The Animal and the Muselmann as a Paradigm of the Victim


Anna Barcz

What is human? What impossible?

The question we must answer is: Do these words still have a meaning?

Jean-Francois Lyotard


There is a transcendence in the animal! [...] It reminds us of the debt that is always open.

Emmanuel Levinas         


The Post-human Victim

Who is the real victim? The one who is not a metaphor and experiences violence that is impossible to resist, although the realm of experience and suffering might be hidden behind such constructions like language, human identity, or agency. Therefore, the victim – especially in the time of being oppressed – cannot be compared to human that speaks and acts, as it is depicted by Jean-Francois Lyotard and Giorgio Agamben. Both were analyzing two figures of victims in their texts: the animal and the Muselmann. Regarding them, both referred to the traumatic past of the largest European catastrophe – to the Second World War where such extreme situations like organized genocide and inhuman reality of creating subhuman species generated a massive impact on literature. After-Holocaust writers started to experiment with the text and search for other strategies to represent at least something “probable” from the camp experience. It appeared, though, that “to represent” is not equal with “to reconstruct”. The facts and events of the past bared by the postwar victims were often distorted by what they have individually remembered and by their irremovable experience. Unreliability of human testimony became a basis for rethinking the relations between the experience and realism in terms of the method but not the style. It means that the language of description appears to be a realist in style or “possible to describe” what is in fact impossible to represent. Observing how the literature of the Holocaust developed was especially fruitful to indicate, then, major changes in the theory of representation, which includes the posthuman reevaluations and ontological dehierarchizations for the ontological inclusiveness of non-human experience and radically different perspectives in viewing the world. The realist strategies of constructing the story, narrative, or poetics started to be more interesting from what has really happened. 1

  In this context of post-traumatic realism there is a vast area of recreating measures, means, and methods of representation, particularly when we face issues that surpass all our predictable human expectations. Nevertheless, for some people it will be still self-evident “that human suffering is virtually in a class of its own, and that animal suffering, while sometimes objectionable, isn’t really as important or as morally significant”.2 Despite the dominant humanist point of view, I assume that a limit situation or a border experience is such a source of expression where perhaps it is better understood why a non-human animal (and not a human) is juxtaposed with an extremely emaciated man that the Nazi death camp prisoner, the Muselmann, embodied. Perhaps, and that could be another promising question to follow, the category of ultimate victim, a victim that was brought up by these experiences, is searched by Lyotard and Agamben to be discussed and captured in its essence, however, what makes the victim to be chosen as a paradigmatic example has almost nothing to do with what we would associate with distinguished and exceptional humanity. In other words, both philosophers encounter and assign a kind of border of anthropological ability to express a totally strange experience and a way of participation in the world, and so different than the human in their attempts to figure out the real victims, that they cannot be grounded in an individual, independent anthropocentric subjectivity. One of the main reasons why the notion of suffering is surpassing here all humanly constructed borders is its solipsist phenomenology. We are in a situation of losing access to what is “anthropocentric subjectivity” which resembles a situation of a closed animal existence.


That is why the idea expressed in the present article is to fill the category of victim with non-human and post-anthropocentric representations or to redefine it with a more realistic source of experience that belongs to another being. In this section, I will try to combine it with what is understood by the real animal victim – mediated by the philosophical reflection of Lyotard – and the Nazi camp figure of theMuselmann, originally brought by Primo Levi, especially in his If this is a Man, and interpreted by Agamben in The Remnants of Auschwitz. Such compilation is done purposely trespassing on the assumptions of post-traumatic realism but it should be also noted that the animal as a victim reminds one of the oldest roles that humans assigned to it: the role of sacrificial animal performed in the religious rituals by different groups of people. As Andrew Linzey, a British theologian states in his book,Why Animals Suffering Matters Morally, and simultaneously offers an alternative to a dominating Aristotelian-Thomist tradition of Christian theology in the Catholic Church: the suffering of animals can be an “essential component of our response to Christ”. For instance, the prophet Isaiah (53:7) “compares the coming Messiah to a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth”.3 Linzey includes animals otherwise, and indirectly contributes with a question that I would like to pose: whether the animal can be a victim in a different way than a ritual, and other than animal sacrifice.

