The Autonomous Animal by Claire Rasmussen

Introduction by

At the 2012 AAG conference in New York City, Michael Brown organized an author-meets-critics panel for Claire Rasmussen's 2011 book "The Autonomous Animal: Self-Governance and the Modern Subject". Read reviews by panelists Robert Lake and Matthew Wilson, and Claire's author response.

Review by Robert Lake The cover design of Claire Rasmussen’s appealing and insightful book aptly captures the paradox of autonomy. A heroic female athlete races forward, effortlessly gliding over a hurdle, head held high in a halo of light. The racer’s left hand points ahead, setting her direction towards victory and progress. On-lookers stand restrained behind a barricade, prevented from interfering with the runner’s forward motion. The athletic body—the autonomous animal—creates her destiny. And yet the runner does not trace a random route. The track is laid for her, the goal is indisputable, and the endpoint is foreordained.

Review by Matthew Wilson In The Autonomous Animal, Rasmussen takes as her object of study the “everyday life of autonomy” (page xiii), that is, the actual practices of autonomy as well as the ways in which the concept of autonomy is utilized to discuss political subjectivity and self-governance. She writes that autonomy has become a pre-condition for participation in a democracy, and asks: what conditions this development, politically and socially? What are the limits for a democracy staked around claims or evaluations of autonomous selves?

Response by Claire Rasmussen The title of The Autonomous Animal was an obvious reference to infamous declaration by Aristotle that man is “the political animal.” The purpose was to evoke the ways that within the horizon of modernity, autonomy and the political have become intimately intertwined in ways that are both problematic and productive. Autonomy works simultaneously as a precondition for political participation, an end goal of political action, and a framework for understanding political agency. The juxtaposition of autonomy and animality was also intentional, placing two terms that are often seen as in opposition together to think about the assumptions embedded in our ideal of autonomy and how and why paradoxical conjunction of terms can help us re-think the primacy of autonomy in the horizon of modern political thought, particularly liberalism...

essays in this forum

The Autonomous Animal Review by Robert Lake

Rasmussen explicates autonomy from the standpoint of the self. She is interested specifically in “the practices of the self that are required of us in order to be seen by others—and our self—as autonomous” (page xiii). This focus on the self that views autonomy as “the ability to self-govern” and the “compulsion to self-regulate” (page xiv) is both a major strength and a potential limitation of the work.

The Autonomous Animal Review by Matthew Wilson

In "The Autonomous Animal", Rasmussen takes as her object of study the “everyday life of autonomy” (page xiii), that is, the actual practices of autonomy as well as the ways in which the concept of autonomy is utilized to discuss political subjectivity and self-governance. She writes that autonomy has become a pre-condition for participation in a democracy, and asks: what conditions this development, politically and socially?

The Autonomous Animal Response by Claire Rasmussen

I wanted to explore the ways that the ideal of autonomy, especially within the liberal democratic tradition, could produce a multiplicity of political projects often at odds with one another such as the drug war and drug culture or the commodification of animals and the discourse of animal rights. Moving between practices informed by the ideal of a self-governing subject and theoretical constructions of this ideal was a thread of a continued compulsion that one must be autonomous (or risk ceasing to be seen as a subject), an imperative that places an infinite burden on the subject.