The Red Critique


Machine-Thinking and the Romance of Posthumanism

Kimberly DeFazio 


Rooted in the exploitation of labor, capitalism has always produced deep contradictions in social life, and it has therefore always required ideologies that explain away those contradictions. Throughout the capitalist era, certain ideological strategies become dominant when the advance of technology, driven by private accumulation, brings about qualitative changes that upturn everyday life, as happened, for instance, in the early stages of industrialization and resulting urbanization in Britain in the late eighteenth century; at the height of European imperialism at the turn of the 20th century; and in the shift to "post-industrial" capitalism in the 1960s and 1970s in the global North. At such times, dominant discourses absorb the material contradictions of the social into the immaterial realm of language, feeling and thought—where the sharp lines of class are blurred, the mechanistic aspects of life are made fluid, and the "ugliness" of the city is replaced by the aesthetics of nature.

In the 21st century, global capitalism's commodification of all aspects of life has reached new heights, requiring new modes of explaining away the material roots. From cloning and bioengineered food, to ever-newer forms of human-technological hybrids, to overfishing and industrialization of slaughterhouses, to the privatization of public sources of water and the selling of "hot air" (which makes it possible for rich nations to avoid lowering emissions), to the "synthetic biology" by which biocapitalists like J. Craig Venter hope new living creatures will be produced to substitute fossil fuels—there is no aspect of social or natural life that is immune from the market. Capital's endless and inherently crisis-ridden drive to accumulate profit has, on the one hand, led to a new scramble among nations of the global North to privatize the world's dwindling natural resources regardless of the human and ecological consequences. What this competitive drive has lead to, among other things, is the scientific explorations of new bio-horizons: what Venter calls a "new industrial revolution" (Pollack). On the other hand, the most recent effects of capitalist crisis—beginning with the 2007 housing market crash—have been used to justify further privatization of social resources, leading to historically unprecedented cuts in wages, employment and social programs throughout the global North.

It is not surprising, then, that cultural theory has become more and more concerned with the relation between human and non-human life and with the instrumentalities used by the former to control the latter. Broadly characterized by a "posthuman" displacement of humanist priorities of reason, rationality and Cartesian dualism, at the center of which is a human subject constructed as fundamentally different from and superior to non-human animals and life and capable of developing reliable knowledge of and control over the objective world—a wide range of cultural writing today has become concerned with the increasing subjugation of nature to human calculation and control, and call for a new inquiry into the relation of the human and its other. Some, like Giorgio Agamben, address the increasing efforts of the state to control and manage all aspects of human and non-human life (Homo Sacer; The Open). Others, like Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt, focus on the efforts by corporations to privatize the knowledges, affects and technologies that have been developed through the collective energies of what they call the multitude: the efforts to enclose the digital commons in the interests of a powerful few (Commonwealth). Graham Harman goes so far as to suggest that the "being" of tools is constitutive of all being in the contemporary moment (Tool-Being), while Peter Menzel and Faith D'Alusio celebrate the displacement of homo sapiens by the notion of robo sapiens (Robo Sapiens). Among one of the most popular developments in contemporary posthumanist theory, animal studies, writers like Cary Wolfe, Donna Haraway, Kelly Oliver, and Matthew Calarco, taking their cue from Derrida's later writings (i.e., The Animal That Therefore I Am), address what is for them the instrumentalizing and unethical discourses of humanism, which justifies its violence toward non-human species by its epistemological centering of the human: the "anthropological machine" (Agamben, The Open).

But what drives the "new industrial revolution" (Venter) is what drove the "old" one: the use of technology to appropriate surplus labor (the source of profit) at the point of production. Profit is not derived from "nature" but labor: in order for nature to become a commodifiable resource, it must become transformed by human labor, which is itself a dialectical outcome of nature. This is another way of saying that the commodification of life on such a planetary scale today is only possible on the basis of the commodification of human labor power. Biocapitalism is first and foremost a regime of wage labor.

Contemporary cultural theory's concern with the effects of capitalism on non-human life, however, has mystified capital's material roots, and one of the central means by which this has been accomplished is what I call machine-thinking.

Machine-thinking treats capitalism as an instrumentalized mode of thinking: a mechanized mode of knowing which subjects all (non-) human life to its logic. Whether this logic is understood in the more positive terms of Henry Jenkins, John Johnston or Bernard Stiegler, who sees a fundamental connection between humans and technology and suggests that "The human invents himself in the technical by inventing the tool" (Stiegler, Technics and Time 141), or in the "negative" terms of those like Paul Virilio or Horkheimer and Adorno, who suggest that "A technological rationale is the rationale of domination itself. It is the coercive nature of society alienated from itself" (Dialectic of Enlightenment 121), machine-thinking (mis)reads as the instrumentalization of society what is in reality the marketization of society—by which I mean the domination of all aspects of life by exchange value and the subordination of use value (which meets human needs, including the need to preserve the earth's diverse ecological systems) to profit.

These misreadings, in effect, transcode the material relations of production under capitalism into the immaterial and translate the labor relations of the machine into instrumental reason. In different idioms, such discourses consequently turn the problem of capitalism into the problem of technologization and what Heidegger, one of the twentieth century's most influential machine-thinkers, calls "technē, a process of reflection in service to doing and making" ("Letter on Humanism" 218). On these terms, at stake is not exploitation but instrumentalization. Contemporary discourses see capitalism in terms of what Heidegger identifies in "The Question Concerning Technology" as the truth of technology in the modern era: its "enframing" logic (325), which ensures that in a technological age "even the cultivation of the field has comes under the grip of another kind of setting-in-order, which sets upon nature. It sets upon it in the sense of challenging it. Agriculture is now the mechanized food industry, air is now set upon to yield nitrogen, the earth to yield ore, ore to yield uranium, for example" (320).

But the focus on the way that, in a technological society, neither nature nor humans are meaningful in and of themselves but as means toward an end—or the way that, as Heidegger puts it, an instrumental approach "expedites in that it unlocks and exposes" and is fundamentally oriented "toward driving on the maximum yield at the minimum expense" (321)—isolates technology from both the broader material conditions in which it is developed and the class interests it serves. For capital "drives on the maximum yield at the minimum expense," not because of the "dialectic of enlightenment," as Horkheimer and Adorno contend, but for the purposes of private accumulation. Humans are "set upon" nature in order to maximize surplus labor for the owner who buys the labor of others and makes a profit from it. To put this another way, humans are set upon nature because they are set upon themselves. And because the material relations of society set the terms for the relations between humans and nature, only under fundamentally changed relations between humans can humans develop new relations to nature and non-human species.

Yet the solution to the instrumentalization of human and natural life for Heidegger and other (neo)romantics like Derrida, Wolfe, and Calarco is not a fundamental change in social relations but a return to the "material" as non-instrumental reason (the non-reason of nature, the body, feeling, spirit, "poeisis," the non-human, and so on): in short, a de-materialized material. Theorists of capitalism-as-machine-thinking construct a post-rational linguistic realm of higher values which are assumed to exceed restricting codes and conventions. For "mechanical" modes of thought which focus on classifying being and the "metaphysics" of presence (essentialism), they substitute speculative, fluid concepts which foreground becoming, flux, and hybridity—what Goethe refers to as "morphology" and Derrida calls the "double-session" and later "l'animot." For the Cartesian separation of subject and object they posit a subject which cannot be extricated from its embeddedness in the world except through a violent act of human(ist) abstraction.

Machine-thinkers, in other words, oppose the effects of capitalism by blurring social boundaries and essentializing epistemological distinctions in an effort, not to transform capitalism, but to find a freer mode of life outside of the social (outside the city). It involves, as Wolfe puts it in his annotation of R.L. Rutsky's theory of posthumanism, "participat[ing] in—and find[ing] a mode of thought adequate to—'processes which can never be entirely reduced to patterns or standards, codes or information'" (What is Posthumanism? xviii). This is a (not so distant) echo of Thoreau's romantic desire to "wander far beyond... the narrow limits" of restricting codes and conventions in everyday life, into the realm of what he calls "Extra vagance!": the fulfillment of the "desire to speak somewhere without bounds" (Walden 270).

Not coincidentally, the "nature" that thereby becomes valorized by critics of machine-thinking is, in effect, a rewriting of romantic discourses. As much as theorists locate themselves beyond naďve (humanist) constructions of nature, nature in contemporary theory is ultimately a bio-fantasy of a nature "outside" of and fundamentally disruptive of the social relations of production. In opposition to techne, in other words, machine-thinkers oppose (natural) "life" itself ("bios"). Along these lines, in some contemporary posthumanist discourse, "nature" betrays a "viral" or "mutational logic" that "exceeds and encompasses the boundary between the living or organic and the mechanical or technical" and thus becomes "parasitical" (Wolfe, What is Posthumanism? xviii-xix)—a "natural" logic that is represented as breaking the bounds of existing (social) thought but that ends up being a new species of deconstruction. Leaving aside for the moment posthumanism's updating of deconstruction, one of the key points here is that rather than changing the relations in which life is lived, the new battle cry of the left centers on new ways of thinking about life as excessive of human relations. Machine-thinking is in effect a romantic means of disappearing the social. Life is re-articulated as "machine" and "nature," and as a consequence, what makes both—social labor—becomes a fiction.

