Thomas Docherty at the University of Warwick has an excellent ItunesU podcast on literary theory. Here are some notes I got from his lecture, which you can find here:

The class also has a blog:

My notes from the above:

Marxism Notes:

Critique is an investigation into how a form of knowledge is possible, which stems from Kant. Exploration, then, attempts to examine the origins and limitations of a system; for instance, Marx’s critique of capitalism.

Kant attempted a transcendental critique (which is also Hegelian)—In other words, Kant attempted to get outside the system he was exploring. Marx, on the other hand, wanted to examine a system from within.

The whole question of Marxism arises from political commitment. In the 18th primer he states, “Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under given circumstances directly in terms and inherited from the past. The traditions of the old generations of the dead weigh like a nightmare on the brain of the loving.”

We are historically situated so that our possibilities to make our own history are de-limited in certain ways and it is de-limited by our historical situation.

Marxist literary criticism strives to go beyond merely relating a text to society (more than a mimesis: how a text represents something else). Marxist literary criticism reacts against formalism’s wish to look at the words for themselves, outside of historical context; the
bourgeoisie way of looking at a text (since Matthew Arnold) was in objectifying the text, isolating it from its context and attempt a scientific examination.

Marxist views text as produced in a historical context: the environment shapes everything about a text—words, content, form, etc.—, along with the historical and social moment. For Marxist critics, our social, historical juncture defines and determines what it is we can write and how.

Our social moment and historical time determines text since writers do not write in a vacuum; they write in context and are affected by society.

The bourgeois writer is working at the level of the superstructure; Marx wants to find out what makes the superstructure possible.

In classic Marxism the Base means the economic base (mode of production and of economics). The supersctructure is the ideology of society and culture. Economic relations are predominate in a given society and shapes every thing else. The superstructure keeps society in line and reproducing itself.

If our basic human relations are goverened by economic structures—for instance capitalism that shapes and dominates our society—then we can understand how we realte to one another. For instance, through economic terms:

Employer and employee: Employer has a certain amount of capital and wants to make that capital bigger, so he will use the employee to produce more. The employee has no capital so he is beholden to the employer for capital.

[For example: a worker makes shoes by using the employer’s capital; the employer sells those shoes for 200 dollars, but only gives 5 dollars to the worker and keeps the surplus. Thus, we created a system based on exploitation]

That structure shapes everything else in society. Think of all societal interactions: you fall in love, you make an investment of time and emotions hoping for a pay off; you go to school and make an investment in your future and you hope to get a job; you spend time with people and hope it will pay off in friendship, etc… Since we have this economic base, it shapes everything else in society.

Problems arise when my interest as a worker conflicts with your interest as an employer. If we end up acknowledging that conflict, then the worker might feel exploited and tell employer to stop, and the worker would rise up and seize control in order to more evenly spread the wealth. Of course, capitalism suppresses worker revolt.

The employer tells his employee that the surplus needs to go back into the business to invest in material, the factory, and pay other workers so that the workers can keep their jobs. This system ends up creating different classes with different interest; hence, this relation of class struggle affects all relations under a superstructure: non-material or cultural aspects of society. Marx finds this one opposition (class struggle) dominant, “Class struggle is the model of history.” Only through class struggle will tomorrow be different than today; it’s how we are IN history.

History progresses as classes struggle against each other for preeminence or for fundamental survival. Marxism aims for the dictatorship of the proletariat. In this way, Marxism is utilitarian: we should be aiming for the greatest happiness for the greatest amount. Marx says we should start from the biggest group—the working class (the small group is the employers/rich class). Therefore, we should pursue working class interest.

The ruling class knows its power, so it tries to convince everyone that we all have the same interest (this point is seen in political discourse and literary criticism alike with phrases such as “it’s common sense that…” “A common reading of the text is…” Discourse that makes appeals to “universal truths”).

Ruling class uses ideology to try to stop history and to control certain institutions. By appealing to universals of common interest, the ruling classes stay in power. For instance, marriage, which is less about equality, love, or sanctity, but hopes people will assume certain roles. By defining marriage, the ruling class contains conflicts because those who agree to marriage agree to following certain rules. [On a side note, one would think that the ruling classes would be all for same-sex marriage since it would inject more capital into the system with weddings and divorces, and would “control gays” because if they want to marry, they would have to follow the marriage rules].

The ruling class uses ideology: a system of beliefs and assumptions, which are dominant and normative in a society at a given moment. Beliefs don’t need to be true; they just need to be believed by all—and normative. For example, why are all priest men? Because that is a man’s job—and we don’t question the assertion but take it for granted. Pink is a girls color and blue a boys—just because, without question—that is ideology.

Marxism wants to question these normative beliefs and ideology and unmask them.

Ideology: the ways in which a social formation represents itself to itself. The way society thinks itself. The way society gains and accepts norms and beliefs that constrain or define it.


Calacro on Derrida

I think I figured out what annoys me so much about Calarco despite his insightful commentary on animals. While looking at dense, very difficult philosophers, Calarco fails to identify and explain just how he reads these philosophers. It appears that Calarco believes his readers know the material he is analyzing well, and he believes that his readers will automatically agree with his readings.

