Saturday, December 19, 2009

CFP: Foucault and Animals

Dinesh Wadiwel asked me post this cfp. This book project is both exciting, and fulfills an important lack in the field.

Call For Abstracts: Foucault and Animals

Matthew Chrulew and Dinesh Wadiwel (Eds)

“The animal in man no longer has any value as the sign of a Beyond; it has become his madness, without a
relation to anything but itself; his madness in the state of nature.”

“it is a technique of training, of dressage, that ‘despotically excludes in everything the least
representation, and the smallest murmur’…”

“for millennia, man remained what he was for Aristotle: a living animal with the additional capacity for a
political existence; modern man is an animal whose politics places his existence as a living being in

Michel Foucault, History of Madness; Discipline and Punish; and The Will to Knowledge.

Michel Foucault had much to say on many things, and the legacy of his thinking can be found across a
diverse range of fields of inquiry, including philosophy, sociology, psychology, history, politics,
architecture, health sciences, ethics and sexuality.

Yet Foucault says very little about animals. And perhaps, as a consequence, while Foucault would seem
to be everywhere in social and political theory, the impact of his work is yet to be fully appreciated
within the emerging field of animal studies. As has been shown in recent critical engagements with
Foucault that have drawn connections with animal life, including those of Giorgio Agamben, Donna
Haraway, and Roberto Esposito, Foucault’s work is extremely profitable for understanding our conflicted
relationships with animals. More than another of the endless applications of his work, we believe this
conjunction to be essential: both for the advancement of a new field struggling with questions of power,
knowledge, and ethics; and for the study of a philosopher whose antihumanism failed to interrogate the
category of species.

We are seeking abstracts from scholars engaged with Foucault and animal studies for a proposed edited
book collection.

The collection will be unashamedly critical in approach, seeking to include articles that challenge
systems of power which simultaneously organise conduct, violence, care and domination of nonhuman
animals, from wildlife parks to factory farms. However, we also recognise there is an urgent need for indepth,
inter-disciplinary theorisation that is able to map and challenge the lines of distinction between
human and animal. We therefore encourage submissions from scholars working in a range of disciplines,
interested in how Foucault might be used to consider human and animal relations in a broad sense. We
welcome not only philosophical discussion but analysis of science, policy, and activist praxis. We
encourage not simply the transfer of Foucauldian concepts but their effective adaptation to multispecies

Suggested topic areas include:

• Biopolitics;
• Ethics and the care of the self;
• Power and the political;
• Discourse and knowledge;
• Governmentality and conduct;
• Sovereignty and security;
• History of biology and science;
• Discipline, training and communication;
• Panopticism, surveillance, gaze, spectacle;
• Sexuality;
• Animal subjectivities;
• Heterotopias of interspecies contact;
• The animality of humanity;
• Humanism, language and the border of species.

For abstract submissions (of 500 words), or to discuss proposed contributions, please email either
Matthew Chrulew at or Dinesh Wadiwel at

Abstract deadline: 28th February 2010.
Projected completed book chapter deadline: late 2010.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Health Care Reform

I mostly stay away from talking about policy discussions on this blog (at least policy discussions that doesn't concern other animals). But this post isn't going to involve either a discussion of theory or animal rights. Rather, it is concerned with the current health care reform debate raging on in the US.

And before I get much further into this discussion, I want to address my radicalism with my desire to see health care reform pass. I do not believe that important social transformation will occur within the state, or within the interests of capital. Those who want to see a 'fundamental' shift health care reform will actually be more disappointed and disillusioned than I am. This also, I think, shifts how I judge a bill. I do not weigh the present bill against a fictitious 'ideal' and then if it gets too far away from this platonic wet dream declare the present bill a failure and a fraud and not worth passing. Such a mindset seems utterly absurd to me. Especially coming from a crowd that until a few years ago were proudly calling themselves a reality based community. Instead, I compare the bill against the status quo. If the bill does a net good, we should probably pass it. A net bad, we probably should be opposed to it. From this criteria of comparing the senate bill to the status quo, not only does it do a net good, it is an exciting bill. So, I want to talk about some of the cool and interesting things about the health care bill that no one seems to want to talk about, and then I want to address some of the concerns that some liberals have regarding the health care bill.

(1) Long term, we are going to have to bend the curve of the cost. Otherwise, the whole thing falls apart. The major way this is going to happen, long term, is going to be changing the delivery system of health care. Right now health care in this country is a pay for service system. That means doctors and hospitals are reimbursed for specific services, aka procedures and tests. They get paid for what they do onto you, not for what they do with you. And not for smartly figuring out what is wrong. These tests have costs, both financially and physically. We have to move away from this system toward an integrated system (something like what is practiced in VA hospitals or the Mayo Clinic, for examples). We know this, but what we don't know is exactly how to change reimbursements on a large scale to make this happen. We have a lot of ideas, but very little data. What the senate bill contains is a wealth of pilot projects, funding for studies, and the mechanisms to gather the data from these projects and studies. It also contains mechanisms that allow programs deemed successful (both medically and financially) to be fast tracked for larger structural reform in medicare. This is huge. Systematic costs from a pay for service organization are hurting medical systems from all around the world. We have to face this, both for better medical outcomes and also for financial reasons. This bill puts us in the right direction to start dealing with these concerns long term.

(2) The bill also contains a lot of funding for data gathering and distributing for best practices for doctors. This is important, because there is very little out there that really centralizes what are considered best medical practices. But essentially a google brain for doctors is going to be built. This will likely save many lives, and will also improve the quality of care and treatment patients have.

(3) A compromise that will likely pass will be the implementation of national private non-profit insurers set up by the Office of Personnel Management. The details are not fully known, but this is important. The important part of the weakened public option was never the public part, but the non-profit part. Several health care systems with great results (Germany, Japan, etc) depend primarily on private non-profit insurers. I would love a system in which for profit private insurers, private non-profit insurers, and public non-profit insurers all competed against each other. But the system without the governmental insurers will still be a pretty good system.

(4) The senate bill also contains a provision that will require congress and all the staffers etc in congress to join the exchange. This is important because it directly means that Congress is invested in making sure the exchange is strong and competently working.

(5) Prudential purchasing power. One of Howard Dean's many factual errors in his recent op-ed against the health care bill is his claim that it doesn't have prudential purchasing power. He's just wrong, it does. Specifically what this means is that the exchange will not be a come one come all to insurers. There will be regulators who will get to decide what insurers get to be part of the exchange (and all of that potential money) and which ones don't. So, for example, if you decide to jack up your premiums in the exchange you have to submit that proposal to the regulators and publicly post the information on your website. The regulators can decide to bar you from the exchange for those practices. They can also bar you if they feel you are engaging in behaviors that discriminate against people who need health care, or are in anyway trying to rig the system to create more healthy people under your insurance system than people with chronic conditions.

(6) The senate bill also includes a series of regulations that make sure the people that need health care the most can get it, viz. abolishing annual and lifetime caps, banning discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, making sure premiums are collective rather than individualistic so you can't jack them up on particular individuals out of the market (some allowances are made here for smoking and age, but even those are fairly strongly regulated), caps on out of pocket expenses, making sure that all insurance products will cover certain things so that people are not routinely underinsured, and quite a few other regulations.

(7) The individual mandate is one of the keys to all of this. If you remember back to the primary, you might remember Paul Krugman siding with Hillary Clinton on the individual mandate over Barack Obama. Why? Because the economics are solid and crystal clear: the individual mandate is necessary if you want the exchange to work. Here is a short blog post from an economist on why the mandate is necessary. To make it even shorter, if only sick people are in the exchanges, then insurance prices skyrocket because the risk pool becomes too high for insurers. This is both how the model works out theoretically, and empirically. Furthermore, as Ezra Klein has remarked several times, the individual mandate makes everything in the exchange a public policy question. It means that things like keeping premiums lower will have a strong voter support, which otherwise could be lacking and allow insurance special interests to continue to rig the system in destructive ways. Being opposed to the individual mandate guts the only mechanism for providing health care insurance outside of an employer based system. Which means if you are opposed to the employer based system and believe the bill doesn't do enough on that front, being opposed to the individual mandate is plain incoherent. It dooms the exchange to failure, which means we cannot shift to an non-employer based system in the future (which is again, something we all want). Now, obviously there is a price concern with all of this. However, not only are there certain exceptions put into the individual mandate, but there are subsidies to help people pay for insurance. Which means the individual mandate also operates primarily as a progressive tax, the poorest will pay the least and get the most amount of help to pay, etc. This means that health care costs will stay below 10 percent of someone's income (and usually much more than under 10 percent).

