The Chameleon Effect

Goya's El Perro Semihundido

Pico della Mirondola in his On the Dignity of Man written in 1486, writes that God places in us,

Every sort of seed and sprouts of every kind of life. The seed that each person cultivates will grow and bear fruit... If he cultivates seeds of sensation he will grow into a brute. If rational he will come out a heavenly animal... who does not wonder at this chameleon that we are?

Derrida objects to the chameleon effect because it mimics the background with predictable results, much like a staged election.

When Derrida talks about the unconditional he resembles St. Bonaventure who writes, "Who can know the unlimited number of seeds which exists?" One of these seeds may be the promise of what Derrida calls the democracy or the hospitality to come. He writes,

It is indeed on the side of chance that is, the side of the incalculable, perhaps towards the incalculability of another thought of life, of what is living in life, that I would like to venture here under the old and yet still completely new and perhaps unthought name, democracy.

Present day talk about equality and democracy remain for Derrida,

little more than an obscene alibi so long as it tolerates the terrible plight of so many millions of human beings suffering from malnutrition, disease, humiliation grossly deprived of not only bread and water, but of equality and freedom, dispossesses of the rights of all, of everyone, of anyone.

Following the Franciscans, Derrida speaks of that "incalculable element that must be left to birth, to the coming to light, into the word of a unique, irreplaceable, free and thus non-programmable living being".

I am reminded here of a painting by Goya entitled, 'The Half-Sunken Dog' (El Perro Semihundido). The painting portrays a dog half buried in yellow sand. Instead of seeing the animal as sinking in the quick sand and the holy promises of globalization, I can overcome my pessimism and view the painting as a scene of transformation- the wolf emerges from its domestication to become what it is. It emerges to resist classification.

This Eucharistic wolf is hostis: stranger, enemy and victim; unable to be received by the dogs of civilization who hound it with identity tags.

Derrida calls us to think from a larger perspective, past human parameters with a giving that gives without submission. The ethics that Francis provides to the wolf of Gubbio is the ethics of the Ultimate Fighting tap-out posing as a gracious hospitality.

The wolf becomes boxed in, living not in a flourishing city but in a cemetery Panopticon, fed wonder bread by zombies, suffering from what Hobbes called wolf-madness.

Are we asking too much of philosophy when we expect it to finally give birth to an event that would transform the coordinates of our entrenched positions?

Can there be a step outside of the legacy we have inherited that would not only radically transform the state of things, but also more importantly allow justice to happen?

I fear the opposite will happen; little dictators riding horses or Lear jets, will always seduce Nietzsche's little man. Rather than justice, CEO's who ride on the backs and minds of the masses into entrepreneurial bliss will be praised for their blackberry wisdom, packaged ready-made like six ply toilet paper that never suffers from a recession or a downturn in consumer confidence because the space of its utilization never changes.

The wolf is brought into the city and made a member of the household. Heimlich means home but it can also mean, hidden, secret and dangerous. Is this the reason the wolf is punished for being a rogue? It is too intimate, it knows our weakness.

It knows that the fat we hide behind in such excessive amounts was accumulated through murder and crimes of hospitality.

It knows the shame we carry as humans, as the animals that we are, namely that we are a species that loves to eat its own in so many different ways.

Are we not this thing that devours the irreducible so that no trace of our transgressions remain?

Marko Zlomislic is professor of philosophy at Conestoga College, in Kitchener, Ontario where he teaches courses in ethics, aesthetics, postmodernism, critical theory and social/political philosopy. His latest book, Zizek: Paper Revolutionary, is forthcoming from Wipf and Stock.