The Fallacies:Theory, Saturation Capitalism and the Animal

The first part of this paper was prepared for a conference on ‘Poetry and the Trace’, sponsored by Monash University at the State library of Victoria in July 2008. The second was added four years later.


I would like to begin by suggesting that in every poem, as in every human artefact, there is, inevitably and unavoidably, the trace of slaughter. But that would be confrontational. Especially given that I am not speaking of the slaughter of humans, though that too is certainly there. I won’t, that is to say, go further along this line, for fear of counterproductive confusion. If all poems bear the trace of slaughter, then some readers might think I am about to suggest that we should reach a terminal state of our poetic effacement – a curious statement, perhaps, but I will explain it soon enough – and stop writing poems altogether, whereas, as it happens, I am of the opposite view. The time for effacement is passing, if it was ever here. I am about to argue for something more like reversal.

I am, of course, on the side of the animals – or, rather, of non-human animals, since we humans are ourselves animal, and with the rider that ‘animals’ is itself an umbrella term, a conceptual violence[1], itself one of our means of shielding ourselves from what we like to think of as ‘them’. And they – animals – are and will be a trace in all that follows. I believe that our arrogating to ourselves dominion over animals, our having given ourselves the right to exploit and to kill them at our will, is our deep wound and the source of much of our ontological distress, since this dominion has required first and foremost a separation from or deep division within ourselves, whereby we deny our own animality – an animality which, undenied, admitted, would mean that most of us engage daily in what are in effect acts of cannibalism – and pretend instead that we are something else, at best that we are animal plus something. Sometimes I think that we have had to invent metaphysics – no wonder they tremble so much! – in order to locate and attempt to stabilise this Plus. In the second part of this essay I will speak of saturation capitalism; I see this aforementioned deep division within ourselves, and saturation capitalism – and the consumerism which saturation capitalism drives and upon which saturation capitalism depends – as deeply interrelated.

In this forum we are talking about writing, about poetics. One might think that poetics are a long way away from such concerns, but that that is an illusion. Poetry may not make many things happen, but poetics, I think, are a different matter. To the extent that the theorists and philosophers are right in their assertion that we are creatures of language, and that it is through language that we receive and interact with our world, then poetics, the laws, customs and styles by which we put one word beside another, are in fact the laws, customs and styles by which we make our world, and should therefore be one of our primary areas of scrutiny.

It is my contention in what follows that in the quite recent and rapid development of literary studies – even now they are barely one hundred years old – this sequestration of the human and defence of the territory of the Plus has come at once to be symbolised and propagated by numerous forced and rather specious assertions of the autonomy of the text, gathered about and guarded by four towers – towers which in their own turn are symbolised by what have come to be called the Fallacies.

That I assert that there are four towers, four fallacies, may surprise. We are very probably familiar with three – the Pathetic Fallacy, articulated by John Ruskin in his book Modern Painters in 1856, and the two added almost a century later by William Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley, the Intentional Fallacy and the Affective Fallacy, in their famous essays of those names in the late 1940s.[2] The fourth fallacy – the fourth tower – is arguably of more recent construction, although also the embodiment of a venerable perception. It is what I call the Representational Fallacy: that which, on the grounds that language does not give us a hold on reality, that it walls us in our own tower, makes a fallacy of any attempt to grasp the actual with the word. There is not, as far as I am aware, any one essay entitled ‘The Representational Fallacy’, but I would imagine that most readers will have read essays that approximate it. In some ways it is the most imposing tower of them all.

But what are these fallacies, and what, precisely, do I have against them? Why do I regard them as in some way themselves dangerous and fallacious?

By the pathetic fallacy Ruskin referred to any ‘description of inanimate natural objects that ascribes to them human capabilities, sensations, and emotions’. To his credit he does say ‘inanimate objects’, but, as with the later fallacies, this fallacy has been popularised to encompass the non-human animate also, presenting it as philosophically indefensible to extend, to creatures other than the human, human-like sensations and emotions. In this regard this fallacy could be seen as synechdochic: the natural sciences are currently torn, as they have long been, over the matter of anthropomorphism, and such questions as whether we can speak of animals as having emotions that we can employ ‘human’ terms for, such as ‘anger’, ‘pride’, ‘happiness’, ‘love’, ‘desire’, ‘shame’, or ‘grief’.

