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Without Offending HumansA Critique of Animal Rights$

Élisabeth de Fontenay

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780816676040

Published to Minnesota Scholarship Online: August 2015

DOI: 10.5749/minnesota/9780816676040.001.0001

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The Pathetic Pranks of Bio-Art

The Pathetic Pranks of Bio-Art

(p.111) 6 The Pathetic Pranks of Bio-Art
Without Offending Humans

Élisabeth de Fontenay

University of Minnesota Press

Abstract and Keywords

Chapter 6 (The Pathetic Pranks of Bio-Art) is, as its title suggests, a scathing critique of Bio-Art. In Fontenay’s reading, Bio-Art abusively appropriates the legitimate concern for animal rights and carelessly avoids the true ethical and political questions posed by genetic engineering.

Keywords:   Jacques Derrida, Animal Rights, Peter Singer, BioArt, Mad Cow Disease, Media, Frankfurt School, Animal, Steven Jay Gould

On the staircase of the Tower of Victory, there has lived from the beginning of time the A Bao A Qu, which is sensitive to the virtues possessed by human souls. It lives upon the first step in a state of lethargy, and comes to conscious life only when someone climbs the stairs. The vibration of the person as he approaches infuses the creature with life, and an inward light begins to glow within it. At the same time, its body and its virtually translucent skin begin to ripple and stir. When a person climbs the stairs, the A Bao A Qu follows almost on the person’s heels, climbing up after him, clinging to the edge of the curved treads worn down by the feet of generations of pilgrims. On each step, the creature’s color grows more intense, its form becomes more perfect, and the light that emanates from it shines ever brighter. Proof of the creature’s sensitivity is the fact that it achieves its perfect form only when it reaches the topmost step, when the person who has climbed the stairs has become a fully evolved and realized spirit. In all other cases, the A Bao A Qu remains as though paralyzed, midway up the staircase, its body incomplete, its color still undefined, its light unsteady. When it cannot achieve its perfect form, the A Bao A Qu suffers great pain, and its moaning is a barely perceptible murmur similar to the whisper of silk. But when the man or woman that revives the creature is filled with purity, the A Bao A Qu is able to reach the topmost step, completely formed and radiating a clear blue light. Its return to life is brief, however, for when the pilgrim descends the stairs again, the A Bao A Qu rolls down to the first step once more, where, now muted and resembling some faded picture with vague outlines, it awaits the next visitor to the Tower. The creature becomes fully visible only when it reaches the (p.112) midpoint of the staircase, where the extensions of its body (which, like arms, help it to climb the stairs) take on clear definition. There are those who say that it can see with its entire body, and that its skin feels like that of a peach. Down through all the centuries, the A Bao A Qu has reached perfection only once.

—JORGE LUIS BORGES, The Book of Imaginary Beings

There are certain artists that mean to mark the end of the avantgarde by setting up their studios in laboratories and working with geneticists so as to act on the mechanisms of life. Artistically modified organisms, writes Eduardo Kac, one of these artists to whose work I will be paying particular attention, “are going to become our familiar companions.”1 He adds that “artists could usefully increase the planet’s biodiversity by inventing new forms of life.” For these artists, it is a question of replacing the representation of life with its modification and of exhibiting the results of these détournements in museums. For example, a rabbit capable of emitting a green glow thanks to the introduction of a jellyfish gene into his DNA …

One might begin by wondering who could claim to know both the history of science and the history of art and be fluent enough in the “two cultures” to have the right to evaluate what is a contradiction in terms: “biological art.” Either the audience of these biotechnological installations finds itself infantilized, brought down to the level of experiments usually reserved for children in the discovery centers of science museums where the manipulation of a few controls can produce impressive effects; or else the audience is credited with competencies of which very few among our art gallery visiting contemporaries can boast. This is why it has rightly been said that this is an “art of belief.”

