Now the hunter steps aside . . . and the naturalist comes forward.
—Richard Rhodes, John James Audubon
The erasure of the figure of the hunter from Audubon’s Golden Eagle that closes chapter 1 finds an echo in the disappearance of one of the nineteenth-century United States’ most popular fictional heroes, Natty Bumppo, whom James Fenimore Cooper introduces from the outset as the representative of a species destined for extinction. The Pioneers, the first installment of the Leatherstocking chronicle, opens with the transformation of Cooper’s iconic huntsman into a poacher. The very first scene of The Pioneers (1823) recounts a dispute between Judge Temple and Natty Bumppo (and his companion Oliver Effingham) over whether a buck slain on Temple’s land belongs to the hunter who killed the deer or to the settler who owns the land. The hunter wins the argument, but Temple brings the buck home, demonstrating that land ownership trumps hunting as a mode of acquisition, despite the undisputed merits of the latter (more noble and manly, less wasteful). The dispute replays early nineteenth-century legal debates over the “rule of capture” that underwrites the privatization of resources perceived as unowned, or “naturally fugitive.”1 “The basic conflict,” Cooper scholar Kay Seymour House argues, “is between two guardians of the land, and the basic realignment of forces comes when young Oliver Effingham abandons Natty’s idea of land use (hunt it as the Indians did) and joins Judge Temple in cultivating it.”2 Although this reading is accurate from a narrative point of view, House’s framing symptomatically excludes the Native Americans from the dispute, or rather includes them as mere analogies (“hunt it as the Indians did”). Just as Temple’s daughter Bess and his black slave Agamemnon are not invited to weigh in on the debate—“Aggy . . . can’t vote, being a slave; and Bess is a minor”—the indigenous people remain without an active voice and, unlike the other two, without a presence.3 This invisible silencing replays the historical exclusion of Native Americans from land treaties and more broadly sheds light on the process of “enclosure” that worked to dispossess them of their territories.4
The expropriation and privatization of Indian ground encapsulated in this foundational scene is the tacit condition for the “settling” of a capitalist system of exchange and circulation, an economic arrangement that is initiated and made secure by a process of deterritorialization—the violent conversion of territories into an isonomized land infinitely divisible into salable parcels. To understand the conceptual “origin” of this deterritorialization, Eric Cheyfitz turns to John Locke, who famously chooses the untenured “wastes” of the Americas—on which lives “the wild Indian, who knows no Inclosure, and is still a Tenant in common”—as his example of choice to theorize an economy of private property.5 Locke models this economy after the ancestral practice of the hunt. According to this “original law of nature,” Locke explains, wild animals become the property of whoever “labors” to acquire them. The labor of pursuit, in other words, legitimizes acquisition (as a corollary, the fallacious notion that indigenous people did not cultivate the land justified its spoliation by the European colonizers). Yet when the hunt is turned into a “law,” the physical event of capture is preempted by an epistemological conversion, which turns the pursued object into property even before it is acquired. In Locke’s model, the hunted prey need not be captured in order to be property; instead, his model reconfigures the prey as essentially unowned and therefore always “ripe for the taking.” From this perspective, Russ Castronovo concludes, the prey “is always already property.”6 Since, as Locke has it, the pursuit of the hunt is said to “begin” property, the antagonism between the white hunter Bumppo and the settler Judge Temple is less profound than it seems. The people who are truly excluded from the debate are those who have no stake in capitalism’s drive to acquire property: women and slaves, who do not own themselves,7 and indigenous people, for whom the State does not recognize any “notion of property” (as the Supreme Court decreed in the 1823 Johnson v. Mcintosh).8
Although Locke uses the hunt as a paradigm for the “beginning” of property, he quickly adds that positive rules supersede this primitive or “uncivilized” law of nature: the land and its resources ultimately belong to those who enclose and cultivate them. Similarly, in The Pioneers, although Judge Temple did not kill the deer, he takes it home, and Bumppo—accused of committing “offenses against private rights”—is in the end banished from Temple’s land.9 Once indispensable to “taming” the wilderness, the hunter must disappear for the colonial project to appear complete. This dynamic (which should be recognizable as the dynamic of capture) is most evident in the third installment of the Leatherstocking saga, The Prairie (1827), which stages Bumppo’s death at the dawn of the nineteenth century. The hunter’s demise, which Cooper’s romance situates in the context of the Louisiana Purchase, marks a critical transition in modes of colonial conquest and land management. It also accounts for the systemic “disappearance of animals” from the American landscape. The Prairie makes these transitions explicit by pairing Bumppo’s erasure with the rise of an unassuming character, the shortsighted taxonomist Obed Bat. By replacing his perspicacious hunter with a myopic naturalist, Cooper presents the disappearance of the hunter as effected less by an empirical than by an epistemological transformation, a transformation in regimes of vision. Cooper openly laments the loss of a more embodied and immediate relationship to nature by making the pitiful figure of the naturalist emblematic of newly prominent types of vision—namely, scientific and economic speculation. Yet he also calls attention to discreet but significant continuities between the forms of vision epitomized by the white hunter and the naturalist. In so doing, the romance recognizes the hand of capture in the predatory operations of land expropriation and speculation and their consequences for both animals and animalized populations.
From the outset, The Prairie depicts the new nation’s prosperity and security as predicated on the systematic “taming” of land and human and animal populations. As a romance, it exemplifies the temporality of capture, for romance was already a dying genre at the moment of The Prairie’s publication; like the unsettled prairie itself, like the hunt and the hunter, the romance was passing away. Cooper’s elegiac celebration of things past seems in retrospect an attempt to lay claim to the American past itself. Romance as a genre, then, is a form appropriate to Cooper’s subject, the operations of settler colonialism: it not only represents but performs the strange temporality of the subjugation of land and indigeneity. This subjugation was ongoing, indeed accelerating, at the moment Cooper writes The Prairie, but the work depicts it as already accomplished, as belonging to a romantic, quasi-mythological, and resolutely bygone age:10
Most of those who witnessed the purchase of the empty empire, have lived to see already a populous and sovereign state, parcelled from its inhabitants, and received into the bosom of the national Union, on terms of political equality. The incidents and scenes which are connected with this legend, occurred in the earliest periods of the enterprises which have led to so great and so speedy a result.11
As indicated in the Oxford English Dictionary, the verb purchase, which has since become synonymous with “to buy,” denotes the acquisition of land by means other than inheritance.12 From the Middle French pourchasser, to “chase” or “hunt down,” the term encrypts in its etymology the violent pursuit inherent in the idea of property (which Locke associates with the labor of the hunt) but ultimately distances itself from this originary violence by signaling a rupture. Defining purchase in opposition to inheritance breaks the connection between current and previous owners, effectively erasing the land’s past and making it appear pristine and “empty.” And indeed, the despoliation of Native tribes’ land is depicted by Cooper (himself a land speculator) as a peaceable transition and equitable transaction, an inevitable outcome of Manifest Destiny—in a sense, as already having happened.13 This sense of predestination serves as an act of “legitimation,” which, Achille Mbembe argues, always accompanies the “founding violence” of colonial conquest and universalizes the new colonial order.14 The colonial state posits as “preaccomplished” the violence that founds and sanctions its authority—a “magical” operation that Deleuze and Guattari name “capture.”15
This chapter reads The Prairie to argue that the prospective and preemptive logic of capture it displays hinges on a form of taxonomy, broadly defined as a method (nomos) for ordering (taxis) the sensible.16 I show that modern taxonomy—a paradigm whose standardizing logic subtends the gridding and mapping of the United States imposed by the 1785 Land Ordinance and generalized by the Northwest Ordinance of 1787—rests on an operation of vision that is blind to its own limitations. I outline capture as a way of seeing in order to show not only what capture makes visible but also what it obscures, and how the animal and the animalized appear and disappear under capture.
