Tag Archives: animals

G.W.F. Hegel – The Philosophy of Nature (c.1820)

Page numbers refer to Miller translation (Oxford, 1970)

The second part of the Encyclopedia, sandwiched between the Logic and Spirit. It is divided into three sections: mechanics, physics, organics. The final section, in which I am most interested, is divided into terrestrial organ, the plant, and the animal. The animal section is subsequently divided into shape, assimilation, and the process of genus (or the relationship between individual and species). The move in each of these triadic moments is from universal to particular to concrete (unified) subjectivity. Life, which underwrites all of these movements, is perpetual return to the self: “it gives itself in the form of an object in order to return into itself and to be the accomplished return-into-self” (275).

Before getting to the animal, which is the fullest realization of this movement of life (it is in fact pure, self-determining negativity as such), it’s worth lingering with the plant. Hegel uses the plant to flesh out what could be called “immanent teleology,” similar to what Kant expounds in the second part of the third-critique, but rigorously without the imposition of the divine as guarantor of there teleologies. In short, the plant contains its own means and end. However, its relation to itself is immediately a relation to the outside world. Thus “the unification [of the moments] of self-preservation is not a union of the individual with itself but the production of a fresh plant-individual–the bud” (322). This illustrates what for Hegel is the primary motor of life–namely, a contradiction that compels a unification that always fails. The excess is life–both the life of nature and the life, one could argue, of Hegel’s system.

The animal differs from the plant in many ways–but the most important difference is that it has feeling, or “the existent ideality of being determined” (353). Or put otherwise, it has subjectivity, the self is for the self, it is not immediately related to externality like the plant. The process of determination is three-fold: 1. immediate, simply sensibility (nerves, brain, etc.); 2. particularity as the capacity for being stimulated and reaction, called irritability; 3. the negative return to the self which is the unity of the prior to movements–namely, reproduction, which includes the digestive system first and foremost.  The increasingly complexity of these processes–the means by which organisms divide inorganic material to be excreted and animalized matter ot be sublimated, for example–correlates with the complexity of the animal: “The simplest animals are merely an intestinal canal.”

These divisions are so rigorous and pervasive that they in fact begin to rebound on the very system of categorization that would contain them. So, for example, the mouth, while part of the system of sensibility…for it contains the tongue with which we taste (theoretical), also works to seize external objects and crunch them (practical); it is also the organ of the voice, thirst has its seat there; we laugh and kiss with the mouth: “thus the expressions of many sensations are unified in it” (374).

Assimilation is divided into the theoretical process, the practical process, and the Notional, which unifies the two previous. The animal stands in a state of tension without outside nature. By way of the five senses, the animal’s external relation is immediately reflected back into the self: this is the theoretical process, where appetite is checked. The practical process “begins with diremption of the organism within itself” (384)–that is, it is the feeling of lack and the urge to get rid of it. A being capable of containing this internal contradiction is the subject. The practical process if not free, since it is directed outwards, and freedom can only reside in the theoretical process of the sense, the reasonable will. Actin according to need (characterized as lack) is instinct. “Instinct is purposive activity acting unconsciously” (389). This very close to the aesthetic, it should be noted.

Assimilation works, first, by simple immediate transformation (infection), second, by mediation, which is digestion. Hegel does not want his theory of assimilation to be reducible either to mechanical (chomping) or chemical (saliva, gastric juices) processes. This process is not determined by an external teleology because it does not stop at the directing its activity against the out object but makes it into an object. In short, the animal, as “self-existnet Notion,” rids itself of it one-sided subjective anger towards the object, and finds the end and product of its activity to be “that which it already is at the beginning and originally” (397). In this way, Hegel writes, “the satisfaction conforms to reason…and the result is not the mere production of a means but of the end–union of the organism with itself.” Basically, the modes of external relation are always-already modes of internal self-realtion. Thus the explicit going outside of oneself of assimilation is an expression of the implicit return to oneself involved in every act of assimilation.

