The Animals in Us – We in Animals

by Szymon Wrobel (Volume editor)
©2014 Edited Collection 285 Pages


In art and literature, animals appear not only as an allegoric representation but as a reference which troubles the border between humanity and animality. The aim of this book is to challenge traditional ways of confronting animality with humanity and to consider how the Darwinian turn has modified this relationship in postmodern narratives. The subject of animality in culture, ethics, philosophy, art and literature is explored and reevaluated, and a host of questions regarding the conditions of co-existence of humans and animals is asked: Should discourse ethics now include entities that initially seemed mute and were excluded from discussions? Does the modern animal rights movement need a theology, and vice versa, is there a theology that needs animals? Are animals in literature just metaphors of human characters, or do they reveal something more profound, a direction of human desires, or a fantasy of transgressing humanity? This book provides answers and thus gives a new impetus to a so far largely overlooked field.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction: Intellectual Motivation to Undertake the Subject of Animality
  • Part One: The Animal Ethics and Philosophy
  • The Modern Privilege of Life
  • Animals are Good People Too
  • Wegen dem Pferd. The Fear and the Animal Life
  • The Father was a Gorilla. Psychoanalysis and the Animal Big Other
  • 1. The Primal Father was a Gorilla
  • 2. Psychotic Foreclosures—There is no Animal!
  • 3. Animal Hysteria, an Animal is not Animal Enough
  • 4. Neurotic: “I Do Not Want It But My Animal Nature Demands It!”
  • 5. Conclusions
  • Part Two: The Human-Animal Relationship
  • Reviving Biophilia: Feeling Our Academic Way to a Future with Other Animals
  • 1. Experiencing Animality: Biophilia as an Organizing Principle of Animal Studies
  • 2. Biophilia as Naturalism
  • 3. Reviving Biophilia: The Potential of Animal Studies
  • 4. Human Uniqueness: An Academic and Cultural Barrier to Biophilia
  • 5. Counterbalancing Human Uniqueness: Including Rustic Authority in Animal Studies
  • Unanimal Mankind. Man, Anima, and the “Organization” of Life.
  • 1. A Strange Automaton or Beast
  • 2. Life De-Organized
  • 3. Loneliness
  • 4. Yahoos and Houyhnhnms
  • 5. Boredom
  • 6. The Desert Island
  • 7. The Political Animal
  • 8. Humanism
  • 9. The Carnival of Animals/ Carnaval Des Animaux I
  • 10. The Carnival of Animals/ Carnaval Des Animaux II
  • 11. “Unanimal Mankind”
  • 12. Unimal
  • 13. The Redemptive Other
  • On the Notion of the Boundary in the Philosophical Anthropology of Helmuth Plessner
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. On the Lebens-Philosophical Background to Plessner’s Anthropology
  • 3. Plessner on Boundaries and Delimitation
  • 4. Eccentric Positionality
  • 5. Plessner’s Social Philosophy
  • 6. Concluding Observations
  • Becoming-Animal in Michel de Montaigne. Toward an Animal Community
  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. Individual Animals?
  • 3. Man And Animal as Modes of Being
  • 4. Why Become Animal?
  • Part Three: Animals in Art and Culture
  • Evil and the Human/Animal Divide: From Pliny to Paré
  • The Cloth of Man. Contribution to a Study on The Human-Animal Pathos
  • From Agamben to Saville’s Bellies. Transgression into the Animal Condition in Post-Humanity, Primitive Humanity and Contemporary Art
  • Animals Hidden in Notes and Instruments
  • Part Four: Animals, Religion and Theology
  • Animals in Catholic Thought: A New Sensitivity?
  • I
  • II
  • Not Being Angel. Manichaeism as an Obstacle to Thinking of a New Approach to Animality.
  • Michel de Montaigne’s Atheology of Animality as an Example of Emancipation Tool for Modern Humanity
  • Domesticating Animals: Description of a Certain Disturbance
  • 1. Breeding
  • 2. Disturbance
  • 3. Totem
  • 4. Names
  • 5. Domestication
  • 6. Beetle
  • 7. Reproduction: Party of Life
  • Part Five: Animals in Literature
  • Quia Ego Nominor Leo: Barthes, Stereotypes and Aesop’s Animal
  • On Animality and Humanity in Literature after the “Darwinian Turn”
  • Gustave Flaubert or Parrot’s Gaze
  • Eating Well or Witold Gombrowicz’s Cosmos
  • Talking Animalish in Science-fiction Creations. Some Thoughts on Literary Zoomorphism
  • Wolves and Women: À Propos the Clarissa Pinkola Estés’ Book

Intellectual Motivation to Undertake the Subject of Animality

Szymon Wróbel

At the opening of this collection of papers I would like to expound on the reasons why we have decided to make the effort to discuss in one volume the subject of animality in culture, ethics, philosophy, art and literature. My diagnosis today differs somehow from the one worked out over two years ago, when we were preparing for the conference The Experience of Animality In Culture, Science And Daily Life held between 11th and 13th October 2012 at Faculty of “Artes Liberales” at the University of Warsaw. I am now fully aware of the variety of questions to be raised in the presentations. I will therefore try to outline the cognitive interests, intellectual motivations, ethical reasons and practical effects that substantiate this volume.

