Thursday, May 17, 2007

What does Caninophilia Matter?

EDIT If you've just arrived at the party, run don't walk to this post and then, if you can still touch ground, make your way back here.

Readers of this blog and attendees at the medieval to modern posthumanisms session at Kzoo know my position on the boundary between humans and animals. Although I'm willing to entertain the possibility of prediscursive species identities and prediscursive individual identities within species--that cat, this dog, that bat, this human--there is no prediscursive human identity so long as "human" is understood to mean, as it has traditionally, a creature uniquely possessing a set of capacities that relegates every other living creature to the status of mere animal. As I argue (in a position at least aligned with Derrida), humans know themselves as human--as the sole possessors of self-consciousness, reason, language, the capacity to apprehend things "as such," immortal souls, and so forth--because only animals suffer deaths that cannot be murder, because no animal tames humans. Human reason, understood as a pleonasm, is the effect of the human subjugation of animals, not its cause. This may be true now, but it's certainly true in the prescientic episteme of the Middle Ages.

It's practically inevitable that someone mentions pets whenever I push this idea. During the discussion following the posthumanism session, Jane Chance spoke about her assurance in her dog's love for her. At the BABEL party, James Paxson charmed me by showing off the photo of his dog on his cell phone. And, obviously, I can't help but think of the many medieval stories of love between animals and humans, of relationships every bit as intensely affectionate as those between Chance and Paxton and their pets.

In the battle in which Yvain rescues Lunete, the wicked seneschels wound Yvain's lion: "Quant mes sire Yvains voit blecié / son lÿon, molt a correcié / le cuer del vantre" (4543-45; when my lord Yvain saw his lion wounded, he was filled with anger), to which our author adds, "et n'a pas tort" (4545; and rightly so). What could be more touching than his sollicitude for the lion's wounds? He makes his shield a litter and cushions the lion in it with moss, and has the lion healed by the same maidens who tend to his own wounds. In Routeboeuf's Testamentum de l'âne, a priest explains to his bishop the gratitude that drove him to bury his donkey in the church graveyard. Edward I of England sent his sick falcons on pilgrimage, and Gervase of Tilbury eulogized dogs at length, asserting that they have “special capacities that bring them as close to rational creatures as they set them above the other beasts.” In Medieval Identity Machines, in the midst of a deleuzoguattarian take on knights and their horses, JJC recounts many stories of knights who, having had their horses cut out from under them, declare their wish that they had been killed instead; he also recounts how Lancelot’s patience under his tutor’s blows gives way to violent rage when the tutor beats Lancelot’s hunting dog. Bevis of Hampton prays God for mercy for the souls of Bevis, his wife Josian, "And also for [Bevis's horse] Arondel, / Yif men for eni hors bidde schel" (4618-19).

Similarly, there's a horse in Folcuin of Lobbes' Deeds of the Abbots of S. Bertin (MGH SS 13, 618) who refuses any other riders after its master's death, and which, in death, refuses, in a manner of speaking, to be eaten by dogs (cum canibus cibus esset appositus, a nullis illorum est attactus): "Quod videntes cives, eum humano more sepelierunt, quem nec bestiae nec volucres tangere presumpserunt" (When the citizens saw this, they buried this animal that neither beasts nor birds would presume to touch in the fashion that they would bury a human). This is one of many animals whose love overflows the boundaries of mere obedience. In the Dog of Antioch tradition, which enters Western Christian textuality with Ambrose' Hexaemeron 6.4.24, a dog refuses to leave the corpse of its murdered master and eventually apprehends the killer. In a Middle English version in Sir Tryamour, the greyhound Trewe-love of the murdered Sir Roger makes a citizen's arrest (and execution) at a noble feast:
And the hounde wolde nevyr blynne,
But ranne abowte faste wyth wynne
Tyll he wyth hym metyth.
He starte up verament,
The steward be the throte he hente:
The hownd wrekyd hys maystyrs dethe.
The stewardys lyfe ys lorne —
There was fewe that rewyd theron
And fewe for hym wepyth. (532-40)

Roger's widow, Margaret, names her son after the dog, surely a sign of respect as deep as the call to pray for Arondel. I might even mention Houdain.

That said, counterexamples are not difficult to turn up. There's 'Houndsditch' just beyond London's city limits, where Londoners dumped their dead dogs; a Middle English sermon describes the deaths of the falcons and hawks so beloved by elite hunters: “Twewly birdes raueners, when þei die þei be cast awey vppon þe myddynges as no þinge of valew” (Ross, ed., Middle English Sermons, EETS o. s. 209, 239); in Lydgate's "Debate of the Horse, Goose, and Sheep," the Goose observes that “A ded hors is but a fowle careyn” (204). Richard Thomas's paper in the collection Just Skin and Bones explains that the archaeological record for medieval England shows that dead dogs might be fed to other dogs, and that dead dogs and cats both might be disposed of in latrines. Baring pre-Christian burials of horses in Northern Europe, medieval animal burials, and all they imply, are the exception.

Consider this too: Walter Map speaks of a rich man and his oxen: each evening, the rich man entered his barn “and approached each oxen in turn, shook up their fodder, running his hand along the backbone of each, approvingly and fondly, instructing each by name to eat.” In this story, a deer hides itself among the man’s oxen, but he discovers the deer during his nightly livestock review and orders the interloper killed. These oxen might be recognized and even privileged as pets over the deer; but if they are pets, their names cannot protect them. Regardless of how fond the man is of his herd, this affection encourages them to muster up strength for labor and fortify their bodies for consumption. It would be obtuse, or so I'd like to think, to claim that this is all the affection does, as there's a love in it that exceeds practicality. But the practical purpose should not be forgotten, and by remembering it, I feel compelled to recognize that the oxen sentimentalize the very sacrificial structure about which Walter is entirely—-except through the substitutive figure of the deer—-silent. Nor can I imagine that Walter would have thought so highly about a sentimental ox who made his way through a rural manor each night, caressing each human in the years leading up to a slaughter it enjoyed rather than suffered.

