Book Review: Derrida's Breakfast
Derrida’s Breakfast, by David Brooks
Brandl & Schlesinger 2016, 128 pp, paperback
ISBN 978-1-921556-99-9, RRP $24.95
David Brooks, once again, reminds us why the poet, much like the rhizomatic persona of Orpheus, is the philosophical inquisitor of human consciousness as he delves into the plight of the dispossessed refugee and the predicament of primordial functionality: animal consciousness. Brooks’ collection of four essays Derrida’s Breakfast (2016) deconstructs the flailing disposition of human contingency and equivocalises the violences against animals and humans, a psychomachia between primordial instincts and universal consciousness. Possibly, this could be a stipulation of the tragedies surrounding human and animal consciousness in postmodernity. Brooks feels it is now time for evolution, for ontology, for episteme, to challenge and redirect outmoded definitions of consciousness. This is not post-Humanist. It is a profound search for survival, for “a peeling of the eye” (DB 33) as the whole globe is experiencing mass migration, and mass displacement. Could Brooks be suggesting that ironically it is the animal, with its innocent and “sinless” demeanour, which proffers alternate avenues for humanity’s evolution in consciousness?
Each of the essays in Derrida’s Breakfast places the animal as protagonist, and in doing so opens up a whole new perspective on the parameters of ethical tensions by including the seldom considered phenomenon of animal genocide. Under the pretence of human survival is the unconscionable act of eating animal flesh. Brooks attempts to dismantle conventional hierarchies that privilege patriarchy, phallogocentricity, and imperialisms, which continue to decimate the animal, and thus, stand in the way of paradigmatic shifts in consciousness. By revisiting Jacques Derrida’s The Animal That Therefore I Am (2006), Brooks examines the gaps and limitations that pervade the margins of philosophical thought, and human states of consciousness. Nonetheless, very few, too few, are capable of comprehending the pure nature of the animal as the vast majority of western society continues its carnivorous practices, both through excessive ingestion as well as barbaric militarism, says Brooks. The western mind is “so enmeshed in defences of its own monstrosity (‘carno-phallogo-centricity’)” (DB 33) that few realise that roughly, 250 million animals are slaughtered for human ingestion on a daily basis. Till present, human consciousness, its history books, and the media, fail to acknowledge its “phallogo” monstrosity. In juxtaposition, the Israeli military shows similar acts of monstrosity, except their choice of animal is the Hezbollah. Through analogy between animal consciousness and political consciousness, an Orphic unravelling could be assumed, where a dismantling of postmodern hierarchies, and the decimation of animal consciousness is reflected through Brook’s reference to the erasure and political turmoil surrounding the Palestinian and their turbulent country of Palestine.
Brooks seamlessly integrates the place of animal consciousness with the state of a political zeitgeist, but without ever overtly proposing any absolute declarations. Instead, we embark upon a subconscious trajectory to be awakened to the fact that postmodernity is plagued by a myriad of cognitive dissonances, paradoxically among multidisciplinary skeins, inclusive of continental philosophy and literary modes of thought. The dissonances of human, animal, and cosmic consciousness are most eloquently and mesmerisingly brought together in Derrida’s Breakfast, where a greater philosophic schema reveals epistemic atrophy that stultifies our desire for “civilised” elation and evolution. Derrida, rightly so, re-acquaints philosophical circles with the pure consciousness of the animal, but his reflections produce a very small glimpse into the significance of the role of the animal and its primordial graces. Whatever it might be, we are reminded that evolution is not a mere process, it is crucial to humane contingence since our current state of affairs is implicated in a type of existentialist implosion. This may very well be a carry on from the infectious practices of the Great Wars in the earlier part of the twentieth century.
