- Only for Them: A Manifesto for Animality Through Philosophy and Politics by Leonardo Caffo
A manifesto is a written declaration describing the policies, goals, and opinions of a person or group and often calls for immediate action. The language of a manifesto tends to be thus more suggestive than systematic, more provocative than rigorous, more overarching than analytic. As proven by several 20th-century artistic avant-gardes, manifestos can in fact be used as astonishing performative acts in order to épater le bourgeois, without necessarily advancing our understanding of a specific issue.
Leonardo Caffo's Only for Them is, explicitly, a manifesto. As stated in the dust jacket, its goal is to find a nonbanal answer—"beyond everyday life, through politics and philosophy"—to why we tolerate and even justify the cruel and unjust slaughtering of nonhuman animals. In order to do so, Caffo takes the readers through an ambitious but brief journey that touches on the topics of "what is the animal issue," "speciesism and antispeciesism," "encountering them" (i.e., nonhuman animals), and "religions and other forms of animals," respectively. These four main chapters are then followed by a brief conclusive coda, in which Caffo claims that Only for Them is meant to be a first step toward a theoretical discourse that "will start when we truly begin looking at the other through the other's eyes, . . . beginning a metamorphosis that takes us to be the other, returning to the most genuine regions of the living" (p. 100). Only for Them thus ends with a recommendation to start a "political revolution" that "will be, mostly, a return to authenticity, an erasure of animal domestication, a reconstitution of unity between all beings, in a word: the end of the ontological gap" (p. 100). [End Page 218]
Caffo belongs to a new wave of Italian thinkers who are not only commendably trying to disentangle the relationships between humanistic tradition and speciesism, but who are also promoting a radical change in our treatment of nonhuman animals. A rather prolific author for his young age, Caffo mentions in the "Note to the English Edition" that Only for Them was written when he was only 20 years old. The book indeed shows his "incisive and passionate approach to animal issues," as Matthew Calarco points out in the Afterword (p. 103). We should not be surprised then by the book's bold tendency to make big, and sometimes vague, claims, as testified by the few statements quoted above. Nor should we be too disturbed by Caffo's habit of relying heavily upon other thinkers' concepts, at times unfortunately without the necessary accuracy (see, for example, the use of Deleuze's "becoming-animal" at p. 53), or proper introduction (see the sudden appearance of Agamben and biopolitics at p. 101), or even precise bibliography (footnote 8 on p. 16 refers to Derrida, 2006, which is not included in the bibliographical references).
Beyond these weaknesses and some other conceptually and linguistically awkward material (for example, the whole fourth chapter whose title and content could have benefited from both better editing and a longer, deeper examination), there are actually very good things to be found in Only for Them. For instance, it is clear that the book is undoubtedly propelled by a praiseworthy intention and an urgent longing for a community of beings that is "over-human" (p. 52). As Calarco points out, one of the best arguments of Caffo's book lies in his challenge to speciesism and its consequent attempt to structure an appropriate, positive response. In particular, Caffo's claims that antispeciesism cannot be "a movement that forms with the evolution of culture but one that wishes for a radical change in culture itself" (p. 49). He thus advocates a writing on animality capable of expressing both "the rage towards those who cage and kill innocent beings" and "a genuine amazement towards the animals' extraordinary capacities" (pp. 62–63). In a way, Only for Them achieves both goals...