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Suspended Animation: Thinking and Animality in Neurocultural Selfhood

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


Journal publication date2008
JournalSouth Atlantic Quarterly
Number of pages20
Original languageEnglish


This essay analyzes a genre of self-improvement literature based on scientific models of animal behavior and neurophysiology. Popular science books such as Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking, by Malcolm Gladwell, or Mind Wide Open: Why You Are What You Think, by Steven Johnson, and academic books such as Neuropolitics: Thinking, Culture, Speed, by William Connolly, argue that everyday thought or thinking includes animal behaviors and responses. These authors suggest that these behaviors and responses should become the object of managed self-awareness. Their broadened understandings of thought have dramatic implications for contemporary selfhood, sociality, and political life. This essay situates their understandings of animality, selfhood, and thinking through the work of Giorgio Agamben. Agamben's concept of the “anthropological machine” offers an alternative framing of the relation between human and animal and of any attempt to manage that relation. It suggests how this relation changes historically, generating instabilities in political and metaphysical formations, and why the collapsing of human-animal differences encounters obstacles. Drawing on Martin Heidegger's analysis of animals and boredom, Agamben's work implies a different way of thinking this relation. Thinking, for Agamben, is a form-of-life that lies close to animality.