Felice Cimatti’s Philosophy of Animality

I have recently finished reading Felice Cimatti’s Fisolofia dell’Animalità1English title: Unbecoming Human: Philosophy of Animality After Deleuze. and would like to share some thoughts on the book as well as on the theory Cimatti puts forwards in this slim but dense volume. I would like to preface this by saying that I am by no means an expert in philosophy2Here by philosophy I refer to western philosophy, the one started in ancient Greece, and therefore do not include other traditions as the book is framed in this specific context., so my comments are simply a personal reaction to Cimatti’s theory rather than a well thought-through critique of his philosophy. I simply read the book because I am interested in the topic of animality for personal reasons, and because it relates to the dissertation I am in the process of writing.

Firstly, I would like to comment on the prose and writing style of the book. Being a novice philosophy reader, I found Cimatti’s writing very accessible and a pleasure to read. Of course it is challenging at times, but this is what I have come to expect from philosophy-related books, and what I like them for — the fact that they challenge me to remain focused and to join the dots. But the overall reading experience was a very positive one, especially coming from Deleuze and Massumi, whose prose is much more terse and complex to decipher for me. I am not sure whether this is true for the English translation too, but I trust the translator kept their version of the text close to the original.

One more thing I have appreciated is the way the author takes the time to rephrase and explain the quotes he inserts from thinkers such as Heidegger, Hegel, Deleuze, and Lacan. Quotes which would have been basically inaccessible to me if they hadn’t been paraphrased and put into context by Cimatti. I am not sure whether the book was written with students in mind, but either way I found it a very well-written, essential guide to the treatment of “the animal” in modern and contemporary philosophy3From late 19th century onward., at least in some essential authors/contexts. I doubt the book intended to cover everything western philosophy has had to say about animals in 250 pages, but it does a good job at giving an overview of some major issues and the stand of some great thinkers on the topic.

The only thing that left me perplexed and wondering is the conclusions Cimatti draws following Deleuze’s becoming-animal and taking it to its extreme consequences. Put (VERY!) simply, Cimatti advocates humans should find a way to go beyond the strong self-centred nature of language4The anthropogenic machine, as he calls it. It’s with language that we say “I” and therefore become entangled in egotism and self-centredness, unable to get rid of the subject-object duality this generates. in order to discover the animality that lies beyond it. So far, I feel Cimatti’s ideas reflect my own. But when he, after spending the whole book deconstructing how “THE ANIMAL” has been treated as a singular, abstract subject in philosophy, states that:

This is an absolute and radical singularisation that only Homo sapiens can hope to reach; for a language-less animal knows no I, nor does it have the problem of being subjugated to – and then liberated from – its rule. On the other hand, only a linguistic animal can attempt to free itself from the ‘I’ without giving up on its individuality.

Cimatti, F. Unbecoming Human: Philosophy of Animality After Deleuze, 2020, p. 184-185

This feels somehow anthropocentric and at odds with what I had been reading in the rest of the book. I know Cimatti has been talking about a specific animal in his book, homo sapiens, and has made it clear that homo sapiens is a particular type of animal, a linguistic one. But why is it that once again philosophers come to that conclusion that “only humans can”? Why can’t we get rid of this sense of alterity and — I suspect — superiority? What is it that we find so hard in conceiving that we are, after all, animals?

In addition to this, Cimatti also argues the following:

The problem of the relationship between human beings and animals is here not an ethical, but a biological one … The problem is that the apparatus – the anthropologic machine – through which we become human excludes any pact with animals … Would it really be impossible to respect animals – as held by animalist thought? The point is that the condition of subjectivity confers on the human a power that no ethics can contain. Egoism is not a human defect, eventually eradicable through an enlightened education – rather, it is its principal biological trait … The sad destiny of animals in the human ‘world’ – their condition as ‘things’ – does not depend on an evil disposition that a better human being will one day rectify: it depends on the fact that this ‘I’ is an ‘I’. The ecological disaster we are heading towards is not caused by human malice, but by the fact that every ‘I’ – in an ever-growing way, as more means become available to it – tries to affirm itself at everyone else’s expense. Fire does not destroy because it is evil, but because it burns.

Cimatti, F. Unbecoming Human: Philosophy of Animality After Deleuze, 2020, p. 170-172

I understand the reasoning, but I cannot accept it. It feels like too easy a justification for environmental and human exploitation. Of course, Cimatti then goes on by giving the usual “what about plants” anti-vegetarian argument. This is where I find his thought hard to swallow and honestly lacking. If ethics and eating plant-based is not the answer, because it is still anthropocentric and seen from an “I” perspective, then what’s his solution? Veganism is a very clear, practical way to avoid unnecessary suffering (of animals and the humans who have to kill them) and a viable, tangible solution to the raging climate crisis. What is Cimatti’s proposal to counter this? Frankly, it is not clear to me, and although I agree with his reasoning in theory — if we can get read of the “I” we can create a better relationship with the surrounding environment as a whole — it seems way too theoretical and does not offer any practicable way as far as I can see.

I have probably come into the book with wrong expectations, but I was hoping philosophy could show us a clearer, less-anthropocentric way out of the current climate crisis. Of course this is just one single, relatively short book on the topic, but I still wish Cimatti had come to a fresher, more down-to-earth conclusion, that could point us towards freedom from homo sapiens‘ destructive practices while also acknowledging our position in the animal world.