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Environmental Philosophy

Volume 16, Issue 1, Spring 2019
Reading Derrida’s The Beast and the Sovereign

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1. Environmental Philosophy: Volume > 16 > Issue: 1
David Baumeister Introduction to Special Issue: Reading Derrida’s The Beast and the Sovereign
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2. Environmental Philosophy: Volume > 16 > Issue: 1
Geoffrey Bennington Beastly Sovereignty: Three Unequal Footnotes to Derrida
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This article examines three textual moments that might plausibly have found their way into Derrida’s late Beast and Sovereign seminars, but that Derrida appears to avoid or overlook. Aristotle’s discussion in the Politics of the “One Best Man” scenario is placed in the context of his earlier characterizations of the naturally apolitical man as akin either to a beast or to a god; Bataille’s late descriptions of sovereignty as a kind of self-perverting hyperbolic structure are juxtaposed with some of Derrida’s own formulations about sovereign autoimmunity; Heidegger’s discussion, in a seminar nominally about Hölderlin, of a striking formula from Sophocles (hupsipolis apolis) is shown to capture something of the “outlaw” status of the sovereign as Derrida describes it.
3. Environmental Philosophy: Volume > 16 > Issue: 1
Kelly Oliver On Sharing a World with Other Animals
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Challenging Heidegger’s thesis that animals are poor in world while humans are world-building, in The Beast and the Sovereign, Volume II, Jacques Derrida claims that each singular living being inhabits its own solitary world, its own desert island. There, he claims both, on the one hand, that animals share our world and may be world-building and, on the other, that we cannot be certain that human beings share a world or are world-building (at least not in Heidegger’s sense as set apart from animals). In this article, I trace the ethical implications of Derrida’s seemingly contradictory claims that we both share a world, and that each singular being, like an island, is a world unto itself.
4. Environmental Philosophy: Volume > 16 > Issue: 1
Annabelle Dufourcq Who/What is Bête? From an Uncanny Word to an Interanimal Ethics
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The deconstruction of stupidity [in French bêtise] plays a crucial role in Derrida’s The Beast and the Sovereign. Through the concept of stupidity/bêtise the violence of our relationship with others, as inseparable from our relation to animality comes into view. “Stupidity” is deeply political, but also directly connected to the trace and, thus, cannot be simply overcome. While Sartre claimed that there are no fools, but just wicked men, Derrida embraces an uncanny version of stupidity. In this paper, guided by Derrida’s reflections, we will examine the many paradoxes that undermine the pseudo-concept of stupidity, as well as several key moments of its history in Schelling’s, Nietzsche’s, Sartre’s, and Deleuze’s philosophies. Eventually our purpose will be to display the ethical statements which can be extrapolated from Derrida’s perspective: when the world is gone, how can we carry stupidity?
5. Environmental Philosophy: Volume > 16 > Issue: 1
Kalpana Seshadri Hyperbole and Ellipses: Derrida and Agamben on Sovereignty and Life
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The essay argues for a nuanced understanding of the notorious dissonance between Derrida and Agamben despite their shared interest in troubling the metaphysical separation between human and animal. I argue that a close scrutiny of their differing strategies towards the matrix of framing issues (such as sovereignty and violence) is salient for keeping the ontological question of species difference open. I suggest that the dissonance between the two thinkers is best understood in relation to systemic and rhetorical effects—namely, the encompassing figure of the circle that structures sovereignty, and the rhetoric of hyperbole that disfigures the circle into an ellipse and the line. This ironic interplay appears through their mutually dissonant readings of the localization of life (human and animal) and the situation of power and violence in relation to sovereignty.
6. Environmental Philosophy: Volume > 16 > Issue: 1
Rebekah Sinclair And Say the Animal Resisted? Derrida, Biopolitics, and the Problem with Species
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My article does two things: 1) tracks Derrida’s claim that biopolitical and sovereign power use species taxonomies to performatively depoliticize and ignore the reciprocity of creaturely perspectives; and 2) argues Derrida makes possible a deconstruction of species, and demonstrates its necessity for better political futures. To do this, I follow Derrida’s criticism of autopsic logics and the circularity of metaphysics and zoology, and his affirmation of embodied singularity. Finally, I start and end with analyses of cetacean suicide: by privileging how others see themselves and us over our perspective of them, Derrida challenges what counts as political and who decides.
7. Environmental Philosophy: Volume > 16 > Issue: 1
John Llewelyn Singularisability, Plurality, and Community
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The chief aim of this essay is to draw attention to how in Derrida’s last seminars the hyphenation “life-death” serves as a key to understanding the force of the hyphenation in the expression “animal-human” and how the work of sharing which it stands for there differs from the exclusively separative work for which we might employ the oblique stroke or slash, as in “animal/human” and “life/death.” If we wonder whether and how the hyphen and the oblique stroke share each other’s company, it might occur to us that a name for this relation of sharing could be John Duns Scotus’s distinctio formalis understood in the light of his haecceitas respelled as ecce-itas by Gerald Manley Hopkins.
8. Environmental Philosophy: Volume > 16 > Issue: 1
David Baumeister The Human/Animal Logic of Sovereignty: Derrida on Robinson Crusoe
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This essay offers an analysis of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe read in concert with Derrida’s treatment of the novel in the second volume of The Beast and the Sovereign. Drawing from Derrida while developing insights of my own, I assemble the elements of a unique account and critique of the logic of human sovereignty. Focusing on a crucial moment in both the novel and in Derrida’s reading of it, I argue the thesis that human sovereignty rests upon a logically prior mastery of both non-human animals and subordinated human beings—a relation of mastery I call the human/animal logic of sovereignty.
9. Environmental Philosophy: Volume > 16 > Issue: 1
Apple Igrek Prosthetic Figures: The Wolf, the Marionette, the Specter
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There are two concepts of sovereignty in Derrida’s work: the classical form that posits itself as absolute mastery, whether by means of surveillance, technology, or “truth”; and the more paradoxical, subversive form inspired by Nietzsche and Bataille that simultaneously inhabits and exceeds the control mechanisms imposed upon it. One of the questions that I will pursue throughout this essay is whether such a distinction is valid. As there is something immeasurable apropos of Derrida’s second concept, I will contend that any distinction between it and the first concept is not only “undecidable” but ultimately impossible to make.
10. Environmental Philosophy: Volume > 16 > Issue: 1
Cary Wolfe Neither Beast nor Sovereign: Wallace Stevens’s Birds
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This essay combines deconstruction (chiefly the later work of Jacques Derrida) and systems theory (both social and biological systems theory) to rethink the question of ecological poetics in the work of Wallace Stevens, and in particular some of his most important poems that focus on birds and bird song. Ecocriticism has typically approached literature in general and poetry in particular in terms of its representation of nature. This essay argues for a non-representationalist ecopoetics that derives from replacing the concept of “nature” with the systems theory concept of “environment” (a term that applies equally to human and non-human forms of life). This theoretical shift allows us, in turn, to better understand the relationship of poetry and poetics to the “worlds” in which humans and non-humans live (to borrow the term that stretches from Jakob von Uexküll to Heidegger and then to Derrida).