I argue that such rewritings of capitalism as machine-thinking are part of a long line of romantic writings of the social which emerge with particular force at times of economic crisis. Romanticism, I argue, is not merely a particular historical manifestation of a literary sensibility. It is a broader response (literary, philosophical, cultural and political) in the post-Renaissance West to the contradictions of capitalism: contradictions which romanticism reads in terms of science and technology and, in particular, instrumental rationality. To put this another way, the translation of the material contradictions of capital into the ideal (and in particular "machine thinking") is a structural feature of capitalism. It is rooted in the way that capital, as it develops, increasingly "resolve[s] personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom—Free Trade," one of the central consequences of which is that "for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation" (Marx and Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party).

Romanticism has always challenged the effects of capitalist relations (giving it a semblance of radicality) but not its root cause (exploitation). In this vein, Emerson, for instance, argues that "Poetry is the consolation of mortal men," because they "live cabined, cribbed, confined in a narrow and trivial lot—in wants, pains, anxieties and superstitions, in profligate politics, in personal animosities, in mean employments—and victims of these; and the nobler powers untried, unknown" ("Poetry and Imagination" 37). "A poet comes," Emerson continues, "who lifts the veil; gives them glimpses of the laws of the universe" (37-8). And what the poet reveals, according to Emerson, is that reality is only the phenomenal appearance of a higher, spiritual reality. Romantics like Emerson confine their understanding of capitalist conditions to its alienating effects and use of technology in the city (the space of the most developed technology and class divisions). They therefore misread capitalism as primarily a rigid, homogenizing and instrumental way of thinking. Poetry thus "consoles" men, for Emerson, because, through it, the "veil" of phenomenal reality is lifted to reveal a symbolic universe which resists the instrumentality (i.e., the placing of ends before means) of modern life. Which is another way of saying that Emerson reduces capitalism to something that cannot be changed, only thought about differently. The concern, in other words, is with the ways in which, as Heidegger puts it, a technological age "take[s] thinking itself to be a technē, a process of reflection in service to doing and making" ("Letter on Humanism" 218). Nothing—and no one—is meaningful in and of itself, but for something else (a means toward an end).

This reading of instrumentality de-historicizes and de-materializes instrumentality. In focusing only on the how of instrumentality—how instrumental thinking equates the valuable with the efficient, with efficaciousness—the reasons why this has become the dominant logic in capitalism fade into the background. In fact, the marginalization of the why in cultural theory has become grounds for treating Heidegger (among others) as a militant against the metaphysics of origin and religious origin in particular.  Along these lines, Timothy Clark affirms that, for Heidegger, "Ultimately, like human existence itself, it [Being] is without a 'why' (has nothing we might recognize as a meaning): it happened because it happened" (34).  Yet in the name of the destruction of religious and metaphysical origin, Heidegger has been instrumental in updating spiritualism and, in effect, in dismantling the knowledge of material origin.

Poetry, for both Emerson and Heidegger, re-thinks the contemporary, and, in a more or less overtly religious language, produces a subject that recognizes the world's (material) insignificance from the vantage point of a higher immaterial reality. "Every natural fact," Emerson writes in Nature, "is a symbol of some spiritual fact" (26).

The mode of romanticism I address in this essay is ultimately a class response to the contradictions of capitalism which it reads in terms of science and technology, and in particular instrumental rationality. To be more specific, this romantic construction of nature (including nostalgia for the past) is a response to the fact that, as Marx and Engels argue,

The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his "natural superiors", and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous "cash payment". It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom—Free Trade. In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.

The bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers. (Manifesto 486-7)

Romantic machine-thinking is a response to capital's relentless conversion of people into wage-laborers—a process which, in times of crisis, hits the "middle" sectors of class society (i.e, intellectuals, the petit-bourgeois) particularly hard. Facing the deep insecurity of their class position yet ultimately opposed to the working class struggle to transform capital, the first line of defense among intellectuals facing growing economic and social crisis has always been the turn to the immaterial, and often the irrational. That is to say, romantic idealism is a discursive relay of the displaced petit-bourgeoisie—and, in the face of the rising conflict between labor and capital, signals a retreat into and call for some "other way of life" in order not to engage the material conflicts of the present. This is why it surfaces with such force during moments of intensified crisis. Thus, for instance, the rise of romanticism in late 1700s to the early 1800s is also the time of revolutionary upheavals, the intensified destruction of peasant life, as well as the consolidation of the early industrial city with its obvious class contradictions with life in the early factories (before the period of "social reform" from the 1840s on in England)—which romanticism sees in terms of the excesses of Enlightenment rationality and the logic of quantification.

Although developed in many idioms, what these romantic responses ultimately share, I argue, is not so much a nostalgia for the past—this is a secondary effect—but an idealist logic which ultimately erases the human as shaped by labor. The importance of critically re-examining such discourses (which often claim to represent a radical departure from dominant thinking) is that, by disappearing the relations of labor, and replacing the material with the immaterial, the ideological work of machine-thinking is to forestall transformative change. It substitutes for the revolution of material structures what Wordsworth, in his Preface to Lyrical Ballads, calls "throw[ing] over [familiar incidents] a certain colouring of imagination" (597) or what Matthew Calarco, in reference to posthumanism, calls a "revolution in language and thought" (Zoographies 6): a substitution that has become increasingly appealing to ruling class interests at times of deepening social contradictions.

Because the substitution of material change for change in thinking has strong ties to the machine-thinking of Heidegger, I focus next on Heidegger's critique of instrumental reason, which treats the objective world (of work, labor, tools) as an extension of the subject and turns the subject into a particular mode of thinking (of Being). I later go on to examine contemporary posthumanism's reading of the animal in relation to Heidegger and argue that, despite the self-distancing of posthumanists like Derrida, Calarco and Wolfe from Heidegger, their theory of human/animal relations is a species of Heideggerian machine-thinking, at the center of which is an ineffable materialism. Posthumanism, I argue, is a reinvention of familiar discursive strategies whose ultimate effect has always been to de-materialize the social at the very moment materialist analysis of the social totality is necessary to understand capitalist crisis and how to transform it. This is, I suggest, one of the main reasons for the swift emergence of posthumanism in the publishing industries of the global North in the wake of the crisis of the 1990s tech boom and especially since the collapse of the housing market in 2007—both of which are symptoms of a much deeper structural crisis of global capitalism.  


Heidegger is not only the "master" theorist of what is now dominantly called "theory" (the speculative discourses informed by poststructuralism) but he is a touchstone for virtually all discussions of posthumanism today. His significance is related to his efforts, in the wake of the first global crisis of capitalism, to account for that which simultaneously grounds all thinking (Being) and yet has remained excessive to philosophy. Faced with the first World War and consequent massive devastation throughout Europe as the imperialist nations settled colonial boundaries, Heidegger was forced to confront the very nature of human being, on new terms. For him, the traditional modes of understanding human existence were unable to account for the realities of modern life and had to be subjected to a systematic "destruction" in order to move forward. His "fundamental ontology" thus attempted to disclose the true basis of Being from which people had been alienated since the Socratics. The loss of individuality, for Heidegger, results, not from material relations, but from a failure to understand the true nature of being.

One of the theoretically influential aspects of Heidegger is the way that his writing combines an interest in the (ruins) of the everyday and a mystical mode of reading "beyond" the material appearance of the world. To address this aspect of Heidegger's writing, we can turn to his discussion in Being and Time of the everyday use of a particular tool, engaging in a particular activity such as hammering. Graham Harman suggests, in fact, that Heidegger's "theory of equipment contains the whole of Heideggerian philosophy, fully encompassing all of its key insights," and its importance lies in the way that it encourages "a ruthless inquiry into the structure of objects themselves" (Tool-Being 15). Although Harman suggests that through a re-reading of Heidegger it is possible to return to the world of objects, and represents his own re-reading of Heidegger as "a military campaign driving back toward the surface of reality" (6), not a transcendent one, I argue that whether Heidegger is addressing the world of "objects" or the human thinking that grasps their being or human being itself, the material world quickly recedes in Heidegger's writings, into the ethereal, inaccessible, and ineffable (into the subjective), a central aspect of his machine-thinking.

Consider, for instance, Heidegger's well-known passage on the hammer, in which he writes,

In dealings such as this, when something is put to use, our concern subordinates itself to the 'in-order-to' which is constitutive for the equipment we are employing at the time; the less we just stare at the hammer-Thing, and the more we seize hold of it and use it, the more primordial does our relationship to it become, and the more unveiledly is it encountered as that which it is—as equipment. The hammering itself uncovers the specific 'manipulatability' ['Handlichkeit'] of the hammer. The kind of Being which equipment possesses—in which it manifests itself in its own right—we call "readiness-to-hand" [Zuhandenheit]. Only because equipment has this "being-in-itself' and does not merely occur, is it manipulable in the broadest sense and at our disposal... If we look at Things just ‘theoretically', we can get along without understanding readiness-to-hand. But when we deal with them by using them and manipulating them, this activity is not a blind one; it has its own kind of sight, by which our manipulation is guided and from which it acquires its specific Thingly character. (98)

Addressing the act of "hammering" of course automatically signals Heidegger's interest not only in the more "concrete" (i.e., "material" or "worldly") aspects of the everyday but also the world of work, labor and tools: the realm of production. And yet, as I mentioned, the effect of Heidegger's reading of "hammering" is precisely the spiritualizing of the material: bringing back the centrality of the individual subject's thinking as the basis of the real.