The short version of this all is this: I can think of no medieval--or for that matter, no modern--example of any human allowing his or her animal to make a decision to have its master put down. As much as I empathize with Chance, Paxton, and the many other cat-, dog-, horse-, and even lion-lovers, I can't help but think that this empathy is a temptation from the rigor of my project. I think of what Cary Wolfe calls "the logic of the pet," "the sole exception, the individual who is exempted from the slaughter in order to vindicate, with exquisite bad faith, a sacrificial structure" (Animal Rites 104).

I'm not being fair here, am I? Am I allowed to dismiss the love between humans and pets as Driving Miss Daisyism? Am I allowed to dismiss this: "Dogs are about the inescapable, contradictory story of relationships--co-constitutive relationships in which none of the parterns pre-exist the relating, and the relating is never done once and for all" (Harraway, Companion Species Manifesto 12)? There's been a lot of talk about love around these parts since Kzoo. Understandably, unsurprisingly, justifiably so. Michael O'Roarke quoted Hardt and Negri on collaboration: "Love means precisely that our expansive encounters and continuous collaborations bring us joy." I think of Marty Shichtman and Laurie Finke at the BABEL theory panel, I think of this blog here, and why not, also, recall Jane Chance and her dog?

Why not: because of the irreducible power of the human to give life and take it away. I want to believe that I haven't discovered a foundation, but I think I have. Anyone care to help me get past it?


Nicola Masciandaro said...

So many points of entry, but is there an exit?

Can the question of whether animal love matters (ethically, culturally, aesthetically, whatever) be considered apart from the question of the _matter_ of love, of its reality, its substance. I don’t think so. Why? Because the foundation of the human you are critiquing has everything to do with the impoverished notions of matter which our experience of love contradicts. The construction of the animal as merely material, as a quantifiable thing, and the construction of affective human experience as immaterial, hallucinatory are two sides of the same coin. Despite all sorts of evidence to the contrary, we can deny animals selves, treat them as walking meat, because, lacking an adequate concept for our own substance, we divide ourselves into matter and spirit, call ourselves the sum, and deny animals the latter, so as to render our immaterial selves substantial, immortal, uniquely us. This is the equation, grounded in the counterintuitive and counterexperiential belief in quantifiable, dimensional matter as the only real, that creates out of a spectrum of beings an impassible animal/human divide. Whence the Smith’s “Meat -is Murder” means not only that animals are people too but that meat and murder are interdependent, formally equivalent concepts. (I thought I was having a new thought just now but as you may remember I said basically the same thing in my Kzoo paper, when I called animals “that set of living beings that the human defines as merely corporeal so as to understand itself – and what a clumsy, unnecessary shorthand it is! – as a body that is more than a body, to create itself in its own image via difference from a body reduced to a body and thus render its own ever-present incorporeal self, perhaps in revolt against the invisibility of this presence, as a special kind of body, as a human.”) Love challenges our impoverished notions of self and matter (self=immaterial hallucination, matter=real substance) by providing an unmistakable experience of the reality of other beings, of the mysterious actuality of selves. Love allows us to see the invisible.

So, I would say that whatever dark, self-justifying, species-narcissistic compulsions loving animals serves, however many essentializing, homo-est-animal-homificans, identity-as-differentiating projects it furthers, human-animal companionship has its own authentic reality, as real as the selves that participate in it. Which means that just like human-human love, it can stink.

Which raises another question. What role should the radically arbitrary fact of individuality play within our understanding of the animal/human “divide”?

Remember the moment in Aguirre the Wrath of God when the natives point to the Euros going down the river and say “Meat!”?

So what _would_ happen to the “human” if it were subjugated by another species? As I write Heather is playing “Gears of War” in which the invaders, from the bowels of the earth, hiss “sapien” in disgust when they spot you!

Nicola Masciandaro said...

Oh, and I wanted to say something as well about the relevance of the medieval, as our playground for the reality of the affective, as the once and future universe in which love _does_ move the sun and the other stars, to the animal question. Isn't that at least part of what's at stake in theorizing the medieval animal?

Eileen Joy said...

Karl, I consider this, finally, the throw-down match I've been waiting for [haha]. But seriously, I have A LOT I want to say here but I have to take care of a few teaching matters this morning, and then I'll return here, to repond to you and to Nicola, but just for starters, yes, you are being somewhat "unfair," and you are constructing such a tight hermetic argument that it leave no room for real acts of compassion extended toward animals who are pets. More later.

Dr. Virago said...

Karl, I have a question that might help: are there any stories of animals rescuing humans from death or comforting humans in death? (I'd also ask if there are any stories of animals ending the suffering of a human dying, but I'd be very surprised if there were.) And if there are, how might that shake your foundation?

Glaukôpis said...

This is admittedly hearsay (and I don't know what scientists say about this), but African Greys have been known to commit suicide (hanging themselves). There's also one on youtube who *supposedly* hears songs and subsitutes himself in them (so you'll hear "birdy" or his name instead of whoever the song is about). Of course, it could just be that his human is teaching him to mimick that (though I believe the human claims s/he's not).

Primates have been seen making and using tools, and there's Koko the gorilla's ability to use sign language.

And I've also seen a couple news stories (though I can't remember the exact ones at the moment) of animals rescuing their humans from death/serious injury. Oh, there's the dog who called 911, actually:,2933,137066,00.html

But she was also trained to do that.

There's also the cockatoo who attacked a robber threatening its human with a gun. Apparently, it held on so tightly and wouldn't let go, so the robber shot it. I can't find the story on that one anymore, though.

Anonymous said...

Cats. I love them. They treat me with fitting disdain.

I have no knowledge of dogs. But if you google 'Canine Heroes' (better still 'Canine Heros'). You get some amazing results which Dr Virago would love.

S etc

Laudine said...