(8) We currently have 46 million people uninsured in this country (that is roughly one is six). And uninsured people, among other problems, are more likely to die. The current estimate is that about 25 thousand people probably died because they didn't have insurance this year, alone. Medical bills are the number one cause of bankruptcy in this country, in 2007 62% of all bankruptcies were due to medical bills. While neither of these problems will be fully solved, both of them will be significantly reduced. I am dumbfounded how anyone on the left can be callous enough to not face these facts and want to do something about them. And yet it seems many people on the left hate insurance companies more than they care about those folks who are need.

(9) Obviously, the senate bill is far from perfect. But if we look at the history of some of our most important progressive bills, like social security or the Civil Rights Act, the original bill was not particularly great. However, by making things into necessary issues of public policy and laying down an infrastructure, they got better. These are the important elements we need in the original healthcare bill. Because the alternative has been everytime health care reform has been purposed, it has gotten less ambitious. Progressive victories mean that future structures have a chance of being improved in ambitious ways, meanwhile failure simply means that the next time around everyone dials down expectations.

(10) Right now we have a strange world where Howard Dean and Sarah Palin, Keith Oblermann and Glenn Beck, Markos Moulitsas and the 'fine folks' of National Review's The Corner are all in agreement: Kill the bill! This makes no sense to me, both sets of people cannot be correct on this one. Also, look at the objections from the left's bill killers. There are complaints about the political process, hatreds of the sith lord from Connecticut, feeling let down and betrayed by Obama, and things they wish were in the bill. What is missing? Policy objections. Or at least, policy objections that exist in reality instead of the land of death panels. Meanwhile, if you look at Ezra Klein, Jay Rockefeller, Kevin Drum, etc you see a concern for the policy implications of the bill. I don't understand how feeling disillusioned with the president translates into the bill being not worth passing. Also, this means we are not having discussions that could make the bill better, like the need to raise subsidies and lower the cap on out of pocket expenses.

If there is anything I can do to respond to questions I will. But if you care about progressive legislation, I have trouble understanding being opposed to health care reform as it stands.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Guest Blogging--Vegan Chicken and Dumplings

Well scu is out of town and didn't arrange a guest blogger, so I thought I would step in with a few yummy vegan recipes. This recipe takes awhile but is relatively easy and is always a big hit. I like to make it for Thanksgiving because dumplings were a thankgiving staple growing up in my house.

1 c Nutritional yeast
4 c Water
2 Tbsp Tamari (Soy sauce works too)
1 tsp Garlic Powder (I like garlic, onion powder would work too or neither if you prefer)
2 tsp Rubbed Sage
1 tsp Rubbed Thyme
1 tsp Dried Rosemary

'chicken' (seitan)
1/2 c Vital Wheat Gluten
2 Tbsp Chickpea flour (if you don't have chickpea, white works as well)
1/2 c Water
1/2 tsp rubbed Sage
1/2 tsp rubbed thyme
1 Tbsp Tamari
1/4 c Nutritional yeast
1 tsp Garlic Powder

2 c Flour
5 tsp Baking powder (you could use self rising flour instead, but I never have that around the house)
1 tsp Salt
2 Tbsp Margarine
2 Tbsp Vegetable Shortening
1 c Soy Milk (this is approximate)

4 c Water to add to broth before adding dumplings

1. Put all broth ingredients in a large stock pot, allow to boil over medium heat while preparing the seitan.

2. In a mixing bowl stir all ingredients together, everything should be moist but not soggy. If you need to make it dryer or wetter add more wheat gluten or water.

3. VERY IMPORTANT Knead the seitan mixture for at least 8 minutes, until it starts getting strings in it. This is important for any seitan recipe to have the correct texture. You'll end up with a big rubbery ball of seitan.

4. Turn the broth down to a simmer and don't let it bowl again from here on out (it will cause the seitan to swell)

5. Tear off tiny pieces of seitan and put them in the broth. These should be really small because each piece will be a 'bite' of chicken, and they expand in while cooking. I tend to stretch it thin (but not to the point of breaking it) and then pinch off little pieces. Now let that simmer for an hour.

6. When there's about 10 mins left on the simmering, start making the dumplings. Cut the margarine and shortening into the flour with a fork. (sometime around here I usually give up on the 'cutting in' and start using my fingers, it should be a crumbly mixture)

7. Add the soy milk and stir with a wooden spoon, the mixture should be a large ball of dough, it should stick to itself but not be sticky (equivalent to biscuit dough), it might need more soy milk, if it does you should add it, if you add too much just put in more flour.

8. Add the extra water to the broth when the seitan has simmered for an hour

9. Now you can just add the dumplings in teasponfuls to the broth,but I prefer to roll it out to about a 1/2 inch and use the back of butter knife to cut them into squares then add to the broth, either works. Stir the pot to get everything mixed up

10. Cook covered over low heat for 10-15 mins (but if it's thanksgiving and you're making other things you can leave this over low heat for hours)

11. Stir again (make sure there's nothing stuck to the bottom) and cook uncovered for like 5 mins, then serve

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

PETA's thanksgiving ad rejected.

PETA has engaged in a variety of ads that are often deemed controversial, to say the least. Either because of their comparisons to atrocities that occurred to human animals, or for their racy and/or sexist content. The later reason being why a PETA ad was nixed from the superbowl.

However, PETA has created a commercial to run during the Macey's Thanksgiving Parade, and it was refused for no clear reason by NBC. Watch the commercial yourselves, and realize this is a completely absurd decision.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


So, my blog has increasingly been over run by spammers. I haven't wanted to do this, but I have increased comment security because of this. Now you have to fill in word verifications (which are very annoying, I know), and older posts are moderated.

If anyone has better suggestions, let me know. I hate word verifications, personally. But I am not sure what I should do, and I am getting about 3 or 4 spam comments a day.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

PIC Conference- Life: Politics, Resistance, & Beyond

Life: Politics, Resistance, & Beyond

The 20th Annual Philosophy, Interpretation and Culture (PIC) Conference

April 16-17, 2010

Binghamton University – Binghamton, NY

Life has increasingly become the focus of power and the site of resistance. On the one hand there has been an increasing ‘scientific’ examination and management of populations, with a constant manipulation of the lives of populations in the name of improvement and protection. Meanwhile, economic chaos, ecological destruction, transnational labor exploitation, international and domestic militarization, increasing criminalization, and globalization have contributed to turning entire populations into población chatarra, disposable peoples. On the other hand, life has become the basis of resistance against power and the possibility for other worlds in the present and future. We can see this in the various and often contradictory concepts like Catherine Walsh’s life-ing, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s materialist vitalism, the positive biopolitics of Antonio Negri or Roberto Esposito, and Enrique Dussel’s community of life. We welcome papers that seek to attend to the question of life itself, in its various powers, possibilities, and politics.

Life itself should be heard in its multivalent resonances: As a collective term, as an individual term, and as a molecular or genetic term. Furthermore life can be heard outside the anthropocentric register, referring to the affirmation of life in the face of ecological destruction and multiple oppressions; biopower and biopolitics; vitalisms; machines and cyborgs; bio-capital and the surplus value of life; and alternatives to ‘life’ emerging out of anti and non-Western cosmologies. This conference seeks to promote debates over and deepen alliances among thinkers concerned with methodologies of resistance, the examination politics and philosophy after (traditional) humanism(s), and the engagement of counter-hegemonic dialogues.

In keeping with the interdisciplinary emphasis of Binghamton University's Program in Philosophy, Interpretation and Culture, we seek work that flourishes in the conjunction of multiple frames of epistemological inquiry, from fields including, but not limited to: postcolonial studies, decolonial studies, queer and gender studies, ethnic studies, critical animal studies, media and visual culture studies, urban studies, science and technology studies, critical theory, continental philosophy, and historiography. Workers/writers/artists of all different disciplinary, inter-disciplinary, and non-disciplinary stripes welcome, whether academically affiliated or not. Submissions may be textual, performative, visual.

Submission Guidelines

Submission deadline: February 15, 2010.

Please submit a 250-500 word abstract along with a cover letter that includes your name, academic affiliation, contact numbers, complete mailing address, and e-mail address, as well as information regarding any technological equipment you may need for your presentation. Papers will be considered for a 20 minute presentation, followed by discussion, so please limit the length of paper to 10-12 pages.

