Animal Philosophy: Essential Readings In Continental Thought by Matthew Calarco, Peter Atterton (Continuum International Publishing Group) (Paperback) The sight of man now fatigues. — What is present day Nihilism if not that? — We are tired of man. (Nietzsche)
It is perhaps with a certain amount of incredulity and astonishment that we learn that Continental philosophy has only rarely given serious attention to the animal question. For the most part it has spoken about human beings — and little else. The general neglect of the animal question is puzzling not only because Continental philosophy has displayed a tremendous reluctance to embrace traditional humanism and anthropological discourse, but also because of the tremendous reception it has given a thinker as seemingly pro-animal as Nietzsche. We now have stronger reasons than ever before for rejecting a certain conception of what it is to be human, but we seem to be hardly any closer to a post-metaphysical thinking regarding the animal. You might say that Continental philosophy has had an easier time denouncing what Descartes or Kant said about the human than it has criticizing what they said about the animal, an observation that naturally leads one to question whether the humanism it rejects is really quite so defunct after all. The "end of humanism," the "ends of man," the "end of philosophy," the "death of the author," the "death of God," the "death of man" — these apocalyptic shibboleths are becoming self-defeating utterances amid a discourse that has said hardly anything about animals in comparison.
We can only speculate why Continental philosophers have generally not had more to say about the traditional other of man — animals. One might perhaps attempt to account for the grossness of the discrepancy between man-talk and animal-talk by evoking the seemingly insurmountable difficulties of escaping metaphysical discourse itself. It is an established part of Heideggerian lore that the philosopher who seeks to go beyond metaphysics is destined to find herself all the more firmly rooted within it. Does not the discourse on the animal as such presuppose a distinction be made between animals and humans, thereby reaffirming the hegemony of humanism according to the familiar logic of
negation? Would it not be better to eschew speaking of an opposition between the human and the animal altogether? The editors of this book are sympathetic with that strategy out of respect for such thinkers as radical as Darwin, Nietzsche, and Freud. However, while it is true biologically speaking that human beings are animals, the distinction is one that nearly every thinker in this volume – again with the possible exception of Nietzsche – maintains in some degree or other. What they mean by the distinction, and whether they are indeed right to make it on philosophical grounds is not up to us to say. We are here simply concerned to underscore the fact that much of what goes by the name Continental philosophy has been an uncritical devotee of the very distinction that has been called into question elsewhere. And not just in biology.
This volume was in many ways inspired by tremendous advances the Anglo-American philosophical tradition has made regarding the animal question over the last thirty years or so, from Peter Singer's and Tom Regan's writings on animal ethics through to the debates surrounding animal cognition. It seemed to the editors that Continental philosophy has lagged behind its Anglo-American neighbor on precisely these issues, despite its tendency to see itself in many ways as the more avant-garde, more radical, more politically engaged, and less philosophically naïve of the two. At the same time, it also appeared to us that Continental philosophy is perhaps better placed than is Anglo-American philosophy to accommodate the animal question owing to its more sophisticated understanding of the role of history in philosophical discourse, a historicism that has enabled it to make significant advances in other fields, from feminism to psychoanalysis, and from cultural studies to critical race theory. If much of that success is due to its far-reaching and profound critique of the virile Western humanistic subject, then the same results might be expected in the area of animal philosophy – and for many of the same reasons and arguments.