In looking at Derrida, Calarco explores how Derrida stated that his (Derrida’s) philosophy always had the animal in view. Calarco states how Derrida challenges simply binary oppositions and questions the manner in which the Western tradition has separated itself from the animal. And then, he begins to really analyze Derrida’s texts, and this analysis is where he loses me as a reader; for instance, Calarco says that Derrida “gestures” at thinking otherwise about the animal, but “This positive project is… not fully worked out as his critical and negative projects” (105). Why does Calarco not give an example from Derrida’s work of this? What does Calarco mean when he creates this positive/negative critique (project) of Derrida’s work? Calarco goes on to explain Derrida’s strategies, “The first is to develop a series of ‘infrastructures’ (such as ‘diffarence,’ supplement, arche-writing, etc.) that are not exclusively human” (106). Here it would be nice if Calarco would clarify what he means with this statement. My understanding of Derrida’s “infrastructure” is that it is not a structure at all, and that many of these terms overlap, and furthermore, many of these terms, for Derrida, were undefinable. Why doesn’t Calarco explain to me, a Derrida reader, what I have “missed” as Calarco puts it? (106).

I believe Calrco means the loyal Derrida reader has missed that these terms meant to decenter the logos (and the human) apply to more than just humans (Calrco 106). However, any close reader of Derrida’s work on the animal would completely agree. Derrida’s complete project, in fact, has been to expose how ideas of purity (a pure distinction between animal and human, spoken and written language, pure/dirty, etc.) are problematic.

Derrida’s second strategy is to bring the animal “within the scope of the ethical and political” by using the first strategy. Calarco points out how Derrida brings animals within the discussion of ethics and politics, especially when Derrida employs Levinasian ethics to state that animals “confront us with as much ethical force as human beings do, if not more” (Ibid.). However, Calarco points out that Derrida’s work is context and text specific. Calarco goes on to explain that he will not have the time to go into the specific works (thinkers) that Derrida explores. Calarco’s imperative is to examine the ways in which Derrida’s works are theoretically important for the question of the animal. Derrida’s work opens up a space for a “’proto-ethical’ imperative, a “concrete ethicopolitical postion”, and a “reworking of the basic anthropocentric thrust of the Western philosophical tradition” (108). Calarco states that he will explain Derrida’s general positions on ethicoplotical issues, but I wonder how much of this outline a reading of Derrida or actually Derrida? Not that I think it matters because most would agree that Derrida’s is always looking at way to rethink and challenge the Western tradition. Therefore, Derrida’ s proto-ethical stance can always be used to rethink political position, including the anthropocentric and ethicopolitical position in question here.

Calarco examines Derrida’s analysis of why animals are being used for “the so called well-being of man” (Derrida qtd. in Calarco 109), and he states that besides Derrida’s questions, there are a number of other questions to be asked. However, the answers do not appear to be readily available. I would argue that the answer to Calarco’s questions—what besides technology, economy, population growth, and insensitivity could be the cause of so much animal cruelty—is all of the above; furthermore, it is because of all these factors of human chauvinism that the animal has been so radically othered and degraded. When asking these questions, some thinkers have compared the violence of the holocaust with the violence against animals, and here, Calarco has some insightful ideas that Peter Singer addresses in The Lives of Animals. The comparison might be extreme, but, to put it in Calarco’s terms “Perhaps the issue of violence towards animals can provoke thought in this philosophical context only if it is compared with the worst forms of interhuman violence” (111). In other words, the violence may not be one of equality (and comparing suffering, even among human beings, is always problematic), but the question examines how the species in power exercises its power over the weaker of the species. The comparison is searching for an (any) analogy to make and should not be dismissed outright.

Derrida’s position is to undercut the idea of natural and distinct oppositions, so can comparing human to animal suffering not be a way to blur the clear cut distinctions further? Calarco’s analysis is astute on this issue: “The very difficult task for thought here is to bear the burden of thinking through both kinds of suffering in their respective singularity and to notice the relevant similarities and parallel logics at work where they exist” (112). These comparisons break down the human/animal binary and open up a space for thinking about the animal question. Calarco astutely points out that the point for Derrida is that the very comparison, the questions of animal cruelty, and the tension between animal advocates and animal violence apologist illustrates just how important the question has become. However, Derrida remains ambiguous as to a possible solution or answer to these questions, which makes sense because posing an answer can fall into logocentrism and reinforce anthropocentrism. After all, Derrida is very suspicious of absolute answers; therefore, how could he ever propose any? For Derrida, anxiety is the mode of ethics. One can never be comfortable about ethical choices because one can never fulfill the ethical call to the other.

Calarco turns his attention to Derrida’s engagement with other philosophers, first Bentham, explaining that while Derrida would agree with Bentham, Derrida wants to take Bentham’s question of animal suffering further. For Derrida, ethics towards animals should not be limited to suffering alone. The question of animal suffering carries a Derridian trace of the questions that come before it and questions it will lead to. However, Calarco states that to understand what Derrida is explaining here that one has to “pass through this idea of the event” (118). The Standford Encylopedia of Philosophy summarizes what event means for Derrida:

If we reflect on experience in general, what we cannot deny is that experience is conditioned by time. Every experience, necessarily, takes place in the present. In the present experience, there is the kernel or point of the now. What is happening right now is a kind of event, different from every other now I have ever experienced. Yet, also in the present, I remember the recent past and I anticipate what is about to happen. The memory and the anticipation consist in repeatability. Because what I experience now can be immediately recalled, it is repeatable and that repeatability therefore motivates me to anticipate the same thing happening again. Therefore, what is happening right now is also not different from every other now I have ever experienced. At the same time, the present experience is an event and it is not an event because it is repeatable. This “at the same time” is the crux of the matter for Derrida. The conclusion is that we can have no experience that does not essentially and inseparably contain these two agencies of event and repeatability.