Email address for inquiries and electronic submission of abstracts:

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Deleuze, Henry; Bacon, Kandinsky

Random thought. Someone should write an article (unless one already exists) that explores the differences in philosophy between Deleuze and Michel Henry by exploring their work on Francis Bacon and Vassily Kandinsky, respectively.

New blog

So, I've not really felt the academic blogging bug since getting back. I have, however, realized recently I wanted to blog about debate. So, instead of boring you all that don't care about debate, I've decided to create a blog for my debate chatter, Wrong Forum.

I'm sure I will be back to academic blogging shortly.

Monday, October 26, 2009

I'm back, what did I miss?

It was a busy and fun last two weeks. But I am back. Anyone want to tell me what interesting things I missed on the internet for the last two weeks?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Two weeks off, anyone want to blog?

My parents are in out of town visiting, and then I have a wedding to attend and will see a lot of my college friends, some of whom I haven't seen in a long while. Anyway, this blog will probably be basically dead for the next two weeks. Unless, someone wants to guest blog here. Great for people who read blogs but are not sure if they want to keep one up themselves. If so, drop me a line.

Anyway, take care blogosphere. See you in a few weeks. Don't implode while I am gone.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Moral schizophrenia and the power of affect in US v Stevens

I just got through reading the oral arguments (.pdf) in US v. Stevens. It was very interesting, to say the least. If you don't want to take the time to read around 70 pages of oral arguments, you can check out this summary from slate here (which is biased on the side opposite of mine, but entertaining to read). The oral arguments are certainly all over the place, but I wanted to highlight two interesting points from them.

(1) Gary Francione has often pointed out that most of us relate to animals in a mode of what he calls moral schizophrenia. We are willing to treat the family pet as a member of the family, while at the same time eating animal flesh on our dinner table. This moral schizophrenia is, in many ways, at the heart of the arguments made by the Justices against the law. Because we have a culture that has no real coherent way by which we determine something cruel or not (hunting, even the most vicious kind, in. Killing a cat though in the same way, probably illegal to sell images of that. Dog fighting and cockfighting, out! But bullfighting, specifically let in!). I have a lot of sympathy with the Justices on this one, it clearly is something very different from laws against depicting child pornography, which the present law is explicitly based off of. In child pornography we have an action whose exceptions are both narrow and fairly uncommon. Also, those exceptions have a certain degree of seeming coherency to them. In the case of the law about showing violence towards animals we have a law that is necessary has broad exceptions that are quite incoherent. I am not saying that the law should be overturned on this point (I really am not taking a stance on this issue), but I am pointing out that I think that advancing animal welfare legally will continue to face such issues.

(2) Another interesting part of the back and forth included two different times where there were discussions of banning speech that was not communicative. That rather than communicating to anything, appeal to something. Such as obscenity appealing to lust, or these images potentially appealing to sadism. While the term 'affect' was never used in these discussions, that is certainly what was under consideration. To what degree does the first amendment cover affect? What these backs and forths seemed to imply was that the State must not intervene on the question of content, but anything that simply advances affect can be regulated by the State.

The whole thing is pretty weird. For example, both lawyers seemed to agree that if there was a channel dedicated to broadcasting human sacrifices that were taking place outside of the US, Congress couldn't make such a channel illegal. The justices seemed all very bemused and confused by this stance, particularly this mutual stance.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Kandinsky's trial by strength.

Levi has a new post up on what Latour means by trials of strength. I don't have anything to add one way or another, but I want to use it as an excuse to post one of my favorite quotations from Kandinsky, which seems to agree a great deal with this notion of trial by strength.

From On the Spiritual in Art:
In a mysterious, puzzling, and mystical way, the true work of art Your browser may not support display of this image. arises "from out of the artist." Once released from him, it assumes its own independent life, takes on a personality, and becomes a self-sufficient, spiritually breathing subject that also leads a real material life: it is a being. It is not, therefore an indifferent phenomenon arising from chance, living out an indifferent spiritual life, but rather possesses-- like every living being-- further creative, active forces. It lives and acts and plays a part in the creation of the spiritual atmosphere that we have discussed. It is also exclusively from this inner standpoint that one must answer the question whether the work is good or bad. If it is "bad" formally, or too weak, then this form is unsuitable or too weak to produce any kind of pure, spiritual vibration within the soul.

Will the supreme court gut the ability to produce animal rights legistlation?

Obviously there is a question about if we should be concerning ourselves with law and legislative purposes in pursuing liberation for animals. (The discussion on the last chapter of Calarco's book pursue some these questions over here). However, such a question could be rendered somewhat moot in a court case currently facing the Supreme Court, U.S. v. Stevens. Under considerations is a law banning the commercial sale of images and recordings of cruelty towards animals. You can get a good look at the case by reading this Chicago Tribune article and this NY Times article. The law was designed for stopping the selling of recordings of dog fights, and also crush videos. Crush videos are a sexual fetish videos in which women, either in high heels or bare feet, crush the bodies of living animals. There are certain free speech issues, and certain issues dealing with the present case itself and also potential for misuse of this law. None of those things do I really feel like going into.
However, also under consideration is if preventing animal cruelity constitutes a compelling state interest. When the Third Circuit court decided that the law was unconstitutional, it also determined that preventing animal cruelity was not a compelling state interest. The Supreme Court could rule without addressing this question at all, or it could rule in such a way that would set a precedent that could potentially gut the ability of the government to pass laws protecting animals unless it could also show that such laws also served some human interest.

If you are interested in pursuing the legal ramifications of all of this, I suggest you check out this post which contains links to oral arguments and an brief filed by animal law professors.

CPIC reopens

I just got this email:

Dear Colleagues and Students,

I have just received news from the Division of Research that CPIC will be re-opened, at least until April, 2010. The future of CPIC after that date is subject to some conditions I won't go into here, but that seem superable.

The Division of Research, moreover, has decided to enhance the CPIC budge.

This is, of course, wonderful news. I congratulate those who have worked with such steady and unflagging commitment to re-open CPIC.

I absolutely agree that the people who faught for CPIC deserve a lot of credit for this. If I was in Bing, I would totally buy you guys a drink, well done!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Negri, more on vitalism and humanism

Peter Gratton follows up my last post with this:
I think it’s a false choice, no? One can’t be both? I also think that though Negri is saying he’s not a vitalist that doesn’t end the point. I think Critical Animal is right, but let’s not pretend that Negri is the most consistent thinker on this and doesn’t often have confusing discussions on this point.

I think he's absolutely right that vitalist vs. humanist is a false choice. Sorry if I came across that way. And I am in now way trying to get onto anyone who has read Negri as a vitalist (including myself. I am sure if you searched through my various internet writing places you can come across some places where I described Negri as a materialist vitalist). Though I think, and I can in no way back this feeling up so thank god this is blogging, that the fault is not with Negri on this on. I would guess he has been pretty consistent on this issue, and our confusion rests with having read this position as being slightly closer to Deleuze's than it is in reality. But this has a pretty important implications for Negri's political ontology. The fact that I seem to create an obviously false contrast between vitalism and humanism is because I think the contrast is true for Negri. Vitalism destroys the power of humanism, for him. Not only does vitalism destroy the power of humanism, it opens the door for biopower (again, in his use of the term). A desire for a biopolitical humanism in a biopolitical enlightenment is absolutely essential for Negri's work, and there is no room for vitalism.

Now, I really can't prove it without combing through my Negri books (and right now my tendency would be to work a little backwards, starting with The Porcelain Workshop and In Praise of the Common and only later getting to A Savage Anomaly), which right now I am not inclined to do, but if there is real interest or a lot of discussion, who knows what will happen. So, if anyone wants to weigh in, feel free.

Negri, Humanism, Monstrosity

Jason Read has a review of Cesare Casarino and Antonio Negri, In Praise of the Common: A Conversation on Philosophy and Politics. (h/t Philosophy in a Time of Error). In it, Read argues:
Finally, Casarino's example of language as this relation between the virtual and actual, an example that is repeated numerous times throughout the discussions with Negri, underscores that as a philosophical problem the common focuses as much on the fundamental aspects of human subjectivity, on a philosophical anthropology, as it does on an ontology.

