The Teeming And The Rare: Displacements Of Sacrifice And The Turn To Insect Life

Other Titles


iii ABSTRACT OF THE DISSERTATION This is a dissertation on how the differences between human beings and animals have been represented through frameworks of sacrifice and sexuality. Through readings of J.M. Coetzee's Disgrace and Jacques Derrida's "Rams," my first chapter explores the inadequacy of "sacrifice" as a violent action that may be problematically legitimating. This concept of sacrifice is placed in tension with a different vision, that of an "ethics of response," which, far from negating sacrifice, sustains it as a figuration of the necessity and destructive potential of the encounter with the other. I next trace a movement away from rapports of domination with animals in a "turn" to insect life. Although insects have been objects of a phobic orientation, I show that a non-phobic insect emerges in nineteenth and early-twentieth century works by Jules Michelet, Maurice Maeterlinck, Jean-Henri Fabre, André Gide, and Eugène Marais. Viewed as a thing of intricate beauty, the insect becomes the paradigm of our dissemination into a fabric of infinitesimal differences. Derrida returns to these currents in his writings on sexual difference with their unexpected entomological metaphors. The cuts of the "in-sect" contest the fascination with redemptive violence, including sacrifice, in works by Michelet or Derrida. My third chapter explores a "zoö-curious gender discourse" that produces two imaginary shifts. On one hand, a recognition that differences, including sexual differences, cannot be regarded as the property of humans alone, as has been assumed by critics who valorize human differences while relegating animality to a zone of iv repetition without change. Secondly, the eroticized insect imaginary I describe reorganizes binary sexual difference into an operation that produces differences, including the multiple forms of homosexuality opened up in Gide's Corydon. Finally, I argue that theoretical concepts of Difference depend upon a notion of "the same," for example, in theories that link humankind to an inexorable differentiation while failing to explore evidence of authentic differences among animals. I study the ivory-billed woodpecker, an extinct bird whose tragic rarity has elicited the exuberance and the contradictions that, I believe, characterize our investment in exaggerated Differences and in the sacrifices that give them flight. v

Journal / Series

Volume & Issue



Date Issued




Derrida; Michelet; Gide; Animality; Humanism; Sacrifice; Insects


Effective Date

Expiration Date




Union Local


Number of Workers

Committee Chair

Berger, Anne Emanuelle

Committee Co-Chair

Committee Member

McNulty, Tracy K.
Culler, Jonathan Dwight
Lacapra, Dominick C

Degree Discipline

Comparative Literature

Degree Name

Ph. D., Comparative Literature

Degree Level

Doctor of Philosophy

Related Version

Related DOI

Related To

Related Part

Based on Related Item

Has Other Format(s)

Part of Related Item

Related To

Related Publication(s)

Link(s) to Related Publication(s)


Link(s) to Reference(s)

Previously Published As

Government Document




Other Identifiers


Rights URI


dissertation or thesis

Accessibility Feature

Accessibility Hazard

Accessibility Summary

Link(s) to Catalog Record