And now I am lost again…

It is this kind of analysis that hinders a reading of Calarco’s argument. What does he mean that we have to understand the event? And then he goes on to discuss Derrida’s engagement with Levinas. It appears that Calarco is analyzing how Derrida the encounter with the animal is an “event.” The encounter with the animal is an event (I have an experience with the animal right now, which is predicated in the past but is happening now). In this encounter, I can now immediately experience the animal and this can motivate me to “anticipate the same thing happening again” with the animal. Therefore, my encounter with the animal “is happening right now is also not different from every other now I have ever experienced. At the same time, the present experience is an event and it is not an event because it is repeatable.” Therefore, I am less moved by my animal encounter because the animal embodies such a different from than mine. (maybe?)… I believe the ultimate point is that the question of animal suffering veers away from ethics in that rather than just treat animal ethically, the question demands the answer, and if the answer is no, animals do not suffer, then that answer justifies the mistreatment of animals. This question—and the possible answer—is somplicated because most human do not see the embodied suffering animals endure in the many ways animals are used for science, food, and entertainment. Pushing the Levinasian question further, the encounter with the face of the animal because the locus of animal ethics (just as it was the locus of philosophy for Levinas). The proto-ethical question is how can animals address humans?

Calarco examines Derrida’s statement that the latter has always had the question of the animal in his work. Here, again, Calarco uses loaded Derridian terms without a clear explanation as to how the terms apply for the former’s analysis. Calarco inspect Derrida’s The Animal That Therefore I Am closely. His analysis is insightful; however, there is something uncomfortable about his close reading of Derrida’s insistence that the cat is an actual, real, little cat staring at him. Yet Calarco’s analysis is sound. Calarco takes up Steve Baker’s reading of the cat as cat and comments that Baker is missing the point: “At stake here among other things, are a number of questions that concern not only the problem of employing reductive language to refer to the Other, but also finding a nonreductive way to mark the effects of the Other within the very discourses…that are grounded on a forgetting of alterity of the other” (125). While I agree with Calarco, I also believe that Derrida is referring to an actual cat, and I agree with Baker who analyzes Derrida’s attempt of informing the reader that the cat is an actual cat and not a “figure” of a cat, precisely for the reasons Calarco points out. To refer to the Alice in Wonderland analogy employed, it appears dangerous to follow this rabbit hole to deeply. Derrida does not want to reduce the other (the cat) to a totalized representation of a cat, and Derrida is well aware that the language can too easily lead to such reductions; therefore, Derrida explicitly points out that he is referring to an actual cat and not some (playing with language) image of cat-ness. Other than this slight disagreement I have with this section, I believe Calarco’s analysis of what Derrida is doing in TATIA is extremely insightful.

In “Animal Subjects” the traditional discourses of animal liberation are examined, which Calarco says falls into “fundamentally anthropocentric” categories and thus forces an ethics on to animal studies because it uses the language of inherited scientific, biological, and philosophical language. Peter Singer, for instance, defends animal right by way of analogy (wouldn’t Derrida say all language is analogy/metaphor—never fully present). Derrida, of course, wants to question and examine these inherited ways of thinking. Calarco points out that using these ways of thinking are the same ways of thinking that work against animals. He argues that most humanist and ethicist draw lines and make distinctions and use the very logic that has gone against animals in order to try to argue for animals; he uses Tom Regan as an example, caliming that Regan fails to take into account animals without a higher order cognitive thinking. This critigue of Regan appears valid, but should the question not be how can arguments (even anthropocentric ones) be used as points of departure for animals’ rights. However, Calarco does say that Derrida’s questioning of the Western philosophical tradition is a “novel and provocative” thought in concern for animals.

Calarco then deconstructs vegetarianism unfairly in order to support deconstructionism. He claims that such a diet overlooks other ethical problems in food consumption, and on that point, I would agree with him to an extent. I am sure most vegetarians understand that even their vegetables and fruits might be ethically questionable in terms of who is picking the vegetables and fruit and how, but to say that it is “far from the ethical ideal” might be too strong a statement. While it can be easily argued that it is not “ideal” and that veganism is a more radical ethical statement, I would argue that vegetarianism is an immense political, ethical stance. This point along with what follows begins to come to dangerously close to an absolute; as if Calarco’s approach is the “best” (and it almost sounds like the “only”) way to approach the animal question. The two questions posed appear to be the same question worded differently (136).

I don’t know what to eat.

When I was bartending during undergrad, I was also taking a class on Eastern Philosophy, which dealt mostly with Eastern religions (Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, etc). I came across Buddhism a couple of years earlier through Alan Watts, who was recommended to me by a friend. The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are by Watts changed my life and was the reason for me taking the Eastern philosophy class. However, taking the class was conflicting with my work. Buddhism teaches the Four Noble Truths and the Eight Fold Path. I was having a problem with the Eight fold path: The fourth precept states “right action” which means that one should refrain from actions that harm others and to respect others’ rights. The fifth precept states “right livelihood” which states that one should avoid jobs that harm animals or others. As a bartender, I was feeding people the flesh of slaughtered animals along with “intoxicants”, so I began to worry about my karma. I struggled with this dilemma the entire time I worked in the restaurant business. It was also during this time, because of this class, that I tried to be a vegetarian (which lasted about three weeks). This week’s readings bring me back to those moments in my life. These simple Buddhist precepts are still applicable, and when coupled with Singer’s pragmatic approach, all this leads to the ethical conclusion that I must stop eating animals.

Peter Singer elucidates the problem I have with eating animals, which is the question of suffering. The problem is not that the animal dies; as Singer, in another essay, points out: “in what way is painless, unanticipated killing wrong in itself” (88). The problem is that the animal does suffer. Safran Foer’s book is filled with examples of chickens with breast so big they can’t stand, cows that scream as their calves are taken away, and turkeys and pigs that can no longer survive in the wild nor reproduce naturally because of how much science has manipulated their genes. These genetic cruelties along with the unnecessarily cruel killing methods of these animals leave me with a very real ethical problem. Singer’s question is one of the driving forces of my problem: it is not the killing that bothers me, it is the suffering (Singer 28). For instance, a study in 1996 found that slaughterhouses:
were unable to regularly render cattle unconscious with a single blow. The USDA, the federal agency charged with enforcing humane slaughter, responded to these numbers not by stepping up enforcement, but by changing the policy to cease tracking the number of humane slaughter violations and removing any mention of humane slaughter from its list of rotating task for inspectors (Foer 230).

