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Shame, Levinas's Dog, Derrida's Cat (And Some Fish)

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Chapter Summary

This chapter explores an ontological shame that is prior to sexual shame or the shame of a bad conscience linked to particular transgressions. It also argues that the unwarranted shame of camp survivors points towards this inherent, ontological shame in human consciousness and suggests that the only escape from this shame might lie in the encounter with the animal. The chapter refines and promises to resolve the question of ontological shame. Animals aren’t naked because they are naked and, as Derrida points out, “no animal has ever thought to dress itself ”. Human beings are the only animals to have invented a garment to cover their sex. Derrida recounts the presumed distinctions made by the philosophical tradition (Aristotle, Descartes, Kant, Heidegger, Levinas and Lacan) between human and animal, distinctions that are based on knowledge of nakedness (and thus good and evil), rationality, language, priority.

Keywords: camp survivors; Derrida; human beings; Levinas; ontological shame



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