From: The Eighth Day: The Transgenic Art of Eduardo Kac, Sheilah Britton and Dan Collins (eds.), The Institute for Studies in the Arts, Arizona State University, Tempe, 2003, pp. 44-50.

Specters of the Animal:The Transgenic Work of Eduardo Kac

Gunalan Nadarajan

EDUARDO Kac provides a timely occasion to reinvoke some of
the ethical issues that have been fundamental to his other transgenic
works. This essay seeks to open another reading of The
Eighth Day by reexamining his previous work, GFP Bunny. It will
be argued that both works exemplify what I call a spectralization
of the animal, which reproduces and thereby ethically complicates
the technological enunciations of the animal in contemporary
culture. It will be suggested that Eduardo Kac’s transgenic
works purposefully stage transgenic animals as specters that
have haunted and will continue to haunt the technological appropriation
of the animal.

In his wide-ranging and provocative study of the ‘animal,’ Akira
Mizuta Lippit claims that “modernity represents a crucial
moment in the consolidation of metaphysics during which the
superiority of humanity is achieved from the lowest ranks of
being,” specifically when “animality ceases to occupy a proper
space apart from the humanity that succeeds, appropriates and
enframes it.”1 The systematic exclusion of the animal from places
‘proper’ to it has led to its constant dislocation wherever it
appears, so much so that this displacement itself has become its
most recognizable trope. And the most haunting presence
(absence) of the animal according to Lippit is within or with reference
to human subjectivity. He says, “Although animals have
always haunted the topology of human subjectivity, the nature of
the animal has shifted in the modern era from a metaphysic to a
phantasm; from a body to an image; from a living voice to a technical
echo.”2 There is some resonance here with Gilles Deleuze and
Felix Guattari who claim that, “art is continually haunted by the
animal.”3 What does it mean for the animal to haunt when its
‘death’ is yet to be announced and its ‘presence,’ despite its peculiar
spectrality, is very much accepted as ‘real’ and ‘present?’ More
specifically, how does the animal haunt art as such or even appear
as art in its hauntings?

The notion of spectrality as employed here is drawn from the
works of Jacques Derrida, primarily with reference to how it complicates
the notions of ‘presence’ and ‘absence’ as espoused by
conventional ontology. “To haunt does not mean to be present, and
it is necessary to introduce haunting into the very construction of
a concept. Of every concept, beginning with the concepts of being
and time. That is what we would be calling here a hauntology.
Ontology opposes it only in a movement of exorcism.”4 A specter
manifests itself in an appearance that simultaneously signals its
disappearance–its presence always a trace of its absence. For
Derrida, the specter is a useful trope for a responsible thinking
beyond the present and presence, for that which is no more and
the not-yet. Derrida claims that the specter is a movement “not
toward death but toward a living-on (sur-vie), namely, a trace of
which life and death would themselves be but traces and traces of
traces, a survival whose possibility in advance comes to disjoin or
disadjust the identity to itself of the living present as well as of
any effectivity.”5 The specter disadjusts identity by frustrating the
latter’s closure. The spectralization of the animal thesis presented
here draws on this complicated hauntology to deliberate on how
transgenic animals are mobilized in the works of Eduardo Kac.

John Berger, in his book About Looking, argues that the “first
metaphor was animal,”6 as were the first symbols. I would like to
expand on this poetic enunciation of the animal by suggesting that
the first technology was animal. To suggest that the animal was
first technology, invokes the historical ‘technologization
of animals’ that has subordinated them to instrumental
purposes as well as to the ‘animalization of technology’
where the increasing proliferation of
instrumental technologies were/are domesticated
by the trope of the animal. As Lippit suggests, “The idioms
and histories of numerous technological innovations from the steam
engine to quantum mechanics bear the traces of an incorporated
animality… Cinema, communication,
transportation and electricity drew from the actual and fantasmatic
resources of dead animals.”7 The works of Eadweard Muybridge
that consciously and almost obsessively juxtaposed the animal
with motion are excellent examples of this technological incorporation
of the animal. The fact that such technological enunciations
of the animal appeared exactly at a time when animals were
disappearing from the immediate and everyday realms of human
beings is particularly noteworthy. Thus, technologies can be seen
as the effective embodiments of this spectralization of the animal
through and as an impossible but necessary act of mourning.
According to Lippit, “modern technology can be seen as a massive
mourning apparatus, summoned to incorporate a disappearing
animal presence that could not be properly mourned because,
following the paradox to its logical conclusion, animals could not
die.”8 The spectrality of the animal thus retains it in a flip-flop
between absence and presence, life and death, instrument and
fellow creature.

