Thacker, accounts not only for the material and embodied, but also can produce the material and embodied, that is, it can produce “life itself,” while at the same time constituting the point of mediation which allows the continuous biopolitical regulation of “the relation between biology and informatics within the context of political and economic concerns” so as to reconfigure ““life itself” as open to intervention, control, and governance.” In short, “life itself” is now being produced as open to governmentality, alongside the various networks of uneven, asymmetrical production, distribution, and exchange. While this can perhaps be extrapolated from Foucault’s analyses, Thacker suggests, Foucault nonetheless leaves the relation between “biological ‘life itself’ and economics in the background,” with the latter being a mere “deviation of the aims of “governmentality.”[xvi] What Foucault’s lectures clearly demonstrate, however, is that governmentality in fact only functions so as to enable and to maintain this very illusion of “backgrounding.” While it is important to understand, as Thacker clearly does, that the way biopolitics manages the relation between “population” (as biological) and “statistics” (as informatics) is mediated by one or more systems of value, this is not, however, to move beyond the original purview of biopolitics as a result.

One can, for example, sketch out the rudiments of a Foucauldian analysis as regards the emergence of the “transgenic” sheep Polly and Dolly, themselves exemplary of the biotechnological revolution. Whereas the disciplinary order discretised time into minutes and seconds and disarticulated bodies into elemental gestures in the quest for a perfectly efficient worker-tool, the aim of our new postindustrial factories is to both employ and embody “life itself” by displacing the linear irreversibility of “natural” chronological time and instituting an undetermined network in its place. These “new” factories, also known as “bioreactors,” are the transgenic animals themselves: material givens which security mechanisms serve to open to undetermined circulation by the facilitation of apparently “natural” processes. It is no coincidence that the term “bioreactor” also names the machines which both culture cells and subject them to physical stimuli in order to incite nonspecific “protoforms” to self-assemble into specified morphologies. The aim, in short, is not to discipline, but only to facilitate an apparently natural economy of exchange. At the same time, as Sarah Franklin has shown, such facilitation requires that the scientific labourers voluntarily impose upon themselves various regimes of disciplinary technologies in order to protect the articifically enclosed space of their labs from natural processes of contamination.[xvii]

This reworked notion of the genetically-engineered animal-as-factory is symptomatic of the more general shift from life conceived metaphorically as information, to life understood practically as its literal actualisation which can be patented and thus commodified. Constituted as an accumulation of power-knowledges, such a body is thus re-constituted as a mediated and distributed materiality entirely suited to the highly mobile, geographically dispersed networks of postindustrial capital. In other words, as the nonhuman animal becomes at once informatic network, fleshly materiality and speculative capital, at the same time legislation, structures, and institutions play their part in securing control over the flows of a new form of techno-bio-logical reproduction, facilitating for example both the outsourcing of clinical trials from North to South and the unregulated global trade in unfertilised human eggs from South to North. Meanwhile, in the suburban ghettos of the North, the old disciplinary-model slaughterhouse remains, only it is has been deregulated and displaced into the margins, further faciliating the transfer of things and the migration of bodies by way of a continuous noxious counter-circulation from North to South and back again.

Finally then, by analysing the displacement and re-investment of disciplinary technologies within the order of security, it therefore becomes possible to disclose the two contradictory temporalities underpinning their interarticulation. On the one side, the North exports to the South an evolutionary narrative of “progress” and “modernity” as a rationale for market and geophysical coercion while, on the other, we find a second narrative in operation within the North itself, that of post-modernist reversibility, recapacitation, and immortality. This in turn serves to push the South ever further into the margins of “base” industrial production figured by a myth of redemptive temporality: the promise of a “modern” future for which the poor must sacrifice themselves today. At the same time, the poor and marginalised of the North are reduced to desolation on the basis of the capitalist promise of an incalculable future which nonetheless remains dependent upon the historical yet naturalised limits of capitalism, limits which inevitably impoverish—and excuse—the present. We can also better understand the promise performed so conspicuously by Dolly herself. A singular, nonsubstitutable materiality that is at once patentable and, more importantly, infinitely reproducible, she brings together in and as one body the promise of both the industrial and the postindustrial, both discipline and control, in a mutual articulation of informatics, biotechnology and immortality on the one hoof, and a global agribusiness dealing in biotechnologically-accelerated death on the other. She intersects too with the biopolitical pharmacology of health: life-enhancing pharmaceuticals crossing with death-accelerating antibiotics and growth hormones. For a few, Dolly represents the promise of a perpetually-extended human lifespan, while for a great many others she figures only the accelerated death of the slaughter-factory, the two extremes moving ever further apart.

History, in Foucault’s sense, is never the past. Rather it is that which constitutes “a knowledge of struggles that is deployed, and that functions within a field of struggles.”[xviii] This is at the core of all of Foucault’s writings, and I think it remains today a necessary starting point for a radical politics which seeks to struggle against those mechanisms which, all around us today, aim to secure as natural such extremes of control.

[i] Haraway “A Manifesto for Cyborgs” in The Haraway Reader 22

[ii] Deleuze Foucault (1986) 19

[iii] Deleuze “Postscript on the Societies of Control” 3

[iv] Foucault “Society Must Be Defended” 39. At the same time, the reactivation of bourgeois sovereign right—with, for example, the application of rights to nonhuman animals—becomes increasingly untenable as a challenge to disciplinary power. Indeed, Foucault was making this important point long before the publication of Tom Regan’s The Case for Animal Rights.

[v] Foucault “Society Must Be Defended” 30-3

[vi] Foucault Security, Territory, Population 19

[vii] Foucault “Society Must Be Defended” 242

[viii] Foucault Security, Territory, Population 19

[ix] Foucault Security, Territory, Population 47

[x] Foucault Security, Territory, Population 65

[xi] Foucault Security, Territory, Population 353

[xii] Hardt & Negri Empire 200

[xiii] Foucault The Birth of Biopolitics 140-141

[xiv] Deleuze “Postscript on the Societies of Control” 5

[xv] Foucault The Birth of Biopolitics 301-2

[xvi] Thacker The Global Genome: Biotechnology, Politics, and Culture (2005) 28-30

[xvii] Franklin “The Cyborg Embryo: Our Path to Transbiology” (2006) 174

[xviii] Foucault “Society Must Be Defended” 171