Now, this functions by a triple-determination. There is first the negation of the outside object (in anger), then the negation of the outward-turned activity (anger with the self), and then the positing of the self as self-identical, “but secondly, of reproducing itself in this self-preservation” (404). But the nature of the organism is to produce itself as external to itself (the production of the subject through determinate objects). It is in the very repelling of the self that the animal reproduces itself. And this is the final stage of animality, but it in turn takes three forms: simple repulsion, the constructivist instinct, and the propagation of the species. Hegel writes, “the highest and lowest parts in animal organization, are intimately connected: just as speech and kissing, on the one hand, and eating, drinking, and spitting, on the other, are all done with the mouth” (404).

Simple repulsion is excretion. It is the means by which “the organism gets rid of its entanglement with things” (405)–or, the discarding of the means after the end has been attained, which makes this purposive activity. For this reason, the Understanding, which attempts to reduce these mediations to mechanism and chemistry, are unable to comprehend vitality as such.

The constructive instinct, “that artistic impulse as instinct,” is the unity of the theoretical and practical processes of digestion. Like excretion, construction is a self-externaliztion, but one that builds an outside world:

The object is shaped in such a way in which it can satisfy the animal’s subjective need; but here there is not a mere hostile relationship to the outside world, but a peaceful attitude to outside existence. Appetite is thus at the same time satisfied and restrained; and the organism objectifies itself only by disposing of inorganic matter for it own purposes. Here, then, the practical and theoretical relationships are united. (406)

Hegel is here think of building nests, but also of relationships to the ground on which the animals lie, “which is not used up but merely fashioned and therefore preserved.” So in the constructive instinct the animal has reproduced itself as outer existence while remaining the same immediate creature: this is self-enjoyment. Up until now, the animal has only satisfied hunger or thirst, now it satisfies itself. (409) It cites the bird-song as the prime example of self-enjoyment.

Thomas Hardy – Jude the Obscure (1895-6)

Hardy’s last novel is also his most dense, sparse and brutal. Country bumpkin Jude Fawley (pun on folly) aspires to be an Oxford don, but because of liquor and a weakness for women, as he calls it, ends up marrying Arabella Donn (yes, pun intended), who snags him by lying about being pregnant. Their marriage breaks up over the slaughtering of a pig: Jude refuses to bleed it slowly because of his affection for animals.  Arabella moves to Australia, and Jude moves to Christminster, where he studies hard plies his trade of stone-cutting; he is refurbishing the inside of a cathedral, much like Hardy himself did. He meets Sue Bridehead, a cousin, whom is Aunt Drusilla has expressly told him to avoid. According to her, there is a curse ont he family that makes all wedlock something to be avoided. Jude unintentionally brings her together with his old idol Richard Phillottson, whom Sue agrees to marry. But not before she breaks out of her training school to meet Jude, etc. etc. She marries him but is immediately unhappy, as Jude knew she would be. She leaves with Phillottson’s consent and goes to Jude. But they don’t marry. Arabella has returned (a drunken night ended in Jude sleeping with her once again), and though she is married to a certain Cartell, she informs Jude that she had a child from him, whose name is Father Time. Sue and Jude raise him. They are happy for a while, but never get married (for a fear of the legal bond that would destroy their natural love). Cast out by society, they return eventually to Christminster, where they can’t fin lodging. Father Time (little Jude) kills Sue’s two children and hangs himself because they were “too menny.” Sue goes crazt and becomes religious. She remarries Richard. Jude eventually remarries Arabella. Jude dies, and Arabella is looking for a new man before he is cold.

Critique of the bildungsroman: In short, a systematic subversion of the meritocratic presumptions of the 19th-century bildungsroman.

The letter killeth: This is referring to the letter of the law, but it reverberates in two other significations: Jude carves letters, he etches things like the ten commandments in stone [not sure to connect this..perahps through ideas of permanence?]; Sue writes through letters that express her more free self…that is, her letters allow for the sort of split personality that gets their tragic romance off the ground.

Natural vs. Legal vs. Spiritual: The rather simple notion of a contract in Casterbridge is complicated here. According to the demands of the plot, it functions in one of these tree ways: it effectively empties marriage of its symbolic status and it becomes a device for refracting the various social and religious dogmas that exist in the text.

