The Animal That Therefore I Am is the long-awaited translation of the complete text of Jacques Derrida's ten-hour address to the 1997 Crisy conference entitled The Autobiographical Animal, the third of four such colloquia on his work. The book was assembled posthumously on the basis of two published sections, one written and recorded session, and one informal recorded session. The Animal That Therefore I Am is at once an affectionate look back over the multiple roles played by animals in Derrida's work and a profound philosophical investigation and critique of the relegation of animal life that takes place as a result of the distinction-dating from Descartes-between man as thinking animal and every other living species. That starts with the very fact of the line of separation drawn between the human and the millions of other species that are reduced to a single the animal.Derrida finds that distinction, or versions of it, surfacing in thinkers as far apart as Descartes, Kant, Heidegger, Lacan, and Levinas, and he dedicates extended analyses to the question in the work of each of them.
The book's autobiographical theme intersects with its philosophical analysis through the figures of looking and nakedness, staged in terms of Derrida's experience when his cat follows him into the bathroom in the morning. In a classic deconstructive reversal, Derrida asks what this animal sees and thinks when it sees this naked man. Yet the experiences of nakedness and shame also lead all the way back into the mythologies of man's dominion over the beasts and trace a history of how man has systematically displaced onto the animal his own failings or btises. The Animal That Therefore I Am is at times a militant plea and indictment regarding, especially, the modern industrialized treatment of animals. However, Derrida cannot subscribe to a simplistic version of animal rights that fails to follow through, in all its implications, the questions and definitions of life to which he returned in much of his later work.
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The late Jacques Derrida was the single most influential voice in European philosophy of the last quarter of the twentieth century. His Sovereignties in Question and Deconstruction in a Nutshell have been published by Fordham University Press.
Marie-Louis Mallet has been a Program Director at the College International de Philosophie and was the organizer of three of the four Derrida Cerisy conferences. She is author of La Musique en Respect and is the editor of the special edition of Les Cahiers de l'Herne on Derrida.
David Wills is Professor of French and English at the University at Albany, SUNY. His most recent book is a volume of essays on the work of Derrida, Matchbook: Essays in Deconstruction.