Introduction: For an Ethology of Exhaustion

by Christoph Brunner, Halbe Kuipers, Toni Pape


Standing with the Earth From Cosmopolitical Exhaustion to Indigenous Solidarities [1]

Barbara Glowczewski - Laboratoire d'Anthropologie sociale, National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS)
Translated from French by Toni Pape and Adam Szymanski

The humans of the Earth, those in power in the 21st century, have often been classified as naturalists … They believed that there was continuity between all physiological processes from the most simple to the most complex…. You might say that in our historical moment, everybody knows that that is not true. For example, between HI (human intelligence) and AI (artificial intelligence), there is no continuity of physical processes, even if we may feel that there is continuity to techniques of reasoning or knowledge processing…. Conversely, Earthlings often perceived the various levels of self-experience to be discontinuous. (Bonefoy 2010: 454)

In the science-fiction trilogy Polynesia, an archaeologist from the future offers this analysis after exploring galactic space-time and finding a text about Descola’s four ontologies (animism, analogism, naturalism and totemism) in one of its folds (Descola 2013). The conversation between him and a friend is punctuated by the commentary of their two Biocoms, or biological telephones, a kind of external hard drive attached to humans which takes the form of a miniature animal that continuously changes its appearance, from lizard to small bird, for instance. When the archaeologist muses about a time when humans still lived on earth, “Certain groups of humans could be seen as totemistic … for them, if they had the same physiological mechanisms as their totems, which only seems rational, they may have thought they also shared a sense of self-awareness with the totem animal,” his Biocom replies by asking, “Am I your totem?” (Bonnefoy 2010: 456). In this universe, in which polymorphous biomachines reflect on their own subjectivity, the humans who discover the ontologies of days gone by begin to test—in cults—their understanding of naturalism, totemism, analogism and animism’s past definitions.

In the following essay, we are going to see that the exhaustion of the earth, of certain ontologies, and of our creative forces, are all interconnected, just as the ethico-aesthetic responses to this exhaustion are inseparable from cosmopolitics.

The Reinvention of Ontologies

Polynesia’s description of cults seems to be partly inspired by current New Age movements which draw on various Amerindian and Celtic rituals, as well as other pre-Christian practices, which some of the practitioners then recreate as pantheistic or Neopagan in order to revalourize the Earth. The inventive reinterpretation of all these rituals is often political, as is evidenced by the yearly May Day Parade in Minneapolis which celebrates the old rural tradition of the Maypole dance as much as the working-class struggle (see Linebaugh 2016 and Sheehy 1999: 79-89).

In the 2016 parade which I observed, black families dressed entirely in purple and held placards paying tribute to Prince, a famous son of the city and singer of “Purple Rain.” Other signs denounced racism and police violence in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. These black families walked side by side with Amerindian families from the North and South Americas wearing dresses adorned with feathers and sequins, and sporting placards denouncing the extractive industries that threaten their land. Other families marched with their faces and clothes painted brown like the earth, green like the forest, blue like the sea, pink like crustaceans, or multi-coloured like the many animal and plant species endangered by various kinds of pollution. The parade’s placards and banners, some of which were full of humour, also invited participants to make like an animal and jump into the procession of witches with pointed hats and brooms, slowly advancing on stilts, scooters, bikes, floats and foot. The crowd was full of joy. The parade culminated with an immense concert on the shore of a lake. The concert opened with a tribute to Mother Earth led by ten participants who represented the cultural—and spiritual—diversity of Minneapolis: a sacred fire was carried to a site consecrated to the four winds before being thrown into the lake. Then followed a dance of giant puppets among which was a Prince figure in a purple toga and others representing the Mississippi river and Mother Earth. The show, featuring classical, electronic and soul music, was interspersed with lectures conveying the repentance of civil society; admissions that it had heretofore failed to recognize the presence of Indigenous peoples, that it had abused people of colour, that it hadn’t been welcoming enough towards refugees and had not taken care of the land, but that it would commit to changing things from that moment on. Thousands of people with their children gathered together to participate in these joyful festivities, bearing witness to a form of serene conviviality that went beyond mere entertainment to offer a beacon of hope.

In his dialogue with Pierre Charbonnier, Philippe Descola notes that “one can easily sign up for a course in shamanism online or participate in New Age rituals in St. Germain forest. But that doesn’t mean that naturalism has perfectly integrated animism or analogism. Because in these cases … we’re dealing with forms emptied of their content and only the most superficial elements of these cosmological dispositifs have been conserved. From this perspective, I’m not sure that this will have a profound impact on the ongoing reorganization of naturalism” (Descola 2014: 304). Of course, the practice of rituals is not enough to shift ontologies and modes of existence towards a transformed collective milieu. In recent years, however, more and more activist movements fighting to denounce the destruction of living environments, especially due to extractive industries that precipitate climate change and pollute the air and water, are looking for alliances and sources of inspiration among peoples, such as Amerindians, that have a vision of the Earth different from one which denies Nature under the pretext that it has surrendered to human technologies. Looked at in this way, I believe that certain hybrid movements are currently reinventing at least one new form of ontology.

The accelerationist tendency of geoengineering, so well critiqued by Frédéric Neyrat (2014 and 2016), shows that Western history, by way of its colonizing development of both peoples and lands rich in resources, has come to assert that nature does not exist any longer for it has been “consumed” by the technological productions of culture. The Earth is drained, exhausted, but is perhaps not done surprising us through the descendants of those who, colonized and classified at different moments in history as animists, totemists, pantheists or pagans, today attempt to resist the technological cannibalization of nature by inviting us to see her, nature, as living in constant spiritual interaction with human beings. Even the proposition of rewilding or renaturalizing parks, which includes photo safaris of “protected” animals, only imagines an artificialized nature. Similarly, safaris of human populations enclosed and exploited on reserves are offered in all parts of the world and illustrate the arrogance behind a conception of nature as something to be mastered or conquered (Glowczewski 2015). This sort of arrogance was further confirmed during the conversation between Bruno Latour (presented as a sociologist rather than anthropologist) and architect Rem Koolhaas at the “Nuit des Idées au quai d’orsay” (Night of Ideas at Quai d’Orsay) on January 27, 2016. The two interlocutors both affirmed that the planet Earth no longer had an exteriority because it had been entirely urbanized or impacted by the conditions that allow for urbanization. By contrast, whether it is the multinaturalist perspectivism invoked by Viveiros de Castro with regard to Amerindians, the reticular cosmogeography of Australian Aboriginals with whom I have been working for more than thirty-seven years, or those of various shamanisms from all parts of the world, these points of “seeing,” as Deligny used to say, and the relation between interior and exterior they articulate, do not fall within the Western “perspective” limited to a reappropriation of the Earth’s surface as a foundation for construction and drilling.

This form of materialism, which thinks the planet as a surface to be mined, a spacecraft to continuously reconfigure, and which no longer knows any exteriority, is fundamentally different not only from shamanic ontologies, whether they be of Northern or Southern Amerindian or of Australian Aboriginal provenance, but also from ontologies that have been reconfigured by both Indigenous peoples and activists, as well as all those who try to experience the fact that we can be inhabited or traversed by exteriorities. These kinds of ontological exteriorities arise from other types of materiality which assume that spirit is not just interior to a body but multiplied across visible or invisible spaces. To accept these kinds of transversalities is the condition of a convivial relation not only with the Earth but any milieu inhabited by humans, those “from here” and those who come from “elsewhere,” be they migrants and asylum seekers or spirits. To be inhabited or traversed by exteriorities does not speak to some kind of transcendence. On the contrary, it means to recognize immanence within oneself. For Australian Aboriginals, this immanence of exteriority is lived in the way every birth of a human is related to the incarnation of a spirit of the Earth; throughout their entire lives, Aboriginal men and women actualize in themselves other spirits that are shared with different totems, or Dreamings, jukurpa as the Walpiri and their desert neighbours say. In other words, totemism does not here resolve itself in a continuity of resemblance between an individual and an animal—“I am like this snake which is at ease everywhere it goes, which can live both in the water and on firm ground … like the snake I avoid confrontations.…” (Jowandi Wayne Barker: personal communication). Instead of a unique and essentialized attribute, each person is an assemblage of several contextualized analogies, of relations that change throughout the course of life, with a singular constellation of totems or Dreamings. A given animal or plant, the rain, the wind or fire are lived as multiple virtualities in a process of becoming that is context dependent, in humans as well as nonhumans, and terrestrial and extraterrestrial sites considered as a partial materialization of a trace, an emanation or an organ of a given totem. That is why I speak of Totemic Becomings and the Cosmopolitics of the Dreaming (Glowczewski 2016). Every man or woman is the guardian of a constellation of Dreamings for which he or she has the responsibility of regularly celebrating rituals which consist of mapping the sites and itineraries of each Dreaming through body paintings, songs and dances; a responsibility which stems from each person being recognized as a mutable manifestation of a given Dreaming which corresponds to them, either by his or her own design (as revealed in a dream), by inheritance from the family group, or through alliances created over the course of their life.

