My Final Thesis on … strange things. Enjoy. If you get through it completely, I’d like to know if you understood it at all. MUAHAHAHAHA.
Ignorant Scapegoat Intimacy Issues
John Lee Saddington
Professor Ron Broglio
November 21, 2004
Everyone’s got truth these days. Whether it’s based upon previous modes of thought or whether upon ideologies believed to be original (but really aren’t), there seems to be a sea of weltanschauung(s) out there. But someday, those rugged travelers upon the open waters must come ashore, and there they must face certain undeniable truths, and in their closets of darkness, they must huddle with the one veracity that they cannot escape: themselves. Surely, this must be a philosophy in itself! It’s a grand metaphysical sadomasochism! And there it is, the philosophy of the self, except, we don’t completely understand our own self. The distinction is a lot closer than one could imagine, but not too distant to be an utter surprise. Surely, every man has dealt with their inner ‘animal’, facing those carnal pleasures, and possibly losing to them. But that’s where the struggle lies. Not so much as to win or conquer it, but to come to understand it so that more than a mere compromise can exist. The boundary has been set, or rather, it’s always been there and only few have scared themselves enough to cross over it.
Giorgio Agamben is one such man and states in The Open, “It is as if determining the border between human and animal were not just one question among many discussed by philosophers and theologians, scientists and politicians, but rather a fundamental meta-physico-political operation in which alone something like ‘man’ can be decided upon and produced” (21). It comes to bear that it is absolutely necessary to understand the relationship between man and animal in order that man may understand himself better, or perhaps, more completely. There exists a separation between men and animals, and if that gap is not joined, man’s identity will be ultimately incomplete, or in essence, lost. One must begin, again, to see the similarities and parallels between man and animal and then accept them, instead of focusing on the differences; focusing on the gap instead of the bridge that unites. It might do well to start at the very beginning of time, from at least a theological standpoint, for this problem roots itself in all facets of culture and history.
One of the very first encounters between man and animal is represented in what Saint Thomas Aquinas called the cognitio experimentalis, or, “cognitive experiment.” Aquinas, quoted by Agamben, states that man, in his current state of nature and innocence, did not have any bodily need for animals. Yet, as Agamben relates, man “needed them in order to draw from their nature an experimental knowledge [Indigebant tamen eis, ad experimentalem cognitionem sumendam de naturis eorum]. This is signified by the fact that God led the animals before man, that he might give them a name that designated their nature” (22). This translates to a point that is so large in scope that specificity is paramount, and one such focus is that the “cognitive experiment” was more than just an inquiry, but rather a first look at man’s own nature. Agamben states aptly that “The cognitive experiment at issue in this difference ultimately concerns the nature of man – or, more precisely, the production and definition of this nature; it is an experiment de hominis natura. When the difference vanishes and the two terms collapse upon each other – as seems to be happening today – the difference between being and nothing, licit and illicit, divine and demonic also fades away, and in its place something appears for which we seem to lack even a name” (22). The distance between man’s own definition of himself and man’s definition of animal is getting closer and closer, and eventually, this gap may all but disappear. As Agamben suggests, an experiment upon itself is created, and light seems to be shed upon the darkness of the gap as it exists now. Although Agamben’s hypothesis and possible answer is ideal in its construction, it does little to help the average man accept his animality, and in turn accept himself completely. What is the “difference” that vanishes? What is this about the divine and demonic?
Saint Augustine in his work Confessions knows a little about the divine and the demonic. He writes in the seventh chapter that while trying to discover the source of evil he was in fact blind to the evil in his method of research and to the method of his own “cognitive experiment:” “In my mind’s eye I pictured the whole of creation, both the things which are visible to us, such as the earth and the sea, the air and the stars, the trees and the animals which live their lives and die, and the things which we cannot see… for I thought of spiritual things, too, as material bodies, each in its allotted place” (138). As Augustine pondered the connection between all these things, he discovered that there was something connecting all of them, beyond that of just the physical. For Augustine, there was a lapse, a loss of something, beyond what simply the eye could see. The connection between his own respective identity and its relationship to the rest of the world, and especially animals, was at a state of loss. As Jacques Derrida notes, in reference to Martin Heidegger’s essay “Of Spirit,” Augustine’s notion was nothing less than an expression of being “poor in world” (56). Derrida would suggest that animals are “poor in world” because they lack language and “spirit.” Consequently, since there seems to be an intimate connection between that of man and animals, man, thus, since so closely linked, must be also “poor in world” as well. It is because man cannot draw near to things including his own inability to draw near to himself and his human-animal nature. It is this difficulty that Augustine fell upon, and he found himself in the midst of an eternal conflict between that of the existence of evil and that of the existence of evil in a creation created by the Ultimate Good. And if this seemingly existent contradiction were true, then not only did mankind have a loss, of being “poor in world,” but everything else, including animals.