By the Intentional fallacy, Wimsatt and Beardsley meant the assumption that the author’s intended meaning is significant to the interpretation of a literary work. In the New Criticism’s concern to establish and defend the autonomy of the text this came to mean the relegation of any concern for the author’s intention in the analysis of a work. This fallacy, like the others, has had its extensions and permutations. People now speak of the Biographical fallacy, as if there were, as indeed there is, a proscription against using details of an author’s life in order to better understand their writing, myriads of author biographies and the entire vogue for author-centred literary festivals (etc.) notwithstanding. Roland Revolutionary as it was held to be, Barthes’ influential 1968 essay ‘The Death of the Author’ – its ironies never sufficiently recognised – arguably merely re-packaged and re-empowered this fallacy.

By the Affective fallacy Wimsatt and Beardsley referred to the purported error of judging a work by its emotional impact upon the reader, an argument which has considerable consequences for the reception and evaluation of the lyric, and for two of the modes or functions, those of what we might call consolation and recognition, for which poetry has so long been most treasured.

And by the Representational fallacy I refer (to reiterate) to the supposed misconception that there is some inherent connection between word and thing and, by extension, language and ‘reality’. The belief that this is a misconception has of course been spurred by the philosophy of Nietzsche, elaborated by the theories of de Saussure, and consolidated by Derrida and others. Ironically, I do not doubt this – that would be absurd, even heretical – but only to suggest that the famed distinction of signified and signifier has never quite managed to eclipse, in the users of signs, the immense weight and utility of experience and habit. Theoretically we may be irrevocably separated, by language, from the world, but this doesn’t stop us from ordering a cup of coffee, catching a bus, or from communicating in innumerable other ways quite effectively as we do so. It doesn’t stop us, for example, giving conference papers, or taking issue with them.

It may be remarked that Ruskin described the Pathetic Fallacy one hundred and fifty years ago, that Wimsatt and Beardsley described the Intentional and Affective Fallacies over sixty-five years ago, and that, in terms of our understanding of the literary event, things have moved on considerably from then. But I am not so sure. These ‘fallacies’ were identified by these writers, named by them, but they were not invented by them. The proscriptions that they represent are in fact guard towers of an ancient and perpetually defended citadel. Each tower has been much renovated, and might now go under a different name, but each is still very much in use. Indeed it might be argued that they are defended now more thoroughly, pervasively and subtly than ever.

A recent permutation of the Pathetic Fallacy, for example, is the warning against and attempted proscription of using animate creatures as metaphors in the articulation of human feelings and situations: we appropriate these creatures, so this line of thought goes, for our own purposes, and so fail to ‘see’ them as they ‘are’, or, lest this be seen to clash too obviously with the Representational fallacy, at least fail to let them be whatever unknowable thing or being that, based upon our own experience of what we have come to understand as our own being, we might surmise that they might or must be. And if we turn to the Intentional fallacy we have to concede on the one side that it was already there, two decades earlier, in the famed ‘impersonality’ of T.S. Eliot, and in Practical Criticism (1926), I.A. Richard’s landmark anatomy of the errors of reading, and on the other that it received substantial rejuvenation, but no structural damage, in Barthes’ aforementioned essay, again in Derrida’s critique of presence, and again, more recently, in a proscription, not so much by critics as by poets themselves, against the use of the first person pronoun.

So, the Fallacies then, and some permutations. What is it that I have against them? In one sense I concede that, within appropriate parameters, they are logical enough, as in they conform to a deeper Logos. In as much as one accepts the strategic use of cauterising the text, of asserting its autonomy – and I do think that this should be a stage in or aspect of our consideration of a text – the cautions that they represent against certain distortions of reading, by which I mean distractions from ascertaining the basic ‘contents’ of a text, make perfect sense. I’m hardly alone in thinking that there is less and less attention paid these days to ascertaining the contents of a text, and that any attempt to draw attention to them should be applauded. But once these have been ascertained – it’s a bit like preparing a plane for take-off – the others – the referent, the affect, the communication (the poet, the reader…) – should be allowed on board, like the passengers for whom, after all, the plane is in service in the first place. Had Ruskin, Wimsatt and Beardsley used another term – the Pathetic propensity, let’s say (the Intentional propensity; the Affective propensity) – I might find myself less critical; but ‘fallacy’ is a hard term, a barricade, a tower. Theory often attempts to totalise in this way, and often thereby shoots itself in the foot.