Art imitates nature or completes what nature is incapable of doing, one more or less reads in the second book of Aristotle’s Physics. With its ambiguity, this sentence remains of exemplary pertinence, because at the same time that it institutes our traditional concepts of nature and technique, it also invites us to consider what the artisan fabricates as a paradigm for natural causality; in Ancient Greek, the (p.113) word technē signifies both “manual art” and “work of art.” Aristotle nonetheless adds a reservation to this analogy: finality that is extrinsic when it is a question of art is intrinsic when it is a question of nature. And it is on this point that Aristotle’s physics have become dated, since both Darwinism and our contemporary “synthetic theory of evolution” teach us that there is no teleology in the history of life but only chance and necessity, both of which are of course compatible with segmental teleonomies. This Aristotelian framework can nonetheless act as a safeguard for those who, when solicited by these “biological arts” seeking recognition, attempt to resist the idiocy of the undertaking.

Yet it is certainly not in the name of Nature, of the Creator God, or of the Art of the Easel or even of an Ethical Committee that I am confronting biological, biotechnological, genetic, and transgenic arts. On the contrary, I am trying to remain Darwinian by considering that innovations and experimentations with limits (between species, between arts and techniques, between men and animals, between the natural and the symbolic) are in no way events, or what we call “events,” in the history of men. Not that they have always existed in the way we know them today. How could one deny that, despite progress in bionics, there is still a discontinuity between the technological arts of artificial intelligence and the biotechnological arts, in other words, between silicon and carbon, or between the Aibo dog built by Sony and the florescent dog K9 put together by Eduardo Kac? The genetic and transgenic arts do indeed constitute a deviation, one that represents a new phylogenetic phase. Yet even if they produce something we have never seen before, this only reflects a moment of Evolution that is offering itself for our consideration. Who could still be naïve enough to believe that some inspired free will intervenes in the great process without subject that is the history of life and the discovery of its processes? Artists who participate in this kind of work thus look more like busybodies of epigenesis than outsiders or demiurges. It is as if they were themselves programmed by Evolution as a way of reproducing and spectacularizing certain experimentations in hybridization and transgenesis. (p.114) It is axiologically neutral: neither good nor bad, neither beautiful nor ugly.

What is nonetheless disconcerting and may at first be off-putting is the fact that in the Western tradition, despite new scientific paradigms and new techniques, it so happens that the arts have almost always served a very specific function: saying no or saying something else, taking a few steps back or just to one side, effectuating shifts that attest to the fact that the human being is and has, in front of him, an indefinite complexity whose recessive possibilities he can explore by proposing paths other than the path of progress, by expressing melancholy, nostalgia, or revolt, all those negative, politically deviant passions. Quite to the contrary, the biotech artist brings science and art to work with one another in the elaboration of simplistic models that furnish a perception of how the world functions. This only means that the artisans of a synergy between genetics, the Internet, the neurosciences, and the arts under consideration here refuse to offer up any world beyond the technocosmos. For them, it has become a question of collaborating with what is and what inevitably will be. It is no longer a question, except in certain cases, of an exile far away from what no longer is or in close proximity to what is going to disappear; it is also no longer a question of waiting for what may happen, or of encountering the incalculable. This is why one must repeat that these installations, however new they may be, cannot be qualified as events.

After this initial reaction, one feels somewhat uneasy when one learns from the artist himself that comments from the audience or from any person who learns, even at a distance, of certain pieces of biological art are treated as an integral part of the work itself. The aesthetico-biological system swallows and absorbs all these reactions, reactions of rejection being no doubt particularly important. This art inscribed in time as a work in progress can therefore inspire reactions of irritation, but it couldn’t care less given that under the guise of dialogue, any forms of resistance it inspires are interpreted as predictable symptoms that nourish the system’s complexity.

Upon even further reflection, one begins to wonder how the constant recourse these “creators” have to discourse as a way of explaining (p.115) their intentions can be justified. Does not the swelling of notices and interviews only heighten the prosthetic pompousness? A major ambiguity seems in fact to float over these installations in terms of what the artist expects from his audience. Is his intent, in spite of it all, still aesthetic, or is it merely didactic, or else is it perhaps critical? What is most often said of this work is that it offers a unique opportunity for raising consciousness, and therefore for ethical and democratic debate on the causes and consequences of biotechnologies. What should be made of this? I strongly agree with Jens Hauser when he says that these arts effectuate a détournement of utilitarian discourse.2 And I would go even further: one might think that what we have here in an exaggerated and pathetic form is what Kant called “finality without end,” which he maintained was the mode proper to the work of art. Thanks to this playful détournement, in effect, we might be said to be freeing ourselves from medical legitimations, from the good humanist word that justifies trial and error, the trials and successes of much of the unrestrained and often cruel research carried out on experimental animals. But in order for this kind of analysis to have the least bit of pertinence, there would have to be a minimal disproportion between, on the hand, the cells and molecules, the DNA sequencing that researchers allow artists to play with, and, on the other, the incommensurable effective possibilities being created in laboratories.