Augustine pines over this problem continuing his questioning by saying: “Where then does evil come from, if God made all things and, because he is good, made them good too? It is true that He is the supreme Good, that he is Himself a greater Good than these lesser goods which He created. But the Creator and all His creation are both good” (138). The “lesser goods” are man and animals, and Augustine notes that like man, created to be good, “animals were created good by you as well” (150). But since man cannot completely understand this balance of good and evil, man rationalizes, and reasons his way out of the argument so that he can again feel secure, for if he were to fully grapple with the possible truth, that the “lesser goods,” that being animals, were not, in fact good, but evil, then himself must be, therefore as an extension, evil as well. This could never be completely admitted by man. Augustine sees this progression and continues by stating that “there are some things which we think of as evil because they are at variance with other things” (148). It seems that man, although equally good as animals, has rationalized his goodness to a higher level than that of the animal in order to understand good and evil and himself better, all the while forgetting his intimate relationship to them, and thus forsaking himself farther from the real truth that he so desired to find at first! This is one of the great failures of man, to completely understand not only the purpose of the great “cognitive experiment,” which was to unite both man and animal together in harmony, but also the reason for its existence in the first place: So that man could know himself to an even deeper level, to know himself as animal. But one can only feel so sorry for man.
Although following this train of thought might go beyond some because of its context into that of a spiritual focus, Jacques Derrida would argue differently, suggesting that a spiritual context is necessary to further the argument suggesting that the animal “must certainly have some world, and thus some spirit,” and not that the animal has a lesser relationship in this context but just an “other” relationship (48-49). Yet, through all this reasoning and difficulties created, like Heidegger’s contradictory proposition that the animal has and does not have a world, it is not that much different from the seemingly contradictory existence of Augustine’s dilemma of the existence of both good and evil. In addition, the creation of the problem is not the intrinsic relationship between man and animal but rather the problem is a creation of man and that creation’s reflection onto that of the animal. This is the division. This is the relationship. This is the problem, and this what it means to be “poor in world.” Derridas states that “the expression ‘poor in world’ or ‘without world,’ just like the phenomenology supporting it, encloses an axiology regulated not only upon an ontology but upon the possibility of the onto-logical as such, upon the ontological difference, the access to the Being of the entity” (56). The statement births a dangerous and scary question: the possibility of there being something very ‘animal’ in man. Not only so, but can man ever actualize this realization into something that can be reconciled? The problem increases as one may notice that the connection is already established, and that man has created a “distance,” suggesting that man and the animal world is not of the same essence, and man has created boundaries such as language and thought, which is the “onto-logical” part, and mind processes to keep that condition stable and secure, even at the cost of our own instability. Man knew of his intimate connection with animals but has denied it. Now, that’s hypocrisy, if not a most-blatant contradiction. Not only so, but man fulfills his own prophecy and design. As Agamben stated, the problem was how man gets “decided upon and produced” (21). Man, himself, with his own language and thought decides upon himself, produces himself, creates his own being as such, without regard to external influences or integral and intrinsic similarities to “lesser goods.” He is his own self-creation, his own product of his own production, and the definition is his and his own to build and to destroy, and to lose, even if it leads to a possible cataclysmic collapse of himself and being. Man takes the “cognitive experiment” and calls it ‘good’ and declares that it was his own design. So, in total, if it is the man-imposed and humanity-created contradictions and anthropocentric self-deification that seem to curse him in his pursuit of identity in regards to animality, then it seems like the due course is inevitably death, in many sense of the word, and not so tragically, it would be his own fault.
