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Presented at the Rhetoric Society of America Conference Sunday, May 27, 2012 Session L05 That our place, our positioning in the world, is significant seems obvious. When African Americans were placed outside the realm of what was considered human, they could be owned as property. When women were considered the property of their husbands, the women could be violated physically, sexually, emotionally by those husbands with no consequences befalling their accosters. Similarly, when nonhuman animals are denied the ability to respond as agents capable of affecting change, they can be used, abused, and slaughtered by the millions without question. Place matters. Where we’re situated matters. And the places in which we are situated depend upon the observational lens through which a culture determines its practices. African Americans did not choose to be slaves. Women did not choose to be property. They were placed in those positions by cascades of actions occuring over hundreds of years. In the same way, nonhuman animals have not chosen to be treated as commodities for human consumption, entertainment, experimentation, companionship, etc. The difference, however, between the suffering endured by slaves and by women and the suffering endured by nonhuman animals is that there will be no Martin Luther King, Junior or Elizabeth Cady Stanton in the nonhuman animal community. And as African Americans, women, and other socially oppressed groups of human animals have navigated
Bateman 2 their emplacement and negotiated a new, though arguably still in need of improvement, place in the world, nonhuman animals have remained locked in the same pens constructed for them more than two thousand years ago. These pens, constructed by criteria ranging from a lack of a soul to a lack of rational thought to a lack self-awareness (which we link directly to consciousness), are governed by one cardinal rule: nonhuman animals lack language (where “language” is, of course, centered upon human written or spoken words) and in lacking language they are incapable of rhetorical agency. Despite the growing interest in Animal Studies in academia1 and the plethora of new books published since 2010 about issues of rights, ethics, posthumanism, and emotional/social complexity of nonhuman animals, that nonhuman animals do participate in language and are capable of rhetorical agency remains as controversial as ever.2 That Kenneth Burke begins chapter one of Permanence and Change with an example of a trout learning to interpret and react to the signs around seems a fitting place to begin discussion of the place of nonhuman animals in the twenty-first century Western world. Under the subheading, “All Living Things Are Critics,” Burke relays the story of a trout who, after swallowing a baited hook and escaping by ripping the hook from its lip, learns from its experience by no longer swallowing food that resembles the bait on the hook.3 Burke
See Gorman, James. “Animal Studies Cross Campus To Lecture Hall.” The New York Times. 2 Jan. 2012. Web. 5 Feb. 2012. 2 For recent and upcoming publications in the field of Animal Studies, see Adam. “Animal Theory: Going Feral In 2012.” Humans, Earth, And Animals Living Together Harmoniously. Humans, Earth, And Animals Living Together Harmoniously. 1 Feb. 2012. Web. 12 Feb. 2012. 3 I’d like to point out that in typing this document using Microsoft Word, Word automatically wanted to change the “the story of a trout who” to “the story of a trout that,” as if the trout was a rock or a book or some other seemingly (lest I turn a blind eye to work of those in the field of object-oriented studies) inanimate object. Even I, in referring to the trout later in that same sentence, assigned the gender neutral pronoun, “it,” to the trout rather than a gendered “his” or “her.” I suppose I could have arbitrarily decided that the trout in question was a male or a female, but perhaps, my gender-free reference of “it” in this situation does more to shed light on the gender bias, that is our bias towards needing or wanting to assign a gender, we express towards human animals than it does to strip the trout of any of its beingness.
Bateman 3 writes that the trout comes to distinguish food that resembles the bait he swallowed as “jaw-ripping food” (Permanence and Change 5). The trout, having had one orientation toward the food prior to the hook event and another orientation after its “informing experience” of having the hook ripped from its jaw, demonstrates what Burke calls a “revised judgement” (5). That is, the trout altered its response to food based on a new “more educated way of reading the signs” after its hook experience. But then, success in the trout’s situation is relative because it may be the case that the trout missed out on some untainted food just because the food resembled that on the baited hook. Worse still, the trout may have fallen prey to another baited hook if the food used as bait was of a different kind than the food used on the original baited hook. In these two situations— one of lost nutrition and one of possible death or disfigurement— the trout’s reorientation would work against it. Burke calls this failed orientation a result of “trained incapacity,” that is “that state of affairs whereby one’s very abilities can function as blindnesses” (7). It is these concepts of orientation and trained incapacity that I now want to apply to the place of nonhuman animals in Western society. Whether as cave men and women, nomadic hunters and gathers, farmers, or aristocrats we have placed nonhuman animals in pens of subservience.4 Now, this is probably a fitting moment to pause and make clear that this project I am undertaking is not an appeal for animal rights. I am not building an argument for equality among species. My goal is to simply point out the history, our human history, with nonhuman animals. It is
See Steel, Karl. How To Make A Human: Animals And Violence In The Middle Ages. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2011. Print.