I wonder if perhaps what makes Karl's question so difficult is that he is trying to reach past the question of the roles of compassion and affection in human-animal relationships: not because compassion and affection don't matter, not because they don't construct those relationships, but because humans, in defining animals, do so despite their affection and compassion, and not for lack of those qualities.

Even if we grant that all the humans participating in this discussion have overcome their impoverished notions of self to recognize love for animals and the love of animals for us; even if we recognize animals' reason, feelings, responses, and, as it were, their souls; even if we love our cats and parrots more than we love our partners and friends and colleagues, Karl's question still remains: can we value the life of an animal whom we love more than the life of a human we love? Further, can we value that beloved animal's life over the life of a human we have never met, or that of a human whom we hate?

Nicola's questions about love, its enabling us to see the invisible, and, furthermore, his invocation of the complexity of feeling, including the awfulness of love--all these respond to the original question about the right to dispense death, despite love. If I love my cat more than I love my sister, but I am forced into a situation in which I must choose to sacrifice one life to save the other, can I allow my cat to live and my sister to die? I think that the suggestions here that an affective relationship can trump relationships of domination and power just don't hold. If given the choice between cat and sister, I would feel obligated to choose my sister--maybe that's just me, though. What does this say about the human-animal relationship? And furthermore, to echo Nichola (I think), what does this say about love? These questions undermine the notion of love itself: that it can be sacrificed for the sake of a morality that preserves the integrity of the species, the human community, over our individual feelings for the animals we love.

Given the choice between the beloved cat and the human stranger, perhaps we all could allow an animal in whom we'd invested so much emotion, who reciprocated our feelings, to prevail over the life of the stranger. This, I think, is the first question that Karl is really asking us to answer: would we choose to save Fluffy from a burning building when we knew that our choice would make a stranger inside roast to death?

And his final question is: would we save an animal stranger from that building, instead of a human stranger? Do any of us view animals on such terms of equality that we would save an known parakeet rather than an unknown human being from the same building?

Laudine said...

--no H in Nicola's name, sorry.
--last sentence should read:
Do any of us view animals on such terms of equality that we would save an UNknown parakeet rather than an unknown human being from the same building?

Nicola Masciandaro said...

Laudine's scenario is to the point and promises to bring in a lot of clarity. I had forgotten how instructive those ethics scenarios, despite their threat of reductiveness, can be! For me it points towards two principles:

1) That values always need to be brought back to things themselves, to where they belong. In choosing to save a human we don't love over an animal we do we are saying that one form of life, at least within the narrow constraints of _choice_, is more valuable than the another form of life, that the postponement of _its_ death is inherently preferable. This means that we do in fact love that nasty human in a different way, not for the kind of human it is, but for its being, its nature. But it is equally significant that there are some humans we would let burn because their _deaths_, again, within the construct of forced choice, are more valuable than the cat's. Death too, as part of life, must be brought within the realm of values and not treated as some sort of absolute negation of value that stands apart from the reality of things. (Wasn't somebody talking about this at Kzoo?)

2) That love should not be limited to the human, whatever specific attributes it assumes at the human level. Why not (really come out of the closet as medievalists and) understand love as operating at all levels of being in different forms, from gravitational love, to the lion's love of its prey, to human friendship? Is there any more meaningful way of defining the "unity of life" that always already is, our being in the world _together_. All this requires I think is that we "grant" consciousness, in degree, to everything that exists, which is, somewhat ironically, what science, whose great work has been to rupture all species and body boundaries, compels us towards. Right?

dan remein said...

I want to point out one brief possibility within one of your examples, as the bulk of your analysis proceeds on good solid examples. Yvain's Lion shows up just as Yvain's own discursively implicated body as Chevalier fails, and by the very end of the narrative, the Lion mysteriously dissapears. It is as if there is a fluid boundary of the self which serves Yvain for very practicle reasons, and which at the same time invovles plenty of affection--but it dissapears when Yvain is fully able to fill his Knightly shows again.

I cannot help but wonder if the issue of Love, when, in looking for new humanesses, might involve new looks at old possibilities for human-animal relations in which the animal provides fodder for the kind of assertaion Bersani (with Dutoit) makes in _Forms of Being_: that individuality is ontologically implausible. I am not arguing here that Yvain provides us with a great example of a "how to." In fact, I think I am supporting tacitly your arguments against this blurring of the human in the middle ages. But there is a certain possibility in Yvain, even if it is foreclosed.

Now, Bersani takes this claim to the point of denying the boundary between subject and World, saying that the subject is the World. Surely, one could run this through the Freud-mill and suggest that this is only an appeal to the oceanic feeling. But, I think it what it gets right--when thought in terms of possible human-animal relations, especially in the middle-ages, as a resource for thinking new humanesses now--is a willingness to _consider_ a less narcissistc concept of the human. We often easily admit a lack of agency as critics in reading a text. Deleuze and Gautarri in _On The Line_ write about a book written by teo to obscure themeselves, in which already each is many. Their book, they claim, is rhizomatic and is not "Nature as Book" or World as Book, but a series of openings into the world.

What might interest us about animal-love, regardless of its ability to be constructed or not at a given period of history, is what we can invent with it now, in terms of humanesses which are openings and multiplications of possible relations in stead of tightly constructed essents.

Anonymous said...

This discussion keeps reminding me of another conversation I had recently, about parent-child relations. My friend was arguing that the desire for children is, essentially, a desire for slaves--that parenthood is nothing more than a narcissistic expression of the parents' desire for power. I found this to be a problematic assertion for many reasons, among which was my friend's assumption that any relationship involving an inbalance of power was necessarily primarily constituted by that power dichotomy. The parallel of children with animals is obviously far from exact, but I find the suggestion that the love of animals is ultimately subordinate to the power differential between animals and humans to be problematic for similar reasons. Children don't choose to be given life by adults any more than some animals choose to have their lives taken away by humans. (And as Nicola points out, any relationship can go bad). But boiling the complex relations of either parents and children or humans and animals down to *either* affection *or* power seems to be a false dichotomy. This might be a long shot, but I wonder whether looking at some of the recent work on medieval children would be useful for theorizing medieval animals?