“The Purchase of Empty Empire”
Set in 1805, just two years after the Louisiana Purchase that doubled the country’s size, The Prairie is fraught with the tensions of U.S. territorial expansion, for it remained to be seen how the young nation would be changed by the acquisition of the vast expanse of land west of the Mississippi River. The titles of Cooper’s four other installments of The Leatherstocking Tales are based on human characters, but The Prairie is titled after its setting, which is strikingly different than the dense woodlands of upstate New York where the first two installments (The Pioneers and The Last of the Mohicans) had been set. As Cooper describes it, the titular prairie is the last retreat for “the barbarous and savage occupants of the country” and a provisional refuge for those who, like Bumppo, wish to escape the law. Its arid swaths, undulating like a moderately agitated ocean, seem to repel vision, as “the eye [is] fatigued with the sameness and chilling dreariness of the landscape” (13). This monocular, wearied eye cannot read the prairie; indeed, as the narrator observes, only a “practiced reader” will not be deceived by the seeming interminableness and sterility of the landscape (14). How, Cooper asks, does the land both resist and lend itself to representation? How can one navigate the prairie, which the settler’s eye perceives as an asemiotic “no man’s land”? How does one read and write—“code,” “decode,” and “overcode,” to borrow Deleuze and Guattari’s terminology—the blank page of the Louisiana territory?17
In the preface to the 1832 edition of The Prairie, Cooper presents the as-yet-undomesticated tract of land as a natural frontier blocking further western expansion: “the broad belt, of comparative desert, which is the scene of this tale, appear[s] to interpose a barrier to the progress of the American people westward.”18 But in the American imaginary, the frontier is not simply a demarcation line separating the wild from the civilized; it is also the mythical soil in which the American dream is rooted, the phantasmatic and utopian “elsewhere” that serves as the breeding ground for the creature whom Leslie Fiedler dubs the “New Man, the American tertium quid.”19 Insofar as it traces the perimeter beyond which myth and imagination come to supplant and supplement knowledge, the frontier constitutes at the same time a threat and a promise, both for the emerging nation and for its poet-historian Cooper.20 As the romance opens, Cooper announces that the challenge for the now-doubled nation will be to tame and supervise its new inhospitable territories and assimilate the animalized “swarms” of nomadic, “restless people . . . hovering on the skirts of American society” (9). What the narrator calls the “empty empire” of Louisiana was, of course, anything but: it was home to many indigenous peoples and an untold number of plants and animals. This paronomastic turn of phrase uses the discourse of the colonizer, whose “eye,” as Mary Louise Pratt observes, “produces subsistence habitats as ‘empty’ landscapes, meaningful only in terms of a capitalist future.”21 This strategic production of emptiness is, as Pratt suggests, not just a rhetorical trick but also a visual one.
“Vision” is an equivocal notion in The Leatherstocking Tales. It denotes both the distinctive perceptual faculties of the American eye (emblematized by the hero of the saga, the hunter Natty Bumppo, also known as “Hawkeye”) and, at the same time, the typological or “visionary” rhetoric intended to justify and exonerate the white settlers’ plunder. Recent scholarship has tended to cast Cooper as “the scapegoat for the national myopia”—to reduce the Leatherstocking franchise to an apology for expansionism. However, Elisa New observes that Cooper is anything but myopic. In fact, he devotes “uncommon concentration to verbal transpositions of retinal impressions and much space—proportionally—to lamenting the failures of sight.”22 New concedes that the impressionistic character of Natty’s vision (like that of America itself) can function “to accommodate facts to his own projections,” seeing in “unsettled American ranges” “bourgeois homes-as-found.” Yet, New says, Cooper (and Bumppo) also deploys another type of vision, less rapacious and ignorant, more pragmatic and environmentally respectful—the vision of the hunter: while he “passes into archaism, the range-finding he practices outlives him.”23 Playing empiricism against imperialism (two positions that are by no means incompatible), she detects the survival of the hunter’s point of view in the poetry of experience of Dickinson, Moore, and Williams, as well as in the pragmatic philosophy of Thoreau and James, among others. While I find New’s corrective valuable, I would nuance her characterization of Cooper’s condemnation of U.S. “visionary” expansionism as being the result of “bad visual practices.”24 Cooper does not simply take issue with the settlers’ “national myopia” as a mere “failure of sight” or the result of inadequate attention; he also theorizes this myopia in its positivity, asking not just what sight myopia impedes but also what sight it enables and what the specific powers of myopia are. How can we characterize this capacious-yet-blurry regime of vision, which appears undeserving of or indifferent to the phenomenal specificities of America’s landscapes? Let us call it speculation.
“Speculation” aptly describes the work of vision in The Prairie, if only because Cooper, who was living in Paris at the time he wrote the romance, never set foot on the territory he pictures so vividly. As for his other romances, he drew his inspiration from books, in this case from geologist and botanist Edwin James’s Account of an Expedition from Pittsburgh to the Rocky Mountains and Nicholas Biddle’s edition of Lewis and Clark’s notebooks. Moreover, the verb speculate is apt because it conjugates seeing in the conditional. To speculate—from specere, to look—assumes a form of precognition, or foresight, and it carries a sense of contingency, of imagination, of betting on events to come. In speculation, one perceives objects and subjects as potential investments—a form of seeing that environmental law scholar Jedediah Purdy calls the “providential vision” of the natural world, a perspective that “turned early Americans into an army of settlers . . . even to the point of making settlers blind to the inconvenient facts of weather and geography.”25 “Blindness” here has nothing to do with a lack of eyesight; it is a metaphor for the calculated act of ignoring possible loss—in fact, it names the margin of loss that is built into the venture capital model of settler colonialism.26
The Prairie dramatizes this speculative tendency—which Audubon wished to exorcize with his paintings—by contrasting Bumppo’s keen and focused eyesight with the large-scale, low-resolution, preemptive mode of vision that Cooper associates with the work of the myopic taxonomist Bat. Taxonomy, in the romance, is introduced as a highly speculative science insofar as it precodes details as significant solely from the vantage of an imagined but intangible whole (e pluribus unum). Taxonomic speculation apprehends objects that are meaningless on their own: bodily organs “matter” primarily in terms of the function they perform within a given organism, just as actual individual locations in America were meaningful primarily as topographic “nodes” in Jefferson’s grid system.27 Taxonomy, for Cooper, is a holistic form of vision that sees beyond the detail of the thing itself, that strategically oversees or supervises. Taxonomy is not only a mode of vision; above all, it is a mode of di-vision—of sorting out, splitting up, packaging and parceling into conceptual buckets things that had previously seemed incommensurable and thus undifferentiable.
