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Presentation at GSK Contemporaries, 2009
The News from Hamburg: On Reimarus
In 1760 Reimarus published his treatise ‘Allgemeine Betrachtungen über die Triebe der Thiere, hauptsaechlich über ihre Kunst-Triebe zum Erkenntnis des Zusammenhanges der welt, des Schöpfers und unser selbst’. The book was a protest against the conceptions of animals in the writings of mechanical materialists and other philosophers who had pronounced on animal behaviour: Descartes, Malebranche, Buffon, Leibniz, De La Mettrie and Condillac. Reimarus observed animal behaviour and was insistent that animals had ‘innerness’. By ‘Kunst-Triebe’, Reimarus meant to say that animals, like humans, had skills that were specific and prone to development. These skills and skilful applications derived from choices made by animals. Animals have a ‘drive life’, which is to say that they possess ‘natural strivings towards self-development’ and they act voluntarily. Reimarus’ examples of skills included spiders’ building of webs and the ways in which snakes move. The moth had to carry out many artistic feats before it could achieve its end. The crab had to break its shell to get rid of its own stomach. Some animals had a refined sense of smell. In all of this, animals had to negotiate different environments and contingencies, which means that they have to make decisions and respond to the world. Animals adapt to circumstance. They could improve or bodge or destroy their own work. Animals also care for their young and some live socially, which for Reimarus was proof of a psychic and an emotional life. It was also proof of a sense of future. Some animals build nests or hatch eggs, which for Reimarus means that they imagine themselves in the future. The dog’s fear of the raised stick is also a signal of imagination of the future. It is also a sign of diversity, for another dog, who has had a different set of experiences, might associate the same stick with an excursion and playful games of fetch-and-carry. All of these factors proved that animals were not machines. The horse on a narrow winding road is a perfect image of animals sensing the future while inhabiting the present. It twists one ear to hear around the corner ahead, while the other is turned towards its driver. Animals have eyes, ears, noses, tongues, nerves and brain, as do we, and the impressions received by these ‘tools’ is the same for them as for us. These tools are evidence of a ‘soul’, which for Reimarus means an emotional life ‘and to think the opposite is as absurd as thinking that all other people are machines’. In an attack on Descartes Reimarus writes:
Descartes had the idea that one could explain all the actions of animals as a mere mechanism, without attributing to them a soul, a life, sensitivity or imagination. He proposed that they were nothing but lifeless machines, which had been structured so artfully and subtley by the creator that, through the external impression in their limbs, of light, air, noise, evaporations, etc, they were set in motion such that it appeared to us as the voluntary actions of a living creature …. It makes the vast majority of nature dead.
Reimarus argued that, on the contrary, animals act purposefully, if not rationally. Animals act from instinct and use their skills to produce their world. Spiders spin webs and ants burrow and they do this before they have ever tasted flies and bugs, indeed before they ever realise that these exist in the world. Reimarus not only attributed a will to animals, he also perceived the animal in the human, writing::
The animal condition of humans itself gives us the rule by which we have to judge animals and their actions. We find it without and prior to the exercise of reason, not only amongst humans who have grown up with animals, but also in children before they reflect, and indeed in adults, whenever they operate not according to concepts and considerations, but rather pure emotion
Descartes conceived of animals as soulless machines. In order to prove that animals have no soul Descartes nailed his wife’s dog by its four paws to a board and dissected it alive, thereby installing a common practice for scientific researchers at London’s Royal Society. Live animals flayed and dissected appeared to the vivisectionists as watch or clock mechanisms. Ostensibly activated by wheels, ratchets, springs, gears and weights, they were conceived as automatons
A book of natural history, begun in 1774, states the following in its preface.
NATURAL HISTORY, considered in its utmost extent, comprehends two objects: First, that of discovering, ascertaining, and naming all the various productions of Nature; secondly, that of describing the properties, manners, and relations, which they bear to us, and to each other. The first, which is the most difficult part of the science, is systematical, dry, mechanical, and incomplete. The second is more amusing — exhibits new pictures to the imagination, and improves our relish for existence, by widening the prospect of Nature around us.
