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A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans

with A Theory of Meaning

2010
Author:

Jakob von Uexküll
Translated by Joseph D. O’Neil
Introduction by Dorion Sagan
Afterword by Geoffrey Winthrop-Young

A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans

The influential work of speculative biology—and a key document in posthumanist studies—now available in a new, accurate English translation

In A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans, the pioneering biophilosopher Jakob von Uexküll embarks on a remarkable exploration of the unique social and physical environments that individual animal species, as well as individuals within species, build and inhabit. Uexküll’s concept of the umwelt holds new possibilities for the terms of animality, life, and the framework of biopolitics.

Those interested in the environment (or environments), animal studies (especially critical animal studies), and biology will find this new translation significant and illuminating.

Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment

“Is the tick a machine or a machine operator? Is it a mere object or a subject?” With these questions, the pioneering biophilosopher Jakob von Uexküll embarks on a remarkable exploration of the unique social and physical environments that individual animal species, as well as individuals within species, build and inhabit. This concept of the umwelt has become enormously important within posthumanist philosophy, influencing such figures as Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Deleuze and Guattari, and, most recently, Giorgio Agamben, who has called Uexküll “a high point of modern antihumanism.”

A key document in the genealogy of posthumanist thought, A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans advances Uexküll’s revolutionary belief that nonhuman perceptions must be accounted for in any biology worth its name; it also contains his arguments against natural selection as an adequate explanation for the present orientation of a species’ morphology and behavior. A Theory of Meaning extends his thinking on the umwelt, while also identifying an overarching and perceptible unity in nature. Those coming to Uexküll’s work for the first time will find that his concept of the umwelt holds new possibilities for the terms of animality, life, and the framework of biopolitics.

A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans

Jakob von Uexküll (1864–1944) was born in Estonia and educated at the University of Heidelberg and the Zoological Center in Naples. He published widely and, in 1926, founded the Institute for Environmental Research at the University of Hamburg.

Joseph D. O’Neil is assistant professor of German studies at the University of Kentucky.

A writer and sleight-of-hand magician, Dorion Sagan has written extensively on evolution, cybersex, and the biology of gender.

Geoffrey Winthrop-Young is associate professor of Central, Eastern, and Northern European studies at the University of British Columbia.

A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans

Those interested in the environment (or environments), animal studies (especially critical animal studies), and biology will find this new translation significant and illuminating.

Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment

A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans

Contents

Introduction: Umwelt after Uexküll
Dorion Sagan
Translator’s Introduction

A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans
Foreword
Introduction
Environment Spaces
The Farthest Plane
Perception Time
Simple Environments
Form and Movement as Perception Marks
Goal and Plan
Perception Image and Effect Image
The Familiar Path
Home and Territory
The Companion
Search Image and Search Tone
Magical Environments
The Same Subject as Object in Different Environments
Conclusion

A Theory of Meaning
Carriers of Meaning
Environment and Dwelling-shell
Utilization of Meaning
The Interpretation of the Spider’s Web
Form Development Rule and Meaning Rule
The Meaning Rule as the Bridging of Two Elementary Rules
The Composition Theory of Nature
The Sufferance of Meaning
The Technique of Nature
Counterpoint as a Motif/Motive of Form Development
Progress
Summary and Conclusion

Afterword. Bubbles and Webs: A Backdoor Stroll through the Readings of Uexküll
Geoffrey Winthrop-Young

Notes
Index