Animal Lessons

Animal Lessons: How They Teach Us to Be Human

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 376
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  • Book Info
    Animal Lessons
    Book Description:

    Philosophy reads humanity against animality, arguing that "man" is man because he is separate from beast. Deftly challenging this position, Kelly Oliver proves that, in fact, it is the animal that teaches us to be human. Through their sex, their habits, and our perception of their purpose, animals show us how not to be them.

    This kinship plays out in a number of ways. We sacrifice animals to establish human kinship, but without the animal, the bonds of "brotherhood" fall apart. Either kinship with animals is possible or kinship with humans is impossible. Philosophy holds that humans and animals are distinct, but in defending this position, the discipline depends on a discourse that relies on the animal for its very definition of the human. Through these and other examples, Oliver does more than just establish an animal ethics. She transforms ethics by showing how its very origin is dependent upon the animal. Examining for the first time the treatment of the animal in the work of Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Derrida, Agamben, Freud, Lacan, and Kristeva, among others, Animal Lessons argues that the animal bites back, thereby reopening the question of the animal for philosophy.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52049-2
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Biting the Hand That Feeds You: The Role of Animals in Philosophies of Man
    (pp. 1-22)

    On October 3, 2003, after years of performing in the Las Vegas show Siegfried & Roy, Montecore, a white tiger, attacked Roy Horn and nearly killed him. The attack sparked a debate about why the tiger bit Roy and dragged him off stage by the neck. Some people claimed that the tiger was trying to protect Roy, who had tripped and fallen; others speculated that the tiger sensed Roy’s impending stroke; some blamed a “big-haired” woman in the front row; others suggested a thyroid disorder; and some insisted that a tiger is an unpredictable wild predator who will attack without...

  5. PART ONE What’s Wrong with Animal Rights?
    • CHAPTER ONE The Right to Remain Silent
      (pp. 25-48)

      Philosophical debates over the status of animals have exploded, making a survey of the literature overwhelming. With the exception of a few continental philosophers, most philosophers discussing animals today still do so in terms of animal suffering or animal intelligence, which in turn lead to discussions of animal rights or animal welfare.¹ Most of these discussions revolve around the ways in which animals are—or are not—like us and therefore should—or should not—be treated like us. Most of them measure animals against humans in an attempt to delineate similarities and differences that may help us decide something...

  6. PART TWO Animal Pedagogy
    • CHAPTER TWO You Are What You Eat: Rousseau’s Cat
      (pp. 51-78)

      In both A Discourse on Inequality (1755) and “On the Origin of Languages,” Jean-Jacques Rousseau describes “civilized man” as the result of the evolution from savage hunter, through barbaric herdsman, to civilized farmer.¹ Las Vegas performer Roy Horn—who defines himself in terms of his animals and who makes his living using them—could be just the latest stage in the development of man described by Rousseau: savage hunter, barbaric herdsman, civilized farmer, Vegas entertainer. The different social organizations described by Rousseau correspond to “man’s” livelihood and, more specifically, to his relation to animals: “The savage man is a hunter...

    • CHAPTER THREE Say the Human Responded: Herder’s Sheep
      (pp. 79-94)

      If Rousseau treks through the animal kingdom trying to identify man’s distinguishing features because he denies any definitive border between man and animal, his German contemporary, Johann Gottfried Herder, avoids particular animals in favor of the animal in general because he is certain of the abyss between man and animals, a border that is both definitive and dangerous. Crossing the boundary between man and animal puts man on uncertain footing; for here, man all too easily slips “back” into the animal. Once that happens, the necessity of the human, civilization, and man’s dominion over nature fall into the abyss. Rousseau’s...

  7. PART THREE Difference “Worthy of Its Name”
    • CHAPTER FOUR “Hair of the Dog”: Derrida’s and Rousseau’s Good Taste
      (pp. 97-130)

      In his early work, Derrida probes the limit set up between man and his others, including the animal and the divine, in order to challenge the “mythic purity” of concepts (Good or Evil) on either side of the divide: “Man calls himself man only by drawing limits excluding his other from the play of supplementary; the purity of nature, of animality, primitivism, childhood, madness, divinity. The approach to these limits is at once feared as a threat of death, and desired as access to a life without differánce” (1967, 244, second italics added; cf. 1967, 235, 290). At its core,...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Sexual Difference, Animal Difference: Derrida’s Sexy Silkworm
      (pp. 131-152)

      In their reading of the history of philosophy, feminists point out that “female,” “woman,” and “femininity” often fall on the side of the animal in the man/animal divide, as the generic use of the word man suggests. From Plato through Hegel, Freud, and beyond, women have been associated with Nature and instincts to procreate, which place them in the vicinity of the animal realm. We could say that since woman’s alliance with the serpent in Genesis, Judeo-Christian traditions have remained suspicious of woman’s proximity to animals. In this chapter, following Derrida’s The Animal That Therefore I Am (2008), I take...

