Tuesday, July 28, 2009

More on Butler's anti-anthropocentrism

This post follows up on my earlier post about Butler and anti-anthropocentrism.

While moving I'd been separated from my girlfriend for a good bit of the move, and when she met up with me last night she brought me a copy of Judith Butler's new book, Frames of War. This book moves in exactly the direction I was hoping to see her work move in, increasingly anti-anthropocentric. To quote one paragraph:

In the same way, it does not ultimately make sense to claim, for instance, that we have to focus on what is distinctive about human life, since if it is the 'life' of human life that concerns us, that is precisely where there is no firm way to distinguish in absolute terms the bios of the animal from the bios of the human animal. Any such distinction would be tenuous and would, once again, fail to see that, by definition, the human animal is itself an animal. This is not an assertion concerning the type or species of animal the human is, but an avowal that animality is a precondition of the human, and there is no human who is not a human animal. (p. 19)

This paragraph is interesting on many levels, but I would just point out that ascribing a bios to the animal (as opposed to a zoe) is not a textual mistake on the part of Butler's. It is a muted yet fairly strong disagreement with both the work of Giorgio Agamben, but also with the zoe valorization of Rosi Braidotti.
Now, I am not saying the whole book is about the animal (indeed, as far as I can tell, little is explicitly about the animal, though I just started the book), but the whole book is over how we conceive of what gets to count as life; life that matters ethically and politically. Now, the OOP/OOO of you probably won't find Butler moving enough in your direction. Her book is explicitly a work of 'social ontology' (and indeed, I assume both you and her would agree that a social ontology exists in tension with a realist ontology). Now, she would argue that this social ontology is non-anthropocentric. While she hasn't advanced this argument yet in the book, one assumes this must mean that other animals contain a sociality. I don't know how this plays out in questions of objects. Still, for me her work is moving in the direction I want it to. I am very excited to finish this book.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Derrida Jokes

Graham has a few famous questions and answers of academics over at his blog, including a couple of funny Derrida ones. It made me want to tell one of my favorite stories I ever heard about Derrida (that probably never happened). I'll quote from Leland de la Durantaye:
A telling (if apocryphal) Kansas appearance: An audience member stood up and recounted the scene from The Wizard of Oz in which Dorothy and her friends finally meet the wizard, who is powerful and overwhelming until Toto pulls away the curtain to reveal a very small man. "Professor Derrida, are you like that?" the audience member asked. Derrida paused before replying, "You mean like the dog?"

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The blogosphere interviews itself! (And the results are pretty awesome)

Paul Ennis had both a great and generous idea, to interview a series of people on the various connections of Heidegger, SR/OOP, realism and anti-realism, ecocriticism, critical animal studies, et cetera. I doubt highly if you read my blog you have missed this phenomenon, but if you have, you need to go check them out.

Interview with Lee Braver

Interview with Graham Harman

Interview with Levi Bryant

Interview with Adrian Ivakhiv

CFP: Zoontotechnics (Animality/Technicity)

This conference looks awesome, too bad I can't get money to go to England to present. (h/t cultural studies)


Centre for Critical and Cultural Theory

Cardiff University

20th Anniversary Conference

Zoontotechnics (Animality/Technicity)

12th-14th May 2010

Plenary Speakers

Bernard Stiegler, Director of the Department of Cultural Development at the Centre Georges-Pompidou and Director of the Institut de recherche et d'innovation (IRI)

David Wills 
 (University at Albany-SUNY)

We are also inviting Avital Ronell (New York University) (participation to be confirmed)

Since the founding of the Centre for Critical and Cultural Theory in 1989, when the prevalent currents were postmodernism, poststructuralism and postcolonialism, new developments have helped reshape the theoretical landscape. Key among them have been cyberculture, the digital revolution in technology, globalization, and the search for critical modes beyond the human. More recently philosophical-ethical revaluations of the 'animal' and renewed reflections on various aspects of technology and technics, both within and beyond the emerging framework of posthumanism, have provided two of the most stimulating developments in critical and cultural theory that might offer new departures. While there have been numerous conferences and symposia on each perspective, none has been organized with a view to encouraging a critical dialogue between researchers in these two usually separate fields. If Aristotle's definition of 'man' was that he is a zoon logon ekhon (animal having speech) and a zoon politikon (political animal), in what ways has he become a zoon tekhnikon? Is this ultimately necessary to ensure the survival of the species or is it conducive to its transformation? With an increasingly globalized 'humanity' installed in the post-9/11 age of a technology-led terrorism and the credit crunch, the conference will consider these overarching questions, as well as others outlined briefly below.