Imperial Projections, Imaginary Specimens
In The Prairie, the aging Natty Bumppo, once a mighty frontiersman and hunter and now but a “miserable trapper,” seems likely to be supplanted as protagonist by his naturalist foil, Dr. Obed Bat (115). We first encounter Dr. Bat (or Battius, as he prefers to be called) in the semidarkness of early dawn, returning from one of his scientific expeditions. Bat is a cartoonish, easily spooked wildlife expert, a poor man’s Audubon, with something of a habit of improvising the genus and species of the flora and fauna he encounters. Driven by what we are told is his “thirst for natural history,” Dr. Bat has attached himself to the caravan of the Bush family, a nomadic tribe of squatters with whom he is roaming the “virgin territory” of Louisiana in search of untapped natural treasures.
Losing his path back to camp one day, Bat accidentally “discovers” a new species. In retelling the encounter, he boasts of having risked his life “in behalf of mankind” in the hopes of documenting his find. While the hunter Natty Bumppo is inseparable from his gun (his nickname is “la longue carabine”), Bat aligns himself not with the gun but with the pen: he ultimately confesses that his pistol was merely “adapted to the destruction of the larger insects and reptiles” and therefore of too small a caliber to shoot the specimen. Facing down the terrible beast, the man of science fumbles for his notebook. “I did better than to attempt waging a war, in which I could not be the victor,” he later says, “I recorded the event” (70). Bat’s action (which anticipates the gun camera by a few decades) binds together nonpower and knowledge production, and his rhetoric makes it clear that the martial approach is being replaced—or, more precisely, prolonged, as the comparative “better” suggests—by an epistemological survey.28 His entry about his discovery, a delectable pastiche of Linnaean taxonomy, discusses how he himself first encountered the animal, which he names Vespertilio Horribilis Americanus. He offers a detailed description of the beast’s terrifying dimensions (eleven feet long, six feet high) and anatomic characteristics: “Head, erect, nostrils, expansive, eyes, expressive and fierce, teeth, serrated and abundant. Tail, horizontal, waving and slightly feline. Feet, large and hairy. Talons, long, arquated, dangerous. Ears, inconspicuous. Horns, elongated, diverging and formidable. Colour, plumbeous-ashy, with fiery spots. Voice, sonorous, martial and appalling.” After recounting his observations of the animal, Bat sententiously exclaims: “There, . . . there is an animal, which will be likely to dispute with the Lion, his title to be called the King of the Beasts!” (71).
Shortly after, Bat is suddenly terrified at the sight of a dark form running toward him once more. He is convinced that he is again confronted with his newly discovered specimen, only to realize that the form is in fact his faithful donkey, Asinus (whose name is his taxonomic descriptor). It becomes undeniable that it was his own ass that the naturalist was contemplating all along. But Bat blames his mistake on an optical phenomenon known as persistence of vision, in which an image endures after the object seen is no longer present (persistence of vision is how the nineteenth century explained the visual phenomenon of the thaumatrope, whose two faces, when twirled, magically appear to be a single image). “The image of the Vespertilio was on the retina,” he explains, “and I was silly enough to mistake my own faithful beast for the monster” (73). Bat prides himself on seeing not “with the organs of sight” but with what he claims are “much more infallible instruments of vision: the conclusion of reason, and the deductions of scientific premises” (105). As a consequence, the good doctor (whose surname teases his lack of clear vision) does not see but oversees the animal and thus overlooks the particularities of his specimen. “Blinded by hubris,” as William Kelly observes, “he extends the ideals of the Enlightenment to a ludicrous extreme,” attempting to “impose absolute order on nature through scientific classification.”29 Refusing anatomical coherence, the improbable assemblage he describes proves a chimera, a figment of his own positivist imagination. Bat’s monster is quite literally the creature of taxonomy, an index for how his knowledge summons into being what it sets out to describe.30 Yet if Bat creates a “monster,” it is not because he relies too much on his senses or imagination, as Descartes warns, but ironically because he proves to be overly methodical. Part feline, part bovine, part avian, his animal does not elude taxonomy. On the contrary, it lends itself all too easily to the procedures of classification: it is excessively prone to being itemized and captured. Desperate to make the “phenomenal” appearance coincide with a set of preestablished criteria, Dr. Bat is guilty of what Derrida calls a bêtise, a term that David Wills (appropriately for us) translates in the English as an asininity.31 The naturalist’s retina (like his “reason” and his “scientific premises”) is a trap in which the animal, even before it exists, is already caught. Retina comes from the Latin rete, meaning “net,” a reference to the retina’s fibrous texture. But as the Vespertilio anecdote suggests, this net does not just capture the animal as it is; it operates as a grid through which the animal becomes legible. To a large extent, the encounter between the man of science and the animal was pre-scripted. Trapped in his own system of representation, Dr. Bat sees nothing but a projection of his self (indeed, he literally makes the captured animal in his own image, vespertilio being the Latin for “bat”).
Bat is an exemplary specimen of the “formulaic, effete, and implicitly feminine European naturalists” despised by American journalist and author of the romance The Hunter-Naturalist (1854), Charles Wilkins Webber. Unlike his personal hero Audubon, Webber laments, these “‘scientific pedants in silk stockings’ and ‘pur-blind Professors,’ . . . had ‘technicalised’ the study of nature ‘into what may almost be called a perfect whalebone state of sapless system . . . so heavily overlaid by the dry bones of Linnaean nomenclature as to become a veritable Golgotha of Science.’”32 The rivalry between buckskinned naturalists and the scientific elite reveals another logic at work in the Vespertilio episode. Bat’s stated desire to encounter a beast that might prove a match for the lion is a reference to the famous historical contest between French naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc, Count of Buffon, and Thomas Jefferson. At the time when Cooper situates The Prairie, this “arms race” still raged on. When Jefferson appointed Lewis and Clark for their 1804 expedition, he still held out hope that the explorers might find a living mammoth that could compete with the African elephant. Buffon had declared this impossible, for he saw all animals native to the Americas as smaller and weaker than their counterparts in the Old World. In his Histoire Naturelle, Buffon famously pondered at length over the assumed absence of large animals in the Americas, ultimately laying the blame on the New World’s humid climates. He noted that the elephant, which roamed the Old Continent, was nowhere to be found on the new. The only animal that remotely resembled the elephant was the Brazilian tapir, but this “elephant of the New World,” Buffon derided, was but “the size of a six-month-old calf, or a very small mule.”33 According to Buffon, American animals were not essentially different from their Old World cousins—only degraded. The argument went something like this: you in America have the tapir, we have the elephant; you the puma, we the lion; you the llama, we the camel; and so on. Buffon conceded, however, that insects and reptiles flourished in the New World, but only because they were “impure” and “swollen by the humid heat.” (Similarly, Buffon noted that the only American domestic animal that grew as large as its Old World counterpart was the pig, but he immediately added that the pig was doomed by birth to a lowly status.) Because of the New World’s geotaxonomic inferiority, the “degeneracy” of the New Continent, Buffon argued, all nature was condemned to wither in America’s “unripe soil.”34 In so doing, Buffon presented the exploitation of the New World as a moral imperative.
