Derrida Baker Thesis
Humans are viewed as hierarchically superior to animals, whereby animals are viewed as the other sub-species, as predominately categorized by science and philosophy. Derrida argues that the term “animal” is a lumped sum of remaining living creatures that are not human. Animals are naked and do not hide behind clothing, whereby humans are the only living creature to cover its sex and have awareness of nudity. “There is no nudity “in nature.” There is only the sentiment, the affect, the (consciousness or unconsciousness) experience of existing in nakedness.” (Derrida 5) Moreover, how does the contemporary artist use the notion of the animal to shape human identity? Baker agues that humans classify the animal in accordance to self, from a spectrum of animal-endorsing to the animal-skeptical. The meaning of the animal is an ever-evolving discourse of ideas and cultural perspectives of personal identity, otherness, artistic roles, environment, science, politics and education. The idea of the postmodern animal exists in an ever-changing world, questioning meaning and identity of self and animal, but from a safe distance, in forms that can be fragmented and ironic.
Derrida’s The Animal that Therefore I am addresses the idea of Derrida being physically naked before his cat. Why does he feel shame? “I have trouble repressing a reflex of shame… of finding oneself naked, one’s sex exposed, stark naked before a cat that looks at you without moving…The gaze of a seer, a visionary or extra-lucid blind one. It is as if I were ashamed, therefore naked in front of this cat, but also ashamed for being ashamed.” (Derrida 4) In regards to his experienced shame, “ Ashamed of being naked as a beast… that the property unique to animals, what in the last instance distinguishes them from man, is their being naked without knowing it. Not being naked therefore, not having knowledge of their nudity, in short, without consciousness of good and evil… naked without knowing it, animals would not be in truth, naked… The animal, therefore, is not naked because it is naked. It doesn’t feel it’s own nudity.” (Derrida 4-5) Speaking of being naked and confronted by his cat, Derrida further states, “What does the bottomless gaze offer to my sight… As with every bottomless gaze, as with the eyes of the other, the gaze called the “animal” offers to my sight the abyssal limit of the limit of the human: the inhuman or the ahuman, the ends of man, that is to say, the bordercrossing from which vantage man dares to announce himself to himself, thereby calling himself by the name that he believes he gives himself. And in these moments of nakedness, as regards the animal, everything can happen to me, I am like a child ready for the apocalypse… I am it, the apocalypse.” (Derrida 12) Through the gaze of his pet cat, Derrida notes that philosophical discourse has not questioned the gaze of the animal. He mentions his cat’s gaze and communication to inform him of the animal’s hunger or wanting to be let outside. Derrida attributes animal categorization and otherness to the book Genesis.
In the biblical text of Genesis, God subjects the animals to authority of man-woman.
Elohim said: “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness! Let them have authority over the fish of the sea and the birds of the heavens, over the cattle, over all the wild beasts and reptiles that crawl upon the earth!” Elohim therefore created man in his image, in the image of Elohim he created him. Male and female he created them. Elohim blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it, have authority over the fish of the sea and the birds of the heavens, over every living thing that moves the earth.” (Derrida 15)
God commands man-woman to name the animals, by naming the animals man possesses authority over. Derrida wonders if his deep, unknowing gaze into the eyes of his cat is similar to the gaze that man-woman experienced in naming the animals, “ I often wonder whether this vertigo before the abyss of such an “in order to see” deep in the eyes of God is not the same as that which takes hold of me when I feel so naked in front of a cat, facing it, and when, meeting its gaze, I hear the cat or God ask itself, ask me: Is he going to call me, is he going to address me? (Derrida 18) Derrida recalls the ideas of Benjamin, who believed that the sadness of animals and nature is born out of its very inability to speak or name itself, rendering it powerless, and receiving it’s name.