In planning our 20th anniversary, we decided to address the future, rather than look back nostalgically on past achievements. This seems a more invigorating way of convening a truly celebratory event. With this focus on futurity in mind, we plan to include a round-table work on the Futures of Technology and Culture that will feature the activities interfacing new technologies and culture that are part of the remit of Beaubourg's Institute for Research and Innovation led by Professor Stiegler. Other conference events will feature performance art at the crossroads of the animal and the technical. We very much hope that the conference will prove to be an intellectual landmark. 

Possible themes for individual papers or panels might include:

· The relation of animality and/or technicity to posthumanism

· The critical interface between posthumanism and transhumanism, 'life sciences', biotechnology and bioethics, artificiality and hybridization

· Futures of life, animality and technicity and of 'humanity'

· Man's relation to technics and technology after Heidegger's 'The Question Concerning Technology'

· Man's relation to animality after Derrida's The Animal That Therefore I Am

· Extensions of technology to redefining art and humanities, not just extending man (cf. Technology, Environment, Design)

· Work addressing concepts such as the prosthetic, the inhuman, the digital, the virtual, etc.

· Animality, technicity and gender

We are particularly interested in proposals for papers and panels that engage with the interface between the two main strands of the conference theme. Papers are also invited on thinkers who have addressed both aspects, (e.g. the becoming-animal and the machinic in Deleuze).

Abstracts for papers (no more than 300 words) and proposals for panels should be sent to zoonto@cardiff.ac.uk by 31st December 2009.

Monday, July 20, 2009

New college policy debate resolution

I don't usually post debate-related stuff on this blog (for those that don't know, one of the major things I do with my life is coach academic policy debate, mostly at the college level). However, I figure I would let everyone know what the topic is for the up-coming year:

Resolved: The United States Federal Government should substantially reduce the size of its nuclear weapons arsenal, and/or substantially reduce and restrict the role and/or missions of its nuclear weapons arsenal.

While I am excited about the topic, I am somewhat embarrassed by our inability to craft wording for a resolution that doesn't grate on one's ears (not saying I could do better, but still, a little embarrassing).

For those that know nothing about policy debate, well, it's a pretty idiosyncratic yet vastly interesting activity. It is nothing like The Great Debaters. A major part of the activity are arguments termed 'kritiks,' which is the reason I started reading Foucault and Arne Næss in high school. So, if anyone of you critical/philosophy people out there have any suggestions for articles and books on nuclear weapons, please feel free to sound off in the comments section.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

immanent critique; Or, the failures of my methodology

The first paper on animals I wrote was the first paper in grad school I wrote (it was for a class on Kafka). I hadn't come to grad school expecting to work on animals (I had come planning to continue my work on societies of control, which is what I did my master's exam on), but in my first semester I wrote two final papers on animals (one for Kafka, the other class was a pro-seminar that required us to read a dissertation of a former student in our program, and I read Calarco's dissertation). One of the odd things to occur with my choice of working in critical animal studies is that I think it developed a philosophical backbone for me. Anytime someone I trust and respect tries to guide me to not make animals the specific focus of my current project (instead it should be life, or ahimsa, or ecology, or what have you; all worthy projects mind you), I refuse to do so. The plight of other animals in modern society, and the connection of our shared oppressions, is so great that there are things in my work I cannot compromise for academic acceptance. This actually leads to the point of this post.

The other odd thing about working on the question of animals is that most of the thinkers I engage with have some degree of humanism and anthropocentrism in their work. So, I read with an usually implicit methodology of immanent critique. I read the non-anthropocentric and anti-humanist elements of a thinker against their own anthropocentric and humanist elements. As I posted before in response to Durantaye's criticism of animal rights readings of Agamben: the point isn't to produce a correct reading of Agamben, the point is to produce a philosophical thought capable of responding to the present plight of other animals. The problem of such an immanent critique is it often means that I think I am in dialogue with thinkers when actually I am dismissed as missing the point. The reason this occurs is that the point, for most of these thinkers and their students, is never animals. It is always lonely to be chatting with a thinker whose work really has influenced you, only to find that those elements of anti-humanism and non-anthropocentrism you have found in their work never was meant to include animals. And your work is dismissed as a misunderstanding, or even insulting.