The main axis of this volume is the recognition of a yet another turn in the humanities. After the linguistic turn (30s to 70s) and the pictorial turn (70s to 90s), what follows next is what we only tentatively refer to as the animal turn. Our main task here is to determine what precisely animal turn is and what its further development might be. Specifically, can we provide this turn with a meaning? Are we the lucky ones who can name and diagnose their times and consciously participate in the events to follow?

First of all we challenge the most important and most difficult question: animal policy. The presence or rather the absence of animals in politics, political and economic abuse of animals, and their widespread fetishization are a rather obvious part of our biopolitical reality. However, Nicole Shukin pervasively notices in her Animal Capital1 that while the theorists of biopower, Michel Foucault and Giorgio Agamben, have interrogated the increasingly total subsumption of the social and biological life of the anthropos to market logics; little attention has been given to what Shukin calls “animal capital.” Indeed, as Jacques Derrida remarks, the power to reduce humans to the bare life of their species’ body arguably presupposes the prior power to suspend other species in a state of exception within which they ← 7 | 8 → can be noncriminally put to death.2 For this reason, it is not enough to theorize biopower in relation to human life alone; the reproductive lives and labors of other species also become a matter of biopolitical calculation. Peter Sloterdijk writes that today life may depend only on itself. However, we have to ask: what is the life which depends only on itself? Is there a form of the biophilia? What is a critical project related to this life? Is it just a satirical act as suggested by Sloterdijk? I hope the section The Animal Ethics and Philosophy provides a basis for genuine discussions.

I have been long conscious of a need of a new philosophy of nature in which nature is not an externality subjugated and tamed by man, but is an equal partner in debates, so to speak, endowed with the gift of speech. If we are privileged to hear it, are we also capable of providing it with the ways to be heard aloud? The section The Human-Animal Relationship goes in this direction, that is, it explores the conditions of co-existence of humans and animals, animals and angels, and angels and monsters alike. The main question that organizes our work in this field is whether discourse ethics should now include entities that initially seemed mute and were excluded from discussions.

Equally so, I am convinced we need to establish a new ethic. By saying that I do not mean we only need to expand the concept of moral subject to include animals, or that we need to establish a legal basis for protecting animal rights. Even if the former and the latter are of practical importance and of political interest that what really awaits here is the revision of the project of ethics as such and the task of answering the question of non-anthropocentric ethics. We would like to consider the possibility of establishing a new ethic of life that would strive not so much to protect life, which would probably result in a new biopolitical regime, as it would strive to think over principles of co-existence and establish what is really common to all of the living.

Andrew Linzey in his book Animal Theology instigated a large debate with one anxious question:3 what in fact is theology if it is developed only thanks to a moral neglect of a group of creatures constituting the vast majority in the world of living organisms? Indeed. The question, however, is whether the modern animal rights movement needs theology at all? And if so: what sort of theology is in demand? What is the place of animals in the hierarchy of God’s creation? The question is not limited to: whether the animals or the animal rights movement needs theology, ← 8 | 9 → but what theology needs animals? I hope to see the section Animals, Religion and Theology address these difficult and important issues and outline possible answers.

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari wrote ecstatically:

“We think and write for animals themselves. We become animal so that the animal also becomes something else. The agony of a rat or the slaughter of a calf remains present in thought not through pity but as the zone of exchange between man and animal in which something of one passes into the other.”4

But what does it exactly mean to “become animal so that the animal also becomes something else”? What does the difference mean: being a rat and identifying with a rat? I believe the above questions shall accompany us when discussing the section on visual arts Animals in Art and Culture.

Since in the vast majority we are the representatives of the humanities, not natural science, we would like to consider the presence of animals in literature and philosophy, from Flaubert after Gombrowicz and from Thomas Aquinas to the Jean-Paul Sartre, to paraphrase the title of Mirosław Loba’s paper featured in this issue. The presence of animals in literature and philosophy is permanent, indelible and inescapable. There are animals of Nietzsche—a donkey, a camel, a lion. There are animals of Kafka—a mole, a worm, a mouse, and a butterfly. Perhaps every writer and every philosopher brings to existence their own animals. Kafka-Gnostic discovered by Harold Bloom joins Kafka-Taoist discovered by Elias Canetti. Kafka-mole is thus complemented with the figure of Kafka-butterfly. However, how should we understand the presence of animals in literature? Are they just metaphors of human characters, or do they reveal something more profound, a direction of human desires, or, in particular, a fantasy of transgressing humanity? We hope the section Animals in Literature will provide a basis for effective discussions.

