Akira Mizuta Lippit, Electric Animal

I don't usually think of myself as a bear of very little brain, but I feel that way today. Akira Mizuta Lippit has some buzz around his work, and I was expecting great things from his wonderfully entitled Electric Animal: Toward a Rhetoric of Wildlife.

Unfortunately, it turns out that I'm not smart enough to get the full benefit from the book. Admittedly I've only browsed through Nietzsche and Derrida (albeit delightedly), I have a hard time thinking of Freud as anything other than influential but WRONG, and Deleuze/Guattari really need to get outta my reading list and into my hands (cue the Billy Ocean music), but I had trouble seeing what shape all the fascinating stuff in this book was accumulating into.

As the back of the book notes, "Differentiation from animals helped to establish the notion of a human being, but the disappearance of animals now threatens that identity." This is a long and complex story, as well as a valuable one, and Lippit works with a pantheon of greats in his attempt to reframe how the story should look as we move into the future. But I kept waiting for something that would justify that audacious and mystifying subtitle - Toward a Rhetoric of Wildlife - and I just never found it. The title refers to the work of Freud's onetime collaborator Josef Breuer, but unless I slept through it, there was no parallel allusion to explain the subtitle.

I feel like I understand Heidegger a little better, and Lippit's Derrida is one I'm already comfortable with, but really this felt like a dense and thorny introduction, like a prologue to the real work which Lippit now needs to do. I recognize that the conclusion is provocative and forward-thinking, and that Lippit is working hard to imagine "the possibility of a nonhuman world, unregulated by human consciousness and subjectivity" (100). I accept the suggestive power in his remark that "If the animal is said to lack language, to represent the site of radical alterity, then words cannot circumscribe the being of animals as animals" (163).

But I don't really know what to do with this book. I'm less flummoxed than I was by Lilburn's Living in the World As If It Were Home, because I recognize Electric Animal as a member of the philosophic genre of the prolegomena, but that doesn't mean I know what I'll be saying about this to students when the topic of animality comes up....


fiona-h said…
I really, really hate that Billy Ocean song. Thanks for putting it in my head!
richard said…
Would you prefer:

"Caribbean queen! Now we're sharing the same dream! And our hearts..."

An 80s mental playlist is a painful thing to carry around, isn't it?

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