In light of this, the tragedy that constitutes the destruction of a sacred site does not only result from the fact that a totemic site is “an ontological incubator, i.e. the site where the identity of the members of a collective is formed in very concrete ways, the common root for a group of humans and nonhumans” (Descola 2014: 328). Each of these sites negotiates virtual relations with other sites (other humans and other beings). To destroy a site associated with any given totem amounts to endangering other sites and their guardians: all those who are connected to the same “line” of Dreaming, the Songline that links hundreds of sites spanning an ancestral totemic people, and all the sites belonging to other totemic lines which intersect the path of the endangered site. I have said elsewhere that access to the spacetime of Dreaming within those sites was “holographic” (in the sense proposed by Roy Wagner): through each sacred site one can virtually access the other sites (Glowczewski 1991). This holographic capacity indicates that everything is related as in an open mega-ecosystem or cosmosystem: everything that affects a site or one of its human or nonhuman becomings can have an impact on all that is living and the forces of the universe. The rituals celebrating the Dreamtime journeys contribute to the caretaking of sites belonging to these reticulum, but also other lifelines that it encounters. To dance for the Rain Dreaming, for instance, is also to take care of animals and plants that are in need of rain. To sing to a plant is to care for the animal that feeds on this plant and for all the unborn children whose totemic becomings will be the Dreaming of this plant, or the animal which feeds on it.

It is important to note that this gigantic meshwork of Dreamlines is not fixed. Apart from the “accidents” or events that make up the features of a rugged landscape, which do need to be considered, the ways of moving through it change according to the seasons and the climate which continuously transform the landscape. Australian mythical stories even account for transformations of a geological scale: the Fire Dreaming, for instance, refers to the ancient volcanoes and uranium deposits; the Kangaroo Dreaming evokes the marsupial megafauna that have long gone extinct on the continent; while the Emu Dreaming of the Northern Coast at the Indian Ocean accounts for paw prints recognized by specialists as belonging to diverse species of dinosaurs. Today, astrophysicists study the so-called mythical narratives about meteors that fell from the sky to leave sacred craters. Similarly, all coastal groups of Aboriginals relate stories about the continent’s flooding and the subsequent separation of approximately 4000 islands which presently surround continental Australia, a geological event that has been dated by a team of geologists as 7000 years old (Gough 2015, Glowczewski and Laurens 2015).

This kind of interconnection between sacred sites and vital forces can also be found in the Xapiri’s spiderweb of shamanic spirit paths which, according to the wonderful account by Yanomami Davi Kopenawa, traverse the Amzonian forest like a network that is invisible to the naked eye but sparkles like a crystal for the shamans (Davi Kopenawa and Albert 2013; see also Viveiros de Castro 2007). There are as many Xapiri paths as there are birds, plants or other forms of biodiversity. So for Indigenous people and numerous other alarmed voices, the streets and great dams which redirect rivers risk the destruction of the multiple paths that link all living forms. Stripped of its biodiversity, the forest has already been partially transformed into savannahs or deserts where human and nonhuman inhabitants of these lands suffer, increasingly due to the pollution of local waters with mercury (used in gold mining) and other contaminants such as oil. Scientists, for their part, have been able to demonstrate that the disappearance of oxygen due to the local destruction of the forest severely threatens the rest of our environments across the planet (Werf, G. R. van der, et al. 2009).


In relation to the survival of human and nonhuman populations, the affirmation of the interconnectivity of sites traversed by ancestral traces and tracings that are both material and spiritual, visible and invisible, can be found as a critical issue in all the ontologies that Descola distinguishes (totemic, animist, analogist, or even naturalist). I for one believe that common practices make it possible to bring certain ontological traits, traits of singularity as Guattari would say, closer together in a way that doesn’t deny their diversity. For instance, some groups that Descola distinguishes according to his ontological categories (Australians as totemists and Amazonians as animists) are less different when one looks at their shamanic practices. In the same way, certain Indigenous conceptions of intersubjectivity that associate the self, others (human or not) and the environment in extended relations of aliveness create a new form of ontological “commons”: such a process of subjectification can offer a response to the current challenges of global climate change and social injustice, a posture that is radically opposed to the one held by those responsible for these threats or those who speculate on accelerationism and transhumanism (Srnicek and Williams 2013). [2]

In the 1960s and 70s, a new appreciation of Indigenous peoples crystallized in a valourization of nature shared by the so-called hippie movement, groups advocating vegetarian and later GMO-free diets, and philosophies of organic architecture. In part, this new appreciation grew out of various Indigenous struggles to affirm a mode of existence in close spiritual relation with the environment, a struggle that passed through claims for land rights and land use. Thus in 1983 the Arrernte women of the Alice Springs region held that the construction of a dam that would destroy Welatye Therre or “Two Breasts,” their sacred site related to mother’s milk, imperilled the fertility and nursing quality of not only the site’s guardian women, but also of women from other linguistic groups who guard the Dreamline that connects this site to other places from Southern Australia all the way to the Tiwi Islands in the North. Furthermore, these guardians of Arrernte land and law insisted that the breastfeeding and fertility of all the women living on the Australian continent would be affected by the destruction of the site. They then received massive support from other women, Aboriginal and otherwise, and well as Australian and international feminist movements.

At the time, these protests were successful in protecting the site and I evoked this example in a 1984 article entitled “Les tribus du rêve cybernétique” (“The Tribes of the Cybernetic Dream”). New digital technologies that were then invented in California tried to combine a set of values respectful of the Earth with the notion of generalized interconnection. That is what seduced Félix Guattari and Gilles Deleuze in their writings which were later taken up by many practitioners and thinkers of cyberspace.

SF and Slow Anthropology

We can ask ourselves if the Aboriginal notion of the Dreaming, which links society and nature by energetic self-referential feedback loops, does not offer a philosophy adapted to our epoch in search of theories concerning matter and energy. The fascination that Aboriginal people provoke (among some people) is probably part of this intuition. We are close to a science fiction universe when we think that these peoples have survived 40,000 years of the Earth’s geographical transformations and that they speak today of sacred sites where we find petroleum and uranium. Aboriginal people say that we must not destroy these energies, because they are part of a vast regulatory cycle that gives meaning to the life and death of humans. Thus it is with as much ease as detachment (which troubles our evolutionary values) that they adopt all of the material goods that our technological cornucopia proposes: houses, cars, and media can be used, they say, but the most important is to keep contact with the energies of the Earth and the Dreaming.… In American military bases isolated in the desert, engineers sometimes have peculiar visions. For example, the vision of an Aboriginal man would appear out of nowhere in the computer room, then evaporate, but not before saying in a cavernous voice, that they must cease what they are doing there…. (Glowczewski 1984: 162)

When I wrote this in 1984, Félix Guattari suggested that I read Vico, Whitehead and Simondon, and to use the notion of “singularity” to translate the Aboriginal understanding of energy as “image-forces that actualize and re-virtualize themselves through ritual in order to distinguish this from the non-renewable energies produced by humans. [3] The rumours of Dreaming voices haunting the US bases of the Central Australian desert inspired Wim Wenders to direct his 1991 science fiction film set at the end of the 21st Century entitled Until the End of the World. With a nuclear satellite having lost control, the film tells of an eccentric scientist who is obsessed with controlling time through the technological visualization of dreams, and works in a secret laboratory in the Australian desert where he experiments on the brains of his wife, his son’s partner Claire and even on himself, up until the point of total exhaustion: the death of his wife, the delirious fixations of Claire and the final destruction of the research base.

The generalized interconnectivity and transversality of human and nonhuman, animal and machinic subjectivities that Deleuze and Guattari theorized in their writings is today—it seems to me—sometimes misunderstood by those who use them to support transhumanism and those who cite them all the while reproaching Deleuze and Guattari for legitimizing a “geo-engineering” that aims to modify the climate rather than change our modes of existence in relation to the milieu. Of course, we do not know what they would say with regards to the evolution of the world since the 1990s. But I do not think that Deleuze and Guattari would support absurd geo-engineering projects since these projects fundamentally fall outside what they valued and defended most: the responsible and ethical influence of the micropolitical on the macropolitical, creative of dissensus. [4] Evidence of this, amongst others, is the particular interest that Félix Guattari expressed in the Walpiri people’s relationship to dreams when he read my thesis in 1983, which nourished his cartography of four semiotic types in mutual tension with one another.

- semiotics of subjectification (including architecture, town planning, public amenities, etc.) operate like existential territories (real and virtual). - techno-scientific semiologies, (plans, diagrams, programs, studies, research) operate like machinic phylums (actual and possible). - economic semiotics (monetary, financial, and accountancy mechanisms)  operate like Flows (actual and real). - juridical semiotics (property deeds, various legislative measures and regulations) operate like incorporeal universes of value (possible and virtual). (Guattari 2000: 48)

Later, Deleuze cited my book Du rêve à la loi chez les Aborigènes (From Dream to Law Among Aboriginal people) with regards to the cartographic relation between the imaginary and the real: “This is why the imaginary and the real must be, rather, like two juxtaposable or superimposable parts of a single trajectory, two faces that ceaselessly interchange with one another. Thus the Australian Aboriginals link nomadic itineraries to dream voyages, which together compose ‘an interstitching of routes,’ in an immense cut-out [découpe] of space and time that must be read like a map” (Deleuze 1997: 63). From the perspective of transversal assemblages of singularities, the Aboriginal approach to reticular thinking allowed me to explore their multiple relations to space and time as a cosmopolitics, in the sense that Isabelle Stengers defines the term (Stengers 2005). Contrary to the cosmopolitanism promoted by Bernard Henry Lévy and Guy Scarpetta in 1981 who went to war against all claims for identity or territory [5], for Stengers, the notion of the cosmopolitical is inspired as much by her critique of scientific disenchantment, as by the emergence of new alliances, such as those forged between the ecofeminists and the movement of Wiccan witches, who have revived an interest in the reenchantment of a political world equally anchored in the body, mind and flesh, as well as in mineral, vegetal and atmospheric matter (Stengers 2011).

