For the final entry in our Summer Reading series, we bring you Ana Teixeira Pinto’s essay on the recent trend in artworks featuring animals. She notes: “Replacing an obsolete notion of the ‘human,’ perhaps the animal has become the new face of humanity.” This article was originally published in issue 19 of Frieze d/e in May 2015.
In the late 1940s, the Russian-born French philosopher Alexandre Kojève visited the USA. For Kojève—arguably the most influential interpreter of Hegel in the 20th century, and one of the architects of the European Economic Community, a precursor to the EU—“history” was predicated on political struggle. Like Hegel and Marx before him, Kojève believed that humanity would ultimately reach a consensus about its means of governance. This consensus (likely a mixed economy, or social democracy) would spell out the end point of social evolution, what Hegel had called the “end of history.”
This trip to the U.S., however, led Kojève to feel that any prospective future had already transpired. Upon observing the “eternal present” of American society, Kojève claimed that “man” had already disappeared, giving way to a creature that, though looking exactly like him, shared nothing of the human. The human, he argued, is predicated on a historical process, whereas this new being was one devoid of historicity and, therefore, humanity. For Kojève, this “post-historical Man” had returned to an animal state, albeit retaining his civilized mores. Post-historical Man builds his edifices and works of art as “birds build their nests and spiders spin their webs” and performs “musical concerts after the fashion of frogs and cicadas.”