The turn towards philosophical anthropology, towards an examination of humanity through its fundamental activities and relations, differentiates Negri's work from the work of thinkers of a previous generation such as Deleuze, Michel Foucault, and Louis Althusser. For Deleuze, and other "anti-humanist" thinkers, any discussion of human nature, of some commonality, was an effect of power or an ideological ruse. Negri's and Casarino's work has more in common (no pun intended) with the work of Giorgio Agamben, Etienne Balibar, and Paolo Virno, who have returned to the maligned field of philosophical anthropology, to a consideration of what makes us human, not as a generic essence, but as the interplay between abstract potential and singular differences. This is not to say that these conceptions are the same. In the interviews, and in the essay on the political monster, Negri distinguishes his understanding of humanity from Agamben's understanding of bare, or naked, life. For Agamben, bare life, the reduction of humanity to pure survival, is at the basis of the modern state. Such an understanding of humanity disavows the common, specifically the way in which the common as presupposition constitutes a kind of historicity. As Negri writes,

There is no naked life in ontology, much as there is no social structure without rules, or word without meaning. The universal is concrete. What precedes us in time, in history, always already presents itself as an ontological condition, and, as far as man is concerned, as (consistent, qualified, irreversible) anthropological figure (208).

This is, as I have argued before, absolutely correct. Negri is no vitalist, no matter how many times you read that people say he is a materialist vitalist in the same lineage as Deleuze. For Negri, it is not life that gives us the power to be, but rather the very being of humanity that gives us the unique power to be. This is, and always been, the flavor of humanism that always exists in Negri. Though a biopolitical (in the sense Negri uses that term) humanism, to be sure.

This collection, however, contains a particularly interesting essay that both goes the farthest at contesting the boundaries of the human while at the same time ultimately reterroritoralizing on the figure of the human. This is the essay "The Political Monster." I remember a little over a year ago, back when I first trying to blog, Shaviro had a series of posts up on the question of monstrosity that Hardt and Negri praise as the monstrous flesh of the multitude. Shaviro had argued at the time that such a moves ignores that for Marx, the monstrous was capitalism. At the time I argued that the monstrous was something I wanted to be on the side of. Anyway, in this essay Negri not only extends the analysis about why he is on the side of monsters, but also specifically deals with this change from capitalism as monster to multitude as monster.

Deleuze and Agamben

I was recently rereading the chapter "geophilosophy" from Deleuze and Guattari's What is Philosophy? (the epigraph of this blog comes from that chapter). What struck me so strongly this time is how so much of this chapter resonates with Agamben's later work Homo Sacer (do I even need to point out that What is Philosophy? was published a mere four years before Homo Sacer?).

Probably the most notably and theoretical commonality between these two texts is Deleuze and Guattari's notion of zones of indiscernibility [zones d'indiscernibilite] with Agameben's notion of zones of indifference ([zona d'indifferenza] which Heller-Roazen translates as zones of indetermination). For Deleuze and Guattari, the term doesn't just appear in that chapter, but throughout the book (with occasional variations on the term). Indeed, the first time the term is introduced in the book, Deleuze and Guattari write, "These zones, thresholds[.]". That by itself would be a striking relationship. However, also in the chapter of geophilosophy Deleuze and Guattari turn briefly to the question of the camp, and in so doing turn to the work of Primo Levi, wherein they specifically bring up the gray zone. Also, in that chapter, you can see a sustained critique of the notion of human rights. This strange relationship of a zone of indiscernibility/indifference, is just a jumping off point.

We probably all know of the two most sustained engagements with Deleuze's thought in the work of Agamben. In the essay "Absolute Immanence" Agamben deals directly with Deleuze's thought (and anyone interested in exploring more on the relationship of bare life and the animal in Agamben's work should also turn to this essay). The other place is on Agamben's truly stunning essay "Bartleby, or On Contingency" which was published originally along with the Italian translation of Deleuze's "Bartleby, or The Formula." This latter essay by Agamben deals with Deleuze's work only tangentially, which seems to be the most common way that Agamben seems to ever deal with Deleuze.

This tangential way can perhaps be seen in two of the essays contained within the recent translation What is an Apparatus? and Other Essays. In "The Friend" Agamben writes in the opening paragraph:
It is certainly with a somewhat archaizing intent, then, that a contemporary philosopher-- when posing the extreme question "What is philosophy?"-- was able to write that this is a question to be discussed entre amis, between friends.

This philosopher was clearly Deleuze and Guattari (I never know what to about the turning of these plural thinkers into simply Deleuze, it always seems absurd to me). Perhaps even more oblique is the reference in "What is an Appuratus?". The title of that essay is, first of all, the same as a title of an essay by Deleuze on Foucault. Moreover, we see that strange sort of reference again in the second sentence of the essay, "As a philosopher for whom I have the greatest respect once said, terminology is the poetic moment of thought." This is also a clear reference to Deleuze, who made this claim in one way or another in several places. Including, again with Guattari in What is Philosophy?, "In each case there must be a strange necessity for these words and for their choice, like an element of style." And in this essay, which takes its name from Deleuze, and who is reference in the opening lines, is never mentioned.

Right now, I don't really have a point I am trying to make. Just some reflections.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

CPIC Reinstatement Petition

[Personal Note: I've been a member of CPIC, and have done lots of really great work because of the center. You can check out a slightly out of date webpage for CPIC here, and if you have any questions feel free to ask me in comments.]

Here is a petition to reinstate The Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Philosophy, Interpretation, and Culture (CPIC). I encourage you to sign the petition, and also to distribute it widely.

To: Binghamton University Administration/Binghamton Foundation

We, the undersigned, petition Binghamton University to reinstate the Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Philosophy, Interpretation, and Culture (CPIC) to its full standing.

CPIC is a research center devoted to non traditional scholarship, contributing to the attempt to decolonize subalternized knowledges at the tense intersection of multiple oppressions. These attempts emphasize recoveries of memory; ecological practices attentive to geopolitical differences; and knowledges and ways of thinking from various traditions. CPIC also recognizes the need for spaces where these attempts can enter into connections beyond disciplinary reductions and where our scholarship can come together with our concerns with social justice. Its mission is to provide institutional support and resources for ongoing trans-disciplinary research projects. CPIC supports attempts to disrupt recurrent distinctions between theory and practice, secular and sacred, thought and performance, knowledge and value, ethics and aesthetics, radical and self-critical forms of social understanding.

Binghamton University points to budgetary difficulties as one of the reasons for closing the center. The creation of a Humanities Center is also offered as a reason. The Administration implies that they are seen as exclusive of each other. CPIC was evaluated in 2006. The outside evaluators suggested that we are a unique research center, one that would be an original turn on a humanities center. We worry that the choice between CPIC and the Humanities Center follows a commitment to traditional, canonical, conceptions of the University and of research.

Collaborative research has been at the heart of the Center. The collaborations include scholars, activists, artists outside Binghamton University. We have established national and international networks. We organized twenty two events in the last three years: summer institutes, conferences, seminars, public talks that add to weekly or bi-weekly discussions. We publish regularly. For many people, including young researchers, this is a very hard blow to their careers, and it is a very hard blow for the collaborative research that we are doing nationally and internationally. In the bountiful years we receive $16,000 from Binghamton University [$3,000/year operating funds, and a half time secretary whose salary amounts to $13,000. Last year we only received five hours of secretarial service per week.]


The Undersigned

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Are Prisons Obsolete?

A random thought.

I really liked Angela Davis' Are Prisons Obsolete? when I read it. Not only interesting, I also found it quite convincing. The short size, and accessible language also make it a great book to give around, or hold discussions about.

But the title has always puzzled me. If she means obsolete as in gone, quite obviously that goes against the book which is all about the continued growth and expansion of the prison industrial complex. If, on the other, she means obsolete as something that was useful and now we have a better solution, that also has no bearing on her book. She never argues that prisons were once a good idea, and her book is not so great if you are looking for a criminal justice alternative to prisons (indeed, part of the genius of the book is to untie the conceptual connection between prisons and criminals).

It has just always struck me as a silly title. Great, small book though. Read it.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Whitehead in the comic books!

Some of you may have already heard of it, but there is a graphic novel, Logicomix, that is mostly about Bertrand Russell. However, many other philosophers, mathematicians, and logicians also make appearances in the work; including Whitehead, Cantor, Frege, and others. Read the NY Times review here.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Vegetarian Vampires

So, I've never seen the movie or read any of the books of Twilight. However, it seems there is a new pop culture philosophy book about Twilight, and from it I learned that the main good guy vampire from Twilight is referred to as a vegetarian vampire. It seems there are even t-shirts that say "I heart vegetarian vampires."

Now, I know nothing about Twilight, so when I first heard about a vegetarian vampire I wondered if we were dealing with another Count Duckula. However, it seems that these vegetarian vampires kill and drink the blood of other animals, they just don't kill and drink the blood of humans. I don't honestly know what to do with this information. First of all, it seems everyone that says the world vegetarian is pretty meaningless these days might have a good point.