This is why it seems particularly laughable when certain biotech artists invoke how “responsible” they are making us, and claim that their work offers a unique opportunity for ethical debate about chimeras. By inviting us to react in a piously normative way, they prove that they act on the basis of a transcendent, extrinsic justification that might save their entertainment from being pure “art for art’s sake” or merely blatant inanity. “There is no transgenic art,” says Eduardo Kac, “without a firm commitment to and responsibility for the new life form thus created…. The result of transgenic art processes must be healthy creatures capable of as regular a development as any other creatures from related species. These animals are to be loved and nurtured just like any other animal.”3 The benevolence of these statements is somewhat baffling, since adopting a mutt from (p.116) the Humane Society would be just as good an action, and much cheaper than the costs of transporting a fluorescent Fluffy the bunny from the laboratory in Jouy-en-Josas to an apartment in Chicago. In fact, the ethical dimension of this so-called communicational aesthetic can be reduced to the exchange of messages on the Internet and the triggering of rays of light that encourage the growth or mutation of living matter. Kac criticizes traditional works of art for offering a unidirectional message to spectators and of leaving them “outside the dialogue.” With transgenic art, on the other hand, we gain access to dialogic interaction. Since the work implicates other living beings, it becomes unpredictable and cannot be controlled. And this space of dialogue is what the work actually is, not the rabbit itself.

One can begin with the objection that the adjective “conventional” is an abusive generalization that impoverishes painting, starting with Paleolithic rock art and continuing through to Fautrier, Bacon, Rebeyrolle, and Gilles Aillaud. In addition, it is often in spite of ourselves that the so-called dialogical genre forces us to collaborate in the work’s composition. At any rate, we cannot accept that what is called dialogue be confiscated by electronic messages. As for the “uncontrollable” and “unpredictable” aspect Kac mentions, one can readily concede that these are very big words to name a random process that, in the current state of things, gives little credit to chain reactions.

As a matter of fact, how is it that the only true political problem posed by these installations in which art is used as a kind of surplus value is never addressed? Do the adepts of biotech art condemn the scandal of the biotechnological and pharmaceutical multinational companies that have no goal beyond profit and that implacably push for patenting the living and therefore of turning it into a piece of commercial merchandise like any other? If this question is never addressed within the works themselves, it’s probably because, thanks to the media that are constantly talking about them, the petri dishes of these artists offer good publicity to the firms that finance them, allowing them to further develop their market logics. We are at the antipodes of what these “creators” claim about their work: that it is a contribution to a new form of ecology. (p.117) I will therefore spend some time on the work of Eduardo Kac, since this artist seems to bring together and totalize the main characteristics of transgenic art and to represent its boldest distinct proposition. One should nonetheless begin by distinguishing between two different kinds of material used in his work; both are genetic but each demands a different kind of analysis. On the one hand, there is the manipulation of the mechanisms of living things, of genetic material, in other words of more or less abstract processes: this is the case in the performance called Genesis. On the other hand, there is the manipulation of this same material, but with the effect of changing extremely complex living individuals: this is the case with the Alba rabbit and the K9 dog.

The principle of Genesis, a work realized with the help of Charles Strom, consists in the invention of what Kac calls an “artist’s gene” that does not exist in nature. Bacteria are genetically modified by this “artist’s gene,” to which a jellyfish’s gene, the GFP protein, is added, thus producing fluorescence. The first part of the performance consists in translating several lines from a text from Genesis widely held as foundational in our culture into Morse code: “Have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”4 Then Kac transforms the Morse code obtained from the translation into DNA. The synthetic genes of the irradiated plasmids that have been made to mutate either in situ or from a distance by participants and spectators of the work are then taken by lighting an ultraviolet lamp that is part of the installation. The genetic sequence is then retranslated in the opposite direction until it returns to its terminal sentence in a vulgar language.

