“Magnetic Animal: Derrida, Wildlife, Animetaphor.” Akira Mizuta Lippit.

In “Magnetic Animal: Derrida, Wildlife, Animetaphor,” Akira Mizuta Lippit explores animal themes in the work of Derrida and other philosophers. Animals are not foreign to philosophy: it has long grappled with our similarities to, but deep differences from, other creatures. Freud and Heidegger both describe the philosophical nature of animals, in ways that enhance their descriptions of human subjectivity (Lippit 1112-3). For both Freud and Heidegger, animals can serve as a metaphor for the unconscious (Lippit 1114). But, as Derrida points out, this metaphor is a unique metaphor: because animals are not linguistic, a metaphor that invokes animals is an invocation of something from outside of language, into language, but in an incomplete fashion (Lippit 1115). This functions similarly to the trace of the saying in the said: the saying overflows the said, and cannot be contained within it. The animetaphor is linguistic, but by referring to something animalistic and outside of language it overflows language itself. I question whether what the animal brings to language is truly outside language: if animals are prelinguistic, if the unconscious does not utilize language, could it be that language is built on top of it, rather than outside of it? There is no clear distinction between humans and animals; many animals communicate, although perhaps not as richly as humans. Perhaps the animetaphor serves to remind us of the prelinguistic within us.

We set animals aside from humans in order to justify killing them. We also set humans aside as animals in order to justify any number of atrocities. Lippit describes Adorno’s explication of this process. Calling a human inhuman, and believing it, is often justification enough for mistreating that human. This is clearly an atrocity, but one which we have a long history of committing eagerly. This justification is also flawed in several ways. The animal is not simply a thing, worthy of mistreatment. The animetaphor invoked to justify violence against a human is incomplete and cannot succeed. The animal cannot be reduced to being simply a thing, and since the animetaphor refers back to something within us, invoking it can not absolve us of guilt for violence.
The animetaphor functions as a limit of our world; it does not define it, is not strictly a part of it, but instead dances around it, haunting it, present only in its nonpresence. It cannot be adequately explained within, or without, language. Similarly the animal is present in all of us, but our capacity for language has alienated us from it. And yet, we are continually drawn back to it in order to explain our own human condition. We cannot set ourselves apart from it, and yet we cannot integrate it into ourselves. But we can revive the animetaphor to explore the limits of our subjectivity.

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~ by dcloues on May 10, 2007.

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