Knowing this happens—that the USDA doesn’t care about treating our food humanely nor sanitarily—exacerbates my problems with continuing to eat meat. I would like to know that the animals I eat are, at least, killed quickly and painlessly, but that is certainly not the case.

Furthermore, I can no longer deny the ethical call of the face of the (animal) other. Emmanuel Levinas posits that ethics is first philosophy, so all philosophical thinking must begin in ethics. Levinas states that I exist in a world among alien entities that are “other than” me. In this world, “I take precedence over the various objects I find around me…. I learn to manipulate and control them to my advantage, either as the member of a group which I identify with myself or simply as myself alone” (Lingis 12). Therefore, as a member of the human race, I control and take advantage of animal others in order to satisfy my palette. Other philosophers, from Hegel to Sartre, have dealt with the other, but Levinas argues that these philosophical systems either reduce the other to a version of myself (make him the same as me), or I categorize the other and justify my power over him (totalize the other). However, Levinas’s philosophy is one of “transendence,” in which when I encounter the face of the other, I am obliged to respond to the other. When I meet a person, Levinas asserts, I can either try to make the other into the same (into me, assimilate the other) and stay within my group that I identify with, or I can transcend by trying to speak to the other—encounter the other in the other’s infinite transcendence. However, humans feel that because of rationale, logic, language, or some other thing that humans have that animals don’t, that humans get to use and treat animals however they see fit. But why not extend this Levinasian ethic towards the animal?

Because I do not face the (animal) other directly and see its suffering, I continue to eat meat. However, because of the suffering that animals go through, outlined so vividly in Foer and Singer, and because of the rational calls to vegetarianism by Foer and Singer, I can no loner in good conscious eat meat, which is not to say that I can easily just cut out meat completely from my diet. This point is something Singer explores well. It reminds me of so many friends who begin to workout so intensely the first week that by the time the second week starts, they are so sore and discouraged they quit altogether. Singer, rather, rationalizes that this big life change is something that needs to be handled in stages. Whether it is because of karma or the ethical call of the face of the other or the very real ecological problems of eating meat, I know that I can no longer partake in it. Ethics is never easy. Levinas teaches that even when faced with seemingly easy ethical questions we must always be anxious that we are doing right—a lesson outlined by Garret Hardin and explored deeper by Avital Ronell.

I am always anxious that I am not doing enough for the other, and that other should include animals.

Works Cited
Coetzee, J. M., and Peter Singer. “Reflections: Peter Singer.” The Lives of Animals. Ed. Amy
Gutmann. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 1999. 85-91. Print.

Examined Life. Dir. Astra Taylor. Perf. Avital Ronell. Zeitgeist Films, 2008. Web. 30 Sept. 2011.

Foer, Jonathan Safran. Eating Animals. New York: Little, Brown and, 2009. Print.

Levinas, Emanuel. Totality and Infinity: an Essay on Exteriority. Trans. Alphonso Lingis.
Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne UP, 1961. Print.

And Say the Animal Responded?

Derrida’s main goal is to deconstruct Lacan’s idea of a distinction between human and animal. Derrida says that a more radical critique of the cogito must take place. In other words, a critique more radical than a Levinasian ethics is needed. In “Violence and Metaphysics,” Derrida critiques the idea of such an absolute alterity (or exteriority or distinction, as such); he states that in Levinas’s “face-to-face” encounter is “the emergence of absolute alterity, the emergence of an exteriority which can be neither derived, nor engendered, nor constituted on the basis of anything other than itself. An absolute outside, an exteriority infinitely overflowing the monad of the ego cogito” (Writing and Differance 106). Derrida’s critique of this radical alterity appears again in this essay to critique the absolute distinctions raised by Lacan’s treatment of the animal.

Derrida proceeds to read Lacan and states that Lacan posits that the animal cannot preenter into the symbolic stage because the animal has no language and will never be “prey to language” (120). This Lacanian analysis of the symbolic order leaves humans as animals, but as speaking animals with desires and unconsciouses that are denied the animal. For Lacan, language is central because it is the structure of language that is related to the unconscious and because in the act of language, the unconscious emerges and finds its expression. In the mirror phase, the ego is constituted through its identification with the imaginary projection in the mirror. At the same time, the child meets with the “Law-of-the-Father” (acquires language) and becomes radically split/fragmented. The subject realizes it is different from other things/subjects and starts forming an identity. Derrida points out that there are certain animals that do this as well, however. There are pigeons that are sexed when confronted with other pigeons. Derrida points out that humans receive speech and technics “only inasmuch as he lacks something” (122). Humans only have language because of this radical split of entering language; whereas, pigeon only need a mirror to progress.
The animal is reduced to reaction to stimuli not to response; the animal response is merely an instinct response, and Derrida uses the example of a bee to illustrate Lacan’s point. Derrida has a little fun reading the dance of a bee and questioning the bee’s sign system as language or merely nature’s encoding. Derrida makes the argument that Lacan’s reading of language for animal language and human language are both sign systems: “What he attributes to signs that, ‘in a language’ understood as belonging to the human order, ‘take on their value from the relation to each other’ and so on, and not just from the ‘fixed correlation’ between signs and reality, can and must be accorded to any code, animal or human” (124). What one does through language is seek a response from the other, and both a bee’s dance and a human’s language do that.