  Similar mediation of the animal, or a significant reference, is recognizable in the portraiture of the victim in the after Holocaust literature. Since the animal brings the idea that the term victim is not reserved for humans only, it might be worthy to add that it is not a victim that operates in the context of pouncing on a prey by predatory animals, so it is not understood as a deer killed by a tiger because this happens outside the human and inhuman world, outside what is understood by moral values, and without humans' influence. The cruelty, which descriptively affects the notion of a victim, begins when one sentient being is killed, often tortured before, for other needs than biological, and it cannot be explained on empirical grounds; in other words, it means that there are some other, non-empirical reasons to act cruelly. It is not possible to deny how extremely enormous, overwhelming and unbearable has to be suffering felt by an aware gnu being eaten by a lion, which lasts sometimes for an hour but that only looks cruel to us. Obviously, we empathize through a television with an animal being lacerated, however, it does not mean that it is a cruel act in the moral sense. Since the ethical standards were dramatically exceeded in the 20th century, the mediation and accompaniment of animals in recognizing ethical cruelty started to be realized in the progressing process of a massive domination of humans over animals and other humans (condemned to represent other races like Jews or Gypsies). A true breakthrough began to be observed when this process entered and developed its practices on an industrial level: in the extermination camps, slaughterhouses, laboratories, and other abandoned, and usually invisible spaces for the public sphere, where life of non-humans is deprived of any dignity and subordinated without any moral limits. In case of animals, it is quite a recent inspiration to penetrate those areas and spaces of humans’ power over other creatures. However, it has quickly extended into a tremendous impact on humanities, especially in literary studies, taking into account for instance John Maxwell Coetzee's novel The Lives of Animals4 or Sue Coe's series of drawings in Dead Meat.5 Thus, due to that, and regarding the changes in the theory of representation, the non-human embodied by the real animal and the almost dead Muselmann, both differentiated from the inhuman, started to be a problem as a new type of victim in the post-traumatic, and post-secular Euro-American world.  


A change in meaning in the very category of a victim has not been possible without many other transformations within patterns of (post-anthropocentric) culture, and theory of subjectivity, particularly expressed by naturalization of science and by a rapid development of cognitive theory, and by the impact of empirical science on social and human studies, where more sentient non-human subjects, like mammals, are recognizable due to their sensory sensitivity, emotions, and ability to learn even abstract symbols of human language 6. Another strong influence to rethink the notion of a victim is generated by a philosophical current indicated under the name of posthumanism, mainly because the human subject has been weakened, especially in its individual and liberal costume, or even erased: “The ‘essence’ or true being of the human is in fact its ‘absence’ [Ab-wesen-heit]”.7 Further consequence that follows from this position may lead to a situation when it is no longer possible for humanism to place:

the other-than-human animal, or animality itself, in a separate sphere or category of otherness to which ethical and political considerations do not apply, or at best apply in very reduced form, because the other is either sub- or supra-ethical in status.8


Dominick LaCapra argues few times in History and Its Limits that humanism, in general, requires such notion of the victim as a radical other, reduced to infra-ethical status. This would approach us to parallel patterns readable from Agamben and Lyotard examples, in which the non-human victim appears but only when simultaneously it is accompanied by the very criticism of anthropocentric humanism. Both of them follow, or exalt the victims, whose image in the anthropocentrically understood culture was solely unrecognized or put in a form of “raw material, purely instrumental being, or mere life”. 9 Now, we could say in a more profound way, that these, especially non-human scapegoats are treated in the posthumanist frame worked texts with greater dignity, as pangs of conscience, questioning human identity and its system of values. Some authors, then, like Donna Haraway, would say that we are living in a world, in which rather post-humans than humans, transcend and transgress it, what was constructed by them, by tradition, science and culture, and they transform it by bringing non-human elements, affirmatively and refreshingly; or by creating new adaptive relations with the world outside based on flat ontologies; and by being critical to recent hierarchical experience.10 Therefore, posthumanism would neither refer to what is post humans, nor to any futurologist vision of super-humans (which has been already differentiated as ‘transhumanism’), but rather in the first place to what is lacking in the humanist project, what has been thoroughly repressed and covered under anthropocentric needs, and what should be now excavated to establish alternatively closer, and possibly non-hierarchical relations with some of the representatives of the non-human world; also because humans have destroyed this world utterly (not only due to military conflicts but also in the context of its environmental resources that are disappearing). 11 Thus, the non-human victim reminds us – on different and corresponding levels: aesthetically, affirmatively, and ethically – that we are not the dominant species on the planet and that the non-human victim can transmit the sense of guilt in the most radical way, which seems to be irremovable from our humanist tradition. Taking this into a serious account, Cary Wolfe in his Animal Rites introduces his understanding of the posthuman perspective which is based on a predictive and normative premise that:

 a hundred years from now we will look back on our current mechanized and systematized practices of factory farming, product testing, and much else that undeniably involves animal exploitation and suffering – uses that we earlier saw Derrida compare to the gas chambers of Auschwitz – with much the same horror and disbelief with which we now regard slavery or the genocide of the Second World War. 12

  Besides a political and social effect that can be implicated from Wolfe’s words, there is another, more general, context that should be reconstructed: the universalizing humanist project led to the oppression of not only human groups (because they were not included in the ‘full humanity” with regard to their race, nationality, class or gender) but also non-human others (that constituted the opposite, what was structurally essential for becoming human). Stefan Herbrechter, who refers to Wolfe’s critical position, is trying to reformulate the rejection of subjectivity in posthumanism by claiming that: “Our ‘posthuman condition’ is thus not a liquidation of the subject but rather a proliferation of subjects, their responsibilities and their associated forms of life”.13 Thanks to this perspective, I would maintain the criticism of humanist subjectivity and argue for “proliferation” of victims, no matter if they are humans, non-humans, or post-humans. 