In the many explanations Eduardo Kac has given of Genesis, what is most striking is his insistence on the term “creation.” Kac uses this word that no one in art history has dared to use for a long time now—it dates back to Romanticism—to designate the use of genetic material as material when in reality it is merely a parasite of genetic engineering. What he calls “creations” are actually procedures more closely related to coupling apparatuses, assemblages, and recombinations—themselves related to a more or less authorized pirating of (p.118) genes, to second- or even third-hand knowledge, or scientifically assisted bricolage, artistic practices that could in no way find their model in some kind of inaugural act borrowed from the book of Genesis. This is the case even if, to speak of Eduardo Kac as Eduardo Kac does, one adds an “eighth day” to what emerges ex machina and not ex nihilo. “Eighth day” is in effect the title of another one of his works that I am citing as a way of underlining a fantasy of monotheistic omnipotence, a laughable desire to rival with what has imposed itself on us for more than three millennia as creation.

Several questions arise about Genesis and in particular this one: does Kac believe in the truth of Revelation to the point of making a verse from the Bible proclaiming the domination of man over animals the origin and foundation of our Western relation to beasts? There is much to be said about this received idea, and I would personally be of the opinion that the crucifixion of God made man, in so far as it acts as a substitute for the animal sacrifices common in the Hebraic and Greek religions, is much more decisive.

What language does he read Genesis in? Not in Greek or in Hebrew, the languages of the original, but in English. Why? Is it in the King James Version or in one of those translations one finds in one’s nightstand in Protestant countries? I haven’t found an answer to this nonetheless decisive question, because of course one does not get the same Morse code, and therefore the same genetic code, and therefore the same bacteria according to the materiality of the signifier being used as the point of departure. In fact, does the passage from a text into Morse code and then into DNA and back again deserve the name “translation”? The translation of a literary text is probably the least mechanical and automatic and most interpretative act there is.

In this linguistico-genetic back and forth, is there not a clearly disconcerting occidental-centrism and a biblical quasi-fundamentalism? In this particular case, it is a matter of “changing God’s words,” says Kac. He modifies divine prescription and disobeys him, but only by obeying him. At the very least, one can observe in this way of proceeding a theologizing epistemology that brings us straight back to Galilean mechanics, to the paradigm according to which God wrote (p.119) the text of nature in a mathematical language as a way of allowing us to decipher it.

It seems to me that the manifest content of these actions and of this discourse, in other words the critique of anthropocentrism inherent in the unveiling of the porosity of boundaries among living beings, only barely hides their latent content, a classically and laughably Promethean or Faustian anthropocentrism, an exorbitant mastery and a demiurgic humanism that appropriates all rights over the living, including the right to exhibit its transmutations as if we were a circus: what Kac calls a “monstration of the invisible.” The first two narcissistic wounds mentioned by Freud caused by Copernicus and then by Darwin show themselves to be very poorly healed, or rather cauterized, by the omnipotence of this so-called artistic genius infatuated with genetic engineering.

Eduardo Kac claims that a connection between the scientific, artistic, and religious has always existed, because painters used perspective to represent religious subjects! Can we follow him in this claim to affiliate his innovations with this precedent? I would instead agree with Jens Hauser when he underlines that the biological arts abolish the paradigms of representation and metaphor. This is why I am not pursuing a critique—this is not the space to do so—of the facile transgression constituted by genetic and transgenic practices. What I am trying to call into question, though, and what is related precisely to these issues of representation, is a transgression of transgression that operates on two levels: first, there is a venial violation of the ordinary finality of the laboratory through the mirror and the play of art; second, there is the transgression that seems more serious since it is effectuated on the symbolic level as an offensive against the regime of textuality through the acting out of metaphors and metamorphoses. Freud would have said that this is a case of converting the representation of words into the representation of things that, as is well known, characterizes psychosis.

