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Amanda Hodgson “Defining the Species”

January 4, 2015 Leave a comment

Hodgson, Amanda 1999. Defining the Species: apes, savages and humans in scientific and literary writing of the 1860s. Journal of Victorian Culture 4(2): 228-251.

The scientific study of humankind – anthropology – was an emergent discipline in the 1860s. The Anthropological Society of London was founded in 1863 and defined its aims as follows: „to study Man in all his leading aspects, physical, mental, and historical; to investigate the laws of his origin and progress; to ascertain his place in nature and his relations to the inferior forms of life; and to attain these objects by patient investigation, careful induction, and the encouragement of all researches tending to establish a de facto science of man.” (230 – Prospectus of the Anthropological Society of London, 1)

The Athenaeum of 11 May 1861 carried a long review of du Chaillu’s book, in which it singled out for extensive quotation passages where du Chaillu recognised the strong and disturbing resemblance between humans and the gorillas he is hunting: „Suddenly I was startled by a strange, discordant, half human, devilish cry, and beheld four young gorillas running toward the deep forests. . . . I protest I felt almost like a murderer when I saw the gorillas this first time. As they ran – on their hind legs – they looked fearfully like hairy men; their heads down, their bodies inclined forward, their whole appearance like men running for their lives.” (231)

Reason, religion and morality: these are the things which no beast possesses, however similar to ours might be the physical structure of its brain. These are the things which will enable humankind to retain its sense of superiority over the animal kingdom – else we might, as the philologist Friedrich Max Müller put it, ‘not unreasonably feel somewhat uneasy at having the gorilla so close on our heels’. (235)

In the prevailing climate of doubt as to the existence of a dividing line between animals and
humankind, and with the further possibility that humankind itself might be made up of separate species, it is not surprising that there was also some confusion about the precise relationship between man-like apes and the ‘savages’ whose appearance and way of life seemed to Victorians so disturbingly alien from their own culture. Some, like Hunt, came to the conclusion that there were a number of significant analogies between apes and black humans. (238-239)

This blurring of the distinction between black humans and apes was not always, or merely, the result of unthinking racial distaste. It was important for mid-Victorians to define themselves with reference to an ‘other’ that was both bestial and savage, because they had to forge an identity that could cope with the newly historical perspective in which they had to view themselves. It was no longer possible simply to assert the superiority of European civilised humankind as if it were an obvious fact, when notions of creation were being challenged by the idea of a morally neutral evolution. (239)

However, if humans could be seen as coming at the end of a progressive line of development, at the head of the procession as Huxley’s skeletons imply, moral evolution could be linked, as it is in The Water-Babies, with physical evolution. But in order to do this, it was necessary to prove that modern human societies were ‘better’ than ancient ones. Hence the importance of the idea of the savage. (239)

[Edward] Tylor equates contemporary savages with early humankind, persistently describing them as standing to civilised cultures as children do to adults, and he recognises the logical monogenesist corollary: speaking of the apparent universality of gesture-language, he concludes that its prevalence ‘bears against the supposition that specific differences are traceable among the various races of man’. (240)

Tylor stresses his conviction that the different degrees of civilisation visible among different groups of people ‘are rather differences of development than of origin, rather of degree than of kind’.40 Yet it is their evolutionary and monogenesist standpoint which requires these anthropologists to represent savages as bestial. In his seminal work Primitiue Culture (1870) Tylor devotes chapters to language, religion and counting, clearly following the prescribed rules for defining civilised humankind against both savage and beast. (240)

If savages were remnants of prehistoric societies, and if humans were descended from ape-like ancestors, then savages were, logically, intermediaries between these apish ancestors and evolved humankind. To think otherwise would be to question progress. (241)

It is difficult for linear narrative in the past tense not to appear driven towards a goal, a conclusion, an end. The linearity of most Victorian prose fiction engaged (particularly when the narrative was serialised) with the contemporary ideology which identified process as progress, moralising the transformation described by science and thus rendering it palatable. I have tried to show how the anthropologists who saw prehistoric humans as savages were implicated in this procedure, and how The Water-Babies endorsed it. Poetry such as Browning’s, which struggles to evade narrative, may the more readily subvert the prevailing valorisation of change as progress – at least for as long as it takes to read the poem. (247)

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Jacques Derrida “The Ends of Man”

September 7, 2014 Leave a comment

Derrida, Jacques 1969. The Ends of Man. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 30(1): 31-57.

And yet, in spite of this supposed neutralizing of metaphysical presuppositions, we have to admit that the unity of man is not in itself called into question. Not only is existentialism a humanism, but the ground and horizon of what Sartre then called his “phenomenological ontology” (this is the subtitle of Being and Nothingness) remains the unity of human-reality. In so far as it describes the structures of human-reality, phenomenological ontology is a philosophical anthropology. (35)

Sartre’s attempt is a remarkable example verifying Heidegger’s propsition according to which “all humanism remains metaphysical,” metaphysics being the other name for onto-theology. (36)

The transcendental structures described after the phenomenological reduction are not those of that intra-mundane being called “man.” They are not essentially linked with society, culture or language, or even with man’s “soul” or his “psyche.” And just as, according to Husserl, a consciousness can be imagined without soul (seelenloses), so can -and a fortiori -a consciousness be imagined without man. (38)

[…] what authorizes us today to consider as essentially anthropic or anthropocentric all that which, in metaphysics or at the limits of metaphysics, has presumed to criticize or to delimit anthropologism? What remains of the “relève,” of man in the thought df Hegel, Husserl and Heidegger? (40)

