Animal Metaphor, Becoming Animal, and Contemporary Forms of Magic

Email exchange with Anselm Franke

Dear Anselm,
Something in relation to the trail has surfaced, and I’m writing to ask if you could offer a bit of feedback about it.

Kassel’s role in arms manufacture was brought to our attention by rubble stemming from the Henschel Villa. There is a noteworthy point particular to this manufacturing locale, one which has endured until today: its naming practice. Ever since the manufacture of the “Tiger” tank, which Henschel developed in 1937 and produced in Kassel from 1942 until the end of World War II, weapon systems made in Germany have been adorned with the names of animals: Leopard, Marten, Weasel, Puma, Cheetah, Lynx, Beaver, Buffalo, Badger, Dingo.

We couldn’t find any reasons for this tradition anywhere. Even participants in the relevant weapons forums could only puzzle over the question, freely associating about which motivations lie behind this practice.

Benjamin speaks of the magic of language, of the mimetic act through which objects are endowed with their force or power by the names that designate them. What sort of mimesis occurs within a track vehicle’s process of “becoming-animal”? Does a highly technologized military believe in magic? In what form? Are the characteristics of the animal thought to extend to the vehicle? The litheness of a feline predator, the hunting instinct, the fearlessness, the quality of the untameable. Or is it a matter of associations conjured in the mind of the opponent (after all, the German military has resumed its participation in acts of war); or in other words, is it a question of psychological warfare strategies? And what actually happens to the soldiers who are sitting inside of the Tiger?

What other mechanisms of “becoming-animal” could be pertinent here? Who or what is being animated? It appears that this mechanism stands in a peculiar relationship with the “humanization” of animals, or even devices, but also with the “de-humanization” of “becoming-animal,” of beings who don’t have the right to exist or whose assigned place is outside of civilized society.

In Kabul, three Dingo 2 patrols drove past us. These are reconnaissance vehicles made by KMW out of Kassel, and German soldiers were sitting inside of them. The dingo is a dog that was once domesticated and that subsequently re-entered the wild milennia ago. To communicate, the dingo uses mostly howling and high-pitched whining sounds, and less often, barking. I’m also pondering which language is spoken by a dingo from KMW.

And when it rolls over Afghanistan, does the tank speak through the puma or the puma through the tank?

How do all of these animals fit into the image of a Bundeswehr that coolly and unemotionally justifies its missions by means of a humanitarian rationale or under the logic of economic interests held by Germany, Europe, or its allies? I find the seemingly well-controlled canalization of the rationalized and the “animalized” in a system built on Clausewitz’s grammar of war, not to mention the images that emerge from that canalization, bewildering. I wonder if this is intended, because one of the effects of German tanks driving through Kabul is the exportation and projection of an image to the outside world. And what about the significant amount of exports of German weaponry throughout the whole world—what exactly is exported when a Puma or a Leopard goes to Saudi Arabia?

That’s it for the time being. I would be very pleased to receive any feedback, even in reference to particular fragments.

Dear Natascha,
Famously segregated from the human, the animal is indeed already the product of an exportation. Its position, proportionate to its status as object, lies outside of social contracts and circles of socialization, yet it still partakes in these via specific rights related to faculties of bodily sensation—large-scale livestock farming regularly prohibits “torture,” but the definition of torture is obviously subject to a perverse economic rationalization because it only indicates the pain which is “too much,” the excess in relation to the “necessity,” the “rational.”

Insofar as these dynamics make the animal into a carrier of social meaning with a quota of subjectivity rather than into a “pure” object, the animal—ever since the establishment of this segregation—epitomizes the emotional, the affect, the instinct, and so on, all of which are to be understood as prior to cognition insofar as the animal is pronounced devoid of pronunciation, bereft of language.

The animal names of German tanks, etc., remind me, in an inversion of sorts, of the famous caricaturist J.J. Grandville, who developed the caricatural animal metaphor like no other. What’s more, other theories hypothesize that the animal metaphor—on cave walls, for instance—is the origin of language. But shouldn’t we revise this history? How can it be that the image of the animal is so terrifically meaningful? Aren’t we actually witnessing the revelation of aspects of society here, displayed and layed out via the detour of the animal? It appears to be about something “language” cannot express, even though this something is as plain to see as what a Grandville drawing manifests: the plane of society’s affective-mediating constitution upon which it “naturalizes,” normalizes and internalizes its power relations and hierarchies; or the plane that one could perhaps call “the implicit,” or in Michael Taussig’s words, the “public secret,” or even the “nature” of society, if only the term “nature” weren’t used with such a banefulness aimed at the non-human, who, starting with Hobbes, have been thrown in with society’s “worst,” those whom society calls into being as its antithesis and dustbin.

