Tom Tyler: Research
Research Interests
My research is interdisciplinary, engaging with animal studies, cultural studies, critical theory, history of ideas, philosophy, English studies, media studies, game studies, film studies, and the conceptual dimensions of other fields. To date, I have pursued research into three related domains:
(1) Animals. I am interested in the ambiguous roles that non-human animals have been required to play, frequently unacknowledged, in the texts of philosophy, critical theory, and elsewhere. From Buridan's ass to Schopenhauer's porcupines, from Austin's pigs to Derrida's cat, we find a mischievous menagerie of animals pressed into service, or suppressed by the notion of an amorphous 'animality'. I have discussed the instructive animals and fabulous races that inhabited the bestiaries and monstrous manuscripts of the Middle Ages. I am especially interested in apes, ancient and modern, and have written on the taxonomy of the chimpanzee, to which genus Homo sapiens truly belongs.
(2) Anthropocentrism. I am interested in the variety of anthropocentric arguments and assumptions that permeate, but are rarely intrinsic to, a wide range of philosophies, from Kant's critical idealism to Moore's common sense realism, from Whorf's linguistic relativism to Heidegger's hyperhumanism. My work has traced the relations and disparities between a number of these human-centred starting-points and the philosophical systems into which they are imported. My writing has been informed particularly by Nietzsche's perspectivism, Wittgenstein's pragmatism, Foucault's historicism, and by the counter-teleological approach of evolutionary theory.
(3) Games. I am interested in digital games, especially in their impact and import as a medium or technology, and in the distinct forms of participation and engagement that they make possible. From the immersive environments of Civilization to the persistent play of In Memoriam, from the inviting alterity of Dog's Life's 'Smellovision' to the powers and capacities of Titan Quest's virtual creatures, digital games are endlessly illustrative of the pervasive play-element of culture. I have made particular use, in this regard, of McLuhan's provocative probes into the operation and effects of media technologies.
For reviews of my research, see the Reviews page.
Publications
Tom Tyler, 'Misanthropy without Humanity, Paradoxa 26 (December 2014), forthcoming.
Tom Tyler, 'The End of ‘the Anthropocene’', in preparation.
Tom Tyler, 'We Happy Few', in preparation.
Tom Tyler, 'Becoming What We Are', in preparation.
Tom Tyler, 'A Singular of Boars', Antennae 30 (Winter 2014), pp. 36-39, forthcoming.
Tom Tyler, 'Donestre', in Jeffrey A. Weinstock, ed., Ashgate Encyclopedia of Literary and Cinematic Monsters (Farnham: Ashgate, 2014), pp. 170-72.
Tom Tyler, 'New Tricks', Angelaki 18.1 (March 2013), pp. 65-82.
Tom Tyler, 'ASInterview', Animals and Society Institute (January 2013) <https://www.animalsandsociety.org/pages/asinterview-january-2013-tom-tyler>.
Tom Tyler, CIFERAE: A Bestiary in Five Fingers (Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota University Press, 2012).
Tom Tyler, 'The Rule of Thumb', JAC 30.3-4 (2010), pp. 435-56.
Tom Tyler, 'The Test of Time: McLuhan, Space and the Rise of Civilization', in Sid Dobrin and Sean Morey, eds, Ecosee: Image, Rhetoric, and Nature (New York: SUNY, 2009), pp. 257-77.
Tom Tyler and Manuela Rossini, eds, Animal Encounters (Leiden: Brill, 2009).
Tom Tyler, 'A Procrustean Probe', Game Studies 8.2 (December 2008) <http://gamestudies.org/0802/articles/tyler>.
Tom Tyler, 'Deviants, Donestre and Debauchees: Here Be Monsters', Culture, Theory & Critique 49.2 (Autumn 2008), pp. 113-131.
Tom Tyler, 'The Quiescent Ass and the Dumbstruck Wolf', Configurations 14.1-2 (Winter-Spring 2006; published Summer 2008), pp. 9-28.
Tom Tyler, Review of The Animals Reader, by Linda Kalof and Amy Fitzgerald, Frieze 108 (June-August 2007), p. 50.
Tom Tyler, 'Quia Ego Nominor Leo: Barthes, Stereotypes and Aesop's Animals', Mosaic 40.1 (March 2007, 'The Animal, Part II'), pp. 45-59; reprinted in Neil Badmington, ed., Roland Barthes (London: Routledge, 2009), vol. I, pp. 195-208; reprinted in Dialogue and Universalism 1 (2014), pp. 193-208.