Sorry about this post, I am still in the process of moving and have gotten really sick while still trying to move.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Judith Butler's anti-anthropocentrism

For those of who have read Judith Butler's more recent work (by which I mean Precarious Life, Giving An Account Of Oneself, Undoing Gender, and one assumes her new book Frames of War even though I have yet to find a copy of that book is over half a dozen bookstores), you are aware that she has become interested in produces our concept of the human. How is it that humanness is produced and deproduced? Now, despite that being in many ways the central question of her last three books, it has yet to be heavily theorized in these works. You can feel the contours in which her project is going, but also feels as if the work where it has all been worked out has yet to be written (unless, of course, Frames of War is that book). This theoretical shift has been really interesting to me (though, obviously, it isn't so much a shift. The author of Bodies That Matter clearly has long tried to think through the questions of, well, what bodies get to matter) for all the obvious reasons. The question for me has been two-fold: (1) Is this really just a way to pave a new humanism, like how such questions are usually proposed in many decolonial circles? and (2) Even if there remained a fairly dogmatic poststructuralist rejection of humanism, would this rejection like so many poststructuralists still not mean the ethical, political, and ontological inclusion of other animals?

In Giving An Account of Oneself, with the emphasis on becoming human, I clearly thought the answers to the earlier questions were yes and yes. However, there were two things in her other books that gave me pause. The first was her avowed anti-anthropocentrism near the beginning of Undoing Gender. This contained with it a strong rejection of humanism, but also employed Fanon's and Wynter's critiques of humanism without mentioning both of those authors' strong desire for a new humanism. And also, it is not clear what role she sees in extending the ethical pass the human boundary (though there is a wonderful couple of lines about the implications of a human declaring 'I am an animal'). The other interesting comment came in her Precarious Life. In it she is explaining that the body of suspected terrorists have become animalized. And then she writes something like: This has nothing to with actual animals, merely the figure of the animal. I thought that was a subtle distinction that most authors miss (that Agamben has again and again missed, for example). My greatest hope so far involves an interview published in Theory and Event entitled "Antigone's Claim." In it, she argues that:
So, one has to be critical about how and when the notion of humanity is invoked, but I am not convinced that it is always a lie or, indeed, a way of cheating. It is important to ask what it occludes, and how whatever it illuminates presupposes a consequential occlusion – one that turns the idea of “humanity” against the universality by which it is supported and seems, invariably, to reinstitute a certain anthropocentrism. As a result, I think it might be more helpful to consider instead a term such as ‘precarious life’ which, though it has strong resonances with the idea of humanity, functions very differently. There are at least two differences: the first is that precarious life is a life that is shared in a specific sense: “shared life” is not simply a “life” that functions as a common element in which individuals participate on the order of a mathesis. Rather, it is common in the sense that we are reciprocally exposed and invariably dependent, not only on others, but on a sustained and sustainable environment.
Humanity seems to be a kind of defining ontological attribute, who I am, or who we are, that properly belongs to us as persons, and in that sense, it keeps the human within the humanistic frame. But what if our ontology has to be thought otherwise? If humans actually share a condition of precariousness, not only just with one another, but also with animals, and with the environment, then this constitutive feature of who we “are” undoes the very conceit of anthropocentrism. In this sense, I want to propose ‘precarious life’ as a non-anthropocentric framework for considering what makes life valuable.

And later in the interview, in response to the question, "Would it be possible to define your concept of “precarious life” as a new form of “humanism”?" Butler responds:
Currently, I do not want a new humanism. If we ask what the human could be beyond humanism, then it seems we resituate the human within the non-human, not as a contingent fact of existence, but as a necessary ontology, an ontology that articulates certain constitutive bonds and binds. So I am struggling toward a non-anthropocentric conception of the human, if that is possible – even a non-anthropocentric philosophical anthropology. The other way of saying this is that wherever the human is, it is always outside of itself in the non-human, or it is always distributed among beings, among human and non-human beings, chiasmically related through the idea of precarious life. So we can neither lodge the human in the self, nor ground the self in the human, but find instead the relations of exposure and responsibility that constitute the “being” of the human in a sociality outside itself, even outside its human-ness.

