Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Animals that We Have Always Been... Already

The classical binaries that oppressions generate, the differences between man and womyn, humyn and animal, or, more generally, the differences between reason and rhetoric, emotion/rationality, and Civil/Wild have lots of similarities. Indeed similarity is caught up in an originary definition of being human, as Aristotle put it: human just meant <rational animal>. However, as specialization over humyn bodies increased divisively under the sign of Capital, a complementary and manufactured desire forced the imposition of difference between humyn and animal in a rigid way so that we became less autonomous. If that which is wild is the very meaning of autonomy, and I intend to make this argument later, then domestication (zooification) is a process of de-autonomization. If it is true that the process of becoming more and more dependant describes the human condition, then humyns have never been free. Rather than acknowledge the animal within as a part, indeed, as the liberating (free) part, we began (and yet still!) attribute to the animal those undesired traits we find rupturing our codified (and predictable) existence.
Particles of our language signify this <setting apart from>. We often say in the negative that such and such a person is a beast, or a bitch, or that one is acting like a chicken or a peacock, or a mule, an ass, a pest, a bug or that certain types of people are pigs, or that living with some people, like me, according to my partner anyways, is “like living with a primate.” These terms signify traits that we do not wish to own, burdens that the animal has been created to bear, a negative placeholder for disowned behaviors. Are chickens really chicken? Are primates really messy? Do peacocks really parade around, fluffing their feathers and chests in such a fashion? Contrary to this logic, it seems overwhelmingly the case that the particular animals that we use to stand for undesired human traits do not in fact exemplify any of ‘their’ specified traits. Instead, it may be that these general points of specification are a function of a general logic, a logic that is amplified by associations that, by way of being negative, generate a necessary effacement.
One may wish to say that just as there are negative traits from which we wish to distance ourselves surely there are positive traits that we often use to describe ourselves positively. For instance, we might be inclined to say that we were as brave as a lion. Alternatively, in a weird sort of limit case, some of the more patriarchal among us might be inclined to say that so and so was “hot like a fox” hereby signifying, despite the beastial overtones, that men in fact desire “foxy ladies”. But while comparisons of desired attribution, as proper functions of animals, are a part of our everyday discourse, comparisons to animals, the brutes, tend to be negative. The reason is that it is of paramount importance that we (willingly) zooify ourselves, that we make ourselves set a/part from the animals.
The point that the animal has been “created to bear” undesired traits has everything to do with originary meanings of <animal> that have very little to do with animals at all and much more to do with us. The animal cannot be said to be stupid because the animal doesn’t make ‘stupid mistakes’; indeed, the animal is precluded from any attribution because the animal doesn’t conform to patterns of failed rationality. Despite this point, we have been given a representation for the animal that is variously described through a set of lacks: lacking in reason, lacking the ability to think, lacking the ability to choose to eat only plants, lacking the ability (or potential ability) to respond responsibly, to be ethical. From these meanings I’m supposed to understand the referent of the concept animal. But there can be no animal because the very idea of an animal is simply the distinguishing mark of the non-humyn and anything defined by way of lack will be necessarily imprecise. And this point is redoubled, indeed, doubly impossible, because the animal is defined by what the humyn lacks, and what the humyn has, positively, is also unclear across the board. So if the animal is defined by way of the humyn, and the humyn cannot be defined, then the animal cannot be defined. Here we do not have a limited that abuts against another; instead, we have a tangle, a mess that can only be prescinded for convenience.
Traditionally persons have used the term ‘beast’ or ‘the brutes’ to signify the animal; and this sort of anti-animalism finds a telling voice in Beauty and the Beast, a cultural artifact that I would like to turn to briefly. Here we have a monster, and not a monster made of different recognizable parts, like a griffin, or a centaur, or Medusa, rather, we are presented with a monster that doesn’t have any understandable similarities, indeed an “animal” par excellence. The closest kind that The Beast signifies is the wildebeest, from what I can gather; but the beast in the Disney film is nothing like the wildebeest, a kind that is misleading in its English dress given its close kinship to grass munching cattle. So here we have a story perpetuated by Disney that takes the form of the wildebeest and shifts its reality in order to create a particular entity, a fiction that stands no animal in particular; a brute in the truest sense of the word because this non-animal/animal stands for everything uncivilized that we should not want. The beast is isolated, untamed, aggressive, angry, irrational, uncivilized, in short a wild beast (wildebeest). And this introduction is assumed from the beginning. If you recall, this monster is completely irrational or unreasonable, truly animal, for Belle’s father, lost and looking for his way is enslaved upon trespassing.
At one point in the film, Disney lets out a subconscious word of explanation concerning this very peculiar non-animal/animal. Gaston has persuaded the townsfolk to go and kill the beast. Why? Because they
“don’t like what [they] don’t understand, in fact it scares [them],
and this monster [the beast] is mysterious at least.”
Indeed ‘the monster/the animal’ must be mysterious. Animals that function to stand for everything Wild cannot make sense to a culture that desires to destroy everything, or better, more deceptively, reduces the wild/untamed to that which is understandable. The beast, having no recognizable form, having nothing in common with a lion, or a tiger, having everything in common with a wildebeest but nothing to do with its operations, just is that which is fearfully non-humyn. It must be killed; or else, it must be made understood by way of a different presentation, say, by being mounted on Gaston’s wall—by being made weak as a sign for true humyn strength.