Contrasting "unveiled" "encountering" with (Cartesian) theoretical knowing of the objective world, Heidegger suggests that the experiential act of hammering itself attunes one to the "primordial" nature of the relation of human to hammer, the hammer's being as "readiness-to-hand." Grasping this readiness-to-hand is not something that can be achieved by any theoretical approach, but by the intuitive experience itself. For, on these terms, manipulating the hammer provides the subject with an (immediate, non-theoretical) "sight" which itself gives the objects manipulated their "thingly character." And this itself is the effect of the particular (intrinsic) being of the hammer's relation to Dasein, which reveals itself to the human subject in the act of hammering.

To put this another way, in his theorization of production ("hammering"), which is centered on the subject, the world and products of labor increasingly recede and disappear. As he puts it elsewhere, the approach he highlights "is not a way of knowing those characteristics of entities which themselves are [seinder Beschaffenheiten des Seienden]; it is rather a determination of the structure of the Being which entities possess. But as an investigation of Being, it brings to completion... that understanding of Being which belongs already to Dasein and which 'comes alive' in any of its dealings with entities" (95-6; emphasis added). It is not about the material relations of human being or even the relations of humans and tools that matters here. It is instead what using equipment tells the subject (Dasein) about the innermost nature of human existence. Thus the focus, as Dasein, becomes the interiority of the subject, the subject thinking about the hammer—or the "other" hammer in the subject's thoughts. Heidegger's is a spectral hammer, which seems to attain its more authentic ("primordial") sense of being precisely to the extent that its roots in the material world are suppressed. The subject's "rootless" interior "sight" is then posited as (de-)establishing, negating, the qualities of the material world. The material world (that matters) ends up being an effect of the thinking subject. Consequently, as his discussion unfolds, the hammer looses more and more of its "hardness" (that which links it to the outside world) to the sensuousness of language and thinking (which renders that outside world increasingly ineffable). The sensuousness of language here combats the instrumentalities of the material world. We are led throughout Being and Time, and especially in his later writing on poetry, to the materiality of language, which guides the subject, never to any "outside" reference (i.e., the objective world of history) but to an ever deeper interiority of meaning within language. Language, after all, is for Heidegger "the house of Being" ("Letter on Humanism" 217). And it is, more specifically, "[t]he liberation of language from grammar into a more original essential framework" (218) that constitutes the most "primordial" mode of language (poetry). Through the meditation on "grammarless" language (outside of social convention), Heidegger's writing removes from language any material resistance, and dwells in the sensuousness of the signifier. What starts out as a gesture to the worldliness of the world, in short, ends up in the worldless subject.

This is because, in the first place, the being of hammering has little to do with the physical, material aspects of the hammer (its use value, which is in part related to a products' physical properties) or empirical properties which could be "tested" scientifically ("characteristics"). Even less so is the hammer's readiness-to-hand for Heidegger the result of its being a product of labor, used under specific historical relations of property which enable it to be "ready-to-hand" for those who sell their labor to survive (the "in order to" of commodity production). This is not coincidental. For, central to his treatment of the "hammer" is the double-move of first reducing materialism (which argues that consciousness is determined by material relations) to mechanical materialism (the Newtonian thinking which treats the world as independent, isolated, and unchanging objects), and then, having done this, rejecting "materialism" as a rigid mode of thinking incapable of grasping the complexity and changes of social or natural life. As Heidegger explains, "When analysis starts with such entities [as Things] and goes on to inquire about Being, what it meets is Thinghood and Reality. Ontological explication [then] discovers... substantiality, materiality, extendedness, side-by-side-ness, and so forth" (96). But even on these terms, he argues, "the entities which we encounter in concern are proximally hidden"(96). This is because, to address things in terms of their materiality or their "substance" (127), Heidegger argues, is to posit "an idea in which Being is equated with constant presence-at-hand" (29), an idea based on entities as "That which enduringly remains, really is" (128). Conflating idealist and materialist theories of substance, and thus representing materialism as positing an unchanging, eternal theory of the objective world, Heidegger suggests that the materiality of the object is an appearance only. Advancing a critique of present-ism that will later become central to textualism and posthumanism, Heidegger suggests that empiricism, rationalism and historical materialism—all of which, in different ways, assume the existence of an "object" which can be "known" by a "subject" which is distinct from the object—have obscured the true being of entities by focusing only on appearances of objects (their "presence"). But these presentist appearances conceal deeper-lying dynamics (of becoming, of relations between presences and absence) that exceed attempts to conceptualize (or "fix") them.

However, it is important to recall that "presence" for Marx is not a metaphysical fiction but a material relation. The presence of an object is not simply a matter of its empirical reality, but the historical conditions which make that object available for humans in the first place. Hammering, on these terms, is not a transhistorical relation to being, but a historical relation to the conditions of labor. Hammering with one's own tool, in order to meet one's own means of subsistence, has a different meaning than hammering with a tool that you have been hired to use and whose product you will have no control over or property in, because both the hammer and the product are privately owned. For Marx, the material "presence" of objects is their material relations, which are submerged in the everyday.

Whereas Heidegger posits the outside as the extension of the inside—the internalization of the thinking subject, which "negates" the outside world—for Marx, the interior is the extension of the exterior. "My general consciousness," Marx argues, "is only the theoretical shape of that which the living shape is the real community, the social fabric" (Marx, Manuscripts 105). Because Marx is oriented toward the outside—the inside is the outside—the material world never loses its materiality, and labor is established as the movement of history. Production, for Marx, is the "externalization" of the subject, the "objectifying" of the self in labor, under definite conditions. There is thus a dialectical relation between subject and world. "Objectification" (in the language of the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844) is an outward movement, as opposed to Heidegger's absorption of the external world into the subject. In human's objectification in the activity of production, the subject "externalizes" not only the individual self, but the social relations in which the self is a laboring subject. The subject's agency is not therefore primarily a matter of thinking-as-negating but producing-as-bringing-into-being, and only by virtue of this agency of labor is the subject also a thinking subject. Heidegger's language, by contrast, is inwardly oriented, hence the outside world becomes increasingly ineffable, and this is, I argue, one of the central effects of machine-thinking—the evaporation of the social divisions of the outside world in the sensuousness of language, in poiesis.

In the most basic terms, of course, both Heidegger and Marx agree that, as Marx puts it, "at the present day general consciousness is an abstraction from real life and as such antagonistically confronts it" (Economic Manuscripts 105)—that is, that consciousness is alienated from reality. But Heidegger's hostility to the "general consciousness" is deeply tied to his romantic treatment of technology and technological thinking. "In utilizing public means of transport and in making use of information services such as the newspaper," Heidegger argues, "every Other is like the next. This Being-with-one-another dissolves one's own Dasein completely into the kind of Being of 'the Others' in such a way, indeed, that the Others, as distinguishable and explicit, vanish more and more. In this inconspicuousness and unascertainability, the real dictatorship of the 'they' is unfolded' (Being and Time 154). Elaborating his machine-thinking, Heidegger here perhaps makes most manifest his rejection of the working class "mass," within whom (it is assumed) all individuality is lost and one sinks into "averageness" and "mediocrity." Deeply aware of the growing international power of the organized working class, not only in the Soviet Union, but throughout Europe and even in the US after the first world war, what Heidegger "sees" in the strengthening urban proletariat is an indistinguishable mob threatening unique authenticity (individuality), which is a code for private property. As a result, it is not the property relations which strip workers of the means of production, forcing them to work for someone else that Heidegger sees as the root problem of the working class. It is instead the machines that cause the working class to lose their individual freedom and individuality, not workers' class relation to machinery but the machinery itself (along with its instrumental thinking). Thus the homogenization (abstraction) of labor by capital gets translated as "leveling down" and "averageness" which themselves are then equated with "publicness." The "city" (the space in which technology is most concentrated) then is rejected because it "controls every way in which the world and Dasein get interpreted" (165). Nature in turn becomes the romantic space in which "every difference of level and of genuineness" and the "heart" of matters are experienced outside of social interpretation—as the "ineffable." This of course leads Heidegger, in his later writings, to become more and more concerned with the consequences of technology's "enframing" logic for nature. As he puts it in "The Question Concerning Technology," in a technological age "even the cultivation of the field has comes under the grip of another kind of setting-in-order, which sets upon nature. It sets upon it in the sense of challenging it. Agriculture is now the mechanized food industry, air is now set upon to yield nitrogen, the earth to yield ore, ore to yield uranium, for example" (320).

For Heidegger, the conflict between "consciousness and real life" (Marx) is ultimately a mode of thinking that has not been attentive to Being, and can be remedied with a new mode of thinking. For Marx, by contrast, this results from the social relations in which the products of human's labor are alienated from them. Only a society in which a few own the means of production can others be in a position that they not only must sell their labor to survive but under conditions in which they have no control over or property in their product of labor. "How would the worker come to face the product of his activity as a stranger," Marx asks, "were it not that in the very act of production he was estranging himself from himself? The product is after all but the summary of the activity, of production... In the estrangement of the object of labor is merely summarized the estrangement, the alienation, in the activity of labor itself" (73-4). For this reason, there can be no moving beyond the situation in which people are alienated from their productive activity ("hammering") unless the social relations of production are transformed. But Heidegger bypasses change of material relations by suggesting that hiding behind (or "alongside") the materiality of the everyday world of tools is a deeper, more elusive being—one which renders the relation of subject and object far more "ambiguous" (subjective) and which can be accessed only through intuition. For Heidegger, the more authentic approach to Being can only take place through the "qualitative experience" constitutive of being-in-the-world as against the "abstract" (concept) or theory.

