Electric Animal: Toward a Rhetoric of Wildlife
Akira Mizuta Lippit
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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.
untrustworthy in proportion as the difference between the ego and these "others" widened. To-day, our critical judgment is already in doubt on the question of consciousness in animals; we refuse to admit it in plants and we regard the assumption of its existence in inanimate matter as mysticism. But even where the original inclination to identification has withstood criticism—that is, when the "others" are our fellow-men —the assumption of a consciousness in them rests upon an inference and
tendency to such a dissociation, and with it the emergence of abnormal states (which we shall bring together under the term 'hypnoid') is the basic phenomenon of this neurosis."^ Two psychic topologies emerge in the hysterical constitution: one conscious and accessible, the other beyond the grasp of memory, fundamentally remote. Breuer distinguishes the hypnoid condition from its classical counterpart, the "double conscience," in his theoretical capitulation. With hysterics, he writes, "their
Except for, however, the case of the caged animal in which the excitement that precedes "feeding-time" has no causal link to the search for food. Breuer explains this agitation: "It is true that we see animals in a zoo running backwards and forwards excitedly before feeding-time; but this may no doubt be regarded as a residue of the performed motor activity of looking for food, which has now become useless owing to their being in captivity, and not as a means of freeing the nervous system of
an increasingly important role in the metalinguistic worlds he depicts. In addition to Gregor Samsa's screeching and scratching, Kafka offers another case of animal signing in "Josephine the Singer, or the Mouse Folk." Josephine's singing, described by Kafka as a kind of "piping," reflects the nonhuman reality of her bodily structure. Kafka's narrator, presumably also a mouse, states of Josephine's singing: So is it singing at all? Is it not perhaps just a piping? And piping is something that we
human. While the ape struggles to overcome its nature, its captors display their nature proudly, a nature that differs little from that which the ape is expected to shed. "Their laughter had always a gruff bark in it that sounded dangerous but meant 150 | The Literary Animal nothing. They always had something in their mouths to spit out and did not care where they spat."36 In this characterization of the sailors, it is they who appear to have lost the capacity for language, replacing it instead