Buffon’s theory sparked far-reaching controversy, but it infuriated no one more than Jefferson, who famously devoted a large portion of his Notes on the State of Virginia (1785) to documenting how America’s animals more than measured up to European (indeed, all Old World) fauna.35 And soon after his rejoinder was published, Jefferson exhorted Harvard University president Joseph Willard to encourage the study of America’s natural history. Yet these refutations came from neither a mere desire to establish the United States’ intellectual independence nor a will to correct a scientific wrong, nor were they simply the byproduct of a battle of male egos. Jefferson’s ambition was, above all, an economic strategy. His Notes were initially written as “an application for a loan” in response to a questionnaire sent by French diplomat François Barbé-Marbois, who, as Napoleon’s secretary of the treasury, would later play a crucial role in brokering the Louisiana Purchase.36 The stakes of Jefferson’s game of taxonomic one-upmanship was to convince potential investors of America’s economic viability, and animals served as metonyms for the health of the young nation.
I mention this well-known taxonomic controversy not just because the Vespertilio episode alludes to it but because it illustrates how selectively Buffon (like Dr. Bat) relied on empirical observation. In order to appreciate the logic at work in the dispute, one must attend not only to what Buffon saw but also to what he could not or would not see. Buffon’s theory required that he overlook the presence (and actual characteristics) of certain animals in order to reconcile two seemingly contradictory phenomena: the supposed absence of large animals, on the one hand, and the attested exuberance of insects and reptiles, on the other. If all of nature was governed by a unique principle, as he posited, how could he account for such different responses to the New World’s climate? Buffon’s answer was to disregard smaller and lower species as morally degraded. If insects and reptiles prospered outside of Europe, it was because they were constitutionally degenerate, but if they were degenerate, paradoxically, it was because they were small. Antonello Gerbi argues that Buffon’s disdain for small animals “was reinforced by [a] particular physiological characteristic of his, namely his shortsightedness, so serious as to prevent him from even using the microscope.”37 To be clear, I am not suggesting that Buffon’s taxonomic myopia is merely a matter of his not looking hard or closely enough at America’s fauna, as the American naturalist Alexander Wilson asserts, nor am I suggesting that his scientific epoch is characterized by a generalized indifference to empirical fact, for this would imply that increased attentiveness to detail could compensate for the failures of taxonomic vision.38 It is not just that taxonomy is a problem of vision but that taxonomic vision, in both its classical and modern iterations, appears to be haunted by an irreducible blindness. So one mode or era of scientific knowledge does not see better than another, but within each scientific era we find distinctive blind spots—blind spots that must be understood not as impairing vision but as constituting it.39
The Phenomenology of Capture
Cooper’s own naturalist suffers from a different type of myopia. He embodies the paradox of the New World, whose novelty remained largely defined and conditioned by the Old World, and personifies the expansionist logic that enlisted natural history in the American imperialist project, in the process taking animals and other beings hostage in a coercive system of classification. But at stake in Cooper’s portrayal of Bat is neither merely the Oedipal drama unfolding between the Old and New Worlds nor still the complicity between natural history and empire apparent in the doctor’s martial rhetoric. Bat’s libido sciendi is also symptomatic and emblematic of a transition between two distinct epistemological models, introduced by Cooper’s romance as the transition from hunt to capture. Bringing into focus the differences and similarities in the ways Bumppo and Battius approach animals can help us account differently for the precipitous “disappearance of animals” that has characterized the last two centuries. Tellingly, in Bat’s confrontation with the Vespertilio there is no “encounter” to speak of, since the sudden appearance (or rather, apparition) of the animal—a dark form emerging from an open field—is immediately caught and replaced with a preposterous taxonomic profile of the scientist’s making.
By contrast, when French phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty chances upon animal life, it is the animal, not the observer, that “invents the visible.” The observer receives a disorderly “impression” that surges unexpectedly and wrinkles the smooth veil of invisibility in which the animal (here defined as “a living matter that moves”) was hiding:40
We see the protoplasm move, a living matter that moves; to the right is the head of the animal, the left its tail. From this moment on, the future comes before the present. A field of space-time has been opened: there is the beast there [Un champ d’espace temps a été ouvert: il y a là une bête]. The perceived crawling is, in sum, the total meaning of the partial movements figured in the three phases, which make action as words make a sentence. There is a perception of continuity between cause and effect. Michotte questions those who doubt this causality: they have what Nietzsche calls “scientific myopia.”41
According to Merleau-Ponty, animal life is not graspable and isolatable as such—is not comprehensible in any of the “partial movements” carried out over three separate phrases—but as “a fold, the reality of a process . . . unobservable up close.”42 Here Merleau-Ponty refers to an experiment conducted by Albert Michotte in La perception de la causalité (1946), a “duck test” of sorts in which moving traits projected on a screen give “the characteristic impression of life, whatever the familiarity of the spectator with animals.” The partial movements of the animal “make action” just as “words make a sentence.” In other words, the impression of unbroken causality (which Merleau-Ponty compares to the sense of continuity conveyed by grammatical predication) is the implicit condition for the “appearance” of the animal that becomes “visible only globally and escap[es] from attentive perception.”43 Yet if the living being remains “unobservable up close” (as it does in Foucault’s analysis of life as a principle of animation), Merleau-Ponty nonetheless endows it with a singular power of expression. It is the animal, not the scientist, who is granted the “power to invent the visible.” The animal/animate, for Merleau-Ponty, is something like a haecceity, an absolutely singular mode of individuation, irreducible to any transcendental law like the law of causal succession.