"Cabinet d'histoire naturelle" (Naturhistorisches Kabinett), 1833
"Cabinet d'histoire naturelle" (Naturhistorisches Kabinett), 1833 (Illustration: J. J. Grandville. Source: Public Domain)


Of course, one could also turn the formula inside out and say it’s the animal who we have to thank for “language”—an ambivalent formula which would probably bring us further. For then we would also be indebted to the animal for “the human,” who gets produced in a perpetual interior and exterior separation from the animal ever since this demarcation “pronounced” the animal devoid of “pronunciation.” This is a language that is cut off and a human who is cut off, and the cut itself constitutes the locus of power. But of course this export recurs precisely in the “nature” of society, which is henceforth to be called the emotional-mediating-affective constitution of society, and in capitalism, the economy—the only place where modernity has still allowed itself to speak in earnest of “animal spirits.”

What percentage of the infamous prowess of German exports does the weapons industry account for? I don’t have the numbers on hand, but I remember having recently read a statistic that set it at a shockingly high level. But an odd quietness has set in regarding the BRD’s arms exports, probably also because industry and politics alike have learned to mask the greater part of those exports in a wide variety of ways, like only exporting the necessary technology and not the finished product. This too is without a doubt a sort of quasi-animalistic operation—camouflage, or sailing under the cloak of an image, below the threshold of identification. And the nation’s export data follows its own logic. It is tidily rationalized, and thus unites with other affects. Affects of economic trajectories, of geopolitical tectonics, of dislodged patriotism (we’re proud of our economy), all of which are affects that have nothing to do with what is really being exported here, or which economic “circulation” the exportation really occurs within.

The great export regimes under the European civilizations of recent centuries are, however, stuck in a crisis that’s hard to ignore. Essentially, this “export regime” consists in a mechanism that projects discriminations and exclusions from the internal space of European culture onto an outside. Madness, which becomes an object of medicalization in psychiatry, is an example of this. The export regime draws imaginary borders that separate an outside from an inside, a negative from a positive (or vice versa), whereupon the separation is masked and naturalized (objectified, as in a syndrome), thereby bestowing the status of dustbin for Europe’s garbage upon the Other (system-inherent violence), who is subsequently appropriated as the figure of the outside or the different in order to facilitate real exploitation, identity construction, and self-mythologization. Another example of a suchlike multifunctional figure of exclusion, real subjugation, and imaginary appropriation can be found in the figure of the barbarian or primitive. For a certain period of time, the concept of “nature” functioned precisely so: a projected outside, product of a border whose production is masked. The export regime that is invested in nature is plunged into crisis when that which is exported returns; when, for instance, hippies seek out “wild” nature and find only garbage; when in The Beach Leonardo DiCaprio looks for the outside of nature on an island and finds war as the state of nature; or when CO2 issuing forth from the paradigmatic export architecture, embodied by the smokestack, returns as the greenhouse effect.

Therefore, with regard to the German tanks, we must ask in what form and at what point in time the export returns. That it returns is beyond question, and maybe this form of animal magic, this return of that which is excluded from consciousness as non-consciousness is, in fact, the contemporary form of magic. And the export is already exercising magic now in this very moment. Here, as we ruminate on how we obtain our immediate “identity” from the sum of our exports and from their successful masking.

Dear Anselm,
It’s interesting how you say that the exported animal/machine complex’s return, occurring in one way or another, is beyond question. This confirms the continuities and circulations I’m constantly observing in the investigations of the trail.

This return is also contained in the rubble of the Auehang. The weapons industry in Kassel supplies Hitler’s war machines, the allied bombers transform the city into a pile of rubble, the piles of rubble are cleared away in order to transform Kassel into a leading location for arms manufacture, and roses are planted on the rubble. An exercise in imagination seems to suggest itself: imagine the debris of the future covering everything. Here, too, we have a strange masking or camouflage effect: the rubble disappears under flowers. But actually these events ought not to return or repeat themselves either, especially not in the form of the becoming-animal of a whole nation. It is explained thus: the magic of the legendary Tiger tank is infused into the Leopard or the Puma in one form and one form alone: favorable job statistics and gross domestic product. The question is, will the animals comply . . . ?