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Not Coming to Terms: Nonhuman Animals and the Edge of Theory

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AbstractIn the emerging field of animal studies, criticism turns to questions of ethics and animal rights by reading representations of nonhuman animals in philosophy and literature. A rhetoric of coming to terms often shapes such readings and points to a lack of satisfactory answers to two questions: why read nonhuman animals, and why now? These questions are crucial to animal studies but can only be answered by understanding this critical approach as an element of the anthropological discourse, fundamental to philosophy. Examining Aristotle’s and Heidegger’s approaches to thinking about the human-animal relation, it seems that the interest in reading how animals are presented in philosophy is not in coming to definitive terms with this relation or in correcting earlier theories. Rather, it appears to lie in reading the concept of the Animal as marking a limit of terminological language, and thus of theory. The Animal marks the point at which philosophy touches on poetry and withdraws. Criticism is concerned with animals now because the concept of “the animals” keeps casting doubt on theoretical conceptions of the Human and of human language.

Affiliations: 1: Goethe


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