All I got to say is: More of this, please!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

No more OOPs?!

Graham Harman has purposed a new name for what he does, Ontography. Nice, but it might means I have to stop making my OOPs joke. Promise me, if you ever create an official group for what you do, to call it the object-oriented philosophy society, or OOPS, okay?

I am about to catch a plane, but there are at least two more blog posts I want to do (I'm telling you all about it so you can harass me to post them if you are interested).

One is that I read Shaviro's little research project, and it reminded me of the work he was doing about a year ago arguing that Hardt and Negri inverts Marx's metaphorics in regards to the monstrous. In the time since he wrote those posts, I've read a very interesting essay by Negri, "The Political Monster," that specifically addresses that charge.

The other post is exploring a bit of my problems with Heidegger, particularly with my problem of Heidegger's notion of philosophy, and his notion of being and doing philosophy. These things, more than any philosophical argument themselves, has been what has repulsed me from Heidegger.

See you all later.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

PS on Marx and ecology

In my last post I quoted Netz accusing Marx of not understanding ecology, and therefore of not understanding history. I want to clarify that I don't think that Netz is saying that Marx never attempted to think ecology, merely that his thoughts were at least not enough, and at worst incorrect. As most know, Marx certainly advanced a thought of ecology in his concept of Stoffwechsel (metabolism). While Netz doesn't talk about this concept at all (and, in general, doesn't spend a lot of the book talking about Marx), I would certainly agree that Marx's notion of Stoffwechsel remains far too anthropocentric. Both in his earlier works (principally the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts) and his later works (principally in Capital, vols one and three). I am not saying that from Marx we cannot work a strong thought of ecology (and therefore history). I am saying that the concept, in Marx, remains impossibly anthropocentric and woefully insufficient.

The Camp as the Nomos of the Earth.

I frequently want to write reviews of the books I have read on my blog, but almost never do. This post began as a much overdue review of Reviel Netz's book Barbed Wire: An Ecology of Modernity. This is simply the best book I've read in a long time (and like most of you, I read a lot of books in a short time). But as I read the book, and as I was trying to think how to review the book, I kept asking the same question: Why isn't this what Agamben wrote instead of Homo Sacer? Answering this question is fairly short, when I figured it out, but framing the question is slightly longer.

Netz's book (which I have to thank my brother for suggesting) is without a doubt a labor of love. He is a historian, trained in the classics, who writes about Archimedes. I don't think Archimedes was mentioned once in Barbed Wire. Barbed Wire's form is fairly simple, in a way. It is designed to give us a history (one might say a non-anthropocentric materialist genealogy, but Netz certainly would never say a phrase like that!) of barbed wire through its major historical usages: the American midwest, military applications during WWI, and the concentration camp. In this form, it resembles Olivier Razac's much shorter, Barbed Wire: A Political History. More overly, the book is concerned with a typology of control. Anything that moves is an actor in Netz's history, and anything that causes friction, changes motion, or stops motion is also an actor. This is, in short, what Netz refers to as ecology. This is what allows Netz to say that "Marxism was lacking not merely in the understanding of agriculture but in the understanding of ecology and therefore of history itself" (p. 180). Netz obviously means something strange both by the term ecology (usually not understand as history) and history (usually not understood as ecology). Netz work demands this thought of ecology and history together.
Netz's history of barbed wire is therefore firmly non-anthropocentric, being as concerned as about animals as about humans. And his understanding of interactions taking into account the possibility of interactions completely outside of the human sphere. It is also an amazing genealogy of the concentration camp (the camp being the not just the end of the book, but the fulfillment of the argument of the book). In exploring the camp Netz spends time looking at the materials used to make camps, the colonial history of the camp, the history of the prisoner of war camp and the 'enemy civilian' camp, the Gulag. The interactions of things like railroads, barbed wire fencing, machine guns, tractors and tanks, and more. Several diagrams of various Nazi death camps and gulags and early american midwest farms were supplied. And though Netz never mentions Agamben (and quite possibly might not have read Homo Sacer), in some ways his book is proving the argument that in modernity the camp is the nomos of the earth. Nomos here means something quite closer to what Schmitt means by the term then how it was ever deployed by Agamben: nomos as the concrete spatial organization of society. In Netz, we have a material understanding of how "[i]n the premodern world, control reached to points and to lines connecting them; there simply was not enough prevention of motion to go around to cover an entire plane and bring it all under control. In the modern world, this changed, and the typology was inverted: control reached everywhere, and only isolated points were left for motion, that is, not controlled from a center" (pp. 229-230, italics in original). In Agamben, we are given nothing like this. In reading Homo Sacer one would almost feel as if the Lager appeared out of nowhere (or if appeared out of anywhere, out of Roman jurisprudence and Greek etymologies). How, in Agamben, can the Lager both the most important and central reality of the present global catastrophe and at the same time have the reality of the Lager almost never talked about? This is what I meant by my question earlier, that started this post.
This post, in many ways inverts the popular criticism against Agamben's treatment of the camp. In you have read Durantaye's excellent book Giorgio Agamben (another book I have been meaning to write a review of) then you are well aware that the common criticism is that Agamben abstracts from the camp too much. He doesn't spend enough time following the specific lives of those in the camp. The camp is treated, in Agamben's terminology, as a paradigm (like the panopticon in a paradigm for Foucault). This leads Durantaye's claim that the English translation of Homo Sacer has the perfect cover, a diagram of Auschwitz. I would disagree, because a diagram of Auschwitz matters not at all for Agamben. It is not that a history of the Lager is never done, but rather that the history remains an intellectual history. It remains a history of law, theology, and philosophy. Agamben is concerned, not with a Schmittian notion of nomos as spatial organization, but with the camp as a paradigm of the legal and ontological present moment.

