Sunday, 12 September 2010

The Animal is Silent

The animal is silent, and we do not share the same language. Who does the animal speak to in his silence? To those who share in this language, which is invisible to the human being? The animal’s body is full of pathos and expression, its eyes and ears caught up in the texture of the world, yet its voice is mute. There is a silence that takes place with the animal, but a silence through which communication is dependent. Heidegger will speak of this silence in terms of poverty, an inability to see the world as world. A line is drawn in Heidegger’s analysis, a refusal to meet the animal face-to-face. For him, the silence of animal is an opportunity for Dasein to define its ontology, a model that is created from the inverse ontology of the animal. The animal’s silence is worldless, a life with no no existence, a pure facticity. But melancholy intervenes in this silence, a void opens in the expression of animal. Heidegger doesn’t acknowledge it, but it’s there, wedged between the gaze of the human and the animal. After all, is one ever alone when in the company of animals? Or, in the muteness of the animal, isn’t there already an imperative to be heard? The animal becomes an invitation to an unhomely sadness, in whose eerie presence the intimacy between human and animal is amplified.

The pressing question, and one that Alice Kuzniar asks in her outstanding book on the topic, is: Whose sadness is at stake in the animal’s uncanny silence? Whose yearning takes place in the void between animal and human? Asking this question, the human becomes detached, and so alienation and philosophy ensue, the products of what Max Scheler calls “spirit.” Distance, detachment: the world as world, but also as other. In turn, human life ceases to be a member of this planet in the solar system. For the human, the otherness of the animal, with its silent vigilance over the world, becomes the Heideggerian void, a boundary from which no two ontologies can occupy the same time and space. The animal’s silence is conceived in the human’s spirit, a silence that is as much metaphysical as it is from the voice of the animal itself.