What Does The Fox Say?: A Critical Introduction


By: Jeremy Smith /

The fox has come to be a representative inscribed of bare life, only to be recuperated into the anthropological machine with various connotations which we will explore throughout. In this piece, we will look at how the fox has become a political agent that has helped produce and materialize the image of-itself as being within the sovereignty of Man and his images.

In 2013, the Norwegian music duo Ylvis publicized a music video, “The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?).” As popular with the times in contemporary philosophy, it is acceptable to provide a speculative account of the real or non-philosophical, to show how that which is not actually provides a possibility for being. In the chorus of this now famous song, the two posit that the fox speaks with hyper-exaggerated absurd lines, like gering-ding-ding or krakakakow, compared to other animals’ sounds. The leader of the group is dressed like-a-fox, and the two are answered by an actual (read: CGI) fox who performs scat-like sounds.

While this may be, in-itself, a fun poke at how the fox is, it is also a way into looking at how the fox is not; this is to say that with the infinite amount of possibilities that can go into an image, the inscription of the absurd sounds purifies and solidifies various characterizations: the slyness and trickster like behavior in the music video, but also the evil demeanor by not actually answering.

I must say that I staunchly advocate an anti-Ylvis position: since Man is always-already sovereign, why must he continue to not only represent the fox as such and such with certain imagery, but, simultaneously, inscribe and codify the fox as being within the sites and sights of legitimacy?

This can be said to become highly political in the earliest stages of Western civilization. It is my belief that without Aesop and the fable that we would be able to discuss the inscription of the fox in Western civilization. Two fables: “The Fox and the Grapes,” and “The Fox and the Sick Lion.

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 4.35.40 PM

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 4.35.48 PM

In the first, the fox is depicted as an idiot, giving up on his desires; however, in the second, a transformation occurs in spite of fear or of knowledge concerning the utmost sovereign, the Lion’s faux sickness. In both instances, the fox is an idiot: why disobey the King? Why this transformation, of the fox being once an idiot desiring somethings/he cannot attain to an observed and concerned citizen of the political framing? Has it to do with Aesop himself, a slave, a hunchback, illegitimate, that we invert the meaning to fit our own?

We then can turn to the Reynard cycle, once a common folktale, now a Western mythos. Reynard the fox, enemy to the state. Isegrim the wolf, the right hand of the Sovereign, represented as the Church figure. Leo, the King, a lion. The King invites all the beasts out to his banquet, but Isegrim is the first to voice complaints regarding the inclusion of Reynard into the court:Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 4.41.34 PM

High and Mighty Prince, my Lord the King, I beseech you that through your great might, right, and mercy, that ye will have pity on the great trespass and the unreasonable misdeeds that Reynart the Fox hath done to me and to my wife: that is to wit, he is comen in to my house against the will of my wife, and there he hath bepissed my children whereas they lay, in such wise as they thereof ben waxen blind. Whereupon was a day set, and was judged that Reynart should come and have excused him hereof, and have sworn on the holy saints that he was not guilty thereof. And when the book with the saints was brought forth, tho had Reynart bethought him otherwise, and went his way again into his hole, as he had naught set thereby. And, dear King, this knowen well many of the Beasts that now be comen hither to your Court. And yet hath he trespassed to me in many other things. He is not living that could tell all that I now leave untold. But the shame and villainy that he hath done my wife, that shall I never hide ne suffer it unavenged, but that he shall make to me large amends.

The fox is as elusive as ever to the right and sovereign. Not only evil to Isegrim, but to many other beasts in the court. What is most important is not the inscription in the first instance, but the last instance: the fox is made sovereign by the Sovereign himself. The Lion, after the besting of Isegrim:

“Reynart, ye be one of them that oweth me homage; which I will that ye alway so do. And also I will that, early and late, ye be of my council and one of my justices. See well to that ye not misdo ne trespass no more. I set you again in all your might and power, like as ye were tofore, and see that ye further all matters to the best right. For when ye set your wit and counsel to virtue and goodness, then may not our Court be without your advice and counsel, for here is none that is like to you in sharp and high counsel, ne subtler in finding a remedy for a mischief. And think ye on the example that ye yourself have told, and that ye haunt righteousness and be to me true. I will from henceforth work and do by your advice and counsel. He liveth not that if he misdid you, but I should sharply avenge and wreke it on him. Ye shall overall speak and say my words, and in all my land shall ye be, above all other, sovereign and my bayle. That office I give you. Ye may well occupy it with worship.”

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 4.40.12 PM

This erases the status of evil and advances the status of right to the fox. Again: why should we listen to common folk tales if they are coming from common folk? Why make the fox right?

Another instance is depicted in the Wes Anderson adaptation of the Roald Dahl children’s book, Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009). Rooting for the fox, and not the farmers, who are our equals. This is not the instance I am talking about, however; towards the end of the film, Mr. Fox and his family are driving in their motorcycle when, out in the distance, a wolf can be seen. Fox and Wolf; the two are so distant, how do they communicate? French, English? No: a leveling of the rivalry between the two, a raise of the fist. Does this consist in developing and blurring the distinctions of right and wrong, or depending on us, how we construct a narrative purporting no distance whatsoever?

A last instance before returning to Ylvis: Lars Von Trier’s Anti-Christ (2009). He, played by Willem Dafoe, is a psychologist and takes his wife, She, out to the woods after a tragic incident. She, Charlotte Gainsbourg, had written and abandoned a thesis on gynocide: the death of women by the hands of men. She scopes out in the woods for foxholes, seeking the fox. Both women and fox are fearful things to man, and He encounters a fox disemboweling itself, reciting: “Chaos Reigns.” Is this not a true example of what the fox actually can say? A contradiction, but also a truth to the man, a psychologist, seeking to understand and, simultaneously, deploy Reason. It is no surprise that He is similar to the wolf or the lion: fearing evil.

What needs to be done? I appropriate from Nietzsche and bastardize it: a transvulpization of all vulpes. Ylvis does it in one sense by appropriating the image of the Fox for Man; however, what about Evil’s will to nothingness? If we are really to show what the fox says without speaking for it, without erasing it, would this not be an erasure of us?


Works Cited

  • Aesop. Aesop’s Fables. Trans. Laura Gibbs. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2002. Print.
  • Aesop. Aesop’s Fables. Trans. Vernon Jones V. S. New York: Avenel, 1975. Print.
  • Agamben, Giorgio. Homo Sacer. Trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen. Stanford, CA: Stanford UP, 1998. Print.
  • Antichrist. Dir. Lars Von Trier. Perf. Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg. IFC, 2009.
  • Caxton, William, trans. “The History of Reynard the Fox.” Early Prose Romances. Ed. Henry Morley. London: G. Routledge and Sons, 1889. 11-166. Print.
  • Fantastic Mr. Fox. Dir. Wes Anderson. Twentieth Century Fox, 2009.
  • Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Anti-Christ. Trans. H. L. Mencken. Tucson: See Sharp, 1999. Print.
  • “Ylvis – The Fox (What Does The Fox Say?) [Official Music Video HD].” YouTube. YouTube, 03 Sept. 2013. Web. 25 Mar. 2014. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jofNR_WkoCE

Leave a reply