Eros and the Autism of the Animal

Published on March 3, 2021 at 9:21 AM by Little Dove
Looking in a Mirror by Julie Le Brun

Humans are fundamentally mimetic beings. I imitate you without thinking. This is the real reason for Kant’s categorical imperative. Not immortality. Not God. Mimesis.1 What this means is that we can say “what goes around comes around” only apropos a general tendency. Or the principle of karma applies only insofar as the other makes good on her propensity for mimicry.2

It follows that love is the continuation of my narcissism in the other.3 Or I see myself in the other, and I see that the other sees herself in me.4 And all of this depends on an ongoing recognitive performance.5 I cannot love otherwise.

Or to put things in more Christian terms (as I have done already elsewhere): love is the unity of narcissism and echoism. And this is why Aufhebung is still the indispensable philosophical concept: narcissism and echoism are not in love destroyed but rather therein suspended, cancelled, and preserved. The manifestation of this cancellation of my narcissism by the other is what is called loyalty. Or loyalty is love manifest.

The opposite of loyalty—its ἐναντίον—is betrayal. This is as we all know what goes on between Judas Iscariot and Jesus Christ. But betrayal is not essentially different in kind from loyalty. No, they are two sides of the same category. In betrayal, my narcissism qua self-hatred continues itself in the other, thus making her into a scapegoat for the satisfaction of my projective defenses. (This is by the way the reason why loving one’s self is so important: due to the effects of mimetic desire, self-hatred injures the other who loves me.) In loyalty my narcissism continues itself in the same way qua self-love. We can thus theorize the negative of the scapegoat by posing the following question: betrayal is to the scapegoat as loyalty is to X—what is X? X is the messiah. In other words the negative of the scapegoat is the individual qua fetish. All of the Christian kerygma is based on the coincidence, the collusion, of these opposites—of love and hate, messiah and scapegoat, philia and phobia, loyalty and betrayal. [Update April 12th, 2022: And the sublation of this coincidence, through which scapegoating, phobia, and betrayal are suspended and genuine, unequivocal loyalty emerges.]

A question now: what is the reason for the popularity—or should I say the currency—of animal cruelty? (There is after all a rigorous philosophical definition of cruelty: just ask the pet store fish what they think cruelty is.) The answer is what you’d expect: the reason why cruelty is so common is the foregoing fact of mimetic desire. Or the reason for cruelty’s currency is the purchase had by mimesis (μίμησις) on eros (ἔρως).

Or again, if by mimesis is meant a desire for familiarity, and by eros is meant a leap of faith, then the reason for the love shortage these days is the stranglehold had by familiarity on bravery. Or love is restricted by the economy of mimicry (which I call the ring game) to the status of an index or a moment. Or (to use a yet slightly different metaphor) love is a particular configuration of mirrors in the colossal “game of mirrors” called life (βίος).

I am now in a position to explain what is meant by “autism of the animal.” It means that the animal, like the autist, does not mirror me. Or the animal is autistic, and the autist animalistic, insofar as it does not reflect for me my visage as I prefer it to be seen. Thus with animals, as with autists, there is what is called the bidirectional empathy problem. But the determination implied by the adjective ‘bidirectional’ is misleading. Empathy is always two-sided.6 The inclination to make the bidirectionality explicit in the discourse of autism is thus a symptom of the problem7 and an additional confirmation of its universality. For this reason I will from now on refer to it as the universal love problematic.

In my relation to the animal, the animal assumes—on account of its weakness—the position of the scapegoat. But my situation in the economy of desire makes me project my autism, which is my own animality, out of myself. I thus assume the position of the apostate. Therefore, in order to be the messiah, all I have to do is identify with my self-qua-animal. I see myself from above, I see myself from below. “I” am in the gap between these perspectives. “I” am in the space between me and myself. My self-qua-messiah is located in this no-man’s land along with the solution to the problem of unrequited self-love that western civilization calls Christianity.


Wilden, Anthony. System and Structure: Essays in Communication and Exchange. 2nd edition, Tavistock, 1980.

  1. Mimesis is the basic principle of what I have elsewhere called the ring game.↩︎

  2. In other words, karma is here grounded in anthropology rather than in the superstition of a divine legislator.↩︎

  3. Clausewitz said that “war is the continuation of politics by other means.”↩︎

  4. This is also the psychological manifestation of metaphysical reflection, of Hegel’s “jeu de miroirs” (Wilden), the game of mirrors that I have elsewhere called Hegel’s exposition of the rules of the ring game.↩︎

  5. And this recognitive process is presumably grounded in the mechanism of reflection that technoscience calls the mirror neuron system.↩︎

  6. Doppelseitig, though Zweiseitig is preferred due to its potentially sexual connotations.↩︎

  7. The problem called Einseitigkeit. (No sexual meaning here!)↩︎