Which subtitle should I use?

Still doing my pre-move prep in finding a place, etc. There are really few places more dissimilar than Ithaca, NY and Boca Raton, FL. So, sorry I haven't been posting or responding to comments like I should, I will fix that, I promise.

In the meanwhile, I am still trying to title this paper/chapter. I still haven't figured out if I should use Becoming-vegetarian or becoming-vegan (another post on all of that should be coming soon), so below I will write becoming-veg*n, which for now will stand in for both terms. I don't plan on keeping that phrase (unless you think I should, sound off in comments). Right now I am more curious about which subtitle you like better:

Becoming-veg*n: The euporia of eating well.


Becoming-veg*n, Or, Why I eat so well.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Being gone, and a couple of links.

I had meant to be able to post more from the interesting comments from my becoming-vegan/vegetarian post, but that is going to have to be put on hold for a couple of days. I'm traveling to Boca Rotan, FL to find a place there to move to (if anyone has any suggestions of what I should do there or where I should eat, let me know). I should have internet at the hotel room, so some blogging should still get done. However, between searching for a place, and actually moving later this month, I am going to be gone a lot. If anyone is interested in posting blogs from here, you should drop me an email. I don't keep track of hits, and have no clue how many people actually read my blog. But, if you are interested (or just want to drop me an email anyway) thescu[at]gmail[dot]com

Before I forget, Levi made a post responding to my earlier post. Also, Greg has a post, responding to my post. Both of their posts are great, so if you haven't already, check them out.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Becoming-Vegetarian or Becoming-Vegan?

I have been unable to decide if I should call it becoming-vegetarian or becoming-vegan. For me, the term would technically mean the same thing: a process of subjectivity that would at the same time be an ethical relationship with other animals. That would mean, at the minimum, that we probably didn't eat their flesh, put them in cages, take away their young, conduct violent and invasive tests, etc. But with that said, which term?
I like the term vegetarian a lot. I like the history of the term, that the vegetarian society claims it comes from the latin for lively. And, originally with the vegetarian society, vegetarian meant pretty much what vegan means today. But, the term vegetarian nowadays has some pretty specific eating criteria. You avoid flesh, but remain okay with eggs and milk. Furthermore, in general it is seen as a non-political term. You seldom meet a vegan whose primary concern is not an ethical relationship to other animals. The same cannot be said for vegetarians.
But my understanding about the history of the term vegan is the people who coined simply took the first and last parts of vegetarian, and they simply made the world because it felt right. Which is fine, but lacks the same sort of wordpoetry that vegetarian conjures up for me.
So, thoughts?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Species Trouble

First, Greg, over at his new digs Animal Obscura (make sure to add it to your RSS feed/blogroll/whatever if you haven't already) makes an interesting post, that in fine Greg style manages to move from some thoughts about the movie Rachel Getting Married to Agamben to the proper way to historicize vegetarian/vegan politics. It is the last part of his argument I want to engage with this post.