We raise no claims to completeness nor we intend to fully explore the issues at hand; we only claim that animality as such has been overlooked far too long and can no longer escape our thinking.

This volume is to a large extent a result of the conference of 11–13 October 2012 at the Faculty of “Artes Liberales” at the University of Warsaw. I would like to extend my sincere appreciation to its esteemed dean, Professor Jerzy Axer. I would like specially thank to the editor of the journal “Dialogue and Universalism. The Journal of the International Society for Universal Dialogue” for permission to reprint material to the book from the volume No. 1/2014 entitled “Experience of Animality”. ← 9 | 10 →

← 10 | 11 →


  1  Shukin, N. 2009. Animal Capital. Rendering Life in Biopolitical Times. Minneapolis–London: University of Minnesota Press.

  2  Derrida, J. 1991. “‘Eating Well,’ or the Calculation of the Subject: An Interview with Jacques Derrida.” Transl. Connor, P. and A. Ronell. In: Eds. Eduardo Cadava, E., P. Connor, J.-L. Nancy. Who Comes after the Subject? New York: Routledge, 112.

  3  Linzey, A. 1994. Animal Theology. London: SCM Press; and Chicago: University of Illinois Press.

  4  Deleuze, G. and F. Guattari. 1994. What Is Philosophy? Transl. Tomlinson, H., G. Burchell. New York: Columbia University Press, 109.

Part One:
The Animal Ethics and Philosophy

← 11 | 12 →

← 12 | 13 →

The Modern Privilege of Life1

Krzysztof Ziarek


Jaques Derrida and Giorgio Agamben in different ways attempt to undo the anthropocentrism intrinsic in the human-animal relation. Yet, although both speak to the effects and pervasiveness of biopower and biopolitcs, they appear not to interrogate the continuing privileging of life, and of living beings, in the discussion of human-animal and biopolitcs. This approach seems to confirm what Hannah Arendt describes in The Human Condition as the ruling assumption of modernity. Taking my cue from Arendt’s critique of life as the highest good and, above all, from Martin Heidegger’s questioning of the priority of the notions of life and humans as living beings, I want to draw out the implications of his critique for the human-animal relation when it is rethought from the perspective of a broader ethos of being and world, neither focused on nor privileging life.


Derrida; Agamben; anthropocentrism; human—animal relations; animality; biopower; biopolitics; Arendt; Heidegger.

Death is the as yet unthought giving of the measure of the unmeasurable, that is, of the highest play in which humans are brought on earth, a play upon which they are staked.

Martin Heidegger, The Principle of Reason

The idiom of life—life increasingly considered in its global scale because of the emergent planetary threats—has come to dominate current critical debates, so that bio-power and bio-politics have quickly become, together with terms such as globalization or even the post-global, the “new” clichés of contemporary thought. The daily complexities of modern life, spanning everything from labor to entertainment, increasingly not only leave no room but also devalue thinking or reflective attitude. These omnipresent preoccupations, whether local or global, communal or individual, social or political, centering around the issue of life and its vicissitudes, push other considerations to the margins, if not beyond them. What has lost ← 13 | 14 → currency and weight in the wake of this assertion of the global problematic of life is the conundrum and the challenge of the world. To change the tenor of this debate and show how and why life should perhaps be displaced from the privileged position it has assumed in modernity, I want to look here at two thinkers of the world, Arendt and Heidegger. At stake is a different experience of the world and a change in the understanding of the human, situating the human (and) life always already in response to the non-repeatable event of being. In The Human Condition, Arendt provides an interesting philosophical and cultural account of the rise of life to prominence in the modern age, pointing out its detrimental effects on the understanding of the world and human action. Heidegger, on the other hand, through his idiomatic approach to mortality, executes perhaps the most radical displacement of life in an attempt to rethink and bring to eminence being and the event of the world. I will not have time here to discuss important differences in the accounts of the world and action in Arendt and Heidegger, as I bring them together specifically to draw a broader context for the critique of life I am proposing here.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (June)
Tierrechte Biopolitik Naturphilosophie Psychoanalyse Anthropozentrismus Post-Humanity
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 285 pp.

Biographical notes

Szymon Wrobel (Volume editor)

Szymon Wróbel is a Professor of Philosophy at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences and at the Faculty of Artes Liberales of the University of Warsaw. He is a psychologist and philosopher researching contemporary social and political theory and philosophy of language. His two latest books are Deferring the Self and Grammar and Glamour of Cooperation.


Title: The Animals in Us – We in Animals
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288 pages