Tuesday, June 20, 2017

The Language Animal, Bête, and Kant

Continuing to read Kant (1989), towards establishing a robust dialectical framework for my forthcoming Contrapuntal Cartographies, I am at the same time keeping on top of Taylor (2016) and Roberts (2014).  The relationship of the latter two works to the former is interesting and complex.

Representation and the relationship between subjectivity and objectivity; the concepts of the understanding, on the one hand, and empirical data given through the senses, on the other; these are some of the ideas Kant was struggling with in his Critique.

I see some similar struggles playing out in The Thing Itself and, now that I've read it, in Bête.  But before I go further I have to say that the best thing about Bête is that it is a comedy all the way through.  It is deeply tragic at the same time, but it is the humour I will remember.

This, despite the fact that Bête often reminded me of Cormac McCarthy's The Road.  Because I often found myself thinking about the ridiculous talking animals of The Far Side, even as I was drawn into the desolate first-person post-apocalyptic cogito ergo sum narrative style of Bête.

This is going to be a short review in part because I simply love Bête so much.  That may be insufficient for more critical-minded or academic readers.  But what this book does for me is remind me of some very important points people like Regan (1983) and Taylor (2016) have been saying in their books. These two thinkers just mentioned come at the 'question of animals' and their capabilities and their rights from very different perspectives.

I read Regan's The Case For Animal Rights in depth quite a few years ago, and took extensive notes, but never became vegetarian or vegan as one might've thought I would after that experience.  Reading Bête I am, to some extent, reminded why.  Despite the fact that Regan's work has not been bettered in the decades since its writing, a book like Bête demonstrates a phenomenological impetus for reasons against, and this in turn brings me to Graham Penhaligon.  He is (to me) everyman, make no mistake, very much white, redneck, middle-aged, angry man, and I identified with him.  I want to be like him, even more than I could've ever wanted to be like the characters in The Thing Itself (Roberts, 2015) (though that one is still my favourite).

Now, I go back to Taylor (2016), reading it, and Kant (1989), again, with new eyes.   I am deeply refreshed because Graham Penhaligon, tortured by an artificially intelligent cat, exists.  Graham Penhaligon thinks, therefore I am.  And my own book (Contrapuntal Cartographies, forthcoming 2019 with McGill-Queen's University Press) can proceed.



Kant, Immanuel.  1989.  Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, trans. Norman Kemp Smith.  London: Macmillan Education.

Regan, Tom.  1983.  The Case For Animal Rights.  Los Angeles and Berkeley: University of California Press.

Roberts, Adam.  2014.  Bête.  London: Victor Gollancz.

Roberts, Adam.  2015.  The Thing Itself.  London: Victor Gollancz.

Taylor, Charles.  2016.  The Language Animal: The Full Shape of the Human Linguistic Capacity.  Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.