This book is not about animal liberation or animal rights; it presents no single or unified moral vision regarding animals. One will be disappointed if one turns its motley pages in the hope of discovering an argument why we should or should not eat animals. Derrida's description of the Western philosophical tradition as "carno-phallogocentric" in " `Eating Well' " (1991) is one of the few occasions when a major figure in Continental philosophy has intervened in the debate concerning animal suffering or "sacrifice" (something Derrida addresses again in "The Animal That Therefore I Am," an abridgement of which is reprinted here), though it is not altogether easy to assimilate the mistreatment of animals to logocentrism and/or man's technological will to power that has come under attack by Continental philosophy for half a century. The mistreatment of animals could perhaps be viewed as a necessary consequence of a humanism that has always sought to elevate the human at the expense of animals, but that only makes it all the more puzzling why much of Continental philosophy, in its ostensible rejection of humanism, should have been so unconcerned to call such chauvinism into question. Heidegger's work on the animal in The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics is just such a case in point. Not only does Heidegger conspicuously miss the opportunity to challenge the technological drive behind the practice of vivisection, whose scientific results he uncharacteristically allows to stand as evidence for his own conclusions, he dearly struggles to free himselffrom the prejudices of the very discourse he was among the first to expose. While he dearly intended to maintain the human/animal distinction in a way that was no longer integral to humanism, he seems to have been unable to carry out those intentions. This is especially significant when we consider the seminal influence of Heidegger on Continental philosophy, and even perhaps explains why so many of his followers have not dared to tread where less clay feet have stumbled.
Heidegger's failure to think through the animal question – a failure acknowledged by Heidegger himself – is perhaps the inevitable outcome of a philosophy that presents animals as separated from humans by an "abyss of essence."' Indeed, it is perhaps no exaggeration to say that philosophy in general has never quite known what to do with animals or where to place them on the conceptual map. From the moment Aristotle first defined man as a rational (or linguistic) animal, it was assumed that man was more rational than he was animal, leading many humanistic philosophers to dispense with the predicate animal altogether, and to speak of man simply as a "rational being as such." This was made all the easier by the biblical story of man being made in the image of god and having dominion over the animals. However, with the "death of god" and modern evolutionary biology, philosophers are gradually discovering the conceptual resources to call into question the traditional privilege enjoyed by the human. While science is assuredly leading the way here, philosophy, especially in the Continental tradition, still has some way to go, which explains why we have felt the need to publish a book like this. The selections we have chosen are not exhaustive, but they are exemplary; they constitute an accurate representation of the views of the thinkers behind them, and constitute in every case their most sustained treatments of the animal topic. They set out the terms of the debate in a way that is most likely to be useful for scholars and students working in the field of Continental philosophy and/or coming to the animal question for the first time. They open up new vistas for research even if they often turn out to be cul-de-sacs for the thinkers themselves.
It is admittedly not an easy task to survey a whole field in relation to a specific question – the animal question – and we have refrained from attempting to do so in the present volume. Our choice of which thinkers to include was deter-mined by their current stature in Continental philosophy, and the novelty of their approach to the question at hand. Each of the readings is thoroughly original – or about as original as can be in the context of a discourse that every-where puts into question the traditional authorial pretence to say something "new." The quality of originality about each of the readings is what prompted us to provide a critical commentary by distinguished scholars in the field following each reading. We felt that it would be helpful to the reader if he or she were also supplied with an interpretative framework and critical perspective to guide him or her on the way. The exception here is Luce Irigaray's article "Animal Compassion," which was especially commissioned for this book, and thus intended to speak for itself. It appears here for the first time.
Our first chapter consists of a number of key passages from Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900). Nietzsche is perhaps the thinker in the tradition most inclined to erase the sharp line that is usually drawn between humans and animals, though just as often we find him redrawing it – sometimes even at the
same time. Thus we read in The Antichrist "We no longer derive man from `the spirit' or `the deity'; we have placed him back among the animals. We consider him the strongest because he is the most cunning: his spirituality is a consequence of his." Nietzsche goes on to make it clear, however, that such strength and cunning does not make man the crown of creation; on the contrary, "man is the most bungled of the animals, the sickliest, and not one has strayed more dangerously from its instincts." For Nietzsche, health and vitality consist in following one's animal instincts as an antidote to a millennial training in Christianity in which those instincts are subordinated to morality or suppressed. This explains why Nietzsche should write, acerbically, "regarding Christians, a well known theory of descent from the apes] becomes a mere compliment." Alphonso Lingis shows just how entrenched Nietzsche's philosophy is in zoology and modern scientific ethology. According to Lingis, Nietzsche's philosophy does not merely designate animal species as allegories of human virtues or vices. "It is not Zarathustra's pride and wisdom that Nietzsche attributes to the eagle and serpent, but the eagle's pride and serpent's wisdom that he attributes to Zarathustra." Everything that Nietzsche evaluates positively in human beings – strength, nobility, independence – stems from the sound instincts and vital energy of solitary animals such as tigers and eagles; whereas everything he deprecates – weakness, servility, and dependence – consists in the adoption of feelings and behavioral traits of gregarious and domestic animals such as cattle and sheep. Lingis goes on to explain how according to Nietzsche nature has set itself the paradoxical task in the case of man of selectively "breeding" an animal that has "the right to make promises" – an animal that has enough self-constancy and unassailable will to stand above the deceptions of Christian moralism and the corruption of Western nihilism. Lingis likens this breeding to the cultivation of a healthiness that resembles Nietzsche's own, despite his physical afflictions, and which enabled him to overcome the ailments of his generation "like the lotus rising to flower over stagnant waters." For once the botanical no longer assumes the repose of plants; call it physis.
