Alexander Galloway on the nonhuman: apophatic or cataphatic?

On his blog, Alexander Galloway addresses some recent discussion he has had as part of a public seminar series on the nonhuman in relation to various ways in which we might reason-ably determine what counts as ‘nonhuman’. Here he uses two forms or categories of reason: the ‘apophatic’ and the ‘cataphatic’:

The cataphatic “tries to obtain the nonhuman through a method of affirmation, that is, affirmation of already knowable traits of whatever kind, human or otherwise. This is a method of affirmative or inflationary reason… Cataphatic nonhumanism does something similar: we are sentient, thus forests are probably sentient too. People form parliaments, so it makes sense to assemble a parliament of things. Humans have rights, so why not chimps as well? This approach to nonhumanism claims, in essence, that “humans seem to operate in such and such a way, thus we affirm the same quality in other worldly entities.””

The apophatic stems from “theological rationalism is a conception of the nonhuman obtained via negation or subtraction (of already knowable worldly traits of whatever kind). This is a method of negative or deflationary reason… Here the nonhuman is no longer a form of superlative nature as it was with cataphaticism — the nonhuman as “the All“ — but instead the nonhuman is the absence of nature; the nonhuman, literally, is not. (In other words, it is “the Not.”)”

I’m not up on contemporary debates about the nonhuman in geography (or anywhere, frankly) but this seems like an interesting critical device to consider in relation to some of the arguments about ‘nonhuman’ and ‘more-than-human’ geographies…

Read the full blogpost here.

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