Derrida emphasizes that he does not want to erase the distinction between response and reaction; he, on the other hand, wants to question the distinction itself—the binary purity of one thing being a response as opposed to one thing being a reaction. This erasing of distinction might requires to question the idea of responsibility “especially when…the logic of the unconscious is founded on a logic of repetition” which will complicate the idea of original thought especially when the thought is because of language (125). The very psychoanalytic idea of the subject founded in language makes Derrida question the idea of language as response or reaction. Furthermore, by problematizing this distinction, Derrida is afraid of the implication for ethics and responsibility; however, he addresses these concerns, stating that there should always be doubt and concern over question of ethics and responsibility—the very essence of ethics is doubt. Furthermore, it is not a question of erasing the difference rather “of taking that difference into account within the whole differentiated field of experience and of the world of life forms” (126). He wants to analyze the difference between humans and animals. Derrida seeks to establish another logos by returning to Lacan and following the ‘trace’ left by Lacan.

Lacan states that the animal cannot lie. Humans, through language, have the capacity to pretend. An animal can deceive, but it cannot pretend. As Derrida puts it, Lacan states that an animal has the “capacity to trace, to leave a track, but not to distract the tracking or lead the tracker astray by erasin its trace or covering its tracks” (128). Derrida deconstructs the idea of the animal’s inability to lie. It is because of man’s lack—because of the castration complex, because of the signifier’s rule over the subject—that man has language and the animal does not. What the animal lacks is precisely Lacan’s subject’s lack. It is this lack that gives humans their superiority over animals. The big Other allows humans to pretend by believing in something that animals do not partake in. At the end of Lacan’s seminar on the ‘Purloined Letter,’ Lacan states that the letter always arrives at its destination because the big Other reads the letter. The very symbolic order of the big Other—a thing that only exist in so much as the subject believes in it (and because of language) is what is denied the animal; therefore, the animal cannot pretend to pretend to believe in the big Other.

And then, I think, that Derrida wonders if since there is no Other for the Other, just as there is no Other for the animal, then could there not be a case for the animal as Other? Derrida explains: “In order to break with the image and with the likeness of a fellow, must not this beyond of partnership—thus beyond the specular or imaginary duel—be at least situated in a place of alterity that is radical enough to break with every identification of an image of self, with every fellow living creature, and so with every faternity or huma proximity, with all humanity? Must not this place of the Other be ahuman?” (131-2). The animal in the discourse of Levinas and Lacan is so radically other(ed) because of the Law-of-the-Father (Lacan) or because of divinity (Levinas) where, at one and the same time, these discourses fail to take into account the animal while at the same time not taking into account the animal because of these absolute beliefs. The animal is turned into a Lacanian Real (“indissociable figures of the same Thing”).

Derrida goes on to re-emphasize that he does not wish to attack this logic so much as to re-think it. By looking at these moments in Lacan, Derrida merely wants to complicate, analyze, and point out how the limits—the distinction—set up by the discourse becomes complicated. How can we distinguish a pretense, for instance. Again, by looking at Lacan’s discourse on the animal and human psychology, Derrida points out that both are not discontinuous. The animal might not be able to cover its track, but the human does the human actively, consciously cover its tracks? The problem becomes: what gives humans the right to say that an animal does not have something when humans can not be sure that humans can say humans have it; in other words, can humans say that they “possess the pure, rigorous, indivisible concept, as such, of that attribution” (135). This questioning leads Derrida to question “tracks” which leads to an analyses of his idea of “trace.” Can humans say an animal does not cover its tracks any more than a it can be said that a human covers its tracks.

Derrida questions this trace—the trace the human leaves—and wonders if a human can cover (erase) its trace. The very idea of the trace means that the trace is always being erased and always capable of being erased. Derrida says the trace cannot be defined because it is an undecidable. The trace is the presence and absence of meaning. The trace is something like the “mark of the absence of a presence, an always-already absent present.” This trace is always being manifest and always disappearing as the subject uses language; therefore, “In this regard the human no more has the power to cover its track than does the so-called ‘animal.’ Radically to erase its traces, that is to say, by the same token radically to destroy, deny, put to death, even put itself to death” (136). This anthropocentric stance, being able to erase the trace and of keeping the distinctions in place, is a result of wanting to be superior over the animal in the face of Darwinism.
Ultimately, humans cannot know how aware the animal is of pretense, just as humans cannot fully distinguish their own pretense. Derrida wants to break down the idea of a pure distinction among response reaction in order to reveal that there is no clear distinction between human and animal. In interesting kismet, as I finish writing this response, I have just read Elizabeth Atwood Lawrence’s article “Cultural Perspectives of Differences Between People and Animals: A Key to Understanding Human-Animal Relationships” where she posits just how alike humans are to animals. While Derrida blurs the distinctions by way of the trace and continental philosophy, Lawrence does it by science and research.

I am getting my butt kicked this semester. I feel like the word: hurtling.

I read half of “But as for Me, Who Am I (following)” and I’ll post on that soon enough. I also read the first chapter of Matthew Calarco’s Zoographies. Calarco writes clearly and very well, but of course I had to question some of his Heideggerian readings.

This is sloppy– I just don’t feel like I have the time to work it out. For now, as always: here are my fragments:


Matthew Calarco examines Heideggerian thought in order to examine the animal and to illustrates the manners in which Heidegger both opened up a space to talk about animals while also marginalizing animals. However, I believe that Calarco’s analysis misses some of Heidegger’s more subtle points about Dasein being uniquely human (of course, I have not read Heidegger’s lectures where he deals with animals). Addtionally, this is not to say that Calarco’s examination is not fruitful and interesting, but I feel he attacks Heidegger too harshly (and again, this is my opinion not having read the essay that Calarco examines).