Eileen Joy said...

Can I just say, "wow"? I think this may be one of the best discussions *ever* that we have had here. I'm jazzed. Especially since I'm hanging out at my favorite bar, Erato, where I was just accused of "cheating" because someone told someone that I was at Mangia [a restaurant down the block] on Monday and Tuesday. Well, yes, I was--I guess I had a brief moment where I thought I was "missing something," or maybe I was craving Manigia's baked spaghetti, but now I'm back at Erato and all is forgiven. And I'm reading the comment thread here and just thinking, again, "wow."

As I indicated earlier, I think Karl is being, well, too *tough* on us, in a way, but then I think, *good*, he needs to be, but I also think, following some thoughts I had at the "Hetero-Queer BABEL" post, that we need to spend some real quality time here differentiating between a certain history/historical process that has led us to this untenable juncture [re: how killing an animal is supposedly never murder and how loving and even lovingly "putting down" a pet is still a form of a certain kind of speciesism and how--and I think this is always Karl's primary point--the term/state of being "human" is always dependent upon an Othering of all other animals/living species], and the more utopian modes of thinking in which we might be able to imagine/enact different sorts of human/animal/other animal relationships. In other words, there is history--the ways things have been--and there is the future: the ways we want things to be. And for myself, I do *not* believe in animals being put down, I recognize that I should be vegetarian [and soon--my partner has been for quite a while already], I do not think I am "superior" [whatever that means] to "other" animals, and yet, at the same time, following the comments of laudine, I'm not sure I would choose saving a parrot over, say, my best friend or partner or mother or even a woman I don't know who crosses through my field of vision/affectivity. BUT, I would like to consider the possibility that I *could* while I would also like to ask: why do we always have to frame these sorts of questions around these somewhat pseudo-real thought experiments? I may never have to choose between a parrot and my mother, so why do I have to consider the question? Can I love the parrot and my mother without chosing, or does whatever we believe at any given moment have to subjected to an extreme test in order to be "true"? I'll take my love objects "catch as catch can" and defer the extreme test until later. I'm after a plentiude of love, of affection, of amity, without choices, without judgment. Call me an optimist--I defer all catastophes to another moment. The possibility of catastrophe, of horrible choices *later*, does not impede my loving now. Perhaps that is arrogant?

As I have indicated to Karl in comment threads in posts from the past, while I agree with much of what he argues about the almost overly grandiose speciousness of the so-called human/animal divide, at some point, we have to grapple with DIFFERENCE and VARIATION among living forms, and we will likely need help from biologists with that [not just philosophers], and you can talk a blue streak through a Derrida or a Wolfe or a Peter Singer or a whoever and it will never change the fact that I am not a cockroach or a parrot. I *am* different, but the ultimate question [if we are talking ethics here, and god knows I hope we are] might have to be not what makes one thing different from another [an avenue that often has diminishing returns, especially when we chase after definitions that hearken after categories of the ephemeral or what I would call the "ephemeral rational"], bur rather how, in Kristeva's phrasing, we can "brush by" difference, to touch it even, without altering it or ever calling it into question ["Strangers to Ourselves"]. Now, this naturally brings me to love:

In an earlier post, Nicola wrote the following:

"Love challenges our impoverished notions of self and matter (self=immaterial hallucination, matter=real substance) by providing an unmistakable experience of the reality of other beings, of the mysterious actuality of selves. Love allows us to see the invisible."

Amen. This, I guess, is where I can also get on the deleuze-guattari bandwagon and ask what it might mean to spread or "lose" myself [whatever "myself" is] in some type of desiring-machinic contact [which, again, in Kristeva's formulation, would be a "brushing by" without touching too destructively, and without the "naming" of "animal" and "human" and "other than animal or human"].

But then, there's also that thing called a world. In what way[s] does the world get in our way, how does it "striate" us [to steal from Kugelmass] and alter us, such that we can't see beyond "ourselves"? And further, why do we want to dismantle "ourselves" so thoroughly that there are no longer any points of demarcation between "me" and everything else? Yes, our notions of self, as Nicola rightly notes, are mainly impoverished, but I am still singular [if even "n minus 1"]. How to account for the variety, the difference, of life forms, that nevertheless, make the possibility, at the same time, of "human" and "dog" possible in a way that is mutually sustaining?

Eileen Joy said...

And further, how can I reach the rapture of crossing over [from my "some" to another "some"] without knowing where I began?

Karl Steel said...

Just a quick note to promise a response as soon as I can get one out: but for now, thanks everyone. This is all very exciting and fun. Even important. Expect something from me, but--not that I need to say this--keep it going in the meanwhile.

MKH said...

So one thing that I can't help but wonder about all of this is what language has to do with it. I'm far from an expert on any of this, but I feel like a part of what's going on is a kind of linguistic domination -- or perhaps more aptly, a kind of linguistically determined differentiation between humans and animals. I'm still struggling with what I mean by that but part of it is the inability to see our relationship to the world in words that aren't human words. I know that sounds kind of bizarre -- but I think it's where the divide comes in, the foundational-ness of the fundamental distinctions we make between the human and the animal.

I love Nicola's question: what _would_ happen to the “human” if it were subjugated by another species? I think that that's part of what's going on here -- humans are lucky (??) enough to be in the position where we don't have to ask that question. Because animal cognition isn't sufficiently understood, we can't find a common discourse on which to base our thought process when it comes to animal domination or animal cruelty.