Tom Tyler, 'Snakes, Skins and the Sphinx: Nietzsche's Ecdysis', Journal of Visual Culture 5.3 (December 2006), pp. 365-85.
Carol J. Adams with Tom Tyler, 'An Animal Manifesto: Gender, Identity, and Vegan-Feminism in the Twenty-First Century', Parallax 38: Animal Beings, 12.1 (January-March 2006), pp. 120-28.
Tom Tyler, 'Four Hands Good, Two Hands Bad', Parallax 38: Animal Beings, 12.1 (January-March 2006), pp. 69-80; reprinted in Marc Lucht and Donna Yarri, eds, Kafka's Creatures: Animals, Hybrids, and Other Fantastic Beings (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2010), pp. 175-89.
Tom Tyler, ed., Parallax 38: Animal Beings, 12.1 (January-March 2006).
Tom Tyler, 'Like Water in Water', Journal for Cultural Research 9.3 (July 2005), pp. 265-79; reprinted as 'Como a água na água', in Maria Esther Maciel, ed., Pensar/Escrever O Animal: Ensaios de Zoopoética e Biopolítica (Florianópolis: EDUSC, 2011), pp. 55-73.
Tom Tyler, 'If Horses Had Hands...', Society & Animals 11.3 (2003), pp. 267-81; reprinted in Tom Tyler and Manuela Rossini, eds, Animal Encounters (Leiden: Brill, 2009), pp. 13-26.
Misanthropy without Humanity
Representations of misanthropy have frequently attributed it to one or both of two motivations. On the one hand, the misanthrope is often depicted as being ruled by passion, their intense, emotional abhorrence of humanity the result of personal affronts or misfortunes, like Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens. On the other, the misanthrope will be portrayed as guided by unbending principle, their reasoned disdain deriving from a high-minded moral code, like Molière’s Alceste. The videogame Plague Inc., which casts players as a pathogen with the objective of annihilating the human species, offers an alternative misanthropy, however. Inviting us to invest in the values of a virus, bacterium or parasite, without emotional investment or underpinning rationale, it entertains the possibility of a misanthropy without humanity.
Tom Tyler, 'Misanthropy without Humanity', Paradoxa 26 (December 2014), forthcoming.
The End of ‘the Anthropocene’
At the turn of the millennium, Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer proposed a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene, the “Age of Men.” Human domination of the global environment, in the form of population increase and expansion, deforestation, agriculture and urbanisation, and the burning of fossil fuels and biomass, has resulted in the release of toxic substances, increasing greenhouse gases, ozone depletion, photochemical smog, acid rain, climate warming, and mass species extinction. Anthropogenic changes are being written into the earth, oceans and air. Nonetheless, the designation “Anthropocene” for this new epoch is inappropriate for three reasons: it breaks with stratigraphic precedent; its referent is ambiguous; and it posits a uniformly culpable anthrōpos. In fact, the term “Anthropocene” reinscribes a long-standing tradition of temporal anthropocentrism. An alternative name is proposed.
Tom Tyler, 'The End of ‘the Anthropocene’', in preparation.
The Exception and the Norm:
Dimensions of Anthropocentrism
Anthropocentric thinking assumes or argues that humanity is Nature’s “most prominent object,” that animals are means to human ends, or perhaps that human beings are an inevitable or necessary axis for reflection. The grounds of these claims for human-centering have been many and varied, but two indispensable conceptions can be identified. On the one hand, it is frequently asserted that humanity is exceptional; on the other, that it is the norm. Within these conceptions, it is possible to distinguish six separate dimensions of anthropocentric thought: humans have been understood as a high point on a spatial hierarchy; as the culmination of a temporal sequence; as fundamentally different in kind; as a bodily standard or measure; as a mental constraint on apprehension; and as a self-evident identity.
Tom Tyler, 'The Exception and the Norm: Dimensions of Anthropocentrism', in preparation.
We Happy Few
Interpellation, according to Althusser, is the means by which cultural institutions and processes 'hail' us. The policeman shouts out, abruptly, "Hey, you there!" and, in turning, individuals (mis)recognise the call as directed at them, thereby implicating themselves in their own subjection. The term interpellation can mean not just an interruption or summons, however, but also an appeal or entreaty. In this essay, I examine the varied ways in which a selection of films address audiences not with a peremptory "you" but rather invite and inveigle viewers into identifying themselves as part of a collective "we". Microcosmos, Crash and Planet of the Apes all attempt forms of anthroponormative interpellation, whilst Earthlings, Finding Nemo and Green Porno exhibit quite different, more-than-human solicitations.
