Electric Animal: Toward a Rhetoric of Wildlife
Akira Mizuta Lippit
Moving beyond the dialectical framework that has traditionally bound animal and human being, Electric Animal raises a series of questions regarding the idea of animality in Western thought. Can animals communicate? Do they have consciousness? Are they aware of death? By tracing questions such as these through a wide range of texts by writers ranging from Friedrich Nietzsche to Jacques Derrida, Sigmund Freud to Vicki Hearne, Lewis Carroll to Franz Kafka, and Sergei Eisenstein to Gilles Deleuze, Lippit arrives at a remarkable thesis, revealing an extraordinary logical consensus in Western thought: animals do not have language and hence cannot die.
The animal has, accordingly, haunted thought as a form of spectral and undead being. Lippit demonstrates how, in the late nineteenth century, this phantasmic concept of animal being reached the proportions of an epistemological crisis, engendering the disciplines and media of psychoanalysis, modern literature, and cinema, among others. Against the prohibitive logic of Western philosophy, these fields opened a space for rethinking animality. Technology, usually thought of in opposition to nature, came to serve as the repository for an unmournable animality-a kind of vast wildlife museum.
A highly original work that charts new territory in current debates over language and mortality, subjectivity and technology, Electric Animal brings to light fundamental questions about the status of representation—of the animal and of ourselves—in the age of biomechanical reproduction.
Thus Spoke Zarathustra unleashes an essential image-generating force."36 In suspended time and solitude, conversing here resembles its antithesis, seclusion and stasis. Conversation requires chronology, the movement of the sun. The solitude that Zarathustra achieves with animals is not to be confused with any familiar (or, for that matter, familial) comfort: it is, for Heidegger, a solitude emerging from the depths of alienation: " [The animals] seek to learn whether Zarathustra is still living,
longer exiled from the site of subjectivity, the animal had become, through Breuer's tropes, aligned with electric circuitry and signification. In the small shift in logic, animals, as conductors in a relay of information that superseded the exclusive regime of language, were assigned to the outer limits of consciousness—to the supersemiotic field of the unconscious. And although animals have always been accorded the faculties of transmitting affect, it is in the psychic generators of Breuer's
and Galen (A.D. 129-199), although the first documented vivisections did not take place until the sixteenth century.21 The use of animals to advance knowledge has often aroused feelings of antipathy and discomfort in the human world, and today such practices continue to unsettle the social conscience. Still, the dissection of animals for biological and medical purposes derived a considerable measure of acceptance from the paradigmatic work of Aristotle, whose projects in zoology perhaps first
Akutagawa, who grappled with the issue of Japan's past and its relation to the modern West. For Akutagawa, writing in the early twentieth century, the task of absorbing Japan's literary past and appropriating the Western notion of the subject came to be increasingly polarized projects. By the end of his life, Akutagawa had largely abandoned his "historical" writings (rewritings of classical Japanese narratives such as his 1915 "Rashomon," which was taken from the eleventh-century Konjaku
BECAUSE THE DIFFERENTIAL system of language can refer to things or ideas that lie outside its referential chain, the semiology of language is haunted by a profound negativity. The system of language, which operates according to a dialectical logic, can posit (qua antithesis), concepts that elude its grasp. Things can be named, like Heidegger's animal graphic, as negations of language. In the present context, the figure of the animal has come to occupy just such a negative space—one that language