On the simplest and most obvious level, the problem is that most writers, ‘literary’ and otherwise, write in order to communicate. Most know, or have a fair idea of, what it is that they are trying to say, and to a large extent this is why they write. It seems paradoxical to them – to us (…to me, even if only as the author of this paper) – if not perversely obtuse – to have our intentions in this regard sidelined and derided. So too, as a writer, a poet and novelist, I am absolutely concerned for the affect that my writing will stimulate. I do not write in order to have no affect. Even the most cerebral writer, the most disengaged aesthete, seeks what has to be regarded as an appropriate and commensurate affect, even if that affect is a kind of serene and cerebral detachment. Along with the understanding or at least reception of any communication they seek to make, the presence or absence of this affect is the mark of the success or failure of their writing. To have it relegated seems patently absurd.

But these are only first-level difficulties. There are others, of perhaps a different order. With the relegation of the writer’s life and intention (not – and this is partly my point – that these always gesture in the same direction), the theory of the Intentional Fallacy in effect relegates a very large part of the social and psychological machinery of the text’s production. And upon this relegation we face nothing short of the suppression, the effacement, the removal from our view (in many cases the convenient removal from our view), of the complex relations of art and life that may well be amongst the most important things that art, and the contemplation of art, is able to teach us: just what it is that we sublimate, for example, and why we sublimate it, the prices that are paid for this sublimation, and the prices that, it may be, this sublimation is an attempt to avoid paying; the myths that it enables us to maintain, and the damage and the horror that it papers over. But these are subjects for a different paper.

Before it broadened to take on the Fallacies more generally, this paper was called ‘The Pathetic Fallacy Fallacy’. Why? We are cautioned not to extend – perhaps the better term is export – our feelings to the things and creatures around us, because this is to colonise them, to appropriate them for our own purposes, and so to some extent to relegate, deny or efface their distinction, their unique essence. Use a bird, say, for a symbol of or metaphor for a human problem or concept, and we are not seeing the bird for itself. Fair enough. In many cases it would probably be quite true to say that we are not writing about the bird at all. To reject the use of the bird as symbol or metaphor per se, however, is hardly the solution. Setting aside what is for me the most obvious response – that there is nothing but metaphor, that a word in itself is a metaphor, that language is, in its very conception, metaphor – some of the uses of the animate and inanimate, non-human world will not be for the defence but for the expansion, not for the support but for the critique of the human; not to bring the creature to the human, but to bring the human to the creature (metaphors – at the risk of appropriating metaphor itself – bleed, so that it is very hard to ensure that the traffic is ever entirely one-way).

But that point – simple and yet substantial enough – is only en route to another and more fundamental one. The extension of our feelings to the things and creatures around us is the basis of empathy, and the only kind of empathy we can feel, since the actual nature of the ‘feelings’ – that word in itself is a metaphor – of these things and creatures cannot be known to us. And this empathy – one is tempted to say ‘particularly at this point of environmental crisis’, but in truth it should be so at any point – is crucial. We must amplify – develop, articulate and amplify – our feelings for and in the world, sensitise ourselves to it by the only means we can, which is to extend our senses into it, and guard ourselves against – consider most carefully – any voices which would have us turn our backs on it, albeit on the most logical of theoretical grounds. It is all very well to derive from the fairly evident ‘fact’ that humans can only know human feelings a proscription against attributing ‘human’ feelings to non-human animals, but we cannot ascribe to them anything else – that is, we cannot ascribe to them those things that we do not know – and so, in effect, and a very powerful effect, such a proscription is to propose that we do not ascribe to them anything at all. The respect and veneration of the non-human animal that such a proscription appears to embody arguably mask an effective and, to borrow Derrida’s term, violent isolation and effacement of the very creature we are supposedly respecting.