The other point is that this shows another way that vegetarianism enters into an economy of the sacred and the profane, the innocent and guilty, the pure and the impure. In this case the vegetarianism has obviously no real meaning, except for one -- to demarcate that the present vampire as 'good'. The concept of vegetarian is wielded in such a way as to make the vampire not a vampire. I mean this in two ways. The first is in the way that vegetarianism is stereotyped as fundamentally anti-masculine. The vampire that drinks animal blood (or the vampire that drinks true blood) is a fundamentally 'defanged' vampire (why, after all, do you think Bill drinks the blood of Sookie in True Blood when they are having sex, or when he is committing acts of violence?). This 'defanged' vampire is the sensitive, dark, brooding, vampire. (To take another example, in Joss Whedon's Angel, he is the only vampire to live on the blood of animals instead of humans, which is connected to a curse which gives him a soul. This curse, however, also prevents Angel from having sex. If he ever has sex, he'll become evil again).

But these tropes of vegetarian vampires are not just used to connect vegetarianism to virility. Vegetarianism is used in another way, too. The vegetarian is also a trope of a split within their vampirism. Not only is this connected to the questions of virility mentioned above, but there always remains a yearning for human blood. A quotation from Twilight (the movie or the book or both, I have no clue): "Drinking only animal blood is like a human only eating tofu. It's filling but never quite satisfies." Vegetarianism in this world is asceticism rather than askesis, a paralyzed being rather than becoming. Rather than being a creature whose nature symbolizes an impure and con-fused nature in thrall of all that is profane, this vegetarian vampire seeks after purity and redemption, a Vampyr Sacer. A fundamentally brooding creature, unable to embrace it's lack of reflection with all that implies (see D&G, ATP p. 416). Vegetarianism here seems to indicate nothing other than morality, but a morality of the most incoherent and sickly variety. A demon who has found religion.

Now, most of the vegans/vegetarians I know in the animal emancipation movements do not believe they are innocent. But, and this is important, they too are seeking redemption. A becoming-vegan means both that we are never innocent, but it also means that we don't have to be trapped by guilt or rituals of purity. Indeed, those of us in the animal emancipation movement see these rituals of purity everywhere we go. Welfarists vs. Abolitionists. Pacifists vs. Militants. A movement that has trouble moving because of all its fractures. A movement that has trouble moving because the question of tactics is always raised to the level of the pure and the impure. We need less vegetarian vampires and more vampiric vegetarians.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

My post on Calarco's Agamben chapter

My post over at The Inhumanities on Calarco's chapter about Agamben is up. Check it out.

Comments closed here, to encourage comments over there.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Nishida Kitaro as speculative realist (of the OOP branch)

So, I was rereading "The Standpoint of Active Intuition" by Nishida (trans. William Haver). And I was amazed by how obviously his arguments would enter strongly into the current speculative realism/OOPs dialogues. A lot of it is particularly strong, but I post two paragraphs to give a sense of what I mean.

What sort of thing is space? The space that I here take to be a problem does not mean geometrical space; it is actually existing space. What is called “space” is thought to be diametrically opposed to time. Things exist simultaneously in space. Space is the relation of interchangeability of thing and thing. To say that things exist simultaneously, to say that the relation of thing and thing is one of interchangeability, is to negate time. But it is not actually existing space that has negated time; necessarily, actually existing space must subsume the temporal. Actually existing space must be thought as the place [basho]* of the mutual working of thing and thing. Thus, what works mutually must together be independent; what works must be something of the singular thing. Actually existing space must be the mediation that mutually relates singular thing and singular thing together; it must be the mediation of the continuity of discontinuity. What works must be temporal; it must be thought to be within time. If not, then it is no different than a geometrical form. But time, as I said before, must be utterly spatial. What is thought, as the unity of time, to be circular must be something “spatial.” There is no space that subsumes the instant of time. The instant of time must be that which cannot even be thought as the spatial extreme limit-point of the division of a curved line. There is no universal that subsumes the singular thing. The singular thing cannot even be thought as the extreme limit of individuation; the truly singular thing is something that has gone beyond the universal. The synthetic is not what is independent in itself. The further one carries an analysis, the more do thing and force [chikara] alike become infinitesimal; force must be thought as instantaneous. But time and space are never unified, the vertical never becomes the horizontal. Yet actually existing space must be temporal; physical space must be four-dimensional. Something like a collection of points is not actually existing space. Actually existing space must possess the characteristic of the circular unity that links the before and after of time. Time truly becomes time because it negates time itself; it is because space negates space itself that it becomes true space. Where there is interior qua exterior, exterior qua interior, subject* qua the objective*, the objective qua subject [shukan soku kyakkan, kyakkan, soku shukan], there is the self-identity of time and space; there is established actually existing time and space, as the mutually opposed aspects of dialectical self-identity. The affirmation of the self-negation of time must be space; the affirmation of the self-negation of space must be time.

What we call the actually existing world must be a world of the interacting of thing and thing. What interacts must be things that are both utterly independent; they must partake of the nature of the singular thing. Thing and thing can be thought to be mutually interacting as the mutual relation of what are both independent things. In order to say that thing and thing relate mutually, there must be something called a mediation. Yet if that mediation is thought as continuity, there is no mutual interaction. To the extent that what is mediated is mediated to the extent that it possesses the characteristics of what mediates. It is usually thought that it is on the basis of the fact that thing and thing are mediated spatially, they mutually interact, but we can say that thing and thing mutually interact, that thing and thing are spatially mediated to the extent that the thing possesses the characteristics of space. If one pushes such a notion to its logical conclusion, one might conclude that the thing is something like an aspect of the mediation. And the notion that thing and thing interact disappears. Is that then to think that the mediation is merely nothing [mu]* and that thing and thing are merely discontinuous? What is merely without relation cannot even be said to interact. Therefore, what is called the mediation of acting thing and thing must be the continuity of discontinuity; it must be in the fact that being is nothing and nothing being [yu ni shite mu, mu ni shite yu]. And so what we call the mediation of the mutual relation of independent things must be circular; it must be a parallelism. To say that A is independent with respect to B, and that moreover they relate to each other, is necessarily to say that A stands in a similar relation to C, and similarly with B and C. What is called the actually existing world can be thought in the above manner as the world of the mediation of discontinuity, as the world of the dialectical universal. It is neither to think the thing before the mediation, nor to think mediation before the thing. There is neither mediation without the acting thing, nor can one speak of the acting without the mediation. To say that the mediation of the continuity of discontinuity itself determines itself is to say that thing and thing interact; to say that thing and thing interact is to say that the mediation of the continuity of discontinuity itself determines itself. This is to say that place [basho]* determines place itself; it is to speak of the self-determination of the dialectical universal.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Speculative Realism/Critical Animal Studies: The Event

Just in case you weirdly read this blog, but not the group blog, check out this post explaining an upcoming event exploring the interactions of speculative realism and critical animal studies. I am calling it The Speculative Animal event, but no one else has signed off on that language, if you know what I mean.

Also, Calarco has a response up on the Levinas section. I think his ultimate explanation of destroying morality is really quite worthwhile of a read.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Miéville, Negri, Agamben: A brief note

As many people have pointed out, one of the ways by which we can understand the differences of Negri and Agamben is based upon their different understandings of potentiality. Negri is based upon his reading of Spinoza, and Agamben is based upon his reading of Aristotle. I don't have enough time to go into these readings, and the consquential distinctions in their philosophical projects. I just wanted to give a brief note on a way to conceptualize these distinctions in the first two bas-lag novels by China Mieville.

In Perdido Street Station, a significant plot device is dedicated to the development of a crisis engine, something that would us to tap into crisis energy. Crisis energy is perpetual motion. Crisis energy takes the decisive moment that something changes, and uses that feed into more and more power for that change. Crisis energy is a part of being, by the very nature of being you are already in crisis, just waiting to tap into it to do anything. This seems close to the understanding of potentia by Negri. Power that comes from living being that allows one to constantly change, morph, become something else entirely. We don't know what crisis can do.

In The Scar, a different type of power is sought after, the power of the possible. The power of the possible sword, or the possible letter. The explaination of the possible is given with the possible sword. Uther Doul carries with him a strang piece of technology, called a possible sword. When turned on, it doesn't just hit the target he actually hits, it hits all possible targets to a certain degree. The more possible, the more they are hit. The power of the sword isn't to become something else (a la crises) but to be or not to be whatever it possibly could be.

Now, maybe crisis energy and the possible sword are bad examples. However, the way Mieville describes the tension between the two is a great description of the tension between the two politics of Negri and Agamben.