It is, however, only abstraction that allows one to grasp the abstract material relations underlying experience. To repeat, the hammer is material not because of the qualities of its "thingness" (the argument of mechanical materialism and matterism) but because of the abstract social relations which both produce it and which determine its applications and its "meanings." In the guise of putting forward a new notion of the (immaterial) "material," Heidegger's argument is a means of dismantling the concepts needed for materialist explanation of the world. Without concepts which make connections between apparently fundamentally different entities and phenomena, there is no way to understand the labor relations which position people in structurally similar ways much less the economic laws which compel capital to exploit labor. Heidegger forgets, in other words, that "pre-reflective" or "primordial" experience is the space of ideology. Focusing only on the excessive "experience" of labor thus directs attention away from the material world which shapes experiences and onto the subjective ways of thinking about experience as an isolated "in itself": precisely the ideological ways of thinking capital fosters so as to inhibit working people from identifying common (class) interests and collectively fighting for them.

Ultimately, then, as Lukács put it, Heidegger represents "the philosophical 'third way': the claim to be above the antithesis of idealism and materialism (which he terms realism)" (Destruction of Reason493). That is to say, "He claimed to be arguing an objective doctrine of Being, an ontology, but he then defined the ontological essence of the category most central to his world on a purely subjectivistic basis, with pseudo-objectivistic expressions" (496). The real value of Heidegger's writings has thus been their ideological function for capital. Confronting catastrophic contradictions, Heidegger sought to understand the nature of human being not in the social relations of production, but in "primordial" ways. He launched a major offensive against instrumental thinking—what was for him a metaphysical will to presence that impeded humans' ability to grasp their true relation to Being—and developed new ways of comprehending the embeddedness of the subject in its environment, so as to blur the boundary between subject and object that had been a cornerstone of Cartesian and Newtonian thinking. But in so doing, he separated instrumentality from the relations in which instruments come to dominate human life and human thinking. His ontology, which in the light of its broader historical context functioned to establish a philosophical basis for the recovery of a defeated nation, has operated since then, in diverse ways, to absorb the contradictions of the imperialist era of capitalism into the realm of a more ephemeral and fluid conceptualization of existence. Thus, while posthumanism ostensibly critiques Heidegger's "essentializing" of the human, as I will address later on, his idealist treatment of being and machine-thinking informs the entire structure of posthumanist thinking and is a testament to its ultimately conservative role in the 21st century.


It is in some sense inevitable that with class divisions sharpening, contemporary cultural theory's effort to avoid addressing class while criticizing capitalism's instrumentality, has also led to a return to the romantic writings of Heidegger. Like Heidegger's theory of the human (which becomes, in his writings, absorbed into the sensuousness of language), posthumanism's re-thinking of the human in the face of material contradictions leads it to a philosophical third way. Because my reading of posthumanist discourse goes against the grain of posthumanists' self-representation, it will be useful to first address the terms of posthumanism more closely to unpack some of the aspects of its idealism and its connection to the machine-thinking of Heidegger.

According to its proponents, posthumanism represents a break from older discourses in the humanities, which are no longer capable of responding to the emerging realties of biocapitalism. What is no longer explanatory, these theorists argue, are the humanist discourses which have established divisions between humans and animals and, more broadly, between humans and the non-human (nature, machines, etc.). Theorists like Donna Haraway, for instance, argue for the erasure of what she calls "the Great Divide" between "human" and "animal" and abandoning of the traditional humanities and their anthropocentric, hierarchical binaries of Cartesian thinking—which, in placing the thinking subject above the body and embodied feeling, marginalize "the animal" (When Species Meet). Along these lines, in Zoographies Matthew Calarco writes that contemporary discourses seek to show, on the one hand, that "the wide variety of beings referred to as 'animal' cannot be reduced to any simple (or even relatively complex) set of shared characteristics" (3), and on the other, that "traditional human-animal distinctions, which posit a radical discontinuity between animals and human beings" are unviable (3). "[T]o privilege the historical time of the humanities," Robert Markley argues, making more explicit the machine-thinking on which posthumanist discourses depend, "is to remain entangled in the double-bind of philosophical and techno-scientific modernity, endlessly engaged in rituals of purification (the focus on speciation as classificatory mastery) and hybridization (defining coevolution by Dr. Dolittle–ing the animals)" ("Species, Identity Politics, Ecocriticism" 99).

Among the central questions in the posthumanist field of animal studies (what Calarco, like Cary Wolfe, following Derrida, call "the question of the animal") are, he argues, those concerning the being of animals, and the human-animal distinction. For posthumanists, in other words, "the human-animal distinction can no longer and ought no longer to be maintained" (emphasis in original 3). Along these lines, Wolfe argues that "the question of the animal" is "'at this moment'…not just any difference among others; it is, we might say, the most different difference, and therefore the most instructive" (Zoontologies 23).

Why has the animal question emerged "at this moment"? One of the fundamental assumptions of posthumanism is that new phenomena—i.e., new studies into language acquisition and use in animals, into cognitive and affective similarities of humans and animals, new technologies hybridizing humans and machines, humans and animals, new investigations into DNA—are the effects of particular ways of knowing and their manifestation in particular uses of technology. In a new twist of machine-thinking, posthumanist discourses suggest that new discoveries in science and technology—e.g., zoology, biology, microbiology, genetics—along with challenges to traditional humanities within such disciplines as philosophy and literary studies have brought about challenges to older paradigms of human-animal relations that make more ethical relations possible. Derrida articulates this matrix of assumptions when he writes that "It is all too evident" that "traditional forms of treatment of the animal have been turned upside down by the joint developments of zoological, ethological, biological, and genetic forms of knowledge, which remain inseparable from techniques of intervention into their object, from the transformation of the actual object, and from the milieu and world of their object, namely, the living animal" (The Animal That Therefore I Am 25; see also Wolfe's Introduction to Zoontologies x-xiii). Implicit here is the argument that contemporary forms of knowledge have broken free of the Cartesian framework of rationalism (the "bad" science of an outdated capitalism), according to which it was possible to clearly separate subject from object and which define the human in relation to its distinct capacities for reason. New knowledges (the "good" science of contemporary capitalism) call these suppositions into question by establishing deeper similarities between human animals that undermine the notion that humans possess any distinct traits. For what Agamben calls "the anthropological machine" posthumanist discourses substitute what Wolfe calls a "viral" logic that "exceeds and encompasses the boundary not just between human and animal but also between the living or organic and the mechanical or technical" (What is Posthumanism?xviii). Which is another way of saying that what posthumanism advocates is a more fluid ("viral," "parasitical") machine. 

Derrida's comments above, it should be noted, are a quasi-appeal to the material which quickly turns the material into the ideal, and secondary effects into the primary cause. New realities, Derrida suggests, are the effect of knowledge and its "techniques" on the one hand and on the other the (cultural) "milieu" of the world—both of which are superstructural aspects of economic relations. That is to say, not only is the new research into animals revealing more similarities between humans and animals dependent upon (Cartesian) study of the animal object by the human subject, but the studies into human-animal relations are not in any way "outside" of capitalist accumulation, as Derrida suggests; they are, in fact, made possible by labor and the labor relations that relentlessly divide the working class and owners while producing "results" that posthumanists treat as hybridizing or disrupting all inter- and intra-species distinctions. In this way, Derrida is able to address many of the new concrete realities of capitalism, while at the same time isolating them from their roots in the (human) relations of exploitation. For Derrida and other posthumanists, as I have argued, the central task is founded on (re)thinking: developing those knowledges that are capable of revealing the inherently ambiguous nature of human-animal relations, and critiquing those that presuppose any essential distinctions.It is in this context of distinction-blurring posthumanist analysis that Calarco devotes the first chapter of Zoographies to a critique of Heidegger because, he writes, "It is my contention that his work has served primarily to marginalize the animal question in contemporary thought" (although Calarco admits at the same time that many of the "questions and theses" of his critique "are fundamentally indebted to the horizon of thought opened up by Heidegger" (15)). One of the texts Calarco pays special attention to is the "Letter on Humanism," and especially its relation to Heidegger's earlier work. Whereas his earlier writings attempt to develop an ontology that would "reorient the human and biological sciences, as well as the university as a whole" (31), the later writings, Calarco argues, are more "dogmatic" in their insistence on a fundamental difference between humans and animals. For instance, Calarco picks up on Heidegger's question in the (later) "Letter," "whether the essence of the human being primordially and most decidedly lies in the dimension of animalitas at all," as opposed to humanitas (Heidegger, "Letter" 227).  

Heidegger's question relates to metaphysics' equating of the human with "animal rationale," where the human becomes simply "one living creature among others" (whose difference lies in its capacity to reason). The problem with animal rationale, Heidegger argues, is that this is already a metaphysical interpretation of humans, which does not think "the essence of man... in its origin" (227). It thus obscures the real difference of Dasein—which is fundamentally human (and is not so by virtue of its reasoning capacity but because of its relation to Being). For Heidegger, language is the "house of being"; to be able to gain access to the dwelling of Being, Dasein requires language, the "home that preserves the ecstatic for his essence" (228) or "the clearing-concealing advent of Being itself" (230). Only through language can one experience the "standing in the clearing of Being I call the ek-sistence of man" (228). However, Heidegger argues, "Because plants and animals are lodged in their respective environments but are never placed freely into the clearing of being which alone is 'world,' they lack language," and they thus lack access to Being. In short, according to Heidegger, animals are "separated from our ek-sistent essence by an abyss" (230).