Eduardo Kac says of Alba that “contrary to popular notions of the
alleged monstrosity of genetically engineered organisms, her body
shape and coloration are exactly of the same kind we ordinarily
find in albino rabbits” and suggests that due to this relative inconspicuousness
of its genetic peculiarity, Alba “undermines any
ascription of alterity.” While it is true that Alba does not betray any
visible sign of the genetic alteration it has undergone, this does
not, as Kac claims, automatically cancel out “ascriptions of alterity,”
given the fact that it is still seen as an animal, the other par
excellence, and that the information about its genetically peculiar
qualities are exactly what has brought attention to it. However,
what Kac refers to as Alba’s “productive ambiguity,” in being similar
enough to other rabbits so as to pass off as ‘not so different’
even as it continuously signals its difference, is crucial in enunciating
an ethical and aesthetic discussion of its impact. Kac’s proposal
to stage an encounter between the transgenic animal, Alba,
and the general public would have retained her spectrality specifically
by its fluorescence.9 The fluorescence that distinguishes the
animal from all others is the very trope of its spectralization, as a
shimmering ghostly apparition visible on special occasions and
with special visual devices. The inconspicuousness of the rabbit’s
fluorescence is ritually transgressed in these special sightings.
The ghostly apparition of the rabbit that hauntingly comes into
appearance to curious viewers would jolt them out of their complacent
relationship to the notion of the animal.10 The fact that Kac
has employed GFP (Green Fluorescent Protein), which is used as a
conspicuous marker of genetic expression in transgenic experiments,
is noteworthy. A transgenic animal is marked by its hybridity
and the GFP, in marking the extent of such hybridizations, reinforces
the spectralization of the animal by symptomatizing its disambiguated
identity. Kac has ironically employed the spectacularization
of transgenic animals, a conspicuous and public staging of
their presence, as a means to enact and speculate on the spectrality
of the animal. The fact that this was a proposal involving a ‘real
animal’ was meant to be reinforced by the performance, where it
was available for public viewing and verification, a fact which was
subsequently complicated by its ghostly apparitions in full fluorescence.
The Eighth Day, with its terrarium of transgenic animals
and plants, enacts a similar gesture insofar as the creatures that
have been created in isolated experiments in secret have been presented
as a veritable transgenic ecology. The work also takes the
spectacle of the GFP Bunny even further in presenting the spectrality
of these life forms in an environment where their genetic
peculiarity is not exceptional but the norm. And how does the
specter of the animal haunt ethics?


“I will never forget the moment when I first held her in my arms,
in Jouy-en-Josas, France, on April 29, 2000. My apprehensive
anticipation was replaced by joy and excitement. Alba was an
absolute delight to interact with. As I cradled her, she playfully
tucked her head between my body and my arm, finding at last a
comfortable position to rest and enjoy my gentle strokes. She
immediately awoke in me a strong and urgent sense of responsibility
for her well being.”11

Though Eduardo Kac has, while deliberating on his works at various
points, invoked the notion of dialogical ethics via the works of
Martin Buber, it is suggested here that the ethical implications of
his work demand and project a movement beyond it. Emmanuel
Levinas questioned the notion of reciprocity built into the structure
of Buber’s dialogical ethics. Buber’s account distinguished
between the I-It relation where the self encounters a thing as an
object and the I-Thou relation which characterizes the self’s
encounter with an other who I am obliged to address as ‘you.’
Levinas, however, argues that any dialogical ethics (such as
Buber’s) is caught in a reciprocal exchange that is symmetrical
and therefore necessarily difficult to sustain insofar as one
always expects the other to reciprocate one’s own ethical gestures.
This means that the initial ethical gesture is difficult to undertake
as one can never be sure of reciprocity and the expectancy
burdens the decision to act ethically; as Levinas muses, “because
the moment one is generous in hopes of reciprocity, that relation
no longer involves generosity but the commercial relation, the
exchange of good behavior.”12 Levinas characterizes a certain
asymmetry as fundamental to the relationship to the other, where
I am always already obliged to the other, “the other appears to me
as one to whom I owe something, toward whom I have a responsibility.”
And this responsibility is “prior to deliberation” and
knowledge. The notion is one of a hostage – “one who is found
responsible for what he has not done.”13