From The Scar:
[H]is conviction that underlying the facticity of the world, in all its seeming fastnass, was an instability, a crisis pushing things to change from the tensions within them.
In the possibility mining that Uther Doul had just described Bellis saw a radical undermining of crisis theory. Crisis, Issac had once told her, was manifest in the tendency of the real to become what it was not. If what was and what was not were allowed to coexist, the very tension -- the crisis at the center of existence -- must dissipate. Where was that crisis energy in the real becoming what it was not, if what it was not was right there alongside what it was? (p. 396).

Thursday, September 17, 2009

More on academic napster, and inhumanities update.

First, Calarco has a new response up on Heidegger. I really suggest everyone read these responses, Matt has been both a straight up guy, and comes across even better in his responses than he did in his book.
Also, Greg has a new post up on the Levinas chapter. Go, read, comment. Agamben chapter post done by yours truly is up for early next week.

On a different note, G.H. has an interesting rejoinder on academic piracy. He isn't defending intellectual property, or the need to defend large publishers. But it seems that Open Court is a small, but quality, publisher gig. I don't know how many of these exist, honestly. But I can understand the feeling that ripping those people off might not be the best course of action. My belief is that short term, scans of books only increase the sells of books (I think that is the point Kvond was making in comments on the last post). However, I also admit that as book readers become more common, that very well could change. I don't have a good answer to that.

Lastly, I had gotten backlogged with emails, but I think I have answered them all. If I missed yours, let me know.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

academic napster

Harman has a post about people searching stuff about him and being informed by (which, I have to admit, is really weird when people search for me, considering there is no legitimate reason to do searches with my name. Crazy students, I presume).

Anyway, he seems shocked that someone is looking for a download of his Tool-Being, and furthermore seems surprised that there is a "napster" of books. Such distribution channels are only growing, and as things like the kindle make reading pdfs about as annoying as reading them printed off, I think we will see this sort of thing growing.

As at least some of you know, I use to moderate a forum on the internet that was for a while at the forefront of scanning and putting academic manuscripts online (done originally, if you want to know, to benefit mostly high school students). Most of the real action has, however, migrated over to gigapedia and scribd.

I know there is a real push by many in the academic blogosphere to see a significant increase in things like creative commons and copylefting instead of copyrighting material. I have to say I see no problem with taking this further with academic pirating. But that is just the type of crazy marxist I happen to be.

EDIT: Btw, GH, I just looked through the usual suspects and didn't find a copy of your tool-being on the pirate websites. Not sure if you should be sad or happy.

The Pope and the Multitude

(To all the people I owe emails to, they are coming tomorrow. It has been a crazy few days).

So I recently was reading the article, "The Notion of the Person in Theology" (.pdf) by Ratzinger (which, I might add, if this was a villain's last name in a novel, people would accuse the author of being obvious). Is it just me, or does the second part of the article, on the concept of the trinity, sound absurdly similar to Hardt and Negri talking about the multitude? I am not trying to say they are the same concept, or that this is even a criticism to Hardt and Negri (or Ratzinger). Just merely a philosophical stylistic similarity in an odd place.
Perhaps I shouldn't be too surprised, considering Erik Peterson always maintained that Schmitt's political theology failed upon the shores of the trinity. But still... .

Sunday, September 13, 2009

In Solidarity: UC Grad Student Walkout

(Greg, a grad student in the UC system asked me to help spread the word).

As everyone knows, the UC system is in a lot of trouble. Less widely discussed is why and whose vision of higher education this crisis benefits. Perhaps even less mentioned is what can and is being done to avoid total capitulation by faculty and students to the Regents. Please read the letter below being circulated by UC grad students and visit the sites:

Faculty Walkout

Graduate Student Walkout

Dear Professor XXX,

I write to express my solidarity with the striking UPTE workers and UC Faculty pushing for a system-wide walkout on the first day of class on 9/24. In advance of this date, I want to let you know of my intention not to cross any picket line. The emergency powers recently seized by the University of California Office of the President—not to mention the Administration's heavy handed budget decisions made under cover of summer vacation and holiday weekends—are unacceptable from any perspective within the UC system. This new thrust of long-standing trends toward privatization makes a farce of the University's stated mission of providing an accessible and quality public education for the youth of California. As educators, students and workers, we all have a stake in fighting for this dream against the prevailing corporate cynicism of the Chancellors and Office of the President.

Along with my fellow graduate students I have witnessed steep cutbacks in TAships, departmental funding decreases, fee hikes and dwindling job prospects. These new cutbacks threaten graduate students, who already have staggeringly high levels of debt, with the prospect of real financial ruin along the path to completing their degree programs. Assisting our professors instruct undergraduates grows more difficult with each over-crowded classroom and every bloated discussion section that the administrators force upon us. We are asked to take the hit for the financial crisis while those charged with managing the budget reject significant cuts in their own large salaries and, remarkably, refuse public disclosure the budget itself. For these reasons and many more, I support the actions and demands of the UC Faculty Walkout which must ensure that the University of California will not be "business as usual" on 9/24. On behalf of a growing contingent of graduate students ( ), I strongly encourage you to make the decision to walk out and sign the open letter if you have not already done so. That open letter and signatory page is here:

I strongly believe that this faculty walkout represents an important exercise in pedagogy: disruption is an essential component of all critical thought and all advances in human knowledge. Towards this end, I welcome the opportunity to discuss ways of including our undergraduates in this day of action. It is of utmost importance that we don’t punish undergraduates who choose to walk out in support of faculty on the first day, so we may want to discuss postponing attendance, permission codes and enrollment until the next scheduled day of class. In the days to come, building solidarity and creatively collaborating on pedagogical resistance will be essential to defending—more than just our individual positions—the very principle of a free and public education against the vicious and failed ideologies of corporatization and privatization. I hope this letter is only the beginning of an ongoing dialogue between us about these issues.

In solidarity,


Feel free to re-post or publicize this effort any way possible.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Craig has a new post up on The Inhumanities

Craig has a post up on Calarco's Heidegger chapter. Go read it.
Promise some non-group blog related blogging over here again shortly.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Calarco has a response up, and more on The Inhumanities

Calarco has a generous and long response up over at The Inhumanities. His hope is to make a response for each chapter, which is exciting for me. We are running late on the Heidegger chapter, but Craig has been dealing with some stuff connected to the actual immediate welfare of living, breathing animals. So, I think we can all be happy to wait a few days for the Heidegger post in that world. We are still trying to map out future projects, and I think we have the germs of some excellent ideas, but announcements will wait until things firm up some. However, if you have any ideas for future projects for The Inhumanities, or want to be more actively involved in future projects, drop me an email or email us all at
You will also notice that we have a weekly round-up feature, in which we hope to highlight some of the important developments and future projects in the realm of Critical Animal Studies. That feature cannot survive without people promoting and sharing their own work, conferences, and publications, as well as sharing those they run into. Don't hesistate to drop us emails or make comments for useful things to be included in the weekly-round ups.

Lastly, there seems to be some confusion as to what I want to go by or what I want to be called. Something rather so straight forward as a name shouldn't cause so much confusion, sorry. I don't care about my pseudo-anonymity anymore, so if you want to call me "James," feel free. Also, "Scu" is a long-term nickname that many people call me in real life. And "Critical Animal" is fine, but I reserve the right to laugh without control if anyone ever calls me that in real life.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Help on Bare Life

I am currently finishing up part two of Animal, All Too Animal (which will be a three part series), and the series is written partially as a way to explain Agamben's notion of bare life, which is frequently misunderstood. But also as a way of challenging those who find in Agamben's notion of bare life something emancipatory for animals. On this second front, I was curious if I could get some help. I am looking for citations of authors who have argued that bare life is something helpful to identify with for animals.

So far, on that score, I have Rosi Braidotti's Transpositions. Wadiwel's rather originary essay, "Cows and Sovereignty," and Andrew Benjamin's "Particularity and Exceptions: On Jews and Animals". What am I missing?

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Animal, all too Animal: On Bare Life, part I

(Scu note: I know I have comments to answer here and over at The Inhumanities. I will try to get to them tomorrow. I am on semi-vacation for the weekend, and wrote this away from the computer. Also, I didn't finish it, so part II should be done before the long weekend is over, too).

