Weekly Response: Jacques Derrida “The Animal Therefore I Am (More to Follow)
In “the Animal Therefore That I Am” (More to Follow),” Jacques Derrida challenges the accepted categorizations of the human and non-human. Where popular belief understands there to exist an “abysmal rupture” between man and beast, Derrida claims that, upon closer examination, no form to this delineating border is seen. Derrida uses language to support his claim. The term ‘animal’ and its human origin, as well as the way in which man uses the term to refer to the human and non-human, is a key part of Derrida’s argument. Derrida presents this arbitrary notion, reinforced by language, as exisiting in the oldest of human narratives. This abstract yet ruptural division facilitates man’s continued ignorance of animal being. Derrida, in a sense, deconstructs the belief in a clearly drawn lie between animal and man.
1. Animal is an integral term in relation to Derrida’s thesis. The word ‘animal’ is used to describe, in certain contexts, a non-human characteristic, and in other instances, a human interest or defining trait. Also, its importance in matters of dominion and signification’s relation to death and existence.
2. Appropriate is used by Derrida in its transitive verb form to label man’s setting apart of the organic non-human for a certain purpose. The implication of an appropriated relationship between human and non-human-beings speaks to a base understanding of animal status and actions taken regardless of that knowledge. Derrida’s thesis focuses upon man’s misplaced belief in this difference in being, between human and non-human existences.
3. Dasein is a German word that vaguely translates into ‘existence’ in English, with a literal translation that is closer to ‘being there’ or ‘presence.’ Dasein is a familiar term in Heidegger’s existentialist philosophy. Derrida fails to define the term, perhaps, due to his expectations of the Cicery conference’s audience’s familiarity with his philosophical lexicon.
Excerpt from Derrida “The Animal Therefore I Am (More to Follow)”
“From the vantage of that time when the animals were named, before original sin, I will mark, for the moment, in the guise of an epigraph, the following reservation: the questions I am posing, my having confessed to feeling disarmed before a small mute living being, and my avowed desire to escape the alternative of a projection that appropriates and an interruption that excludes, all that might lead one to guess that I am not ready to interpret or experience the gaze that a cat fixes, without a word, on my nakedness, in the negative, if I can put it that way, as Benjamin suggests doing within a certain tradition that we must speak of later…..Such a melancholic mourning would reflect an impossible resignation, as is protesting in silence against the unacceptable fatality of that very silence: the fact of being condemned to muteness..and to the absence of language…”
Derrida is speaking of a connection with the animal and a desire to understand the gaze in a way that humankind has not. His “impossible resignation, as is protesting in silence against the unacceptable fatality of that very silence” refers to this understanding of this relationship in terms of the accepted human/animal opposition, the one he claims to be false or atavistic in favor of man.
Question 1: Is Derrida placing the human/animal opposition in the same theoretical space as the signifier/signified opposition, claiming that one doesn’t exist and is purely an abstraction, as the centerless structure of “Structure, Sign, and Play”?
Question 2: Derrida states, “[o]ne cannot speak…of the…bestiality of an animal. It would be an anthropomorphic projection of something that remains reserved to man” (Derrida 409). How could we use human language to describe this animal-ness without anthropomorphizing this description or trait? Is this possible or not? Is this Derrida’s message? The language of being fits its being solely? Can we theorize this animal-being language?
Response Jacques Derrida “Structure, Sign, and Play”
In “Structure, Sign, and Play,” Jacques Derrida argues that the transcendental signified, like the centerless structure, cannot exist. Play for Derrida represents a fluid movement, as with language, one that both denotes a structure and negates it simultaneously. Derrida uses the philosophy of Levi-Strauss to emphasize his argument on context and the placing of phenomena into reducible categories that do not withstand scrutiny. These structures can still be used for interpretive purposes as both Levi-Strauss and Derrida affirm.
1. Structure is used by Derrida to refer to any structure. The structure of language is one focused upon here, as is the structures of nature and culture and how they together make an opposition, itself a form of structure.
2. Structurality is used by Derrida to refer to the abstract form of these phenomena such as language and critique. The structure of language has no signified as he structure of structurality has no center, yet they still exist as structures. Derrida makes the larger point concerning critical thought using these centerless structures with the statement concerning their continued use as points of critique.
3. Foucalt’s episteme is featured in “Structure, Sign, and Play” to refer to these centerless structures of knowledge again. Episteme represents the era, per say, that thoughts such as the centerless structure can exist. Derrida calls these “contradictorily coherent” referring to the existence of centerless structures—here philosophy itself—which cannot exist.
Excerpt from Derrida “Structure, Sign, and Play”
“But we cannot do without the concept of the sign, for we cannot give up this metaphysical complicity without also giving up the critique we are directing against this complicity, or without the risk of erasing difference in the self-identity of a signified reducing its signifier into itself or, amounting to the same thing, simply expelling its signifier outside itself.”
The sign is the basis of language and thought, as it is also the basis of the structure of the signifier/signified. It can’t be reduced into a signifier that doesn’t exist, as the center of a structure cannot be traced.
Question 1: Is anything I am saying correct? Can we form a new critical language of signification that has no signified? Can the centerless structure truly not exist?
Question 2: How playful is Derrida being with some of this language? Can other phenomena that have observable centers be used to study the centerless structure?