An enduring theme in Jacques Derrida’s work has been a critical interrogation of human exceptionalism. However, Derrida’s purpose appears somewhat contradictory: He questions the conventional ways in which the difference between human capacities and those of the animal world are adjudicated and valued, and yet there is a strong sense in his work that anthropocentrism is inescapable. Derrida enjoins us to ‘restructure the whole problematic’ of the animal and of what is proper to man, but how to do it? Kirby asked if anthropocentrism is necessarily a prohibitive enclosure that separates a particular form of life from its more general operations, or if the generalization of something thought to be specific and local (anthropos) might allow us to recast the more fundamental question of how we divide nature from culture and why.
Vicki Kirby is Professor of Sociology at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. She has published widely in the areas of feminism, posthumanism, and deconstruction, especially on the question of the nature/culture distinction. She has an enduring fascination with how we might read deconstruction through the biological and physical sciences. Books include Telling Flesh: The Substance of the Corporeal (1997); Judith Butler: Live Theory (2006), and more recently, Quantum Anthropologies: Life at Large (2011).
The lecture is part of the ICI Lecture Series Constituting Wholes II, which seeked to re-examine the critical potential of notions of wholeness by exploring the double movement in constituting wholes. How are wholes and other forms of association differently constituted and how do they constitute their parts or elements? How can one maintain a critical position towards persistent wholes without making them inescapable and foreclosing the possibility of reducing violence and arriving at more benign forms of association? Conversely, how can one be attuned to heterogeneities and potentialities without participating in the reparation of existing structures of domination? Conceived within the framework of the multi-discipinary ICI Research Focus ‘Constituting Wholes’, the lecture series addressed and debated these and similar questions from a variety of perspectives.
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