Small realization about anthropomorphism

by KARL STEEL

I just realized, just now, that the anxiety over anthropomorphic projection in, say, critical animal studies forgets that this kind of projection is *also* sympathetic entanglement. The human center mirroring or projecting itself will be inevitably changed through this projection. In fact, entanglements like these, with whatever, is probably the *only* way our lonely human selves can be transformed short of that other sympathetic entanglement known as injury or death.

What, then, is the fear of anthropomorphic projection, the ‘oh, you’re able to think of that chimp only as an image of yourself?’ It’s the fear of sympathy, or that sympathy isn’t good enough, or it’s the certainty or hope that what you are will never change.

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Ce visage qui n’en est pas un

6749437115_497a6bfc56gain: so. I know others can teach 5 classes, raise a family, and publish a great blog and an awesome book (which I’m reading now when I’m not working my way through these), and do it all without cracking a beard, but not me. I taught 12.5 credits last semester (which will elicit either a “that’s IT?” or “sweet Anubis, you poor fellow” or “can it, brother: at least you have a job job“), which made the last bit of the semester a bit of a tourbillon: that, plus a November that saw me giving talks (or receiving honors) to Urbana-Champaign, to Ann Arbor, from DC, or, after a fashion, to my inlaws in Newton, New Jersey. And then in December, when I wasn’t grading, my wife and I packed, cleaned, and sublet the apartment, and, after two weeks’ vacation seeing friends in London and Istanbul, we moved to Paris, which will be our HQ from now until this conference. Surely there’s more I could say, mais–as I’m told on dit here, j’en passe, or, if you like, et patati et patata.

Excitement continues in my absence. This is both a properly Heideggarian position of ex-istance and/or, better, an ooo position of knowing that I’m the center only of my world. If even that. Some of the excitement, which you must have already experienced, include Eileen’s harrowing, that is, her renewal of her ongoing call to batter down (or sidestep) the gates. Reread it and live it, you. If you’re besieged, find your allies. Tunnel out.

As for me, my plan’s to get medieval. I have material from my November talks that wants to see you. Some of this, like what follows, belongs to my book, but just not in the frozen, published form. If, like Wordsworth or Langland or Gerald of Wales, I could keep tweaking my texts, this bit, on Yvain’s Wild Herdsman, would be in the book, sometime. As it stands, the blog serves, and I only wish I’d done the following (which I’m now recommending to anyone about to publish a book): end the acknowledgments with “Occasional Updates to this Book may be found online at the following url.” Next time, next time, next time. Let’s end the pretense of conclusion.

My book deals with the Herdsman on pages 151-62. There, drawing on Judith Butler’s last fews years of work, I argue that the meeting between the monstrous Herdsman and Calogrenant in a forest clearing is not simply a meeting between culture and nature, as it’s normally been understood, but rather a kind of witnessing to the violent emergence of the human from the animal. The Herdsman is human, as he claims, because he is lord of his beasts, and he is lord of his beasts not only because he beats them, but also because he hears their pleas for mercy as only imitative of proper–which is to say, human–cries for mercy. Calogrenant, at first terrified by the Herdsman, then asks the Herdsman to direct him to a wonder. He’s thus ceased to recognize the Herdsman as wonderful, which is to say, he sees him now as a fellow human. Calogrenant becomes complicit in the Herdsman’s humanity. Of course, human emergence doesn’t work perfectly: after all, the Herdsman’s face is a mess of beastly forms. We see, then, both the violent emergence of the human and the evidence that such emergence can only ever be partial.

Straightforward, right?

But I could have done more. It’s hard to determine what kinds of animals the Herdsman herds. Calogrenant says that he saw him herding “tors sauvages et esperars” [278; wild, excited bulls]; that’s David Hult’s solution to a difficult line, drawing from BN fr. 1433 and, also, Vatican, Regina 1725 (“torz sauvages et espaarz”).

tors saluages ors et liepars

(key line from BN fr. 794, via here)

Espars is a hapax, found only here and nowhere else in the Old French corpus, and it’s of uncertain meaning. Scribal confusion may have muddled the line from very early on in the romance’s history. Another manuscript (see above) speaks of “tors salvages ors et lieparz,” wild bulls, bears, and leopards (see also BN fr. 1450, “et tors savages et lupart”), while another subtracts the bulls and has, instead, three wild bears, and one leopard (“trois ors sauvages et .i. liepart” (BN fr. 12560)).