Wikipedia, that treacherous resort, to which I turned for the date of Ruskin’s work, offers, in its entry on the Pathetic Fallacy, the following illustration:

When Xerxes was crossing the Hellespont in the midst of the first Greco-Persian War, he built two bridges that were quickly destroyed. Feeling personally offended, his paranoia led him to believe that the river was consciously acting against him as though it were an enemy. As such Herodotus quotes him as saying ‘You salt and bitter stream, your master lays his punishment upon you for injuring him, who never injured you. Xerxes will cross you, with or without your permission.’ He subsequently threw chains into the river, gave it three hundred lashes and ‘branded it with red-hot irons’.

Xerxes’ behaviour is absurd, of course, but that is not the point. The point is, and as we are coming to realise more and more each day, the world is injured by our actions, and does do something very like turn on us, if not in enmity then in something that might serve our own as well as its best interests to conceive of as pain.

But this is only one of the reasons for my discomfort with the concept of the Pathetic Fallacy. There are reasons, for example, – I am thinking, at the moment, of the extraordinary power and appeal of T’ang Dynasty landscape poetry – to do with the way the landscape, in which we have lived so many thousands of years longer than in any city, has so deeply shaped the psyche that we cannot be entirely sure that what we project into it is not in effect a kind of counter-projection. There are reasons, too, to do with addressing and attempting to understand what I have described, here and elsewhere, as a deep wound or division within ourselves. But first and foremost, for this particular writer, there are the most simple and urgent of ‘animal’ reasons. The barriers which what I have herein called The Fallacies place around the text are not unlike the barriers we place around the meat we eat, or at least the barriers we place to our consciousness of the sources of that meat, the abuse, the slaughter, the butchery that are masked by the remoteness, anonymity and architecture of the abattoir, the light and order of the supermarket shelf, the plastic wrap and Styrofoam trays that mean we see so much less of the blood on our hands, the sleights of language which turn pig into pork, say, or calf into veal, cow into beef, deer into venison, or even, quite simply, flesh into meat. How much harder it would be to look, without reawakening some old crisis within ourselves, upon a de-beaked and mangy chicken in a battery farm, or anguished sow in an intensive piggery, or these creatures, later, as their heads are severed or the hammer-gun put to their temples, if, in flagrant defiance of the Pathetic and Affective fallacies, we saw their pain as our own.


I have barely touched, so far, upon what I have called the Representational Fallacy, but it is key to our understanding of a significant problem in contemporary poetics. In order to establish just how crucial, it will be necessary to set the scene, and perhaps appear to go some distance away from poetics in order to come back to them.

I will make my approach in three parts, firstly a glance at the expansion of what I call saturation capitalism and the manner in which it has effectually bifurcated some of the key values and institutions of what we fondly call, well, I was going to say ‘the West’, but I think this is in truth almost universal; secondly, a glance in the direction of the rapid and massive consumption of the world’s limited resources in order to fuel the consumerism that is the primary tool or agent of saturation capitalism; and thirdly, taking up and expanding upon the first part, a brief consideration of the way in which, although we might feel that we operate, intellectually, with a measure of freedom of thought, that freedom itself is curtailed by the environment created by such saturation to the point where we must scrutinise some of our most cherished contemporary ideas and assumptions for the manner in which, largely unbeknownst to us, they may serve as agents of this saturation. And since, as I have suggested already, the world is put together by words, some of these cherished ideas may be literary ones – or, more specifically, may be in the realm of literary theory over and above the fallacies already discussed.