Such approach to redefine the meaning of the sufferer, regardless of species’ subjectivity, is recognizable in Jean-Francois Lyotard's Le Differend, when he encompasses animals in reflecting on, and defining the very concept of the victim. The most significant element, necessary to define the victim, is the fact that he/she/or it has no opportunity to speak and present what has happened and why he/she/it was mistreated or harmed. In the note no 9 – the whole book is constructed by shorter and longer notes, that are numbered fragments, which give the impression of building blocks, or writing as a process of looking for essential but ordered particles of narrative and discourse on violence – Lyotard writes: 

It is in the nature of a victim not to be able to prove that one has been done a wrong. A plaintiff is someone who has incurred damages and who disposes of the means to prove it. One becomes a victim if one loses these means. One loses them, for example, if the author of the damages turns out directly or indirectly to be one's judge.14 The most controversial idea expressed here is this statement of the “nature of a victim”, as if there were some universally fixed conditions to be a victim; but then he says that “one becomes a victim”. The lack, or loss of means – as language, arguments, evidence, instruments, or anything – to prove the crime is very significant when he distinguishes a victim, although more dramatic and appalling is the state when an abuser is substituted also by a judge. It seems an unimaginable situation in a democratic state of law but for Lyotard one of the most powerful examples that demonstrates it is Auschwitz; and later problems that appeared with proving that the gas chambers (installed in the water showers interiors) really existed, when there were no eyewitnesses because all people, except the executioners, were themselves the victims who died directly there. In the same note, he adds that a “perfect crime” is organized to silence the victim and to eliminate any testimony, to make it completely absurd. Hence, the one who is the victim as he originally express it: is the “differend”, the one who is unable to prove anything, due to the fact that he/she/it is forced to be silent.15 In other words, that appear quite surprisingly, in the note 38 Lyotard turns to the animal, stating that “the animal is a paradigm of the victim”:

Some feel more grief over damages inflicted upon an animal than over those inflicted upon a human. This is because the animal is deprived of the possibility of bearing witness according to the human rules for establishing damages, and as a consequence, every damage is like a wrong and turns it into a victim ipso facto.16


A paradigm here indicates a model, a pattern of being a victim, however, not all animals are victims but those who are: have not got any means to speak according to human rules about their suffering. They cannot act as a witness because they are mute in culture, history and the whole humanly constructed world. Here, nature of the victim has a real referent: the non-human animal is a concrete being, like one of those Jews who could not speak what had happened in the gas chambers that looked like water showers before and after the liberation. The parallel that is subtly drawn here is meaningful because it signifies the obstacles in access to communication, and because we are dealing with the ultimate, ‘paradigmatic’ victim that is conditioned to be lost. 

The authors, who very often refer to Michel Foucault, recognize here the effect of bio power and a threatening possibility that the Holocaust can repeat but some of them, like Polish historian (partly working in Stanford),  Ewa Domanska, anticipates joint studies where animals' and humans' matters are juxtaposed:

In this context it is extremely important to provide comparative studies on the issue of institutionalized cruelty, which will apply not only to people (comparing for instance the holocaust with slavery) but also to animals (where the slaughterhouse would be seen as a prototype of the extermination camp). This phenomenon of institutionalized cruelty gives us a basis for drawing analogy between the holocaust and slavery of humans and animals.17


Probably the most influential and radical book that greatly fulfils the need to present human supremacy and exploitation of animals, especially in the industrialized slaughterhouses (farm factories), through “Nazi” lens, is Eternal Treblinka written by a social historian and educator, Charles Patterson.18 This text, however, also functions as a reductive example of thinking, despite the author's intention, that our relation toward animals is mainly subordinated to one-way violence. Such reductions might be helpful, influence and affect people, shock them regarding even their everyday choices. But still there are major problems left beside like: how to consider and represent non-human victims? How to speak on behalf of someone/a creature who was totally deprived of causative power, or in other words – agency; how in the age of human posttraumatic events bring the idea of other victims that exist in non-anthropocentrically understood history.