Even Levinas, however, in his infinite call to ethics, does not seem
entirely comfortable to have human subjects held ‘hostage’ in
responsibility to the animal. One of the reasons for his cautious
exclusion of animals from the obligations of ethics that he feels
compel humans has been his conviction that the animal does not
have a ‘face.’ In one of his most fascinating and problematic
reflections on the notion of the animal, “The Name of a Dog or
Natural Rights,” Levinas presents an argument for why the ethical
call to responsibility does not extend to the animal. In this essay
he remembers how a dog he named Bobby comforted him and his
fellow Jewish captives by its constant company in a slave labor
camp in Nazi Germany. Amidst the dehumanizing conditions of
the camp, Levinas claims that the dog’s presence bore testimony
to their humanity: “He would appear each morning assembly and
was waiting for us as we returned, jumping up and down and barking
in delight. For him, there was no doubt that we were men…
This dog was the last Kantian in Nazi Germany.”14 It is problematic,
however, that, despite this acknowledgment of the dog’s capacity
to recognize and reinforce his humanity, Levinas resists the
idea of according the animal an ethical status as it does not,
unlike humans, have a face that commands responsibility. He
claims, “one cannot entirely refuse the face of the animal,” however
he believes that even such a notion of animal face can be
thought only through the human. He says that the priority of the
animal face “is not found in the animal, but in the human face” for
“we understand the animal, the face of an animal, in accordance
with Dasein.”15 He even suggests that the “phenomenon of the face
is not in its purest form in the dog” and that the “human face is
completely different and only afterwards do we discover the face
of the animal.” In an enigmatic question that betrays all the contradictions
of his attitude toward ethical place of the animal, he
states, “I don’t know if a snake has a face. I can’t answer that question.
A more specific analysis is needed.”16 It is interesting that
Levinas’ philosophical project that sought to think critically
beyond conventional notions of ontology cryptically reintroduces
and is complicitous in the ontological presumptions that separate
the human and the animal.

Derrida has argued that this refusal to accord animals an ethical
status equivalent to humans is due to Levinas’ (and Martin
Heidegger’s) notion of the animal being deeply grounded in human
subjectivity. He says, “The animal will never be either a subject or a
Dasein. It doesn’t have an unconscious either (Freud), nor a relation
to the other, any more than there is an animal face (Levinas). It is
from the standpoint of Dasein that Heidegger defines the humanity
of man.” And this, Derrida claims, is one of the reasons why he himself
has “rarely spoken of ‘the subject’ or of ‘subjectivity’,” since the
“discourse on the subject, even if it locates difference in adequation,
the dehiscence within auto-affection, and so forth, continues to link
subjectivity with man.”17 Derrida suggests that the notion of subjectivity
frustrates any serious attempt to deal with the ‘animal’ insofar
as it is constituted by the very sacrifice of the ‘animal.’
According to Derrida, at the center of discourses of the subject there
is a sacrificial structure—a space created thereby and therein for a
“non-criminal putting to death”–he is referring to the “executions of
ingestion, incorporation, or introjection of the corpse. An operation
as real as it is symbolic when the corpse is an animal.”18; a concept
he ventures to label, “carnophallogocentrism.”19

It could be argued that the transgenic work of Eduardo Kac draws
attention to the carnophallogocentrism that has characterized
the philosophical speculation on the animal by frustrating the
sacrificial structure that sustains it. In presenting the technologized
spectrality of the animal as its most conspicuous aspect,
even as he embraces the animal as a pet in life-long commitment,
his work renders difficult the philosophical assumptions that
have sustained the ethical marginality of animals. Even as he
stages the spectrality of these animals, however, he also carefully
draws attention to the ethical vigilance they demand of us
humans. In naming the GFP Bunny Alba and staging his struggle
to incorporate it into his own life, Kac has given the animal a face;
a face that is acknowledged as an infinite and asymmetrical call
to responsibility, an ethical call to which he himself has undertaken
to respond. The Eighth Day is in this sense not a simple
staging of a transgenic ecology of creatures but rather a reminder
of the responsibilities of and for one’s creations. It enacts a haunting
of the ethical universe of humans with the fading apparitions
of the animal.