Throughout his writings, Martin Heidegger (1889–1976) consistently rejects the kind of reversal of values associated with the human/animal distinction that we find in Nietzsche. Confronted with the Nietzschean and Rilkean attempt to valorize animal over human existence, Heidegger sarcastically asks: "Are we then supposed to turn into `animals'?" But Heidegger does not wish simply to revert to the humanist gesture of placing human existence above animal life. Rather his task consists in trying to rethink the essence of the human independently of the Western metaphysical tradition and the timeworn idea that human beings are merely animals endowed with a capacity that other animals lack, namely, reason. This involves rethinking both the essence of human beings in distinction from the essence of animal life, a project undertaken in his 1929–30 Freiburg lecture course, The Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics. In this work, the distinction between humans and animals is rethought in terms of their different relations to "world." Heidegger argues that animals are "poor in world," by which he means that they are unable to grasp other beings as such. Not that they are simply like stones, which, according to Heidegger, are completely without world. Animals
are indeed open; to other beings, but unlike human beings, who are said to be
"world-forming," they are altogether unable to encounter other beings within a meaningful context that allows the being of those beings to be grasped and understood. These radically diverging world relations lead Heidegger to argue that all continuist notions of the human/animal distinction must be replaced by a thought that starts out from the essential differences and abyssal ruptures between human beings and animals. For Heidegger, it is only by attending to these essential differences that we can recover the essence and the dignity of the human in its role of keeping watch over and shepherding the being of beings. In his discussion of Heidegger's analysis, Matthew Calarco underscores Heidegger's attempt to understand the animal's relation to world on the animal's own terms rather than from the perspective of the human. Although Heidegger ultimately fails to carry through on his ambitions, Calarco notes that Heidegger's radically non-anthropocentric stance is essential for understanding recent poststructuralist thought about animal life à la Jacques Derrida, Giorgio Agamben, and Jean-Luc Nancy. The chief limit in Heidegger's thought, as Calarco presents it, consists in Heidegger's reliance on oppositional distinctions between human beings and animals. Despite Heidegger's insightful critique of metaphysical humanism, he is ultimately unable to overcome the anthropocentrism of the metaphysical tradition, which consistently defines animals in opposition to and by measure of the human. In order to present an effective alternative to metaphysical definitions of human beings and other animals, this anthropocentric dogma is precisely what needs to be addressed.