  8. PART FOUR It’s Our Fault
    • CHAPTER SIX The Beaver’s Struggle with Species-Being: De Beauvoir and the Praying Mantis
      (pp. 155-174)

      The most often quoted line from Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex is “One is not born, but rather becomes a woman” (1949b, 267).¹ Even though de Beauvoir insists that “no biological, psychological, or economic fate determines the figure that the human female presents in society; it is civilization as a whole that produces this creature, intermediate between male and eunuch, which is described as feminine,” “this creature” is most certainly born female (1949b, 267, italics added).² She opens the first part of her seminal work by pointing out that even though man is not ashamed of his animal nature,...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Answering the Call of Nature: Lacan Walking the Dog
      (pp. 175-190)

      Once psychoanalysis enters the scene, the distinction between truth and deception becomes mired in the murky mess of the unconscious. Insofar as unconscious forces drive us beyond our control and even beyond our knowledge, we all are, and always have been, a bunch of liars. Our motives remain opaque and beyond our grasp, and our words always say more than we intend. Indeed, as Freud describes it, the human psyche revolves around deception: unconscious desires and fears sneak into consciousness; repression works to hide traumatic memories, while the repetition compulsion tricks us into reliving those traumas in new forms; dreams...

  9. PART FIVE Estranged Kinship
    • CHAPTER EIGHT The Abyss Between Humans and Animals: Heidegger Puts the Bee in Being
      (pp. 193-207)

      Several important commentaries on Heidegger’s treatment of animals explain the arguments he advances in his 1929/30 lecture course The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics, his most extensive examination of animality.¹ Therefore, I won’t rehearse the entire convoluted trajectory of his analysis here. Instead, I will highlight aspects of his theory in comparing it with Merleau-Ponty’s Nature lectures, on the one hand, and in advancing my thesis of animal pedagogy, on the other. My hope is to illuminate some of the traditional philosophical complexities of the “animal problem” and to hazard a further mutation in the evolution of philosophy’s thinking of and...

    • CHAPTER NINE “Strange Kinship”: Merleau-Ponty’s Sensuous Stickleback
      (pp. 208-228)

      If Heidegger objects to Uexküll’s anthropomorphic use of Umwelt to describe the animal environment because it attributes too much world to animals, Merleau-Ponty objects to Uexküll’s “humanism” because it doesn’t make the animal’s Umwelt rich enough.¹ Like Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty looks to Uexküll because his theories can be used to denounce the Cartesian dichotomy between subject and object (cf. 2003, 168). Unlike Heidegger, who sees in Uexküll biology’s most radical separation between man and animal, Merleau-Ponty uses Uexküll to argue for continuity between man and animal. As we will see, this is not evolutionary continuity but a “strange kinship” based on...

    • CHAPTER TEN Stopping the Anthropological Machine: Agamben’s Ticktocking Tick
      (pp. 229-244)

      In The Open, Giorgio Agamben diagnoses the history of both science and philosophy as part of what he calls the “anthropological machine” through which the human is created with and against the animal. In his analysis, early forms of this “machine” were operated by humanizing animals, thereby making some “men” considered to be animals in human form, for example, barbarians and slaves. Modern versions of the machine operate by animalizing humans, making some “people” considered to be less than human, for example, Jews during the Holocaust and, more recently perhaps, Iraqi detainees. Agamben describes both sides of the anthropological machine:...

  10. PART SIX Psychoanalysis and the Science of Kinship
    • CHAPTER ELEVEN Psychoanalysis as Animal By-product: Freud’s Zoophilia
      (pp. 247-276)

      In nearly every essay he wrote, Freud mentions animals: animal examples, animal anecdotes, animal metaphors, animal idioms, and, of course, animal phobias.¹ Cataloging the animals that appear in his texts begins to look like a zoological compendium of species running from apes to wolves and at least (by my count) eighty other animals in between, including beetles, caterpillars, crayfish, donkeys, emus, fox, frogs, giraffes, gnats, herring, jaguars, kangaroos, lizards, moths, opossum, oysters, porcupines, ravens, snails, starfish, tigers, toads, wasps, and whales. Animals play a central part in the imaginary of the father of psychoanalysis. Moreover, animals are the beating heart...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE Animal Abjects, Maternal Abjects: Kristeva’s Strays
      (pp. 277-302)

      A strange metaphor of contagion runs through Freud’s Totem and Taboo, as if breaking taboos is a communicable disease. Animals and women are associated with this form of infection that threatens the community from inside. Freud describes a magical power attributed by primitive peoples to animals, objects, and persons, which can be contagious if not properly controlled through prohibitions. Since prohibitions correspond to desires that still exist in the unconscious, this magical power is, in effect, the power of temptation: “The magical power that is attributed to taboo is based on the capacity for arousing temptation; and it acts like...

  11. CONCLUSION: Sustainable Ethics
    (pp. 303-306)

    This project started as a work of mourning for my beloved companion of eighteen years, Kaos. Friends sometimes warned me that I should stop thanking Kaos and Wizard in the acknowledgments of my books, that scholars would not take my writing seriously if I continued to thank my cats. Now they are probably convinced that I have gone to the dogs (except for those who know that I am a cat person). Recently, at small symposium where I presented some ideas for the first chapter, friends and strangers alike challenged my turn to animals. Some of them even said that...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 307-338)
    (pp. 339-354)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 355-364)