POST N4 : on INVOLUTION of (m)other


Los Angeles/Mexico, 9th december 2015

Dear Maja,

your oxytocine blast while practicing breast pumping not only seems to have strongly transpired in your last writings, but has rendered me – although digitally abstracted – globally emphatic when travelling across the different biological and cultural spheres on the other side of the Atlantic. While reading your elaborate dissertation on the mythology and etymology of canine cultural references and histories, one can easily become an unconscious postanthropologist and suddenly see all relationships and behaviors through the filter of K-9 topologies: Be it the observation and interaction with the typical miniature lapdog of an over-caring child less Californian couple, whose universe is quasi entirely composed of the interiors of the home, the car and the pet hotel, or of the disregarded stray under-dog in Mexico City, while paying attention to facial expressions of mystical breeds such as the Chihuahuas as the smallest recognized breed, or the sensitive Mexican Xoloitzcuintli hairless dog’s – one is tempted to detect mutual domestication and hybrid projections everywhere. I felt inspired to ask, while re-reading a paragraph from animal philosopher Elisabeth de Fontenay, “is animalization of the human face an operation that encourages various forms of racism, and is it a danger for the idea and reality of human kind, or, quite the reverse, might it not accustom us to the tiny differences that develop in the senses, the heart and mind of anyone practicing it, a little gentle empiricism and perceptive humility?”

Reading then about your INVOLUTION OF (m)OTHER – a brilliant pun, chapeau – a paradox indeed stroke me when thinking-feeling that you are just in this moment getting ready, psychologically and physiologically, for the great day when ‘your’ selected adoptive puppy will arrive and you’ll check if she is even as ready as you to engage in this trans-species m/otherhood than you are: Despite the hard corpo-real efforts that the diet and the permanent regular pumping in three hour intervals imply, and the excitement I imagine, you are focusing nearly in all your writing on the underlying significances of giving the ‘right’, symbolic name to the arriving creature into your ‘pack’ and onto your breast. Involution of the uterus without pregnancy, (m)OTHER pregnant with meaning? Semantic hyper-compensation, while awaiting the visceral?

I well understand your emphasis on involution, to oppose evolution with Deleuze and Guattari, as to resist the logic of filiation and to replace it by contagion, according to the first principle of becoming animal, “pack and contagion, the contagion of the pack, such is the path becoming-animal takes.” Contagion of the pack by adoption, as factually it is, such as the much quoted “a parallel evolution” with which Deleuze and Guattari precisely praise also viruses as the crucial and active vectors responsible for life’s diversity. Viruses can “move into the cells of an entirely different species, but not without bringing with it ‘genetic information’ from the first host. […] Transversal communications between different lines scramble the genealogical trees.

Always look for the molecular, or even sub-molecular, particle with which we are allied.” But, beyond hermeneutics and beneath pharmaceutics, what does the whole poly-sensual beyond the poly-semic feel like?

The reason for my question may be the following: We know that in the history of art, creative impulses have often been imputed to forces of otherness external to the ‘genius’ and supposedly escaping cognitive control, so to make him (most often) or her (less often) the very medium through which mysterious, universal or natural forces would materialize and manifest themselves as the artist’s art. Articulated in formulas such as Arthur Rimbaud’s famous Je est un autre, the homogeneous conscious subject is challenged by manifold drives – but most often, however, by spiritual forces, psychological splits, not by physi(ologi)cally explainable alternatives to human identity, selfhood, and agency, based on the natural sciences. And while the recourse to animality and related allegories as a vector of representation in art is a common feature, the challenge of your Hybrid Family project relies precisely in its radical embodiment and the re-materialization of symbolic layers compiled over and over in our Western culture of interpretation – that lacks this presence effects, to speak with Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht.

Meanwhile, the puppy, she, Lady Lovelace Laelaps, must have arrived very recently at your post-Beuysian Berlin Bülowstraße loft! I am curious to viscerally apprehend – zu begreifen – how you like Lady Lovelace Laelaps and Lady Lovelace Laelaps likes you. How does your microbiome communities match, when, as Donna Haraway states, you are “in company with these tiny messmates – to be one is always become with many”? How does she smell? How do you smell for her? Can you grasp the biosemiotic level of molecular, olfactory exchange? Does she effectively suck you as you hoped, and does it further increase oxytocine production? Does she like your milk? And also: Having adopted her, did you ask Lady Lovelace Laelaps if she agreed? And – what – did she respond?