Lyotard claims that the one who is not able to speak but somehow represents himself in being a victim, radicalizes its meaning. His philosophical and communicational project assumes that it is possible to constitute new speakers, new meanings and new objects, so harm and mistreat could be revealed and speakable. In this theoretical proposal speaking is understood as a relation: there is someone or something that speaks and someone or something that listens. In the note 21, where Lyotard expresses such affirmative stance and descriptive positivism, he is also confirmed that it is a matter of gaining new competence.19 Unfortunately, he does not explain if it is also a situation when other than human subjects can express themselves, and how, in this posttraumatic but communicative society; or put into convincingly understandable for humans phrases what was suppressed and painful for them, perhaps with a help of mediatory figures like zoologists, etiologists, animal behaviorists, or any other “non-human” interpreters. It seems that for Lyotard this is a very hypothetical vision to believe in such a lingual construction of the world and ignore a whole bunch of methodological and practical issues. He does not defend himself in this text from treating animality only as an abstract and purified concept of the radical and ultimate victim. To believe in the possibility of representing non-human perspective of being oppressed does not follow as a consequence from this book, however, I would like to assume it as an alternative mode of thinking that appeared in the after holocaust literature. Since the post holocaust literature creates such an opportunity and conditions, a question of expressibility of liminal or border experience might be asked by changing the perspective for the non-speaking being, which finds its application especially in the situation that exceeds human perceptive and rational competences.       

Despite Lytord’s implemented affirmation in disclosing cruelty, animals have to be represented in speaking for their own sake, even passively, which likely happens in case of the Muselmann who indicates a similar figure that plays a paradigmatic role in portraying the non-human victim in Giorgio Agamben's Remnants of Auschwitz. Here, paradoxically, the Muselmann victim used to be a human but transformed into a non-human being under the pressure of a massive suffering and hunger in German Nazi extermination camps. Two quotes illustrate that the Muselmann “marked the moving threshold in which man passed into non-man and in which clinical diagnosis passed into anthropological analysis”; or as Primo Levi put it, “the Muselmann, the ‘complete witness’, makes it forever impossible to distinguish between man and non-man.”20 So, the Muselmann, as Agamben sees him, raises fundamental questions to politics, ethics, and all branches coming from humanism, blurring the borders between what/who was perceived as human and non-human in reference to biological life per se. 

In the memories of survivors, especially the one that were written by the former Muselmen, or more often mentioning them, what is emphasized is the feeling of unreal reality in the camp and humans' transformations into beasts, insects, or other creatures that creep and crawl, striving to live through in being reduced to pure biological instincts.21 The Muselmann is also compared to automata, to a passive, inert mechanism struggling to preserve his life.22 It demonstrates an association with what Rene Descartes wrote on animals:

It is certain that in the bodies of animals, as in ours, there are bones, nerves, muscles, animal spirits, and other organs so disposed that they can by themselves, without any thought, give rise to all the animal motions we observe. This is very clear in convulsive movements when the machine of the body moves despite the soul, and sometimes more violently and in a more varied manner than when it is moved by the will”.23

But Agamben, seemingly to Lyotard’s figure of the animal, forces us to think of the Muselmann as a paradigm of the victim, of a border creature, a figure that was real, despite the criticism that in such a theoretical perspective it resembles a mere construction.24 Figural representation of the Muselmann, not figurative, brings the idea of Auerbach's that

[…] a figural schema permits both its poles – the figure and its fulfilment – to retain the characteristics of concrete historical reality, in contradistinction to what obtains with symbolic or allegorical personifications […] An event taken as a figure preserves its literal and historical meaning. It remains an event, does not become a mere sign.25


And by being reflected as an event, the figure of Muselmann preserves reality forever, whereas the concept of paradigm opens it to a wider context: historical and discursive26, giving an opportunity to include the non-human realm and go beyond, what was conceptualized as human species borders. 


The most dramatic evidence, related to Muselpeople, and repeated by Hannah Arendt, Primo Levi, and Agamben, is connected with not even perceiving them as dead bodies but as figures, in the visual sense, or dolls – such view and such creatures were totally new to other humans who were captivated in Auschwitz, too. Even so, they aroused compassion and readiness to react in spite of what is human and what is traversed in humanity: they became figures of boundless suffering that stayed present in the mute creatures as well. The greatest issue, raised for the first time by Primo Levi, was a decision to speak on behalf of the complete and ultimate witnesses and victims, who the Muselmen tragically and realistically embodied. That is why, parallel to the animal, the Muselmann questions humanity or human values so radically that such categories as dignity and respect for humans just – because they are humans – are erased. Most of the people exceed humankind limits, even in affects, emotions or simply, by their biological needs – this, according to Agamben, proves that such limits are insufficient and abstract. These human borders were purposely and normatively constructed, as Wolfe, or LaCapra notices: to eliminate the non-human otherness, to strengthen and legitimate humans in their violent, anthropocentric actions. But extermination camps (and also animal slaughterhouses) show that even “in the most extreme degradation” there is still life; and this life, no matter if owned by the animal or Muselmann, is devoid of possibility to die; in other words, we are dealing with a massive and constantly depressing production of corpses, whereas death, as a subjective and individual phenomenon, is especially in these paradigmatic examples consequently eliminated. 