1 Akira Mizuta Lippit,
Electric Animal:
Toward a Rhetoric of
Wildlife (Minneapolis:
University of
Minnesota Press,
2000), p. 53.

2 Ibid., p. 21.

3 Gilles Deleuze,
What is Philosophy?
Perspectives), ed. Felix
Guattari, trans. Hugh
Tomlinson (New York:
Columbia University
Press, 1994), p. 32.
Specters of the Animal: The Transgenic Work of Eduardo Kac

4 Jacques Derrida,
Specters of Marx: The
State of the Debt, The
Work of Mourning, and
the New International,
trans. Peggy Kamuf
(London and New York:
Routledge, 1994), p. 161.

5 Ibid., p. xx.

6 John Berger, “Why
Look at Animals?,”
About Looking
(London: Writers and
Readers, 1980), p. 14.

7 Akira Mizuta Lippit,
Electric Animal:
Toward a Rhetoric of
Wildlife, p. 187.

8 Ibid., p. 188.

9 The fact that many
of the actual plans for
the work that constituted
GFP Bunny were
either cancelled or
postponed has led to
the question of
whether the work
would have been as
interesting had everything
gone as planned.
Kac has suggested,
however, that even
while the frustrated
work has had its merits
so would its successful
staging. He
says, “If I had been
able to bring Alba
home and live with
her, a world of new
experiences and of
learning would have
opened up.What is it
like to share your life
with a transgenic
mammal? What kinds
of dialogic interactions
would emerge?
How does society
respond to the presence
of a transgenic
Other in its midst? Do
nontransgenic rabbits
behave differently in
her presence? Who is
Alba as an individual?
Would her offspring be
transgenic, and how
would the babies be
received? Many questions
would be raised
if she could come to
Chicago and be part of
my family. The campaign
to preserve her
memory and obtain
her freedom continues.”
(Kac, 2002; personal

10 It is noteworthy
that some who have
looked at the glowing
green image of the rabbit
on Eduardo Kac’s
website had initially
thought that it was a
photo manipulated
image. This interesting
slippage between
technologically manipulated
image and
technologically created
living thing is
symptomatic of the
spectrality of fluorescent
transgenic animals.
The image of the
artist carrying the
rabbit in his arms has
also figured in this
instantiation and
complication of the
reality of the rabbit.

11 Eduardo Kac, “GFP
Bunny,” Eduardo Kac:
Transgenic Art, eds.
Peter TomaÏ Dobrila
and Aleksandra Kostiç
(Kibla, Slovenia: Kibla
Multimedia Center,
2000), p. 101.

12 Emmanuel Levinas,
“The Name of a Dog or
Natural Rights,”
Difficult Freedom,
trans. Sean Hand
(London: Athlone
Press: 1997), p. 101.

13 Ibid., p. 105.

14 Emmanuel Levinas,
“The Name of a Dog
or Natural Rights,”
Difficult Freedom,
trans. Sean Hand
(London: Athlone
Press: 1997), p. 153.

15 Martin Heidegger
employed the term
to refer to the sociohistorically
and implicated existence
of beings. This
gesture was meant to
shift the conventional
philosophical habit of
thinking about being
which failed to capture
adequately its
unique socio-temporal
and intentional

16 Emmanuel Levinas,
“The Name of a Dog or
Natural Rights,” p. 172.

17 Jacques Derrida,
“‘Eating Well,’ Or the
Calculation of the
Subject,” Points…:
Interviews, 1974–1994,
trans. Peggy Kamuf et
al., ed. Elisabeth Weber
(Stanford: Stanford
University Press,
1988/1994), p. 268.

18 Jacques Derrida,
“‘Eating Well,’ Or the
Calculation of the
Subject,” p. 278.

19 Derrida has provided
a series of incisive
critiques of what he
has identified as
Western philosophy’s
logocentrism that has,
through a long tradition
of metaphysical
thinking, emphasized
presence over representation
and speech
over writing. Just as
he conceived phallogocentrism
as a strategic
coupling of the
logocentric emphasis
with the phallic dominance
of men over
women, he suggests
that carnophallogocentrism
is a further
enunciation of the
logocentric subject.
This virile, carnivorous
subject is characterized
by its willingness
and ability to
sacrifice the animal in
a bid to attain its own
coherent subjectivity.

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