Tom Tyler, 'We Happy Few', in preparation.
Becoming What We Are
Sartre's account of bad faith describes the practice by which individuals deceive themselves into believing that the identity on which they have settled fully defines and delineates them. A particular form of bad faith is to be found in the work of diverse writers who persistently self-identify as human, thereby acknowledging only a narrow, limited part of themselves. In order to complicate this over-hasty self-conception, I draw on Nietzsche's great imperative to "become what you are," ordinarily invoked as a spur to individual self-enhancement, and here deployed toward more encompassing goals. By outlining a number of alternative, nonhuman collectivities to which we each belong, and which extend far beyond an impoverished self-identification as merely human, I argue that we must become all that we are.
Tom Tyler, 'Becoming What We Are', in preparation.
A Singular of Boars
Treatises of natural history, when discussing a population or species, often refer to an animal by means of the definite article, e.g. "the boar." They invoke thereby a curious creature which is at once both singular and plural, an example of what Derrida would call the general singular. We are given an ideal, Platonic boar, an essence which effaces the specificity of individuals. Similarly, digital games like Titan Quest depict each of their animals by means of a single character model: every boar is indistinguishable from her fellows. The virtual animals of Titan Quest, however, are encountered by players as individuals: we meet each time a particular adversary or ally, and we experience, to our cost or benefit, their personal strength and power (virtus).
Tom Tyler, 'A Singular of Boars', Antennae 30 (Winter 2014), pp. 36-39, forthcoming.
The Donestre were one of the many exotic races described in the medieval Liber Monstrorum and Wonders of the East. These fearsome creatures of mixed nature were depicted with a human body but the head of some unspecified animal, perhaps a dog or lion. They were said to live on an island in the Red Sea, and to be able to speak the languages of all nations. Should a foreign traveller chance upon a Donestre, the monster would speak to them in their own language, naming their kinsmen and acqaintances and thereby gaining their trust. Having tricked the unwary individual, the Donestre would capture his victim and eat them raw, after which he would take up the remaining head and weep over it.
The digital game Dog's Life attempts, by means of its "Smellovision" feature, to communicate the alterity of canine perception. At the same time, it encourages players to identify with the game's protagonist: you 'are' Jake, digging up bones, marking territory and chasing chickens. In this essay I argue that Dog's Life effectively comprises an "anti-environment" of the sort described by McLuhan, which altercasts players as dogs and thereby prompts them to notice conventional, anthroponormative assumptions regarding the pre-eminence of human modes of perception. By insisting on an experience both of alterity and identity, the digital game medium here combats clichéd notions of animality and subjectivity, whilst requiring players to reconsider the complex and uneven nature of interspecific, interpersonal control.
Animals are variously and endlessly fascinating, baffling, beautiful, impressive, and, as Bob McKay has said, "way cool." Scientific and other kinds of knowledge about the physiology, capacities and behaviour of animals is inherently interesting. Who could fail to be interested in the fact that the earliest tetrapods, the four-footed fish, had six, or seven, or even more fingers on each hand, and that evolution has seen a gradual loss of digits, so that most creatures today have far fewer than this number (just one in the case of horses); or that mammalian hiccups may well be the result of our descent from fish and amphibians, and the less-than optimal breathing apparatuses that we have inherited as a result.
Protagoras famously asserted that "man is the measure of all things". CIFERAE investigates the supposition that one's understanding and awareness of the world will always be conditioned or determined by a distinctively human perspective. The five-fingered hand is often considered a singular and defining part of this unique, human being, an incomparable appendage on which human supremacy depends. Over a span of five chapters, CIFERAE takes in hand the work of diverse thinkers, examining the alleged inseparability of anthropocentrism and epistemology. The text is accompanied throughout by a number of "wild animals" (ferae), creatures who manage, in a variety of ways, to resist the reductive appropriation of imprudent scholars. These unruly beasts persistently and mischievously question the humanist assumptions and arguments of their would-be employers.
Read reviews of CIFERAE: A Bestiary in Five Fingers.
The opposable thumb is commonly considered to be a unique and defining component of the human hand, itself the perfected endpoint of accumulated ages of evolution. Aristotle, Galen, Macrobius, Montaigne and many others have all sung the praises of this magnificent digit, which makes possible the indispensable variety of grips and grasps on which human supremacy depends. The anatomist Charles Bell argued that the hand evinces intelligent design, and that the superficial similarities of this incomparable appendage with those of other creatures are by no means indicative of homological affinity. Vestiges of this anti-evolutionary taxonomic nominalism persist in the work of contemporary writers, whose belief in human exceptionalism manifests as an uncritical, oppressive and ultimately unsustainable 'rule of thumb'.