Both, anthropomorphizing animal victims and dehumanizing the Muselmann transforms the “anthropos” into “bios” and the very understanding of the victim. In the foreground Auschwitz brings the victimization into a phenomenon that is not reserved for humans, in the background – it reflects a disagreement with the anthropological dogma naturally linked with humanities: that a man is described by his opposition to the non-human, including animals, machines, and others (condemned or defective groups like disabled people), which is one of the main traits in Wolfe's What is Posthumanism?27 Posthumanist lesson emphasizes a radical doubt into everything what is categorized as human, and leads also to extend the meaning of suffering and harm, enabling to see the other non-human species, like farm or laboratory animals’ suffer and to compare their situation to extermination camps, as in the case of Peter Singer, Jacques Derrida, Coetzee, Coe, or Haraway. Still, the question of ridding or reproducing the anthropomorphic instruments into something new and critical to humanism stays, as well when the notion of the victim is analysed, blurting such components out as neurological experience of one's body. 

What has changed in our notion of the victim, which hybridizes the human and non-human elements, is on the one hand portrayed by the Muselmann who means, according to Agamben, the non-human produced within a man, and from the other – the animal as the non-human processed by acting as a man. The example of Lyotard and Agamben's contribution brings the idea of how to represent the mute victims who cannot testify and speak as witnesses; how to reveal their harm and mistreat reserved also for the non-human experience, how to perform it and reverse their passivity. One of such attempts, to speak on behalf of the radical other and non-human creature, is made by a French writer and philosopher, Helene Cixous. 


The affective influence of the victim

Writing to express, to give meaning of wounds – this might be a motto of Cixous's work. In the poetic of wound is the Stigmata, or Job the Dog framed. It is an autobiographical and also poetic text, full of metaphors, fishing in traumatic past of the writer, who memorized, when being a little girl, she had to live with her family in Algeria. So the context of the story belongs to that time and concrete place.

Cixous's Algerian house was placed near Arab slums, and not in French neighborhood because her father was employed as a doctor and until he worked there nothing dangerous happens. In fact, the story really begins with his death. This was a time of Algeria rising against French colonizers and for the Arabs, as a Jewish-French family, they were attractive because of their need to express anger. Despite the humans’ framework of these events, the tale's central figure is represented by a dog named Fips. Through his miserable perspective, Cixous in her speaking and narrating position brings the memories back. She calls the animal “a unique case of triumph of life over all the conditions and customs”28 and the conditions, she speaks about, were the cruelest for the dog. She explains that after her father died, the dog had to be put on the lash in order not to bite, and when the Arabs started to rain on their family house hails of stones, he eventually got mad. In those sad days Cixous was twelve but she still feels guilty for the dog's suffering; the guilt and affective remembrance of the dog’s figure occurs as the main idea and the motive of this text. She also carries permanent signs of the dog's teeth on her body, after once being bitten by him. The physical wound has been interiorized, incorporated in her deep imaginary self: 

I have his teeth and his rage, painted on my left foot and on my hands, I never think about it, because the little mute lips of the wounds have travelled, what remains of them on my feet and my hands is only an insensible embossment, the marks of the cries are lodged on the sensitive very sensitive membranes of my brain. I have that dog in my skull, like an unrecognizable twin.29

“The dog in my skull”, “unrecognizable twin” signal that within her subjectivity there are appropriate resources and pre-discursive means to speak in the name of voiceless animal. Her empathy for the dog, permanently marked on her body, accompanies her unforgettably, in her brain, in her tissues, and in her imagination. In her suffer, inside painful emotions, in anger, she feels not only like Fips the dog, she even identifies with him:

You who know my bursts of rage, the sudden moments when the door of my calm opens to give way to a very ancient furor, you do not know that then I am Fips, I leap out of myself called by his gallop that hoped to pass in a prodigious bound over the of the portal, barking I follow his hope I am his extravagance (…).30

She feels that as a result of her guilt she needs to become the dog for a moment but this is only a substitute, “mydog” (written together) as she calls it; repetitive and therapeutic method to recall what has been hidden in the humanly and egocentrically constructed past. The dog in itself, Fips, this dog was something else, something more than she could imagine31, or rather someone. The very idea of the animal as a victim is brought into the text when she starts to speak of the dog as an imaginary lamb:

A dog guards the entrance. If he barks so loud it's so you won't see he's the lamb.[...] Because as a lamb the dog is born to give his life for us. Which entails that in return we be ready to give our life for him. But we did not want to give our life to the dog. We wanted the ideal dog, the all powerful, the assistance, the idea of dog in the  heavens. This is how his misfortune began even before he appeared preceded by our desire.32


Being a lamb represents here – in Cixous’s case it is a non-Christian world, however full of remaining Christianity symbols, dreadful signs, rendering anthropocentric model of religion – the offering animal that was accidentally devoted to humans events, dramatically embodying innocence as a pure victim and as a sacrifice belongs to a hierarchical world, where humans dominance and exploitation over animals is inscribed in the metaphysical and patriarchal order of beings. Regardless of religious reasons and connotations, Cixous respects the dog's story and feels concerned and troubled about it, also because of sorrow, when she was too young to understand the “animal height”; now she is intrinsically forced to speak on behalf of Fips: the dog that in her memory counts as an individual and someone close, which is more painful for her because he is also commemorated as a real, however, non-human victim. Eventually, Cixous assigns him ”the terrible role of holocaust”.33 Since he suffered not for his guilt, being stormed by plenty of stones, he found himself in the unknown for him fire of humans' conflict: “he was punished because of the misfortune he suffered to be us”.34 In the affective poetics of the non-human victim the borders of being human and the opposite are meshed with each other: being a victimized Jew and a sentient animal is juxtaposed here: 

I did not speak to him. Am I Jewish? he thought. But what does that mean Jewish, he suffered from not knowing. And me neither. And I did not make light in his obscurity, I did not murmur to him the words that all animals understand.(...) He knew only horror without hope.35


It seems like their bonds, their closeness was brought because of alienation of being Jewish. The dog was also alienated by treating him as an animal to whom nobody – no human – spoke. Such painful and irresistibly undeniable relation between the dog and the writer has been deeply rooted by the real and memorized wounds, but also by the dog's extreme suffering that irreversibly entered the author’s remembrance: 

We acted as if there were two moons. But he had ticks big as chickpeas. This gave him saintliness. Job was that dog I am sure. (…) The suffering of the beast made me suffer for myself.”36

The ticks of the dog returned to the writer as stigmas, the stigmas of radically unfair and unexplained suffering in which humans' fault was significantly involved, because the stigmas belonged to a real victim represented now by the figure of the dog in Cixous’s memory and in the corresponding guilt.

Cixous's dog as Job in comparison with Levinas's account on Bobby, a wandering, stray dog that once settled in the death camp, presents completely different. Bobby was also a figure, perhaps used instrumentally, to prove humanity of nearly non-human slaves of the camp. Despite the feeling of being “subhumans, a gang of apes” that Levinas tragically describes, or being “no longer part of the world”, “beings entrapped in their species”, “without language” the dog named Bobby brings hope to rebuild humanity inside the camp prisoners because “for him, there was no doubt that we were men”.37 But for Cixous – and this is radically a new position – the dog is also a victim of war, holocaust, and all those events that we used to ascribe to humans only. Fips is taking his part in a historical world, embodying a figure even more painful for humans who regain their sophisticated language and can express their suffer and injustice. The non-human animal but also the mute Muselmann are left alone, abandoned in their direct experience that encompasses them totally.  


Cixous ends her tale with the words: “And even so I loved Fips but not then, not there in the garden of war, not yet, but later.”38 “The garden of war” resembles the garden of Eden where everything started: the sin, the guilty, the animals' subordination to humans, the humans manipulation with nature....everything what seems to be a problem in human and non-human relations and that means between people but also between all other sentient creatures. Because the concept of human and non-human victim is meshed, revealing, as the dog and the figure of Muselmann, the need to continuous return, rethink, and hopefully - react.  

The conclusive question is why the animal and mute Jew are comparable as victims? What is potential in the non-human category that opens the notion of the victim into something radically new, non-rational and incomprehensible? First answer would be reduced to the experience which is inexpressible, or better: unspeakable. And second, perhaps more important – lies not on bringing them to a very biological level of existence, but to recognition that such imposed language of biological extremes and suffer is just a beginning to say something more, to extract from them hidden transcendence, from the animal and from the Muselmann, like Cixous in her text on Fips. 

