Date of Award

2016

Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Department

Art

Sub-Department

English

First Advisor

John Muckelbauer

Abstract

Jacques Derrida divides all texts into two categories in light of human encounters with animals. On the one hand are texts produced by those who may have devoted thought and attention to animals but have not imagined that animals might have a gaze of their own directed back at humans. On the other hand are texts produced by those whose thought and attention to animals has indeed been troubled, perplexed, and complicated by the recognition of an animal’s reciprocal gaze. Derrida’s own text, “The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow),” in which he distinguishes between these two kinds of texts, itself belongs to the latter category, as does J.M. Coetzee’s The Lives of Animals.

The struggle to comprehend animals apart from the use of humans as a standard for evaluating and describing consciousness and being produces in one engaged in such a struggle a profound disposition of uncertainty not only regarding animals but regarding the capacity of a human self to have knowledge of a human or non-human other. Derrida and Coetzee’s texts perform this uncertainty in both the arguments they advance and—more importantly—in the form their arguments take.

The uncertainty they articulate and produce is a model of efficacious uncertainty, a rhetorical disposition that is the foundation of a productive mode of thinking, one that allows for multiplicity and resists the gestures of exclusion characterizing the various fields of human discourse, especially as they are brought to bear on social, political, and ethical life.

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