The book, an 8-volume work by the poet Oliver Goldsmith, is titled An History of the Earth and Animated Nature. It is a Romantic work of scholarship. Goldsmith decided that the best way to depict the wonders of the natural world was ‘to write from our own feelings and to imitate nature’. In his book, nature, already described by others naturalists, is re-described through an observing eye whose look is informed by identification and empathy. If the first object of natural history is the apprehension of nature and its knowing, then the second object destabilises this, penetrates further into nature’s realm in order to realise how much of nature is not known, or not fully known or is known in new ways, within an ever-widened prospect. The second – and real object – of natural history, inflected by philosophy, is the natural object remade in thought and imagination. This is the utopian axis of a nature infused by concept and idea and word.
The title of Goldsmith’s book relays something about a Romantic stance towards Nature. The nature he writes of is animate, which at its simplest means that he wishes only to write of nature that can be described as alive, properly alive – as, for example, are animals. But beyond that he also insists that nature is precisely something spirited, lively and interconnected and multiply related, sometimes through enmity, sometimes solidarity, across its chain of being. Animated nature is historical, changing over time, dynamic, and all the vital elements of the universe, from the highest, the human, to the lowest, the insects, are animated by spirit, which is to suggest – as Darwin makes clearer later – all of nature is unified by what Coleridge in 1796 called ‘the one Life within us and abroad’. Nature is us and we perceive the parts of ourselves - our bodies, our thoughts - reflected in all its elements.
In 1774 Luigi Galvani sent an electrical charge through the legs of a dead frog. They twitched, as if alive. Galvani had found biological, animal electricity. Our nerve cells and our muscles twitch electrically. We generate bio-electricity. Organic tissue generates electricity. The nervous system conveys information electrically. Such a new recognition of the self found fictional form famously in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, with the monster re-animated by the sparks of electricity. Life is electricity, for Galvani. Animation is electricity. Frogs and humans alike are electrical. There is ‘one Life within us and abroad’. All this is to say, romantically, when we see the frog we also see inside ourselves, inside our imagination of frogs and what they mean for us. Indeed, to push it further, we could say – a la the Romantics – we see ourselves in the frog. Its throat expands and contracts constantly, just as our own breathing and rising and falling chests become noticeable to us, standing there, in silence, watching. This is animate nature, so are we. It has all the signs of life.
Sympathy for animals resides at the heart of Marxist thinking. This is because Marxism understands humans to be natural, a part of nature, something Marx felt called upon to reassert in 1875, in his critique of the founding formulations of the German SPD. Marx and Engels tracked the ways in which all parts of nature, including human beings, are exploited as a source of value in capitalism. The system of industrial production creates a hell on earth, and poisons nature in all its parts. Marx’s aim was the return of sensuous, aesthetic experience to the productive individual, which is to say, the restoration of natural capacities. For Marx and Engels, the affinities between humans and other parts of nature was a fact affirmed by contemporary sciences. For example, Engels’ researches into comparative physiology provided him with:
'a withering contempt for the idealistic exaltation of man over the other animals. At every step one bumps up against the most complete uniformity of structure with the rest of the mammals, and in its main features his uniformity extends to all vertebrates and even - less clearly - to insects, crustaceans, earthworms etc.'
The nature Adorno wants resembles the fairy-tale image of children talking with animals. Children’s affinity to the mimetic, shows that the mimetic impulse, part of our originary self, is an impulse that has lost its object - nature - in as much as we have been severed from nature socially. Adults never forget this desire, this former part of their world, and memory of it cracks apart the polished bauble of consumer entertainment or the priggishness of high art, both of which never suffice, for they both only hammer home the separation of human from nature.