Eileen, I think that the idea you're raising from Kristeva -- how, in Kristeva's phrasing, we can "brush by" difference, to touch it even, without altering it or ever calling it into question ["Strangers to Ourselves"]. is particularly salient. The most important reason that identifying difference gives us diminishing returns is because ultimately every living thing is unique (possibly excluding cloned living beings). There are no categories that can't be broken, no boundaries that can be drawn so as to give any group perfect sameness -- because sameness is artificial. Traits might be held in common, but the full structure of DNA is, if I understand it correctly, always going to be unique. Hybrid -- between the different sources of that DNA -- but unique in its hybridity.

Part of the problem also seems that we need to be able to look at other species and differentiate -- in fact, that we look at other species in order to differentiate, with an eye for their difference. i.e., that something Other first has to be encountered, then recognized as Other, before a "self" can be constructed. I feel like it's Levinasian, in a sense -- that moment of recognition of the Other, the encounter with the Face, that exists before any response to it. Of course -- there's nothing inherent in this that leads to the privileging of the human (and it's been about two years since I read any Levinas) -- but what it does allow for is the recognition and differentiation to take place, which then has to be put into language.

This comment is getting far too long for this time of morning -- but I also wonder if, to return to the thoughts on language that I started with -- Bakhtin might have something to say here. Because language works, according to "Discourse in the Novel," I think, in a predetermined way(though not completely so), it is always anticipatory of a future word not yet said. Is the question of "what happens when that future word comes in a language that can't even be recognized as language" relevant here? Or is it 2 AM and I'm being incoherent?

Laudine said...

>why do we always have to frame these sorts of questions around these somewhat pseudo-real thought experiments?

Because pursuing a plenitude of love is a choice, and pursuing a utopian model of possibilities is a choice, the same way that pursuing the historical model is, and these discussions have brought that out. These discussions have also brought out some clarity about what Eileen's and Karl's arguments have in common: both of you appear to believe that it is wrong to assign superiority, or to gain a material advantage, from splitting off the human from the category animal. Both of you believe that a human is a species that has differences from other species, but that "animal" is not an undifferentiated category.

And where you appear to differ in the comments threads, I think, is not in the substance of your arguments, but in a failure to recognize what the other is persisting in trying to say. I think that Eileen wants Karl to engage with her in imagining the possibilities of difference, and how to frame it in a way that preserves difference while critiquing/grappling with domination--which is something he has hitherto not been willing to do. And I think that Karl wants Eileen to agree that the relationship of domination he has described is important, not because it is essential, but because it must be recognized first as pervasive, damaging, and arbitrary before we can change the way we think about humans and animals--before we can engage in precisely the work that Eileen wants to do.

And I think that perhaps it takes this kind of extended argument, and frustration, and restating of ideas in new ways, to make it clear how people with the same goals butt heads.

Eileen Joy said...

Just a quick note this morning as I am *supposed* to be doing something else at the moment [and I will return in a bit]: I am glad laudine has provided a nice synthesis here between what she[?] sees as the ways in which Karl and I are framing our argumemts, how we agree and disagree, but also in pointing out that maybe we're "failing" is seeing what each of us is "trying to say." I'm not sure we're "failing," exactly, but I think there is some "flailing" [haha]. Actually, I like the idea of us having, hopefully, a shared goal but also that we're, I want to say, "working" on each other, agonistically and dissensually, sure, but only up to a point, because I really DO want to hear what Karl is trying to say and I want him to help me push my own thinking about "humanisms" and "anti-humanisms" in the most productive directions possible. This gets at the heart, actually, of what I was trying to get at in the BABEL manifest, how a heterotopia would be a kind of commune of intellectual misfits who want to strive together toward a common goal but who disagree all the time and maybe can't even get along sometimes but really want to be together. It's a kind of mutually productive [I hope] intellectual [but even emotional] chaos that reminds me of Nietzsche's aphorism, "One must have chaos within oneself to give birth to a dancing star." But in any case, thanks laudine, for clarifying the outlines of what we are doing here and even for reminding us to, maybe, listen to each other more carefully.

As to MKH's reminding us of Nicola's question, "So what _would_ happen to the “human” if it were subjugated by another species?" My friends, it already happened and is still happening, for the "Nazis" ["humans"] subjugated the Jews ["vermin"] and the U.S. government ["humans"] are subjugating "enemy combatants" ["non-humans"/"animals"], and the Bosnian Serbs ["humans"] subjugated the Albanian Muslims ["animals"] and the southern white men ["humans"] in the 1920 lynched "niggers" ["animals"], and so one and so on. And perhaps this just serves to underscore Karl's points?

MKH said...

No time for substantial posting -- but I think that's precisely what's at stake, Eileen: the qualitative "difference" between humans and animals is what allows for the dehumanization of groups deemed "Other", and consequently their subjugation. It's terrifying how wide the ramifications of this argument are.

Karl Steel said...

Also no time, right now, for substantial posting, which means substantial thinking. But for now, here's Cary Wolfe, Animal Rites:

"The effective power of the discourse of species when applied to socail others of whatever sort relies, then, on a prior taking for granted of the institution of speciesism---that is, of the ethical applicability of the systematic 'noncriminal putting to death' of animals based solely on their species. And because the discourse of speciesism, once anchored in this material, institutional base can be used to mark any social other, we need to understand that the ethical and philosophical urgency of confronting the institution of speciesism and crafting a posthumanist theory of the subject has nothing to do with whether you like animals. We all, human and nonhuman alike, have a stake in the discourse and institution of speciesism; it is by no means limited to its overwhelmingly direct and disproportionate effects on animals. Indeed, as Gayatri Spivak puts it: 'The great doctrines of identity of the ethical universal, in terms of which liberalism thought out its ethical programmes, played history false, because the identity was disengaged in terms of who was and who was not human. That's why all of these projects, the justification of slavery, as well as the justification of Christianization, seemed to be although; because, after all, these people had not graduated into humanhood, as it were.'" (Animal Rites 7, orig. emph.).

That said, if we rely on this thinking too much as an apology or justification for our effort to arrive at a truly posthuman ethics, then we've of course simply tethered outselves to humanism and all its crimes.

Nicola Masciandaro said...

