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Abstract

This essay comes from reading and studying works and authors of the literary tradition called “continental philosophy,” a school of critical thought as artistic as it is academic. Never limiting itself to a particular body of writing, continental philosophy allows the thinker to liberally address issues of morality, sociology, psychology, and ontology across texts, from literary fiction to political theory. The mythology and philosophy of the West’s antiquity, studies of the Bible, and early modern human analyses (anthropology, psychoanalysis, etc.) are of particular interest to this school. The purpose of this interdisciplinary and often baffling pursuit: to question what we think and how we think. In this mode of thought, questioning what we believe to be true is always more important than positing some new claim to truth.

Like much of philosophy, the continental school spends as much effort revisiting and critiquing itself and its own thinkers as it does developing new branches of thought. Critique is a way of expanding a thought and taking it in new directions, introducing new themes and possibilities to test against and make trial of the old. This form of argument can be a disagreement between one author or idea and another, but often critique is more an academic attempt to expand an idea beyond where it has been taken thus far—to create new meanings and questions. Critique makes philosophical thought inexhaustible, always refining and exploring.

Jacques Derrida is the subject of the present essay’s critique. He is a French thinker prominent in what is called Deconstruction, a sub-school that refines ideas by taking apart the use, choice, and meaning of language used to express them (Levinas was Derrida’s contemporary, and both French Jews). The essay reflexively adopts some of his style. It is further influenced by the Italian philologist Giorgio Agamben, who observes the historical issues of politics, philosophy, and theology. Both are already concerned with the political theorists Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Carl Schmitt, whose thought on power and legality played a role in the philosophy of the Nazi party. Ovid, the Roman poet and cataloguer of so many stories that have informed Western thought, and Herman Melville are also common interests in critical theory, but I have taken the liberty of introducing Mr. Stewart and Dr. Anthony whose honest observations and academic research, respectively, of the ancient cultures of the old world easily find their place in this question human identity and power.

Topically, this essay is about exploring human power by questioning some of its underlying human mechanisms, thus calling into question non-human (animal) elements, all while having a little fun. Key in the opening of this discourse is the French bete, which means “animal” and “stupid,” from the Latin brutus, whose English sister is the word “brutal” or “brute.” The scope of the project leaves out so many considerations, which is why it is limited to an experimental critique of a particular passage posed by Derrida. In spirit, however, this text is a kind of game at language and ideas that, nevertheless, should be taken a bit seriously.

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