To quote Greg:
That is: removed from the class of animals where carnivorism might make sense for humans qua their animality.

This is in no way an apology for blue collar workers, or workers of any stripe, rolling out the hot dog and hamburger parade (this is the 4th of July). I am saying that if we can imagine a condition in which humans are on par with real animals, then we can imagine, as a subset of that, a social condition in which eating meat makes sense. The condition of humans among the rest of the animals is the starting point from which a non-negative ethos toward animals must emerge. Reconciling this with sumptuary politics is not impossible but it does require a proper understanding of historical method.

This is not an unfamiliar argument, that if we are to destroy the anthropocentrism that justifies so much violence against animals we might have to allow humans to eat flesh because many animals eat flesh. I clearly don't agree with this position, and I believe this disagreement has some broader theoretical implications I want to explore now.
Species may be real, but they are not actual. That is to say the construction of species has obvious material consequences, and the policing of the boundaries of species are all very real. Species are therefore real, the effects of this reality is felt from animals in factory farms to the transatlantic slave trade, but this reality is virtual. That is to say, it doesn't exist even if it is real. As Craig likes to point out "According to Grene and Depew's textbook on the philosophy of biology, there are at least twenty-three distinct concepts of species presently being discussed in the literature." So, just as Derrida in The Animal that Therefore I Am points out that the problem with a term like the animal because it makes it seem as if all animals exist generically on one side, and that humans exist completely outside of the animal, arguments that privilege the coherence of "species" are certainly problematic. The result is that critical animal scholars are put in a similar position of earlier critical gender and race theorists (hence, the title of this post).
We cannot reduce difference. We cannot simply reject the constructed nature of species in return for some sort of generic animal. There are a wide variety of differences and commonalities among all animals (humans certainly included) and difference cannot be subordinated. As always we have to struggle for an egalitarianism that also doesn't reduce difference. So, while it is true that some animals eat flesh, it is also true that some animals don't. It is also true that some animals, like the gorilla, are fairly vegetarian (and I mean that word, not herbivore). There is obviously among other animals a strong degree of difference when it comes to flesh eating, and that certainly does not mean that a rejection of anthropocentrism means we have to act like certain other animals and eat flesh. I think that path follows a certain reductionism that we also need to struggle to avoid.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The role of 'phenomenology, hermeneutics, semiotics, or deconstructive textual analysis' in CAS

I'd like to thank both Levi Bryant and Graham Harman for their generous responses to my "10 questions for speculative realists." (If anyone else has responded and I have missed it, please let me know!). There are many potential blog posts I want to make in response to their responses, but for now I am going to stick to the role of 'phenomenology, hermeneutics, semiotics, or deconstructive textual analysis' in critical animal studies. But let me begin by retracing the parts of Bryant's arguments that matter for this post.

Bryant, in explaining what holds together the real but non-existent speculative realist movement he argues:
In short, all of the SR positions share the thesis that the human and human phenomena have no special place within being and are opposed to the thesis that we must start with an analysis of something pertaining to the human (mind, history, language, power, signs, etc.) to properly pose questions of ontology.

It seems to me this rejection of anthropocentrism is also the starting point for critical animal studies (And I should add I find Bryant's formulation elegant. Philosophy can always use more elegant formulations.), even if (most) CAS heads in some very different directions than (most) SR after this rejection of anthropocentric ontology. I think one of the ways to understand this difference is by examining another common opposition that Bryant posits for SR:
On the other hand, I think all of those in the speculative realist camp are deeply exhausted by styles of philosophy that begin from the standpoint of critique (in the Kantian sense), the phenomenological analysis of experience, hermeneutics, and textual analysis. There’s a sense that these approaches to philosophy, as powerful and valuable as they are, have exhausted their possibilities and are standing in the way of engaging with the sorts of questions demanded by our contemporary moment. For example, its difficult to imagine something less relevant than phenomenology, hermeneutics, semiotics, or deconstructive textual analysis to the sorts of issues posed by the ecological crisis. Ecology just requires a very different set of conceptual tools. Moreover, we are living in the midst of one of the most remarkable periods in scientific and mathematical development and invention, yet we have a group of philosophers continuing to pretend that the Greeks said it all and that philosophy largely ended at the beginning of the 19th century. It is also simply bizarre to think that these developments are adequately thematized through the resources of textual analysis or semiotics. We need to become a bit more pre-critical again, I think, to adequately discuss these sorts of issues.