McLuhan probed and explored the social and cultural environments created by media technologies and the modes of perception engendered in those who found themselves immersed therein. In this essay I argue that digital games produce a form of electronic "acoustic space", an instantaneous, inclusive, decentred environment quite distinct from their carefully realised but ludologically irrelevant backstories. Taking as my case study Sid Meier's complex and involving Civilization series, I examine the 'aural' mode of engagement that digital games can encourage and even require. I close by evaluating the equivocal environmental rhetoric of this enduringly successful title, and the continuing relevance of McLuhan's provocative and fruitful analyses.
Animal Encounters presents a multidisciplinary selection of essays in which nonhuman animals meet with philosophers, literary scholars and cultural theorists, scientists and historians, feminists and environmentalists, artists and activists, who are interested in the productive potential of interspecies exchange and collaboration. Brought together under six strategic headings, the collection constitutes a series of encounters not only between animals, human and otherwise, but also between different disciplinary methods, theoretical approaches, and ethical positions. Animal Encounters includes essays by Carol J. Adams, Steve Baker, Monika Bakke, Pamela Banting, Jonathan Burt, Donna Haraway, Randy Malamud, Manuela Rossini, Laurie Shannon, Robyn Smith, Susan Squier and Tom Tyler.
Read reviews of Animal Encounters.
The brigand Procrustes dispatched his victims by stretching or trimming their bodies in order that they be made to fit his bed. Considered as a scientific theory, McLuhan's four "laws of media" risk violating communications research in a dangerously Procrustean manner. Conceived as an exploratory probe, however, this "tetrad" can provide illuminating insights into the social and psychological effects of individual technologies. Applied to digital games, the tetrad reveals the particular ways in which this distinctive cultural form enhances diverse modes of play, obsolesces traditional television viewing, retrieves lost means of participation, and reverses into pervasive and persistent play. The tetrad helps, in short, to situate digital games within the broader technological and cultural environment of which they are a part.
Monstrous Mixture: The Archaeology of Teratology
It is little known that St Christopher, the popular patron saint of travellers, was a member of the ferocious Eastern race of Cynocephali (dog-heads) and was martyred in barbaric manner by King Dagnus of Lycia. In this essay I explore Foucault's account of the correlation between monstrous beings and monstrous practices during the medieval period: as obdurate mixtures, monsters transgress both natural and social law, thereby requiring of sovereign power a spectacularly violent punitive response. Drawing on Isidore of Seville's meticulous taxonomy of portentous monsters, I argue that Foucault attributes to the Middle Ages a notion of monstrous mixture more appropriate to later centuries.
Tom Tyler, 'Monstrous Mixture: The Archaeology of Teratology', unpublished.
St Augustine suggested that monsters (monstra) serve to show or to signify (monstrare) something, whilst Foucault argued that one ancestor of today's abnormal individual was the human monster, a class of being characterised by a composite nature. In this essay I examine what two very different mixed human monsters can show us. The donestre, a medieval race of fearsome lion-headed polyglots, exhibit a corporeal violation of natural and social law. The strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, meanwhile, illustrates the modern monstrosity of deviant, instinctual character. The careful study of monsters helps to debauch our minds with learning and thus, in the words of William James, to make the natural, explanatory power of 'instinct' seem strange.
This essay examines two key ways in which animals function in the texts of philosophy and contemporary critical theory. On the one hand they frequently appear as ciphers, mere place-fillers within a philosophical argument. I look briefly at J. L. Austin's cipherous pigs before discussing the different ways in which Buridan's overburdened ass is put to work. On the other hand, animals often appear as indices, obliging guides who point out productive avenues of thought. Here I examine Austin's multi-coloured fish, and then Freud's curiously quiet wolves. I conclude by suggesting that, despite their silence, these animals are able to tell us a good deal about the thoughts and theories of their respective employers.
Linda Kalof and Amy Fitzgerald, eds, The Animals Reader: The Essential Classic and Contemporary Writings (Oxford: Berg, 2007)
The anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss once suggested that 'animals are good to think', and, as the editors of this timely collection argue, there has indeed been a great deal of significant thinking about animals in recent years. The burgeoning field of animal studies has sought to address what Linda Kalof and Amy Fitzgerald call 'the animal question': how shall we rethink, rebuild and recast our relationships with other animals in light of this explosion of new research. Faced with such a range of potential material, Kalof and Fitzgerald present 35 carefully chosen texts, drawn both from contemporary studies and from the long history of thinking about animals.