In a 1930 radio lecture for children, titled ‘True Stories about Dogs’, Walter Benjamin notes that the dog is the only animal (with the possible exception of the horse) with which man has been able to establish a bond of intimacy. Benjamin attributes this familiarity to the victory of humans over animals, secured long ago, when animals were tamed and became dependent on man. For thousands of years, Benjamin insists, dog has been slave and man master. But man’s victory is not absolute, and dogs retain traces of their untamed and self-sufficient origin. Caught between wolfish past and devotion to humans, the dog straddles the line between nature (animality) and culture (humankind). An aphorism from One-Way Street with the title Gloves explains how the actual proximity between humans and animals converts into disgust:
‘In an aversion to animals the predominant feeling is fear of being recognized by them through contact. The horror that stirs deep in man is an obscure awareness that in him something lives so akin to the animal that it might be recognized. All disgust is originally disgust at touching. Even when the feeling is mastered, it is only by a drastic gesture that overleaps its mark: the nauseating is violently engulfed, eaten, while the zone of finest epidermal contact remains taboo. Only in this way is the paradox of the moral demand to be met, exacting simultaneously the overcoming and the subtlest elaboration of man’s sense of disgust. He may not deny his bestial relationship with the creature, the invocation of which revolts him: he must make himself its master.’
On its scent
Eisenstein jotted down some notes on drawing in 1932. He wondered why his drawings were disturbing for viewers, despite the fact that they were not imitative. He decided that their potent effect stemmed from their ‘protoplasmic’ form, the fact that they captured something primal. By primal Eisenstein meant that they were able to address the development of the human being from blob to limbed entity. The drawings with their fluidity of line and form address the evolution of humans. The drawings evoke the beginnings of it all, of us all, not necessarily directly, thematically, but as act of creation that moves from simplicity to ever greater elaboration through stretching, development, movement annexed to thought. Rodolphe Töpffer is reputed to have invented the genre of bandes dessinées in the mid-nineteenth century. Töpffer produced little albums of continuous strips, with characters in whimsical, nonsensical plots. Sometimes his strips plotted transformations of an object, for example, a human head that becomes a frog’s head.
The animators of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs used Töpffer-like variations in the scene the dwarfs crowded at the end of Snow White’s bed, their noses drooped over the bedstead, each face a little different from the others, but also all echoed in the surrounding features and fixtures of the cottage. Disney’s noses are grotesquely phallic, and they hint at a relationship between the dwarves and Snow White that is nowhere to be found on the saccharine surface of Disney’s animated feature. The animators were of course much more worldly.
Noses in Frank Zappa’s oeuvre share this pseudopodal quality, primal forms that stick out or hang low, sexualized of course, primitive, and given their dog-likeness reminders of our animal cores, our origins and our selves once the veneer of civilization is scratched off. Frank Zappa and Cal Schenkel made anose/phallus equation in their portrayal of Ruben and the Jets, as a bunch of dogs.
Noses feature frequently in Zappa’s caricatures. The nose is a small part of the whole human, but it is often the part that most defines them. Zappa knew this well, being defined by his nose. In the scale of things the differences in nasal architecture are fairly small, but these small differences are what form the basis of caricature.
After a decade of abstract expressionism, US art critic Clement Greenberg found that the art work of chimpanzees was being praised and any flat surface could serve as the support for a mediocre artistic event. He moved onto colour as the place where advances could be made. There was a less pessimistic reading of ape art - though valid only in the context of utterly revolutionary hope. In ‘One More Try if You Want to be Situationists: The S.I. in and against Decomposition’ , Guy Debord discusses an exhibition of ‘paintings executed by chimpanzees, which bear comparison with respectable action painting’ at London’s Institute of Contemporary Art. They excite Debord as a naked expression of crisis, a manifestation of the decomposition of bourgeois culture.
Adorno writes, in Negative Dialectics: A child, fond of an innkeeper named Adam, watched him club the rats pouring out of holes in the courtyard; it was in his image that the child made its own image of the first man. That this has been forgotten, that we no longer know what we used to feel before the dogcatcher’s van, is both the triumph of culture and its failure. Culture, which keeps emulating the old Adam, cannot bear to be reminded of that zone, and precisely this is not to be reconciled with the conception that culture has of itself. It abhors stench because it stinks - because, as Brecht put it in a magnificent line, its mansion is built of dogshit.