Causality, indeed, is for Merleau-Ponty not an a priori principle that organizes life but the name of the global “perception of continuity” whereby meaning is given to and by the sudden appearance of a living being. Animal behavior is not “meaningful” solely from an external, objective point of view, which is capable of reconstructing a significant sequence of events out of the animal’s instinctive and sometimes (apparently) objectless gesticulations. Rather than explaining animal behaviors in terms of objects and ends, Merleau-Ponty characterizes them as “styles.”44 From the phenomenologist’s point of view, then, “scientific myopia” stems from the mistrust of one’s impressions, not from a defective vision that demands to be enhanced.45 For Dr. Bat, however, the phenomenal “il y a là” of animality, the “ecce” that conditions its visibility, is immediately suppressed and contained by a caption: “there . . . there is an animal, which will be likely to dispute with the Lion, his title to be called the King of the Beasts!” (71). There are two “theres” there. It is tempting to hear the doctor’s stuttering as a suturing, as if the second “there” signaled the reassertion of control and mastery over the first “there,” which is a marker of surprise, a pointer that is not yet attached to an intelligible object.46
Battius admits that he made a mistake in taking his donkey for a new species, but in his own defense, he claims entrapment: the fault is not his but his retinas’. It is his eye that induced him to commit the epistemic crime. Bat’s invocation of persistence of vision as an alibi is revealing. For him, the problem comes from a flaw intrinsic to the human eye, which proves insufficiently competent to capture the animal, requiring the assistance of mechanized apparatuses (but the opposite is also true: Bat’s taxonomic vision is so good at capture that it produces a king of beasts with which nature is incapable of keeping up).47 The naturalist appears as a harbinger of the new age of “mechanical objectivity,” which Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison define as “blind sight,” as the “attempt to capture nature with as little human intervention as possible.”48 In objectivity, taxonomic representation becomes an idealized form of capture. The transition I locate occurs at the moment when the human hand—the labor of the hunter, the craft of the painter, the observing subject—recedes from view as the source of knowledge. This does not mean that the hand no longer constitutes the distinguishing mark of humanity, only that the labor of prehension/predation is obliterated or sublimated. This emancipation of the hand not only defines the ethos of mechanical objectivity, which Daston and Galison describe as a “hands-off epistemology,”49 but more generally it subtends the idea of the “invisible hand” that ideally presides over the free-market economy and the nation’s Manifest Destiny.
Endgame: The Trapper
In The Prairie, Cooper dramatizes this sublimation in his portrayal of how the hunter is replaced by the trapper.50 In the other installments of the Leatherstocking series, Bumppo is presented as an uncompromising hunter. The word trapper is not used once in either The Last of the Mohicans or The Pioneers, in which Bumppo is already seventy years old. Indeed, Bumppo explicitly scorns trapping; in the flashback to Bumppo’s youth in The Deerslayer (1841), the twenty-one-year-old huntsman exclaims: “I am no trapper. . . . I live by the rifle. . . . I never offer a skin that has not a hole in its head besides them which natur’ made to see with, or to breathe through.”51 But in The Prairie, the protagonist is introduced as an eighty-some-year-old frontiersman too old to catch anything except through the trickery of traps. The woodsman would remain anonymous if not for his tendency to reminisce about his former exploits. The erosion of his identity as a hunter is figured by his new insistence on being called a trapper; a shadow of his former self, Bumppo no longer feels worthy of his famous aliases, Hawkeye and La Longue Carabine, which celebrate his once-great hunting skills. Despite his decline, however, Bumppo still plays a critical role in domesticating the hostile landscape of the prairie. But since he is too weak to go after animals, he lets the animals come to him. The impotence that characterizes the trapper illuminates a troubling affinity between the aging Bumppo and his myopic foil, Dr. Bat. Cooper hints at their unlikely kinship when he has the old hunter blame his failing eyesight for his transformation: “It is no cause of wonder,” Bumppo exclaims, “that a man whose strength and eyes have failed him as a hunter, should be seen nigh the haunts of the beaver, using a trap instead of a rifle” (117). The naturalist, Cooper seems to suggest, is the consummate trapper. Bat himself tries to convince Bumppo that they may not be as different as the latter would like to think. Both are, in Bat’s words, “lovers of the same pursuit” (98), although Bat has consolidated the hunter’s pursuit into a system. The shift from hunt to capture that is illustrated by Bumppo’s metamorphosis into a trapper and Bat’s usurpation of his place is thus less a rupture than a form of sublimation, in the Nietzschean sense.52
Another scene of animal encounter—or lack thereof—makes apparent the differences and similarities between the aging hunter and the naturalist. Shortly after rescuing the young Inez de Certavallos from her abductors, Bumppo and his friends find themselves threatened by the “sudden exhibition of animal life which changed the scene, as it were by magic”:
A few enormous Bison bulls were first observed scouring along the most distant roll of the prairie, and then succeeded long files of single beasts, which in their turns were followed by a dark mass of bodies. . . . The herd, as the column spread and thickened, was like the endless flock of the smaller birds, whose extended flanks are so often seen to heave up out of the abyss of the heavens, until they appear as countless and as interminable as the leaves in those forests over which they wing their endless flight. Clouds of dust shot up in little columns from the centre of the mass, as some animal more furious than the rest ploughed the plain with his horns and from time to time a deep hollow bellowing was borne along on the wind, as if a thousand throats vented their plaints in a discordant murmuring. (198)
Endless, interminable, countless: the herd is a living swarm uncannily reminiscent of Audubon’s depiction of flocks of passenger pigeons:
Like a torrent, and with a noise like thunder, they rushed into a compact mass, pressing upon each other towards the centre. In these almost solid masses, they darted forward in undulated and angular lines, descended and swept close over the earth with inconceivable velocity, mounted perpendicularly so as to resemble a vast column, and when high, were seen wheeling and twisting within their continued lines, which resembled the coils of a gigantic serpent.53
When he attempts to parse this impenetrable “mass” of life, Audubon approaches the phenomenon like a math problem, calculating “one billion, one hundred and fifteen million, one hundred and thirty-six pigeons in one flock.”54 The numbers are precise, but their function is mythical. The scene illustrates Kant’s experience of the “mathematical sublime,” in which a subject becomes aware of the superiority of her power of reason over a phenomenon overwhelming for her senses. The pigeon, Audubon muses, can only be conjugated in the plural: “When an individual is seen gliding through the woods and close to the observer, it passes like a thought, and on trying to see it again, the eye searches in vain; the bird is gone.”55
Likewise, Cooper’s bison are introduced as a superorganism that is approachable only by analogy (like, as if). The group is utterly paralyzed, captivated by the sight of this terrible manifestation, until the silence of the bewildered spectators is broken by the trapper, who, “having been long accustomed to similar sights felt less of its influence, or rather felt it in a less thrilling and absorbing manner.” Bumppo, immunized by virtue of exposure against the aura of the spectacle (already on the side of mechanical reproduction), throws down his rifle and “advance[s] from the cover with naked hands, directly toward the rushing columns of the beasts” (198). Like Moses parting the Red Sea, Bumppo splits in two the torrent of life rushing toward them: “The head of the column . . . divided, the immovable form of the trapper cutting it, as it were, into two gliding streams of life” (201). Cooper’s description of how Bumppo divides the flow of wild animals uses terms strikingly close to those used by Deleuze and Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus. Not quite the unmoved prime mover, Bumppo is the “immovable form” that (like the taxonomist) interrupts, parcels out and organizes life, the arithmetic force that breaks the one into two. If no longer a hunter—a fact made explicit by his throwing down his rifle and advancing untooled, “with naked hands”—Bumppo is not a trapper either so much as the trap itself.
