Cannibals to the last man: Derrida and the Anthropocene

It is said that in the anthropocene humans are increasingly altering the geological evolution of the planet, an enormous task that would seem impossible for humans to perform by themselves, like physically moving a celestial body. However, it is not a faulty claim if we consider how, for instance, human waste has gradually altered climate cycle trapping heat energy in the atmosphere. This entrapped heat introduces disequilibrium to a closed system like the planet, thereby making it more susceptible to chaos. The geological effects of these patterns will have enormous impact on the way we view the fate of humanity in the decades to come.

If this effect eventually impacts on the heart of eating, of food availability, the nerve center of everyday existence, certainly the terms of eating will be drastically altered. The goal would be less of maintaining the collective integrity of the species in light of entropy or end times and will be more of sustaining the ‘who’ of the species. It becomes then the task of biopolitics which must cut up the subject in the way of choosing the fit, those fit to eat the last food available. In a situation like this, a revelation of last things becomes a critical barometer of freedom, or how freedom must not be put to waste, hence, the mantra of the urgency of conserving supplies, by cutting up freedom, by grafting it, to use Derrida’s words, to a desirable post-human end where the goal of a new philosophy of the subject is one of—“[Deciding] birth or death, including what is presupposed in the treatment of sperm or ovule, pregnant mothers, genetic genes, so-called bioethics or biopolitics … organ transplant, and tissue grafting.”[1]

In Derridean terms, this entails the problem of how to cut up the human subject. And yet, even technoscience, which assumes the new philosophy of the subject in the era of ‘last things’, is at a loss where precisely to cut up, perhaps, because there are too many flesh to cut up. Derrida says: “In spite of appearances, I am speaking here of very concrete and very current problems: the ethics and politics of the living. We know less than ever where to cut—either at birth or at death. And this also means that we never know, and never have known, how to cut up a subject.”[2]

Yet, it doesn’t discount the fact that the origin of humanity can be traced to the crime of cutting up, or cannibalism, if you will. The sub-ject , which formally introduced humanity into the scheme of things, began as a cut of meat, cut up from the abundance of nature, carved out from the physical void of the universe. Sub-jects cut themselves and others up, and in so doing consume energy. The entire process has been sub-jected to an economy, a colossal and now aggressively accelerating machine, a cutting industry, so that energy can be efficiently utilized until cutting goes all the way to the heart of things. It wants to cut the core, cutting to the chase. It wants to prove the wonders of cutting, that humanity, after all, is a cannibal to the last man.

[1] Jacques Derrida, “Eating Well, or, the Calculation of the Subject,” in Who Comes After the Subject, ed. Eduardo Cadava, Peter Connor, & Jean-Luc Nancy(New York and London: Routledge, 1991), 115.

[2] Ibid., 117.


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