Wenders’ film, where the scientist does not understand the creative breadth of Aboriginal dream-work, as well as the novel Polynesia, where the cults fall back onto ontological categories that become caricatural, stay within a certain science fiction tradition where science and its technological fantasies are the main motor of dramatic intrigue. Quentin Meillassoux opposes this literary tradition, in the name of a certain speculative realism, to what he calls a science fiction “outside science,” as the only path to imagine other worlds (Meillassoux 2015). In its own way, this notion of science fiction “outside science” refuses the accelerationist logic of the sciences and echoes what Isabelle Stengers calls “slow science.” She elaborates the idea through the polysemic notion of “SF,” which for Donna Haraway can be equally read as “science fiction,” “scientific fact,” or “string figures” (in reference to the figures made during string games) (Haraway 2013 et 2015). Stengers explains that the correlations at work in “slow” scientific reasoning correspond to the necessary correlations for passing from one string figure to another, a passage which always implies a relation, as the input of one person’s hands changes the string figure held by the other. The process implied in the transformations of these figures is an image (but not a metaphor) for expressing what Stengers calls speculative gestures that can “slowly and softly” change reality (Stengers 2015). I accept her invitation to think how the “slow” social sciences could create the conditions to promote string figures as well as science fiction. “The plea of Whitehead regarding the task of universities thus also aimed at a ‘slowing down’ of science, which is the necessary condition for thinking with abstractions and not obeying to abstractions.… I would then characterize slow science as the demanding operation which would reclaim the art of dealing with, and learning from, what scientists too often consider messy, that is, what escapes general, so called objective, categories” (Stengers 2011 : 6-7 et 10). A science fiction “outside science” joins in its own way the “slowing down” of science: at the level of anthropology it offers one way to break out of causal and exclusive reasoning that traps us in the sciences, exhausting our power to imagine other worlds, and other ontologies for living on this Earth.

An example of a science fiction “outside science” that invites one to think another liveable world here and now, and that changes the relationship to time and “objective” categories of exclusion (between races, species, and spiritual phenomena), seems at work in the recent television series Cleverman created by Australian Aboriginal filmmakers Ryan Griffen and Wayne Blair, whose title references the Australian medicine men (see Burke 2016 and Griffen 2016). The series stars a young Aboriginal man as its hero who inherits a superpower allowing him—in spite of his initial rejection of it—to intervene in an Australia where strange beings from another dimension, called “the hairy people,” are sequestered behind a security wall or locked in prison. These characters hark back to ancestral monsters from the Dreaming that are present in the mythology of several Aboriginal groups in Australia. But the series chooses to incarnate them in the role of a “prehuman” minority that has been given the right to live amongst humans. In the series, the acceptance of the Hairy men and women (monsters who scared Aboriginals long before they appeared in the science-fiction series) stands in for an acceptance of Australia’s diverse peoples: Aboriginals, whites, and the waves of other migrants from the Pacific, Asia or Africa, as much as the refugees and asylum seekers. The Hairy people are “monsters” and their traits resemble the Neanderthals, the ancestors of man. [6] The fantastical cinema of superheros has garnered extreme popularity the world over, particularly amongst youth who “recognize themselves” in it, not just as if they share in a popular culture but more as if they themselves participate in the refounding of a veritable mythology. It is not a question of creating a monolithic culture, but of valourizing possibilities for human and nonhuman diversity where different spaces and times intermix. We cannot underestimate the subjectifying force of these stories since they circulate across the world. The truth of their impact cannot be evaluated by separating their form (films, video games, costumes and accessories) from their content, and pretending to define this content as the basis for the ontology of a society or a religion. The popularity of superheros and other human-nonhuman hybrids (demons, zombies, vampires, werewolves, humanoid robots or clones, aliens, etc.) must be understood beyond their symbolic efficacy or the autheniticty of their foundation. Something asignifying about them, in the Guattarian sense, puts intensities and collective assemblages of enunciation into play that act and traverse subjectivities, creating a complicity, a shared world that could elicit a new mode of collective existence. An activist mockumentary shot in black and white featured an Aboriginal man in a superman costume named Superboong—a reappropriated insult—who intervenes against racism and injustice (see “The Rise of the Aboriginal Superhero”). The invention of worlds proposed by superheros participates in the production of new myths whose wide visibility gives rise to a new “cultural patrimony”; an SF interactive imaginary with a real role for youth, that also produces new forms of subjectification reinforced by the way the audience comments on all of this and actualises it in their lives using social media. For instance, JK Rowling, the author of Harry Potter is currently being criticized on Twitter for supporting Donald Trump’s rhetoric on free speech, and has also come under recent scrutiny from Native Americans for the way she uses their mythology in her latest book and film.

In this context, an Aboriginal auteur’s use of the TV series format to develop a Cleverman superhero, who has a white mother and refuses to accept his father’s ancestry of Aboriginal medicine men until he finally decides to accept the superpowers and become an avenger of justice in a contemporary urban landscape, reflects an ontological strategy in the ecosophic sense of Félix Guattari, in that it is at once aesthetically, ethically and politically critical (a strategy that knots the mental, social and environmental ecologies, in a milieu that is equally technical and natural). If university criticism with respect to superhero films can exhaust or exhaust itself in academic rhetoric, just like many films of this genre that incessantly repeat stereotypes, this Aboriginal s director’s reappropriation of them invites us, rather, to imagine and produce new ontological alliances.

Ecosophy and Indigenous Alliances

They open the door for us so that we can enter but they close their heart and mind and plug their ears. What can we do? Plenty of things, even a hunger strike. But there is one thing we must never do: We must never give up our rights, never!! ("Bonne nouvelle de l’ONU”)

These are the concluding words of a text written in 2004 during a hunger strike at the United Nations by seven Indigenous delegates—including Alexis Tiouka, a Kali’na activist from French Guiana. [7] The hunger strike is yet another ecosophic type of ontological strategy that accompanies the struggles of Indigenous people. In 2007, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was signed by all countries except four—Australia, the United States, New Zealand and Canada—who all later decided to support the declaration after changes in government. In 2008, Australia and Canada held large national ceremonies to ask their Aboriginal populations to pardon the abuses they have suffered, such as the forced separation of children from their families. The very same year in Ecuador, then in 2009 in Bolivia, the principle of Buen vivir (living well) was adopted into the constitutions of these two countries recognizing “the rights of nature” associated with Pachamama, the name of an Andean goddess revered by the Amerindians of the Amazon and other members of these countries, including Christians. Figures such as Pachamama, “by their political-symbolic dimension, their hybrid position between nature and culture, and their utility in spreading the revolutionary message, can be sufficiently large to hold various cosmologies within them.… A prime example is how movements which are sometimes opposed to one another, such as urban feminism and the trade unionism of rural women, or Indigenous animists and analogists, by converging around Pachamama and the rights of women, have been able to ally their positions on a number of points” (Landivar and Ramillien 2015: 36).

In 2010, at Cochabamba in Bolivia, 35,000 delegates from 45 countries signed the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth that has for its preamble “that we are all part of Mother Earth, an indivisible, living community of interrelated and interdependent beings with a common destiny” (“Universal Declaration”). [8] Mobilization around this declaration also proposes amendments to the Rome Statute of the Criminal Court that would recognize the crime of “ecocide.” [9] The internationalizing of the concept of Pachamama as the “maternal spirit of the Earth,” like Indigenous reappropriation of superheroes in TV series, shows the impact of new mythologies and rituals as active not only during a performance at the UN, but as tools that traverse the daily lives of all of the Earth’s actors. This impact of the large scale recosmopoliticization of ancient and local cosmological concepts stimulates the virtuality of new subjectivities and ontologies that function differently depending on the circumstances. In addition to its spiritual sense, for some, the Pachamama ceremony for Mother Earth or Mother Nature is a political protocol comparable to the Maori haka danced by New Zealand’s sports teams (or the mao’hi from French Polynesia, executed by various overseas bodies during the Bastille Day parade in 2011) or the national anthems that reference the God of Christianity even when one part of the country’s population is not Christian. But in contrast to national, and even nationalist rituals, the Pachamana ceremony is a transnational proposition that extends the recognition of the living above and beyond the human.

At the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues held in New York during May 2016, along with the rest of the audience, I took part in the Pachamama ceremony that opened a session on the condition of Indigenous women that was followed by a number of declarations and recommendations to states, including a letter from Ecuadorian women to China, denouncing its destruction of their lands and livelihood by oil, gas and large hydraulic dam projects. Here again, the local approach of a community from Ecuador, that addresses itself to the Chinese state and a transnational company, echoes the problems faced by the Aboriginals of Australia, particularly those from the northwest of Kimberly where the Chinese have bought land and become the largest landowner in Australia in order to undertake a massive shale gas fracking project. As has now been revealed, not only have the two companies corrupted some Australian political representatives with astronomical sums of money, but the continent that partly depends on this region’s water is under the threat of a complete drought (Cole 2016).