Bumppo’s metamorphosis into a trapper (and a trap, as in the bison scene) cannot simply be attributed to the character’s senescence. For most critics, the trapper’s lost youth “sounds an elegiac note not only for a way of life and a wilderness that is vanishing beneath the settlers’ axes but for the passing of the frontiersman as a type.”56 But the hunter’s decline and eventual death also herald a transformation in the way the animal came to be perceived in modern America. The hunter’s transformation into the trapper signals a stricter distribution of the sensible between Man and “the inferior animals of the creation,” and as a corollary between the people who have supposedly outgrown their drive to hunt and those who have not. This does not mean that settlers stopped hunting—quite the contrary. Hunting increased exponentially with the proliferation of railroad networks and the improvement of gun technology: on average, a white hide hunter killed one hundred buffalo a day in the 1870s, a death rate that (with the help of cattle-borne disease and changes in the land) brought the species to the brink of extinction in the 1890s. But by then the nature of the hunt had changed: settlers were no longer hunting buffalos, they were hunting the buffalo. The hunt had become pure slaughter, a systematic, large-scale meat grinder that was actively encouraged by the U.S. Army, for the death of the bison would weaken or even exterminate those Native tribes whose livelihood and cultures relied on the buffalo, or at least make them dependent on governmental aid to survive.57 Yet even as the settlers were prompted to overhunt the buffalo, indigenous hunting cultures were actively “discouraged” by the government, which sought to promote farming.58 In the same way humanity was commonly deemed to have “evolved” from hunter-gatherer to agricultural societies, hunting was frequently presented in the young republic as a temporary expedient supposed to yield to a more civilized and “humane” set of practices.
At the end of The Prairie, it has become clear that the hunter—too liminal, too literal, too animal—must disappear.59 In contrast to the arc typical of early American captivity narratives, which are generally premised on the possibility and desirability of returning to “civilization,” there is no going back for Bumppo, who demands to be buried far from the din of the settlements.60 “I am without kith or kin in the wide world,” the old hunter confides in his last breath. “When I am gone, there will be an end of my race” (383). With the benefit of hindsight, we can see that this is true. When the old trapper tries to pass on his legacy to the Pawnee Hard-Heart, whom Bumppo names his only son, this does not allow his legacy to live on; instead, it symbolically condemns Hard-Heart to survive spectrally in a time that is no longer his—a time that is neither for Indians nor for hunters.61 Both the Indian’s spectral survival and his disappearance as both programmed and interminable are enshrined in what White Earth Ojibwe scholar Gerald Vizenor calls the “manifest manners” of hegemonic narratives—an erasure that is effected by silencing those who survived but also by representing, as Cooper did, an Indian that never was.62 For Cooper—a master of manifest manners, on a par with a Thomas Jefferson or a George Bancroft—“language did the capturing, binding Indian society to a future of certain extinction.”63 By casting the Pawnee warrior as incommensurably superior to the prodigal white settler and thus unfit to survive in a corrupted modern world, Cooper’s fiction effectively sanctuarizes the Indian.64 Considered from the perspective of what Dana Luciano terms “chronobiopolitics,” the Indian appears as an essential precondition that is continually abjected even as it is valorized, included by way of exclusion—or, as Agamben would say, “captured” as “bare life,” a life continuously exposed to death, whose originary exclusion from the political paradoxically founds politics.65 “Presenting Indians as bare life—as dying ‘remnants,’” Mark Rifkin elaborates, “addresses their status within the regime of US policy as if it were a function of natural facts, pre-political or apolitical conditions to which US institutions respond, but the biopolitical figure of dependence presumes a vision of geopolitical incorporation that precedes it, the latter appearing as merely background for the former.”66 In other words, Rifkin shows that biopolitics cannot be thought without a geopolitics of land occupancy, the “bare life” of indigenous peoples without the “bare habitance” exemplified by the making “empty” of the empire in Cooper’s romance.67 To challenge this imperialist view, bareness must be recognized as a product or effect of the work of biopolitics, not its precondition.
Tellingly, in The Pioneers, which is set twelve years before the events of The Prairie, Bumppo describes the death of his friend Chingachgook as “natur’ giving out in a chase that’s run too long.”68 The life of the Mohican is entirely subsumed under the motif of the hunt. The end of the chase for the Native American (and for “natur’” itself) metonymically marks a historical transition in the rights and modes of occupation of the land. Indeed, the figure of the Native American, whom the author sees fading before his eyes, emblematizes the precarious openness of the land:
The Great Prairies appear to be the final gathering place of the red men. The remnants of the Mohicans, and the Delawares, of the Creeks, Choctaws, and Cherokees, are destined to fulfil their time on these vast plains. The entire number of the Indians, within the Union, is differently computed, at between one and three hundred thousand souls. Most of them inhabit the country west of the Mississippi. At the period of the tale, they dwelt in open hostility; national feuds passing from generation to generation. The power of the republic has done much to restore peace to these wild scenes, and it is now possible to travel in security, where civilised man did not dare to pass unprotected five-and-twenty years ago.69
The binding of the Union’s peacemaking to the “extinction” of the previous occupants of the land lays bare the settler-colonial logic of the passage.70 Cooper wrote this preface two years after Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, a moment when the land of the Great Plains had been for the most part “secured” and peace “restored.” In a recognizably Hobbesian gesture, Cooper equates pacification with the process of civilizing the ageless and natural belligerence of the “savages.” Yet, in the same breath, the idea that peace has been “restored” (rather than imposed) implies that the pacification of the land is in effect a return to normal.
