Derrida and Textual Animality
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Derrida and Textual Animality

For a Zoogrammatology of Literature

Rodolfo Piskorski

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eBook - ePub

Derrida and Textual Animality

For a Zoogrammatology of Literature

Rodolfo Piskorski

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Derrida and Textual Animality: For a Zoogrammatology of Literature analyses what has come to be known, in the Humanities, as 'the question of the animal', in relation to literary texts. Rodolfo Piskorski intervenes in the current debate regarding the non-human and its representation in literature, resisting popular materialist methodological approaches in the field by revisiting and revitalising the post-structuralist thought of Derrida and the 'linguistic turn'. The book focuses on Derrida's early work in order to frame deconstructive approaches to literature as necessary for a theory and practice of literary criticism that addresses the question of the animal, arguing that texts are like animals, and animals are like texts. While Derrida's late writings have been embraced by animal studies scholars due to its overt focus on animality, ethics, and the non-human, Piskorski demonstrates the additional value of these early Derridean texts for the field of literary animal studies by proposing detailed zoogrammatological readings of texts by Freud, Clarice Lispector, Ted Hughes, and Darren Aronofsky, while in dialogue with thinkers such as Butler, Kristeva, Genette, Deleuze and Guattari, and Attridge.

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Información

Año
2020
ISBN
9783030517328
Categoría
Literatur
© The Author(s) 2020
R. PiskorskiDerrida and Textual AnimalityPalgrave Studies in Animals and Literaturehttps://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-51732-8_1
Begin Abstract