At stake in such statements for Calarco is not Heidegger's idealist ontology, but that "Heidegger uncritically accepts two basic tenets of ontotheological anthropocentrism: that human beings and animals can be clearly and cleanly distinguished in their essence; and that such a distinction between human beings and animals even needs to be drawn" (30). The issue here for Calarco and other posthumanists is the "essentializing" tendencies which characterize humanist thinking, and which Heidegger's later works more overtly display. Whether the "human" is understood as in idealist terms, as a "thinking" being (as in Aristotle, Descartes or Hegel), or in materialist terms of labor (Marx), from the standpoint of posthumanism, all forms of humanism are equally problematic on the grounds that, as Neil Badington puts it, humanism posits "an absolute difference between the human and the inhuman" (Posthumanism 4). On this basis, Cary Wolfe opposes the liberal humanist "speciesism" which attempts to "define a category of beings by its essence," so as to establish a fundamental difference and hierarchy between the human and nonhuman others (Animal Rites 32). Calarco thus says of Heidegger that he "offers nothing in the way of critique concerning the metaphysical tradition's drawing of the oppositional line between human beings and animals" (53). This is at the heart of the posthumanist critique of humanism: its more or less hidden anthropocentric nature of essentialism. Calarco thus shows in subsequent chapters how some of the very theorists to have addressed the animal question in a way that opens up pathways toward the erasure of human/animal binary nonetheless end up to a greater or lesser extent re-affirming the division and consequently essentialism. But how far beyond Heidegger do posthumanist discourses go?

As I argued earlier, Heidegger's "third way" focus is in part on the "qualitative experience" constitutive of being-in-the-world against the "abstract" (concept). Central to Heidegger's replacement of materialism with ineffable materialism is the (familiar) critique of "theory" as a legacy of Cartesian separation of subject and object. Briefly returning to Being and Time, Heidegger emphasizes that, whereas "Being-in-the-world, as concern, is fascinated by the world with which it is concerned" (88), theoretical "knowing" of the world is characterized by "deficiency." He writes, "If knowing is to be possible as a way of determining the nature of the present-at-hand by observing it, then there must first be a deficiency in our having-to-do with the world concernfully. When concern holds back from any kind of producing, manipulating, and the like, it puts itself into what is now the sole remaining mode of Being-in, the mode of just tarrying alongside" (88). In other words, the subject/object relations of metaphysical knowing (theory) are based on the illusory separation of the subject from its world—as if the subject were "autonomous" (89) from the object. On this basis of subject/object relations, Heidegger renounces of course not only (idealist) rationalism, but the philosophy of materialism, which posits the existence of an external world independent of individual consciousness but which can be known through scientific analysis. The problem, according to Heidegger, is that a theory which assumes a difference between subject and object is a mode of being that "lets us encounter entities within-the-world purely in the way they look... Looking at something in this way... takes over a 'view point' in advance from the entity which it concerns. Such looking-at enters the mode of dwelling autonomously alongside entities within-the-world" (88-89). One finds the same concern in posthumanist discourses: the subject/object relations of traditional science have allowed the (human) subject to separate itself from the world in which it is integrally embedded. Hence the argument that all such distinctions as subject/object, human/animal, human/machine, and so on require vigilant deconstruction so as to show that we are all "mongrel" (Markley). That is to say, any standpoint from which one can separate subject from object, human from animal is a form of epistemological purification which not only falsely constructs divisions whose boundaries are established by their exclusions, but is a "utilitarian calculus" on the basis of which "all living beings" become "potentially means and not ends" (Wolfe).

A broader point that needs to be made here is that, while for Heidegger the problem is the subject/object binary, and for posthumanists it is the human/animal distinction, what they all reject as metaphysical thinking is the logic of the "binary" which is the structuring principle of class society. Class societies, in which a few control the labor and products of others and thus have control over the lives of the majority, necessarily create cultural and conceptual divisions which codify these class relations. Conceptual divisions have their material roots not in the mind but in the world which the mind reflects, through more or less complex mediations. This is one of the basic principles of materialism: ideas are not the product of the (individual) mind; rather, social consciousness is shaped by social existence. Therefore changing how people think and thus act (whether to oneself, other humans, animals or the environment) requires changing the material divisions that produce othering. Philosophy which simply does away with conceptual distinctions in thinking, as Heidegger and other romantics do, not only gets rid of the very concepts (like "class," "exploitation," "determination") needed to understand the structuring principles of class society, but, in effect, displaces material change of objective conditions onto the subjective change of the individual. This is the essential politico-cognitive work that neoromantic theory does for capital. Whether through such concepts as Keats' "negative capability" Kant's "sublime," Heidegger's "Being" or "the question of the animal" that is the more recent focus of such writers as Derrida, Wolfe, and Calarco, romantic machine-thinking celebrates the dissolution of boundaries: between self and other, subject and object, philosophy and poetry, rich and poor, the social (as city) and nature. It constructs a post-rational linguistic realm of higher values which exceed restricting social codes and conventions. Boundaries, in romanticism, are viewed as the imposition of cultural codes and linguistic conventions that rigidly delineate, not as material (as effects of labor relations). It is through the replacement of "mechanical" concepts  with speculative ones  that romanticism blurs social boundaries and epistemological distinctions in an effort, not to transform capitalism, but to find a freer mode of thinking within it. As Wordsworth puts it in his Preface to Lyrical Ballads, it involves taking familiar incidents and "throw[ing] over them a certain colouring of imagination"—or, in the updated idiom of posthumanism, a "revolution in language and thought" (Calarco, Zoographies 6).

Heideggerian pre-reflective experience, like "the question of the animal," is in short the space in which "abstract" binaries like class (not to mention other social differences) evaporate. By blurring lines, romantic theory seeks, as Heidegger puts it, "the liberation of language from grammar" ("Letter on Humanism" 218), rather than social transformation. To liberate language from grammar is of course to free up thinking (from cultural bounds), to suspend the social structures of language and, according to Heidegger, to come closer to understanding Being. Grammarless language is thus the fantasy of the plentitude of meaning outside of the social. No matter how adamantly posthumanism condemns Heidegger's human-centered thinking, the very de-essentializing strategies it deploys to challenge human-animal distinctions are informed by the (Heideggerian) desire to escape existing social conventions, through the relay of the animal.  


As I have mentioned, left cultural theorists in the postwar period (like Calarco) have been simultaneously seduced by Heidegger's writing yet careful to mark their differences from him, especially in the wake of the exposure of his membership in the Nazi party in the 1930s. Like Calarco's, Derrida's critique of Heidegger's earlier writing is similarly nuanced (marking his essentialism, while simultaneously positing Heidegger as opening up the space for rethinking foundational questions). But Derrida's rereadings are particularly instructive in establishing the shift from his earlier textualist reading of Heidegger to the posthumanist critique, which actually incorporates the textualization of binaries into its own "new" methodology of reading humanism. In his early poststructuralist writings, Derrida emphasizes that at stake in Heidegger is "the dominance of an entire metaphorics of proximity, of simple and immediate presence, a metaphorics of associating the proximity of Being with the values of neighboring, shelter, house, service, guard, voice, and listening" ("The Ends of Man," Margins of Philosophy 130). In other words, Derrida's textual reading of Heidegger suggests that a close analysis of Heidegger's phenomenology reveals that "[i]nsofar as it privileges the 'authentic' (eigentliche) voice/speech that, as 's'entendre parler,' brings presence to light against the 'secondarity' or 'fallenness' of writing, it betrays the complicity with logocentrism that disables Husserl's phenomenology" (115). Heidegger, then, posits a metaphysical presence, which Derrida reveals to be a logocentric fantasy covering over a constitutive lack.

In Derrida's more recent re-reading of Heidegger (i.e., The Animal That Therefore I Am), what is at stake is not so much humans' purported "presence" but the assumption that animals lack presence (a relation to world) that humans are assumed to have. Like Calarco, Derrida now emphasizes that animals, for Heidegger, can never stand in relation to other beings "as such" (in and of themselves) because they are world poor; animals on this basis are merely living, unlike humans. In other words, it is not the notion of presence that Derrida is concerned with (deconstructing) but demonstrating that positing a (uniquely) human presence is the basis upon which Heidegger assumes a lack in animals that not only privileges the human but allows Heidegger not to have to engage the ethical relations of humans and animals (undermining Heidegger's emphasis on "care"). For Derrida, the being of animals in Heidegger is

a trustworthy example of what he calls Nur-Lebenden, that which is living but nothing more, life in its pure and simple state. I think I understand what that means, this 'nothing more' (nur). I can understand it on the surface, in terms of what it would like to mean, but at the same time I understand nothing. I'll always be wondering whether this fiction, this simulacrum, this myth, this legend, this phantasm, which is offered as a pure concept (life in its pure state—Benjamin also has confidence in what can probably be no more than a pseudo-concept), is not precisely pure philosophy become a symptom of the history that concerns us here. Isn't that history the one that man tells himself, the history of the philosophical animal, of the animal for the man-philosopher? (22-23)

Through this re-reading of Heidegger, Derrida (once again) situates "history" as a metaphysical fiction "man tells himself" to give meaning to human life. But the concern is the way this particular narrative arrives at its seeming coherence through the exclusion of animal life (which is read by Heidegger as "nothing more than" "pure and simple" life relative to the plentitude of human Being). The great fiction here is human's capacity to reason as that which distinguishes humans from animals. Consequently, according to Derrida, at the very moment "when Heidegger's gesture is to move forward in the direction of a new [i.e., post-Cartesian] question, a new questioning concerning the world and the animal, when he claims to deconstruct the whole metaphysical tradition, notably that of subjectivity, Cartesian subjectivity, etc., insofar as the animal is concerned, he remains, in spite of everything, profoundly Cartesian" (147).