Taking Barthes' discussion of Aesop's lion as my starting point, I examine the notion of the stereotype as it applies to the use of animals in philosophy and cultural theory. By employing an illustrative selection of animal ciphers from Saussure and Austin, and animal indices from Peirce and Schopenhauer, I argue that theory's beasts are always at risk of becoming either exemplars of a deadening, generic Animal or mere stultifying stereotypes. Gilbert Ryle's faithful dog, Fido, as well as a number of Aesop's edifying animals, help to demonstrate that these two dangers are not inescapable, however. I close by indicating two strategies for preventing the unnecessary inhibition of the creatures of critical theory, focusing on Derrida's individual and gently unruly cat.
Foucault claimed that Nietzsche's philosophy constitutes "la grande rupture" from Kant's conception of knowledge. The break occurred, however, only after Nietzsche had shed his own Kantian skin. This essay examines both the debt that early Nietzsche owed to Kant, and the nature of the break evident in his later work. It highlights three key facets of the mature Nietzsche's epistemology: (1) there is no disinterested truth, only a range of evaluative perspectives; (2) these perspectives must continually change and multiply; and (3) the subject of any perspective need not be human. As Nietzsche's own eyesight deteriorated, he saw more, and he saw more clearly.
In this interview for the Parallax special issue on Animal Beings, Carol J. Adams discusses the contributions of feminism to thinking beyond "definition by negation", the means by which those considered lesser beings, animal or otherwise, have so often been characterised in opposition to the human. Stressing the importance of acknowledging our own animal bodies and those of others, she outlines a four point vegan-feminist "animal manifesto". She goes on to contrast Derrida's considered and compassionate relationship to his cat with the limitations and compromises of Haraway's own Companion Species Manifesto. She closes by suggesting that animal rights is a modern movement in a postmodern age.
In this essay I investigate the taxonomic classification of human beings and the temporal preeminence on which it has depended. Starting with short works by Kafka and Borges, I highlight two contrasting forms of disorder that taxonomies have been created to dispel: the incongruous and the heteroclite. Drawing on critiques by Dawkins and Diamond of the traditional classification of humans and great apes, I argue that Linnaeus' binomial system of nomenclature has been employed to inappropriately anthropocentric ends. This species-narcissism must be tempered with the recognition and invention of multiple, inclusive narcissisms, both incongruous and heteroclite. A revised nomenclature for Homo sapiens is impertinently proposed.
Many writers have sought to tell us what animals mean to human beings. But what kind of animal is this human being? In what kinds of animal being does the human animal engage? What is it to be, rather than to represent, an animal? This special issue of the cultural and critical theory journal Parallax addresses the question of human beings as animal beings. What happens when novelists and scientists, philosophers and cultural theorists, write not about animals but as animals. Animal Beings includes essays by Hélène Cixous, Derek Gatherer, Simon Glendinning, Margot Norris, Anat Pick, Tom Tyler, Lisa Uddin and Cary Wolfe, an interview with Carol J. Adams, plus nine book reviews.
Read a review of Animal Beings.
In this essay I examine the anthropocentrism evident in key texts by Bataille and Heidegger. Starting with Bataille's treatment of animality, I show how a contrast is drawn between animal experience, which is immediate and immanent, and human experience, which cannot help but transcend its environment by imposing distinctions. Heidegger, meanwhile, suggests that it is by means of the hand's "disclosive assimilation" that humanity enters a unique and privileged relationship to Being. I argue that both authors assume, without demonstrating, a qualitative difference between human and animal. This starting point might thus usefully be described as an "anthropocentric assumption" in the sense that, although neither author suggests that human experience is superior to that of animals, each considers it first-and-foremost.
In this essay I examine the contentious and confused notion of anthropomorphism, the inappropriate attribution of distinctively human characteristics to other entities. Beginning with an overview of the term's historical and current uses, I go on to examine the arguments both of those who believe it to be unscientific and demeaning, and those who contend that it is an inevitable and useful pragmatic strategy. Heidegger raises the more serious objection, however, that it is not at all clear what is even meant by the charge of anthropomorphism. I conclude that use of the term commits one to an undesirable anthropocentrism that shackles thought concerning human and animal beings.

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