The Kimberly groups in Australia are engaged in a soil “cleansing” program, a term used to describe the traditional practice of controlled small bush fires during the wet season that prevents good plants from being overrun by weeds that are susceptible during the dry season to wildfires which destroy everything on their path for hundreds of kilometres. [10] Scientists needed time to understand the wisdom of this ancient practice that today is encouraged by all of the natural parks that hire Aboriginal men and women for their knowledge. The strategy has proven itself to be an impressive way to cut carbon emissions which are exceedingly high in Australia due to—amongst other reasons—fires that ravage the continent each year. It is promoted as a model that can be exported and it qualifies for what is called REDD+ (Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation), a form of monetary compensation for carbon emission reducers, in this case Aboriginals represented by the KLC (Kimberly Land Council), but also their sponsor, Shell, which thus appears to be cleared of the emissions caused by its extractive activities. [11]

During the COP 21 (2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference), diverse official and unofficial meetings discussed the ambiguity of REDD+ and the trap of “commodifying” nature. Certain communities don’t have any choice but to participate in the REDD+ programs that at least allows them to stay in the forest in a process of permanently negotiating with the resource extraction companies. But Indigenous peoples are increasingly looking to replace these accords with collective land-based programs that inherently oppose extractivist industries, from fossil fuels to renewable energies, as well as large scale dams, falsely presented by some as a “clean” solution even though they destroy the ecosystems by diverting the river networks that maintain the forest’s biodiversity. As the Alliance of Mother Nature’s Guardians underline in their text, if the Indigenous peoples are the guardians of the forest, rivers and roots, their ethnocide also constitutes an act of “ecocide” (Alliance des Gardiens de Mère Nature 2015: 163). [12] Through these sorts of transplanetary meetings, new awarenesses are formed and new alliances forged. That is not to say that all differences are flattened in an ecumenical mould. In fact, the different Indigenous speakers at the UN insist on their respective singularities but allow themselves to compare their respective practices to build bridges and find common solutions to issues that affect the entire planet, and call us to change our economy and lifestyles.

The political importance of these alternative modes of existence to our present ways is confirmed by the fact that Indigenous leaders are often threatened. What may appear to some to be anecdotal or exotic forms of resistance, when put into practice on the ground, become sufficiently threatening to the giants—mining companies and other powers—who try to get rid of these little Davids, first with money, destruction, and child abduction, as recently seen in Mexico, or with assassinations, like those of the Guarani in Brazil or of ecological activists, like Berta Cáceres, leader of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) (see “Environmental and Indigenous Rights Leader Murdered in Honduras”). In conclusion, it seems vital that an ecosophic ontology reinvents itself from day to day, to support Indigenous peoples in their ontological becomings that they continuously redefine in synch with new transnational and transdiscipLinary alliances that resist and confront other international economic and financial alliances that destroy the planet and all that lives—and stands—on and with it.



[1] Translated from a talk given at Earth Day 2.0: How Not to Eat the Earth, 9 June 2016, EHESS:

[2] See also Matteo Pasquinelli’s “The Labour of Abstraction. Seven Transitional Theses on Marxism and Accelerationism” and Frédéric Neyrat’s comment on it in Multitudes 56.

[3] The text “Espaces de rêve. Les Warlpiri, séminaires 1983 et 1985,” originally published in Chimères 1, is now translated into English in Totemic Becomings (Glowczewski 2015: 43-72).

[4] An approach very different from Bateson’s consensual conflict resolution is found in Félix Guattari’s late lecture “Producing a culture of dissensus: heterogenesis and an aesthetic paradigm” (Guattari 1991).

[5] See Lévy’s “Le fascisme à la française” and Scarpetta’s  “Le cosmopolitisme, encore, plus que jamais” in Art Presse 45 (1981) and my response in Art Presse 47 (1981), page 2.

[6] This is far from what the Breakthrough institute, reinforced by Latour’s “Love Your Monsters,” calls for: manmade technological products.

[7] The hunger strike signatories include: Adelard Blackman, Buffalo River Dene Nation, Canada; Andrea Carmen, Yaqui Nation, Arizona, Etats-Unis; Alexis Tiouka, Kaliña, Guyane française; Charmaine White Face, Ogala Tetuwan, Sioux Nation Territory, Amérique du Nord; Danny Billie, Traditional Independent Seminole Nation of Florida, Etats-Unis; Saul Vicente, Zapoteca, Mexique. See Tiouka 2015 and 2016.

[8] Article 12:
“Human beings have the responsibility of respecting, protecting, preserving, and if necessary, restoring the integrity of the cycles and equilibriums that are essential to the Earth, and of putting precautionary and restrictive measures in place in order to avoid the human activities that lead to the extinction of species, the destruction of ecosystems or the alteration of ecological cycles.” See also:

[9] In 2014 the “Charter of Brussels” officially asked for the establishment of an International Criminal Court of the Environment and of Health: “The Charter introduces Environmental crime as a crime against Humanity and calls for the recognition of this principle by the United Nations”


[10] See and

[11] “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) is an effort to create a financial value for the carbon stored in forests, offering incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from forested lands and invest in low-carbon paths to sustainable development” (

[12] See also article 6 in the same publication and Glowczewski 2016.



Works Cited

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Daily Research: A Burial History of Exhaustion

Sissel Marie Tonn  

↓ It is an oddly shaped rock wrapped in tinfoil and twine, then enclosed in orange wax. Hiding for years on the dark shelves in a corner of the core sample storage warehouse, a fine layer of dust testifies that no human hands have touched it for a long time. Moist pebbles are trapped inside the skin-like layer of wax. At a glimpse of the eye, the core sample looks like a piece of meat at a butcher’s shop.

↓ I am lying on the cold concrete floor. I let my fingers run across the wax and grab it firmly with my left hand. It is a grasp quite unlike that of touching another person, yet doubtlessly with some kind of hopeful intensity, probably akin to that of handling a talisman or another magical object. I focus on the hard surface of the rock in an attempt to regain my balance and fend off the burst of nausea that hit me just minutes ago. I imagine its impenetrable, rocky core and mentally induce its steadiness into my own dissident guts. On the upper left side of my head I feel this hot vibrating sensation, like a trace left on the inside of my skull, shaped by the blow of a city bus mirror. A strange itch, perhaps resembling the feeling of having a phantom limb—a place which you cannot scratch.

↓ I practice becoming still as a rock. I freeze my limbs flat against the floor. I force my eyes still, freeze the movement of the images flowing by behind the eyelids, like a film coming to a clean stop in the midst of a rolling motion. I picture one single monolithic core sample hovering in dark space. It is pristine like “The Blue Marble,” the last picture taken by human hands of the earth from space. This will help. I stop breathing, and hear the blood raging louder past my eardrums. The tense pull of my eyes seem to slowly dissolve. When I open my eyes I am able to focus once again on a still point at the ceiling. Earlier that day the neurologist had asked me to walk up and down the floor in a straight line. Then he asked me to follow the movement of his fingers. Left to right and back. From center to periphery. He pinched my arms as he asked me to remember three things: a house, a tree and a car. While lying on the crisp hospital bed the fear of forgetting those three words cultivated a hard rock in my stomach. That day it felt like something in my field of vision had shifted, as if the world as I saw it had been transformed into a magic-eye image, where you have to defocus your eyes to see the hidden new shapes emerge.

↓ It could be that the feel of the orange peel texture of the wax covering the core sample, while resting my concussed head on the cold concrete floor, was the beginning of my obsession with the man-made earthquakes in Groningen. Its resemblance with an oversized pork chop, the strange skin-like feel of the wax, and the heaviness making appearance and consistence not quite add up, this was perhaps what caught my attention. Or maybe it was later, when I looked back at the footage I shot that day of the rows upon rows of archived core samples, shaky and blurry, as if an internal earthquake had affected my arms while shooting, as if this new strange blurring of my vision had infected the recording-instrument in my hand. The coincidence of encountering the phenomenon of man-made earthquakes at this moment of sensory disorientation seemed significant, as if seeing the exhaustion of the earth as a larger narrative into which the sensory exhaustion of my own body fit like a piece of a puzzle. I will try to introduce you to the scene:

Then came the volcanoes that erupted in black masses of lava that consumed everything with their glowing tongues. Then came the ice sheets that molded the earth like modeling clay. Then the forces of time moved tectonic plates into slow and rapid collisions. Then came the large bodies of water, then the sun dried them out and left a delicate icing of salt across the crust of the earth. So. Slow.

Man-made earthquakes? Such a strange, poetic constellation of words. Writing poetically about this however, is akin to the guilty pleasure of photographing oil spills for their colorful iridescent surface. I am aware.

↓ The new chemistry of the air makes the rays of the sunset glow in unexpected ways. Peat reserves can burn underground throughout winter, when the bog is hidden under a layer of ice. When the ice melts and a breath of oxygen reappears in the spring the fire starts roaring again. The shock of becoming geological has long worn off, or perhaps it was never really there. The shock moved with the slowness of an ice sheet.

I have set up an old orange canvas tent at the back of an unused isle of shelves, where I can spread out and do Daily Research.

* * *

↓ Daily Research:

↓ DR is the process of firmly and rigorously taming the sensory exhaustion of perceiving the world as it unfolds. The nausea of looking at letters, screens, driving, biking, drawing, walking fast, talking at length to people, all this requires the same kind of steady and slow discipline as that of taming a traumatized horse. It too did not sense the speed with which the bus approached, and now it snorts heavily with diluted nostrils and foamy mouth. DR is a scratching. A careful examination of the threads of events interwoven through movement (vibration). If I exercise becoming still as a rock I feel the difference recorded by my body, like fossilized traces of pre-historic critters on a sandstone surface. DR is an archive of simple practices intended to keep track of these recordings. I tell myself that the earthquake came for a reason. It will inscribe a new kind of sensory attunement into my body that will help amplify minute graduations of change. Drying off the hot white foam, noticing the trembling muscles and the flickering gaze. It will be a matter of survival.