As for those other “works” by Kac, the Alba rabbit and soon the K dog, fluorescent under ultraviolet light thanks to the jellyfish DNA injected into their DNA, these artistically modified organisms solicit ethological and ontological questions since these are mammals (p.120) and living individuals that have been genetically transformed. We do in fact learn that the French army commissioned a fluorescent bull from the INRA.5 The army ended up having the bull slaughtered: as an artwork or as military material? It so happens that there is nothing new about this technique, since researchers often use it on mice as a way of observing the evolution of proteins. “The fluo rabbit,” as Olivier Cadiot wonderfully writes, “is the exact opposite of our classic cows, he’s entirely new, fluorescent green hair and whiskers, Fluorescent Green, it could be the name of a rose. Realized with love by a lab artist in his hospital-studio, a living prototype with soft, cloned ears, the ideal target for transparent countryside, a 4D game for a new hunter. Boom.”6

I do nonetheless acknowledge the fact that by comparing this work that consists in introducing an inoffensive mark into the genes of an animal with works by Hermann Nitsch, the Austrian artist who organizes bloody slaughters of cows and sheep, or even with works by Wim Delvoye,7 who tattoos motifs and shields onto pigs’ skin and who, in order to do so, must anesthetize them even though their hearts are extremely fragile, one can at first feel somewhat relieved. At first sight, Kac’s artistic practice seems not to be too intrusive, not too aggressive, and in fact he himself has underlined this. Yet there is something obvious here that forces us to ask a few questions: how many trials and failures have there been, that is, how many animal deaths? And what is to become of the GFP-K dog, begun in December ? And, especially, what has actually become of that Alba destined to be exhibited in a gallery in during the Avignon numérique festival, Alba who was supposed to be quietly adopted by Eduardo Kac’s family and who in the end was placed under house arrest in one of INRA’s laboratories. “Support E. Kac’s efforts to free Alba and allow her to come home! Write in Alba’s Guestbook!” one could read on one of Kac’s websites. And what is to be made of this saccharine familialist sentimentalism that oozes through the artist’s words when he speaks of the little bunny he holds in his arms and when he reveals the origin of its name, chosen with the help of his wife and daughter? Animals definitely have a right to more respect. They simply have the right to have rights.

(p.121) A beast attached to a laboratory table for experimentation and manipulated by men with incomprehensible gestures is horrible enough, even when one is aware of the conflicting values at play. But what is to be said of those who accomplish gestures like this with the lamentable goal of making art by creating a fluorescent dog? Behind these playful manipulations, one can make out the old voyeur’s mentality, that sinister scopic drive that more or less brought us to parade the Elephant Man about in fairs, to present the Hottentots in a hut at the World Exhibitions, and to place dwarfs on display in the circus. On the other hand, Rembrandt’s Slaughtered Ox, Chardin’s Jellyfish, all the carcasses painted by Soutine, Dürer’s Young Hare, perhaps even Beuys’s How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare, and that flayed horse with his equally flayed rider that Fragonard—not the painter but the anatomist whose works can be seen at Maisons-Alfort—called The Horseman of the Apocalypse as a tribute to one of Dürer’s engravings, all these still-lifes, all these remains, and even that happening offer themselves to eyes that may be frightened but are never deceived: one could almost say that these works soothe our ruined eyes.

In this context, how can one not think of Bouvard and Pécuchet, Flaubert’s great epic and cantankerous encyclopedia of inanity? One comic episode comes to my mind. The two friends apply the theories and practical advice they discover in all kinds of manuals of scientific vulgarization in absolutely literal ways. For a while, they are madly interested in magnetism and hypnotism, which were more or less for the s what DNA is in our time. One day, Pécuchet decides to hypnotize the turkeys on a Norman farm by tying up their feet and drawing a bright white line in the middle of the courtyard. He succeeds in hypnotizing the animals, turkey after turkey, until the furious peasants chase him and his companion away.

While conducting an entirely different kind of experiment on a robotic bat called BatBot that he constructed in Rotterdam in, Kac got interested in philosophy. He placed his robot in a colony of real bats installed in an artificial cave in the zoo. Thanks to a virtual reality helmet, the spectator found him- or herself in the middle of (p.122) the cave and perceived it as bats do, thanks to the visualization of sonar effects. The philosopher Thomas Nagel’s question, “What does it feel like to be a bat?” was the inspiration for this experiment that consists in an effort to penetrate into an animal’s sensoriality, to put oneself in its position. This representation of the other living being’s representation is one of the objects of cognitive ethology, and it is also what has long been called Einfühlung, or empathy, in phenomenology. Interviewed by the French newspaper Le Monde, Kac declares, “We don’t know if a bacteria or a plant has a consciousness, but we have no doubt about the rabbit and the dog.”8 Kac here imagines he has encountered a fundamental idea of phenomenology and ethology. Yet, first, he does not take the time to know what kind of encounter this should be. And second, he is not able to help us understand how the “continued creation” of Alba and K would improve empathy between nonhuman living beings and humans: in this case, there seems to be a screaming contradiction between the end and the means.