When Brecht said ‘Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral’, his carefully-phrased slogan was taken as ‘cynicism’ by the purveyors of high culture as a self-chastizing, neo-Christian aspiration to sainthood. However, ‘Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral’ is a complete truism among, say, travelling musicians, whose interest in the material circumstances of their performances - not just the money, but social recognition in the form of respect, applause and even sexual favours - is completely bound up with the communicative élan of their performance, and hence the quality of their art. Hence the widespread use of dog imagery in the anti-repressive art of Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson, George Clinton, Iggy Pop, Frank Zappa and Snoop Doggy Dogg.
The Frankfurt School critical theorists put many efforts into challenging the anthropocentrism of history and philosophy. Walter Benjamin, for example, tried to think history from the perspective of nature, which is to say he develops the concept of ‘natural history’, not as a zone of exploitation of nature by humans but in order to emphasise that there is only a difference of rates between the two fields. Benjamin, like Adorno and like Marx, discovered the historical aspects in nature and the natural elements of history.
Adorno and Benjamin offer ways of thinking at the same time - and in constellatory manner - art, science, technology, nature and their intermeshing through the epoch of industrial capitalism. In Dialectic of Enlightenment, Horkheimer and Adorno discuss art and science as the opposing poles of reason, both of which originated in magic’s pre-modern unity, then fell asunder, leaving science to attempt to control nature through abstraction, while art pursues mimesis of the concrete. Science has a ‘determined’ relationship to nature, transforming its qualities into quantitative equivalents. At the same time, art respects relations that preserve nature’s qualities through affinative listening to its qualitative particularity. These alternatives at an impasse imprison us - the point is to break through them. In a world that managed the breakthrough, science would be reimbued with the magic that once inhabited both it and art. Science would not make nature (including the masses) victims of its technology, but would service specific needs. Influenced by Lukács’ critique of the reifying effect of bourgeois science and knowledge, Adorno and Horkheimer sought an understanding that disputed the necessity of splitting of nature in two: dead mute nature, including exploitable animals, and living humanity. In such a vision the mediators between the nature and humans are the tainted tools of technological injury, external to both, and which rape the earth and damage the worker. This is capital’s actuality, but it is not therefore the only way of proceeding, and, as vision, it relies on a socially-induced ideological fantasy of the absolute separation between nature as eternal realm and humans as historical To keep nature pure, virginal, immune from history and development is an attitude that relates more to the inhibited relationships between men and women, in which women, like nature, are denied a voice and agency. Technology, if understood as the historical mediator between humans and nature, rather than the ever-present but ideologically obscured tool of work and profit, might, by making nature historical and recognised as such, allow nature, and us as a part of nature, to make history.
The division between art and science in bourgeois society is not to be overcome from one side or other of the divide - and least of all by the production of philosophical novelties. Only a revolutionary science, capable of criticising everything and anything which defends the separations of modern society as god-given, necessary - or simply as a convenient meal-ticket - only this revolutionary science will be capable of solving the hurt done to us by the mistreatment of animals. So our conclusion is that it’s not a matter of ‘saving the animals’ over there. It’s a matter of saving us animals here - human animals trapped in a capitalist system.
Like long-haired revolution, punk rock and skinhead aggression, Animal Liberation is a peculiarly English contribution to world popular culture. The Animal Liberation Front - a kind of parody of Baader-Meinhof, with balaklava’d terrorists posing holding puppy-dogs - could only have been invented in England. Here, radical alienation from the facts of nature - the most brutal and invisible factory-farming in the world, supermarket shrink-wrap commodification of foodstuffs, a booming ready-meals market encouraged by the longest working day in Europe - is combined with unbridled sentimentality about domestic pets. The forerunner to the Animal Liberation Front appeared in 1972, and gained notoriety through a laboratory arson attack in 1973. For the punk generation, the Animal Liberation Front arrived in the early-80s. The Left had tried valiantly to transform Punk - "dole-queue rock" - into a weapon for working-class politics. Rock Against Racism challenged the casual use of the swastika, and taught fans about the black roots of rock. I myself organised local contingents on several Right To Work marches, which were saturated with punk-rock populism. However, the defeat of the miners’ strike in 1984 destroyed the social basis for that cultural moment. Deprived of working-class causes to support, anarcho-punks opted to sabotage fox-hunts instead, picking up on an anti-aristocratic populism which has existed in England since the nineteenth century. A fun pastime, but hardly conducive to proletarian internationalism. Talk about ‘sabotaging the hunt’ to a French worker, and he’s likely to show you a rabbit he shot that morning - or some snails he collected by the roadside.
