Thursday, May 13, 2010

Vulnerability & Responsibility

What is at stake here is what Derrida has frequently called the 'propers of Man', those capacities that Man believed she alone had access to. It is a system of anthropocentrism that is destabilized by all of these animal capacities. This focus on animal capacity or generally anti-anthropocentric capacity, however, seems to contradict another important theoretical development in the political, ethical, and ontological domains of animal philosophy: namely the focused on a shared sense of vulnerability.
This notion of vulnerability is found in thinkers as similar yet diverse as Jacques Derrida, Judith Butler, Cora Diamond, Cary Wolfe, and to some degree in Jean-Luc Nancy and his notion of exposure. It is a concept I have found particularly useful (you can see some of my public work on this here and here), and I am sure many other young scholars have as well. The concept of vulnerability seeks to reorient our philosophical commitments away from what we can do and more to our sense of precariousness or finitude (as an aside, in the back of my mind has been the thought that thinking vulnerability alongside Bruno Latour's notion of trial by strength, but it hasn't gone anywhere yet). Therefore, a focus on animal capacity seems to contradict (or at least is rendered to a mere curiosity by) the commitment to vulnerability. Indeed, Cora Diamond has remarked that the moral basis of vegetarianism is endangered by arguments that seek to confuse the boundary lines between the human animal and the non-human animal.

François Raffoul approaches the concept of responsibility in a manner that is distinct from its traditional interpretation as accountability of the willful subject. Exploring responsibility in the works of Nietzsche, Sartre, Levinas, Heidegger, and Derrida, Raffoul identifies decisive moments in the development of the concept, retrieves its origins, and explores new reflections on it. For Raffoul, responsibility is less about a sovereign subject establishing a sphere of power and control than about exposure to an event that does not come from us and yet calls to us. These original and thoughtful investigations of the post-metaphysical senses of responsibility chart new directions for ethics in the continental tradition.
François Raffoul is Professor of Philosophy at Louisiana State University. He is author of Heidegger and the Subject and is translator (with Andrew Mitchell) of Martin Heidegger’s Four Seminars (IUP, 2003).

comment on the Rorty quip from Object-Oriented Philosophy by doctorzamalek (Graham Harman)
The unity of objects, for Husserl, is in those objects themselves, not in a human subject that bundles or counts them. 

Although I am sympathetic with some aspects of Bergson’s Matter and Memory, I here diverge strongly from attempts toontologize his account of memory and the pure past, or to treat all objects as containing a memory. I see no good reasons for supposing this is the case with rocks or my coffee mug, for example. Rather, this sort of relation to the past seems to belong exclusively to reflexive objects. 

As the poet says: All Nature dumbly calls to her alone To heal with her feet the aching throb of life And break the seals on the dumb soul of man And kindle her fire in the closed heart of things.

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