Brian Massumi’s “What Animals Teach Us About Politics” by Naisargi Dave

What Animals Teach Us About Politics

by Brian Massumi

Duke University Press, 2014, 152 pages.

This is a book about choice. That reader who chooses non-acquiescence, chooses learning and living, who is willing to abduct one’s self from home (63) and be self-surpassing, that is the reader Brian Massumi addresses himself to. The one who, instead, seeks comfort in repeating the stale ideas of their inheritance — in Massumi’s delightful phrase, borrowed from Jean Oury, the “normopath” (70) — well, the normopath is also cordially invited, but is welcome to leave the playground at any time. Things do get a bit rough in there (it is not always easy to tell a nip from a bite), and all that is at stake in play is life itself.

Brian Massumi, in What Animals Teach Us About Politics, makes a case for us to claim our essential animality in order to ascend to an ethic that is still truly (which is not to say, exclusively) human: vital, creative, and expansive. He builds his argument as if laying a very elaborate trap. (I want to say that it is a harmless, non-violent trap, but that would be a lie. The price of being snared is having to rethink everything.) The argument begins with a revisiting of instinct — what for the Cartesian humanist remains the hard limit to animal expressivity — through an analysis of animal play.[i] Massumi’s choice to devote so much philosophical energy, not to mention space in this slim book, to play is a clever and strategic one: he is playing along (but only as a ludic gesture, denoting what it is not) with his most skeptical readers: since you refuse to believe animals have creativity, fine, I’ll be a sport and begin with what we can agree on: that (some) animals roll about.

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