In "Animality," the first chapter of Theory of Religion, Georges Bataille (1897–1962) treats the problem of immanence through an examination of animality. In contrast to transcendence, which designates the relation of knowledge between a subject and object, "immanence" means a state of continuity between beings whose isolation and separation from each other has disappeared. Bataille sees the paradigm of this relation in the situation of one animal devouring another. He does not claim that there is no difference between the eater and the eaten; rather there is no "discernible" difference between them such as requires the use of concepts and dialectical intermediaries. Bataille is aware that what he wants to say here about animality is constrained by philosophical discourse that reduces everything to subjective experience and consciousness. He insists that "Nothing ... is more closed to us than this animal life from which we are descended." Nevertheless, although it is not possible to describe such a phenomenon literally, we are able to speak of it figuratively and poetically. In her commentary, Jill Marsden suggests that Bataille's own poetical formulation "the animal is in the world like water in water" is just such an attempt to communicate the immanence of animality that lies at the limits of language and on the other side of knowledge. Linking Bataille's work on eroticism with his reflections on animality, Marsden underscores the fact that "The dissolution of boundaries in poetic and erotic activity is not a reduction of difference to sameness, which would be to understand difference conceptually," but a dissolution of identity thinking altogether. This perhaps begs the question of the practical implications of Bataille's account. However, Marsden argues that one seeks in vain for an explicit analysis of the correct treatment of animals from Bataille. The reason for this is that the question is "profane." It erroneously
assumes "that animals are available for our approprebations, thereby presupposing that the identity of the farmer and of the animal are separate and intact, rather than coterminous with each other. Marsden ends her commentary by asking whether "Bataille's frequent references to the dumb passivity of the animal might be regarded as evidence of the most blatant speciesism." Her answer is that they do not. This is not because Bataille recognizes the animal as an equal, which is not true. Indeed, it is the very failure of recognition between human and animal – and thus the failure to reduce animality to what Marsden dubs "paradigms of humanist thought" - that an immanent connection between human and animal is forged. What might thus be considered a failure of recognition between species attests to their radical heterogeneity and leads to "the re-intensification of anguish, dread, and utter loss." This is not something to be avoided from Bataille's point of view, but celebrated. It is contact with the sacred, and thus subjectivity transcended in immanence.
Emmanuel Levinas (1906–95) is widely regarded as the most original ethical philosopher in the twentieth-century Continental tradition. Although Levinas's ethical philosophy is grounded in a responsibility for the other who is unknowable and incomprehensible, it is clear that by the term "other" Levinas has in mind the human other, whose face is the face of destitution and distress. This explains why Levinas had so little to say about animal suffering and about the relation between animals and ethics in general. Indeed, the tenor of his writing suggests that animals, much like plants and material objects, are encountered phenomenologically as little more than mere things, and thus offer little resistance to the libido dominandi of the human subject in its natural state. There are, however, a few occasions when Levinas complicates this picture somewhat. The two excerpts reprinted here, "The Name of a Dog, or Natural Rights" (1974) and a portion of the interview "The Paradox of Morality" (1986), are the best examples of this. In them, Levinas suggests the possibility that animals are capable of certain forms of ethical agency; he acknowledges that some animals do indeed have a face; and he admits that the ethical extends beyond human beings to other life forms. However, as Peter Atterton notes in his analysis, these kinds of extensional gestures are nearly always accompanied by exclusionary ones whereby Levinas reestablishes the traditional priority accorded to the human in ethical matters. Atterton argues that in order to overcome this kind of human chauvinism we should concern ourselves less with the task of establishing an essential identity or difference between human beings and animals, and more with thinking through the ways in which Levinas's ethical theory already implies responsibility toward the other who suffers – be it animal or human – even if Levinas himself was clearly unable or unwilling to draw the full implications of his own thinking.
Michel Foucault (1926–84) presents his reflections on animality in Madness and Civilization, a work in which he plots the course of the history of madness from the end of the Middle Ages to the beginning of modernity. Foucault argues that at the beginning of the Renaissance the mad were likened to animals whose fascinating qualities made them potential sources of religious revelation and esoteric learning. This was to change in the classical age (roughly from 1650 to 1800), when madness was essentially divested of spiritual and pedagogic value,and considered a social menace. Whereas animality once had value as the sign of the extra-worldly, it now was simply identified with "madness, without relation to anything but itself: his madness in a state of nature." The mad were considered wild beasts, untamed, and frenzied, who had abdicated their humanity and delivered themselves over to "unreason" (déraison) (including sexual promiscuity, social deviancy, atheism, heresy, and idleness). They had chosen to live like animals, and thus they would be treated as such. Throughout the classical age, they were subjected to harsh disciplinary "training," including being confined in cages and sleeping on beds of straw. In her essay, Clare Palmer shows how, according to Foucault, our conception of animality in history has changed no less than our views of madness. Animality is a "constructed category" that is determined differently in different periods. Palmer finds a common thread that runs through Foucault's representations of animality from one epoch to the next, namely, unreason and emotion. Whether it be the possibility of revelation from sources other than reason, the power of the raging passions, or the potential to stimulate works of genius, these various ways of understanding animals have a positive meaning for Foucault. In the spirit of Foucault's later genealogical project, Palmer inquires into the power–knowledge interests that are implicated in presenting the animal in these terms. She closes with a discussion of an alternative conception of the reason/animal-madness binary, where "the relationship between reason and animality is one whose terms do not necessarily exclude the other, that is, a discourse where some aspects, at least, of `being animal' overlap with some aspects, at least, of reason." This is a more scientific alternative that Foucault for the most part ignores, leading Palmer to conclude that "Foucault's discourse of animality is thus largely symbolic and imaginative, and has little or no contact with animals understood as living biological organisms."