Bateman 4 true there was a time when we needed them for food, shelter, clothing, etc.,5 but even then, even when we depended on their skins for our housing, our orientation towards them as beings-for-us was erroneous. This is the mistake, perhaps the first mistake, humans made regarding our emplacement of nonhuman animals. We penned them in to a place where, culturally, they could never be anything more than less than us — less conscious, less intelligent, less rational, less emotional, less capable, less able to respond— and there they have remained. Why, in light of all that we know and, perhaps more importantly, what we do not know, about consciousness and intelligence in general (how we measure it, who has it and to what extent), about the social lives of nonhuman animals, about our own ability to communicate effectively with particular species of nonhuman animals, in light of all the past and emerging research and scholarship pertaining to Animal Studies, why do we still keep nonhuman animals emplaced in those pens?6 Burke writes, “To discover in oneself the motives accepted by one’s group is much the same thing as to use the language of one’s group” (Permanence and Change 20-1). Regarding our orientation towards nonhuman animals, our motives for adopting the attitudes and behaviors towards them that we did may have originally been based in necessity, but can we still claim today that our motivations towards adopting an attitude of superiority over them are driven by our need to justify our use of them for our survival? Or does our continued lack of consideration for their interests now reflect a different
It is important to note that there are many places around the world in which humans are still dependent upon the resources of nonhuman animals for survival. Those places (and those people) are not the focus of this project. 6 See Bekoff, Mark. The Emotional Lives Of Animals: A Leading Scientist Explores Animal Joy, Sorrow, And Empathy—And Why They Matter. Novato: New World Library, 2008. Print; Bradford, G. A. Elephants On The Edge: What Animals Teach Us About Humanity. New Haven: Yale UP, 2010. Print; Haraway, Donna. When Species Meet. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008. Print; Mazis, Glen A. Humans, Animals, Machines: Blurring Boundaries. New York: State University of New York Press, 2008. Print.
Bateman 5 motivation, one in which what is at stake is no longer our survival but our comfort and convenience? Burke states that whenever there is an unsatisfactory situation, people will “naturally desire to avoid it” and will find many interpretations and ways to avoid it (Permanence and Change 9). Regarding nonhuman animals, the easiest way to avoid having to examine our emplacement of them is to hold tightly to a historical worldview that has seated the nonhuman below the human for thousands of years. The time has come to consider the possibility that our initial orientation, while perhaps not incorrect or insufficient at the time of its creation, is no longer accurate and be open to the idea that our past motivations, our past training can cause us to misjudge our present situation. Perhaps our past orientation may have become a trained incapacity. Like Burke’s trout, we may miss out on certain opportunities or make potentially lethal errors based on our faulty training. Burke writes: One adopts measures in keeping with his past training — and the very soundness of this training may lead him to adopt the wrong measures. People may be unfitted by being fit in an unfit fitness. (10) If we change our orientation, if we adopt a different point of view for the way we behave contemporarily and/or if we entertain the idea that our ancient orientation towards nonhuman animals was always already incomplete, misinformed, presumptuous because of its basis in our need for nonhuman animals for our survival, then we must re-evaluate our emplacement of them as beings-for-us. We must consider, as Burke points out, that a particular linkage may be a deceptive one and may make for faulty means-selecting or decision making(16). Burke continues by claiming that:
Bateman 6 If the conditions of living have undergone radical changes since the time when the scheme of duties and virtues was crystallized, the serviceability of the orientation may be impaired. Our duties may not serve their purposes so well as they once did. Thus we may no longer be sure of our duties, with the result that we may cease to be sure of our motives. (21) No longer can we, privileged members of the Western world, argue that we need nonhuman animals in order to survive. Then again, perhaps it is because of our privileged position that we are able to continue making such an argument. Our only argument for a continued use (and abuse) of them is that we are human and they are not. It is our sustained values and judgments about nonhuman animals that allow us to keep them in their pens. That’s not to say we should all feel guilty for having our dogs penned in by fenced yards. This is not about specific nonhuman animals and our specific interactions with them (though it could be but that would be a slightly different project). And yet, at the same time, the pens I speak of are not metaphorical, not by any stretch of the imagination. The pens I refer to limit, in real and often violent ways, what is possible for another being’s being. Burke tells us that motivation is a strategy, a socially (rhetorically) constructed interpretation based upon what we, as a culture (which is also rhetorically constructed), deem is a “good life” and even if we recognize that our motivations are rooted in a faulty orientation, we will not be able (or willing) to let go of them (24-5). In this way we are victims of a trained incapacity, since:
