- Derrida and Other Animals: The Boundaries of the Human by Judith Still
As the word ‘other’ in its title suggests, this is more than a book on Derrida and animals. Judith Still certainly unfolds with care the significance of animal figures in Derrida’s writing—notably the two volumes of The Beast and the Sovereign, which provide ‘the main pretext and context’ of the book (p. 15), and The Animal that Therefore I Am—but her project has the broader ambition of interrogating ‘Derrida’s analysis of the shifting borders erected around the human in attempts by numerous thinkers at different points in history to make it a more homogeneous category’ (p. 1). This agenda leads the book into discussions of savages (Chapter 4), slaves (Chapter 5), and women (Chapter 6), all of whom have also been figured as animals. Still is also careful to situate the studies in the book within a sociopolitical context broader than the philosophical niceties of the frontier between the human and the animal, insisting upon the importance of the triple context of the industrialization of food production, the Holocaust, and the war on terror. The opening chapters take as their centre of gravity the figure of the wolf; the discussion ranges widely and engages with Hobbes and Rousseau, La Fontaine and Plato. While insisting, along with Derrida, on the complex and ultimately indeterminate borders between human and animal, this book is far from hagiographic. Still not only develops her treatments of Derrida’s interlocutors beyond his own discussions but also engages with a series of further texts in order to facilitate a productive and sometimes critical dialogue with Derrida. The most sustained and decisive of these is around the question of the female voice. Still notes that, although ‘this topic is one on which it is crucial that women’s voices should be heard’, Derrida’s canon remains ‘stoutly male’ (p. 6). She therefore moves to remedy this imbalance by introducing a series of female interlocutors, notably the novelists Margaret Atwood and Marie Darrieussecq; poets Carol Ann Duffy and Renée Vivien; and philosophers Donna Haraway, Luce Irigaray, and Hélène Cixous. Further privileged interlocutors include Alexander Pushkin and Peter Singer (whose thought the book’s conclusion discusses at length). Still engages briefly but decisively with other treatments of the question of the animal in Derrida, notably arguing that Leonard Lawlor slips into a dichotomy that figures animals as suffering beings and humans as possessing the power and responsibility to ameliorate the suffering. Derrida is also favourably contrasted with an Agamben who is insufficiently self-conscious of his residual metaphysics, and with a Deleuze whose becoming-animal is only ever about the human. Beyond its interest to Derrida scholars, this book makes an important contribution to broader debates about the status of animals in contemporary Western society as well as to the question of the relation of the animal to other subaltern groups.