Environmental Philosophy

Volume 16, Issue 1, Spring 2019

Reading Derrida’s The Beast and the Sovereign

Kalpana Seshadri
Pages 89-113

Hyperbole and Ellipses
Derrida and Agamben on Sovereignty and Life

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.