↓ A yellow note enclosed in the wax of the core sample states that it is Slochteren Sandstone, taken in the town by the same name in the 1950s. It is carrying deeply desirable information about the earth, of dreams about unexplored treasures hidden just below our feet. The triumphant circumvention of the impenetrability of the surface of the earth. Perhaps it was even the sample that would determine the first drilling for gas in Slochteren more than 60 years ago. As I hold the sample in my hand I feel a subtle vibration. The tremors are ever so soft, at the threshold of perception—phantom vibrations or poltergeist vibrations, which make me question my own state of mind. I remember a quote by William Burroughs in the essay about the practice of Do Easy—Every object you touch is alive with your life and your will (Borroughs 1979: 60). But elsewhere in the same essay he states that objects might jump out and stump against your toe or slam against your knuckle, so I guess it’s not as simple as that.

↓ Before the companies started drilling into the earth they took mile-long biopsies of the subsurface. These biopsies were meticulously examined by equipment so accurate that it could predict the day-to-day growth of a cancerous tumor. The size of the grains of sand was noted, and through a microscope they turned into fist-sized gems. When the right constellation of sedimentary rock was found they cheered. A law was passed that all samples taken in the country should be stored in the Core Sample Storage Warehouse. They are brought to the warehouse in carefully wrapped plastic canisters, where they find their final resting place inside one of the layers of storage shelves. Some rocks are black with glistering white arteries, some damp and dusty, several stored in old and mouldy wooden boxes. Salt cores are leaking with moisture, perforating the brittle cloth enclosing them with patterns of crystals.

↓ The keeper of the core sample warehouse handles the long cylindrical canisters with delicate precision, but without particular affection. He has let me set up shop in the back of the long corridors, overbearingly tolerating my newfound obsession. Like a good archivist he knows the shelves in the deep of the warehouse like the palm of his hand, and he patiently pulls out every mouldy wooden box I point at. His movements are precise, and seem to be reduced to the bare minimum of effort. He moves with ease, and a surprising strength for his small figure, when he pulls out the long boxes full of resin-enclosed Limburg sandstone. Secretly I wonder if he feels the dead presence of the rock samples too closely, and if blasting loud talk radio from his office is a way of muting their silence. Apart from the daily management of the core samples coming in and out from the field, he is also in charge of an impressive collection of succulents that reach their bony branches towards the ceiling. We stay largely uninterested in each other’s Daily Research, both hiding behind the clear corners of the neatly organized storage shelves.

↓ I am moving along the rows of storage shelves in the far end of the left corridor in the core sample warehouse. My field of vision shoots like an arrow towards the deep dark in the end of the corridor. In rifle shooting it is called the fate line: the piercing, penetrating, deadly gaze. Try wider, softer. Helping my gaze with my two index fingers at the periphery of each eye I shift my gaze outwards as much as possible. This exercise is one of the small hidden gems of deconstructing the preconditioned sensory arrangements of the body. As I move deeper towards the darkness I notice the rows of storage shelves moving with the waves of my gait. A slight shift of attention and the whole world becomes animate with a hidden movement. At the end of the rows in the darkness sits my orange tent. I keep records of these exercises in the margins of newspaper cut-outs.

After 2 unsuccessful attempts, the Slochteren 1 well drilled deeper and further. On 22 July 1959 they discovered a gas pocket in the Lower Permian sands, which proved worthy of commercial interest. There was little rejoicing—they had been looking for oil in the Upper Permian Zechstein. Only when two other drills also found large gas reservoirs, approximately at the same depth, they realized the significance of these discoveries: The huge 2.8 trillion cubic meter gas field in the porous Rotliegend formation, which spans from the United Kingdom across the Northern Sea to western Germany. It was now perceived that it was the discovery of a super-giant.

↓ And just like that, material 263 million years of age is folded into the present, reversing the speed with which tropical forest matter was folded into the aeolian dunes of the Variscan age.

Burial History: Unlike human burials, which are often swift and procedural, burial history of ancient organic matter is an ultra-slow folding process of decomposition into sedimentary layers. It is continuous across millennia as the earth moves and overlaps like dough being kneaded, over time-spans too great to understand. As I move along the rows of storage shelves, noting them carefully through each corner of my eyes, I imagine the entire warehouse as sedimentary layers of knowledge about the subsurface of the earth. The slowness of moving through the exercise brings new details of the archive to the fore, such as the texture of the light as it is absorbed by dark wooden boxes, or reflected by brightly yellow storage units, or the sharp smell of mould mixing with the chemical smell of resin.

The speed at which that ancient buried matter is excavated is orchestrated through the rapid developments of new extraction methods. The Groningen Gas Field is praised for the emergence of new revolutionizing methods for tapping the resources with even greater efficiency, allocating the bounty, like pioneers tapping syrup from maple trees.

↓ Time seems to be lost inside the warehouse. Is it fall? The keeper eyes my daily exercises with poorly hidden amusement while he goes about his manual registering and archiving of new-coming core samples. Clearly the smell of moldy storage boxes does not make him dizzy. In the office he shows me a large plastic tray, where different cut-outs of a long sample show the sedimentary layering of the subsurface in the Rotliegend Formation. The rocks are beautiful like gemstones, nestled into a shiny resin bed. He points at the pinkish sandy lumps of rock in the middle. “The best reservoirs for gas are found in the fine-grained aeolian dune sands,” he says. “The rock formation where the gas is found today has desert origin, with sand dunes and wadis formed by rivers. The oscillation between wet and dry sands across millennia resulted in deposits of mudstones and halite.” His finger dances across the uneven dark lines that run through the rock, animating the sharp cuts and soft waves frozen in the material.

↓ “The rock records profound changes in climate, vegetation and sedimentary processes. Each core sample is a natural archive in itself,” he says. I picture Russian dolls uncovering new shapes inside each other. Rock hard egg shells being smashed with a pickaxe, to reveal yet another shimmering shell underneath. The collections of natural archives inside this large man-made archive which is the core sample warehouse. “It is possible to read the traces of time within the layers,” the keeper says. “Here the oceans rose and dried out again. This event left the layer of salt that acts as a seal for the gas formed by the decomposing tropical vegetation in the sand dunes below. This is the awesome work time has orchestrated for us to harvest the precious gasses now heating our houses and boiling our water.” His eyes are shining with the excitement of specialized knowledge.

I picture large fields of prehistoric ferns and bright red berries decomposing as they are folded into an alien dune landscape with inexplicable slowness. How they make space for themselves inside these folds, and how their exhales of methane gas mould pockets pressing lightly against the salt layer of the Zechstein. The time-spans that are instrumental to geological formations are beyond human perception. The rock exposes these rhythms in comprehensible patterns of strata. I recall a visit to a quarry in Germany in the early fall. My geologist friend pointed to the stripes along the stone wall of the quarry hovering above us. “Here changes in the tides are recorded! What this rock shows is the waxing and waning of the moon.” I was looking at the large drill holes into the rock. They hinted at the rock’s not-so distant future: It would eventually also be chopped into sizable blocks of sandstone used for buildings. Dinosaur-looking digging machines stood dormant around a deep pit of green water, and the scent of decomposing fall leaves somehow made this millennial process slightly more tangible.

↓ The Rotliegend Formation, better known as the Groningen Gas Field, has yielded earth gas since the 1950s. It whistles through long manufactured straws, perforating the salt layer shield. Within a few years after the discovery of the gas, pipes grew out of the region and spread into the rest of the country, and soon after across Europe and even North Africa. The gas not immediately used was pumped back into the natural reservoirs deep below the Zechstein seal, dormant until needed again.

The keeper forms his hands in the air. He gestures the shapes of gas reservoirs. Pulsating movements, like palpitating hearts, pushing air out from inside the palms. When the gas reservoirs are empty they deflate like rock balloons and send tremors across the surface of the earth. His usual demeanor of professional reservedness seems somewhat deflated too. His movements now emanate a tired precision, like that of a worn out craftsman that shaped hard metals for decades, or perhaps a tarot reader that knows too much.

↓ I am getting asthmatic from staying in the core sample warehouse and the nausea is not improving. While the architecture of the core sample warehouse previously reminded me of the sediments of the earth it now feels like a damp labyrinth. The warehouse is never quiet. There is an incessant hum from the fluorescent tubes and the climate control system that seem to vibrate my eardrums. I spend days just focusing and defocusing my eyes at a far away point, out of touch with what I came for. The keeper takes pity on me and offers to take me to the gas fields to pick up some core samples, and we take his pickup truck up north. When we reach the field the keeper has aged several decades. He is frailer and milder, more distinguished. I never noticed the mustache and the impressive bushy eyebrows until now (but I might still be unable to properly focus). Neither his black crooked cane, as if it had just grown out of him. As we stand on the grounds of the extraction plant he knocks lightly on the massive metal canister filled with earth gas. It looks like a fat, lazy caterpillar spreading its legs out on the dusty ground. “Reality is not independent of our explorations of it.” His movements are now slow and strained, his arthritic joints creaking. “A chance blow of a pickaxe, and see where we are today. A swollen body, extended in all its hybrid forms, with joints, pipes, gears and wires, and the soul still remains what it’s always been—too small to fill this body, too weak to guide it.” His voice sounds as old as a century.

↓ I look across the plant, to the other side of the barb-wired fence. A figure climbs up a small ladder, takes a camera in front of his face, and snaps a quick series of images of the gas plant. Quickly he steps down and puts the ladder back into the trunk of his car and drives away. “There is a deep mistrust of the industries and the government in this area,” the keeper says. “You will find that people have installed their own seismometers in their houses. These people are feeling a great anxiety”. His eyes are a piercing green. “You might remember the traces of life fossilized in the slab of resin-enclosed sandstone….“ His voice disappears as a gush of wind sweeps through the plant.