I am, in many ways, very sympathetic to this argument. In many ways also in strong agreement (this odd obsession with Greek as origin, and origin as the authentic and true seems relatively useless to me). But if we replace ecology with the systematic exploitation of animals (and of course, recognizing that the exploitation there is deeply implicated in the present ecological crisis), I doubt highly that "phenomenology, hermeneutics, semiotics, or deconstructive textual analysis" have exhausted themselves in changing the status of the animal. Not only have phenomenological moments with nonhuman animals been crucial for many people changing their views regarding animal exploitation, but it seems that humanism and speciesism are strongly powerful in maintaining the systematic exploitation of animals. If we are to change things, I feel that confronting how this humanism and speciesism is maintained from their roots to their present formulation is a necessary move, which means critique is a necessary tool for CAS. This critical element needs to be centered not just on political and philosophical texts, but also on present media and scientific texts. At the same time, I agree we need to pay more attention to some of the present movements in current scientific discourses. Indeed, CAS is also interesting as a philosophical movement because of its strong interest in things like current evolutionary discourses, primatology, cognitive ethology, etc. (And indeed, one of the few major continental philosophers that seemed to be particularly interested in these things was Derrida).
I should have a conclusion here, I know. But I don't, not really. I don't think my argument is against SR, and I don't think SR invalidates CAS. I am merely trying to create a dialogue with another intellectual movement that begins with a similar anti-anthropocentric position.

Friday, July 3, 2009

10 questions for speculative realists (and a coda about my almost life as a speculative realist)

Graham Harman recently linked to this blog to talk about Greg's post on the midwest. Which reminded me of a blog post I had been meaning to make for about a month now.

Now, I recognize that many of the questions I ask would probably be answered if I read all your books and all your posts ever. But, that seems unlikely to happen right this second, and I am interested in things I have seen posted or in the books I have read, and hope that this will both clarify things and intensify my interests. If you want to link me to things where you feel some of these questions have already been answered, please feel free.

10 questions for speculative realists:

(1) For an intellectual movement that has such a strong internet presence, why do you all have such an unhelpful wikipedia entry?

(2) What are the major different currents of speculative realism? I just would not have thought to combine many of you together as part of a philosophical movement (school? gathering?). So, what holds you all together as an idea? What are the major different currents?

(3) I know not all of you have a beef with Foucault, but I have seen several vaguely dismissive comments from the object-oriented types about Foucault. So, what is the matter with Foucault?

(4) I have also seen responses from several of you against accusations that you don't have a politics. The responses have tended towards variations of "We have a politics, but we don't subvert our ontology to our politics." Which is fine, but for me raises far more questions than it answers: What are your politics? Are your politics separate from your ontology, or do you feel that your politics flow from your ontology?

(5) Question number four leads me to this question, which you might or might not want to group in with the last answer. Are you concerned with the question of first philosophy, or do you find such questions rather boring? Do you believe that you have to get your ontology right first in order to have a politics and/or an ethics, or do you feel that the domain of ontology has a certain separability from these other philosophical domains?

(6) Why did the speculative realist cross the road? Or, alternatively, how many speculative realists does it take to change a light bulb (please give number and reason for that number)?

(7) Can you suggest two books by Bruno Latour I should get around to reading sooner rather than later? I have read Science in Action, but that was several ago, and could be convinced to reread it.

(8) This is a blog dedicated, at least on some level, to critical animal studies. Obviously, speculative realism's anti-humanist and anti-anthropocentrist viewpoints are somewhat in line with the problematic of critical animal studies, however, what can you foresee as the relationship between speculative realism and critical animal studies, if any? Clearly, an ontology of generalized actors (whereby rocks and plants and machines are as much actors as humans and animals) might guarantee an non-anthropocentric ontology, but does not guarantee a non-anthropocentric ethics. Which is fine, but I am just pointing out that there seems to be no obvious connection between the two philosophical movements.