Steve Baker argues that the animal is used by artists in varying degrees of symbol making and applying anthropomorphic characteristics to animal representation. However, Baker states that anthropocentrism of animal imagery, not through meaning or symbol in regards to the human, but rather as unavailable and distanced, is the postmodern animal. “The very idea of anthropocentrism, after all, ‘presupposes that we know what the essence of man or anthropos is.’ While poststructuralist philosophers have generally looked to a more imaginative or poetic use of language as a means of offering access to the other-than-anthropocentric, postmodern artists—necessarily having to address the appearance of the animal body—have explored more varied and vivid ways of taking the animal (and the human) out of meaning.” (Baker 83) Baker references artists who use or depict animal meat in their artwork, like Francis Bacon and his various uses of animal carcasses. Baker believed that Bacon’s carcasses referenced the dangerousness of human life. Bacon famously said, “Well of course, we are meat, we are potential carcasses. If I go into a butcher’s shop I always think it’s surprising that I wasn’t there instead of the animal.” (Baker 86) Using actual meat in a performance piece, Meat Joy, 1964, artist Carolee Schneemann believed the use of raw meat in her work created distance from meaning. Schneemann and team covered themselves in raw fish, chickens, sausages, paint, plastic, rope, etc., nearly naked, hugging, lying, playfully interacting with meat and each other, “raw meat raw fantasy…not as things are wished but how they feel…no justification/no impulse censor…no explanation.” (Baker 88)
Further distancing meaning from the animal, Kafka’s short stories, through the ideas of Deleuze and Guattari, move away “from the individuated animal to the pack or to a collective multiplicity…There isn’t a subject; there are only collective assemblages.” (Baker 117) Furthering Kafka’s ideas, Deleuze and Guattari state:
We are no longer in the situation of an ordinary, rich language where the word dog, for example, would directly designate an animal and would apply metaphorically to other things… Kafka deliberately kills metaphor, all symbolism, all signification… Metamorphosis is the contrary of metaphor. There is no longer any proper sense or figurative sense, but only a distribution of states that is part of the range of the word… There is no longer man or animal, since each deterritorializes the other… there is no longer a subject… Rather, there is a circuit of states that forms a mutual becoming, in the heart of necessarily multiple or collective assemblage.” (Baker 117)
Deleuze and Guarttari note that in Kafka’s short stories the animal is trying to find a way out or escape. Kafka uses animals to escape forces like the father, family, state psychoanalysis, etc. Furthermore, Deleuze and Guarttari believe, “To the inhumanness of the ‘diabolical powers,’ there is the answer of a becoming-animal: to become beetle, to become a dog, to become an ape, ‘head over heels and away,’ rather than lowering one’s head and remaining a bureaucrat, inspector, judge or judged.” (Baker 118) Escaping through animal form is the absolute deterritorialization of the man, to undo the control and the order established of man. Deleuze and Guarttari believe that in becoming an animal does not mean by resemblance or imitation, nor does it occur in the imagination. Becoming animal is not a physical body metamorphosis, it occurs outside the idea of identities, meanings and categories, “Becoming produces nothing other than itself…This is a point to clarify: that becoming lacks a subject distinct from itself.” Baker insists that Deleuze and Guarttari imply that one can become a vampire, dragon or dodo through becoming,(Baker 121)
By becoming animal, human beings can creatively identify themselves as something other than what they inherently exist as. Deleuze and Guattari state three types of animals. Individuated animals/family pets are too close to human subjectivity. The second animal are those with characteristics and attributes, those which serve the purposes of state, of myth, and of science, those preferred definitions of bureaucracies. Lastly, and the only animal which represents the possibility for becoming, are those called “more demonic animals… that form a multiplicity, a becoming.” (Baker 125)
Animal characteristics can be mythic or scientific. But we are not interested in characteristics; what interested us are modes of expansion, propagation, occupation, contagion, peopling. I am legion… The wolf is not fundamentally a characteristic or a certain number of characteristics: it is a wolfing. The louse is a lousing, and so on… every animal is fundamentally a band, a pack… it has pack modes, rather than characteristics. (Baker 125)
In Coversation with Steve Baker and Ross Birrell, Brydis Snaebjornsdottir and Mark Wilson, Art and Research, Volume 1 No 2, Summer 2007
Where the Wild Things Are: An Interview with Steve Baker, Issue 4 Fall 2011, http://www.cabinetmagazine.org/issues/4/SteveBaker.php
Something’s Gone Wrong Again, Adapted from a paper at the Reasearch Centre in Creativity, Text by Steve Baker, Antennae, Issue 7 Autumn 2008,