One by one, over the recent decades, the barricades against saturation capitalism have been falling, to the point where this saturation could be seen as the dominant force of our age. Democracy, for example, – that pillar of Western thought and liberty – has been brought to or forced upon, regime after regime.[3] So much the better for the world as a whole, one might have thought – and we have been conditioned to think. But it is, of course, a poisoned chalice. The first part of this paper was delivered four and a half years after the capture of Saddam Hussein and the commencement of what the West then referred to as the ‘economic recovery’ of Iraq, a double-sided blade since it has become clear that it referred not only to the return of currency to the hands of Iraqi citizens, but to the West’s economic re-colonisation of Iraqi territory. It was delivered less than a year after the West’s defiant establishment of the Republic of Kosovo, and almost twenty years after the partition and redistribution of Yugoslav republics as nurseries of Western capital.[4] And as, in August 2012, I sat down to begin this second part – the coincidence, salutary as it may be, was no more than that, coincidental – Hilary Clinton, the U.S. Secretary of State, was marshalling ‘the West’ to begin drawing up plans for the ‘economic recovery’ that she saw as part-and parcel of the imminent democratisation of Syria, itself, and however appalling its regime, also a further domino falling to saturation capitalism in a process we have been referring to as the Arab Spring.

Democracy, this is to say, for all its possible benefits, has also been the harbinger of saturation capitalism, saturation consumerism. Each new democracy opens also a new market, not only offering up a new populace to penetration but, by atomising that populace, ensuring the depth and efficacy of the penetration. Advertising – exposure to the world’s wares – has ensured that the first desire of the politically re-enfranchised individual has been for economic empowerment, the power to purchase, not realising that any empowerment they are thereby granted is also the power to serve. So the British East India Company ‘liberated’ India. So the Opium Wars ‘liberated’ the hidden kingdom.[5] And attendant to this process is the cynical redeployment of that other sacred pillar of the West, individual liberty, the right and power to become and to express oneself, consumer capitalism being based, as it is, on appeal to and exploitation of this very desire. One becomes, it would lead us to believe, through acquisition of those things which best reflect us. While it may be too much to say that, one by one, some of the most sacred rights and institutions of the West have become compromised in this manner – becoming hosts to the viruses of globalism, economic imperialism – at least two of them, in the manner just described, have become disturbingly bifurcated, and we should surely examine carefully in this light such others as we are able to identify.

It is just as indisputable that saturation capitalism, and the continual over-consumption which it encourages and upon which it depends – which is its vehicle and agency – requires a massive consumption of the world’s resources, massive destruction of rainforest, massive overfishing, massive destruction of habitat, and pollution to the point of significant climate change. It is perhaps a fond point to think that if a household were truly conscious of the resources it consumed and the damage its consumption did to habitat then it might begin the better to resist such saturation, but (a) it is of the nature of saturation – hence my use of the term in the first place – that it either leaves little or no room for such thought, or simply and effectually disempowers such thought by the strength of its appeal to contrary desires, and (b) any decline in market such growing consciousness might achieve is readily compensated by expansion into new market areas: as the ‘West’ grows more conscious of the damage caused by its consumption, other parts of the globe, for the time being, more than take up the slack.

Such massive damage is perforce aided and abetted by a state of mind. Matter cannot be consumed, damaged and exploited in this manner where there is care for and attention to it; or, rather, the consumption, damage and exploitation of matter is facilitated by a widespread disregard for and inattention to it. (And let us not forget that at the core of this process, this logic of inattention – one could say its model and engine – is our slaughter and consumption of the flesh of others, sentient and conscious like ourselves, whose being we have first reduced to thingness.)

It should not surprise us, therefore, to find saturation capitalism attended by a host of sympathetic ideas, or, since the immediate context of this paper is a literary one, to find that some of these ideas are in the area of literary theory – ideas which, like those perpetuated by the aforementioned Pathetic, Intentional and Affective fallacies – serve in effect to discourage our intimate and immediate contact with the actuality and physicality, both animate and inanimate, of the world about us.

There is, of course, some sense of inevitability to literary as to any other theory, some sense that, as we move from one theory to another, or as we move through the various refinements of a particular theory, we are moving closer and closer to some sort of truth. A part of this is of the nature of theory itself – every theory attempts to totalise, and so to transcend its own status as theory – and there are paradoxes to consider here, some of them quite simple and evident. If there were any one theory that was somehow ultimately correct and true, then we would not, surely, have such an array of contending theories to select from in the first place. They remain theories, after all, and something of our awareness – albeit that it seems sometimes like a subconscious awareness – of this contingency is reflected in our retention, as a descriptor of our literary thinking, of the word theory in the first place. But the sense of inevitability is nevertheless there, and it pays to consider just how this sense comes about, and how inevitable some of these ideas might actually be.