. . . which suggests the need for intellectual work that extends discourse (as opposed to language, which, as Agamben says, animals already inhabit) beyond the human. Isn't that what a "posthumanist theory of the subject" most pressingly requires, a way of understanding the discursivity of non-discursive beings, the discourse of being itself, in whatever form it takes? in other words, a space for animals, and everything else while we are at it, within Logos?

And isn't this where the ethical lives, in the recognition that self and other are equally spoken, that my discourse cannot institute the other, because the other, whether it speaks my language or not, is equally and as arbitarily given, thrown as I am?

Karl Steel said...

That's why all of these projects, the justification of slavery, as well as the justification of Christianization, seemed to be although;

Seemed to be alright

Nicola Masciandaro said...

I'm an anarchist too. What I am thinking about is not "civilization" but a discourse that, rather than imposing some supposdedly liberating category on beings, can recognize them as already spoken in their actuality, a deictic discourse that can do justice to actualities, to presence. When people do bad things to a cow isn't the crux of the problem the fact that they no longer see the cow as a such but as a "cow," in other words see the being through their discourse as a sign of the concept of what they want it to be for them? Here is where I find Agamben's construction of "whatever being" useful.

Eileen Joy said...

Oh my god the weather is so freaking beautiful in Saint Louis today why am I sitting in this coffee shop writing this comment am I crazy? [haha]

All kidding aside, I must now repair back home to sit on my front porch, drink a beer and commence to reading "The Fellowship of Ring," which certain students at SIUE mistakenly believe I can tell them something about this coming week in our "Lord of the Rings and Medieval Heroic Poetry" course that I am co-teaching with Doug Simms as part of SIUE's interdisciplinary studies program, and in which course Doug and I plan to explore the "dark side" of the heroic mode via issues of masculinity, race, nationalism, etc. What fun! Because . . . big confession . . . I have NEVER read the LOTR and never wanted to--don't tell anyone--I'm scared. Really scared.

But in any case, before I dash off to that porch, I wanted to, maybe, briefly raise the question of history/historicizing again via that quotation from Wolfe that Karl provided, wherein Wolfe argues that,

". . . because the discourse of speciesism, once anchored in this material, institutional base can be used to mark any social other, we need to understand that the ethical and philosophical urgency of confronting the institution of speciesism and crafting a posthumanist theory of the subject has nothing to do with whether you like animals. We all, human and nonhuman alike, have a stake in the discourse and institution of speciesism; it is by no means limited to its overwhelmingly direct and disproportionate effects on animals."

And Karl rejoins,

"That said, if we rely on this thinking too much as an apology or justification for our effort to arrive at a truly posthuman ethics, then we've of course simply tethered ourselves to humanism and all its crimes."

I don't know, on one level, what it might mean to "tether" oneself to "humanism and all its crimes." I guess I need some help here [from Karl and others], while at the same time I want to [gently/forcefully] assert that "humanism" is capable of producing goodness as well as evil, right? I mean, are we going to claim that "humanism," even its most old, most historically ancient forms, is somehow monologic and univocal in its concerns, thinking, and aims? Are we going to say that now? Are we going to trace, mainly in texts, all the ways in which, again, "humanism" [so-called], can only ever *end up* at a crime--either against animals or humans defined as lower or too-animal-like? Is there no room within *any* humanist philosophy that ever existed that allowed [and might still continue to allow] the crack or slit of an opening into a possibility of *not* privileging "the human," with force, over everything supposedly "not human" or "animal"?

These are sincere questions, not smart-ass rhetorical ploying questions [and yes, I meant "ploying"]. I want to allow for a possibility of a recursive [not a discursive or prediscursive] humanism here--one that would return to old form, undo itself, and travel back to us in the here and now. What does everyone think?

Karl Steel said...

Is there no room within *any* humanist philosophy that ever existed that allowed [and might still continue to allow] the crack or slit of an opening into a possibility of *not* privileging "the human," with force, over everything supposedly "not human" or "animal"?

I don't know yet. I certainly don't want to shut that door. Knowing what I do now, it'd be pretentious and premature to do so, and not only that. Ungracious, too, given your lovely exit on recursivity and return. I certainly don't think that humanism is always a crime. It'd be foolish to think so given the (necessarily limited, as are all things) good effects that humanism has had.

That said, my hesitance with the Wolfe, above, is the appeal to human rights in order to justify doing critical animal theory. If we need to justify such a project by reference to the damage humans suffer from speciesism, we're still relying on the presumptive specialness of humans (as opposed to animals rather than as opposed to cats, bats, rat, gnats, &c,, i.e., animals in their heterogeneity) to make our argument.

Getting dangerously close to a full response here, which I can't do. Others: Nicola, DV, MKH, Laudine, Remein, Glau, S, just you wait. But while Eileen is reading LOTR for the first time (all my sympathies!), I'm writing, or at least pretending, to write furiously before the final prep for a party here, where ALK and I will entertain Nicola, among others. To all: wish you were here!

Eileen Joy said...

The one thing I have always agreed with you on Karl is the desire to vacate, as it were, the "specialness" of humans as a way into/modus operandi/hermeneutic/determinative category, etc. for devising animal rights, or even for formulating how we might see, listen to, hear, regard, respect, love "other" animals. I'm with you on this one all the way. That said, however, and precisely because authors like Michael Pollan drive me crazy when they write things like [from "The Omnivore's Dilemma"],

"Exactly why we would strive so hard to distance ourselves from our animality is a large question, but surely the human fear of death figures in the answer. What we see animals do an awful lot of is die, very often at our hands. Animals resist dying, but, having no conception of death, they don't give it nearly as much thought as we do. And one of the main thoughts about it we think is, will my own death be like this animal's or not? The belief, or hope, that human death is somehow different from animal death is precious to us--but unprovable. Whether it is or is not is one of the questions I suspect we're trying to answer whenever we look into the eyes of an animal,"

I feel like I have to also have recourse, vis-a-vis Pollan's unbelievably arrogant comments, to draw the boar [which Pollan shot and ate] under the marker of "human," in all its shining and radically open fullness, in order to make an affinitive contact that, nevertheless, does not collapse the "I" and the "boar" into a "name" that cannot change. Call this a stragic huamnist-essentialism, a temporary move, that hopefully creates a temporary holding area, outside of which, new horizons open. Consider the human, if you will, the best portal for the possibility of a different future.