Calarco points out how Heidegger never directly deals with the question of animal Dasein, but he points out how Heidegger does deal with the question of the animal in general and is therefore useful to begin examining the animal question. Heidegger did not want to equate the animal with human: “In the case of undertaking a properly biological and zoological analysis of animals, the risk for Heidegger would be either reducing animals to mechanistic entities or conflating them with human beings” (20). Calarco examines this distinction that Heidegger is making, and goes on to emphasize, “whether such a distinction between human beings and animals can or even should be drawn is never raised for serious discussion” (23).

Furthermore, I agree with Calarco when he says that the distinctions should not “serve as a guide for further thought in philosophy or science” (23); however, I feel he is being a little unfair to Heidegger’s project of returning to the question of being. For instance, Calarco points out how Heidegger claims that animals are “poor in world,” but I think Calarco is misunderstanding Heidegger’s concept of world. At the very least, Calarco is not examing the distinctions Heidegger tirelessly examined in his concept of world.

I want to examine some of these points Calarco makes because while I agree with him that the question of the animal needs to be re-thought, I feel he could be using Heidegger to re-think the question of the animal in a more fruitful manner. For instance, when Calarco points out that Heidegger says the animal is poor in world, what “world” is Calarco examining? For Heidegger, there are four distinct meanings of world. Additionally, world is broken up into categorical world and world as object. With in these two categories are the four distinctions of world: One, is the world as universe and all the entities present-at-hand with in the universe. Second, the way of being of the universe—entities that do not relate to us. Third, the world we inhabit in everydayness, such as the academic world, business world, etc.—the worlds we cope in. Finally, the world of structures and background—the world that gives us the know how of how to cope in the world. These worlds are very different, and I think it is fair to say that under these terms, the animal, maybe is not “poor” of world, but has a different world than the one human’s inhabit. An animal does not have to decide if it is going to go into the academic world or the world of business. The animal, probably, does not care about the universe and the tools it uses in the world. The difference here is between the world of physics—what physicist engage in and are absorbed in and understand themselves in, and the physical world—the substance that physicist take a stand in/on. A rock has no world for Heidegger because a rock cannot take a stand on its existence. The question should be: can animals take a stand on their being? If one really examines the concept of world in Heidegger, Heidegger actually says Dasein is never “at home,” which is part of the anxiety Heidegger will examine.

The critique of Heidegger not wanting to equate animals to humans, and the distinction Heidegger upholds is more complicated than Calarco relates. That is to say, Calarco does examine how and why the distinction is complicated, but not within a Heideggerian context. Calarco also discusses the “as” structure that animals lack while also returning to the question of world by looking at Heidegger’s discussion of a domesticated animal. His conclusions here, in my reading of Heidegger, are very misleading. He claims that Heidegger’s conclusion is that to some extent, human’s can relate to (empathize with) animals but that the Dasein of humans is different from that of animals. And this is correct, I believe, but I think that the way Calarco outlines this conclusion is misleading. He is looking at these conclusions without examining why Heidegger would reach these conclusions.

The passage Calarco examines needs to be analysed closer and with Heidegger’s question of Dasein in mind. What Heidegger means when he says that the animal lives “with us” in the house, beloning to the house, but not as the roof the house, Heidegger is making a distinction between the way of being of the house and the way of being of a dog. The way of being of a roof is as equipment, which is different than the mode of being of an animal and the mood of being of humans. Furthermore, we “enable [animals] to move within our world.” The last two statements are contentious for Calarco because they specifically point out that animals do not have Dasein. However, looking at how Heidegger examines Dasein, then I would argue that animals, indeed, do not have Dasein because animals cannot comport themselves in the world; Calarco’s Heidegger quote addresses this: “we consider the dog itself—does it comport itself towards the table, towards the stairs as stairs?” Hubert Dreyfus explains comportment: “Heidegger uses ‘comportment’ to refer to our directed activity…He thus takes comportment or intentionality as a characteristic not merely of acts of consciousness, but of human activity in general” (Dreyfus 51). Therefore, the question is if animals can comport themselves, and I do not see how they could. Comportment is an activity that is entrenched in culture and the “as” structure of the world.

The dog cannot comport itself to the table or the stairs because those objects are outside of the dog’s mental structure. This goes back to the concept of the world. Dasein knows that the table is for eating and the chair is for sitting; furthermore, Dasein knows that the “as structure” of the chair is for eating. The question for the animal must become if the dog has objects in its world that it uses in order to take a stand on its being. For humans, I use a table to sit and eat a healthy meal because the way I take a stand on my being is by being someone who eats healthy. In order to do so, I need a table to eat at, a chair to sit in, etc., and I comport myself to these activities using this tools in the world.

Calarco goes on to explore Heidegger’s reading of Rilke and Nietzsche and Heidegger’s disproval of equating animal to human and of reversing animal and human. However, again, Calarco appears to be missing Heidegger’s basic project in exploring the being of humans. Calarco is right in highlighting Heidegger’s anthropormorcism, but Calarco fails at examining why Heidegger does so. Dasein is a being that makes its being an issue for it. Dasein can take a stand on its being. Furthermore, Calarco’s constant critique of Heidegger’s essentialism is troublesome because Heidegger did not believe in essentialism. Heidegger explored how there are many different views of what our “nature” is, which led him to conclude that our nature (essence) is simply to be the kind of being that through activity gives themselves a nature. Whatever the culture we are thrown in tells us we are, we get socialized into it and take that to be our nature. For instance, I am a grad student, so I take a stand on being a grad student by reading everyday, going to class, teaching, and preparing myself for my future. I cope in the world with computers, books, pencils, pens, and others in such a way so as to project myself into my future possibilities. Furthermore, while there is an ultimate goal to my dealings in the world, I just do them because it is how I have taken a stand on my existence. Can an animal be said to do the same? Can an animal chose how it will be in the world? Does an animal comport itself in the world towards a future directed self? I want to say no, but I cannot be certain. Can animals get outside of their “nature?” That is, can a dog, for instance, chose one way of being over another, something beyond training? Although here again, is our socialization just training? I do not know what analogy can be used here between humans and animals? I can decide tomorrow that I want to be a racecar driver and begin to comport myself towards that identity. I can begin to learn about cars, watch Nascar, learn to be a mechanic, and change my way of being, but can an animal do anything analogous?

