Skip to main content


Showing posts from April 5, 2009


I have my bare feet planted on the rug. I am at my desk. Suddenly, I feel something ticklish run over my toes. This immediately draws my attention away from the document I am reading. I look under the desk. Behold, a cockroach. In my apartment complex, the man who sprays poison comes around once every two months. Usually, then, I enjoy an environment in which, silently and without me having to think about it, vermin die. They die out of my sight. I imagine the spray is some kind of pyrethroid. The poison operates on the cockroach’s central nervous system, causing repetitive firings – thus the jiggly behavior, Nerve blockage then ensues. The effect of the pyrethroids causes sodium channel modification, and in some insects the nerves will burst. Temperature changes can modify the effect. To sum it up, “the depolarizing nerve blockage caused by prolonged sodium influx into nerve axons is the primary cause of pyrethroid toxicity to insects.” So say Huber,Masler and Blakrishna in Cockroac

fair play for bull-baiters

In 1800, a bill was proposed in the House of Commons to ban bull-baiting. In bull-baiting, a bull was tied to a stake and dogs, often bull dogs, were set upon it. Sometimes, the dogs succeeded in killing the bull, sometimes the bull succeeded in killing the dogs, and most often, the bull and the dogs came off wounded. The bill was defeated. Even so, it produced enough of a stir that a French academy asked a prize question about whether animals had a right to not being treated barbarously. Another animal cruelty bill was introduced in the Parliament seven years later by Erksine, the well known defender of Tom Paine. It too was defeated. Both defeats were mainly due to the eloquence of William Windham. Windham was one of Burke’s Whigs. He served as a minister in Pitt’s war government. He was, evidently, out of sympathy with the French Revolution. Yet the speech he made against banning bull-baiting is a document that defends the pleasures of the rural poor in explicitly class conscious t

kant, the inevitable

Kant starts from two places in the Critique of Practical Reason. The first beginning is with the good Will – that most un-Socratic of moral entry points. The only thing that is unreservedly good is the good will. And then we start again. This time, we start with this existence (Wesen) endowed with Reason. This existence is introduced to us, firstly, under no name at all. This makes me think of the many names that I could list for this existence - “man”, “human”, “character”, “subject” , ‘agent”, “actor”, “self”, “soul”, “person”, etc. – each of which is endlessly involved in the discourses of the human sciences, each of which – unlike, say, the pieces of a chess game – is ascribed no fixed amount of power by some canon of rules, but rather is preferred and gains its power according to the state of the human sciences at any one time – which is to say that the rules, here, are further back. If an introduction is a way of putting together a name and a face, then we aren’t really intro

Looking with 72 senses at Kant

“…commencez d’abord par me dire combien les hommes de votre globe ont de sens. — Nous en avons soixante et douze, dit l’académicien, et nous nous plaignons tous les jours du peu. Notre imagination va au-delà de nos besoins; nous trouvons qu’avec nos soixante et douze sens, notre anneau, nos cinq lunes, nous sommes trop bornés; et, malgré toute notre curiosité et le nombre assez grand de passions qui résultent de nos soixante et douze sens, nous avons tout le temps de nous ennuyer. — Je le crois bien, dit Micromégas; car dans notre globe nous avons près de mille sens, et il nous reste encore je ne sais quel désir vague, je ne sais quelle inquiétude, qui nous avertit sans cesse que nous sommes peu de chose, et qu’il y a des êtres beaucoup plus parfaits.” – Voltaire, Micromégas Philip Almond, in Adam and Eve in Seventeenth Century Thought, reviews the idea that other planets contained other living beings, which he thinks is one effect of the Copernican revolution. I have made the case th

beginning of a kant thread

The collapse, the forgetting, the erasure of the human limit happens inside what Sartre called ‘human reality’; and it happens outside. This is a strange story, a dialectical mystery. For as the world became the object of universal history, and the human limit to the control of the world was removed, inside the human reality of the self, this operation – which consisted, if one were to put it in a single phrase, of removing Nemesis as the guardian and definer of a limit – produced strange fruit. Human reality becomes the human product. And this human product, now given the project of becoming happy and promoting the happy society, loses the old objects and landmarks, the old directions, the old orientation, the old walks in the dark, the old migrations. The human reality becomes free, and uses its freedom to become the human product. Of course, this is a story recorded in a whole literature that makes weep weep weep sounds over the human product. Oh, that we had another ending to univ

artificial paradise

Hobbes begins the Leviathan like this: “NATURE (the art whereby God hath made and governs the world) is by the art of man, as in many other things, so in this also imitated, that it can make an artificial animal.” What artificial animals are these? They are the automata of which Descartes also speaks: the mechanical singing bird, the mechanical dog. And if nature can be imitated by the machine, then nature itself can be defined in terms of a machine: “For seeing life is but a motion of limbs, the beginning whereof is in some principal part within, why may we not say that all automata (engines that move themselves by springs and wheels as doth a watch) have an artificial life? For what is the heart, but a spring; and the nerves, but so many strings; and the joints, but so many wheels, giving motion to the whole body, such as was intended by the Artificer?” But of all machines made by God or man, what is the greatest? It would have to be an artificial man. Is there such a thing? “Art goe

It’s over, m. le coq, to sleep with the chickens

Does nature have rights? One solution to the situation caused by the erasure of the human limit would be to say that there is a human limit defined by the rights of nature. From a practical point of view, this might be a smart environmentalist move. From a philosophical point of view, it might be a bit hard to construct (do swallows have a right to their migratory flight paths?), yet I could see how, within the framework of Rawlesian liberalism, this might seem a doable proposition. From my perspective, however, this would not “solve” the problem. Rather, it would be another way of annexing nature to the artificial paradise. If we scratch the rights talk, we find the same massive attitude. Which is why I am traveling to such strange spots, the shadow of an it, an outsider pounding on your door, in the hide and sneakery of Limited Inc. The question brings us back to a particular animal with rights – man – and his peculiar property of being now naked, now not. I’ve been looking at this n