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Animal in differance: tracing the boundaries of the human in post-Darwinian culture.

Mordsley, Jessica Kate 2007. Animal in differance: tracing the boundaries of the human in post-Darwinian culture. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.

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Abstract

This thesis draws on Jacques Derrida's idea of 'differance' (difference as both distinction and deferral) to argue that, within post-Darwinian humanist culture, the category of 'the human' can only be defined by differentiating it from 'the animal'. Following Derrida, this project seeks to 'determine the number, form, sense, or structure' of the 'plural and repeatedly folded frontier' between these two categories. Chapter 1, 'Becoming Human', examines the chronological boundaries between the human and extinct hominids such as 'Homo erectus' and Neanderthals. It reads contemporary scientific accounts of 'how we became human' to demonstrate that they preserve the conceptual framework of earlier creation myths. However, despite their humanism, these accounts inevitably unsettle the boundaries between human and animal by revealing the play of traces across them. Chapter 2, 'Acting Human', reads Descartes' 'Discourse on the Method' with Judith Butler's theory of gender performance to argue that the human can only be identified by its behaviour. Those who do not behave 'correctly', such as people with autism, threaten humanism and are consequently punished. Conversely, when animals are seen to 'act human' (for example, the chimpanzee artist Congo) this is dismissed as anthropomorphism. However, these possibilities demonstrate that human behaviour is not tied to an internal essence. Chapter 3, 'Talking Human', deconstructs the opposition between human language and animal communication which underpins contemporary humanist discourse. The human voice is identified with presence, truth and subjectivity, while animals are mute, inarticulate objects. However, the human subject is never fully in control of its communication, as demonstrated by blushing and involuntary nonverbal 'leakage'. I conclude that 'language' and 'the human' are constituted only by referring to each other. This thesis critiques the mythology of humanism in order to challenge the unethical acts that are committed in the name of the human.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Status: Unpublished
Schools: English, Communication and Philosophy
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0080 Criticism
ISBN: 9781303210082
Funders: AHRC
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 30 March 2016
Last Modified: 19 Mar 2016 23:30
URI: http://orca.cf.ac.uk/id/eprint/54667

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