Medieval translations of Yvain—into Norwegian and Swedish, Middle High German, and Middle English—have their Herdsman guarding, depending on the translation, lions, leopards, and bears, stags and deer, serpents, dragons, and, in Hartmann von Aue’s Iwein, “all kinds of beasts that had ever been named to me” (405-6; aller der tiere hande / die man mir ie genande”–from here; trans. from here), but particularly bison and aurochs. Because Chrétien’s romance nowhere else speaks of the Herdsman as overseeing anything but bulls (see lines 285, 345, 706, and 792), editors have tended to brush aside these other animals and to take the hapax “espars” as an adjective describing the bulls as “roaming” or “lively.” Problem solved, but not without some editorial creativity.

I prefer to keep the Herdsman’s menagerie uncorrected, even if the leopards and other animals are just the fault of later embellishments or sloppy medieval solutions to a corrupt or obscure line. I prefer to think, at least, that later scribes saw an opportunity here, not only to increase the wonder of the episode, but also to say more about the Herdsman’s immersion and subsequent emergence from animality, and as well, to say more about the auto-humanizing effects of the Herdsman’s brutalization of his charges. The Herdsman beats his animals and doesn’t listen to them; he and Calogrenant mark the animals’ vulnerability as their proper lot rather than as an injustice to be rectified; in so doing, they confine all these critters, in all their heterogeneity, into the disdained and homogeneous category of animal.

Now, it would be one thing for the Herdsman to animalize only one kind of critter, bulls for example. Bulls like humans are their own species, so a binary of bulls and humans works well enough. But it’s another thing, far taxonomically sloppier, to take bulls, lions, bears, leopards, serpents, dragons, stags, and deer, and, heedless of their particular differences, to treat all these critters collectively as one thing, animals, collectively distinct from humans and collectively like each other. Depending on the version of the romance, the Herdsman does this to domestic critters, wild ones, fabulous ones, critters mundanely familiar to Northern Europe and others known only from bestiaries, scripture, encyclopedia, or romance. In Hartmann von Aue, the Herdsman does this, as hard as it is to imagine, to all animals. All of them, whether bulls, leopards, or dragons, become one thing, banished to the other side of the binary in the Herdsman’s declaration “thus I am the lord of my beasts” (353; “ainsi sui de mes bestes sire”). In sum, if we don’t go along with the editorial correction, if we accept the heterogeneous menagerie, we can much more clearly discern the homogenizing invention of the category of animal.

Derrida can help clarify what happens here [and those who know his work on animals will have seen this coming]. In his lectures on animals—classic and indispensable for critical animal studies—Derrida asked his audience to hear l’animot whenever he said les animaux, animals. L’animot puns on the homonymic mot, or word, in the plural maux-ending, and might be translated as “animals-animalword.” Its jarring solecism of a singular pronoun used with a plural-sounding word aims at least to unsettle humans by reminding them of the bêtise, the animal stupidity, of classifying all nonhuman critters, no matter how disparate, into the homogeneous category “animal.” Through Derrida’s coinage, animals might be understood, as Matthew Calarco glossed the word, “in their plural singularity rather than their generality.” Hearing l’animot rather than les animaux means refusing to allow nonhuman animals to be neatly collected as animals, all like each other in their nonhumanity. Refusing the category of animals would at least frustrate human self-certainty by transforming the hierarchical and anthropocentric binary of human and animal into an acentric meshwork of relations in which humans would be one node or intersection among many.

Here in the forest clearing, the essars, we have only a newly born community of two humans and a disparate crowd of beasts forcibly conjoined into a singular mass. Nonetheless the tiny circle occupied by humans has not quite been freed of animals: recall the Herdsman’s face, the mingled horse, elephant, owl, cat, wolf, and boar that, at first glance, look out mutely at the knight. Stuck with his face, the Herdsman doesn’t ever fully emerge from animality. Like us, he remains one of them, whatever his efforts. If this is forgivable in 2011 [make that 2012!], I want to call him the Herds/Man, with a slash between Herds and Man, for in this space of sylvan emergence, the Herdsman never quite arrives at being singularly human. He may deny his beasts a face, but he can’t lose his own. His own face dispossesses him. He can’t make his face one.