The disaster consists in the fact that while Kac claims to lend support to his concept of “communicational aesthetics” and to nourish his technological passion for communication between animals and humans, he has either not read or has poorly read the authors he cites. Leaving Descartes to one side, generally known as the theoretician of the animal-machine, who Kac says “has a condescending approach to the spiritual life of the animal,” we can go straight to what is most distressing. Kac is constantly confusing interconnection, alterity, intersubjectivity, dialogue, empathy, dialogism, and communicational ethics. The thirty pages he has signed and that can be found on the Internet under the title “GFP Bunny” are incredibly confused.9 One is stupefied to see the artist equip his essay with an enormous critical apparatus of cut-and-paste quotations that allow him to boast of erudite references, Levinasian thinking of the other, for example, even though despite several moving texts that describe a dog and a camel,10 it is a constitutive aspect of Levinas’s thought to exclude the relation to animals from the experience of alterity. As for Buber, who is also cited by Kac, his problematic of the I and the Thou is hardly fitting for his sentimental (p.123) and slapdash reveries, since animals have no place in the dialogue between the I and the Thou. This is true even if Buber did happen to write a disturbing piece about the cat.11

Let us not even mention the reference to Habermas and the clichés of communicational ethics. Is Kac truly unaware or only pretending to be unaware of the fact that the majority of continental philosophers whose names he cites were only and restrictively interested in human intersubjectivity and that they have always already chased animals away from the common world—and even from their conception of alterity? It was not enough to salute the exception represented by Husserl and Merleau-Ponty. It would have also been necessary for these two decisive authors for thinking about animal reality to be correctly solicited, which is far from being the case since none of their works dealing specifically with animality is cited. This is why I will not resist the desire to recall how phenomenology traced the lineaments of man–animal intersubjectivity, and how this approach is incompatible with the precedents Kac believes support his work.

Even though his rants refer in particular to Husserl, I will be calling upon Merleau-Ponty to furnish this sorcerer’s apprentice with a few elementary aspects of phenomenology. In a 1957–58 course at the Collège de France, the philosopher addresses the question of the animal’s relation to the word by basing himself on the hierarchy of the species. Entirely planned animals such as sea urchins and jelly-fish that are insensitive to stimuli, lacking in environment, and regulated by the external milieu, can be said to be pure processes. On the other hand, animals who plan, protoplasm capable of plasticity (such as an amoeba who makes pseudopods or vacuoles and then makes them disappear in order to recreate them) enact regulations, and dispose of a certain capacity for prediction. Of this phenomenon, Merleau-Ponty goes so far as to say that “we see the protoplasm move, a living matter that moves; to the right, the animal’s head, to the left, its tail. From this moment on, the future comes before the present. A field of space-time has been opened: here we have a beast.”12 In this same perspective of a phenomenology of life, Hans Jonas will go so far as to maintain that metabolism is the first level of the emergence of meaning.13

(p.124) Finally, there is a third kind of animal, those that are without plan and that can be called superior. They construct an environment that is replicated in their nervous system. Stimuli are subject to elaboration and are “translated” into the linguistic system of the nervous system that is itself in a way a mirror of the world. Thinking of these animals that are open to the stimuli that solicit them more as signs than as causes, Merleau-Ponty writes, “All zoology presupposes an Einfühlung on our part, a methodical empathy with animal behavior, the animal’s participation in our perceptive life and our perceptive life’s participation in animality.”14

With more highly evolved vertebrates, one does in effect discover something like the beginning of a subjective interiority, the expression of a self that is constituted by the pursuit of an end, a goaloriented activity that testifies to strategies of adaptation, which imply a psycho-physiological identity in time. This identity includes mental states, beliefs, desires, emotions, inferences, perception, memory, and anticipation. This is the reason for the incontestable reality of anxieties and frustrations. It is also why certain animals go insane, as studied by a French psychiatrist named Henri F. Ellenberger.15 This is also why recourse to anxiolytics and even to genetic manipulations has been taken as a way of abolishing the nervous tension due to industrial methods of intensive breeding, seclusion in zoos, and animal experimentation.

