In ‘The Animal that Therefore I am,’ Jacques Derrida invites readers to reconsider the classical distinction between ‘animal’ and ‘human.’ His critique includes a playful account of nudity – a meditation on the experience of being naked in the presence of one’s pet. The investigation suggests that Mr. Fluffy’s ability to make me ‘feel naked’ (i.e., to ‘shame’ me) calls into question the ‘difference’ between us.
Recent headlines offer a unique twist to this dynamic. As the summer months warm, families across the States are struggling to decide how old is too old for their children to play in the nude. Justifications and concerns vary, but many mark the cut-off at the moment when childhood innocence dissolves into adult (or adult-like) awareness – when the child begins to ‘feel naked.’
And therein lies the difficulty. Some contend that this awareness is, in fact, frequently prompted by external sources, by the embarrassment (and, perhaps, even ‘shame’) of neighbors and relatives. One could argue that the line is rarely drawn when the child ‘feels naked’ but, rather, when she makes others ‘feel clothed.’
Here Derrida’s problem finds creative extension. For one wonders not how it is that I ‘feel naked’ but how it is that I still feel naked … in spite of my attire? To read more, see this article from the New York Times.
Derrida, Politics and Democracy to Come,
Paul Patton , The University of New South Wales,
Philosophy Compass 2/6