Fate/Tragic: Yes, Jude and Sue do seem to be beaten about by external circumstances, but they also have an awareness of the tragic from which the consciously draw to make sense of their circumstances. Locating the cause and effect is difficult (making this a proto-modernist text), because the textual allusiveness takes on a force that becomes constitutive of plot itself. Jude exclaims that Sue is “enslaved to forms,” and while that applies, the moment to her rigid adherence to religious forms, it could apply, also to the early moments in the text, when her unconventionality is precisely that which the 19th-century novel needs in order for it to grind along and grind down those excesses necessary for conclusion.

Architecture: The normal descriptions of the Wessex landscape give way, in this novel, to a focus on architecture–above all, architecture in transition. Most obviously, cathedrals are being retrofitted in gothic fashion (Sue wishes Jude had been trained in the classic way–can relate this Ruskin, how the democracy of the Gothic has itself become a form that can be imposed, artificially, on the crumbling remnants of a social order.) But domestic interiors also have an incongruous feel: oak wainscot contrasts with the brass bed stand and the birch furniture. The two styles “nod to each other across three centuries upon the shaking floor” (282).

The University: Needs to be contextualized within Hardy’s own personal history: an auto-didactic that could never quite shake off the image of the rustic…he would try to write urban novels only to be driven by the market to stay within the confines of his Wessex.

Animals: Both Sue and Jude are kind to animals (birds, pigs, rabbits), which distinguishes them most clearly from Arabella, and her father, who run a pork business. The obvious reading is that it demonstrates Jude and Sue’s desire to extricate themselves from the cycle of nature that characterize the “quite desperation” of all those that blithely accept the conventions foisted on them by “culture.” Yet, in so doing, they implicate themselves in a different cycle of literary reduplication that condemns them to misery–moral: resisting the cruelty inherent to man’s existence will just make you the object of that very cruelty. 

Loving-kindness: The term that Hardy associates with the sort of lowest common denominator of human sympathy–and capacity to narrate–in his 1922 poetic “Apology.” In the context of Jude,

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari – A Thousand Plateaus (1980)

“How do you make yourself a body without organs?”

The BwO is the field immanence of desire, the plane of consistency specific to desire (with desire defined as a process of production without reference to any exterior agency, whether is be a lack that hollows it out or a pleasure that fills it in. (154)

The chapter alternates between descriptions of extreme sadistic and masochistic violence and descriptions of “courtly love” and the “caress.” The idea here is to level out desire, so it is no longer defined in terms of lack and fulfillment, but in terms of intensity. Thus, “the slightest caress may be as strong as an orgasm; an orgasm is a mere fact, a rather deplorable one, in relation to desire in pursuit of its principle” (156). Systems that would constrict desire are associated with the “organism,” which is the real enemy of the body, not organs. The body si opposed the organization of its organs called the organism, which Deleuze associates with significance and subjectification.

Yet Deleuze also calls for an economy of “practice”:

You have to keep enough of the organism for it to reform each dawn; and you have to keep small supplies of significance and subjectification, if only to turn them against their own systems when the circumstances demand it, when things, person, even situations, force you to; and you have to keep small rations of subjectivity in sufficient quantity to enable you to respond to the dominant reality. Mimic the strata. (160)

The BwO always risks suicide if deterritorializing flows go too far, resulting in too severe destratification of the body.  It is necessary to experiment, test, try–it is necessary to “taste.” The danger is not so much in the quality of objective mediation, but in  its quantity. Going too far risks becoming a negative line of flight, destroying the subject. Keeping “small rations of subjectivity” is a form of respect, of ethics.

“The BwO is desire; it is that which one desires and by which one desires” (165). This connects with Levinas’s work on “proximity” and the elemental. Both are overturning psychoanalytic systems of signification that constrict the flows of desire.


“Becoming-Intense, Becoming Animal, Becoming imperceptible…”

This chapter attempts to answer this question: How can we grant reality to a becoming that never fully “becomes”?