This is why when confronted with the manipulations of bio-art, one has to emphasize the phenomenological pertinence of the three R’s that researchers, including researchers at the INRA, have proposed and that could constitute a deontology for laboratories concerning beings endowed with sensibility and worlds.16 Three rules. When possible, replacement, which consists in substituting nonsentient species for sentient ones or in carrying out experiments in vitro. When replacement is not possible, reduction, which consists in limiting experiments on sentient animals to experiments that are considered indispensible. And finally, refinement, which aims to reduce any inflicted suffering as much as possible. One will note that the geneticist who contributed to the “creation” of a fluorescent rabbit unfortunately broke the first two of these rules in a shocking way. (p.125) Kac cannot legitimately claim to have inherited anything from the lessons of phenomenologists and ethologists for whom the animal is quite precisely not a part of nature but a particular relation to the world. For this would imply acknowledging that the animal has an inherent or intrinsic value and that it should therefore never be treated merely as a means or as material, as a sample for postmodern experimentation. This is why I placed this reflection on transgenic arts under the protection of a text by Borges. Do I hear you saying that it’s pretty much the same thing? No! Quite to the contrary! For A Bao A Qu’s light, the one that shines from literature, gives us the strength to refuse without reservation the production and exhibition of Alba’s and K9’s and to take immense pity on the poor living detritus of a techno-science in the clutches of debauchery.


(1.) Cited by Jens Hauser, “Gènes, genie, genes,” in Jens Hauser, L’art biotech (Nantes: Le lieu unique, 2003), 9–15.

(3.) Eduardo Kac, cited in Québec Sciences, September 1999.

(4.) Genesis 1:28.

(5.) [The French Institut Scientifique de Recherche Agronomique, or Scientific Institute for Agronomic Research—Trans.]

(6.) Olivier Cadiot, Retour définitif et durable de l’être aimé (Paris: POL, 2002), 16.

(7.) See Philippe Dagen, L’art impossible (Paris: Grasset, 2002), 207–8.

(8.) Interview with Eduardo Kac, Le Monde interactif, December 15, 2000.

(10.) For the dog, see the story of Bobby in “The Name of a Dog, or Natural Rights,” in Emmanuel Levinas, Di cult Freedom: Essays on Judaism, trans. Seàn Hand (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press 1997,), 151–53. On the camel, see Emmanuel Levinas, In the Name of the Nations, trans. Michael B. Smith (London: Continuum, 2007), 120.

(11.) Martin Buber, I and Thou, trans. Walter Kaufman (Hesperides Press, 2008), 144–45: “The eyes of an animal have the capacity of a great language…. Undeniably, this cat began its glance by asking me with a glance that was ignited by the breath of my glance: ‘Can it be that you mean me? … Am I there?’”

(12.) Merleau-Ponty, Nature, 197. [Translation slightly modified—Trans.]

(13.) Hans Jonas, Evolution et Liberté, (Paris: Payot et Rivages, 1999); and The Phenomenon of Life: Toward a Philosophical Biology, (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 2001).

(14.) Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Résumés de cours au Collège de France (Paris: Gallimard, 1968), 135–36.

(15.) Henri F. Ellenberger, “Jardin zoologique et hôpital psychiatrique,” in Médecines de l’âme: Essais d’historie de la folie et des guérisons psychiques (Paris: Fayard, 1995). [Translated as “The Mental Hospital and the Zoological Garden,” in Animals and Man in Historical Perspective, ed. Joseph Klaits and Barrie Klaits, 59–92 (New York: Harper and Row, 1974)—Trans.]

(16.) In a 1959 article by W. M. S. Russell and R. L. Burch [in The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique (London: Methuen, 1959)—Trans.], then V. Monamy (1996) [“Animal Experimentation: A Student Guide to Balancing the Issues,” Australian and New Zealand Council for the Care of Animals in Research and Teaching—Trans.] and finally I. Vessier (1999, INRA) [“Expérimentation animale: biologie, éthique, réglementation,” INRA Productions Animales 12 (December): 365–75; available at http://granit.jouy.inra.fr/productions-animales/1999/Prod_Anim_1999_12_5_03.pdf24%Trans.].