Animal liberation proposes a bizarre paradox, stemming from absence of any dialectic between the theory and the ostensible revolutionary subject. Animals do not attend conferences or read books: how can anyone be liberated from the outside? However, it’s clear why Adorno and Marcuse posited animal liberation. Having witnessed the political disasters and genocidal atrocities of the 30s and 40s, they concluded that restricting the terrain of struggle to bourgeois rationality and representative politics is disastrous. They couldn’t believe in the ‘public sphere’ which Jürgen Habermas has made such strenuous efforts to protect. Instead, they applied Marx’s critique of political economy - the fact that so-called ‘equal’ exchange of labour time and wages actually creates a gulf between rich and poor - to the whole of culture. In his musical analyses, Adorno persistently emphasized anthropological affect over semiotic logic. This approach is profoundly anti-Kantian, undermining the strict division Kant established between humans and animals. If the music Adorno wrote about has a direct, unmediated effect on our feelings - which, once mediated by consciousness, must become a critique of the limits of our consciousness, our repression - then music’s effect on animals can no longer be considered irrelevant. Music - and by extension, all culture and language - talks to the animal body. Dogs and babies are our best measure of the well-being of a social situation, and unless this is taken care of, all pretence at culture is a brittle, repressive veneer on unhappy libidos.
Because it speaks the same language as the new global super-power, the United States, the United Kingdom - along with its ex-colony Jamaica - is well-placed to supply the world with pop culture. In order to attract customers, pop culture must play with politics: hence the Animal Liberation Front’s ‘direct action’ was exported abroad along with punk rock, Nazi skinheads, Live Aid, Sting and Bono and all the rest.
That is why we found the conjuncture of Animal Liberation and Critical Theory at this conference so intriguing. From an English perspective, quotations from Adorno and Marcuse come from a completely different place than popular culture and politics. Not so in Germany, of course, when in the 60s long-haired revolutionaries of the 60s wrestled with lengthy quotations from Adorno and Marcuse (though back then, in real time, rather than with soundbytes sampled from the archive). Anyway, the tough question Critical Theory must ask of Animal Liberation is: "Is this simply another wave of pseudo-politics confered on us by the culture industry, or a genuine Copernican revolution in Marxist thought?".
The phrase a "Copernican Revolution" casts Marxism as the Catholic Church, burning heretics who try to track the genuine motions of the world. This may be accurate as a description of state-capitalist Dia-Mat dogma, but not of the Marxists which we like to read, from Marx and Engels through to Leon Trotsky, Raya Dunayevskaya, Tony Cliff and Guy Debord - and the Frankfurt School. Nevertheless, considering the damage done by Stalin to the philosophical and political principles of Marxism - from Stalin himself through to Mao, Sartre, Althusser and all the post-structuralists, including the latest stars Badiou and Rancière - talking about animals can rid us of much accumulated error.
In 1968, Adorno accused student revolutionaries of blindly reflecting the bourgeois ideology of their parents. Lack of critical reflection prevented them grasping the real social contradictions of their time. Any encounter with Animal Liberation must entertain a similar suspicion: are we dealing with a reflex of bourgeois ideology, horrified by the world it has created, but responding with an impractical, sensationalist politics designed to manufacture publicity and further media careers? Indeed, are animals simple a stage in the gradual dissolution of the revolutionary subject - from the working class to Herbert Marcuse’s ‘blacks, women and students’, to the disabled, to the insane, then down to animals, vegetables and minerals, finally reaching Zen acceptance of the random movement of hydrogen molecules? How are we to avoid the mysticism latent in such slogans as ‘if the whales live, so shall we’, but still speak for the genuine anguish people suffer at seeing the natural world despoiled and pillaged by capitalism?
