On Columbia University Press, Zoographies and Francione
Senior executive editor for Religion, Philosophy, and Animal Studies at Columbia University Press (CUP), Wendy Lochner, recently wrote:
It is this point of view that I (and many others) call animal studies, and it is my intention as an editor to foster interdisciplinary work from all fields that considers these and many other interrelated questions.
This, of course, is very exciting, and I encourage you to check out the titles, which are on sale until August 1 and include Gary Francione’s new book, which I am half way through. There was an interview with Francione on the press’ blog yesterday, where part of his final thought is: "The most important thing anyone can do is to become vegan and to educate others about why taking animals seriously means being vegan." For all of you who read yesterday’s post, that sentence says either that being vegan and educating others are two separate things, or that they’re one because he introduces them as the most important thing (singular).
I’m kidding! Let it be over! Smile! We agree to disagree!
As for Zoographies, by Matthew Calarco, here’s the blurb on the CUP site:
Zoographies challenges the anthropocentrism of the Continental philosophical tradition and advances the position that, while some distinctions are valid, humans and animals are best viewed as part of an ontological whole. Matthew Calarco draws on ethological and evolutionary evidence and the work of Heidegger, who called for a radicalized responsibility toward all forms of life. He also turns to Levinas, who raised questions about the nature and scope of ethics; Agamben, who held the "anthropological machine" responsible for the horrors of the twentieth century; and Derrida, who initiated a nonanthropocentric ethics. Calarco concludes with a call for the abolition of classical versions of the human-animal distinction and asks that we devise new ways of thinking about and living with animals.
Now, before you try to reread that, let me say this. Like the blurb, the book starts off rocky, but it’s worth it to stick with it to the end.
I studied philosophy, but only as it related to linguistics and critical theory (which is a lot), and I was familiar with some of the texts referred to by Calarco but by no means all. In addition, Derrida was my personal favorite (there’s a no-brainer), and I had no idea about the extent to which he was interested in the question of the animal, so I started out with a handicap. Calarco lets me off the hook for not being familiar with certain Derrida texts, though.
While Derrida’s readers can perhaps be forgiven for being caught off guard with respect to the importance of the question of the animal in his work, it is not difficult to demonstrate that this question is in fact important and decisive throughout his vast oeuvre (104).
My initial interest in this book was its treatment of Derrida, and because I’m writing my own book (about the animal question, rather than the question of the animal, as my reference point was the woman question), which is vastly different, however part of my job is to read all books relating to animals (definitely trade ones–academic ones are less urgent).
You don’t have to know much about Heidegger, Levinas, Agamben or Derrida to understand the thrust of the book, which is a building or evolution toward current thought (which is to say, I’d venture: Where you are right now) regarding the human-animal distinction. You also don’t need a dictionary of terms used in philosophy, although I’d recommend brushing up as parts of the book are loaded with jargon. But you have to remember that it’s an academic book, so that’s appropriate. Besides, there’s always something in the discussion that you’ll find accessible, such as a reference to someone more widely read, like Dawkins, Darwin, Singer or Regan. Furthermore, even if you remove all words or references you’re unfamiliar with, you’re still left with the story of how philosophers from Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries considered animals and our possible responsibilities toward them.
The payoff, for me, is the chapter on Derrida, which includes:
Despite his sympathy for the animal rights and animal liberation movements, he remains deeply skeptical of the notion that fundamental changes in our thinking and relation with animals can be effected through existing ethical and political discourses and institutions. . . . [H]e departs from dominant forms of animal rights discourse and practice inasmuch as he believes that a fundamental transformation of human-animal relations requires a deconstruction of the very notion of moral and legal rights and its underlying metaphysical and philosophical support (115).
Based as they are on a metaphysics of subjectivity and presence, it is clear that modern legal institutions will simply never regard animals as full legal subjects anymore than anthropocentric moral discourse will ever regard animals as full ethical subjects. And this should come as no surprise, given that traditional legal and moral discourse emerges out of an anthropocentric and metaphysical horizon that is grounded on chauvinism and exceptionalism. The dominant strategy of trying to reform this tradition rather than calling it radically into question is understandable but should be seen ultimately as a failure of imagination on the part of animal rights theorists.
Derrida would have us recast the question of the animal along entirely different lines and try to imagine other ways of conceiving of animal life and ethical relations between human beings and animals. The first thing to which Derrida would have us attend is the manner in which the concept of subjectivity has been constituted historically (131).
There’s also a section linking deconstruction and vegetarianism (132-135), which I appreciated, but this is already getting a bit long.
What all of this leads to is an idea I think we can all benefit from:
Might not the challenge for philosophical thought today be to proceed altogether without the guardrails of the human-animal distinction and to invent new concepts and new practices along different paths (149)?
Stay tuned for a post on Francione’s new book, as well as another book on CUP’s list: This is Not Sufficient, by Leonard Lawlor.