- Derrida and Our Animal Others: Derrida’s Final Seminar, ‘The Beast and the Sovereign’ by David Farrell Krell, and: The End of the World and Other Teachable Moments: Jacques Derrida’s Final Seminar by Michael Naas
These are the first books to be published on the two volumes of Jacques Derrida’s last seminar series, La Bête et le souverain (published in French in 2008–10 and in English in 2009–11); David Farrell Krell also includes a chapter on Derrida’s L’Animal que donc je suis (published fully in book form in French in 2006 and in English in 2008) — all posthumous works based on lectures or seminars on the intertwined questions of animality and sovereignty. For those unacquainted with this material, Krell is perhaps the place to start as he spends over half the book usefully summarizing Derrida’s arguments and listing his many and varied sources. He adds some analysis including further pertinent texts, notably by Nietzsche and Merleau-Ponty. However, as a leading Heideggerian philosopher himself, he is most concerned by Derrida’s critical engagement with Heidegger in these works — in particular with Heidegger’s 1929–30 lecture course, Die Grundbegriffe der Metaphysik. Welt–Endlichkeit–Einsamkeit first published in German in 1975 (The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics: World, Finitude, Solitude, trans. William McNeill and [End Page 416] Nicholas Walker (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995)). Krell therefore endeavours to produce a response to Derrida based on his own more positive reading of Heidegger. Krell and Michael Naas read each other’s works in typescript, and there is much favourable cross-reference. Like Krell, Naas, a highly respected philosopher, is particularly interested in responding to the Heideggerian aspect of Derrida’s work (including ‘world’, the relation to death, and Walten).
Both Krell and Naas focus less on questions relating to critical animal studies or to sexual difference — which Derrida tantalizingly repeatedly affirms as crucial in these long seminars yet does not develop in detail. Thus, with honourable exceptions, most readers do repeat his affirmation with regard to the importance of sexual difference and then set it aside without supplementing his few examples or developing the analysis. Both of these books focus on Derrida’s male intertexts, although Krell does suggest that, since ‘in Derrida’s view, issues of sexual difference and especially the deeply rooted misogyny of so much of our thought and practices are bound up with prejudices concerning “animality” and “bestiality”’ (pp. 4–5), that relationship (between the thinking and obscuring of questions of sexual difference and the assertion of a divide between ‘man’ and ‘the animal’) might be a task for further research and reflection. There are so many directions in which these engaging works can take the theorist that selectivity is dictated to all of us working on this material (in glass houses). I should declare an interest as I had just completed a book on the same Derrida material when I discovered these volumes. However, my first reaction on opening them was confirmation that the seminars are so rich and complex (not simply long) that a number of very different books can respond to them. Both Krell and Naas, perhaps influenced by their publishers, only cite the excellent translation despite Naas’s important claim that ‘one must always follow Derrida’s tracks in both English and in French’ (p. 18) — a remark presumably applicable to translations of Derrida into languages other than English too — and the question of language will partially condition the reading.
The End of the World is the kind of book that is valuable not only for the body of the text but also for its footnotes, where there are many important ‘asides’ that will interest Derrideans: for instance, in Naas’s development of the significance of flair in Derrida...