* * *

↓ I rent a car to spend some time in the small town where the gas was first found, some 60 years ago. Slochteren is a calm place, with a light that is beautifully broken by mist of the damp soil. A retired couple, Geja and Rijn, take me in without reservations, and I stay in their grandchildren’s bedroom. During the day I drive around to look at the various gas plants. They are closed off with tall barb-wire fences, looking serious with their intricate webs of shiny metal pipes on the lush green fields. I climb a hill along the highway to get a closer look at the monument raised where the gas was first found. It is a large monstrosity made from hard iridescent polyester. It is shaped like the methane gas molecule, and the shiny greenish surface reflects the headlights of the cars and trucks racing by. A bloated amusement fair ride, ready to hurl bodies ecstatically around its own axis. A monument to the earthquakes would take on a much subtler character. Like parasites or algae it would infiltrate old existing monuments, such as the medieval church in Huizinge that is now adorned with deep cracks in its massive brick walls. Maybe it would just be a memory of a tremor in the body. One day I see a swarm of orange workers moving swiftly and cautiously around the plant. There is a sense of panic in the air. Later Geja says that there was a leak in the pipes and gas had been released into the air for most of the day. Had I felt a change in the chemistry of the air that I had been breathing?

↓ Florence is Geja’s friend. She lives in a grand and stylish villa off the main road. She has a bit of an old-world kind of glamour, and speaks to me in perfect, yet slightly formal, Danish. “The experience of earthquakes is a deep primordial rumbling inside the gut—an elastic expansion and contraction of intestines, or cramps of the uterus,” she says. She looks at me alluding to a kind of woman-to-woman secret of the effect of flooring menstrual cramps. I can’t help but imagine her delicate figure trembling.

↓ Through vibrating waves the digestive tract becomes connected to the drilling head exploring and perforating the substrata, breaking open new reservoirs. Gas slips up to the surface, emptying these pockets inside the earth. The sinking of the earth above sends ripples through the layers of strata. This energy accumulated across millennia gains magnitude and power as sound waves ripple through the earth. The ripples penetrate any kind of matter – bricks, church walls, dikes, garden paths and human organs. The magnitude of an earthquake is archived as different intensities felt as vibration inside the gut. An embodied library of earthquakes.

↓ Did you know that the province is sinking? It happens with a pace that can only be measured with satellite equipment over decades. Perhaps the region will have to adjust to a wholly new ecology in 100 years. An ecology of a crater, closer to the core of the earth, or perhaps it will return to its pre-historic existence of ocean sea-bed.

↓ At night I am reading an article. The companies use skilled lawyers and professional negotiators as strategies to exhaust the people claiming refunds for the damage done to their property or the loss of market value. One woman tells about her anxiety, as she picks up pieces of ceiling that have come down in her daughters’ bedrooms. “The soul is too small for the monstrous hybrid body created by technologies of extraction,” the keeper said. It creates a void in our minds and our culture, not unlike the precarious voids in the underground, ready to collapse at any moment. The people in Groningen are also caught in a kind of void. A void which is created by the gas, but manifested as finance.

↓ Some people in the Groningen gas fields wake up before an earthquake is felt. They cannot explain exactly why, but they believe it might be because of some extremely fine-tuned sensitivity to the pressure waves preceding the vibrations. Not unlike birds flying low before a storm, or the dolphins beaching themselves before a tsunami. The dolphins in Japan cause an immediate wave of anxiety among the human population, evoking memories of destruction to come. They lie helpless on the beach, drying out in the sun, aware of their own act of defiance.

↓ In the Netherlands almost every inch of the subsurface has undergone a careful and meticulous examination. Three-dimensional models have been crafted to reflect the data extracted from the millions of probes into the ground, and the unbearable thought of the impenetrable secrets of the earth below is systematically and rigorously eliminated. The jarring of the deflations happening several kilometers under the gas plants echoes in the bones of people, as they are pulled from their sleep into waking.

This jarring affords a sensory adjustment. An adjustment to living inside this man-made geology.

↓ Rijn recounts when the government and industry still did not recognize that the earthquakes were indeed induced by the drilling for gas. Later the companies were forced to admit the consequences of their drilling, but the extraction of gas was too important for the economy to discontinue. As the earthquakes became more frequent and heavier, and old houses started collapsing, a cap was put on the amount of gas extraction allowed. But the possibility for earthquakes will be there well into the future, as the heaviness of the earth pushes down on the emptied-out gas reservoirs.

↓ It is unknown at what magnitude future earthquakes will be. No matter how many probes, how many 3D models constructed, and how much data collected, a full survey of the earth below its crust is still unavailable to humans.

Rijn is one of those who claim to wake up before an earthquake is felt. As he drives me around the area, to proudly show the work he used to do in the region during his years as a civil engineer, he stops at an old school. “Here the children are making earthquake alert exercises,” he says. They are instructed to hide under the tables at the first sensation of an earthquake.” I recall the account of a friend from Japan: If you live within an earthquake zone a subconscious anticipation of the next earthquake is always with you. The body attuned to the vibrations it has learned entail danger.

↓ At dusk I go for a walk along the main road in Slochteren. I pass multiple signs promising legal help for earthquake related damages, and a few houses reinforced with wood structures. I see black cracks running down the side of a large white historic building. A sudden flooring nausea hits me, which blurs my vision and makes my head heavy as a rock. I lay down on the grass, on the lawn of an abandoned villa, trespassing the warning signs of danger due to earthquake damages on the fence. I am trying to get my body as close to the ground as possible. The body is our first instrument, which can be adjusted like a weight out of tilt. I continue my old practice of becoming rock, to one of becoming seismometer. With all 10 fingers stuck into the ground, and the right ear pressed deep into the soil I wait for an earthquake to happen, ready to register it in my body. Hours go by but nothing happens. As the dew falls I give up. I feel like an imposter in this landscape, unable to attune to the changes that inhabit it. The sensory exhaustion of living with the earthquakes is permeated with the anticipation of earthquakes as much as it is with their presence, and to record these changes means registering both sides of this. It is the exhaustion fuelled by a dread for that one big earthquake, the one breaking the records for what was previously assumed to be the upper threshold.

↓ It is the exhaustion that attunes the body. Its potential lies in the “fine-tuning” of the body, a fine-tuning so accurate that the boundary between felt and anticipated vibration begins to blur. A body-instrument so finely tuned that perception plays a trick on itself and feels the cracks inside the earth minutes before it happens.

↓ Johan lives in an old farmhouse at the end of a winding unpaved road, which doesn’t show up on Google Maps. The sounds of the landscape are uncrowded, making each one stand out. Well-fed, prize worthy chickens shriek as he throws a load of grains at them. The well shrieks too, as he hauls water from the underground. He shows me the cracks in his house that haven’t been fixed yet. There is a large crack in the red brick wall at the base of the house, which looks like failed attempts at burning ceramics. “A hurricane suddenly emerges from a clear sky and swoosh, shakes the entire house so bricks and mortar is crackling and windows are shivering,” Johan gestures, with his arms flowing above his head. He grabs the iron on the stove and rattles it back and forth. He does the same thing with the TV set. The sound breaks the pristine silence.

↓ The earthquakes are shallow and therefore they cause significant damage to the houses built on the soft clay soil. Upstairs Johan has a shelf full of binders containing email correspondences with the companies’ lawyers. “These binders are overflowing with all my sleepless nights,” he says.

↓ Geja lives close to the main road going through the town. In her ears, the crash of an earthquake can be mistaken for a big truck unloading stone boulders outside her house. She meticulously writes down every earthquake in a journal. I ask her to add what they sound like. Other people hear the falling of chairs from the second floor, or slamming of doors.

↓ Geja’s brother used to play drums. He tells me his dreams of making a score based on the decades of earthquake events, where every minute represents a year. He says the sound of drum beats condensing the earthquakes into a percussion symphony will make people attentive to the earthquakes. The minute of 2014 would be like a thunderstorm of hands beating the drum skin. A year of sonic events condensed into one minute? His eyes are shining at the thought of it. If you sit still and listen to the sounds around you, how many of them do you think you perceive as what they actually are?

↓ Still nauseous from the exertion of the walk I lay down to do an online meditation practice in the bedroom of Geja’s grandchildren. The instructor asks me to classify sounds starting with the one furthest away, going closer and closer until I end up at my own breath. The exercise is a practice of precisely cataloguing the layers of sound that exist around me, constantly changing and re-positioning with the movements of my body. In the end, he instructor asks me to listen to my heart. As I lay there trying my best to listen to the beats of my heart I wonder if the presence of man-made earthquakes could create a finer attunement to sound. If this attunement would even be passed down to the next generation, then the population living with earthquakes can evolve into more sensitive beings, aware of the possibility of volatile change imposed by a man-made ecology.

↓ The earthquake today was the magnitude of a chair falling in the attic, while the one last week was more like a breeze going through a crystal glass cabinet.

