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Anomalous Composition: A Horror in Video

Robert Leston


Recent work in philosophy and rhetorical-cultural studies has begun to turn towards the notion that humans and objects share an equivalent ontological status, a turn consistent with the question of the animal (Barnett, 2010; Morton, 2011). This project begins by asking, given the speeds of its technological advancements, to what extent does humanity seek to eradicate its own inhuman nature? Since the pre-Socratics, the human has been defined as zoon logon echon, the animal whose being is essentially delineated by his ability to speak (Heidegger, 1992). This concern with the uses of language has resulted in what Deleuze and Guattari (1987) called "humankind's fundamental neurosis," the will to interpret, or what they call the "interpretosis of the priest."

Interpretation follows the formula, "You said X, but what you really mean is Y," and is carried out in order to make a unity, to deny the truth of the thing and to transfigure it so that it conforms to an idea. Thus, the Jew, Negro, savage, woman, dog, child, cow, chicken, statement, and dream are never complete in and of themselves. I will argue that such an act of interpretation is an act of cruelty grounded on identification with humanity, an identification that is ordered upon the rigorous denial of the human's animal desires and passions that immanently unfold from the will to power and thus give birth to the human.

Historically, to be human means to deny our animal natures. For Deleuze and Guattari, overcoming this denial is a matter of becoming-animal, a mode of becoming that leads to the celebrated disappearance of the human and a becoming-imperceptible. In an age of carbon footprints and cultural narcissism, Deleuze and Guattari have much to offer scholars and pedagogues interested in using writing as a way of discovering the inventional force of the inhuman aspects that humanity has historically attempted to deny.


Man is said to be made in the image of God; what is called in Latin, Imago Dei. When secularized, Imago Dei reverts back to Protagoras's "man is the measure of all things." And so, following the authority of the father, when man looks out upon the open, he measures others against his own image. This Protagorean Imago Dei is tragic in the area of psychoanalysis for Deleuze and Guattari, and leads to what they call "humankind's fundamental neurosis," the will to interpret, or what they call the "interpretosis of the priest." Interpretation follows the formula, "You said X, but what you really mean is Y," and is carried out in order to make a unity, to deny the truth of the thing and to transfigure it so that it conforms to an idea.

In 1910, Sergei Pankeiev, a twenty-three year-old Russian, came to Freud suffering from neurosis and acute anxiety. The course of the analysis took years, but the key to unlocking Pankeiv's troubles was the dream of the wolves he had at the age of four. In his dream, he was lying in bed when the window to his room was suddenly thrust open. He saw six or seven "quite white" wolves sitting in the branches of the large walnut tree out the window. The wolves remained quite still in the tree, sitting and staring directly at Pankeiev. Fearing that he would be eaten, Pankeiv screamed in a panic and awoke from the dream.

In the written history to this famed case of the so-called Wolf Man, Freud revealed the dream work of his analysis, a project that was truly inventive in nature. An elaborate apparatus built on conjecture designed to substantiate his theory of the castration complex. In an effort to cure Sergei Pankeiv.

To do so, Freud began by asking what was the secret to the dream? When Sergei was 18 months old, he became sick with malaria. Freud believed that while he was sick, he must have been made to sleep in his parents' chambers and that while in their room, he must have witnessed his parent having sex, atergo, or doggy-style. What is since come to be known as the primal scene. Freud believed that Sergei recognized that this act must have been an act of violence against his mother who was being punished for some previous misdeed. From the years between the primal scene and the night of the dream this scene remained latent in the patient and would occasionally reveal itself in the form of the wolf-phobia. In the end, Sergei's fear of wolves actually meant that he was afraid that his father was going to castrate him.

This kind of transcendental interpretation functions to make the rest of the world conform to the human's image of it. Imago dei becomes Imago ego, ego the Latin for I. In imago ego, the Jew, Negro, savage, woman, dog, child, cow, chicken, statement, and dream are never complete in and of themselves because they lack, from the point of view of our ego-centered ontology and cultural narcissism, what it means to be human.

Compare this perspective of civilized humans to how so-called uncivilized people have seen themselves and their surroundings. Consider the theme of indigenous logic that says that asking for more than a person can use might incur misfortune. The Waswanipi Cree, a tribe in the Canadian Boreal forest, learned to use rotational hunting so that the moose populations would be continually replenished. They believed that the moose willingly surrendered its life for the community, and so they honored that sacrifice by killing the moose swiftly and performing ceremonies over the kill to release the animal's spirit back to the forest. Like almost all indigenous peoples, their food supplies and their related ecologies were considered sacred.

Compare our factory farms.

Likewise, the Ojibwa (Chippewa) believed hoarding materials and food to be an affront to the community. This belief system de-emphasizes wealth because wealth exceeds the needs for life. The Muscogee Creek believed that excess became the potential for … envy, jealousy, and wrong doing. Because many tribal societies saw themselves as a component in the natural ecology, they saw no significant difference between man and animal, certainly not a distinction based on speech. In fact, for the aboriginals the challenge is to use language so that it is consistent with the expression of the surround; we are not zoon logon echon, the creature whose being is determined by his ability to speak; rather, as Black Elk puts it, we are the two-leggeds; our ability to speak is the way we happen to speak. Imago dei does not apply here. Nor does imago ego. For the natives as for Zarathustra, the animals guide us.