This question of animal consent is not new; it also has been addressed by ‘practical ethics’ philosopher Peter Singer with regards to zoophilia, as an acceptable practice, according to him, as long as there would be mutual consent. But the question also popped up when curating the trans-species blood brotherhood performance Que le cheval vive en moi (May the horse live in me) by the French artist duo Art Orienté objet in Ljubljana in 2011: Artist Marion Laval-Jeantet would turn herself into a proverbial guinea pig allowing herself to be injected with horse blood plasma containing the entire spectrum of foreign immunoglobulins (glycoproteins that circulate in the blood serum) – but she would refuse a transfusion towards the actual animal, because she would not know whether the horse would agree, and how to respond. In their famous Internet pop tube What does the Fox say, Norwegian comedian duo Ylvis mischievously asks: “If you meet a friendly horse, will you communicate by mo-o-o-o-orse?”

Certainly not only for myself, one of the most inspirational philosophical treatises about animality is Jacques Derrida’s text The Animal That Therefore I Am (More to Follow) in which the questions both of naming animals ‘animals’ and of how so-called animals may respond become central. “Animal is a word that men have given themselves the right to give. These humans are found giving it to themselves, this word, but as if they had received it as an inheritance.” Naming – really contamination, or filiation, then? And further: “All the philosophers […] say the same thing: the animal is without language. Or more precisely unable to respond, to respond with a response that could be precisely and rigorously distinguished from a reaction, the animal is without the right and power to ‘respond’ and hence without many other things that would be the property of man.” What does it mean to name a living being that is, not unusual for dogs, eight weeks old and still un named when it changes its ‘owner’ entitled to say ‘my dog’? Nomen est omen, you write, but for whom? More to follow…

I follow you, indeed, in your desire to deconstruct what you often have been addressing in our previous discussions as “the fascist system of dog breeding”, with its pedigree obsessions and restrictive nomenclature when it comes to the mandatory letters – L – to employ when giving names to the offspring of a same litter. Lovelace Laelaps sounds like a cynical and resolutely post-Linnaean binominal nomenclature. And the feminist evocation of British mathematician and writer Ada Lovelace in the context of a non-linear pack, with her reputation to have conceived the first algorithm supposed to be carried out by a calculating machine, appear to me as reminiscent when Donna Haraway, in When species meet, illustrates her writings with a cartoon in which the American Association of Lapdogs gathers in order to contrive a strategy to combat their worst enemy – the laptop !

Your Laelaps mythological dog that always gets her catch, in paradoxical competition with the Teumessian fox who always manages to escape, point more generally to the role of animal allegories in human mythology, and often in paradoxes. Think also of paradoxes such as those of Zeno of Elea. In order to defend the doctrine of Parmenides, whereby any proof of the senses is misleading, he played with words and used fallacious arguments. One of the best known of Zeno of Elea’s paradoxes is the one about Achilles who, although reputedly fleet-footed, would never be able to overtake a tortoise after generously giving it a few meters head-start – something disproved by the simplest of real-life experiments. Time, motion, and infinity did not as yet seem to be important variables at the time of Greek geometry and, despite the unacceptable conclusion it led to, the reasoning looked valid, without it being obvious just where the fallacy lay. We shall come back to this, for the two ways of solving these conundrums set in the form of paradoxes also happen to be the ones we are interested in in art: thought or action, thought and action. With regard to such ancient and almost eternal sophistry, we find two types of epistemological reaction: on the one hand that of logicians, starting out from the actual logic of known elements, and who demand that one distinction be drawn between levels of language, and another between  the subject of the utterance and the subject of the statement; and on the other hand, a more pragmatic, common sense attitude, like that attributed to Diogenes the Cynic, who, on being presented with the paradoxical argument against the existence of movement, made no answer but… just walked away. You remind us that the name cynic actually derives from the Ancient Greek kynikos, dog-like, since the cynics were insulted ‘as dogs’ because they proudly rejected conventions to provoke alternative thought.

However, you write that both your Scottish Border Collie Lord Byron and Lady Lovelace Laelaps are meant to be “non-human symbols” between artistic and natural-scientific, possibly molecular, logics. Are we sure? ‘What does the Dog say?’ While in the tradition of the un-discipline of biosemiotics – one of the reasons for me coming to do research in Denmark – the concept of interpretation is not a human exclusivity, claiming that all biological systems have sign relationships that are constantly being interpreted, the symbolic, however, seems to be a sign of high semiotic complexity. As biosemiotician Jesper Hoffmeyer writes, “humans possess the ability to communicate and think via symbolic references, while all other organisms seem to be limited to iconic and indexical referencing”, according to the sign trichotomy established by Charles Sanders Peirce. In this sense, I’m extremely curious how your other senses are now becoming engaged in your bodily relationship of hybrid m/otherhood.