For Derrida as for Calarco, then, the fundamental problem with Heidegger is the (Cartesian) "abyss" he assumes exists between humans and animals, which renders humans "purely" one thing and animals another, and which posits the animal as lacking a presence only humans are assumed to have. It is what allows, at the level of thinking, human mastery over the animal and nature. But it is important to note that posthumanism is not opposed to the notion of a constitutive abyss per se. Rather, what it opposes is the presumption that a gap exists between two entities that makes one essentially different from the other. After all, Wolfe emphasizes Stanley Cavell's argument that "language (and understanding, and knowledge) rests upon very shaky foundations—a thin net over an abyss" (quoted in Zoontologies 4). Similarly, Derrida celebrates the experience of standing naked in front of his cat and becoming aware of the animal's "uninterpretable, unreadable, undecidable, abyssal… secret" that puts Derrida to "shame" (The Animal That Therefore I Am 12). Abyss here, in Derrida and Wolfe, signals something beyond the reach of knowledge and understanding, and is precisely that which exposes the "metaphysical" basis on which the human/animal distinction lies; it is therefore to be understood as a mark of Derrida's and Wolfe's "subtle" thinking as opposed to the vulgarity of Heidegger.

This is another way of saying that posthumanist readings of human-animal relations do not at all move away from the speculative epistemology of textualism. Rather, they import poststructuralist deconstruction of binaries as a means of introducing the (now, for them, more "urgent") ethical question of the animal. The task of theory is no longer to mark the "lack" that undoes all distinction, all concepts, but to mark a "fullness" of animal being that exceeds the humanist understanding and which, when brought to light, can reveal a common distinctionlessness of all human/non-human life: a plentitude that (it is assumed) exists prior to the rigid, essentializing distinctions that constitute the social.

This shift itself however needs to be addressed in the context of the material contradictions in the wake of global (cyber) capitalism. The focus on "lack" was part of the philosophical strategy of disarming materialist concepts in the wake of the second World War and the heightening of the Cold War. Textualism was, to put this another way, the epistemology of the neoliberal era of de-regulation. Through the lens of textuality, all concepts were rendered equally unstable and untenable. On these terms, not only the "human," "progress" and "science" (banners of the bourgeois Enlightenment) but "class" and "exploitation," like all other social categories, emerged as thin discursive constructs without any determinate relation to material reality. Indeed, "determination" and the "material" were perhaps subject to the most widespread deconstruction. The result was that the very concepts needed to understand the increasingly global nature of capital and its systematic subjugation of the working class to the international relations of wage-labor, were rejected as "totalitarian" concepts. In the place of materialist concepts, textualist-informed cultural theory—which grew to become the dominant framework from the 1960s through the 1990s—substituted difference, singularity, and jouissance. "Materialism" soon became equated with the "materiality" of writing and its subversion of all binaries, including the binaries of inside/outside (on which historical materialism is based). Textualization, in effect, did at the level of theory what transnational capital did at the level of regulations and national boundaries: it subverted them so as to expand the market and market-thinking.

Since the 1990s, however, not only have poststructuralism's speculative aspects themselves come under increasing criticism (see, for instance, the official eulogy for poststructuralist informed "high theory" in the 2004 Special Issue of Critical Inquiry) and are now widely discredited for being out of touch with contemporary social realities, but economic contradictions have emerged as truly global crises that threaten capitalism itself. To be sure, posthumanism is just as invested in dismantling distinctions. Thus Calarco is highly critical not only of Heideggerian essentialism but "semantic and ontological realism that involves making sharp distinctions among different beings" (38). And, moreover, deconstruction of conceptual binaries is always the chief strategy in discrediting distinctions, especially distinctions among species. Thus in Kelly Oliver's Animal Lessons, animals in canonic romantic and philosophical texts are read as the exemplary agents of deconstruction, as "biting back" the very texts that seek to establish them as other: "In those passages in which they delineate what distinguishes man from animals, both Rousseau and Herder turn to animals to illuminate their arguments. Their animals do not merely serve as examples against which they define man. Rather these animals belie the very distinction between man and animal that their invocation seeks to establish. As we will see, the examples and metaphors of animals that inhabit these texts ape or mock assertions of any uniquely human characteristics" (2). In an important sense, posthumanist discourses reanimate textualism for the knowledge industry, thus making it profitable again. But, again, the posthumanist emphasis is increasingly a romantic reading of nature as "surplus," which foregrounds the excessiveness and fullness of natural life, represented as violently reduced by human concepts.

If (textual) "lack" has become less interesting to cultural theory than the excessive plentitude of nature and the non-human, this needs to be related to the unavoidably vivid human devastation that global capitalism has quickly led to since its "triumph" over Soviet socialism in the early 1990s—not only in the global South and many former Soviet-bloc nations, but (especially recently) in the very pillars of capitalist economies in the global North. The technological advances that globalization promised would result in more democratic societies have been accompanied by profound social alienation and isolation and even deeper class inequality. Globalization had promised a new era of freedom and prosperity, but "[i]n reality," as Teresa Ebert writes in The Task of Cultural Critique, globalization

has made wage labor (which is missing from, for example, Derrida's discourse on globalization/mondialisation) the universal regime of work. It has suspended all strong labor laws and finance regulations so that capital can travel freely across national borders to invest, trade, and own property all over the world, as well as set wages and receive huge tax benefits at the expense of workers... It has used democracy as a cover for imposing the free market on people of the world and transferring public wealth to the private sector by commodifying water, healthcare, education, energy, food and transportation. It has increased the gap between poor and rich countries, ruined the environment, and turned the 'working day' into a nightmare of unending exploitation for workers who, unprotected by any laws, have only two options: consent to being exploited at an ever-increasing rate or live a life of extreme poverty and want in everlasting uncertainty. (136-37)

Posthumanist concern with the animal is a romantic retreat to nature in the face of unprecedented social crisis. Through it, the utter failure of capitalism to meet the worlds' social needs (the deepening of class inequality between North and South and within the North and South) is re-written as the (universal) failure of a transhistorical "humanity" which has purportedly become alienated from its roots in "nature." (Natural) plentitude has returned to fill the void of living in the ruins of capitalism.

But, at the same time, this posthumanist retreat to a ("new") nature also encodes a new energetic ethics which makes its discourses seem not escapist but "activist" at a moment when theory can no longer afford to seem out of touch. And, in this regard, far from undoing all essentialized notions of the human, it installs a new ethical essence to the human, who emerges out of posthumanism as that species uniquely capable of recognizing the lack of fundamental distinctions in nature and who makes ethical choices on that basis. Posthumanism's ideological value, then, is that it serves the dual role of making theory "matter" again in its focus on specific "material" practices within capitalism that legitimate the destruction of nature and abuse of animals (thereby giving posthumanism a veneer of activism), while at the same time steering social activism and social theory away from class. It displaces the heightening contradictions between humans onto the relations between humans and animals. For the calculating logic of instrumental reason, it offers a subversive mode of thinking that purports to resist rigid binaries and hierarchies. 


Of course, as capitalism advances, its technologies do become more alienating and isolating. As Marx argues, through the relations of the market, concrete (specific) forms of labor become exchanged on the basis of their being reduced to a common value. The market is the mechanism through which the most diverse types of labor (not only use of different materials and products but different kinds of skills) are reduced to common units of value. In this way, concrete labor is turned into an exchange value, which makes the product of labor exchangeable with an enormous number of other kinds of concrete labor. All forms of (concrete) labor, Marx argues, "are reduced to one and the same sort of labor, human labor in the abstract" (Capital 128). As Marx also shows, however, exchange value—the "third thing" to which two different products are reduced—is itself determined by the labor time necessary to produce the two different products. The abstract value of the commodity is determined by labor: the real source of value which is obscured by exchange relations and the commodity form.

Central to the abstraction of labor under capitalism is the fact that, for capitalists to increase accumulated value (profit), more value has to be produced than the laborer is compensated for: what is not compensated for is the surplus value taken by the capitalist (a social process, Marx argues, "that goes on behind the backs of the producers" [135]). The role of technology under capitalism is to make the worker more productive in the same amount of time, thereby allowing the capitalist to appropriate more and more value while paying the worker the same (proportionally less). "It is the compelling force of anarchy in social production," Engels argues, "that turns the limitless perfectibility of machinery under modern industry into a compulsory law by which every individual industrial capitalist must perfect his machinery more and more, under penalty of ruin" ("Socialism: Utopian and Scientific" 140). But, as Engels continues,

the perfecting of machinery is making human labour superfluous. If the introduction and increase of machinery means the displacement of millions of manual by a few machine-workers, improvement in machinery means the displacement of more and more of the machine-workers themselves. It means, in the last instance, the production of a number of available wage-workers in excess of the average needs of capital, or the formation of a complete industrial reserve army... Thus it comes about... that machinery becomes the most powerful weapon in the war of capital against the working class; that the instruments of labour constantly tear the means of subsistence out of the hands of the labourer; that the very product of the worker is turned into an instrument for his subjugation" (140-41).