To complement this framework of animal and refugee consciousness, Brooks abrogates the insights of Heidegger. For Heidegger, philosophical praxis means that, “we constantly find ourselves moving in a circle. And this is an indication that we are moving within the realm of philosophy” (Heidegger 180). But, as we read carefully between the lexis, protasis, and Brooks’ selected animal tropes, it becomes apparent, much like Derrida’s own aporias, we are marginal spectators of “delirium tremens in his [our] vision” (DB 37). This is interweaved by an allusive Platonic state of being, since Derrida realises “there is another cat, another being, loaded with herself, her suffering, the weight and intensity of her own existence” (DB 57). Is Brooks insinuating that this state, a marginalisation of Derridean philosophising, is mere staple to an ironised evolution of existence? Within this delirium, this collection brings to light a naked and castrated Derrida as he moves through a phallogocentric world. Can, this too, be seen as a double entendre to our temporal state of affairs?
We are inclined to think that it is no accident the signifier of the cat entwines and intertextualises such writers as Montaigne, Baudelaire, Rilke, and Buber, to Australian stories by Henry Lawson, and here it is noted there is a correlation between the marginalised and the displaced. Directly referring to Lawson’s ponderings of how “human occupants are threatened (invaded, penetrated) by an animal” (DB 42), readers might understand the significance of and contentions to survival – the role of the primitive and domesticated animal – and the equivocal threats tormenting the Australian postcolonial subject. Each story is “written within a margin of abuse” (DB 42), and we are made to feel uncomfortable by an underlay of the displaced and colonised subject seeking pseudo guidance from its coloniser. Similar to the castrated philosopher in a world of “carno-phallogo-centricity,” the feminine feline, the domesticated cat, meticulously moves along these margins and interstitial borders, to offer some form of guidance among invaded spaces that threaten incarceration. Further to this, and possibly why Brooks is highly praised for his contributions to the postmodern school of thought, is the speculation that for the physicist and metaphysicist, an epicentral conundrum is the (dis)placement of Schrödinger’s cat. Persuasively, Brooks imbues another paralleling skein, the propitious cat from Alice in Wonderland,
tethering between two holes, the “horrid black hole” that would be left by the (cat’s gaze-) threatened castration/ removal of the phallus from the core of the logos, and the hole down which Alice follows the white rabbit, … for all his play upon je suis as both “I am” and “I follow.” (DB 119)
In the case of Schrödinger’s cat, the pragmatics of “I am” are abnegated by a castrated logos, and a “horrid black hole.” Therefore, and indeed, this appears to ferment the function of Derrida’s Breakfast: an impressionistic assemblage of why the realm of philosophy is incapable of independence and sovereignty as an episteme, and yet continues to require severing from conservative and patriarchal phallogocentrisms.
This small, yet dense, collection is surprisingly easy to read, albeit taking on a kind of labyrinthine pastiche, so familiar to the poetics and oeuvres of Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot. Whether this is what Brooks purposefully wished to articulate, it is difficult to know, since his mellifluous narrative threads engross layers upon layers of tropes, etymologies, and multidisciplinary epistemes. One suspects that Brooks, much like Derrida, and Heidegger, searches for his own genii loci, a comfort zone, and house, for the postmodern zeitgeist, since, as he says with reference to Henry Lawson:
We live, as it were, in the houses of thought that the mind has made for us. Our philosophies are houses. Whatever else they are about, these stories are also about the (troubled) interrelation of the animal and the human mind – or perhaps we should say, the encounter and border-territory between the non-human animal and the mind of the human animal. (DB 44)
For Brooks, the cat, with its extrasensory eyes, looks at the nakedness of the world, and more delicately, through Derridean cat eyes there is a “peeling away” of a house filled with thoughts, while predisposed to a state of consciousness in delirium. Ultimately, it is the Orphic persona who steps in, as Rilke so precariously once saw it, with his unravelling and re-ravelling of poetic skeins to make it through the abyss of consciousness: the repressed mind’s eye of “the human animal.”
Heidegger, Martin. The fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics . Trans, William McNeill and Nicholas Walker. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1995.
This review is written by Dr. Anastasia Nicéphore, Director of GCAS Sydney. Anastasia was awarded a PhD in English from the University of Sydney in 2016. She also holds an MA in Educational Leadership (University of London) an MA in English (Sydney) and a BA (Honours) from the University of London, Goldsmiths College.