Thursday, October 13, 2011

the beast and the sovereign

For a week or more I've been reading Jacques Derrida's The Beast & the Sovereign, Volume I, a collection of his 2001-2002 seminar lectures. One reason is I was simply missing him. My dissertation work was, surprisingly to me, not deeply influenced by Derrida, at least not in text-specific ways resembling the influences of Fredric Jameson, Louis Althusser, Franco Moretti, and Harold Bloom [I know, a strange foursome...]. So, it has been a couple of years or more since reading any Derrida.

Another reason to pick up this text was that I'd read how Derrida labeled the seminar a wolf-hunt because he tracks the figures of the wolf, wolf-man, wolf-as-man, and man-as-wolf through the history of political philosophy among other texts too. As a close and distant researcher of the cog and its myriad print peregrinations, I wanted to see how Derrida assembled them into a sustained project as a way of thinking through my own project of bookifying dissertation materials.

While reading last night, it occurred to me just how biocentric Derrida's thought was. For all of the theorization of ethics and meconnaissable or the unrecognizable, the frontier holds consistent for Derrida at the world of the living. The machine is too other, in a very significant sense of alterity. It resides beyond the imaginable of life and therefore, for Derrida, of ethics.

The other tidbit as I am early in these lectures is Derrida's focus on depictions of the sovereign in relation to the lupefication of the other in terms of not-human humans and non-human living beings. He points out that universal human rights are grounded in Cartesian or Kantian philosophy, either way the non-human animal is already reduced to a machine without reason or personhood. This I had in mind this morning when I was reading the program notes for King Harald V and Queen Sonja of Norway--I was waiting in the Center for Faith and Life at Luther College for their entry to help celebrate the College's Sesquicentennial. The last paragraph on King Harald begins: "An active hunter and fisherman, King Harald is concerned with environmental issues and for many years was president of the Norwegian chapter of the World Wildlife Fund." No wolves, to be sure, but here in my hands was something Derrida and I talked about last night. Here was the sovereign and his concern for environmental issues was being presented, represented through an introductory frame of an ethical positing of human rights to kill to eat.

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