It is because of the more immediately visible effects of technology that, in the early stages of capital, workers attacked the machines that were putting them out of work—for instance in the 1780s, when workers in the Leeds woolen industry responded to their increased exploitation by destroying the owners' new machines, and in the later Luddite movement of the early 1800s, in which textile workers attacked the looms (see J. F. C. Harrison's, Society and Politics in England, 1780-1960 [71-72] for the Leeds workers' Petition that appeared in the newspaper at the time).

One of the consequences of what Engels calls the "subjugation" of the worker by his product is that advances in technology also de-skill the laborer. If not entirely thrown out of work, the worker who used to have to carve wood to create a chair, now presses buttons that guide a laser which cuts uniform pieces of wood to be assembled, much of which is now done by the consumer. Similarly, the computer technician who used to need to be able to write codes to produce programs now uses ready-made templates, and highly trained symbolic analysts are used for mind-numbing data-entry. To put this differently, the drive for capital to increase exploitation means that the constant "re-skilling" it requires of its workforce as it introduces new technologies is thus always at the same time a de-skilling—since the technology has made the production process even more monotonous. Complex labor, in other words, is constantly being reduced to simpler forms of labor. Capital is thus always introducing newer (increasingly complex) technologies, which require new skills on the part of workers and thus new "training." But the effect of these new skills is not only to make the "training" increasingly short-term and the workers more easily replaceable; it also, as Engels suggests, creates an ever larger urban proletariat and reserve army of labor. Technology, in short, becomes the focus in capitalist culture because machinery, as Engels puts it, "becomes the most powerful weapon in the war of capital against the working class." But, as Engels also emphasizes, abstracting machines from the social relations of production diverts attention from the class relations of machines.

In the early stages of capitalism, when the divisions between capital and labor were only beginning to emerge and therefore before the era of organized labor (which connected the use of machines to the labor relations of capitalism which divide those who own the means of production from those who don't), there was a historical basis for workers attacking the machines that put them out of work. It was among the strongest and most direct means they had of challenging their employers. Likewise, the intellectuals in the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century, who saw the devastating effects of capital on the rural and industrial workers, were especially concerned with the machine-thinking that accompanied capitalism. In particular, they attacked the ways in which the machine and machine-thinking took away human agency, rendering humans passive, even conceptually and imaginatively imprisoned. In his critique of Newton and the influence of Newtonian thought, Coleridge thus writes, "Mind, in his system, is always passive—a lazy Looker-on on an external world," and Coleridge insisted that "any system built on the passiveness of the mind must be false" (Coleridge, Letter to Tom Poole). Coleridge suggests that Newtonian mechanical thinking implied people simply reflected their conditions of life, rather than being reflective or creative individuals who could not only think deeply about their life (not just reflect it) but produce new ideas and new ways of thinking about the interconnectedness of life. It did not allow for the imagination, the thinking beyond what (materially) is. Similarly, Blake's "There Is No Natural Religion," suggests that the idea that "Man's desires are limited by his perceptions" (as associationalism and empiricism proposes) means that "none can desire what he has not perciev'd" (V). It implies individuals cannot think what has not been already experienced, and that thinking is just a repetition of experience, nothing else. To say that individuals are effects of their environment, for Blake and other romantics, is to construct a reductive model of subjectivity in which individuals are rendered passive subjects of their environment. Hence the romantic proposal that individuals' determination (their being, their consciousness) exceeds social conditions; the human is thus more "at home," not in the city (the space of the social), but in (spiritualized) "nature."

But in the same degree that the division between capital and labor is more and more splitting society, as Marx and Engels put it, "into two great hostile classes directly facing each other" (Manifesto 474), bringing with it a more and more international and class-conscious working class—in the same degree does the romantic focus on machines and machine-thinking take on a reactionary, rearguard character.

Heidegger's ontology and contemporary romanticism are both elaborated in a fundamentally different historical moment than the early romantics in the early era of capitalism. Not only has the class divide continued to deepen with the growth of capitalism, but the materialist theory of history has itself developed to explain the historical origins of capitalism (and therefore its inevitable end) and to discover that basis of capitalism is in the unpaid labor of the worker which is extracted at the point of production (i.e., that this surplus labor is the source of profit). It has therefore become increasingly important for capitalism to produce modes of thinking which challenge materialism and which thereby obscure the roots of capitalism in surplus labor and prevent social struggles aimed at making exploitation impossible. What Marx said of the "critical-utopian socialists" holds true of neoromanticists: "although the originators of these systems were, in many respects, revolutionary, their disciples have, in every case, formed mere reactionary sects" (Manifesto 516). This is because, "in opposition to the progressive historical development of the proletariat" they "hold fast" to the ideas that reflected an earlier stage in the class conflict, and thus provide no theoretical understanding for transformative social struggle. "They, therefore, endeavour," Marx argues, "to deaden the class struggle and to reconcile the class antagonisms" (499).

In fact, romanticism takes on more and more directly the responsibility of combating materialism and the class it represents. In this way, rather than address the material conditions which reduce the individual to the alienated worker, Heidegger—in the name of a more fundamental ontology—treats materialism and science as the problem, and romanticizes earlier periods when labor was more skilled and less alienated. It is not the historical relations in which people "live so long as they work" but the fact that these conditions (and all social explanations of these conditions) make individuals the same that are his concern. Historical relations are reduced by Heidegger to a transhistorical mode of being in which the subject "itself is not; its Being has been taken away by the Others... These Others, moreover, are not definite Others. On the contrary, any Other can represent them" (Being and Time 164). Thus the homogenization (abstraction) of labor by capital gets translated as "leveling down" and "averageness" which themselves are then equated with "publicness."

Heidegger's reading of "Others" reflects a hostility to the material structures within which people are located (as workers, as persons in particular social functions) and their "functional" discourses, all of which reduce the individual—to "averageness" (164) rather than make way for the authentic primordial Self. But Heidegger's discourse on the "They" and its relation to the city is symptomatic of the petit bourgeois fear of dissolution into the "masses"—and loss of individuality in the proletariat. In contemporary posthumanism too, as I argued earlier, collective life is seen as a "loss" and nature is rediscovered as the space of "difference."

One thus finds the pervasive interest in "zombie" culture alongside posthumanist concern with animals and nature. Again, Heidegger provides the overarching framework informing this trend. For the zombie is the exemplary manifestation of the petit-bourgeois fear of the working class other, "The They." As one writer notes in his critique of the dominance of zombie shows and films, zombies "are mindless. They are faceless. They are ugly. And they want to invade your home and feast on your flesh," and they thus represent "an allegory for bourgeois attitudes to and fears of the working class" ("Zombies and Ideology"). However, zombies also "offer an opportunity for asserting superiority, mastery, contempt, and individuality against the mass. Zombies are slow and stupid. Humans are quick and intelligent. Zombies are limited by their reach. Humans can use all manner of weapons." In this way, "zombie settings offer a simple fantasy where one can assert the self—sometimes heroically—against the world. You have to beat the undead hordes. Unlike the ever-popular vampires, one cannot join them." It is in this sense that, as Sam Leith argues, "Vampires are monsters of the right; zombies are monsters of the left. Vampires are toffs; zombies are proles. Vampires are individualists; zombies are the mindless, nameless, faceless mob" ("Cultural Notebook: The Days of the Undead"). Thus, "Vampires represent social climbing—you'll join the aristocracy after you're bitten. The zombie is a leveller" ("Cultural Notebook: The Days of the Undead").

To reiterate, Heidegger's ineffable materialism is not only a resistance against the "collective"—seen as lacking authenticity—it is a developed critique against science/technology, and represents (in its claim to "authentic" living, recovering access to Being, etc.) a backward and nostalgic response to capitalism and the modern city as the space of heightened class conflict—one reflective of the consciousness of the displaced petit-bourgeoisie of the time threatened in their ways of life—the very ones who would later support fascism as the "answer" to the crisis. His later "mysticism" (the revelation of Being in "poetic" language as inaccessible to science) is the "cultural excess" version of this irrationalism, post-fascism, which is the spiritualist response to class conflict.  


The war against science in romantic cultural theory is a proxy war against laws of social transformation, one which encodes the interests of the petit-bourgeoisie—it protests the harsh realities of capitalism while evading the necessity of its material transformation via revolution by positing an "excessive element"—this "excessive element" (whether being, difference, the animal, or...) is what makes it useful to capitalism—because while it appears "transgressive" from one point of view (negation of the existing), it inscribes within it the advance of the forces of production while the social relations of property remain intact. Put another way, it "assimilates" the changes required by advancing forces of production to the framework of the old property relations. But there is of course an untranscendable material "limit" to this process of "adjustment"—when, to paraphrase Marx in the Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy—the revolutionary letter comes due ("From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution."). Critique of ideology is thus a way of facilitating this transformation by heightening the contradiction—producing positive knowledge ("ontology") of it (and the ways in which it is obscured in bourgeois ideology).

As I have argued, romanticism has functioned at critical junctures since the Enlightenment as an ideological pressure valve: a means of dampening class contradictions and rendering ideology critique crude and unnecessary (if not impossible). To prevent the attack of the specific historical relations of production which deepen social contradictions (the appropriation of surplus value), romanticism instead attacks society as such (as mechanical thinking) and appeals instead to society's other ("nature," "life itself," "the question of the animal," "Being"—from which vantage points conceptual boundaries are to be perceived as empty, "mendacious" [Nietzsche, "Truth and Lies in an Extra Moral Sense"] artificial constructs).