Bateman 7 The very authority of [our] earlier ways interferes with the adoption of new ones. And this difficulty is increased by the fact that, even when a practice is socially dangerous, it may be individually advantageous… (23) Even if we are able to recognize the cruel ways we interact with nonhuman animals, even as we hold conversations about their welfare and carve out a corner in academia devoted to our study of them, even as we acknowledge our practices of living as destructive to their habitats and detrimental to their futures on this planet, we may be unwilling to alter our orientation towards them because of the individual benefits we reap from their enclosure as beings-for-us. Nothing does more to allow for our continued (mis)orientation towards nonhuman animals than the terms we use in relation to them and their (in)abilities. For instance, as I discussed in the introduction to this project, the very word “animal,” especially as it is set opposite the word “human,” established (in ancient times) the creation of and reifies (contemporarily) the existence of the human/animal, or “us”/“them” binary. Other words that serve to keep nonhumans emplaced include “language” and “rhetoric.” These four terms — human, animal, language, and rhetoric, compile what Burke calls a “terministic screen.” A terministic screen is the way in which a term directs our attention towards one direction or away from another. Burke writes, “Even if a given term is a reflection of reality, by its very nature as a terminology it must be a selection of reality; and to this extent it must function also as a deflection of reality” (“Terministic Screens” 45). By assigning all nonhuman animals to the term “animal” and all human animals to the term “human,” we enact a terministic screen that allows us to see as inherent a solid distinction between what is human and what is animal. By assigning the term “language” to encompass only human
Bateman 8 written and spoken communication, we enact a terministic screen that allows us to see as inherent nonhuman animals as beasts of instinct, devoid of reason, and depending on the theory of consciousness we choose to adopt, possibly devoid of “true” (where “true” means like that of a human) consciousness. And by assigning the term “rhetoric” to mean “the art of using language effectively so as to persuade or influence others” (OED); “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion” (Aristotle 24); the application of reason to imagination "for the better moving of the will” (Bacon 743); or "the use of words by human agents to form attitudes or to induce actions in other human agents" (Burke, Rhetoric of Motives 41), we enact a terministic screen that allows us to see as inherent the inability of nonhuman animals to respond, to persuade, and/or to affect. What is so significant about terministic screens is that they determine what we deem is possible in a given situation. For instance, we determine “language” only consists of human written or verbal communication and from that term we observe nonhuman animals as being less conscious than humans because they lack language. Similarly, we define “rhetoric” as consisting of some mixture of persuasion, language, and reason whereby a rhetor seeks to move an audience to adopt a position or opinion through the intentional use of tools and/or tactics available to him and from that term we observe nonhuman animals as being incapable of response-ability. Derrida writes that even those who, from Descartes to Lacan, “have conceded to the animal some aptitude for signs and for communication have always denied it the power to respond—to pretend, to lie, to cover its tracks or erase its own traces” (“The Animal” 33). By denying nonhuman animals the ability to respond, to allow them to merely react, we deny them the ability to persuade, to affect, to express themselves in any way as beings-for-