Gilles Deleuze (1925–95) and Félix Guattari (1930–92) are not particularly fond of pets, nor are they interested in animality per se. Rather they are interested in what they call "becoming-animal," a theme they have discussed at length in Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature and A Thousand Plateaus. Becoming-animal does not mean imitation and should not be thought of as identification with an animal; it is not a psychoanalytic regression, or an evolutionary progression. All these ways of relating to the animal attribute to it a fixed identity that lies beyond becoming and change. For Deleuze and Guattari, on the contrary, animals serve to rupture notions of identity and sameness. Becoming-animal is precisely the way in which Parmenidean monism is overcome "in reality," which means to say that the animal is the very mode in which becoming is possible. Like the revolutionary schizophrenic discussed in the first volume of Capitalism and Schizophrenia, animality is "the line of flight" along which the human manages to escape Oedipal triangulation and identification. Again, it must not be imagined that the subject has literally to be like an animal. It is possible, for example, to step into the stream of animal-becoming through an act as couth and as civilized as writing. Hence Deleuze and Guattari insist that " `Mimicry' is a very bad concept, since it relies on binary logic to describe phenomena of an entirely different nature." 6 This is contrasted with writing where "there is no longer a tripartite division between a field of reality
(the world) and a field of representation (the book) and a field of subjectivity (the author)." Kafka's writings, especially his novels, present what are pethaps the best examples of this arrangement of radically heterogeneous elements. Not only do they depict the metamorphosing of the human into an animal, such as a beetle, they also produce the chimerical becoming-animal of the author (Kafka) himself. Indeed, "this is the essential object of the stories." Correcting any misconception that Deleuze and Guattari are advocating here something like a "return to nature," James Urpeth shows how the notion of becoming-animal is to be understood both as a critique of some of the basic assumptions and values prevalent in the philosophical and humanistic tradition, as well as a continuation of the Nietzschean project of affirming the priority of becoming over being. The two projects are linked owing to the fact that animal-becoming is ptecisely the mannet in which the subject is able to free itself from a humanistic straightjacket without being posited as a subject behind the becoming in turn. Urpeth shows that two conclusions follow from this: first, the traditional hierarchical opposition of being and becoming is overcome, attested by Deleuze and Guattari's claim that "there is a reality of becoming-animal, even though one does not in reality become animal." And second, the subject becomes an animal that is itself changed in the ptocess. In Deleuze and Guattari's words: "Becoming is always double, that which one becomes becomes no less than the one that becomes." Urpeth finishes by demonstrating how Deleuze and Guattari are successful in their identification of the theme of animal-becoming with art, such as Oliviet Messiaen's famous Catalogue d'oiseaux.