Nietzsche, whose influence on Deleuze and Guattari cannot be overstated, announces in a particularly famous passage in Beyond Good and Evil that his task is to strip away the "vain and overly enthusiastic interpretations . . . that have been scrawled and painted over that eternal basic text of homo natura." Like anyone who is not naïve, Nietzsche is very careful to point out that there is no return to nature, to the animal, to the tribes, to strip away these interpretations does not erase the carvings and the scrawls they have left behind, does not take away the blood and oil that has been spilled. Thus for Deleuze and Guattari the way to translate homo natura again is not to engage arguments dialectically or to advocate for any kind of naïve return but through what Guattari calls a resingularization of subjectivity; or in other words, a reorganization of the interpretations that have been scrawled upon the body; what they sometimes call an involution or a becoming. This is not the work of priests or analysts when they wear the garb of educators. This is not the work of adding layer upon layer of interpretation. This is the work of the sorcerer. Of the witch. The demon. The Shaman. Strip away the interpretations. Sergei's dream isn't about the castration complex.

It is helpful to recall that difference between two different ways of conceptualizing desire. The one based on Kojeve's reading of the master/slave dialectic that says desire is a desire for recognition from the other. And the second desire that has nothing at all do with recognition and is based on something like the will to power, the will for desire to express itself. The first is a desire to be validated. The second is the uncontrolling act of permitting desire to do whatever desire wants to do. Claire Colebrook explains that "The desire [that Sergei] directed to the wolf is not one of possessing or regaining some object. Rather, becoming-animal "is about the desire to expand or become-other through what is more than oneself" (135).

What better definition of desire? To expand or become-other through what is more than oneself. Become composer. One does not learn to compose through imitating Beethoven's sonatas. One becomes composer by learning to feel "the inventive force" fueling them (136). D&G argue that one writes by writing like a rat.

Becoming-animal is, therefore, not a being or a having. In becoming-animal you do not wear a cat suit or imagine humans and animals as equal members of some grand ecological community where 'we' are all the same.

This is unlike our modern day, well-intentioned writing pedagogues who advocate for a writing pedagogy based on empathy, on fulfilling the student's desire for recognition so they can form stable, unified identities. By working through your trauma, your emotional blocks, your aggression, your sexuality, you'll form a stable self and get on with the business of writing. That's one approach. Lacanians know that the idea of a stable identity is a fiction. But it's a necessary one, a fantasy constructed in order to function.

Writing studies has always had its priests, those who would welcome the uninitiated into the fold provided they went through the necessary sacraments, beginning with the cleansing of original sin by ridding yourself of traces that are not the official language of the academy, the state, and corporation. It has and has had its analysts, those who would help you properly repress your desire so your ego would be whole. But with few exceptions, what writing pedagogy lacks is its sorcerers. Traditionally sorcerers don't live in the central square where the faithful come to pray or study. They don't take up residences in elegant townhouses nearby. Sorcerers traditionally live at the edge of the village, at the borderline of the woods. Haunting the fringes, they do not work through empathy but through anomaly. In the closing of their eyes, they unplug the channels of desire and watch the anomalies flow. They form alliances with witches, vampires, and black magic.

Here is desire of another kind. These wolves are not sheepdogs. Not goats. Not Mommy-Daddy-me. Not empathy. Not even human. This is another encounter. At the borderline. At the edge of the village. The damned. The vampire. Feel, in your own body, in your own writing, the animal's movements. Imagine the world as if one were a beetle or a mole.

I will leave you with a final example of a similar kind of becoming, taken again from tribal culture, this time the San people of the Kalahari desert. These people perform what is called persistent hunting, the act of chasing an animal until it dies and collapses from exhaustion. In the desert heat, such a hunt may require a day's worth of running. In itself, this hunt is a remarkable feat, but I want to draw your attention to one of their tracking methods. At times, as the hunter follows the animal, the animal may run swiftly enough so that the hunter loses the track. Based on his intimate knowledge of the mind of the species, the hunter pauses and projects himself into the body of the animal. Essentially, he uses his knowledge of the species and his imagination to determine the direction the animal must have gone. Remarkably, he is often right. Anthropologist David Attenborough describes this moment:

"The tracks have disappeared. Caroway tries to put himself in the mind of the kudu, and himself reenacts the moment when it heard him approaching as it tried to rest in the shade. He deduces the direction in which it must have fled. It's close by."

This is an act of becoming that results in both the disappearance of the human and an ethics of the inhuman. When the animal finally collapses from exhaustion, the hunter pays tribute to the animal's courage and strength by dousing it with sand in ceremonial gesture to ensure that its spirit returns to the desert sands from which it came. I would like to leave you with the final thought that says in an age of black oceans and cultural narcissism, such an act of projection and becoming-imperceptible is something that writing has the potential to deliver. But it is also an ethic that can deliver the animal natures both within ourselves and in our environments that humanity has historically attempted to deny.


Adaptation of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman" from The Shape of Jazz to Come.


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