First of all, let’s get rid of a misinterpretations of Marx circulated by French theorists who cannot rid themselves of the metaphysical dualism of René Descartes. From Jean-Paul Sartre’s Critique of Dialectical Reason to Gilles Deleuze and his desiring machines, the stars of French philosophy have never broken with Cartesian dualism. For those committed to a monist materialism, this legacy is a real obstacle. To take a random example of fashionable thought, the philosopher cited most often in a recent book on Stelarc, the body artist, was neither Gilles Deleuze nor Friedrich Nietzsche, but René Descartes. Bourgeois commonsense is still stuck in the seventeenth century - the absolutist France of the seventeenth century, that is.
This is what lies behind the dilemmas about structure and agency which riddle thought in the wake of Lacan and Althusser: Descartes’ Robodog. To rid Marxism of its Cartesian misinterpreters, we must painstakingly restore the enlightenment culture critical theory sprang from. On 10th November 1837, then 19-years-old, Marx wrote to his father, telling him that he had spent a good deal of time reading Hermann Samuel Reimarus, ‘to whose book on the artistic instincts of animals I applied my mind with delight’. Reimarus was an enlightenment thinker who lived in Hamburg between 1694 and 1768, so it seems particularly appropriate to talk about him here at this conference (in fact we’re staying at a hotel on a street named after him). Reimarus is most famous for his historical interpretation of Jesus Christ as a Jewish revolutionary who was crucified by the Romans becuase of the threat he posed to the state. But it was the title of his book - conveying the anti-Kantian idea that art might be an instinctual rather than a purely spiritual matter - which first attracted our attention.
People who reflect on dog behaviour are capable of astonishing insights into humans. Both Franz Kafka and Philip K. Dick wrote short stories about life from the point of view of a dog (‘Roog’ and ‘Investigations of a Dog’) which encapsulate their lifelong polemics against the callousness of the bourgeois world view. To observe a dog is to begin to think about our own animal natures. Equally, it’s impossible to bring up a baby without reflecting on human characteristics as emergent rather than God-given (this was the m,eaning of Reimarus’s deism). Structuralist linguistics, for example, could only have been invented by people who’ve never had children, or at by professionalised theoreticians whose daily work isolated them from contact with infants. If you play with an eight-month-year-old baby, it’s completely obvious that meaning is not a pre-existing, abstract system, but emerges from instinctual, animal behaviour - from persistent actions like grabbing, smashing and tasting. In the baby clinic we attend in London, they tell us ‘mastication precedes articulation’ - in learning to receive solid food instead of sucking at the breast, the baby learns to use his or her tongue, and tries out new consonants. "Mastication precedes articulation" shows that progressive childcare advisers in Camden Town have already understood Bertolt Brecht’s aphorism ‘erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral’. When you say to a baby ‘careful’ as she grabs your glasses off your nose, the word would be incomprehensible without its accompanying cadence - a soft, intimate beginning and a rising, warning note at the end - and without the right facial expression and bodily reaction. As James Joyce showed in Finnegans Wake, language emerges out of basic animal states and gestures - exuberance and melancholy, affection and hostility, appetite and repulsion. In England we have what’s called a ‘baby bounce’ - parents and childminders meeting together in a local library to sing nursery rhymes to their babies. Once you’ve attended one of these, one is immediately struck by the observation that people round tables in pubs and cafés - or academics at serious conferences - are also engaging in primitive rituals of hello, recognition, self-advertisement and collective ésprit. Abstract discourse doesn’t replace this elementary behaviour, it’s built on top of it: without it, community falls apart and nothing can be communicated.
