I have never been current

For a while, I’ve been worried about not being able to keep up with new scholarship in new fields. I was talking about this with Levi Bryant, whose Larval Subjects blog I depend on to keep me abreast of what I don’t know yet. Levi’s brand of Object Oriented Ontology appeals to me insofar as it overlaps with my old interests, psychoanalysis in particular, which gives me some purchase. And it was this problem we were discussing: instead of getting super-excited about new ideas and idioms, I’ve discovered that I’m most thrilled when I reread texts I thought I had a handle on and find whole new possibilities in them. Most recently, I’ve revisited Zizek’s Plague of Fantasies for a grad class I’m teaching and, well, it seemed like a new book. Such realizations are old news, of course, but my question is how to engage with really new work when I don’t feel I’ve exhausted the old stuff? Is it possible to slip out of the old frame when it keeps reframing itself for me? Or, rather, I keep repainting the frame to match the redecorations?

Which brings me to our recent Hermanns Lecture Series dedicated to Animals. A great list of scholars presented really fine work in animal studies and posthumanism. These aren’t specialties of mine by any means (especially the former), so each was exciting. But in my inability to abandon my old devices, some ideas occurred to me during Cary Wolfe’s discussion. Wolfe was introduced as someone who helps move posthumanism away from the technological and toward the animal. I don’t know if that’s accurate, but it’s certainly a perception of his work. I like to think that he rather expands the posthuman to include the animal. Regardless, in the day’s discussions – both formal and relaxed – it seemed to me that the animal-studies side of things began to resemble a feminism in its critiques of what seemed to be a primarily masculine understanding of technology and in its presentation of the non-human animal. I don’t want to theorize here too much, since these are new thoughts and likely smeared by my own inability to give up my old mattes, but at least one prior presentation explicitly connected the feminine and the animal (so I don’t think this is entirely made up). And several scholars of renown have moved from feminist-focused work into animal studies in the last decade or so.

In broad terms, is it possible that, in the distinction between human animal and non-human animal, masculine and feminine economies are reinscribed in certain ways? I can only think of these certain ways in Lacanian terms (ok, hell, I am a Lacanian), so my impulse is to sexuate. The human would then maybe be a masculine (castrated, barred) subject infatuated with a phallic technologism (there’s logos in that word, technology, after all) and the non-human would in some way be seen to address a lack in its (human) other? And (per Derrida, et al) THE animal wouldn’t exist as such (just as THE Woman doesn’t?). The non-human animal would thus be situated on the side of contingency, the not-all that was so frequently misunderstood in Lacan?

Too general for any good use, but a sketch of a thought, maybe?

(I’m qualifying so much because I don’t want to step on others’ toes with big phallic feet. But the itch needs scratching.)

Even Cary Wolfe’s discussion – excerpted I believe from his forthcoming book Before the Law – begged for this kind of reading (again, for/from me) inasmuch as I couldn’t abandon the idea of Law in its Lacanian inflection (Name-of-the-Father stuff, etc.). In Wolfe’s primarily Foucauldian reading of Law and politics, he repeatedly turned to figures of machinery and “mechanisms of power,” in effect masculinizing the technological metaphor if not technology proper.

So if it’s possible and useful to talk of such things in these terms, would a look to before the law be analogous to Kristeva’s project of discussing the pre-symbolic imaginary? Is animal studies a preoccupation with the imaginary?

Of course, I have no idea. But there’s something really appealing in Kevin Kelly’s much less academic and often problematic treatment of technology AS animal in What Technology Wants. Which seems to align in some ways with what I understand of Dark Ecology?