Thus, there are reasons that enable us combining animal studies and trauma studies because both develop in the difficulty of assessing how animals and mute Jews experience the violence.[39]

Giving voice to non-humans, through literary or art representations of what is painful in their figural testimonies, are probably the most realistic strategy to exceed anthropocentric limits of language, epistemology, and ethics. And finally, paraphrasing Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, I would like to ask: can the non-human subaltern speak? Thanks to us or through us, changing our perspective on what is suffering and pain when these and other conditions are for sure not only reserved for humans but shared among sentient and liminal creatures?  Including the subaltern in the gamut of the paradigm of a ‘victim’ results in the boundaries of social and non-social worlds are also being blurred. It is a significant extension that the Muselmann and the animal as the paradigm – a figural of the victim – have the same scope as a marginalized section of society. Proliferation of victims, no matter if human or non-human, is a constant condition to be used to indicate (at least for this essay) that the inclusion of the subaltern should result in returning the question of what is social and fundamental to build our future communities. 


Anna Barcz, PhD at The Institute of Literary Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw. She is the leader of the project "The Meaning of the animal studies in the context of studies on the Polish culture". The author of articles published in “Teksty Drugie”, “Brno Studies in English”, “Anthropos?” and “Artmix”. Her main fields of interest are: ecocriticism, animal studies and posthumanism.


Giorgio, Agamben. Remnants of Auschwitz: the Witness and the Archive.Transl. Daniel Heller-Roazen. New York: Zone Books, 1999.

Giorgio, Agamben. Che cos'è un paradigma? In: Signatura rerum. Sul metodo.Torino: Bollati Boringhieri, 2008.

Erich, Auerbach. Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature. Transl. Willard Trask. Introd. Edward Said. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003.

Rosi, Braidotti. Posthuman, All Too Human: Toward a New Process Ontology. In: Theory, Culture & Society 23, no 7-8, (2006): 197-208.

Hélène, Cixous. Stigmata. Escaping texts.Transl. Eric Prenowitz. London – New York: Routledge, 2005.

Timothy, Clark. The Cambridge Introduction to Literature and the Environment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Ewa, Domańska. Muzułman: świadectwo i figura. In: W sprawie Agambena. Konteksty krytyki. Ed. Łukasz Musiał, Mikołaj Ratajczak, Krystian Szadkowski and Arkadiusz Żychliński. Poznań: Wydawnictwo Poznańskie, 2010. 233-260.

Adolf, Gawalewicz. Refleksje z poczekalni do gazu: ze wspomnień muzułmana. Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1968. 

Donna, Haraway. When Species Meet. Minneapolis-London: Minnesota University Press, 2008.

Antoni, Kępiński. Refleksje oświęcimskie. Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2005.

Stefan, Herbrechter. Posthumanism. A Critical Analysis. London-New Delhi-New York-Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2013.

Dominick, LaCapra. History and Its Limits: Human, Animal, Violence.Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2009.

Emmanuel, Levinas. The Name of a Dog, or Natural Rights. In: Difficult Freedom. Essays on Judaism. Transl. Sean Hand. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1990. 

Andrew, Linzey. Why Animal Suffering Matters. Philosophy, Theology, and Practical Ethics. Oxford-New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Jean-Francois, Lyotard. The Differend: Phrases in Dispute. Transl. Georges Van Den Abbeele. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988.

Susan, McHugh. Animal Stories. Narrating across Species Lines. Minneapolis-London: University of Minnesota Press, 2011.

Charles, Patterson. Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust. New York: Lantern Books, 2002. 

Michael, Rothberg. Traumatic Realism. The Demands of Holocaust Representation. Minneapolis-London: University of Minnesota Press, 2000.

Kari, Weil. A Report on the Animal Turn. In: Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies21, no 2 (2010). 1-23.

Kari, Weil. Thinking Animals. Why Animal Studies Now? New York: Columbia University Press, 2012.

Anne, Whitehead. Trauma Fiction. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004.

Cary, Wolfe. Animal Rites: American Culture, the Discourse of Species, and Posthumanist Theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.

Cary, Wolfe. What is Posthumanism?Minneapolis-London: University of Minnesota Press, 2010.