Phenomenology is no longer but it is still a science of man. In this sense all of the structure described in the Phenomenology of Mind -just as everything which links them with Logic -are the structures of what has taken over for man. Man remains there in his “relbve”. His essence lies in the phenomenology. This equivocality of the relation of “relbve” undoubtedly marks the end of man, of man past, but at the same time it marks the completion of man, the appropriation of his essence. This is the end of finite man, the end of the finitude of man, the unity of the finite and the infinite, the finite as surpassing of oneself; these essential themes of Hegel are recognized at the end of the Anthropology when consciousness is finally designated as “infinite relation with oneself.” The “relbve” of man is his telos or his eschaton. (41)

Despite the criticism of anthropologism, “humanity” is still, here, the name of the being to which transcendental telos, determined as Idea (in the Kantian sense), or as Reason, is announced. It is man as rational animal which, in its most classical metaphysical determination, designates the place of deployment of teleological reason; that is, history. For Husserl as for Hegel, reason is history and there is no history except that of reason. The latter functions in every man, no matter how primitive he may still be, in that he is “the rational animal” (Origin of Geometry). (43)

Thus, under the auspices of the founding concepts of metaphysics, which Husserl revives and restores, assigning them if necessary an index or phenomenological quotation marks, criticism of empirical anthropologism is but the affirmation of a transcendental humanism. And among these metaphysical concepts which form the essential resources of Husserl’s discourse, that of end, or telos, plays a decisive role. (44)

The end of man (as factual anthropological limit) is announced to thought with the end of man. Man is that which is relative to his end, in the fundamentally equivocal sense of the word. This has always been so. The transcendental end can appear to itself and unfold before itself only in the condition of mortality, of relation to finitude as the origin of ideality. The name of man has always been inscribed in metaphysics between these two ends. It has meaning only in this eschato-teleological situation. (44)

[…] just as the Dasein -the being which we are ourselves -serves as the exemplary text, as the good “lesson” for the explicitation of the sense of Being, so the name of man remains the link or the leading thread which joins the analytics of Dasein with the totality of the traditional discourse of metaphysics. Hence the strange status of phrases or of parentheses such as these: As different behaviours of man, sciences have the style of Being of this being (man). We assign to this being the term “Dasein” (Dieses Seiende fassen wir terminologisch als Dasein).” Again, “The problematics of Greek ontology, just as that of any ontology, should take its leading thread from the Dasein itself. Dasein, that is, the Being of man, is understood (umgrentz) in its vulgar “definition” as well as in its philosophical “definition” as that living whose Being is essentially determined by the power of speech” (of the discourse: Redenkonnen). In the same way, a “complete ontology of Dasein” is posited as the prerequisite to a “philosophical anthropology.” We see, then, that Dasein, if it is not man, is not, however, other than man. It is, as we shall see, a repetition of the essence of man permitting to go back beyond metaphysical concepts of humanitas. (48)

[…] that Dasein “which we are” constituted the exemplary being for the hermeneutics of the sense of Being due to its proximity to itself, to our proximity to ourselves and to this being which we are. Heidegger thus notes that this proximity is ontic. On the contrary, ontologically, that is, as regards the Being of this being which we are, the distance, is as great as it can be. “The Dasein in truth is not merely that which is ontically (ontisch)near or even nearest us -we are it ourselves. However, in spite of, or rather because of this, it is ontologically (ontologisch) the farthest.” (48)

What is the orientation of the “concern,” if not to re-establish man in his essence (den Menschen wieder in sein Wesen zuriickzubringen)? Can this mean other than making man (homo) human (humanus)? humanitas remains at the heart of such thought, for humanism consists of this: to reflect and to see that man be human and not inhuman (unmenschlich); that is, outside of his essence. Of what, then, does man’s humanity consist? It resides in his essence.” (50)

The ontological distance from Dasein to what it is as eksistence and to the Da of Sein; this distance which was given as first ontic proximity, must be reduced by the thought of the truth of Being. Hence, the pre-dominance, in Heidegger’s discourse, of a whole metaphorics of proximity,
simple and immediate presence, associating with the proximity of Being the values of neighborhood, shelter, house, service, guard, voice and listening. (51)

Consequently, the prevalence accorded to the phenomenological metaphor, to all of the varieties of phainesthai, of brilliance, of illumination, of clearing, of Lichtung, etc., opens on the space of presence and the presence of space, understood in the opposition of the near and the far. In the same way, the privilege accorded not only to language, but to spoken language (voice, listening, etc.) is in harmony with the motif of presence as presence to itself. (53)

If, then, “Being is farther removed than every being and yet nearer to man than every being,” if “Being is that which is nearest,” we should consequently be able to say that Being is the near of man and that man is the near of Being. The near is the proper; the proper is the nearest (prop, proprius). Man is that which is proper to Being, which speaks into his ear from very near. Being is that which is proper to man. Such is the truth, such is the proposition which gives the there to the truth of Being and the truth of man. This proposition of the proper must certainly not be taken in a metaphysical sense: the proper of man is not here an essential attribute, the predicate of a substance, one feature, as fundamental as it may be, among the others which constitute a being, object or subject, called man. Neither can we talk, in this same sense, of man as the proper of Being. The propriety, the co-propriety of Being and man, is proximity as inseparability. It is as inseparability, furthermore, that the relations of being (substance or res) with its essential predicate were conceived in metaphysics. Since this co-propriety of man and Being, such as it is conceived in Heidegger’s discourse, is not ontic, it does not relate two “beings” to one another but rather, in language, relates the sense of Being with the sense of man. (54)

In the reading of this interplay, the following chain of events can be taken in all of its senses: the end of man is the thought of Being, man is the end of the thought of Being, the end of man is the end of the thought of Being. Man has always been his proper end; that is, the end of what is proper to him. The being has always been its proper end; that is, the end of what is proper to it. (55)