The idea of the human behaviour as emerging from the animal directly contradicts Christian metaphysics, which insists on the integrity and eternity of a higher realm - the Platonic idealism adopted of Kant and the structuralists. Descartes’ description of animals as ‘machines’ could only come from someone who’d never observed animals, someone who’d completely repressed the empathy all humans are born with - going to feed the ducks, adoring the elephants in the zoo. In seventeenth-century France, measurement and quantification became the scholasticism of natural science. Today, this ideology gives us the pseudo-sciences of experimental psychiatry and statistical sociology: disciplines which admit they cannot get definitive answers, but which nevertheless persist in their barren positivism. Like the cabinet of Descartes, the laboratory of the experimental psychiatrist insists that reduction of the sensual ensemble of care and communication - isolating a living specimen in a white room - is ‘scientific’, when actually it’s grotesque and perverse, a denial of lived actuality. The last thing the scientist does is communicate with his object of study as peers. Psychoanalysis, in contrast, operates in a completely different fashion. It listens to the patient, and only achieves a cure when the patient has used psychoanalytic concepts to understand their neurosis - and when what’s learned from the patient has informed or altered the theory.
That’s why we’re proposing a Hermann Samuel Reimarus revival. His method - careful observation of animal behaviour, coupled with speculation about the animal basis of much human behaviour - yields insights denied both positivist psychiatry and Lacanian theology. Reimarus’ investigation proceeds from the lived particular to abstraction, it doesn’t fabricate artificial situations according to generalised notions, and then play logical games with the ‘scientific’ results. Marx’s decision to ground philosophy by observing the actual movement of commodities and capital in the society he lived in likewise created a genuine dialectic between thought and empirical data: improvising abstractions to describe real life rather than imposing chapter-headings from an inherited metaphysical or religious scheme. In his Economic Manuscripts of 1861-3, Marx points out that, like human beings, animals are capable voluntary movement. He also quotes Von Haller on the way that peasants - unlike capitalists - don’t treat their animals as machines, but as ‘helpmates’. Reading Reimarus on animals - and understanding his polemic versus Descartes - were crucial contributions to Marx’s critique of capitalist society.
A close reading of Reimarus on animal behaviour also invites the reconciliation of Marx and Freud which structuralism and post-structuralism have found an impossible task. This is because Althusser and Lacan turned Marx and Freud into theological texts and abandoned the dialectical materialism and respect for particularity which distinguishes their work. In giving his patients space to articulate their specific and idiosyncratic beliefs and ideas - something Lacan never did - Freud echoed Reimarus’s respect for the particular. Both inculcate the idea of the case study. Reimarus is also the source of the concept of the drive or instinct, der Trieb. Admittedly, intellectuals dazzled by the glass-bead game of post-structuralism will find it hard to concede that a seventeenth-centrury thinker who wrote entertainingly about otters and spiders might have anything important to say, but then materialism has never been a philosophy for snobs.
Human liberation is dependent on recognising our actual place in nature: that of evolved animals. This recognition explains the Frankfurt School emphasis on childish whim and artistic license - the animal exuberance repressed by hierarchical ideology, understanding music as a communication directed towards the physical body.
Despite his emphasis on children’s sympathy with animals - what Frank Zappa called their ‘natural mysticism’ - Adorno regularly excoriates people for anthropomorphism: the projection of human concerns on other species. His point of view was congruent with Marx’s statement in the Paris manuscripts of 1844:
‘Animals produce only according to the standards and needs of the species to which they belong, while man is capable of producing according to the standards of every species and of applying to each object its inherent standard; hence man also produces in accordance with the laws of beauty.’ [Marx, EPM, 1844, p. 329]
If Animal Liberationists decry this statement as ‘arrogant human speciesism’, they immediately fall into the trap exposed by Hegel in his Kant-Kritik: just who is positing this thing-in-itself which ought to be the solution to all our own petty conflicts? Unfortunately for the dialectically-challenged, this ‘who’ is us - humans - so the appeal to unsullied nature can only be false.