I. Introduction.

Over at J Rodolfo’s blog Posthumanities and Peter Gratton’s blog Philosophy in a Time of Error, a small but interesting discussion has been going on concerning the canonical status of Agamben’s The Open within critical animal studies (Can CAS already have a canon? I guess if we can have debates over it, it can). You can check out the discussion here, here, and here. In it, Gratton claims:
But on Agamben, his whole approach to animality is still always defined in its relation the human. I’ll expand on this at some point, but identifying animality with bare life (nuda vita) does not sound pregnant with possibilities for post-humanistic discourse.
This is what I was trying to get to awhile back with this post on bare life not being animal life.
Now, I haven’t known exactly how to respond because I am slated to do the Agamben chapter on Calarco’s book over at The Inhumanities. I think I will treat this post as prelude (concerning Calarco’s interest in Agamben doesn’t particularly reside in the concept of bare life). I find myself disagreeing with Gratton that Agamben is not useful for those of us, scholars and activists, who find it necessary to produce thought capable of responding to the present catastrophe of the treatment of other animals. But I agree that Agamben remains trapped within his anthropocentrism. As usual, the only to move is through immanent critique, a reading that seeks to produce an Agamben beyond Agamben. In particular the strongest elements of Agamben’s anthropocentrism remain in his interconnected thoughts of language and bare life. Due to certain time constraints, we will have to bracket his discussion of language (though one hopes to come back). In what follows, though, I hope to sketch out the problems with bare life from the perspectives of critical animal studies.

II. Heidegger

The first way to gloss bare life is through Heidegger. Let’s turn to Being and Time, and the essential existential analytic about death.
Furthermore, it was evident in our characterization of the transition from Da-sein to no-longer-being-there as no-longer-being-in-the-world that the going-out-of-the-world of Da-sein in the sense of dying must be distinguished from a going-out-of-the-world of what is merely living [Nur-lebenden]. The ending of what is merely living we formulate terminologically as perishing. The distinction can become visible only by distinguishing the ending characteristic of Da-sein from the ending of a living thing. [1]

In this we see a constant trope, those who are merely living are not able to die (sterben), they are only able to perish (verenden). Death, authentic death, is preserved for the human. Nur and bloß are pet words and term of art in the work of Heidegger, as Garham Harman has shown. And while they occur throughout Heidegger's work, they appear again and again in Heidegger's frequent attempts to show how animals exist in ontological poverty in relationship to humans. [2] The disjunction between death and perishing, with its automantic relation to other animals, is not just a feature of early Heidegger, but also late Heidegger. We can move from Being and Time to Heidegger’s 1949 Bremen lectures, “Einblick in das was ist.” (most of which remains, strangely, untranslated). For those of us that continue to see the question of the “fabrication of corpses” bound up with the question of the animal, these lectures are impossible to ignore.[3]
Heidegger wonders in these lectures if those who die in mass deaths, actually die. He knows they can unkommen, he knows they can werden umgelegt, and he knows they can werden liquidiert. But none of these terms, often considered synonymous with death, answers the question, “Sterben Sie?”[4] Indeed, for Heidegger the victims of mass death cannot die, just like the merely living. He makes this fairly explicit in the lectures. Claiming, “They become pieces of stock in the reserve of the fabrication of corpses. [5] In the earlier lecture, Das Ge-Stell, during a discussion of turning all beings into reserves of stock, Heidegger remarks that it would be odd to refer to a living being as piece of something, except of course we might talk of cattle as being pieces of stock.[6] This connection between the perishing of the merely living (cattle, for example) and the inability of dying of those victims of mass death means that Agamben’s reading of these lectures in Remnants of Auschwitz are fundamentally incorrect. Remember, in that text Agamben advances the argument that Heidegger’s lecture mirrors the point made by Primo Levi, that the victims of Auschwitz experience a death that one hesitates to call a death.[7] Rather, we find that Heidegger’s philosophy obscures mass death. [8]

III. Benjamin

The second gloss of bare life is to be found in Walter Benjamin’s “Fate and Character” and expanded to the realm of concept in “Critique of Violence.” This is even Leland de la Durayante’s argument in Giorgio Agamben for taking the side of Daniel Heller-Roazen’s translation of nuda vita to mean bare life, rather than Cesare Casarino’s translation of naked life.[9] Nuda vita here is already a translation, a translation of Benjamin’s bloß leben. Let us now turn to Benjamin’s understanding of that concept in his “Critique of Violence.”
The term bloß leben appears relatively late in the essay, but emerges at the crucial moment by which Benjamin is trying to distinguish between mythic violence and divine violence. After Benjamin has distinguished between the bloody, lawmaking violence of mythic violence and the bloodless, lawdestroying violence of divine violence, we are introduced to our present term. It is necessary to quote at length:
For blood is the symbol of mere life. The dissolution of legal violence stems (as cannot be shown in detail here) from the guilt of more natural life, which consigns the living, innocent and unhappy, to a retribution that “expiates” the guilt of mere life—and doubtless also purifies the guilty, not of guilt, however, but of law. For with mere life, the rule of law over the living ceases. Mythic violence is bloodly power over mere life for its own sake; divine violence is pure power over all life for the sake of the living. The first demands sacrifice; the second accepts it. [10]

Mere life is thoroughly connected to natural life, to the life of one who can bleed and be injured. It is bound up with the guilt one experiences by having a body. Divine violence may destroy the law, but is necessary by exceeding our animal, all too animal selves. Just a little farther down, Benjamin makes this clear. Benjamin argues against those who argue for the sanctity of life, if “existence is to mean nothing other than mere life.” [11] The argument only comes to have any meaning if
"existence" … means the irreducible, total condition that is ‘man.’ … Man cannot, at any price, be said to coincide with the mere life in him … there is no sacredness in his condition, in his bodily life vulnerable to injury by his fellow men. What, then, distinguishes it essentially from the life of animals and plants? And even if these were sacred, they could not be so by virtue only of being alive, of being in life. [12]

In this Benjamin completely rejects the capacity for suffering and joy to ground an ethics and politics. The threat of such an movement based on shared vulnerability is highlighted by his immediate response, wondering what could possibly distinguish the human from animals. I may disagree about his thoughts on vulnerability, but I agree that it is not enough to base liberation on something that can be termed a mere or bare life.

[1] See Being and Time, Joan Stambaugh’s translation (translation modified, though), p. 224. Also, see the original, pp. 240-241.

[2] While the full scholarly reading of Heidegger's use of 'mere' in relationship to the lives, qualities, and capacities of other animals remains to be written, Stuart Elden has an excellent overview of the numerous places that Heidegger defines the human by showing the 'poverty' of the animal. See, Heidegger's Animals. Continental Philosophy Review. 2006;39:273-91. As Elden shows in great detail, this move by Heidegger far exceeds the usual citations in Introduction of Metaphysics and The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics.

[3] Heidegger will use the term Fabrikation von Leichen twice in these lectures, pages 27 and 56. “Bremer und Freiburger Vortrage,” in GA vol. 79. It is also interesting to note in that animal slaughters in France are as likely to use the phrase “faire la bête” (doing the animal) as they are “Tuer la bête” (killing the animal). However, the word faire carries with it also meanings of producing, making, fabricating.

[4] ibid. p. 56.

[5]. Ibid. Sie werden Bestandstücke eines Bestandes der Fabrikation von Leichen.

[6] ibid. pp. 36-37.

[7] Remnants of Auschwitz, pp. 74-76.

[8] My argument in many ways mirrors Todd Samuel Presner’s argument that Heidegger is unable to think the Holocaust. See his Mobile Modernity, pp. 205-232. While I am in strong agreement with Presner’s argument, my advancement is that we are unable to understand Heidegger’s disjunction between death and perishing unless we understand Heidegger’s disavowal of the animal. It is because the animal remains in a place of privitation for Heidegger that he cannot think the human victims who are killed ‘like animals.’

[9] Leland de la Durantaye, Giorgio Agamben: A Critical Introduction, pp. 202-205.

[10] Walter Benjamin, “Critique of Violence” in Selected Writings: Volume I, p. 250.

[11] ibid. p. 251.

[12] ibid.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

On my pseudo-anonymity

I post under the name "Scu" which is a nickname that many people call me in real life, and I've had since I was 15. Anyone who exchanges emails with me sees my real name, and I never care about any of that stuff. Right now this is mostly because any future job chances I might have (assuming I somehow get an interview despite going to a non-major named public university), I am not sure it is a good idea for someone to be able to google my name and suddenly bring up all my blogging adventures. Not because I think I post embarrassing things here, but because I post almost exclusively unpolished things here. I basically treat blogging as chatting in a bar, except with less cursing and more sobriety. I have firm rules about not rereading or editing posts before pressing the post button, and in general not being concerned about seeming the fool, caring about spelling or grammar, etc.
So, would have a long term, maybe interesting, academic blog help me at all for future job stalkers? Or potentially hurt me? My guess has been no and yes respectively. Am I wrong?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

First post on Zoographies over at The Inhumanities

The first post on Calarco's Zoographies, by none other than this humble blogger, is over at The Inhumanities. For at least this book event, I will not be cross-posting my posts over here. So if you want to read it (and come on, if you read this why wouldn't you want to read it?) you will have to go on over there. There is also a little tidbit for all you speculative realists (and you, Graham Harman, are mentioned by name).

