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Zoopolitics

From: SubStance
Volume 43, Number 2, 2014 (Issue 134)
pp. 115-123 | 10.1353/sub.2014.0018

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

We begin to glimpse what the concept of zoopolitics means in Derrida, namely the place of an analysis and an interpretation of our political modernity in its links with the animality of the human and that of the animal, or more precisely still in its links with the proper of the human [le propre de l’homme] as it thinks of itself as a political and rational animal, in opposition to the animal that would be neither political nor rational. It must, however, be noted right away that despite what might be called the animalistic tropism of Derridean deconstruction, it does not include a thesis maintaining the continuity between human and animal. If it is unquestionable that deconstruction refrains from making animality play a secondary or peripheral role in reflection on the political, and if it is also true that animality is in no way, with Derrida, the pretext for an inquiry concerning what distinguishes, in actually quite a traditional way, human from animal, then animality can no longer be for him the concept that it has always been, at heart, beckoning toward the establishment and institution of a border between the two, but rather one that comes to blur, to rework and accordingly to complexify the limits between them.

Thus nothing would be more mistaken than to think that the pharmacological blurring of borders would lead to an indistinction between the different forms of manifestation of animality as they are embodied in human and beast. Deconstruction is in no way a naturalism that would establish a zone of continuity between all living beings, precisely because it makes animality a problematic concept that aims to deepen and multiply as much as possible the borders between human and animal, by carrying this gesture rightly to its ultimate consequences. It rests on the radical refusal of a single indivisible limit between the human and the animal according to the Western metaphysical tradition that has sanctioned it. Derrida calls into question the existence of a single limit between the human and the animal to show that there are many that do not necessarily pass through the humanity-animality distinction. The belief that there could be a single and indivisible limit between human and nonhuman living beings is the most violent prejudice in the field of animal philosophy. All animal life is the outcome of a multitude of differences that are in no way reducible to a homogenous category that would include a certain number of characteristics shared by all animals, or that they would otherwise lack; this violent reduction of forms of animal life to the category of animal is a metaphysical illusion that aims only to institute the caesura between the two living beings. Might we go so far as to say that the belief in this limit is precisely what is at the origin of the concepts of human and animal? That every idea of a limit creates a dualism between two realities thought of as totally opposed? That the limit is the institution par excellence of violence?

The refusal of all metaphysical dualism leads Derrida to elaborate a set of concepts aiming to emphasize the radical difference, the abyss that opens between living beings, without settling there comfortably but by making sure to disarticulate the play of differences, to desediment it, to dismantle it so as to understand what it hides and represses. Unquestionably, in this large-scale philosophical operation there is a total upheaval of perspective that radically transforms the question of nonhuman life as it has been thought in the humanist tradition but also the anti-humanist—a conceptual revolution that finds its ultimate clarification in the concept of “différance,” which structures deconstruction and which gives it its primary meaning in close relation with the problem of animality, as Derrida writes:

What is universalizable about differance with regard to differences is that it allows one to think the process of differentiation beyond every kind of limit: whether it is a matter of cultural, national, linguistic, or even human limits. There is differance (with an “a”) as soon as there is a living trace, a relation of life/death or presence/absence. This became...



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