(9)Obviously there are some interesting questions about how speculative realism relates to the big branches of contemporary philosophy -- How does speculative realism relate to continental philosophy? How does speculative realism relate to analytic philosophy? -- but what I am really curious about is how does speculative realism relate to decolonial philosophy? I probably wouldn't even think about asking about this, except a recent post by k-punk that talked about how Badiou helped awaken him from a deleuzian slumber. For me, Badiou had nothing to do with my awakening from a Deleuzian slumber (if anything he only intensified my affection for Deleuze and Guattari, the same with Zizek), but decolonial philosophy and the philosophy of radical women of color completely changed my relationship with continental philosophy. Reza obviously has serious engagement with Iranian thought, but what about speculative philosophy in general?

(10) What is the difference between realism and materialism? Why are you speculative realists instead of speculative materialists?

A coda:

This part of the post might be rather self-indulgent, so feel free to stop reading. The thing that interests me about speculative realism is that I feel that I was well on my way to being a speculative realist when I was an undergrad. I was obsessed with Deleuze and Guattari (still am, really), and felt their work existed in tension with Heidegger and Derrida whom I was not particularly fond of (still anti-heidegger, but I have come to find Derrida very useful). Instead of Derrida and Heidegger, the language-oriented thinkers I found interesting were Bakhtin and Paul de Man. Bakhtin seemed committed to a strong materialism in his work, and I liked how de Man's view of inhuman grammar machines gave grammar its own agency outside of merely human agency. I had read Niklas Luhmann, and found him very helpful, as well as many essays by John Law. I read everything I could get my hands on by Delanda, and because of him read all three volumes of Braudel's Civilization and Capitalism. I read all of Grant's early essays, and also traded emails with Reza. My undergraduate thesis was on how Deleuze's notion of control was an assemblage that existed outside of an immediate human agency but instead was dependent upon a system of actors. So, my interest in speculative realism is because before it was a movement with a name was I very interested in it, and now it exists and it makes me realize how much things have changed for me (and how much they have stayed the same).

Thursday, July 2, 2009

New Blog

After being Scu's fill-in for the last couple weeks I have taken his encouragement to heart and started my own blog, Animal Obscura. It will be similar to what I've done here: mostly relating my every day experiences to critical animal theory. It's a little rough on formatting but will probably get better!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Biblography on Derrida on animals

EJ on a recent post about early and late Derrida asked for more sources where Derrida talks about animals. I think that is something we could all benefit from. So, I am sure I have not tracked them all down, and hope some of you can add stuff I have missed. Also, Derrida frequently had small discussions of animals that don't exactly make into a sustained work (a long and interesting footnote in The Postcard, for example. A couple of references in Glas, etc.), and not to mention other works that are not specifically about animals but go out their way to refuse an anthropocentrism that another author might have created. I know I should work out all the listing by original publication date (or alpha by title), but I'm lazy and this is a blog post. So, I won't worry about it here for the rough draft, hopefully as we collect a fuller list, I will work it into a more useful format.

All works by Derrida:

"Eating Well" (an interview with Jean-Luc Nancy)

"On the Limits of Digestion" (an interview with Daniel Birnbaum and Anders Olsson, and I have to say I found out that Derrida used the trope of digestion in his later lectures only after I had always started to do so).


"The Ends of Man"

The Animal That Therefore I Am

The Sovereign and the Beast

On Touching, Jean-Luc Nancy

Of Spirit

"Heidegger's Hand (Geschlecht II)"

"Heidegger's Ear: Philopolemology (Geschlect IV)"

The chapter "Violence Against Animals" in For What Tomorrow (with Elisabeth Roudinesco)


Obviously his lectures on cannibalism and eating the other probably also contain some work on animals, but I have been unable to track down publications of those lecture series in either French or English, anyone know if they are somewhere?

Alright, what have I missed?

Can chimps dance to music?

So, I was watching Monday night's Daily Show, and Oliver Sacks made the odd claim that only humans keep rhythm to music. That chimps can't dance. http://www.hulu.com/watch/80421/the-daily-show-with-jon-stewart-oliver-sacks#s-p1-st-i1

That just sounds incorrect to me, but I don't actually know. Is Oliver Sacks correct, or did his mistook his humanism for a science?