Consequently, one of the important implications of the posthumanist theorization of "humanism" (which imports Heidegger's basic critique of metaphysics) is that it reduces all humanism to Enlightenment humanism. In doing so, it also erases the materialist theory of humanism, which is a critique of both Enlightenment humanism and posthumanism. As Marx himself argues, "the human essence is no abstraction inherent in each single individual. In its reality it is the ensemble of the social relations" (Marx, "Theses on Feuerbach").

The materialist theory of humanism, to put this another way, is the theory of humans' place in the city: the site of labor, consciousness, and history. This theory of humanism has in fact always been put in question by capitalist ideology, the main task of which is the use of culture to explain away (naturalize) the social relations of labor from which capitalists profit. Whereas materialist humanism is the articulation of the possible—freedom from necessity, from the relations of exploitation—dominant theories of the human/humanism are ultimately aimed at preserving existing class relations. They do so by erasing the roots of humanity in labor and treating the human instead as the subject of consciousness and reason (i.e., the cogito, the speaking subject) or as the subject of post-rational feeling and sensuousness (a subject of consciousness who considers consciousness of feeling more important than rational knowing).

What is thereby erased is that what humans do to nature is a result of what humans do to themselves: "the exploitation of man by man." It is the social relations and not epistemological and cultural ones that shape material life, not only for humans but also for all species. On these terms, the human subject is, above all, the subject of labor. To theorize the basis of the human life in terms of labor is to emphasize that, in "the working-up of the objective world" of nature (humans' life-activity), humans make their life-activity "the object of [their] will and [their] consciousness" (Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts 62). That is to say, "Man makes his life-activity itself the object of his will and of his consciousness. He has conscious life-activity" (62). And because his life-activity of production becomes an object of consciousness, his life-activity "is not a determination with which he directly merges" (62). This is the basis on which Marx makes a distinction between humans and animals, between human life-activity and animal life-activity (what he also calls the "natural life"). Humans, in their productive life, are "self-conscious." The animal, by contrast, "is immediately identical with its life-activity. It does not distinguish itself from it," or, in short, it "merges" with its life-activity (62). In fact, Marx writes, "It is just because of this that [the human] is a species being. Or it is only because he is a species being that he is a Conscious Being, i.e., that his own life is an object for him" (62). Freedom and consciousness have an integral connection here, since only because humans' life-producing activity is an object of reflection "is [their] activity free activity" (62).

Insofar as the "human" is shaped by social relations, in exploitative social relations, therefore, the "human essence" is loss, deprivation, alienation, and contradiction. In the case of capitalism, for the first time in history, the majority of workers are "freed" in a "double sense." The mass of the working population, lacking means of production to meet their own subsistence needs, must sell their labor in order to survive. It is no longer the production of use values—values that meet the needs of the society—but exchange—values produced for the sake of private accumulation of profit. In contrast to ancient societies, where "[t]he individual... can never appear in the total isolation of the mere free labourer" (Marx, Pre-Capitalist 81), with the generalization of commodity relations (relations of exchange), the individual appears increasingly isolated—an effect of the fact that "the worker finds the objective conditions of his labour as something separate from him, as capital," which also assumes that "the capitalist finds the workers as propertyless, as abstract labourers" (86). The alienation ("estrangement") of the worker from the means and product of labor, as Marx discusses in detail in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, leads to further forms of alienation, all of which derive from the separation of the worker from her means and product of labor. Not only does the life-activity of production become an alienating activity, ensuring that only when one is not working does one feel truly "at home", but insofar as the individual's realization of their life-activity in labor is alienated, the worker is alienated from herself and others.

It could not be otherwise, then, that people's self-estrangement becomes in turn the estrangement from others as well, from the individual's "species being." Thus, although it is in production that people confirm their species-life, estranged labor turns consciousness of species life, of the central activity of species life, into means of existence, into means of life (Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts 59). "In tearing away from man the object of his production, therefore, estranged labour tears from him his species life, his real species objectivity, and transforms his advantage over animals into the disadvantage that his inorganic body, nature, is taken from him" (63). But, for Marx, the solution to alienation is not "retreat" into nature, and idealized forms of community with animals and others, but fighting for new social relations, and thus a new "human essence." It is in the city (as the space of class conflicts) that this fight will take place.

It is quite telling, then, that, as Wolfe makes clear, for posthumanists, human exploitation of humans stems from human exploitation of animals: "if we allow the human/animal distinction to remain intact... then the machinery of speciesism and animalization will be available to use against various subjugated groups, animal or human, as history well shows" ("Speciesism, Identity Politics, and Ecocriticism" 102). Such arguments are especially effective (and hence popular in the publishing industry) because, however much he may criticize commodification, he ultimately takes critical pressure off of the role of capital in impoverishing the world's majority and destroying the environment, and places it (back) onto a "humanity" beyond classes. The implication of Wolfe's argument is that struggles which prioritize social equality are not only unethical but futile, since there can be no social change between humans until humans change their (more "fundamental") relations to animals. 

But human-animal relations, once again, are shaped by the social relations between people. And because it is the social relations that shape material life, not only for humans but also for other species, different forms of social organization consequently have different relations to animals. Social organizations based on collective ownership of property (as in early Native American tribes) have very different (in contemporary discourses, "ecological") relations to the natural environment, compared to societies based on the commodification of labor, in which all aspects of social and natural life are exchanged for private profit, regardless of the human or ecological consequences.

In claiming that human exploitation is caused by the exploitation of animals by humans, not only does Wolfe therefore invert the real relations conditioning human's lives and cover over historical difference but he renders insignificant the great historical struggles to transform class relations. It is not therefore surprising that the argument for the "most different difference" of the animal is closely tied to Wolfe's and other posthumanists' pragmatic, "ethical" argument against the possibilities of an equal society—arguments which recall the more politically reactionary aspects of romanticism. In discussing a text by Paul Patton on the relations between horses and humans, for instance, Wolfe writes that what makes Patton's analysis so important is that "it helps to make clear the requirements and obligations of those hierarchical relations of power we do enter into (with animals, with children, with each other) and draws our attention to how those requirements are always specific to the beings involved, in the light of which, he argues, the presumption of a one-size-fits-all notion of 'equality in all contexts' is 'not only misleading but dangerous'" (Zoontologies xix). 

While the argument here seems to be a "progressive" call to be aware of the power dynamics that exist in all relations so as to treat others "ethically," its more emphatic claim is the deeply conservative argument against establishing "equal" conditions of equality for all, which casts principles for universal equality as "dangerous." Wolfe's pragmatism tellingly echoes the right-wing argument that efforts to provide "universal" health care, to establish federal laws requiring corporations to set caps on emissions or provide workers compensation are violent "impositions" on the local and the specific. It is in this context that Edmund Burke advocated as "natural" the "hereditary succession [of power] by law" and denounced the struggles for democracy around the French Revolution as a "perversion" of individuality: "We procure reverence to our civil institutions on the principle upon which nature teaches us to revere individual men," whereas "those who attempt to level, never equalise. In all societies, consisting of various descriptions of citizens, some description must be uppermost. The levelers therefore only change and pervert the natural order of things" (Reflections on the Revolution in France 30, 43)—a sentiment that has grown increasingly popular in the American political context. This is, by the way, why pragmatism is so effectively aligned with ethics: both highlight the specificity of context and the absence of any foundation of judgment and reject any notion of objective basis that might be used to explain the underlying relations of specificities. Ethics, to put it bluntly, is the ruse through which the "natural" existence of class relations is justified today. Ethics (individual acts of kindness, or what Foucault calls the "care of the self") is what follows once one has already decided that no serious social change is possible.

But, to have legitimacy, posthumanist ethics has to claim for itself the mantel of radical. This puts it in a particularly contradictory situation—its radicality can only be a gesture toward radicality, which is to say a performance of radicality. Perhaps nowhere is this performance more precisely captured than in these words from Stanley Cavell in Philosophy the Day After Tomorrow (2006), where he writes that Heidegger's Being and Time and Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations are the two books most philosophically meaningful to him because "each of them present[s] themselves on any and every page, as carrying some urgent message for our lives, while neither raises any issue that is explicitly about any act we ought to be doing or to refrain from doing, or any rights we have denied, or any goods we have neglected to share fairly" (219).

The sense of urgency without urgency... the allusion to economic inequality without actually talking about it. These are the banners of "left" thought in the global North, the rallying message for the "radical" "theorists" who are neither radical nor theoretical—the (upper) middle class intelligentsia who have benefitted from global capital's pillaging of the working class worldwide and will fight against any who threaten their "way of life," but who must at the same time assume the stance of the "ethical" in the age of Obama. The value of such modes of using language, as Cavell says about Emerson's sentences, is that they "may attract us by their beauty or their curiosity, and at the same time seem to play with our desire for some transformative understanding" (220). This articulation perhaps outdoes even Cavell himself in describing the mode of theory that has come to typify contemporary romantic consciousness: a "playing" with "transformative understanding." It is pretend philosophy, which cynically knows it has no real interest in using theory to transform everyday life, but writes in such a way to convince others it does: conveying "urgency" without urgency (since, of course, those who have the time and resources to "play" with philosophy must always feign "urgency").

The argument that the question of the animal is "'at this moment'... the most different difference, and therefore the most instructive" (Zoontologies 23) cannot be separated from the heightening economic contradictions which have once again thrown into sharp relief the abyss dividing labor and capital. The question of the animal is in fact a displacement of the "most different difference" made possible by the inexorable dialectic of labor and capital: a world free from exploitation.

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THE RED CRITIQUE 14 (Winter/Spring 2012)