This analysis of Dasein is what Calarco is missing in his critique of Heidegger. Ek-sistance for Heidegger is uniquely human because humans exist in a unique fashion. For Dasein, probability is higher than actuality. For instance, being a professor with tenure does not give your life meaning but being an educator does. The label does not define who a person is rather life defines who a person is. Teaching is something without a goal that can be actualized. There will never be a point where you can say that teaching is over. It is the thing which gives life meaning in and of itself. It organizes one’s behavior—being a teacher means you have to prepare lectures and read books and so you organize your life around these task. If I say I am a grad student but never go to class or open a book, then I am not actually a grad student. In this way, existence is uniquely human. This look at Dasein is not to defend Heidegger against all of the criticism that Calarco makes. Heidegger, as Derrida had pointed out, is Dasein-centric, and this Dasein-centrism does not bode well for animals. It does mean that animals cannot have Dasein though. Can an animal decide not to be or to be something?


J. M. Coetzee: The Lives of Animals

Coetzee’s The Lives of Animals is a philosophical meditation on death. The novel is not necessarily of human death, but it does focus much attention to the matter of death and suffering. The frame narrative of the story sets up this death theme by informing the reader that John Bernard “does not want to hear his mother talking about death; Furthermore, he has a strong sense that her [Costello’s] audience—which consist, after all, mainly of young people—wants death-talk even less” (Coetzee 19). However, death talk is, as death is in life, inevitable. The entire argument of animal rights comes down to death, and this idea is what Peter Singer aptly explores in his narrative in response to Coetzee’s narrative.

I argue that the narrative presented here and that the argument of animal rights comes down to death because all the other questions asked about the animal—does it have langue, is it conscious, does it understand, does it suffer, does it have a soul, etc.—comes down to the answers that try to justify the death of an animal. As Singer points out, “Pain is pain, no matter what the species of the being that feels it” (87). Singer goes on to make some very valid arguments and does a fine job (possibly much better than Coetzee does) in showing the two sides of animal rights; however, his best point comes in pointing out that “The value that is lost when something is emptied depends on what was there when it was full, and there is more to human existence that there is to bat existence” (90). This idea recalls a Heideggerian concept of existence; Dasein is a human beings special way of being. Daseins are future directed, always thrown ahead of themselves in their possibilities in a way that an animal is not. While I would like to say that the loss of a human being is worse than the loss of an animal, I wonder if I think that because of the horizon from which I have the rational thought to make such a judgment.

Because of this impossibility of steeping outside of rational thought (a topic much explored in Costello’s dialogue), there must be another mode of questioning the death of the animal. Even though rational thought must be put aside, Costello’s argument about human’s capacity for empathy is too weak, and Singer points out some obvious weaknesses to this argument; I would like to add that empathy is not that strong. Again, this goes back to Heidegger’s conception of death. Heidegger states that we can empathize with someone who is dying, and on some level we can experience that other person’s death, but we can never know it. Dasein can get a sense of death—a sense of someone else’s life—an idea of what it must be like to die, but we can never experience death until it happens. It is this very real sense of not being able to share death that Heidegger makes the argument for Dasein having a “mineness.” Even each individual Dasein is uniquely mine in this sense and only this sense because everything else about how one experiences the world is bound up with that very world.

Because one can never really imagine what it is like to be a bat—just like one can never imagine what it is like to be another person, not really—the question of animal rights goes back to Benthem’s question: does the animal suffer? I am in agreement with Singer when he discuss an ideal world where a pig lives a long and happy life and is killed with no pain and with no foreknowledge of its death, but the problem is that the world Singer abstractly explores does not exist.

I want to come back to these thoughts– there is more here that is important to explore.

Jonathan Safran Foer relates a story that historians like to tell about Abraham Lincoln. Once, while leaving Springfield for Washington, Lincoln noticed some distressed birds on the side of the road and forced his party to stop and help the birds. When questioned about it later, Lincoln said, “I could not have slept to-night if I had left those poor creatures on the ground and not restored them to their mother.” Foer goes on to make the observation that Lincoln “did not make (though he might have) a case for the moral value of the birds, their worth to themselves or the ecosystem or God. Instead he observed, quite simply, that once those suffering birds came into his view, a moral burden had been assumed” (267). This moral burden, I believe, is what is behind Derrida’s essay on animals. By looking at the manner in which philosophers have discussed animals in the past, Derrida points out the othering of the animals and the ethical implications of this othering. The main problem with philosophizing animals is that it misses the question that only Bethem asked: “The question is not to know whether the animal can think, reason, or speak, etc,. … The first and decisive question would rather be to know whether animals can suffer” (Derrida 27). While that is the first question, Derrida looks at the all the other questions raised by philosophy as well.