There are – to phrase this very loosely – a great many thinkers and a great many ideas offered to us by these thinkers. How is it that some ideas are taken up and others not? Is it truly a matter of a kind of Darwinian survival of the fittest, of some ideas being right and some being wrong, some being feeble and some strong, or are other factors involved? Is there a cultural agenda that selects the ideas that serve it and rejects those that do not? Is it possible that, although many ideas are offered to us, those that come to seem true to us are those which suit our cultural priorities (Darwin himself included)? Is it possible that, since the greatest shaping force in the creation of the minds that do the selecting is, increasingly, saturation capitalism, recognised or not, the ideas to which we have given and are currently giving currency are somehow serving its purposes? As I have just suggested, a regime that would pillage the world would be ill advised to encourage love of and care for that world. Is it any accident that some of the most dominant ideas concerning literature’s relation to the world are in fact ideas of disconnection, inaccessibility and non-relation? Whose – or what – purposes does it really serve to believe that we are trapped in a prison-house of language? Whose or what purposes does it serve to believe that there is no inherent connection between word and thing? Whose or what purposes does it serve to take the ‘I’ out of our poems (thus encouraging a democracy of parts)? Whose or what purposes does it serve to believe that we cannot know anything of the feelings of non-human animals, and that any attempt at such knowledge is an act of appropriation?

Whose or what purposes – to turn to one of the principal tenets of contemporary theory – are served by our broad uptake of the idea of the death of the author, as presented in various forms by Barthes, Foucault, Derrida and others? The death of the author, while a major development and liberation for the reader (a democratisation of meaning), was also, if not in those who generated it, then in the way it was taken up and intellectually institutionalised, very quickly made, as it were, an organ of the state, consumerism and repression of resistance, for authors are, are they not, key sites of resistance, critique and scrutiny? Might it not be that this salutary liberation from authority has become, eventually, in its institutionalisation, – and if we can see that authority can be ceded to and taken up by an economic function – a subtle organ of authority? A similar point could be made concerning the severance from origin, critique of authenticity and appropriation of images that are seen as the key features of postmodernism, but – author, authority, authenticity – it is perhaps there for the reader to make for themselves.

They say that theories fly in and change us. I am not sure how true this is. Firstly, they are produced by people who are produced by a culture; and secondly, they are accepted by that culture. If they take off – are found ‘valid’ – it is the culture that approves them. If they flow against that culture in any radical way, then it is unlikely that they will be seen as successful within it. This must sound as if I am rejecting, or at least criticising, some of the key ideas of our times – De Saussure’s account of the linguistic sign, Benjamin’s idea of the appropriation of images, Barthes account of the intertextuality of authorship, Derrida’s critique of presence, etc. – but this is not so. These are powerful and compelling ideas, and my concern is not in any way to discredit them. I am speaking not of these ideas themselves but of the ways they have been taken up, the directions in which they have been developed, the agendas and priorities that – albeit largely in the hands of critics, theorists, practitioners and readers quite unconscious that this is what they have been doing – they have been led to serve.

To put this in yet another way, has the direction in which these ideas have been taken been somehow inherent in them, or have they been taken in the directions in which they have according to some other factors? An idea is taken up, surely, because it is in some measure recognised, which is to say that it has been found to fit sufficiently the priorities of the matrix into which it has been released. There may have been many other brilliant observations of this order made during this period that have not been taken up because they were not, or were only insufficiently, sympathetic to this broader matrix. If the vast majority of those likely to be exposed to and to take up such ideas have been deeply preconditioned by, say, saturation capitalism, then it is unlikely that ideas that are antithetical to it will take broad hold.