Roger du Plessis gives Antoine Arnaud the What-For: A Vivisection Anecdote meets its match

450px-Hotel_de_ville_paris145During November and early December I briefly attained Jeffrey- or Eileen-like levels of speaking engagements. First the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, then, the following week, at Ann Arbor, and then, finally, at a GW MEMSI symposium on my How to Make a Human. Thanks, eternal thanks, to Rob Barrett, Charlie Wright, the Animal Studies Interdisciplinary Workshop at the University of Michigan, and, of course, Jeffrey and the other symposium participants: Peggy McCracken, Tobias Menely, and Julian Yates.

Over the few weeks, as I try to finish both my semester AND preparations for next year’s relocation to Paris, I hope to share portions of my (colon-heavy) talks and seminars: “Yvain’s Herdsman, A Lion, and Several Dead Dogs: Rules for Being Human, and Some Ways Out”; “Unmaking Humans: Several Medieval Nonhumanisms”; and “Thanks Unending: Dindimus with the World.”

An excerpt to start:

Works on animal rights very often uses the following description of later 17th-century French scientists of the school of Descartes, who:

administered beatings to dogs with perfect indifference, and made fun of those who pitied the creatures as if they felt pain. They said the animals were clocks; that the cries they emitted when struck were only the noise of a little spring that had been touched, but the whole body was without feeling. They nailed poor animals upon boards by their four paws to vivisect them and see the circulation of the blood which was a great subject of conversation.

I don’t know who first ran across this passage (an original), but this very translation appears in more than 300 works, per Google books; if we imagine other translations–though perhaps we shouldn’t be so generous–the actual account of the anecdote’s retelling probably number much, much higher.

So far as I know, however, virtually no one in animal rights (see the link for the one example I’ve turned up, unscientifically, through Google Books) cites the following story, also about Antoine Arnaud, le grand, and also, like the other, from the Memoirs of Nicolas Fontaine:

Mais puis-je oublier le plaisant entretien, où ce bon Seigneur ferma la bouche à M. Arnaud, tout savant qu’il étoit? On parloit de la philosophie de M. Descartes, qui étoit alors l’entre[c]ien de toutes les compagnies. M. Arnaud qui avoit un esprit universal & qui étoit entré dans le sistême de Descartes sur les bêtes, soutenoit que ce n’étoient que des horloges, et que quand elles crioient ce n’étoit qu’une roue d’horloge qui faisoit du bruit. M. de Liancourt lui dit: ‘J’ai là bas deux chiens qui tournent la broche chacun leur jour. L’un s’en trouvant embarasse se cacha lorsqu’on l’alloit prendre, et on eut recours à son camarade pour tourner au lieu de lui. Le camarade cria, et fit signe de sa queue qu’on le suivît. Il alla dénicher l’autre dans le grenier et le houspilla. Sont-ce là des horloges?” dit-il, à M. Arnaud qui trouva cela si plaisant, qu’il ne put faire autre chose que d’en rire.

But can I forget the pleasant conversation when this good lord closed the mouth of Monsieur Arnaud, as sophicated as he was? They were speaking of Descartes’ philosophy, who was then the subject of everyone’s conversation. Monsieur Arnaud, a true renaissance man, had joined with Descartes’ system on the question of animals, holding that they were nothing more than clocks, and that when they cried out, it was nothing more than clockwork making noise. Monseiur de Liancourt [Duke Roger du Plessis] said to him, “Down there [in the kitchen] I have two dogs who daily alternate turning a spit. One of the dogs constrained to do this hid himself when they where going to put him to it, and he had recourse to his comrade [another dog] to turn the spit in his place. The comrade cried out and signalled with its tail that he should be followed. He turned up the other in the attic and reprimanded him fiercely. Are these clocks?” he said, which Monsieur Arnaud found so pleasant than he could do nothing else but laugh at it.

I’ll just note that even here, under Descartes, human confidence could go awry: I’ll leave it to you to decide how we should take Arnauld’s laughter, whether he’s tickled or nervous or unsure about what to think.

The ironies are almost too obvious to describe: though the Duke kept his dogs as machines, he knew them as having a sense of justice; though Arnaud beat and crucified his dogs, though he used them to study life itself—or to liberate “life,” whatever that is, from the body—he considered them, at best, puzzles to be solved.

[feel free to intervene on this translation, which is, admittedly, clumsy (and I hope at worst clumsy). There is, by the way, a recent edition (Champion, 2001) of the Fontaine, which I’ve been unable to consult]