Of course, Cooper’s (and the U.S. government’s) erasure of the violence that produced this “peace” was only invisible to those who had a vested interest in not looking. Writing at the same time as Cooper, the Pequot preacher William Apess derides the hollow moral pretexts on which colonial conquests are predicated, exposing the murderous agenda that belies the peaceful rhetoric of the settlers. Quoting the Scottish historian William Robertson (Apess frequently enlists white authors to denounce the brutality of white imperialism), Apess writes that the first colonists of Virginia “hunted the Indians like wild beasts, rather than enemies” (the simile ambiguously leaving it to the reader to determine whether “wild beast” applies to hunted or hunter). He continues:
And as the pursuit of them to their places of retreat in the woods was both difficult and dangerous, they endeavored to allure them from their inaccessible fastnesses, by offers of peace and promises of oblivion, made with such an artful appearance of sincerity as deceived the crafty Indian chief, and induced the Indians to return in the year 1623 to their former settlements and resume their usual peaceful occupations. . . . On the approach of harvest, . . . the English fell suddenly on all the Indian plantations, and murdered every person on whom they could lay hold, and drove the rest to the woods.71
Apess does not simply reverse the roles that historiography and literature have typically attributed to settlers and Natives—civilized/barbarian, peaceful/belligerent, human/animal—he also shows how this rhetoric works to naturalize the “extirpation” of the Indians and exculpate the republic’s genocidal politics, which is presented as following a preordained agenda.72
This strategy would only intensify in the so-called Age of Democracy epitomized by Jackson’s presidency.73 “Whereas white supremacy had been the working rationalization for British theft of Indigenous lands and for European enslavement,” historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz observes, this was less useful in the United States, for “democracy, equality, and equal rights do not fit well with dominance by one race, much less with genocide, settler colonialism, and empire.”74 It was at this time that the United States developed a new “origin myth” in the figure of the hunter, with Cooper as its most famous scribe. “Cooper devised a fictional counterpoint of celebration to the dark underbelly of the new American nation,” writes Dunbar-Ortiz: “the birth of something new and wondrous, literally, the U.S. American race, a new people born of the merger of the best of both worlds, the Native and the European, not a biological merger but something more ephemeral, involving the dissolving of the Indian.”75 The term dissolving hints at the ostensible attenuation of the violence visited on indigenous people in the “Age of Democracy.” This new technology of conquest is the development of the myth of the hunter, but the hunt and the hunter must always be conjugated in the past tense. The hunt must belong to the infancy of the nation (or, under Roosevelt, as something one episodically returns to as a prophylactic measure). This explains why in 1827, the hunter of The Prairie must disappear as the nineteenth century dawns, yet Cooper can write two more installments portraying Bumppo in the prime of life: The Pathfinder (1840) and The Deerslayer (1841), set squarely in the eighteenth century. The hunter fully and manifestly becomes himself and a fixture of American mythology when and because his historical prototype is deemed or has been made extinct.
The hunter as a technology of conquest was needed for taming and charting unknown territories. Once these territories became preknown and preowned (as with the Land Ordinance), the hunter no longer has a raison d’être. Or rather, it must vanish in order to conceal the ongoing violence that underlies the subsumption of difference under speculative topographies, epistemologies, and economies. Here we glimpse how colonialism, in its “democratic” phase, is wedded to capitalism. Glen Sean Coulthard explicitly connects these two, enlisting Marx’s concept of “primitive accumulation” (with which Marx theorizes how land grabs conditioned the emergence of capitalism) to explain how “formative acts of violent dispossession set the stage for the emergence of capitalist accumulation and the reproduction of capitalist relations of production by tearing Indigenous societies, peasants, and other small-scale, self-sufficient agricultural producers from the source of their livelihood—the land.”76 For Coulthard, as for Patrick Wolfe, the land is the “primary motive” of settler colonialism; we can thus account for Dunbar-Ortiz’s discussion of the invisibilization of violence by theorizing different relations to the land and its human and animal occupants under the regimes of hunt and of capture.
From Survey to Surveillance
For the frontispiece of their section on the “apparatus of capture,” Deleuze and Guattari borrow from French agronomist Noël Chomel’s 1732 Dictionnaire œconomique the image of a bird trap (Figure 8). According to David Gissen, “such traps illustrated a larger ‘apparatus of capture’ that . . . took the form of stockpiling nature to impose economic control over the productivity of the earth and convert open territories into saleable land.”77 In Chomel’s encyclopedia, the drawing of the trap is accompanied by very detailed instructions on how to capture partridges: after carefully spanning the net, the trapper is to hide behind a blind, made to look like a cow, in order to lure the birds, who have learned to be afraid of the figure of man but not of a placid bovine. Once the partridges are sufficiently close to the entrance of the circular net (tonnelle), the trapper can spring from behind his Trojan cow to collect the prey.78 Everything is meticulously represented in the illustration except for the human trapper, as though the trap was capable of working of its own accord. Even more intriguing is the background of the picture: the parallel lines of the furrows of the field display the homogenizing force imposed by the State apparatus on the land as well as on the birds herded into the tonnelle, which is itself parallel to the furrows. Chomel’s drawing suggests that the discontinuity between hunting and capture (in this case, the capture of the land as agriculture) revolves around issues of presence and absence, or, more precisely, visibility and invisibility (here, the trapper is doubly invisible, hidden behind the luring cow and absent from the picture).
To account for this invisibilization, Deleuze and Guattari develop the concept of the threshold, which they oppose to the concept of the limit. Whereas the limit marks the last item of a series and supposes the exploitation of a finite territory, the threshold marks the beginning of stock or reserve and supposes the exploitation of a land. What distinguishes the territory from the land is that the exploitation of the former is “governed by the law of temporal succession,” while what governs the latter is “the law of spatial coexistence.” The hunt takes place on a territory that is not fully mappable; capture, however, demands an isonomized, striated land (think of the railroad as condition for the slaughter of the buffalo). Once the threshold is crossed, “the force of serial iteration is superseded by a power of symmetry, reflection, and global comparison” (a shift similar to that traced in this chapter, from the hunter’s violent encounter with individuated animals to their generic taxonomization by the naturalist, or their shooting en masse, as in the famous pigeon massacre in The Pioneers). Deleuze and Guattari continue: “We therefore distinguish between serial, itinerant, or territorial assemblages (which operate by codes) and sedentary, global, or Land assemblages (which operate by overcoding).”79 In these two models, the earth appears respectively as territory and land, and animals (as I note in Figure 3) appear respectively as prey and livestock.
Chomel’s image of the trap illustrates well the radicality with which capital deterritorializes the land and the flows of labor. The “capitalist decoding” depicted in the image, however, is less a deterritorialization proper than the systematic destruction of territory and the structural foreclosure of reterritorialization. The standardized parceling out of the land forbids certain modes of occupation, tending to dispossess both human and animal populations of a territory.80 This deterritorialization—the United States’ expropriation of land with the settlement of the frontier and the Indian Removal Act—is precisely the process encoded in Cooper’s works. This process leaves territories “empty” and up for grabs while at the same time preparing a mobile (deterritorialized) class of workers made dependent on capitalist modes of production and consumption (the Natives made dependent on government aid rather than subsistence hunting).81 When territory becomes land, nonproductive or counterproductive forms of mobility (such as itinerancy or nomadism) become criminalized, and precisely by being criminalized, they are made to appear threatening or violent, tautologically reinforcing the mandate of security and control.82 The causality is flipped; the State seems within its right to punish the “primitives.” Its violence is not only legitimized but naturalized.