Death, besides life, is something that both men and animals shall face. Unlike life, which begins for the being and entity much before the ability to recognize it or understand it occurs, death can be feared because it is known before its occurrence. And since man is seemingly tangled in his differences between himself and animals to ever come to grips with his own animality and animals’ humanity, it might be best to consider the similarities, especially those that cannot be questioned. Frederick Young, in his essay “Animality: Notes Towards A Manifesto,” makes note of death and uses a comparison between Martin Heidegger and Che Guevara as his basis. Young notes that these two have a moment where Heidegger’s thinking and Che’s actions in which the animal, specifically a dog, is “ontologized through the violent process of naming, by calling or determining the animal as such” (9). It is about the nature and relations of being, the economies of philosophy in which an exchange takes place, both literal and figuratively, and the death of a dog. But, it is the death that unites man and animal for the first time. It’s a schizo-analysis, a new way of reading things, where nothing is truly symbolic, but rather they are real, and as Che Guevara notices, it is really real, as if the dog speaks to him:
I remember my emphatic order: ‘Felix, that dog must stop its howling once and for all. You’re in charge; strangle it. There will be no more barking’. Felix looked at me with eyes that said nothing. He and the little dog were in the center of all the troops. Very slowly he took out a rope, wrapped it around the animal’s neck, and began to tighten it… [Later that night] … Felix, while eating seated on the floor, dropped a bone, and a house dog came out meekly and grabbed it up. Felix patted its head, and the dog looked at him. Felix returned the glance, and then he and I exchanged a guilty look. Suddenly everyone fell silent. An imperceptible stirring came over us, as the dog’s meek yet rougish gaze seemed to contain a hint of reproach. There in our presence, although observing us through the eyes of another dog, was the murdered puppy. (Guevara, 2001, 239-40)
For Guevara, it wasn’t about philosophy any more, it was about living on the surface of things. It wasn’t about getting stuck inside a language, which is a barrier between man and animals, because for one, it is culturally influenced and like that of the “verticality of manic depression,” as Young says, but rather going beyond the “exchange between the subversive depths of pre-socratic methodology and platonic heights” (10), and simply seeing and experiencing the connection between man and animal through the ritual, the act, the completion of death. It is a sacrifice, a sacrifice of a puppy for the sake of a revolution. As Young notes, “the murdered puppy was, for Che, actually present and observing them through the eyes of another dog” (12).
The result of murder? A deeper sense of connection, and Albert Schweitzer, in his essay “Reverence for Life,” agrees with this connection, suggesting that the animal’s pain in “rendering such services to men, has itself created a new and unique relation of solidarity between him and ourselves…. Wherever any animal is forced into the service of man, the sufferings which it has to bear on that account are the concern of every one of us” (66). Che knew this as well as all of his troops. It might have also been wise of Che to have read Immanuel Kant, who once said in his essay “Duties to Animals and Spirits,”
If a man shoots his dog because the animal is no longer capable of service,… his act is inhuman and damages in himself that humanity which it is his duty to show towards mankind. If he is not to stifle his human feelings, he must practice kindness towards animals, for he who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals…. Our duties towards animals, then, are indirect duties towards mankind (239-41).
But, nonetheless, death connects man and animal, and to preserve the campaign and to continue the hope of a revolution for Guevara, death is the instrument. Death is the final service that the dog renders onto his “master.” He is a martyr for the revolution and his martyrdom announces the future human martyrs for the revolution. In their deaths for the cause, human and dog are united. It is a “meta-physico-political operation,” as Agamben had suggested (21).
But it is this hope that also connects man and animal as well, as Curt Richter has discovered through another kind of “cognitive experiment”. Richter has been interested in the phenomenon of unexplained sudden death, which he has observed is similar in both man and animals. It has been shown that some rats, when put into bath of water, died within minutes, although they have been known to survive for an average of 60 hours, and some to the extent of 81 hours (Richter, 304). After many hours of observation, Richter’s conclusion was that
This sudden-death phenomenon may however be considered also as a reaction at a much higher level of integration. The situation of these rats is not one that can be resolved by either fight or flight – it is rather one of hopelessness: being restrained in the hand or in the swimming jar with no chance of escape is a situation against which the rat has no defense. Actually, such a reaction of apparent hopelessness is shown by some wild rats very soon after being grasped in the hand and prevented from moving. They seem literally to give up (308-9, emphasis mine).
Richter goes on to say that “from the psychological level the observations indicate that the rats as well as human beings die from a reaction of hopelessness” (312). The violent relationship and crucial connection between man and animal can be linked not only to the obvious similarity of death, but to that of hopelessness. It is yet another powerful extension of man’s relationship to animals, and his own animal self. It again brings to light the problem that man contends with which is the constant eruption of “excess animality that interrupts the hierarchy and verticality of man,” as Young would suggest (16).