Bateman 9 themselves. Critical of our use of words to define, label, and limit one another, Derrida writes, “Men would be first and foremost those living creatures who have given themselves the word that enables them to speak of the animal with a single voice and to designate it as the single being that remains without a response, without a word with which to respond” (“The Animal” 32). So, according to Derrida, we first anoint ourselves the power to name “the animal” as one collective (non)voice, and then we assign to “the animal” the inability to speak (because “to speak” has also been designated to mean a certain thing accessible only to and by specific beings, namely humans). We create definitions and then behave as if those definitions exist outside of us, as some truth we discovered rather than an orientation we negotiated through our use of terministic screens.7 And to what end? What are some of the consequences of our current terministic screen regarding nonhuman animals? The most obvious consequence seems to be that we get to continue our ways of living without having to assume responsibility towards them— responsibility for the consideration of their interests in their lives in light of and in addition to our own, responsibility for our treatment of them, and responsibility for our construction and maintenance of a culture that denies their “voices.” An example of this might mean that in the case of industrialized animal agriculture, or the slaughter industry as it would be named if we wanted to call it what it really is, we take responsibility for the conditions under which cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, lambs, ducks, and horses live and die by the billions every year. To continue our current orientation towards nonhuman animals is to allow us to give ourselves permission to “look the other way” regarding large-scale
For more on language and the construction of truth, see Nietzsche, Friedrich. “On Truth And Lies In A Nonmoral Sense.” In On Truth And Untruth: Selected Writings. Ed. and trans. by Taylor Carman. New York: Harper Perennial, 2010. Print.
Bateman 10 animal agriculture, to relinquish ourselves of any responsibility regarding not just the conditions under which the slaughter industry operates but even the most basic knowledge that it operates as it does. If nonhuman animals are these arhetorical beings that exist without language, if they represent everything that is non-human, if they are a priori less than us, then we can deny ourselves culpability for our actions towards them. Another consequence of our current terministic screen is that it allows us to withhold hospitality from nonhuman animals. I am referring to Derrida’s law of hospitality, “the law of absolute, unconditional, hyperbolic hospitality” (On Hospitality 77). As Derrida explains, the law of hospitality exists outside of the laws of hospitality. The laws of hospitality are those of the conditions, the norms, the rights, and the duties imposed upon us by societal rules of justice and governance, but the law of hospitality is above those laws, exists outside of them, and yet is dependent upon them for its existence. The law has nothing to do with logic and reason. The law of hospitality commands that a new arrival, what Derrida describes as “the absolute other,” be offered an unconditional welcome. Derrida writes: To put it in different terms, absolute hospitality requires that I open up my home and that I give…to the absolute, unknown, anonymous other, and that I give place to them, that I let them come, that I let them arrive, and take place in the place I offer them, without asking of them either reciprocity (entering into a pact) or even their names. (Derrida, On Hospitality 26) The law of hospitality requires a break with the laws of hospitality because the laws of hospitality are situated within rules, laws, and rights established after the other has been named. Therefore the laws of hospitality are entrenched in the values and norms of the
Bateman 11 culture in which they were established. The law comes first. From the law of hospitality, from that initial welcoming, the laws come after. This is why Derrida says that any “yes” spoken to another is always already a “yes, yes” and any “no” is always already a “yes, no” (87). We cannot offer a “yes” to another we have not welcomed in nor can we offer a “no.” With regards to rhetoric, this concept of the “yes, yes” or the “yes, no” is significant because it suggests that as we are denying nonhuman animals rhetorical agency, we have already acknowledge that they have affected us. This means by the very notion that rhetorical scholarship has ignored the rhetoricity of nonhumans animals, it has acknowledged their a priori rhetoricability. We can’t say that nonhuman animals are incapable of response-ability while, at the same, addressing their (in)abilities in defining our limits of study. To do so is to have already let them in, and to have already let them in is to acknowledge that the pens we have held them in are constructed entirely by the terministic screen we have adopted. To withhold hospitality is to acknowledge having already welcomed the other and chosen to deny that welcome. Regarding rhetorical theory, Diane Davis addresses this notion of the “yes, yes” in her book, Inessential Solidarity: Rhetoric and Foreigner Relations (2010). Davis’s primary argument in the book is that prior to any hermeneutics, there exists a rhetorical imperative, an infinite obligation to respond or what Davis calls a “rhetoric of the saying.” She explains: If rhetorical practices work by managing to have an effect on others, then an always prior openness to the other’s affection is its first requirement: the “art” of rhetoric can be effective only among affectable existents, who are by definition something other than distinct individuals or self-determining
