Ironic Animals: Bestiaries, Moral Harmonies, and the ‘Ridiculous’ Source of Natural Rights

International Journal for the Semiotics of Law, (2018) 31: 595. DOI: /10.1007/s11196-018-9547-z

Posted: 6 Dec 2018

Date Written: March 19, 2018

Abstract

The Bible recounts that in Eden, Adam gives names to all the animals. But those names are not only representations of the animals’ nature, rather they shape and constitute it. The naming by Adam contains in itself the divide between the human and non-human. Then, there is the Fall: Adam falls and forgets Being. Though he may still remember the names he gave to the animals in Eden, he is no longer sure about their meaning. Adam will have to try to remember his own intentions. Through this effort he can also become aware of how he thinks, who he is, and what was the natural order he knew before the Fall. Medieval bestiaries tell us this story. Bestiaries are works of word play populated by animal figures. They depend on back-and-forth anthropomorphization, or circular metaphor. Animal figures are portrayed as both a mirror of human nature and a window on it. Bestiaries served as means for the moral education of human beings and, at the same time, a way to criticize the current state of humanity, including political and ethical habits. Within the moral irony of medieval bestiaries we can find the origin of the invented nature that modernity will try, subsequently, to insert into natural rights discourse through the teleological oxymoron of their naturalized and naturalizing counter-factuality (natural rights will be simultaneously “being” and “ought,” nature and values/ends). I will propose a historical-semiotic journey through the ironic representations of the human-beasts from the ancient world to contemporaneity. The proposal resulting from this cultural excursion is that the words included in the many national and international Rights declarations operate much like the names Adam gave to the animals and still more as they were re-read in medieval bestiaries, both textual and musical. So, can the words of Rights still serve as musical scores, open to an infinite play of re-signification? If we were able to overcome the modern culture/nature and human being/animal dualisms, we could cast, today as in the past, a zoological gaze on human rights by means of contemporary bestiaries and, in this way, perhaps find the gist of rights’ names and our ever regained and ever lost again humanity.

Keywords: Bestiaries, Nature, Rights, Animals, Ethics

Suggested Citation

Ricca, Mario, Ironic Animals: Bestiaries, Moral Harmonies, and the ‘Ridiculous’ Source of Natural Rights (March 19, 2018). International Journal for the Semiotics of Law, (2018) 31: 595. DOI: /10.1007/s11196-018-9547-z. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3291305

Mario Ricca (Contact Author)

University of Parma ( email )

Via Università 12
Parma, 43100
Italy

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