Among the philosophers undet discussion in this volume, Jacques Dertida (1930–) stands out as one who has perhaps gone the farthest in thinking through the place of animals within the Western philosophical tradition. Although Derrida hinted at the importance of the question of the animal for his work as eatly as the 1960s and 1970s, it was not until the mid-1980s that it came to occupy center stage in his wtitings. In the "Geschlecht II: Heidegger's Hand" (1985), Of Spirit (1987), " `Eating Well' " (1991), and Aporias (1992), Dertida presented highly sophisticated deconsttuctive analyses of the human/animal distinction as it operates in both Heidegger's work and the broader philosophical tradition. He went on in 1997 to publish "The Animal That Thetefore I Am," his most extended set of reflections on the animal question to date. In this essay, Dettida moves beyond the project of deconsttucting the human/animal binary and seeks to develop a positive thought of being-with animals that has its otigins in the uncanny expetience of being watched by the other animal – in this instance, a cat. Detrida goes on to present two hypotheses concetning the tadical finitude and multiplicity of othet animals. The first hypothesis is that thete has been an unptecedented ttansformation in our relationship with animals ovet the past two centuries to the point where theit subjugation and suffeting has been acceletating and intensifying at an incalculable rate and level. The second hypothesis is that we ought to refrain from speaking of animals in the genetal singular ("The Animal") and speak instead of "the plural of animals heard in the singular." Derrida coins the term animot in order to speak about animals in a way that is intended to tespect their radical multiplicity and singularity with regard to each other and those beingscalled "human." In his wide-ranging response to Derrida's essay, David Wood affirms several aspects of Derrida's analysis and acknowledges its importance for a post-metaphysical thought of animals, while also contesting other aspects of Derrida's thinking, especially his staunch rejection of continuist approaches to the human/animal distinction. If the merit of Derrida's essay lies in its calling attention to the conceptual, philosophical, and ideological forces that have stifled thinking through the question of the animal, the importance of Wood's response is to be found in its insistence on dealing with the material conditions (e.g., the human population problem) that create much of the suffeting that animals encounter. Finally, Wood's essay also demonstrates the importance of uniting the question of the animal with broader issues in environmental philosophy, a move that is consistent with Derrida's thinking, but one that Derrida himself has so fat failed to make with any real conviction.
The neo-humanist Luc Ferry's (1951–) essay "Neither Man or Stone" is taken from his enormously popular The New Ecological Order, which won the Prix Medicis de l'Essai in France in 1992. Ferry's main argument in his book is that contemporary forms of radical environmentalism, including animal liberation, deep ecology, and ecofeminism, are the ideological outgrowths of an anti-humanist strain of Continental philosophy that has failed to engage sufficiently with those aspects of the humanist hetitage promoting progtessive views about the natural wotld and its inhabitants. Ferry largely concurs with such critics as Nietzsche and Heidegger that Cartesian fotms of humanism have led to the desttuction and technological domination of the earth. But – and this is Ferry's chief point – the anti-humanist argument that we ought to reject Cattesian humanism does not entail the tejection of humanism tout court. On the conttary, Fetry argues that the humanism of Rousseau and Kant that stresses the divetsity of the various otdets of reality (in contrast to the Cattesian dualism) offets us an alternative ethic of human/animal interaction, one that respects the tadical freedom of human beings and the enigmatic nature of animals. It is not rights for animals that follow from this version of humanism, accotding to Ferry, but rather a "circumscribed respect" that acknowledges their sentience and avoids reducing them to "mere things." Although Fetry's essay is rhetorically persuasive, Verena Conley points out that a number of problems temain for this kind of neo-humanist approach to animal philosophy. First, an ethic of animal welfare is perhaps not as effective as one might wish against animal abuses at the institutional level, a point that has been made fotcefully in the recent wotk of Gary Francione. Furthet, Ferry's recoutse to a Kantian philosophy of the fteedom of "man" fails to address the decentering of the human that has occurred in science and technology and which has de facto rendered human beings post-human. Conley argues that the "manly" values espoused by Ferry will not suffice to ttansfotm our relations to animals. What is needed, she argues, is a new metaphysics that thoroughly rethinks the relations between human beings, animals, and the natural world, one "that goes through technologies" and leads to "othet ways of being and of sharing the world between humans and animals."