Bateman 12 agents, and whose relations necessarily precede and exceed symbolic intervention. (Inessential Solidarity 3) Davis’s rhetoric of the saying is similar to Derrida’s notion of the law of hospitality in that it occurs prior to any culturally accepted, hermeneutically determined rules, norms, or judgments that can be imposed upon the other. A rhetoric of the saying is nonhermeneutic. In fact there can be no hermeneutic understanding without this a priori obligation to respond, and it is in this response and through this response that both subject and object come into being. Applied to our denial of nonhuman animals as rhetorical agents, Davis’s rhetoric of the saying makes clear the notion that in order to deny rhetorical agency, we must have already acknowledged it. Like absolute hospitality, we first acknowledge rhetoricability, and then we deny it. While both Derrida and Davis want to place our emphasis of study on that first “yes,” that nonhermeneutic, a priori welcoming “yes,” I argue that given the significance of terministic screens in the (re)constructing of our realities, a consideration of the place and power of our no’s may be more productive. As soon as we have, in fact, said “no,” it doesn’t matter that we first said “yes,” if anything that initial “yes” only makes the “no” that much more violent. Even if we acknowledge and accept that first we said “yes,” we still have all of the power to then say “no.” What Derrida and Davis do not seem to consider, what we have to consider in order to address our intra-actions with nonhuman animals, is the immense imbalance of the power component of those intra-actions. Michel Foucault writes, “Power is not an institution, and not a structure; neither is it a certain strength we are endowed with; it is the name that one attributes to a complex strategical situation in a particular society” (Foucault 93). If we examine our terministic screens, and consequently our
Bateman 13 orientation, towards nonhuman animals as a means by which we establish and maintain power, we would be examining the times and places in which we say “yes, no.” What might such an examination look like? How might we go about engaging the role rhetoric plays in constructing, enabling, or directing our no’s? What might rhetorical scholarship that emphasizes the impact of our no’s on nonhuman and fellow human animals consist of? And how might such scholarship be received? Returning to Foucault I am reminded of his thought that “people know what they do; frequently they know why they do what they do; but what they don't know is what what they do does” (Dreyfus and Rabinow 187). Focusing our efforts on the yes portion of the “yes, no” does not help us to understand what what we do does. It’s our no’s that do the damage. It’s our no’s that construct pens. To not engage the times and places we say “yes, no” is to fall victim to our trained incapacities. To keep nonhuman animals in pens of arhetoricity merely because it is what is convenient for us is to ignore the fundamental concept of orientation. To go into the pens we have constructed for nonhuman animals is to dissect, question, and trace the genealogies of our no’s.
Bateman 14 Works Cited Aristotle. Rhetoric. In The Rhetoric And Poetics of Aristotle. Trans. W. Rhys Roberts. New York: The Modern Library, 1984. Print. Bacon, Francis. “From The Advancement of Learning.” In The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings From Classical Times To The Present. 2nd edition. Eds. Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2001. 740-744. Print. Burke, Kenneth. Permanence and Change: An Anatomy of Purpose. 3rd edition. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984. Print. ---. “Terministic Screens.” In Language As Symbolic Action: Essays on Life, Literature, and Method. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1966. Print. Davis, Diane. Inessential Solidarity: Rhetoric And Foreigner Relations. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010. Print. ---. “Life, Language, And The Question Of “The Animal.” University of South Carolina Conference On Rhetorical Theory. Columbia, South Carolina. 8 September 2011. Conference Presentation. Derrida, Jacques. The Animal That Therefore I Am. Ed. Marie-Louise Mallet. Trans. David Wills. New York: Fordham UP, 2008. Print. Derrida, Jacques and Anne Dufourmantelle. Of Hospitality: Anne Dufourmantelle Invites Jacques Derrida To Respond. Trans. Rachel Bowlby. 1997. Stanford, Stanford UP, 2000. Print. Dreyfus, Hubert L. and Paul Rabinow. Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics. 2nd edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983. Print.
Bateman 15 Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: An Introduction. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Vintage Books, 1978. Print. Muckelbauer, John. “Domesticating Animal Theory.” Philosophy and Rhetoric. 44.1 (2011): 95-100. Print.
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