1. Compare for instance: Whitehead, Anne. Trauma Fiction. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004; Rothberg, Michael. Traumatic Realism. The Demands of Holocaust Representation. Minneapolis-London:  University of Minnesota Press, 2000
2.Linzey, Andrew. Why Animal Suffering Matters. Philosophy, Theology, and Practical Ethics. Oxford-New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. p. 9.
3.Ibid., p. 38
4. McHugh, Susan. Animal Stories. Narrating across Species Lines. Minneapolis-London: University of Minnesota Press, 2011. p. 2; Weil, Kari. Thinking Animals. Why Animal Studies Now? New York: Columbia University Press, 2012. p. XIX
5.See for example: Wolfe, Cary. The Ethics of (Dis)figuration: Sue Coe’s Dead Meat. In: What is Posthumanism? Minneapolis-London: University of Minnesota Press, 2010. p. 146-158.
6.See for instance a bibliographical list in the chapter „Animals as Reflexive Thinkers” in: The Animals Reader. The Essential Classic and Contemporary Writings. Ed. Kalof, Linda and Fitzgerald, Amy. Oxford- New York: Berg, 2007. p.111. The editors refer to such already well-recognized researchers as to Marc Bekoff, Frans de Waal, Donald Griffin, Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, and others.
7.Herbrechter, Stefan. Posthumanism. A Critical Analysis. London-New Delhi-New York-Sydney:Bloomsbury, 2013. p. 8.
8.LaCapra, Dominick. History and Its Limits: Human, Animal, Violence. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2009. p. 159. 
9.Ibid., p. 153.
10.Haraway, Donna. When Species Meet. Minneapolis-London: Minnesota University Press, 2008; Braidotti, Rosi. Posthuman, All Too Human: Toward a New Process Ontology. In: Theory, Culture & Society 23, no. 7-8 (2006). p. 197-208.
11.There is some controversy among ecologists what we should defend: ecosystems or particular animal species – see for example: Clark, Timothy. The Cambridge Introduction to Literature and the Environment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011. p. 180-181. In my opinion, though, animals treated as agencies and performative real figures may only strengthen the aims of environmental criticism (more often posed as ecocriticism) due to their mediatory role between culture and nature and to mostly positive emotions they engage (for example in children).
12. Wolfe, Cary. Animal Rites: American Culture, the Discourse of Species, and Posthumanist Theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003. p. 190.
13.Herbrechter, Stefan. Posthumanism. A Critical Analysis. London-New Delhi-New York-Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2013. p. 198.
14.Lyotard, Jean-Francois. The Differend: Phrases in Dispute. Transl. Georges Van Den Abbeele. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988. p. 8.
15. Ibid., p. 10.
16. Ibid., p. 28.
17. Domańska, Ewa. Muzułman: świadectwo i figura. In: W sprawie Agambena. Konteksty krytyki. Ed. Łukasz Musiał, Mikołaj Ratajczak, Krystian Szadkowski and Arkadiusz Żychliński. Poznań: Wydawnictwo Poznańskie, 2010. p. 234-5.
18. Patterson, Charles. Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals and the Holocaust. New York: Lantern Books, 2002.
19. Lyotard, Jean-Francois. The Differend: Phrases in Dispute. Transl. Georges Van Den Abbeele. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988. p. 13.
20. Agamben, Giorgio. Remnants of Auschwitz: the Witness and the Archive. Transl. Daniel Heller-Roazen. New York: Zone Books, 1999. p. 47.
21. Gawalewicz, Adolf. Refleksje z poczekalni do gazu: ze wspomnień muzułmana. Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1968. p. 97, 132.
22. Kępiński, Antoni. Refleksje oświęcimskie. Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 2005. p. 22-23.
23. Descartes, Rene. From Letter to More. 5 February 1649. Transl. Anthony Kenny. In: The Animals Reader. The Essential Classic and Contemporary Writings. Ed. Kalof, Linda and Fitzgerald, Amy. Oxford-New York: Berg, 2007. p. 61.
24. Domańska, Ewa. Muzułman: świadectwo i figura. In: W sprawie Agambena. Konteksty krytyki. Ed. Łukasz Musiał, Mikołaj Ratajczak, Krystian Szadkowski and Arkadiusz Żychliński. Poznań: Wydawnictwo Poznańskie, 2010. p. 243.
25. Auerbach, Erich. Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature. Transl. Willard Trask. Introd. Edward Said. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003. p. 195-6.
26. Agamben, Giorgio. Che cos'è un paradigma? In: Signatura rerum. Sul metodo. Torino: Bollati Boringhieri, 2008. p. 11
27.Wolfe, Cary. What is Posthumanism? Minneapolis-London: University of Minnesota Press, 2010.
28.Cixous, Hélène. Stigmata. Escaping texts. Transl. Eric Prenowitz. London – New York: Routledge, 2005. p. 248.
29. Ibid., p. 249.
30. Ibid., p. 249.
31. Ibid., p. 250
33.Ibid., p. 251
34. Ibid., p. 255.
35. Ibid., p. 256.
36. Ibid., p. 259.
37. Levinas, Emmanuel. The Name of a Dog, or Natural Rights. In: Difficult Freedom. Essays on Judaism. Transl. Sean Hand. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1990. p. 153.
38. Cixous, Hélène. Stigmata. Escaping texts. Transl. Eric Prenowitz. London – New York: Routledge, 2005. p. 261.
39.    Weil, Kari. A Report on the Animal Turn. In: Differences: A journal of Feminist Cultural

Download this Paper