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111 4 Cynical Friendships Anthro-­Canine Relations Today In the interview with Jean-­ Luc Nancy “Eating Well,” Derrida comments on the responsibility he insists is a key element in the deconstructive project: “Responsibility carries within it, and must do so, an essential excessiveness. It regulates itself neither on the principle of reason nor on any sort of accountancy. To put it rather abruptly, I would say that among other things, the subject is also a principle of calculability. . . . I believe there is no responsibility, no ethico-­ political decision that must not pass through the proofs of the incalculable or the undecidable. Otherwise, everything would be reducible to calculation, program, causality, and, at best, ‘hypothetical imperative.’”1 Commenting on this passage, Kelly Oliver says, “For Derrida, an ethics that remains open to surprise or open to the other requires giving up moral habits along with the notion that morality is a matter of habit.”2 In this chapter I turn to twenty-­ first-­ century narratives of human-­ dog relations to ask whether surprise is a possibility, or if it has been domesticated into calculability by the dominance of breed. Two hundred years after the Foxhound was finally shaped into its recognizable character , breed virtually always precedes the encounters we have with dogs. “What kind of dog is that?” is the question people ask when meeting a dog they don’t recognize as anything other than a dog. People get breed dogs as signifiers of their projected identity (Iain Sinclair says that among entry-­ level drug dealers in London’s East End, “it’s a toss up between a first-­ time pit bull and a BMW with 40,000 miles on the clock”3 ), or with expectation of a particular predetermined relationship that very often begins in a mimesis (President Obama’s “mutt”). Two questions arise concerning the force of breed to affect the responsive relations we have with dogs. First, how does the dominance of breed discourse affect human responses to dogs today? I begin with the assumption that it does so by shaping our responses to dogs into calculations , so that we face a pit bull differently than we do a Westie or a mutt. And second, is there a possibility of turning from that dominating habit of calculation instituted over two centuries to respond to a dog with surprise? I avoid proclaiming anything like a “post-­ breed” discourse or ethics, because such a gesture carries the implicit claim of transcendence, or of “improvement,” that is very much a part of the modern subject whose interrogation must always intertwine itself with these questions. But I do wish to hold out the possibility that, within the breed discourse that still regulates responses to dogs and the responses we expect to elicit from them, surprises can happen. Or, to use the terms of Derrida’s statement from “Eating Well,” the decisions that we make about possible interactions with dogs, even with breed discourse, must pass through some proof or phase of the incalculable; it is in this phase where 112| Chapter Four the habits ingrained by two hundred years of the regulative, mimetic discourse of breed might be surprised with unsuspected or forgotten possibilities. The force of the preceding chapters leads me to consider one possibility in particular, one that also arises in the discourse of ethics , finding an expected analogy in animal studies, and that begins from the encounter with the other’s gaze; this encounter, I believe, takes only the first step, however, by opening the possibility of surprise, and one that has been presented so frequently among animal theorists as to acquire conventions that obscure the risks of the incalculable. This possibility persists, overlooked and devalued, in terms that appeared in literary works about dogs two and three centuries ago, and that I have emphasized already in my discussion. These terms introduce an indirect or oblique possibility similar to the engagements Pope had with his unnamed dogs, and that builds on the incalculable private life of dogs suggested by Scott’s portrayal of Bevis; this possibility resists habituation by eluding the need for facial recognition or claims of commonality that rely on breed conformation to enforce calculability. The obliquity of this possibility occurs as a turning away from a face, from the requirement of a face, and from the requirement that a dog meet our look as though he understood us the way we imagine. Such a turn entails recoiling from the need for a categorization that assigns an...


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