Animal ethics


I’m still considering the role of animals… Christina Gerhardt made some interesting statements re. animals/philosophy:

“Rhetorical figures and dialectical images of animals and animality traverse the entire corpus of Adorno’s writings. Animals are a trope not only in Adorno’s “Notes on Kafka” (1953) and in the notes to Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944) but also in Minima Moralia (1951), in the reflections on metaphysics and Auschwitz at the end of Negative Dialectics (1966), and in Aesthetic Theory (1970). While the trope of animals assumes different shades of meaning depending on its context within the trajectory of Adorno’s oeuvre, it consistently highlights the inhumanity of humans. Decisive here is the affinity of animals with “the nonidentity of identity.” Animals remind us that nature for Adorno is the condition of possibility not only for reading the self, humans, and culture but also for an unreadable other, alterity.” (p.160)

“The suppressed animality of humans, Adorno argues, is a symptom of modern society; its antidote is sympathy with the suffering of animals….” (p.169)

“Cixous – like Adorno, a great thinker of animals – also addresses instances where figures of animals bring to light absurdity, the animality of humans, and the circumstances in which compassion could alter a hierarchical structure that produces subordination.” (pp.172-173)

“The lesson that Adorno had picked up from Schopenhauer – to have compassion for animals – and the sort of compassion that Cixous has for Fips [the dog she had as a child] yield up the insight that animals, rather than serving as the antithesis to human reason, may be the source of a profound humanity, an “animal humanity.”” (p.174)

“Levinas, too, believes that animals possess a vast sense of this so-called animal humanity, and, like Adorno, he places hope precisely in the animal. Levinas’s essay “The Name of a Dog, or Natural Rights” tells of his time as a Jewish concentration camp inmate in Nazi Germany. The gaze of humans, he states, “stripped us of our human skin. We were subhuman, a gang of apes. . . . How to deliver a message about one’s humanity which, from behind the bars of quotation marks, will come across as anything other than the language of primates.” The gaze of his fellow humans, he argues, not only dehumanized him but also turned him into a subhuman, an animal, one among a gang of apes. Ironically, the arrival of a dog had the inverse effect: “For a few short weeks, before the sentinels chased him away, a wandering dog entered our lives. . . . We called him Bobby, an exotic name, as one does with a cherished dog. He would appear at morning assembly and was waiting for us as we returned, jumping and barking in delight. For him, there was no doubt that we were men.” Paradoxically, it is in the dog’s presence, just outside the gates of the concentration camp, that the humanness of the prisoners, reduced as they were to an abject state of animality, was salvaged. “This dog,” Levinas states, somewhat quixotically, “was the last Kantian in Nazi Germany.” Since Kant had laid out that the human ability to reason set men apart from animals, Levinas’s statement seems to be a paradox: how can a dog be the last Kantian in Nazi Germany?” (pp.174-175)

It is the hierarchy, by which humans are deemed superior by dint of their ability to reason, and animals are deemed inferior because of their inability to reason, that also concomitantly sets up a diametrically opposed relationship between the rational and the irrational, one that must be enforced at all costs. The need to suppress any irrationality or any animal desires is what— precisely because of the stringent binary that is impossible to maintain—rears its head and becomes unmanageable or fascistic. The fear of the irrational, of the other within oneself, became transferred to the other, where one sought to eradicate it by eradication of the other. As Horkheimer and Adorno argue in Dialectic of Enlightenment, it is the attempt to erase the dialectical tension, to act as though it had been superseded, that had such unenlightened consequences.” (pp.176-177)

“Thus, while animals provide, as Adorno puts it when talking about the animals in Kafka’s short stories, “the trial run of a model of dehumanization,” they also inversely suggest a so-called humanizing potential. Adorno questioned the viability of Kantian ethics in the wake of the Holocaust, arguing that at the end of a long humanistic tradition, the individual stood confronted with the figure of animality. This animality is a vestige of the repressed, of the animalism that Freud argued had been allowed expression through the totem and that, when not allowed expression in modern society, he explained, showed up in repressed incestuous desires, what Deleuze and Guattari in discussing Kafka’s animal tales called “becoming animal.” Animality in humans could be altered only if the structure in which they were embedded as other to humans were changed. That is, following Schopenhauer, Adorno, like Derrida or Cixous, proposed that one have compassion for animals or for otherness. Adorno’s model, like that of Levinas, proposes a recognition of alterity, of the other, in this case, the animal. Thus, a different relationship to animals allows one to avoid the pitfalls of idealism while realizing the ideals of idealism or of a radically different relationship to the other. It is in this dialectical sense that Adorno’s use and discussion of animals must be understood. For the discourse about the other is never merely about the other but also about the fears and aspirations of the self. Allowing a recognition rather than a suppression of the animality within allows a recognition of the humanity, too.” (pp.177-178)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold mine) Christina Gerhardt ‘The Ethics of Animals in Adorno and Kafka’ New German Critique 97, 33(1), Winter 2006, pp.159-178


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