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: http://www.zenguide.com/principles/eight_fold_path.cfm. 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. Youtube.com.
Zeitgeistfilms.com. 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.

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.

The following are some ideas I typed up while trying to study for a mid-term exam, but I ran out of ideas. However, I think this is a good start for a loner paper:

In the 16th century, Copernicus decentered the earth. However, that was just the beginning of taking man’s narcissistic attitude away. Darwin discovered that human were not the divine creations of God but rather evolved through natural selection, and if that were not unsettling enough, Freud discovers that Humans do not have control over their own minds. With these discoveries, civilization was beginning to question the concept of an all caring God watching over humanity, and this was only excaberated when the first World War broke out. Civilization began to have fears that the sun would burn out and that the world was coing to an end, and they were beginning to think that there was no God to care.

This pessimism was seen before 1914, though, when Nietzsche declared the death of God in 1883. Nietzsche’s criticism extends beyond that of Christian morality and includes passionless atheism as well. Nietzsche was trying to convey that Christian morality no longer had a hold on Western culture; this attitude towards Christian values appears throughout modernist writing in Christian writers, such as Eliot (“The Waste Land”); in atheist writer’s, such as Conrad; and in agnostic writers, such as Yeats (“the Second Coming”). Modernist writers were dealing with this death of God (of Christain morality guiding Western attitudes about good and evil in their writings. I would argue that all the writers we have read are writing about this loss of spirituality and God in some way; furthermore, these writers are conveying how it is the spiritual Christians, imposing their morality, who have killed God, colonized people, and engaged in senseless war.

Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness has a subtle critique of Western Christian values inferred behind the critique of imperialism. If God is supposed to be “the light,” then one can read Conrad’s darkness as the light of God that has gone out. In an inversion of Western values, darkness comes to native people when colonizers bring their light. The frame narrator of the story describes the explorers as, “bearers of a spark from the sacred fire” (67). As the story will show, most of these bearers of the sacred fire will use the fire to burn down the native civilization that is colonized.

There is a sense of Marlowe being equated to an inverse fallen Adam. Marlowe begins his story by stating how his experience can be seen as “…throw[ing] a kind of light on everything about [him]” (70). Knowledge is usually equated with light, but it is with knowledge that Adam is divorced from the light of God; in Marlowe’s case, this knowledge (that takes him out of Eden), actually makes him more ethical because he is now outside of the constrains, that is the demands, of bringing the scared fire to the “savages” who don’t know better. Marlowe’s light is the knowledge of the horrors of imperialism. To further extend this Adam/Marlowe metaphor, Marlowe is tempted by the river that looks like a snake that charms him. Marlowe’s “fall,” like Adams, is dependent on a charming snake. Tempted by the snake he goes to find knowledge, but Marlowe’s knowledge will be that the scared fire makes “civilized” men savages. In fact, Marlowe is equated with a Buddha, an eastern symbol of values. Furthermore, when Marlowe is at his aunt’s before leaving, he says that he was supposed to be an “emissary of light;” but then as he leaves his aunt’s with this knowledge, he says he feels himself an imposter (77). Marlowe feels like an imposter because he does not want to civilize “savages” by bringing them the light of God, but rather, he wants to, like a belated Adam, explore the darkness.

Marlowe foreshadows Kurtz at the beginning of his story when he describes the inland post of the jungle as “utter savagery.” But is it the jungle that is savage, or is it these inland posts, specifically, that are savage? That is to say, when man has to confront the rules of God without society to restrain him, man’s savagery is unleashed. In this case, it is not that “without God, all is permissible” but rather that “with God, all is permissible.” With God, man has rules he knows he is breaking, with God, man knows that all he has to do is ask for forgiveness, with God, man has a ready excuse for savagery: his savagery is a result of being away from God. This seems to be Kurtz’s excuse. This seems to be the excuse of England who sets up post in order to fulfill God’s plan “for humanizing, improving, [and] instructing” (104).

However, looking at the way the “civilized” act in comparison with the “savage,” one can infer that Conrad is commenting on the savagery of colonization, which in turn, is a critique of Christian morality. It is the European Christians who chain the savage people in a line by the neck, and which leads Marlowe to call the imperialist devils (82). Marlowe sees the horror of this treatment, and one gets a sense of Marlowe descending into a hell: “Instead of going up, I turned and descended to the left” (82), which appears to be a reference to Dante’s descent into hell (usually turning to the left), but this is a hell that has been created by the civilized Christians. This contrast is further seen in Conrad’s treatment of the cannibals. Unlike the Christians who treat the savages like animals, the cannibals (without God to tell them) know not to eat the crew of Marlowe’s ship, even though they are starving (115-116)).

Conrad uses Kurtz to epitomize European Christian values that lead to the death of God. Before Marlowe meets Kurtz, Kurtz is described as a special being. Furthermore, Marlowe describes Kurtz in language that sounds like someone trying to explain the story of God: Kurtz was “just a word,” Marlowe does not see the man in the name, Marlowe describes how it is impossible to convey the idea of Kurtz. Marlowe goes on to describe how Kurtz is present in his words, a gift only a God can have because words never have fully present meaning. For Kurtz, though, his ability to talk carried a real presence. Furthermore, in describing Kurtz, Marlowe says “All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz” (127). Although the office for the suppression of savage customs entrusted Kurtz to write a report on the savages, it is Kurtz, and his European-ness, that becomes a savage while the savages, without God, know right from wrong. The savages only become evil and begin to rob and kill each other when Kurtz takes over and sets himself up as a god.

It is in this inversion in which Marlowe, without God, and the savages, also without God, are the moral ones of the story. This is Conrad’s critique of Europe’s idea of God and Christian morality. It is this morality that leads to imperialism and treating “savages” like animals and leads to the First World War.