The irony of this all is not just the eruption due to animals and their animality, but man’s own incessant need to create animality in his frame and from his vantage as well, from life to death and back again. As Jane Desmond notes in her essay “Displaying Death, Animating Life: Changing Fictions of ‘Liveness’ from Taxidermy to Animatronics,” she notes that the passion for “man to create, re-create, and animate three-dimensional animal bodies” intrigues her (159). She notes that in taxidermy, humans kill animals and then manipulate their dead bodies to look alive, and in animatronics, humans build fake animal bodies, get inside them, and, through their own bodily motions, “bring them to life” (159). Not only is the irony of taxidermy apparent in the need to kill in order to look real, but also that it needs to be completely dismembered. This has many implications as to how man must look at himself. It is again another extension, another scapegoat act to present another victim other than himself. Rather than take the blame and sacrifice himself and his own understanding, man uses his reason, and with the gross manipulation of his own fascination of that which he doesn’t want to admit, which is his connection with animality, and he takes the lives of animals, creates them into a ‘life-like’ form, and calls it ‘good.’ The dog that haunted Che Guevara is the perfect example of this because the dog’s death is different; it bears witness to what Che “doesn’t’ want to admit.” It’s quite obvious that death connects man and animals, it’s just that man doesn’t want to go the next step, in submitting that they share in the same death. By overlooking this critical point, and side-stepping the issue, man achieves his necessary end by satisfying his need to connect with the animal by his creation, or rather re-creation, of a dead one. It’s the philosophy of metaphysical sadomaschochism! It seems that man enjoys wallowing in his own loss of being while creating that which puts him there: Creating ‘living’ testimonies of dead animals which he himself is intimately related to. No wonder Plato once said that ‘philosophy is the practice of death.’ But, although not completely strange nor surprising, as Desmond notes, ‘taxidermy’ is limited only to animals. Desmond culminates her findings by suggesting that the intimacy man and animals is “always marked by the distance and distinction between animals and humans. It is the rendering of that distance and the continuing desire to overcome it that make such fictions of liveness both possible and desirable, even necessary” (175). She speaks truth, and in man’s attempt to bridge the gap, he instead jumps it and finds himself more at distant than he was previously.
But not without hope, man’s attempt to reconcile this difference is much closer than he probably imagines. Man’s integration of animals in his life, culture, and existence is simply that of saturation. Beyond that of our similarity of physical death and the relationships between itself and hope are that of language, culture, education, politics, and serious human elements, critical to our so-called distinct and unique existence. As Christine Kenyon-Jones has noted in her book Kindred Brutes, animals and their influence has gone deep into our language, specifically poetry in the Romantic Era: “It [Romantic Era] is a rich source of such material because it was then, in the context of a new emphasis on nature, that debate was intensely articulate both about animals’ difference from human beings and also about their similarity…. They were perceived as similar, in so far as they have the ability to behave, to feel, and perhaps to think like human beings” (2). The very argument that language is one of the defining factors that separate mankind from the animals comes to a crashing halt as one may see that not only has animality has not only influenced our language and our representation of ideas, poetic and non, but has crept deep into its’ being as a whole. Kenyon-Jones goes on to write about how animals and animality has been used to help educate the young children, and were frequently used to help children read (53). By using animal metaphors to help develop ideas and create attitudes towards cultural ideologies and cultural contexts the children, who’s state has not been particularly tainted with the gift of wisdom and reason, Kenyon-Jones shows how deep animals and animality is rooted within our culture. She cites Locke and how he had proposed that the true method of educating children came in tandem with teaching children to be kind to animals (56). Politically, animals have influenced us because of the simple way we treat them. There have always been people who have defended the rights of animals and their treatment. And beyond that, in writing and poetry, one of the greatest uses of animal imagery with a political touch is by Lord Byron in his work “Childe Harold.” Byron spares no one, using his poetic touch to relate similarities between British Parliament, Spanish government, and the Newfoundland to dogs and the death of horses and bulls: “Byron view the Spanish bullfight from the beginning in terms constructed by the British parliamentary debates, and then combined this theoretical introduction with his own experience of observing cruelty first hand…. The first point made and very often repeated by the Wilberforcean politicians – that cruelty to animals degrades human beings – is a mainspring of Byron’s argument” (106). The use of animals to illustrate socio-political movements and situations works perfectly, and can even work on an even larger scale, such as war, as Kenyon-Jones notes about how the “bullfight is a microcosm for a country at war” (106). It is a strange irony that man finds himself using animals as instruments to convey some of his more complex ideas and ideologies, and even cultural and political philosophies, even when he himself considers himself not an animal. Kenyon-Jones ends her study suggesting that one of the most important factors is the “consustantiality or confraternity between human beings and animals, which underpins much current thinking about human behaviour and adds greatly to the value placed on all animals, especially wild ones…. In a metaphorical, spiritual or feeling-based form, allied to many different currents of contemporary thought, including eighteenth-century sympathetic sensibility and revolutionary religious skepticism, this perception of human/animal kinship in the Romantic period foreshadows what Darwinism demonstrated half a century later through biological means” (206). Animals are so integrated in our culture, our thinking, and our ideology, it’s hard to be sympathetic to man when he’s consciously separated himself from a part of himself that’s so readily available and so natural, that even science, which would eventually substantiate many of the Romantic writers work, would come to prove. As Keith Thomas said in his book Man and the Natural World: Changing Attitudes in England 1500-1800, animals have “provided the most readily-available point of reference for the continuous process of human self-definition. Neither the same as humans, nor totally dissimilar, the animals offered an almost inexhaustible fund of symbolic meaning” (40).