I am also employing the unusual step of not allowing comments on this post, because I want the discussion to be centered over at The Inhumanites. Please participate, and help make the new group blog a success.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

People of Color and the human/animal divide

Renee over at Womanist Musings and Feministe has made a post about the connection between the claims of animal rights groups that humans are animals and the suffering of people of color. I don't make this post at all to defend Peta. Rather, I want to look at her post not about Peta, but in order to follow the claims about the need of speciesism for people of color.
Renee ends her post with the following lines:
For as long as my skin is Black I will be a devoted speciesist. My dignity and humanity demand no less.

Now, in some ways such a sentiment is odd coming from a website entitled "Womanist Musings" (considering that Womanist is a term coined from Alice Walker, and her statements about animals. For example, "The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for whites, or women created for men." This is from Walker's introduction to Marjorie Spiegel's The Dreaded Comparison, p. 10). In some ways odd, and in many ways quite obvious. Only an idiot, a racist, or to say both those terms in another way, an essentialist would assume that all people of color, hell, all women of color have the same experiences and the same reactions to those experiences. Indeed, the import of much of the work of womanist philosophy and theology, the import of much of the work of radical women of color, has been the insistence on the heterogeneity of identity. But of course, the other reason it is not surprising is that Renee is not the first person of color to express such a sentiment.
While the animal rights and animal ethicists folks have tended to focus on those who have identified their suffering with the suffering of animals, from Isaac Bashevis Singer to Alice Walker. (I too usually focus on this). What is worse (and I hope I am innocent of this, at least) has been to answer accusations of racism, sexism, etc. through quoting such people as trump cards. As in to say, "You call me a racist, but here is Alice Walker! Now what?!" I think we can all agree that such an attitude is a sick authoritarian game.
I hope to advance this post without reverting to such a position, to answer problems in ways that are both clear and that don't try to use the statements of certain famous individuals to play as trump cards.
The fear advanced by Renee, and that I have heard by many others (one prominent decolonial theorist put it that dissolving the human/animal divide means giving up the entire decolonial project), comes from the connection between dehumanizing (meant here as a literal process by which beings are conceptually stripped out left out of humanity) the colonized and other people of color and violence. To be a bit more specific, because the colonized, the enslaved, and people of color (to this day) are compared to animals in order to justify violence against them, or in general to delegitimize the standing of people of color. Because there is a tradition, extending to this day, I can understand the great fear that comes with arguments for destroying the divide between human and animal. The great fear that comes with embracing that monstrous phrase 'the human animal'. Being animals have happened (and still sometimes happen) to people of color. It didn't work out so well for them.
Indeed, I can understand why decolonial theorists have almost universally not given up on the project of humanism, while at the same time being some of the most proficient and powerful of critics against humanism. So much of the struggles of the colonized and persons of color have come from a commitment to being human, too.
There always exists a politics when a non-paradigmatic human being claims the title of human. This is as true for when the colonized claim to be humans, as when the Great Ape Projects argue for the personhood of Great Apes. However, in a fine Ranciere-ian fashion (a Ranciere devoid of his anthropocentrism, so therefore a Ranciere beyond Ranciere), while the claim to be human may be political, it does not remain political. Instead, liberal post-politics raises its head. "What, Apes are humans now? Sorry, we got it wrong, but finally we got it right, we now know what the human is." And the dream of a place for everyone and everyone in their place continues. For those of us on the critical animal studies side of the process, these political moments of demands for the right to claim humanness or personhood are also moments to continue the political. That is to say, to forward our argument that the human/animal distinction cannot stand. To say, "If you got this one wrong, maybe you very ordering system is wrong." In this way we hope to not just change the count, but change the very logic of counting through this moment of tort.
This is where I don't know how to make common cause. For me, it is obvious that the wrong done to the non-paradigmatic human beings is based upon the ability to do wrong to animals. If we end the ability draw lines between the human on one side and all animals on the otherside, if we embrace the monstrosity of the human animal, then we end the ability to continue to do harm to people of color by calling them animals. That loses the power of justification. But it seems to me that for many people of color that such a move jeopardizes their lives instead of enriching their lives.

Hopefully a place to work out such problems will be created.

EDIT: Adam, in comments, suggested Royce's post on this topic from Vegans of Color. I highly recommend it.

Also, over at Philosophy in a Time of Error (such a wonderful title) there is a response to my post, which I completely suggest reading, as well.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Announcement! New Group Blog, and our first event!

Here is the announcement I promised earlier:

Craig, Greg, and I have put together a group critical animal studies blog, entitled The Inhumanities. There isn't much there now, however what is there (besides an about us page) is an announcement of our first book event:

We are pleased to announce our first event, an intervention in and reading of Matthew Calarco’s Zoographies: The Question of the Animal from Heidegger to Derrida. We plan to cover a chapter a week, and the first post on the book will be up this coming Tuesday, 9-1-09. We encourage everyone to participate in comments, or emails. Calarco has been kind enough to agree to follow the discussion, and post a response at the end of the discussion.

Remember, if you want to email us just drop us a line at

For those that do not know, Matthew Calarco is a major name in the growing critical animal studies field. He is the co-editor of Animal Philosophy, along with editing several other books. He also was a participant in the recent analytical/continental get together over the question of the animal, in The Death of the Animal. And, of course, is the author of the monograph at hand.

I seriously hope many of you follow, comment, and participate in the discussion of Zoographies. If you want to have a more formal role in the group blog for future events, please email us at or email me at

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Elisabeth Rodinesco

I just reread her dialogue with Derrida about violence towards animals in For What Tomorrow... .

Do you think she needs to disavow the bête because she is afraid she is bête?

(For those that don't know French, bête means animal, but it also means stupid).

Greg has a post
on Rodinesco's points in the dialogue. It is much better than my middle school insults. What can I say, he clearly has more patience than I.

What philosophers do you teach to high schoolers

Say you teach an advanced group of seniors a course on the humanities, in general. Throughout this course, while you do art, literature, music, and history, you want to include philosophy. You have a limited about of time throughout the year (let's say about 16 contact hours) in which to introduce your students (who have zero background in philosophy) to the most important broad ideas of philosophers and/or philosophical movements.

What philosophers and/or movements do you teach?


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sorry for the lack of updates

Hopefully though, a big announcement (well, medium sized at least) will be forthcoming in a few days.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Critical Animal gets a new look

Thoughts? Is it more readable? Do you take me more seriously now?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

We Have Never Been Human

In recent discussions over humanism(s) and philosophical anthropology, I figure I should address my own feelings on these subjects in a more direct way (aka less critical). There have been several attempts to advance a non-anthropocentric anthropology of recent. Bernard Stiegler's first volume of Technics and Time (hey, OOP people, what are your thoughts on Stiegler?) is a move in this direction. Judith Butler has said in interviews that her most recent work is also a move in this direction. Kvond has a fairly long post on Virno's recent attempt at such a trajectory, in Virno's essay “Natural-Historical Diagrams: The New Global Movement and the Biological Invarient” (both are worth reading, EDIT though I have reservations to Virno's conclusions, which I hope to get to later). I continue to remain skeptical of the success of all these projects, even if I have benefited philosophically from all of them. My own view has been that such a philosophical anthropology remains unnecessary and potentially harmful. I tried to advance something of this argument before in my post on Species Trouble.
I certainly do not deny differences between human animals and other animals. What I deny is The Difference. The Difference is the borderline drawn that will finally demarcate The Human, that will finally let us know what it means to be human as opposed to, well, everything else in existence or ever in existence. We will finally The Difference that will hold in common every being we determine to be human while managing to hold every other being as different from this human common.
So we have differences, probably a countless and irreducible number of them. Just as there is a difference between me and you, there exists differences between us and my cat in the other room. And sometimes my cat and I can be different from anyone reading this blog. Multiple differences refuses any determinate nature. To say someone is a human or a cat is ultimately a convenience, not a philosophical fact (either ontologically or ethically). I remain fundamentally confused why I need anything more.