(Non)Life on the Line: Crisis Calls with Animals

O' Dwyer, Killian. 2024. (Non)Life on the Line: Crisis Calls with Animals. Pulse: the Journal of Science and Culture, 10(1), ISSN 2416-111X [Article] (In Press)

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Abstract or Description

Animals are telephones, Derrida muses, and sometimes the other way around. This comment, while abstract, speaks to a history of animal life that has haunted the telephone since its inception, with questions of life and nonlife hovering in the balance. Whether it is the use of pigs’ bladders for the first Chinese telephones, the moth-eaten fur of Thomas Watson’s stuffed family cat, or the frogs’ legs that Luigi Galvani exposed to electricity, the telephone has consistently mediated the divide between the categories of who and what—‘who’ referring to those considered to be above the law or protected by it, and ‘what’ to those who remain outside the law and by extension, the grasp of justice. Instead of avoiding this history of animal suffering, Derrida picks up the telephone to call upon the “question of the animal” as a conversation that can wait no longer. If, as Derrida tells us, animals are telephones and vice versa, then they demand the same attentive urgency given to the insistent clamour of an incoming call, where the consistent lack of certainty regarding who or what is on the other end always prevails. This article is about how the means, medium and materiality of the telephone is indebted to animals, how telecommunication has mediated a tenuous ‘conference call’ between technoscience, spectrality and animal vulnerability since its introduction, and how listening-as-reading becomes a way of touching upon those who normally remain unheard in times of crisis.

Item Type:



animals, Derrida, electricity, hauntology, speech, telephony, voice

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Visual Cultures


27 March 2024Accepted

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

02 May 2024 08:51

Last Modified:

19 Jun 2024 09:09

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.



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