↓ The long core samples are still lying where I left them in the warehouse, stored in their wooden boxes like dull pencils. Seeing their orderly alignment again I feel lost. I sift through the databank on the Dutch Meteorological Institute’s website, trying to make sense of all the numbers, graphs and curves. An online data tool allows me to choose a specific earthquake in time and space. I choose a pattern of accelerometer positions on the map and download the data. The data is not vibrations, but numbers that plot a waveform on an XY axis. The Y axis is annotated as Time (s) and the X is Offset (km). Along the space in between fine blue lines create a graphic representation of one earthquake as sensed through different accelerometers across the landscape. The blue graphs show the movement of the waves emitted by the earthquake as they pass through the earth. This should be daily research, but it’s so awfully hard to concentrate. I attempt to respect the solemn accuracy of the data streams, but I get distracted by their resemblance to layers of vertical mountain landscapes. Ice peaks and valleys dramatically sweep across the field, creating a body of voluminous blue bursts that dissolve into dripping icicles along the perforated horizontal line.

↓ There was an earthquake while I was in Slochteren, but I didn’t feel it. I look at the list of data that the seismometers have picked up across the province, irritated at their precise sensitivity. The seismometer acts like extended ears dangling deep in shafts dug into the earth. These mechanical ears pick up every little vibration of the earth, and they transfer them into data points along a wave form on the screen. The data shows no signs of anxiety. The seismometers don’t pass judgement on the origin of the source, which can be a natural as well as a man-made earthquake, or something completely different, like a jet plane breaking the sound wall above ground.

↓ “The void is created by consuming reserves of past time in order to run the monstrous body of the present.” The keeper emerges from his office. He now looks more like a ghost, wearing an oversized dark coat and a felt hat. He points to a large poster, showing the layered strata of the Groningen Gas Field and the empty holes that illustrate the gas reservoirs. “Energy is never only extracted from the ground. It is also extracted from our bodies. It manifests through sensory exhaustion from bodies having to continually adapt to volatile and rapid changes within the environment. The void is created in humans because they have not evolved to perceive these rhythms of past times that pass through ours.” His hand sweeps slowly across the illustrated strata on the poster. I sit quietly anticipating his next monologue. “The void can only be filled through a realization of this relationship: The tapping of the earth’s energy, and the mutual exhaustion of our bodies are connected, even if the exhaustion shows itself through other aspects of our lives.” With the purposeful, slow movements of a soothsayer he hovers his hands across a pair of fine-grained cores of gravel on the large display table. “We have consumed so much past time, fossilized into reserves of oil, gas and coal buried deep in the ground, that it is now impossible to feel grounded in the present. We have entered into an addiction with past time preserved as fossils, and that is clouding our connection with the future.” [1]

↓ As an act of useful procrastination I browse around, reading about the peat industry in The Netherlands. The development of the peat industry carried prosperity to the country from the 1100s onwards, and around 1530 the accessible peat bogs were completely exhausted. This resulted in new technologies, such as the “baggerbeugel,” a dredging net on a long pole, that could be used to mine the harder-to-reach peat below water. The muddy peat had to be spread along the narrow strips of land that had not been eroded by the peat digging itself, and the workers pressed the water out by stamping on it with boards tied to their clogs. Today this industry is inscribed into the land, leaving large areas of the country looking like broad-toothed combs or land-sized Swiss cheese. The digging escalated into unmanageable proportions as entire villages were at risk of eroding away into the water.

Peat is the accumulation of partially decayed organic matter, and like the core samples peat is a natural archive. A fossilized record of changes over time, which manifests in vegetation, pollen, spores, animals, and archaeological remains found in the bog. Peat is the first step in the geological formation of other fossil fuels such as coal and gas. Working in the peat fields was hard and precarious labor, the archivist informs me. Peat workers stood in cold water bending over to dig out heavy mud for 16 hours a day, six days a week during season. The exhaustive work often led to illness and death, and usually the whole family had to participate in order to make ends meet. The families lived in temporary “plaggenhutten,” self-built seasonal huts made from sods. The ground which they stood on was rented out to the peat workers by their employer, which imposed strict rules upon the renters (such as no peat digging on their own plot of land).

How does one archive experience? Will I have to immerse myself in the cold muddy water of the peat bogs to understand the exhaustion of the peat workers? I feel overwhelmed by looking at the cool blue lines of data, and shut the browser down.

↓ Archives are material accumulations that help us think beyond our own lifespan. They help us notice of how we and the world around us change. Natural archives have origin in a desire to categorize the entire natural world into neatly annotated boxes and binders. This desire emerged with the exploration and exploitation of land under the colonial era. It is the desire to tame and utilize the vast bounty of nature. Victorian botanists nailed butterflies to cork boards. They would name them after elaborate classification systems, because if you could name them you could own them.

↓ The archive behind the zoological museum in Copenhagen comes to mind. I visited it in the winter with my father, and a charismatic young man in military boots took us on the tour of the collection. I had brought a 3D scanner and wanted to capture the most spectacular specimen. A strong stench of whale bones being cleaned in formaldehyde made the air almost unbearable to breathe, so distracting that my 3D scans came out completely perforated with holes, making the animals look like horrible cases of chemical deformation. Along the beautiful dark wood vitrines thousands of taxidermy animals looked out with beady glass eyes. A male bison had been rolled out on its little trolley legs, and was standing like a sad and gigantic ghost, its brown mane shredding pieces on the floor.

↓ And then the egg collection. Oh my! Like a hungry crocodile I wanted to consume them all, as they lay there like sugar coated chocolates in colorful cotton beds. An incredibly alive-looking owl frozen in mid flight was eying the eggs too. His glass eyes were wise and ominous.

↓ Of course the archive shows only one end of the story. Today we know how many species have gone extinct, exactly because we named them.

↓ I sift through the footage I shot at a demonstration at a gas plant in Delftzij. Young anarchists are meeting up with mostly elderly locals who have been affected by the earthquakes. A guy in a black hoodie is blasting Rammstein from a large boom box and the many homemade signs are hovering in the wind. The diverse group battles the wind as they tie a 20-metre large banner to the barb-wire fence. In large black letters it reads, “Together we are shutting the gas valve.” I meet a lady with a bright green hat with the words “Groninger Bodem Beweging” (Groninger Ground Movement) written across the cap. She tells me about her small personal acts of activism. She frequently emails the companies with far-fetched requests, such as if they could provide her with a life-vest and a lifeboat. She lives close to the dikes and her argument is, that if they burst because of earthquakes she would surely need a lifeboat. The company’s lawyers will then spend weeks constructing an argument as to why they are not responsible for buying her the requested lifeboat. She also has an unexpected alliance with the local bank, calculating their losses incurred as property value drops below the mortgage loans for the houses in the area, trying to advocate within the structures of the financial system. We are sitting on the dyke eating soup, watching the wind tear at the large banner.

↓ Attunement etymologically means to bring into a harmonious or responsive relationship. Attuning one’s body (in a harmonious way) to a world of man-made earthquakes seems like a daunting task. The lady in the green hat is working “in spite of” it all. Her actions are like tiny pebbles in the shoes of those who have the means to drill in the underground near the dykes by her house.

↓ The phantom itch in the left side of my head, implanted by the blow of the city bus mirror, has somehow extended into my upper left torso, sometimes making anything I do unbearable. How do I describe this itch that somehow seems to exist inside my soft interior? It has the memory of previous itches on the surface of my skin, but somehow deeper and more encompassing of three-dimensional tissue inside the body. To distract myself from this itch I cannot scratch, I am watching a film about the legendary Tendai monks of Mount Hiei. They engage in a ritual called Circling the Mountain. The film follows the last 5 days of Daiajari Tanno Kakudo, the monk to complete the grueling ritual of running a thousand marathons over the course of 7 years. This is the equivalent to a bit more than the circumference of the earth. He spends this time in solitude, aiming to live every day as if it were his last. He sprains muscles constantly, suffers from agonizing back pains, and has regular bouts of diarrhea. If he gives up along the way custom says he must commit suicide. If he succeeds he becomes a living buddha. Along the way he endures several nine-day fasts, with the intention of bringing the body as close as possible to death. The idea is to exhaust the mind, the body, everything, until nothing is left. This nothing may be filled again with the vast consciousness that lies below the surface of our lives. While the monk fasts he undergoes a metamorphosis of becoming almost-dead. As Tanno Kakudo emerges on the last day of the fast, assisted by two monks, I bury my face in my hands. The bones around his temples show, as it does with dying people. Here, the narrator explains, his sensory awareness comes crashing through, and he can hear the ash fall from an incense stick. I already know of the tricks death plays on perception. In a final conversation with a relative she conveyed how a grey hospice wall had turned into a vivid and saturated landscape of colors only visible to her, the dying. By the end of his run the monk knows every leaf, every bird song and seasonal change along their route around the mountain. During this ritual the body of the monk extends into the mountain. He seeks out all there is to know about the processes of being him. Through repetition he re-orders everything within himself: It is an exercise of experimenting with all possible combinations, of walking around a mountain, of grappling with the soft ever-shifting tension between body and surround.

↓ Exhaustion becomes potential for bliss. It is a play with plasticity—Where do I start and where does the mountain begin?

↓ In the spring the nausea has almost disappeared, and the mirror-shaped trace on the inside of my head only manifests at rare occasions. My brother tells me of the father of his friend, a man who seeks a similar kind of bliss through exhaustion as the marathon monks. He runs six-day races, also called ultra-marathons. I feel a strong urge to witness this strive towards the bliss of exhaustion, and buy a ticket to the Balaton lake in Hungary where the next race will take place. I meet the man in the airport, and on the train down from Budapest he explains his anticipation. During his first race in Norway last summer he met what he calls Nirvana. He had not prepared for the race in Norway at all. He did not get enough sleep and food. He was sleeping on a cold floor at the communal showers, where an automatic light would go on and wake him up every time someone came in. And at a certain point, after having run for hours on end, he started hallucinating. At one point he thought the other contestants were crusaders that were chasing him. He perceived some kind of divine power, which spoke to him and said that it wanted him to win this race. This was the wildest and purest he had ever felt. Eventually he broke down. He didn’t finish the race, but went to a hotel nearby and lay on the bed staring into the dark for days.