             The term <noble savage> gets a lot of play in Beauty and the Beast. The beast is clearly set up to be the noble-savage archetype, but it seems that we can invert these terms to signify Gaston, a <savage noble>, in the very least in order to understand what’s happening in this movie, how these two terms play off of each other. It seems reasonable to infer that Gaston is a noble or stands for the noble type given that there are no other nobles in town, and given that he thinks he has a rite to Belle’s hand in marriage. So how does Gaston fit the term <savage noble> that I am here inverting? We hear from Belle, that he is “boorish and brainless”. Being boorish just means being rude, or without manners, and “brainless” is the attribution classically given to animals that categorically fail to think and reason—clearly both tend to describe Gaston as a savage of sorts. Indeed, even Gaston seems aware of his brainlessness in that, at one point, he says to LeFou, “LeFou I’ve been thinking”. LeFou cuts him off saying, “a dangerous pastime” to which Gaston replies “I know”. So, just like an animal, Gaston is brainless and reactionary.
            The relationship between the savage noble and the savage becoming noble-savage is best represented in the climactic moment when Gaston and the Beast square off. Just as the beast is about to kill Gaston by dropping him from the ledge, the Beast, as True Noble (Savage), listens to Gaston’, “I’ll do anything for my life”, and completes the (implicit) contractual-promise, ordering Gaston to “get out”. Once in a safe space, Gaston, as savage, stabs the true Noble-Savage in the back. In breaking the implicit promise to the Beast, therefore, the nobility of Gaston is eclipsed by the Nobility of the Beast, a true noble savage. However, the state cannot leave it there; instead, the Beast must be eclipsed as savage-part of Noble-Savage becoming truly ideal and totally imaginary. It is important that we understand savagery as a curse, just as the beast understands that being a Beast was always a curse. This is why at the end of the movie it is important to have the narrator show the fictional archetype (the beast), the animal, becoming truly (humane), civilly civilized, desiring this way of being, rather than his perfectly imperfect savagery.
Interestingly, neither the beast nor his perfected humyn resurrection, have names. Disney has created a totally artificial way of being that spans from beginning to end, the perfect man and the perfectly imperfect animal without likeness. This artificial being, the perfect noble, is just as artificial as the being that existed just a few minutes prior. What we have is a set of artificial categories designed to set the humyn a/part from, on the one hand, the savage noble, as well as the noble savage. The truth that Disney hides is that the separation of the humyn from the animal is a separation of self into partial object and Other. In rejecting the wild, in reproducing the desire to reject the wild, a manufacturing of desires that is not our own, but is desired of us, a desire that speaks through us constitutes us as civilized subject, we are complicit in setting ourselves a/part, ready and waiting, an artificial apparatus that puts to pieces both ourselves and parts of us (as artifice), the animal, so that it becomes necessary to find ourselves again—so that it becomes necessary to re/wild.
Most of us resist the conversation that follows from the Genesis Narrative, and with good reason. Yet, that story contains a seed for a new reading of the difference between the humyn and the animal. The first thing that the humyns did once they had become accustomed to knowledge of good and evil, having disobeyed God and consumed the forbidden apple, was to put on clothes, nakedness being a source for their shame (Genesis 3:7). Having gained (God-like) knowledge of what is right and wrong, the humyns felt that it was wrong (improper) to be naked. Thenceforth, humyns lost their freedom to be naked without inhibitions, to be truly indifferent to ones’ shame because oblivious to nakedness. So I want to offer the notion of <re-wilding> as a matter of stripping sources of shame. What makes us zooified, shall we say, is the ability to feel shame.
In order to paint this picture, in order to trace part of the meaning of what it means to out strip sources of shame, I want to re-read The Emperor’s New Clothes. Here we have a down going that is opposite from the transcendent up-going of the Noble-Savage to Pure Civility. Thus, we might say we have instead the down-going of Pure Civility to Pure Animalism/pure freedom.
If you recall, the story goes something like this: we have an emperor adorned in all of the latest fashions, as Andersen says, “to [the emperor] clothes meant more than anything else in the world… He had different robes for every single hour of the day.” Then, along come some swindlers promising to make the emperor a new set of clothes, more beautiful than anything he had ever seen. The catch is that the clothes contain magic properties that appear invisible to anyone stupid or (and so) not worthy of their position in the emperor’s court. Since no one wants to be stupid, like an animal, stupidity being a purported sign of being-animal, no one admits to the plain truth that the emperor was being swindled. The next day the Emperor parades his new “clothes”, and a child, perhaps indifferent to the charge of stupidity, exclaims boldly that the Emperor was wearing nothing. In response and feeling as though there was perhaps some truth in the comment, the Emperor “drew himself up and walked boldly on holding his head higher than before…” (my emphasis).
            So here we have a moment where an exception to subject-hood, a child, “tells the truth” to another exception to subject-hood, an emperor. In response, taking responsibility and being reactionary, the Emperor goes beyond his clothed humans to demonstrate naked power. He shows that even in the face of embarrassment, figuratively speaking, nothing can touch him. Like an animal or a child that can maim and destroy with impunity, this state of exception shows himself as indifferent to his nakedness. Having tasted what it means to be truly beyond subjecthood, to truly not worry about placement as emperor, to know about his nakedness and yet remain indifferent, indeed, to be in the spotlight in a way that is exceptional, I would be surprised if the emperor could wear clothes again.
The Emperor is set apart from his subjects like an animal is wild. He is totally unpredictable, and even more now that he has discovered pride beyond shame, a way of being that puts him truly beyond law. He once had prided himself in wearing the finest clothes; yet now he has produced a sign that all of that is hardly important.
Jacques Derrida may have had the emperor in mind when he commented that autobiography without confession is captured in being-animal, or, being before/after the fall, being in a place where a distinction is not drawn—although, admittedly, Yhwh did grant Adam with the rite to name, and therefore subjugate everything except himself to the inability to name oneself—nevertheless, being-there merely living, without apology, indifferent to Dasein.
Humyns have a lot for which they ought to apologize. We humyn animals haven’t even begun to realize and take responsibility for our shame.