Nevertheless, insistence on the animal core of the human is a fantastic basis for criticism. It solves a host of stupid dilemmas - money or politics, self or society, Bob Dylan or Joan Baez, all the antinomies of bourgeois thought which grimly manufacture a series of ‘oughts’, but never a determinate solution. Biological materialism also explodes the class reductionism of Stalinist thought - a mechanical or sociological application of Marx which flourishes, surprisingly enough, in the post-Marxist cultural studies of Dick Hebdege and Simon Frith. Given the power of thinking of man as an animal, it was inevitable that sometimes Frankfurt School biologism would flow the wrong way, and that instead of seeing the animal in the man, they’d begin to see animals as human - something André Breton criticised in Leon Trotsky, despite his hero-worshhip of the old revolutionary.
In the call for papers at this conference, Adorno is quoted from Minima Moralia as criticising Marx for denying animals a part in creating surplus value (to tell the truth, it’s the one criticism of Marx in Adorno’s book; this ‘Copernican revolution’ should be balanced by reference to Adorno’s seven other references to Marx, all positive). Adorno’s criticism of Marx appears to be the result of over-enthusiasm with finding the animal in the man; an attempt to confer human capacities on animals. In Capital, surplus value is conceived as a product of wage labour - the extraction of more value from the labourer than was paid for. Surplus value is the secret injustice at the heart of bourgeois monetary exchange, a so called ‘reasonable’ transaction. How can animals, who can’t barter or conceive monetary value, and whose relationship to tokens is aesthetic rather than conceptual (I’m thinking of cats and magpies and their pursuit of glittering objects) … how can animals have a claim on surplus value? Undoubtedly, their input has been crucial, but so has the input of wheat, salt, wind and water. When will the right of hydrogen to float and bond freely be recognised? We end up with the Zen Buddhism of John Cage, which in fact constitutes a resumé of aristocratic self-abnegation - when you’ve ripped everybody off, you can afford to strike poses of holy inaction and unearthly transcendence.
But then, as Marx pointed out in his Critique of Hegel’s Doctrine of the State, zoological thinking is natural for aristocrats:
‘The nobility takes a natural pride in its blood, its extraction, in short the whole life-history of its body: this is its natural, zoological way of thinking and heraldry is the science appropriate to it. Thus zoology is the secret of the nobility.’ [Marx, Critique of H’s Doctrine of the State, 1843, p. 175]
Animal liberation is a necessary part of our emanipation from Christian metaphysics, a necessary return to the utopian wishes and dreams of childhood, a necessary assertion of radical subjectivity and progressive humanity, a refusal of the urban alienation of eating animals but not encountering them as living beings. Animal liberation does not necessarily imply vegetarianism - a divisive dietary practice based on refusal of the fact of death rather than intolerance of suffering - but social revolution, the return to what we wanted in the first place, before money intervened.
As long as people are deprived of daily contact with animals, they will be unable to recognise and love their own animal selves, which is their core and singular self exploited by work and the food and porn industries. But this emancipation will be achieved in actual human society, which is today riven with class antagonism and exploitation. Anyone who forgets this will end up supplying elites with timely ideologies - and doubtless be richly rewarded for doing so.
We are excited by ape art because it shows that what is important about Abstract Expressionism is not the genius of Jackson Pollock, but the possibility of art as a trace of gestures we have empathy with. This was what Max Ernst meant when he invented drip painting: a democratic, anti-representational experiment anyone could try.
The contribution of practical artistic endeavour towards critical theory has been continually underestimated by the Cartesian hegemon. For the painter and Situationist Asger Jorn, the test of any attitude towards life was ‘can it accept the fact that the human is an animal’? In the late 1940s, Jorn said:
'Darwin, Marx and Freud are the three scientists who have created the basis for the modern materialist attitude to life and world-view.'
This is still true, and the project of really understanding what Darwin. Marx and Freud said, applying their discoveries to everyday life and coming out as historical descendents of animate clay. Asger Jorn revived the blissful utopianism of Charles Fourier, who said every urban housing estate should keep a herd of giraffes, and Raoul Vaneigem, who is currently theorising the rights of mosquitoes and elephants. It also connects to current reevaluations of accidental markings, primate art and the autarchic sex act as a critique of spectacular values.
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