1. Introduction

Rodolfo Piskorski1
(1)
Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK
Rodolfo Piskorski
Keywords
Animals in literatureLiterary Animal StudiesZoogrammatologyJacques DerridaMaterialismLinguistic turnCounter-linguistic turnLiterary theoryAnimalsAnimality
End Abstract
Why do animals matter for literature? They might matter as simply an ‘end’ that can then be conveyed by any given ‘medium’—literature, for example. Conversely, the recent scholarly attention towards literary animals highlights a more radical relevance of animality beyond that of mere topic: it could be argued that in recent criticism illuminated by posthumanism and Animal Studies, animals matter precisely due to their matter. The material embodiment of animals is believed to offer a stark contrast to the linguistic constitution of textuality, to the extent that animals ‘in’ literary texts are said to illuminate—and sometimes challenge—the workings of literature. This is a relatively common view in the literary scholarship on animals, a tendency which Kari Weil names the ‘counter-linguistic turn’, in which animals’ supposed lack of language is refashioned as an asset reliant on their bodiliness:
Although many current projects are intent on proving that certain animals do have language capabilities like those of humans, other sectors of animal studies are concerned with forms of subjectivity that are not language-based. Instead, they are concerned with ways of knowing that appear to work outside those processes of logocentric, rational thinking that have defined what is proper to the human, as opposed to the nonhuman animal. (2006, 87)
As Weil’s term suggests, this turn critiques the ‘linguistic turn’ in twentieth-century Continental philosophy which, in literary studies, is most often associated with Jacques Derrida. Writing in PMLA in 2005, James Berger describes the wider consequences (in scholarship, art, and popular culture) of this counter-linguistic turn:
[W]ith increasing influence over the past fifteen or twenty years we can see in the academic humanities, in some literary fiction, and in areas of popular culture varieties of what we might call a counter-linguistic turn. […] Their central claim is that there is an other of language, whether or not this other can be conceptualized, and that language does not go “all the way down.” (2005, 344)
As one of the symptoms of this counter-linguistic turn, Berger cites ‘studies across several fields that stress materiality or physicality. This work often focuses on the body, which serves as a crucial and contested boundary marker for the limits of language’ (ibid.). And in neurologist Oliver Sack’s popular writings, he argues that ‘the deepest experience of living as a human–animal, the most basic form of consciousness, is not symbolic or linguistic. It is bodily, a sense of at-homeness in the body’ (350). In his 2017 book Bioaesthetics, Carsten Strathausen identifies a rise of biologism in the humanities, detectable in the prominence of the digital humanities and other strands of the ‘posthumanities’. For him, deconstruction and hermeneutics are losing ground to empirical models for the study of texts and culture due to a fatigue introduced after almost a century of focus on the ‘being of language’ (2017, 4). He credits the 1996 Sokal hoax with a considerable impact on the credibility of ‘constructivist’, to the benefit of ‘realism’ (which he glosses as ‘an utterly nonsensical juxtaposition’) and biologism.
In this biologically informed approach to the humanities, the focus on the animal side of the human, or on what we could call our uncanny proximity to animals, functions to stress their distinct type of embodiment, since the material existence we share with them encounters in our linguistically saturated nature a limit to this proximity. The emphasis on bodily matter engendered by such similarity would serve to posit matter once again as that which would ground ontology, as a way of writing it out of ‘theory’ and the constitutive powers of language. Such matter could easily be found in objects, or the mineral and vegetal kingdoms, but the fact that humans and animals are otherwise extremely similar works to underscore this materiality—and its push into language—in ways not available to other beings. Animals would represent, then, an exteriority to language, conceptuality, reason, and literature, exposing literary texts to their own limitations. I shall attempt, however, to expose the metaphysical foundation of such an analytical frame by revisiting Derrida’ s critique of the simple evocation of matter. His complication of the material/ideal dichotomy will be shown to represent a more productive response to this duality and this will have crucial consequences to a thinking of animality as grounded on bodily materiality.
The counter-linguistic turn is often associated with a strand of critical theory, philosophy, and political theory known as New Materialism, identified broadly as a ‘return’ to materiality after the supposedly excessively textual focus of post-structuralism. Thus, in their edited collection New Materialisms: Ontology, Agency, and Politics, Diana Coole and Samantha Frost situate New Materialism in opposition to ‘constructivism’, the claim that reality is socially/culturally/linguistically constituted, which they attribute to the cultural or linguistic turn. According to them, ‘the dominant constructivist orientation to social analysis is inadequate for thinking about matter, materiality, and politics in ways that do justice to the contemporary context of biopolitics and global political economy’ (2010, 6). Materiality is here contrasted with idealism or ideality, in which the cultural turn is deemed to be interested. However, it is important to highlight that ‘ideality’ for Coole and Frost functions similarly to what some of the contributors call ‘mentation’—products and processes of the human mind. Conversely, in the Continental tradition which I discuss throughout the book, ideality as opposed to materiality is characterised by not being located in spatio-temporality. Therefore, even mental processes—to the extent that they are events—are materialised in time and space in a way that pure idealities are not. This difference will have sizable consequences to my discussion of the destabilisation of the dualism materiality/ideality undertaken by deconstruction. Another crucial aspect of mentation as described by New Materialists, which is thought to include culture, signification, language, etc., is that it refers to an exclusively human sphere of existence and experience. Hence, they critique constructivists’ inability to analyse the non-human world and occasionally describe them as reducing reality to a set of human concerns. However, for thinkers often characterised as constructivists and post-structuralists, such as Derrida, some issues ascribed to mentation (language, for example) are neither wholly or primarily human, nor are they essentially ideal, as I discuss in detail throughout the book.
Having said that, it is not clear if Jacques Derrida is one of the constructivists Coole and Frost have in mind, even though he, of il n’y a pas d’hors-texte fame, is often identified as one of the main postmodern and post-structuralist thinkers. One therefore wonders who has claimed or is claiming the points they are criticising. When they argue that ‘materiality is always something more than “mere” matters, [it is] an excess, force, vitality, relationality, or difference that renders matter active, self-creative, productive, unpredictable’ (9), it is reasonable to assume they are positing someone who does argue that materiality is mere matter, and that it does not contain theses forces that make it active. Because the constructivist thinkers are not named or cited, one would be safe to include Jacques Derrida or Judith Butler in that list, even though what is presented as a critical, new approach to matter—such as the point that matter has a difference that renders it productive—is similar to ‘constructivist’ arguments often posed by Derrida, among others. That similarity is sometimes openly acknowledged, as when Coole and Frost point out that new materialists have ‘reinvent[ed] materialism in response to the criticisms that radical constructivists and deconstructionists righty made of earlier critical materialisms and realisms, Marxism in particular’ (25).
However, picturing Derrida and Butler among the targets of New Materialism might turn out to be inaccurate, as the contributions to the volume often engage in depth with both in a way that explores their thinking of materiality. For example, Pheng Cheah shows that matter in Derrida must be thought in connection with text, where the latter is not allowed to be reduced to idealism (2010, 73). Cheah argues that deconstruction explains the emergence of both matter and text by means of the mechanism of iterability, which produces materialities and idealities. In her contribution, Sara Ahmed defends the cultural turn as engaging with the phenomenology espoused in the introduction, citing Butler as an example (2010, 234, 246). In fact, Ahmed opens her chapter with a reference to her article ‘Imaginary Prohibitions’ (2008) in which she stakes out a position critical to the radicalism claimed by the New Materialisms. More focused on feminist thought, her article cites several thinkers who identify—and criticise—Butler as a constructivist, which is, as we saw, not the case in Coole and Frost’s volume. Despite the identification of Butler and others as targets, Ahmed still pinpoints a common rhetorical gesture by New Materialists characterised by asserting that something is not so, suggesting other uncited writers who would argue that it is so (2008, 34–5). The methodological problem with this gesture is twofold. Firstly, often the criticised arguments, either implied or articulated, are untraceable to any reasonable writer, such as a belief that subatomic particles are invented, not discovered (Coole and Frost 2010, 11–2). Secondly, the theoretical formulations presented as critically incisive and innovative New Materialist claims are strikingly similar to arguments already put forth by constructivists. In short, as Coole and Frost describe it—and Ahmed analyses it—New Materialism seems to be either another name for the critical approach to materialism already under way in post-structuralist thought, or a rebuttal to claims no sensible thinker would defend, which then compels it to linger on the defence of simple facts, such as the reality of subatomic particles.
In the register of literary criticism, this materialism more often than not goes hand in hand with a methodological anti-formalism: literary texts are read as intricate forms of paraphrase of the real, material, embodied lives of animals, which means their textual form is secondary (see Shapiro and Copeland 2005). Interestingly, a radical formalist approach to texts could be attempted in the name of the very focus on embodiment and materiality that guides the interest in animals within certain sectors of Literary Animal Studies. Hence, this formalism could be defended as a type of anti-speciesist literary criticism. If we read this in Cartesian terms, this sort of formalism would suggest an independence of the (animal) body (form as the body of the text) from the soul-or-mind, or even some kind of radical materialism that prioritises bodies before souls. However, as we shall see, many literary scholars approach animals as objects in literary texts, as subject matters that can be and indeed are at stake at any other medium. At the level of object, this approach attempts to circle the specificity of animality as a different form of embodiment, while at the level of method, the text itself, as the form or embodiment of signification, is overlooked.
For example, Robert McKay frames the emergence of Literary Animal Studies by stating that ‘[i]n the mid- to late-1990s, very few scholars were concerned with the near omnipresence of nonhuman animals in literary texts’, and he accuses those works which did try to address ‘the animal quest...

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