Or rather, it is biologized. We recall that the shift from natural history to biology analyzed in The Order of Things occurs when historicity is injected into the timeless tabulations of classical taxonomies. To the extent that a biological continuum is assumed, the variety of living beings indexes a more fundamental variability of form. From the standpoint of biology, in other words, taxonomic difference becomes a function of time.83 Species no longer marks a different place in the order of things—a different “case” in the taxonomic table—so much as a different time (Darwin’s theory of evolution would soon consecrate the scientificity of this intuition). Likewise, what Foucault calls biopower implies a biological continuity that exists below the threshold of phenotypical and organic differentiation. Race, then, which becomes an explicit technology wielded to fragment “the field of the biological that power controls,” operates genealogically (in the Darwinian sense): it ascribes differences of degree (rather than of kind) according to a “transcendental” principle of descent. Foucault expressly links a general notion of “evolutionism” with the racism that developed alongside “colonizing genocide.”84
From this perspective, we understand how deeply biological reason informs modern racial politics and, as Scott Lauria Morgensen shows, how deeply the logic of settler colonialism informs modern biopolitics. The white settlers’ politics of eradication and replacement works alongside efforts to exterminate indigenous lifestyles by absorbing them into the hegemonic culture. The very idea of assimilation suggests that any form of coexistence across difference is by definition temporary. The marking of some behaviors as “primitive” fits a strategy of conquest that does not eradicate populations outright but marks them with an expiration date: they will either perish or be assimilated.85 This explains how the elimination of indigenous peoples, which is still ongoing today, can be construed as “perpetual” and how this framing elides the ways that people, languages, and cultures persist despite this project. Morgensen suggests that the Indian reservation, which produces this “state of exception” by effectively bracketing surviving Native American tribes as existing both inside and outside of America’s narrative of progress, is a prototype for the concentration camp, identified by Foucault and Agamben as a paradigmatic site of modern biopolitics.86 The point is not to “compare” the atrocities of the Final Solution with those of the U.S. Indian policy, as Mark Rifkin notes, but rather to suggest that the genocidal biopolitics of the twentieth century is continuous with, and indeed subtended by, “the geopolitics of statehood and thus the dynamics of settler-state imperialism.”87 As Morgensen claims, “Scholars must not interpret modern state biopolitics or its extrapolations in global governance as recent rather than deeply historical phenomena. Nor should we let the preeminent role of any settler state in those processes appear to be the action of ‘the West,’ without specifying how settler colonialism acts as the West’s leading edge by establishing grounds for the globalisation and universalisation of its governance.”88
One of the ambitions of this chapter has been to sketch a critical history of settler colonialism through Cooper’s fictional account of changing technologies of conquest and management. I have examined colonialism particularly as it relates to nonhuman animals but without losing sight of the material, ecological, and political consequences of this project for human populations. Also at stake is the larger question of how universalist principles like “the West,” with their attendant rationalities and dispositifs, can be historicized and effectively criticized. Precisely because they pose as universals, these principles seem impervious to historicization.89 Deleuze and Guattari’s “Apparatus of Capture,” an elaboration on Marx’s notion of primitive accumulation, asks what mechanisms preside over the enigmatic transition from “precapitalist” to capitalist society—that is, from a so-called primitive economy of relative exchange (like the potlatch) to a capitalist system of absolute exchangeability. To account for capitalism’s muddy origins, Marx lists various exemplary sites of expropriation, from the “emancipation” of the English peasants—“free to exchange [their] labor” when “free of material resources,” Saidiya Hartman ironizes90—to the looting of the West Indies and North America, made possible by the “enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population” and “the commercial hunting of black skins.”91 At stake is the rendering as prehistorical—indeed, “primitive” or “aboriginal”—of the violent exploitation that is underway. This frames that expropriative violence as anomalous, positioning violence’s end (in truth, its simple occlusion) as a return to “normal.”
Those who find themselves exploited or dispossessed are thereby also rendered “primitive” (although Marx does not articulate this connection). Deleuze and Guattari insist, first, that the societies designated as primitive are never without, nor are they before, but are always against capitalism; it is not that they have not yet discovered or developed this economic system, in other words, but they actively refuse to engage in it. Second, they explain the sleight of hand by which the violent expropriation that underpins the “emergence” of capitalism “posits itself as preaccomplished.” The question, they ask, is: How does this violence justify itself? Their answer: By organizing a police state.
State policing or lawful violence . . . consists in capturing while simultaneously constituting a right to capture. It is an incorporated, structural violence distinct from every kind of direct violence. . . . State overcoding is precisely this structural violence that defines the law, “police” violence and not the violence of war. There is lawful violence wherever violence contributes to the creation of that which it is used against, or as Marx says, wherever capture contributes to the creation of that which it captures. This is very different from criminal violence. It is also why, in contradistinction to primitive violence, State or lawful violence always seems to presuppose itself, for it preexists its own use: the State can in this way say that violence is “primal,” that it is simply a natural phenomenon the responsibility for which does not lie with the State, which uses violence only against the violent, against “criminals”—against primitives, against nomads—in order that peace may reign.92
Our task is now to understand how this form of pacific violence functions not just rhetorically as Manifest Destiny but biopolitically. This same pacific violence operates in the conception of its object—the human and nonhuman populations it seeks to monitor and control. I have contended that over the course of the nineteenth century, the explicit violence of hunting is folded into a form of pursuit that is less acquisitive than regulatory (just as territorial conquest is folded into land management). This contention expands on Foucault’s insight that the emergence of the police state is an expression of liberal government’s mission to keep peace (instead of making war) and his analyses of “security” as the modern form of pastoral governance.93 In principle, security has renounced the direct violence of the hunt, which targets individuals. Instead, it seeks to affect a “population” indirectly, by intervening in the milieu that conditions its existence. But hunting does not vanish; instead, it is integrated as a technology of regulation, as an immunitary mechanism (moving from end to means).
In an interview, Foucault explains that for a long time the practice of “hunting down vagrants, beggars . . . remained outside the field of the judicial, legal practice. . . . And then, at the beginning of the nineteenth century, the police enforcement of social selection was integrated in the judicial practice because, in the Napoleonic State, police, justice, and penitential institutions were linked to each other.”94 In other words, the police became trappers of human beings, targeting primarily marginalized, primitivized, animalized men. Perhaps because he focuses mainly on the European context, Foucault tends to underplay the centrality of what Grégoire Chamayou calls the police’s “cynegetic power,” the power to hunt down.95 This new system is not simply repressive but proactive, and it is concerned not only with the physical but also the visual apprehension of those who might present a risk. If, as I have suggested, capture is a specific way of seeing and knowing, then we have to investigate the paradox that makes its objects both preknown and unknowable at the same time, and as such subject to endless scrutiny and investigation. No author better than Edgar Allan Poe theorizes the office performed by the police, whose historical function is to criminalize and apprehend—or chase and capture—those who reject work or engage in economies unsanctioned by the state.96 In Poe, capture appears precisely as this system that naturalizes and presupposes the crime, thereby literally bringing the criminal into being. It is a strategy of knowledge and management that sanctions in the same gesture the criminalization of the “primitives” and the animalization of those accused of a crime. The next chapter explores how animality becomes weaponized by this system of control.