Human/Animal : Stathis Gourgouris

Donna Haraway has some sharp things to say about Derrida’s reluctance, even if ultimately her own position too stands on an ontological turn. From her standpoint, the matter falters at the original assertion of the animal’s incapacity to respond. The philosophical undertaking from the standpoint of the question “what if the animal responded?” should be reconfigured from the standpoint of the conditional affirmation “as if the animal responded” in order to reach the speculative question “what if the philosopher responded?”

All instances are adeptly performative, and just as well—the conditional “if” marking the shared rules of the game, quintessentially performative and granted in all instances by commitment to the unconditional. The most fruitful kernel of this dissenting intersection between Derrida and Haraway lies there: precisely on how each one figures the unconditional—animal? human? human/animal?

Haraway’s ironic reversal of Derrida’s question redraws the ground of argument around the problematic singularity, not of the animal or the human as such, but of the disjunctive relation human vs. animal, an opposition that usually turns animality (even when pertinent to the human) into absolute alterity. Haraway proposes to turn the traditional philosophical position of animality as alterity into the affirmative gesture of what she calls, working off of Derridean naming but also echoing the language of radical anti-globalization ecologists, autre-mondialisation. This kind of alternative worlding, this other-worlding, is hardly otherworldly. Rather, it extends the material undoing of the metaphysics of human exceptionalist world-making by breaking the closure of human Weltbildung and opening up a meditation on alterity within the parameters of worldliness. Haraway’s contribution is to remove the singularity of the inter-species relation, and to speak instead, ontologically, of inter-species being, of species as companion entities:

Companion species is my awkward term for a not-humanism in which species of all sorts are in question. Companion species is a permanently undecidable category, a category-in-question that insists on the relation as the smallest unit of being and of analysis . . . Singular and plural, species resonate with tones of logical types, of the relentlessly specific . . . Species, like the body are internally oxymoronic, full of their own others, full of messmates, of companions. Every species is a multispecies crowd.32

Haraway configures Derrida’s philosopher standing naked before the animal as a missed opportunity of other-worlding, an inability to engage the matter from a companion species position. She rejects the singularity argument altogether: both the generic-singular and the autobiographical singular are inadequate categorizations, still under the pall of onto-theology. Instead, she proposes what she calls “risky worldings,” yet another configuration of her autre-mondialisation. Achieving a sense of animality—“becoming animal” in her words—means to discover “the rich multiplicities and topologies of a heterogeneously and nonteleologically connected world.”33

While as a retort, or an alternative ontology, this argument is noteworthy, there is an ease here that is certainly unaccounted for. It is ironic—and Haraway seems unaware of it—that real companionship between humans and animals flourished in epochs before humanism was deconstructed, theoretically but also technologically. Companion-species was not articulated then as a concept because it was lived as a reality.

It is ironic even further that moral and political concerns about animals, which generate discourses of animal rights (in tow of human rights), develop precisely when this companionship is rendered artificial: imposed by new discursive practices that respond to the—largely technological—disruption of sharing life and modes of living that go back eons.34 Moreover, one does not resolve the singularity of traditional humanist species-being by sheer multiplication or even mere othering—more precisely, by substituting one ontological other by another. “Becoming animal” in Haraway’s sense is tantamount to disregarding (forgetting?) that one is animal already, and thus renders “animal” yet again a sort of redemptive prosthesis. By the same gesture—here the action is, of course, deliberate—effacing the human in a multispecies crowd ends up effacing the animality of the human.

32. Donna Haraway, When Species Meet (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008), 164-165.

33. Donna Haraway, When Species Meet, 27.

34. I thank Jay Bernstein for pointing this out.

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