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.