- The animal rationale that is Jacques Derrida: a Response to “Of Biodeconstruction”
I am honored by and grateful for Eyal Amiran’s invitation to respond to the articles included in this fine double issue of Postmodern Culture, “Of Biodeconstruction.” While it is not possible for me to address each article individually, since several offer direct critiques of my work, I decided to present the position in regard to Jacques Derrida’s commentary on the living that I developed in “Déconstruire la résistance philosophique à la biologie,” most of which is translated here into English for the first time, as well as referring to some work on Derrida and Heidegger in my recent Morphing Intelligence.1 I thank the authors of these articles, therefore, for the occasion to consider again and reiterate my views on this matter. Contrary to what the authors here argue, I do still believe that if there is such a thing as “biodeconstruction,” it was never undertaken by Derrida himself. Biodeconstruction thus awaits its articulation, and this will require that a challenge be mounted to several assumptions within deconstruction. For instance, as I explain, the distrust Derrida shares with Heidegger in regard to Aristotle’s proposed definition of Man as “zoo-political” (Derrida, The Beast 349), in which Man is defined as a rational and political “animal.”
I adopt this approach because the articles in “Of Biodeconstruction” refer to texts Derrida wrote in the 1960s introducing a relation of solidarity between trace, writing, and program. As I have already presented a critical analysis of the texts from the sixties on several occasions, in the present context I opt to discuss later texts that take up the question of the animal and the relation to Heidegger, reexamining notions of writing and difference through “my” plasticity.2 Several articles in this issue are, in fact, critiques of plasticity’s critique, which I saw no point in repeating. I refer to it briefly, but I have developed my response elsewhere. Rather than diminishing the stakes of the dialogue undertaken here, I believe this approach allows me to alter the perspective of our exchange in productive ways.
1. Technoscience, Humanity, and Animality
Let me begin with a couple of reminders. According to Heidegger, the relational structure that connects the development of modern science to technological progress —a relationship revealed in the neologism technoscience —is determined by two significant metaphysical decisions, both of which grant a central role to life. The first, which emerges at the dawn of the philosophical tradition with Aristotle and governs it continually, is the definition of Man as animal rationale, in other words, as animal first and foremost. Heidegger characterizes this definition of Man as “zoopolitical” (Derrida, Beast 349). At the dawn of philosophy a biological and zoological concept of human “life” was thus established. Heidegger asks:
Are we really on the right track toward the essence of the human being as long as we set him off as one living creature among others in contrast to plants, beasts, and God? … But we must be clear on this point, that when we do this we abandon the human being to the essential realm of animalitas even if we do not equate him with beasts and attribute a specific difference to him … Metaphysics thinks of the human being on the basis of animalitas and does not think in the direction of his humanitas.”(“Letter” 246–47)
Clearly, Heidegger considers the biological and zoological definition of Man implicated in metaphysics to be ontologically impure, dissimulating, as it does, the essential difference between life and existence, from which, alone, the essence of Dasein is conceivable. Right from the start, the originary complicity of metaphysics and life, its alliance with what must be called the biological even before such is the case, condemns the biological to being nothing but an instance of concealing what is essential.
The second decision concerns the subsequent biological characterization of life that results directly from the first metaphysical definition, which defines life as a program. In “The Provenance of Art and the Destination of Thought,” the lecture Heidegger gave in Athens in 1967, he claims that in...