Deconstructing our Lyconomy

The animal has no place in the human world. This is because we are enclosed in the human-centred language. Can we reach out to the world beyond the boundary of human speech? In an enclosed human speech we have a monologue and everything that is beyond human has to fit into it. Can we be spoken to or addressed without words? Do we understand non-verbal communication? Like these questions, we may ask: Can an animal address us without a word? Can an animal look at us? Can an animal confront us? What do we make of this confrontation of the animal? Does this confrontation of confrontation disturb us? We can sense this confrontation of the animal only when we realise that the animal is a fellow being. As a fellow being the animal is already living alongside us.

On realization of animals as fellow beings, we will see animals as seeing and not the ones that we see but as those not seeing us. This means own common thinking thinks that the animal is devoid of gaze. This lack of gaze come from the male tradition where only a few men are regarded as observers and who are not observed by most others leave aside animals. We can see this tradition at work in the workings of authority, especially the highest authority in any society. It is as if men of this kind can see without being seen. Often sovereignty operates as a peeping tom. Sovereignty, therefore, is marked by the power to see that is being able to see without being seen. Derrida names this gaze autopsic and de-vitalizing. The only vision of such a gaze is one that is turned inward at the only self who matters and who can control its display to others. This is the reason it is autopsic. It is devitalizing because it renders all the beings whom it encounters as another kind of existence. It transforms the lifeblood and vitality-infusing encounter and existence into a landscape of inert presences, a wasteland.

But Derrida following Merleau Ponty deconstructs this unipolar seeing and being unseen. To him seeing is being seen. I see only when from within I have a sense of seeing the ‘I’ that is doing the seeing. This means seeing is possible only when one who is seeing is seen. It is my deepest self that is installed as a witness in the act of seeing and seeing me seeing. This means ‘I,’ the seer is also visible. There is no hiding point for me the one that sees. We may remember the story of Zacchaeus in the gospel of Luke who wanted to see Jesus without being seen. It is Jesus who breaks his gaze and leads him to see himself as doing the seeing. Although, we may not want to say that Zacchaeus was in any way trying to express his sovereignty over Jesus.

We can see that the human need to have dominion over the animal world required humans to do the seeing without being seen. This means humans can see their animal other but the animal other is thought to be unable to return the compliment. Besides, human remains blind to the fact that he/she is an animal in the first place. Derrida’s reflection on the Genesis narration of Adam’s act of naming the animals before he was given the life partner by God tells us that at the beginning of sovereignty and profound loneliness, we can trace a performance accomplished as the first “I” that sees/ names and does not allows being seen/named. Adam thus would begin to see the animals and name them without allowing himself to be seen or named by them.

The fact is that animals can return the gaze and speak without uttering a word. This means not just Adam is addressed by the animals that he names without them naming him, we too are addressed by the animal without naming us. We are addressed to take up ethical responsibility in more than the Levinasian sense as it calls us to responsibility for the thousands of cruelty that we humans have practised on animals since the beginning of time. In fact, this address of the animal deconstructs our dominion and sovereignty over the animal world. It turns the table on us and shows that we are wilder than those we deem as wild animals. It is our cruelties to the animals that called us to respond by the address/call of the animal to ethical responsibility. Therefore, the animal that I am is a truth that I need to accept and learn to live in dialogue with animals that live alongside us.

It is our rapaciousness to the animals that also makes us blind to our own rapaciousness to other human beings. The economy of the wolf in us that makes us wolf to other man is not just an ethical concern for us about the sovereign who is above and outside the law, but also a deep concern for each human being who is always addressed by the animal. That fact that we are insensitive to the call or the address of the animal we become a wolf to other humans. We forget the animal that we are and become cruel both to the animals as well as other humans. Derrida describes this a cruelties as lyconomy linking to the tradition that brandishes us wolfs to other humans. This Lyconomy is founded on the invisiblization of the animal. It is our insensitivity to the animals that makes us insensitive to each other. Hence, responses to the address of the animal will be therapy to us in the first place. This is by coming to animal and responding to its call can truly redeem us and our common home, the earth. Our Lyconomy can be healed only by healing our relationship with the animals.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao