Two Cats, One Fish: The Animal, Leviathan and the Limits of Theory

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Animals populate our artistic and philosophical discourses in critical ways. From Jacques Derrida’s or Karen Barad’s cat, to Donna Haraway’s dog, to the fish in Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel’s Leviathan (2012), these animals feature heavily in discussions regarding limits – the limits of the human and thus its relation with non-humans, but also the limits of knowledge itself. Cute or dangerous, real or fantasised, dead or alive: in this article, I juxtapose the various ways that such animals confront us with what Jacques Derrida describes as “the point of view of the absolute other”. Similarly, recent texts stage encounters with animals – thus distributing agency towards a larger variety of beings, carving out space for a previously excluded non-human other. Yet these encounters are mediated in profoundly different ways. In researching how encounters with the animal are differentially inflected and “defracted” respective to the medium in which they are staged, this article invokes questions of form and style within the critical dialogue that attempts to centre non-human animals. Highlighting how formal decisions are not accidental, but rather integral, to the praxis of the philosophy of animality, this article aims to draw attention to how specific forms and styles allow for a moment of contact with a non-human other. To this end, this article examines three oft-cited encounters: Derrida’s encounter with his cat, an intense stare with a fish in Leviathan, and Barad’s inflection of Schrödinger’s cat. This juxtaposition gives insight into the (ethical) limits of certain styles of producing thought and critically reflects on these works in their discussion of nonhuman life and agency.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3
Pages (from-to)44-62
Number of pages19
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2022


  • Animal Studies
  • Deconstruction
  • Jacques Derrida
  • Karen Barad
  • New Materialism


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