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.