Political animals: Derrida on sovereignty and animality

The question of the place of what are called “animals” does not seem, at first, obviously to capture the deepest or most important imperative of a deconstructive politics devoted to challenging the constitutive structures of war, mastery, violence and sovereignty in the ‘contemporary scene’ of ‘globalization,’ or what Derrida often described as the ever more problematic and contested “mondialisation” or ‘becoming world’ of the world. And yet, as Derrida said in 1967 with respect to the “question of language” (which is, as I shall argue, at bottom the same question) the question of the life of the simply living (what a longstanding tradition, still operative at the very foundation of contemporary politics, understands as that of the animal) has certainly never been simply one question among others.[1] Indeed, as we shall see, the vanishing trace of an undeterminable “animal” life runs across Derrida’s own text from beginning to end, as it does, in a way that is at once silent, massive, and decisive, across the onto-theologically structured reality of contemporary “global” politics that this text attempts ceaselessly to decipher. This trace or track of a non-human life that crosses this global scene and unsettles its most profoundly orienting axioms cannot in fact be determined as that of “animals,” “an animal” or of “the animal” in general – for as Derrida has ceaselessly reminded us, there is not and has never been any such thing; the first and most essential imperative of a deconstructive reading committed to discerning difference and non-identity is to protest the universalizing gesture of the term or syntagm that, ignoring all of the vast differences of type, function, and characteristic, simply groups and indifferently unites all that is living and not human or plant under a single common term. Yet the deconstructive reading that tracks the trace of a non-human life across the discourses and practices of contemporary politics is nevertheless, as I shall argue, such as to call into question the political, social, theological and metaphysical privilege of the human, everywhere this privilege underlies and supports the axiomatics of what it is to speak or answer, what it is to ask or question, what it can mean to take up the life, community, or identity, of what can perhaps no longer, traversing it, be determined as that of the being that speaks..
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