In Derrida’s signature playful manner, he explores the question of the animal by looking at the history of the animal in Western culture from the Bible to Descartes to Heidegger to the classifications of science and always with Levinas’s ethics in the background. Derrida begins his essay with Heidegger’s question, which is “what do I do when ‘I am’” (3). Derrida extends Heidegger’s “I am” by adding to it that he is an animal and explains human’s uncanniness and uneasiness with being animal. With the trace of Levinas and the Bible, Derrida equates this uneasiness with a shame, similar to the fall, in the gaze of his cat. IN thinking about his cat, which makes him think of Alice in Wonderland, Derrida questions what it means to respond, and how we can know an animal’s response. The animal’s response to humans takes up the ethical question of facing the other. People have theorized the animal—“seen” the animal—but, Derrida wonders, have anybody noticed the address by the animal.

These ethical questions, the shame in the face of the cat, I would argue, are already there in Heidegger and Levinas. I am very interested in how Derrida will explore philosopy’s role in the animal, especially Levinas and Heidegger. Derrida equates his shame as a (literal) nakedness in the gaze of his cat, but this shame is also a metaphorical, Levinasian nakedness as well. Derrida is encountering the face of the other (his cat), and by not reducing the cat into the same , Derrida is trying to ethically encounter the cat. Levinas explains this nakedness in the face of the other: “The face has turned to me—and this is its very nudity. It is by itself and not by reference to a system” (75). Derrida is trying to get away from any categorization, such as zoology, biology, or even philosophy, in order to encounter the cat in a true face to face that Levinas promotes; That is to say, Derrida encounters his cat as cat, wholly and singularly, not as a cat in reference to the animal kingdom and not as some alien other. Derrida’s language in describing his cat’s gaze is further suggestive of Levinas when Derrida explains “Nudity gets stripped to bare necessity only in that frontal exhibition, in that face-to-face” (Derrida 11). Derrida appears to extend Levinas’s ethical call to animals. When the cat is face to face with Derrida, the situation recalls Levinas’s assertion that “the Other faces me and puts me in question and obliges me by his essence qua infinity” (207) . Levinas examines the gaze of the other, and Derrida extends that idea to animals because for Levinas one’s subjectivity is constituted in the other, which is why Derrida wants to explore the limits of being human and what it means to be human. The animal’s gaze shows man the limits from where man dares to call himself man.

Heiddeger is also present throughout Derrida’s analysis. Heiddeger rejected what Hubert Dreyfus calls predicate philosophy made popular by Aristotle. For Aristotle, a self-sufficient entity had properties; for instance, a hammer is brown and is heavy as if all intelligible things could fall under this simple predicate model. The predicate model is, after all, what Derrida is exploring in this study. Throughout the philosophical tradition, the predicate model is used to describe the animal/ human divide. For example, the animal has no language or the human is the thinking animal, etc., as if this predicate model explained everything. For Heidegger, the world is not understandable in terms of substances and properties. Knowing this about Heidegger makes Derrida’s reading of Heidegger and the animal interesting; it is also interesting that Heidegger (and other philosophers of Heidegger) missed this obvious connection between Dasein and animals (that is, if one can judge that animals do not have a Dasein).

However, I feel that the question of an animal having Dasein or not is somewhat superfluous, nor do I feel the question Derrida raises about Heidegger’s analysis of the animal which is “living but nothing more,” ultimately, very important. Questions of the animal’s subjectivity and Dasein aside, Heidegger does assert that Dasein is in-the-world. At the very least, animals are a part of that world, which would mean animals are a part of Dasein. What is behind Derrida’s analysis and what I believe Derrida will eventually explore is Dasein’s in-the-world-ness.

Our understanding and interpretation of the world arises from our place in the world. In Being and Time, Heidegger’s central question is the question of being itself, and more precisely, that mode of being that is specifically human. In order to understand how understanding works, it is important to understand the being that is doing the understanding, and that being is Dasein. Dasein is the way of being of humans; This mode of being is one that makes existence an issue for itself, takes a stand on its existence; furthermore, Dasein interprets and is able to take a stand on its existence and understands by using equipment and acting in the world. This Dasein, who is always-already interpreting the world, is in the first place always-already being-in-the-world. Heidegger says “There is no such thing as the ‘side-by-side-ness’ of an entity called ‘Dasein’ with another entity called ‘world’” (81). This analysis breaks down the subject/object binary of Husserl and Descartes. Therefore, if existence is Dasein’s concern, the way it takes a stand on itself, then would it not follow that Dasein should take a stand of not hurting the world it is a part of? Of course, if an animal does have Dasein and can takes a stand on its life, then this analysis wold complicate humans relationship with animals because it would mean that animals would have a towards death, which would mean that when humans kill an animal, humans cause animals anguish and pain.

In an effort to rethink animals, Derrida wants to create a new language, and I believe this desire for a new language and a new way to look at animals comes mostly from Heidegger and Levinas, who both saw and commented on the limits and dangers of language. It is through language that humans put the animal in the category animal—a word that encompasses all “animals” from lizards to dogs and cats, to fish and birds, on through the entire spectrum. It is in this totalizing language that Derrida appears to make a rare universal claim when he says “This agreement concerning philosophical sense and common sense that allows one to speak blithely of the Animal in the general singular is perhaps one of the greatest and most symptomatic asinanities of those who call themselves humans” (41). I read this as saying that the one truly human thing that separates humans from animals is human’s ability to use language in this violent way to subjugate animals and categorize all of them under a single word: animal.

Derrida’s analysis of the animal and his exploration through Biblical stories, Greek mythology, and Western philosophy calls into question the language and thought used to explore the animal. He wants to break down the definition of animals through what the animal does not have and focus and explore rather what the animal ethically calls humans to do. It is interesting to note that Derrida’s title has within it the implication of “The Animal that Therefore I Am (More to Follow) because what has followed is the exploration of animal suffering. While the questions about the animal’s ability to communicate, the animal’s Dasein, the animal’s address to humans, is all very interesting, I think that what follows is Safran Foer’s book which ask the same question Bethem ask about the suffering of animals.