Hélène Cixous's (1937–) reflections on the troika "birds, women, and wtiting" contrast sharply with Ferry's emphasis on "man," humanism, and
subjectivity. Whereas Ferry seeks to recover a Promeathean humanism whereby human beings attain their unique essence in being separated from animals and the rest of nature, Cixous aims to explore the space of abandonment into which those beings traditionally denied full human status have been cast. The words "birds, women, and writing" might seem a random association, but Cixous maintains they share the common feature of being regarded as immonde by the dominant religious and metaphysical tradition. Immonde literally means un-worldly, but also carries the sense of being unclean or improper. In order to develop this thought, Cixous investigates a passage from novelist Clarice Lispector's The Passion according to G. H. in which the main character, G. H., has a face-to-face encounter with a cockroach, which she almost kills by crushing it. With the cockroach half-dead and white paste oozing out of its body, G. H. stops to consider her relation to the paste and how the male religious tradition — which G. H. calls "those He-Bible" — declares such things to be "abominations." Following Lispector, Cixous suggests that the task is to rethink one's relation to all forms of being that are considered abominable, not only because of their marginalized existence, but also because the "elsewhere" of abomination is a site of profound joy. Cixous does not deny that the state of exile common to birds, women, writing, and other others is an "uncomfortable situation," but she insists that it is simultaneously "a magical situation." Thus, her aim is not to make light of the experience of exile, but to learn to "endure it differently," to learn to understand the immonde otherwise. Stephen David Ross finds just such a recasting of the association of birds, women, and writing in Remedios Varo's painting Creation of the Birds (1957), which depicts a bird-woman sitting at a desk in the process of writing-painting, surrounded by birds and other forms of animal and non-animal life. Ross threads his reading of Cixous's essay into a series of reflections on Varo's painting in which the association of birds, women, and writing is figured in terms of a mutually transforming process of poiesis, becoming, mimesis, and touching. Varo's painting thus opens the viewer-reader onto the unworldly existence and becoming of all those beings, which, according to Ross "crack the edges of our world." Ross is not concerned to compare this proto-linguistic touch and mimesis with the rational discourse that Descartes and others attribute to "man." He wants instead to underscore the ways in which animals and other forms of life "speak another language, or practice a language they do not speak, or know a reason we can never know because it knows nothing of our language." Ross finds in these languages and practices the joy that Cixous tells us is to be found in the space of exile. He writes: "In the face, the eyes, the paws, fangs, and claws, the fur and skin, in the touch of animals is joy. The cacophony and mimesis of the world is strange and impure joy."
Luce Irigaray (1930—) begins her essay with the question of the difficulty of understanding animal life from within: "How can we talk about them? How can we talk to them? These familiars of our existence inhabit another world, a world that I do not know. Sometimes I can observe something in it, but I do not inhabit it from the inside — it remains foreign to me." The alterity of animal worlds is not a source of distress for Irigaray, however, but corresponds to a certain joy, not unlike the joy Cixous associates with the elsewhere of birds, women, and writing. The greatest joys of her child and she recounts, were bound up with her encounters with other animals such as butterflies and rabbits. But the most remarkable animal encounters were those that occurred in adult life. During times of acute anxiety and illness, Irigaray was recurrently visited by animals of various sorts which brought her comfort, compassion, and companionship. In particular, it was the visitations from birds that most affected Irigaray. She calls birds our "friends," "guides," "scouts" — even "angels," a term she uses elsewhere to refer to beings that circulate between God, man, and woman, and serve as "mediators of that which has not yet happened, of what is still going to happen, of what is on the horizon." The compassion shown us by birds and other angel-animals thus appears to announce another possibility for human becoming. For Irigaray, the accomplishment of our humanity lies in "learning to meet the other and to welcome them in their difference, to be reborn thus in a fidelity to ourselves and to this other." The extent to which we have been unable to accomplish this calling is directly proportionate to our inability to learn from animal compassion, that is to say, our unwillingness to partake in the "sharing of speech, of love, of desire" that other animals offer. We hope that these writings go some way toward breaking the thick silence that has too often surrounded the animal question in Continental philosophy, as though Zarathustra had not ripened, his hour had not come, his morning, his day were not breaking: "rise now, rise, thou, great noon!" (Nietzsche).
insert content here