If the priorities were different, might it not have been possible that some of these very ideas might have been taken in different directions? De Saussure’s separation of the linguistic sign into signifier and signified, to take but one example, offers us various possibilities. The direction in which we have chosen to take it has led, in effect, to the conception of a linguistic prison-house, and to, theoretically, the total isolation of the human mind. An alternate route – directed, let’s say, by priorities of connection rather than division, of care rather than exploitation – might have led us to use words with a greater respect for and understanding of their limited capacity and for the huge task before them, the great burden we must perforce place upon them, and to emphasise that sense in which language itself is stimulated by our need for and relationship with the world, rather than – pace Freud, Lacan, Derrida, Kristeva (etc.) – as something which emblematises the world’s absence.

How is it, to turn to a last example, that a critique of ‘Humanism’ and the ‘Natural’ – a cautionary reminder that there is a great deal about what we had assumed to be ‘natural’ and non-negotiable was in fact system, structure, and so to a certain extent negotiable – led to the supposed end of humanism? Why did it not result, instead, in more caution concerning our sense of the natural? Why did not some revised and more cautious version of some residual part of the natural join, to remain in the palette of thought, those things which it seems came so quickly to replace it? Doubtless a part of the answer lies in that tendency, already cited, of theory to totalise and so to overreach itself. Doubtless a part lies in a kind of oppositionalism – born of Hegelian dialectic – which, ironically, poststructuralism dislocates even as it continues to practise it? Doubtless, too, or is this only to rephrase these same things? – some explanation lies in our relentless binarism.[6] But it is hard, surely, to discount the manner in which, first and foremost, it suits and serves so exactly and so sympathetically the broader and stronger current of disempowerment and desensitisation of which I have been speaking.

But enough. I should either write a book upon this subject or – with apologies for the skeletal nature of its presentation – cease this argument forthwith. Clearly we need to ask – to remind ourselves to ask – not just what our new ideas imply and where they might be taken, but what it is that such implications and directions might in fact be serving. Empathic identification. Intention. Affect. Representation. My point, ultimately, is a very simple one. If our agendas, our priorities were different – if we wanted to promote care for our environment, compassion for species other than our own – would these things be false?

[1] No real need to acknowledge Derrida here; the point was obvious long before he made it. The reader, however, may be interested to find that he does so, most extensively in The Animal That Therefore I Am (New York: Fordham Univ. Press, 2008), 23-35, but perhaps most concisely in a filmed interview, an appropriate excerpt from which is available on YouTube, in which Derrida says ‘I avoid speaking generally about animals. For me, there are not “animals”. When one says “animals” one has already started to not understand anything, and has started to enclose the animal into a cage. There are considerable differences between different types of animals. There is no reason one should group into one and the same category monkeys, bees, snakes, dogs, horses, anthropods and microbes. These are radically different organisms of life, and to say “animal”, and put them all into one category – both the monkey and the ant – is a very violent gesture’ ( – last accessed 24 August 2012).

[2] ‘[T]he design or intention of the author is neither available nor desirable as a standard for judging the success of a work of literary art’, ‘The Intentional Fallacy’, Sewanee Review 54 1946), 468-488, revised and republished in The Verbal Ikon: Studies in the Meaning of Poetry (University of Kentucky Press, 1954). ‘The Affective Fallacy’, also later collected in The Verbal Ikon, first appeared in vol. 57 of the Sewanee Review in 1949 (pp.31-55).

[3] I might cite here Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man (Free Press, 1992), in which he argues that Western liberal democracy may be the end point of human political/cultural evolution and, universally, the final form of government.

[4] See, for example, the Serbian/Canadian documentary by Boris Malagurski, The Weight of Chains (2010).

[5] The new empires, as we are taught, bear the (household) names of multinational corporations, albeit that the true centres of power, their imperial centres, may mean nothing to most of the households they enslave.

[6] How is it that our sense of the wide-ranging critique that Theory has offered us has become so binary? That we accept, for example, in our thinking about language, if so we can refer to what may in fact be a shutting down of thinking, an opposition of ‘transparency’ with ‘opacity’, discounting such other possibilities as, say, Jakobsen’s six functions, or the simple observation, known to anyone who has ever seriously studied a poem – known, but set aside in our theoretical doubling – that a word can have a range of signifying functions, literal and figurative, denotative, connotative, systemic, symbolic, and more.