Eileen Joy said...

Um, by "stragic huamnist essentialism," I meant "strategic humanist essentialism." Yikes.

Nicola Masciandaro said...

Eileen, your "human as portal" is a wonderful formulation and is bound to stay in my mind for quite a while. It strikes me as a more sci-fi, future-minded, non-essentializing version of Heidegger's "shepherd of being." It also beautifully acknowledges mortality, transitoriness, the fact that history, individual and collective, is not an end point. It echoes with Steven Kruger's "identity as transition," Agamben's "whatever being," Michael Uebel's "unknowing," and my current pet project, "apophatic humanism."

And another thought: another place where the medieval can help us think through the animal/human/posthuman landscape is the discourse about individuation, Scotus's haecceitas, etc. The problem of individuation seems to have been supplanted in large part by questions of individuality, as something unique to persons, whereas individuation extends to all things and offers a way of thinking non-human and posthuman individuality, an essential ingredient I think in overcoming speciesism.

Eileen Joy said...

I find that, increasingly, on the question of individuals and individuation and being-becoming and more importantly, as regards questions of justice [and I think, ultimately, that for Karl, the question of justice is what's really at stake in much of his writing on animals--*correct me if I'm wrong, Karl], I am becoming a kind of John Caputo-ian/Levinasian deleuzeguattarian, by which I mean that, yes, Nicola, I think we need to think more about individuation [and even becoming] as a process that encompasses all living things [and thanks for pointing us to Scotus for help with that on the medieval-to-modern side of things], and also, in deleuze-guattari's formulation, would be attentive to all the ways in which, as Judith Butler puts it, "Multiplicity is not the death of agency, but is very condition." At the same time, I do not think justice, nor freedom, is possible without, simultaneously, a fierce attention and regard on our part to the singular self [also reimagined to incorporate all living things], so that, as John Caputo has put it, against the notion of universal laws that supposedly apply to everyone [just humans, let's say] in their supposedly universal oneness,

"Justice has to do with only proper names, with the singularity of each one of us, precisely in our singularity. The Book of Justice would be then the Book of Proper Names, or what Levinas calls the 'Judgment of God,' for it has to do with what befits each one, even the least among us, in the singularity of their heart and mind. It would be like a map that is so perfect that it is the same size as the region of which it is the map. That perfect map, of course, would be a perfectly useless map, and impossible. That is why we distinguish justice, which is the impossible of which we dream, from the 'law,' which tries to be as just as possible while remaining in its blinded schematic condition. Now I say this is a more biblical model than a Greek one, more 'Jew' than 'Greek,' because it has to do with the one lost sheep, not the ninety-nine safe in the fold; the lost coin; with the secret in our hearts that is known only to God; with counting every hair on our head, counting every tear. These are biblical models of justice, not to be found in Plato or Aristotle or John Rawls, who also favors blindness (the veil of ignorance)."

This is a theological [or messianic], and yes, impossible model of justice, of course, which could never be put into full practice under the name of Law--it is theological in a "weak" sense, but it is still theological in the sense that if each living thing is not considered sacred in its singularity--even, in its freakish and queer singularity--to the so-called "last hair on its head," then there will never be justice. Justice has need of the idea of the sacred--that all living things are somehow sacred and special in their singularity. But this is where it can also get dangerous, I think, because obviously, many fundamentalist pro-life ideologies take up this idea, but they do so in a way that always reserves a place for what can be excluded from protection against violence [or hell]. The only other route, within which we could consider a process of individuation that is radically open and inclusive would be through Peter Singer's work, which will admit of no sacred element to individual lives, whether human or boar. In his model, which is sacrificial in some respects, anything can be justified to be "put down," human or otherwise, based on a supposedly objective observation of its "quality" of life, not as a "human being" or "cow" but as a "person," which Singer defines as a conscious, thinking being who has some kind of awareness of where he/she is and some sense of the future [however you want to define that] and pleasure-in-the-future [i.e. desire].

So, on the one hand, we have Caputo [heavily influenced by Levinas and Derrida] who argues for a kind of sacred singularity and on the other we have Singer who argues that there is absolutely nothing whatsoever sacred about human [or other] life and the only factors that should determine rights, including the right to life, is the so-called objective measurement of the "quality" of consciousness in a living being. Obviously, for me anyway, Singer's formulation is going to get us into trouble, even though it is pragmatic at its core. I opt for the sacred singularity of self, human, boar, even the tree. I think we should tremble a bit more.

Karl Steel said...

Who could have predicted such a wonderful comments thread? A quick response, which is all I'm good for right now: I think above all what we want to avoid is arrogance, whether, or especially, the arrogance of both universalism and positivist reductions.

Eileen Joy said...

The I can only agree with you.

Nicola Masciandaro said...

Here, here (trembling, before the sacred which does not need to, and cannot be, brought from anywhere else.)

dan remein said...

I realize I am quite new to this discussion and do not know most of you. Still, I cannot help but wonder if even _this_ approach to the sacred cannot be (better) secularized. Caputo's _weakness of god_ may be an unabashedly theological text--but Eileen's manifesto used the word "secular" to modify her heterotopia's (one of the key words of the "ad" I repsonded to, personally), and I think its worth trying to remember this term and its challenge at this most critical of moments.

The evacuation of the sacred from a conception of the human, of the self (whatever the species) comes with the nice side-effect of an easier sort of secular project. The route begun here is, I think, likely to end up more _productive_. Bersani's call seems to be more in the "easy" camp on this one: an annihilation of the self, a giving up. And it is notably more interested in the death drive: something more akin to that "destruction character" Benjamin sketches, which destoys without regard for the future or past.