It has come full circle now. Theologically, philosophically, naturally, ideologically, culturally, and scientifically, man has a relationship to animals. But, he has ceaselessly created a distance. As a result, it will also be his responsibility to create and implement a solution, or, let the already existing solution occur naturally, because of the intrinsic existence of the connection between man and animal. Possibly the solution is to do nothing beyond that which is natural. No philosophizing, no deep analysis of theological underpinnings, no scientific research of genes and DNA, but rather, the simple focus on flesh and blood similarities between the two similar-but-made-different-by-man beings. Tim Ingold, in his essay ‘Humanity and Animality’ poses it this way:
By and large, philosophers have sough to discover the essence of humanity in men’s heads rather than in their tails (or lack thereof). But in seeking this essence, they did no ask: “What makes humans animals of a particular kind?” Instead they turned the question around, asking: “What makes humans different in kind from animals?” This inversion completely alters the terms of inquiry. For once the question is posed in the latter form; humanity no longer appears as a species of animality, or as one small province of the animal kingdom. Humanity, in short, ceases to mean the sum total of human beings, members of the animal species Homo sapiens, and becomes the state or condition of being human, one radically opposed to the condition of animality (19).
Man must reconcile with himself before reconciling with animal world. The animal will always be present to assist man in finding his identity, which, at times, can be very costly for man. Surely, there is a risk in accepting this possibility; that which is the total complete loss of identity. Rainer Maria Rilke poses it best in her poem “The Eighth Duino Elegy” where she says near the end:
We are, above all, eternal spectator
Looking upon, never from,
The place itself. We are the
Essence of it. We construct it.
It falls apart. We reconstruct it
And fall apart ourselves.
But man must continue to risk the most in order to gain that which cannot be lost, and through the inevitable process, as Saint Augustine perceived and experienced, we’ll construct and reconstruct the truth, from scratch if we must.
Rilke, Rainer Maria. “The Eighth Duino Elegy,” trans. Robert Hunter
Saint Augustine. Confessions. Penguin Group, New York, New York 1961.
Agamben, Giorgio. The Open: Man and Animal, trans. Kevil Attell.
Standford University Press, Standford, California, 2002.
Derrida, Jacques. Of Spirit: Heidegger and the Question, trans. Geoffrey Bennington,
Rachel Bowlby. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 1987.
Young, Frederick. “Animality: Notes Towards A Manifesto.” Glossolalia.
Routledge, New York, New York, 2003.
Kenyon-Jones, Christine. Kindred Brutes. Ashgate Publishing Limited,
Burlington USA, 2001.
Schweitzer, Albert. “Reverence for Life.” Translated by A. Naish. London: Black, 1923
Pojman, Louis P. Life and Death: A Reader in Moral Problems. Wadsworth
Publishing Company, Belmont CA, 2000.
Kant, Immanuel. “Duties to Animals and Spirits.” Translated by Louis Infield
New York: Harper and Row, 1963. Pojman, Louis P. Life and Death: A Reader in Moral Problems. Wadsworth Publishing Company, Belmont CA, 2000.
Desmond, Jane. “Diplaying Death, Animating Life: Changing Fictions of ‘Liveness’
from Taxidermy to Animatronics.” Representing Animals. Indiana University
Press, Bloomington, Indiana, 2002.
Keith Thomas, Man and the Natural World: Changing Attitudes in England 1500-1800
London: Allen Lane, 1983.
Ingold, Tim. Companion Encyclopedia of Anthropology. Routledge, London, 1994
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Feifel, Herman. The Meaning of Death. McGraw-Hill, New York, New York, 1965.