Becomings-animal are neither dreams nor phantasies. They are perfectly real. But which reality is at issue here? For if becoming animal does not consist in playing animal or imitating an animal, it is clear that the human being does not ‘really’ become an animal any more than the animal ‘really’ becomes something else. Becoming produces nothing other than itself. We fall into a false alternative if we say that you either imitate or you are. What is real is the becoming itself, the block of becoming, not the supposedly fixed terms through which that which becomes passes.

The chapter makes the claim that bodies should be defined in terms of their affective capacity–which is directly linked to the process of becoming:

We know nothing about a body until we know what it can do, in oter words, what its affects are, how they can or cannot enter into composition with other affects, with the affects of another body. (257)

Interesting in terms of the “bottom” limit of affect–that which precedes the subject’s formation: not a subject that can “affect,” but a cross-section of affects that constitutes. Becoming-animal is affect itself.

This leads into a very interesting section on secrets–the secret’s mode of becoming is from the internal form of concealment, a finite secret, to an infinite form of the secret that secretes in public. “The more the secret is made into a structuring, organizing form, the thinner and more ubiquitous it becomes” (289). This could be used to conceptualize forms of reading (and of writing, and of subject formation) that seek to maintain the secretiveness of the secret, rather than transform it into public knowledge. The secret that is not content to take the form of it container, but attempts to make its own form. Henry James accomplishes this, according to D and G.


Sigmund Freud – “The Return of Totemism in Early Childhood,” from Totem and Taboo (1913)

Published in Imago just before the war, the collection of four essays entitled “Totem and Taboo” attempts to locate the point at which human civilization emerges from the animal kingdom. The final installment, “The Return of Totemism in Childhood” is the most boldly speculative: it links the the universal neuroses of the Oedipal complex to the two principle ordinances of totemism: “not kill the totem and not to have sexual relations with a woman of the same totem,” coincide with “the two crime of Oedipus, who killed his father and married his mother, as well as with the two primal wishes of children, the insufficient repression or reawakening of which form the nucleus of perhaps every psychoneurosis” (495). Be this is jumping ahead.

Freud points out that children have no problem treating animals as equals, and takes this as a paradigm for primitive man. Children associate animals im later life with the father–a fear of the father gets displaced onto animals. The sacrificial meal, then, involves the ritualistic slaughter of the totem animal (substitute for the father):

Everywhere a sacrifice involves a feast and a fest cannot be celebrated with a sacrifice. The sacrificial feast was an occasion on which individuals rose joyously above their own interests and stressed the mutual dependence existing between one another and their god. (496)

Crucially, the slaughter of a totem animal by an individual was not tolerated–“the whole clan must share the responsibility of the deed” (497). In this way, “the bond is nothing else than the life of the sacrificial animal, which resides in the flesh and blood and distributed among all participants in the sacrificial meal” (498).

The renewal of this bond–it’s materiality makes repetition necessary–is festival: “a permitted, or rather obligatory, excess, a solemn breach of a prohibition” (499). The festive feelings follow from the taking in of “the sacred life of which the substance of the totem is the vehicle” (500). But this momentary disorder is only the means to the ordering of civilization as such:

The totem meal, perhaps mankind’s earliest festival, would thus be a repetition and a commemoration of this memorable and criminal deed, which was the beginning of so many things–of social organization, or moral restrictions and of religion.(501)

Civilization emerges from a an act of substitution and violence, which leads to the production of a symbolic regime. The guilt of the primal act of violence becomes inherent in all religion, and morality is rooted in the penance demanded by this sense of guilt. Throughout history, representations of the killing of animals represent both the death of the father as totemic animal and his elevation to the sacred, which marks his greatest triumph (506).

The final pages deal more generally with Freud’s notion of a “collective mind,” a necessary concept for tracking the historical development psychic states. This grounds his insistence on the “reality” of psychical states that are never “factual.” “We must avoid,” he writes, “a contempt for what is merely thought or wished” (513). For neurotics, thinking becomes a substitute for doing. But in primitive man, Freud believes, thought passes directly into action. And that is why, he famously writes, quoting Goethe, “in the beginning was the Deed.”