The Philosophical Animal on the hands of Doctor Moreau
It is only for that first moment out of the womb of the carver’s hands that they seem to be human. As quickly as they are born, they are transformed from his children to his failures. “As soon as my hand is taken from them, the beast begins to creep back.” Once they are no longer under his touch, under the command of his hand, they cannot be human. Moreau believes he knows where his “trouble lies”: “in the subtle grafting and reshaping one must needs do to the brain.” Moreau is still in the grip of the question of Heidegger’s abyss of essence.
Moreau denies what he knows—that the answer is well within his grasp. He cannot make the human because he does not make a hand. “There is trouble with hands and claws,” he admits, “painful things that I dare not shape too freely.” When Prendick visits the village of the Beast People, those not-humans Moreau has cast away, he notes their various deformities. Some have freakish noses, others malformed ears, still others suffer from misplaced eyes. But the grotesquerie common to all is their hands. “The hands were always malformed; and though some surprised me by their unexpected humanity, almost all were deficient in the number of digits, clumsy about the fingernails, and lacking any tactile sensibility.” (It is worthy to note that Moreau the vivisectionist is described as having “dexterous-looking fingers.”) Is their “unhandedness” the product of a lack of skill on the part of their maker, or a lack of willingness? Let us take up this question of Moreau’s hand-making in working toward the question of the abyss. The skill required for hand-making is doubtless considerable. In Derrida’s essay on the question of hands in Heidegger, he inscribes it with an epigram from Artaud: “What is very beautiful, and so precious in this painting, is the hand. A hand without deformation, a particular structure, one that seems to speak, like a language of fire.”