Books  General Natural History  Philosophy, Ethics & Religion 

Ciferae: A Bestiary in Five Fingers

By: Tom Tyler

320 pages, 112 b/w photos

University of Minnesota Press

Paperback | Mar 2012 | #198330 | ISBN-13: 9780816665440
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £22.50 $29/€25 approx
Hardback | Mar 2012 | #198331 | ISBN-13: 9780816665433
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NHBS Price: £67.50 $88/€75 approx

About this book

The Greek philosopher Protagoras, in the opening words of his lost book Truth, famously asserted, "Man is the measure of all things." This contention--that humanity cannot know the world except by means of human aptitudes and abilities--has endured through the centuries in the work of diverse writers. In this bold and creative new investigation into the philosophical and intellectual parameters of the question of the animal, Tom Tyler explores a curious fact: in arguing or assuming that knowledge is characteristically human, thinkers have time and again employed animals as examples, metaphors, and fables. From Heidegger's lizard and Popper's bees to Saussure's ox and Freud's wolves, Tyler points out, "we find a multitude of brutes and beasts crowding into the texts to which they are supposedly unwelcome."

Inspired by the medieval bestiaries, Tyler's book features an assortment of "wild animals" (ferae)--both real and imaginary--who appear in the works of philosophy as mere ciferae, or ciphers; each is there deployed as a placeholder, of no importance or worth in their own right. Examining the work of such figures as Bataille, Moore, Nietzsche, Kant, Whorf, Darwin, and Derrida, among others, Tyler identifies four ways in which these animals have been used and abused: as interchangeable ciphers; as instances of generalized animality; as anthropomorphic caricatures; and as repetitive stereotypes. Looking closer, however, he finds that these unruly beasts persistently and mischievously question the humanist assumptions of their would-be employers.

Tyler ultimately challenges claims of human distinctiveness and superiority, which are so often represented by the supposedly unique and perfect human hand. Contrary to these claims, he contends that the hand is, in fact, a primitive organ, and one shared by many different creatures, thereby undercutting one of the foundations of anthropocentricism and opening up the possibility of nonhuman, or more-than-human, knowledge.

Tom Tyler's reinvention of the bestiary is a remarkable achievement, and Tyler emerges as an engaging storyteller. The book's teeming pages are full of improbable pleasures, pictorial and philosophical. Presented with modesty and wit, the result is an audacious account of what it is not to be human. This is a beautifully written book of exceptional imaginative range and it amounts to nothing less than a poetics of the posthuman.
- Steve Baker, author of "The Postmodern Animal"

"'Ciferae' is a remarkable accomplishment. Tyler provides the most subtle and thorough analysis of anthropocentrism I have encountered; and his critical reworking of the relationship between animals and philosophy allows for an extraordinarily rich understanding of more-than-human subjectivities."
- Matthew Calarco, California State University, Fullerton



1. VALLATUS INDICIBUS ATQUE SICARIIS Surrounded by Informers and Assassins
Like Water in Water
Into Your Hand They Are Delivered
Deciphering Deciphering
Prickly Porcupines and Docile Dogs
An ABC of Animals
If a Lion Had Hands
Quia Ego Nominor Leo
Taking Animals in Hand

Two Hands Are Better Than One
The Truth about Mice and Ducks
The Philosopher and the Gnat
The Birds and the Bees
The Back of a Tiger

3. MEDICO TESTICULI ARIETINI On the Ring Finger a Ram's Testicles
The Digestive System of the Mind
An Unknown Something
Praying to the Aliens
Nothing to Phone Home About
From Noumena to Nebula
Those Who Like to Think So
One Ring to Rule Them All

4. DIGITO MINIMO MUNDUM UNIVERSUM EXCITES With Your Little Finger You Would Awaken the Whole World
The Eyes Have It
A Tale of Three Fish
Handing On and Gathering In
Bird Brains
Getting Stuck In

5. MANUS PARVA, MAIORI ADIUTRIX, POLLEX The Thumb Is a Little Hand, Assistant to the Greater
To We or Not to We
If I Had a Hammer
The Rule of Thumb
Four Hands Good, Two Hands Bad
Report to an Academy


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Tom Tyler is senior lecturer in philosophy and culture at Oxford Brookes University.

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