Derrida and Our Animal Others: Derrida's Final Seminar, "The Beast and the Sovereign"

Derrida and Our Animal Others: Derrida's Final Seminar, "The Beast and the Sovereign"

Derrida and Our Animal Others: Derrida's Final Seminar, "The Beast and the Sovereign"

Derrida and Our Animal Others: Derrida's Final Seminar, "The Beast and the Sovereign"

Synopsis

Jacques Derrida's final seminars were devoted to animal life and political sovereignty--the connection being that animals slavishly adhere to the law while kings and gods tower above it and that this relationship reveals much about humanity in the West. David Farrell Krell offers a detailed account of these seminars, placing them in the context of Derrida's late work and his critique of Heidegger. Krell focuses his discussion on questions such as death, language, and animality. He concludes that Heidegger and Derrida share a commitment to finding new ways of speaking and thinking about human and animal life.

Excerpt

Not of shoes and ships and sealing wax, though cabbages may apply, but of beasts and kings, and principally of animals other than the human, our animal others: the final years of Jacques Derrida’s teaching, 2001–2003, recently published in two volumes under the title The Beast and the Sovereign, were devoted to the questions of animal life and political sovereignty. These questions shaped the ninth in the set of seminars Derrida conducted (from 1991 until his death in October of 2004) under the general rubric “Questions of Responsibility.” Derrida fully intended to continue his seminar on the beast and the sovereign into the next academic year, 2003–2004.

The apparent incongruence of the themes—animals and political sovereignty—is soon dispelled when we read the published volumes of the seminar transcripts: Derrida is able to show that the twofold exclusion from the human public realm of beast and king, with kings and gods hovering above the law while animals grovel below, is in fact revelatory of Western humanity’s self-conception. the present book offers a close reading of Derrida’s texts on the theme of the beast and the sovereign, including his previously published The Animal That Therefore I Am, and a critical response to Derrida’s theses. the response is largely, though not exclusively, cast as a close reading of Heidegger’s 1929–1930 lecture course on world, finitude, and solitude, the second half of which is devoted to theoretical biology.

The present book opens—after this brief Introduction—with an account of Derrida’s 2001–2002 seminar. the transcript of the course is well over four hundred book pages long, so that a detailed presentation of the themes in some forty pages may itself be an achievement of sorts. Among the themes discussed are the animal imagery of kingship and sovereignty in terms of wolf, fox, and/or guard dog, Hobbes’s Leviathan as the monstrosity of a divinely contracted secular commonwealth, and Carl Schmitt, who understands the original sense of Leviathan and who develops an ontotheology of the modern aggressive nation-state, that is, the state that devotes itself to killing its enemies . . .

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