- What Animals Teach Us about Politics by Brian Massumi
“An extended thought experiment”—a complex, dazzling, and sometimes elusive central essay bolstered by various addenda (propositions, supplements, and lavishly intricate endnotes)—presents an intensely ratiocinative meditation on how animals play and what that might mean for people. Focal mantras are revisited and recycled copiously as in a mesmerizing jazz fugue: adaptation, reflexivity, “bodying,” categorical affect, the supernormal, and, befitting the musical analogy, expressivity, improvisation, and inventiveness. Massumi invites his audience to analyze, with a stylistic dynamism that creates a readerly experience of infinite regression, how animal play fighting both mimics and diverges from human combat. A bite is (and is not) a bite; a fight is (and is not) a fight. Such paradoxes illuminate the interactions—and, I suppose, the politics—of humans as well as other animals. A densely theoretical and philosophical patina prevents me from grasping with detailed precision exactly what animals may have to teach us about politics, though I am sure that Congress, the Knesset, the House of Lords, and a hundred other deliberative bodies could profit from guided field excursions where members were asked to observe and integrate the lessons we may glean from the behavioral relationships of other species.
Randy Malamud, Regents’ Professor of English at Georgia State University and a fellow of the Oxford Center for Animal Ethics, is the author of Reading Zoos: Representations of Animals and Captivity, Poetic Animals and Animal Souls, A Cultural History of Animals in the Modern Age, and An Introduction to Animals and Visual Culture.