One thing I think is great about thinking the idea of the sacred is found in its unlocatability: one of its more queer qualities. As such, this is part of an anti-empiricle quality as well. To mention Caputo and Levinas puts in my mind Derrida's essay on violence and metaphysics, on Levinas. It is in this early essay that he says some astonishing things about deity, the divine, and the other. Among these is the work from which we get a "weak" theology: the fact that, along with the impossibility of an exterior, and other, without originary violence, "Que les dieux ou Dieu ne puissent s’annoncer que dans l’espace du Sacré et la lumière de la déité, c’est à la fois la limite et la ressource de l’être-fini comme histoire. Limite parce que la divinité n’est pas Dieu. En un sens, elle n’est rien" (216 Ecriture et la Diff., sorry, I do not have an Eng. copy). In a sense, Derrida provides, from a different direction ground for seeing "nothing" special in anything. God is nothing, is outside of being, and cannot possibly be believed in or not believed in.

This is a notion of the sacred which cannot be touched, I do not think. It is one which leaves us only able to skim productively around its infinite différance, its nothingness. It is one which allows us invention. Perhaps this puts me closer to a love of the waste of Samuel Beckett like Bersani, and less in this camp. But the mechanisms of Beckett for me remain mechanisms obsessed with the sacred, just radically reconsidered. Especially for a utopia that knows its own doom (thinking of the OE semantic option of "to choose, to assign") to failure, this seems important to consider.

If there is a sacred, it seems to begin with an admission of nothing. It is an admission I think the speaker of an enigmatic poem in the Exeter book is willing to make.

I'd like then to ask a question concerning this given all that is said above and see what people think if they know the poem of which I ask: what do we call the speaker in the OE "Wulf and Eadwacer"? What the speaker has learned fits easily into that formula of Derrida's in English "always already" (as in, "always already a writing" etc.): "so mon eathe tostliteth | thaet naefre gesomnad waes,/ uncer gied geador."

So one swiftly shreds that which was never joined, the riddle of us together (crudely).

This come at the end, I remind us, of a poem in which we do not know, cannot, be sure how many people are invovled, if any of them are to have resonances with animals (wulf, star-watcher, etc.) and in which there seems to have been infanticide. And yet there also seems ot be a love triangle, but we can't tell which point is being addressed.

It is the begining (if at all possible) at "nothing" which seems to move closer towards a more workably secular sacred, and one which might be preferable for simply its pluridirecitonal efficacy.

Michael O'Rourke said...

The discussions unfolding here and elsewhere in recent days reminded me of this quote from Derrida's Rogues:

" far is democracy to be extended, the people of democracy and the 'each "one"' of democracy? To the dead, animals, to trees and rocks? This beyond of the living as a kind of freedom is evoked by Nancy in a most striking way when he asks himself in a parenthesis: 'who would dare simply to appreciate in this way the free force of the cadaver before its murderer?' {the quotation is from Nancy's Experience of Freedom} He does not say whether the 'cadaver' is human, even though it seems implied, or else, as we say, 'animal'. One might ask about this, assuming again that we can still rely on this limit between the living and the nonliving in general".

Needless to say, JD leaves this question permanently open ready to be put to the test of the autoimmune ( a word which in the later texts came to stand in for deconstruction, if there is such a thing) process.

I'm really excited by Dan Remein's recent posts in this thread (what a thread too Karl!) and by the contiguity of Bersani and Caputo. There are so many (perhaps surprizing, perhaps not) affinities between Bersani's ebranlement (a word Caputo privileges throughout Radical Hermeneutics and Against Ethics although he does not mention Bersani or Laplanche) and Caputo's weak theology (all this despite Caputo's distaste for psychoanalysis). In fact, the first chapter of The Weakness of God could be read as "unabashedly" (if not avowedly) Bersanian--and this marks, I think, two turns in Caputo's recent work; one towards an "unabashed" theology, as Dan Remein provocatively phrases it (Catherine Keller on her sleeve endorsement coyly suggests this queer turn in Caputo when she declares that the WoG is Caputo's coming out of the closet, finally (!) as a theologian). The other turn, and this will be developed further in his (Caputo's) new work on transcendence in Levinas and immanence in Deleuze, is a Deleuzian one. The Weakness of God, in several places is avowedly an attempt to formulate a Deleuzian theo-logic of sense. So, the Bersanianism makes more sense. In fact, I think its well worth reading WoG alongside Bersani and Dutoit's simply amazing Forms of Being on relationality, the event, self-shattering, inaccurate replication, immanent ontology and connectedness to the world. There is, of course, a medievalism to be found in Caputo too--he started with Meister Eckhart and in many ways has never left him (and his gelassenheit has much in common with Bersani and Dutoit's letting be in Forms of Being). Also, there's a brilliant chapter in WoG on metanoetic time in Peter Damian which sees Caputo explicitly mention queer for the one and only time in his oeuvre (to my knowledge). Although his Bersanian queerness (of the Is The Rectum a Grave? variety) is evident throughout Radical Hermeneutics and Against Ethics where ebranlement is very clearly linked up to the way deconstruction always gets into shit and is a little bit in love with Genet's queers on the right hand side of Derrida's Glas. I should mention that Caputo talks about animals and cannibalism too in a chapter of Against Ethics on jewgreek bodies which makes phenomenology tremble. All of which is to say, read Caputo. and then come up with an answer to Dan Remein's very smart questioon on a very wonderful little poem, Wulf and Eadwacer.

Eileen Joy said...

Dan Remein, beautiful Dan Remein: wow. Allow my brain to recuperate [especially after reading Michael O.'s "glossing" of your comments], and I will return in the morning!

Eileen Joy said...

Dan R.--if you come back here, I have responded to your commentary at the link titled "The conversation continues."