↓ The track that is used for the race is 1 km round and located on a shabby camping ground at the edge of the turquoise Balaton lake. The place is like an ant colony buzzing with organizers, runners and their helpers handing them drinks and fancy protein snacks that they stack inside little white huts along the track. I spend six days looking at the runners as they make their way round and round the track. Again I have to come to terms with the feeling of being an imposter. I try to focus on my own Daily Research. I notice their faces slide by, and the different gradations of exhaustion and agony in their eyes. I smile at them and give them encouraging cheers during the day. At night I hide behind the dark and watch voyeuristically.

↓ One man has so many blisters that he is moaning at every step he takes. He yells a great deal at his helper, a large unbelievably patient man, and his face is constantly wrenched into an agonized grimace. I wonder what on earth drives him forward in what must surely be an internalized purgatory. On the last day I give him two painkillers, and he seems truly grateful. He says I do not want to see his feet, as all his toenails have fallen off. I look at his cut-up running shoes and agree, repulsed by the thought of the nailless bloody toes below the socks. Other runners look like they are basking in bliss. None of them stop (except one guy that dislocated his knee, who left the camp at three in the morning). They are mostly crooked, old and worn-out looking bodies, all slightly leaning to the left (the helper of the suffering man says that this is because of the exhaustive state they’re in—the right brain half somehow shuts off and they are mostly guided by the left). The old are the ones that do best. One very tall lady with big legs, whom everybody calls Frau Doktor, sleeps one hour every night for the entire duration of the race. At any other time she just walks, with a satisfied look on her face. They all want to meet the wall, the mental battle of the voices telling them to stop running. The winner of the race has run 750 km at the end of the 6th day. Each of them stops at the large digital goal table, which keeps track of the distance achieved by each participant. Someone calls the goal table their altar, which seems ironically suitable, as runners drag themselves into its flickering blue light at 4 o’clock in the morning.

↓ I meet Doug, an American guy in his 70s. He casually walks the track with his friend Abichal and the two of them talk almost non-stop. Abichal is part of a religious movement that believe in ultra-marathons as a kind of spiritual awakening. Doug explains how he started his life as a runner in a very prestigious race in New York in the 70’s. And that’s what started the madness, he says in a rather self-deprecating voice. Since then he attended more ultra-marathons than he can count. There was a Hungarian runner he always used to run next to. Her name was Marina, and she had this shining bright light emanating from her. “Even when Marina wasn’t running next to me, I could still feel her presence,” he says.

↓ The racing became a bitter-sweet love affair. All the stuff he thought mattered didn’t matter anymore. He became fixated on the runner’s high, like an addiction. He says he’s given everything up for the sport. “Throughout my life I have been inspired by Hemingway. You can say that I have followed him, looked to him for guidance. I recognize his struggles, even though my medium is running and not writing. Hemingway felt sorry for his wife. Often he had barely enough food for her, and sometimes he went without food so that he could feed her. But Hemingway had his writing, and his literary life and community, something his wife could not be part of. And I often felt the same way, that my wife would never be able to understand the drive of running.”

↓ The next day I meet him at the broken-down camper-vans at the other end of the track. We talk about architecture. Doug is an architecture freak, and he has gone around the world to visit historic homes of architects. I ask him if he knows Arakawa & Gins, which he doesn’t. I tell him that they were building architecture to defy death. They wanted architecture to continuously challenge the body, to invite its inhabitants to never stop exploring the relationship between body and the environment. “Running is a bit like this,” Doug says. “Every time you run the track it’s different. You will become intimately acquainted with every little inch of that one kilometer. Did you notice the laughing toads at the corner there? They come out around 9pm. And the fluffy pollen trees at the counting post start shedding their offspring at sunset…. You notice how the rhythms of your body blend in with the subtle rhythms of the environment. You might say it’s an exercise of accepting the changes that are taking place within you.”

Doug grabs an ice cream and gets up to go back on the track. I want him to stay and tell me more about this drive to run, as if it is some kind of life secret veiled as obsession.

↓ It is said that the 18th century French aristocrat and father of modern chemistry, Antoine Lavoisier, would dream up the chemical constellations that he would go try out in his laboratory when he woke. Daily Research is the task of going slow enough to feel the rumblings of the system, and perhaps even the chaotic forces of the pre-rumbling. It also goes under another, more passionate, name: Obsession. DR is no straightforward task. It requires focused commitment, of listening and jotting down the minute graduations of change on whatever surface is at hand. Of feeling the temperature of this surface with your elbow and your lips. Were Lavoisier’s dreams guiding his explorations, like a dowsing stick leading to water? As if some exterior force hinted him at the right chemical constellation? Or were they tangible manifestations of some subconscious sense at the cusp of knowing?

↓ I sleep in my little orange tent, behind the dusty shelves. My tools for measurement and recording lie scattered around the site. I dream that I am buying a house from a man and a woman. They are architects but have taken on the role of real estate agents (Gins and Arakawa 2002: 23). The house is nothing more than a pile of strangely shaped surfaces held together with a transparent rubbery material. It covers a vast area. The Ubiquity House they call it, and the lady, Madeline, offers me to enter the house. “In order to enter you have to pick up the slippery fabric of the house and insert yourself into it,” she says. I am skeptical, but let’s be honest, I was skeptical of the core sample warehouse at first, and look at the interdependence with which I am now taking refuge in all its archival thoroughness.

The house changes shape and volume as I move my body around. We work together to shape the house as we go. Even our breath affects the architecture as it contracts and expands like an organism around us. “Having once begun to architect their surroundings, human beings never stop. A person turns a desert or a forest into an architectural surround by how she moves through it. Advancing and cutting paths, fending for herself and defending herself, she uses her limbs to erect enclosures or break them,” says Madeline Gins (Gins and Arakawa 2002: 44).

The house is not a final shape, but morphs and changes as it is used. It is constructed to exist in the tense of “what if,” the couple tell me. It is meant to challenge and destabilize the body. It is placing the body in a state of disequilibrium, as it keeps re-harmonizing itself in relation with the surroundings. It is meant to train the body against the continuous degradation of human tissue. “We want the world to question everything they are accustomed to—even death,” says the man, whose name is Arakawa. We need to change the way our bodies interact with the world. If we continue this course, in the name of progress and development, we are wiping out the natural world, and the possibility for most human beings to live meaningful, harmonious lives.” “We have effectively killed off forests, the coral reefs, more species than we even know of, indigenous cultures and the diversity of their languages,” says Madeline. Daily research needs to keep in focus a new way of creating an environment that will force us to notice our ways of interacting with the world, and teach us to create new, less harmful ones. Our architecture disrupts bodily experience, and thereby makes it possible to see things afresh.

The couple asks me to be more of a human-snail than a human when living in this house. They ask me to do human-snail DR. I think of the small mollusks that wash up on the shore close to my house. Rather than a smooth hard surface some of the snail houses resemble a sponge or a cauliflower, due to rising acidification of the ocean. Snails have successfully obtained the unimaginable quest of flesh merging into shelter, as they erase the boundaries between themselves and the environment. I feel a chill down my spine realizing that the unavoidable being-with the environment is the snail’s bad luck.

“The house is a tool—a procedural tool. It is a means for examining the sensorium. With this tool you may explore ways of reconfiguring the synaptic connections formed in the brain from a lifetime of living in static architecture. Never be so damn sure of yourself.” I hear Madeline’s voice echo. As I continue to adapt with and through this environment I too start to change. The dream spans over millennia. I become more aware of the changes and shifts in the perceptual posture of my body, as I am reborn into new generations, and eventually I start to notice with precision how it interacts with the surroundings. While constantly having to hold and mould the house is exhausting at times I notice my body becoming accustomed to perceiving even the subtlest of changes. We move with the weather.

When I wake up I realize my tent has collapsed on top of me, and my arms are stretched stiff into the waxed canvas folds.

↓ “The void is created by consuming reserves of past time in order to run the monstrous body of the present.” The keeper emerges from his office. He now looks more like a ghost, wearing an oversized dark coat and a felt hat. He points to a large poster, showing the layered strata of the Groningen Gas Field and the empty holes that illustrate the gas reservoirs. “Energy is never only extracted from the ground. It is also extracted from our bodies. It manifests through sensory exhaustion from bodies having to continually adapt to volatile and rapid changes within the environment. The void is created in humans because they have not evolved to perceive these rhythms of past times that pass through ours. The void can only be filled through a realization of this relationship: The tapping of the earth’s energy, and the mutual exhaustion of our bodies are connected, even if the exhaustion shows itself through other aspects of our lives.” With the purposeful, slow movements of a soothsayer he hovers his hands across a pair of fine-grained cores of gravel. “We have consumed so much past time, fossilized into reserves of oil, gas and coal buried deep in the ground, that it is now impossible to feel grounded in the present. We have entered into an addiction with past time preserved as fossils, and that is clouding our connection with the future.” [2]

↓ I am drawing a large map along the storage shelves in a remote walkway in the core sample storage warehouse. It is stratified as layers of encounters over the last year and a half of research: the detailed descriptions of the different intensities of man-made earthquakes felt in the bodies of the people in Slochteren. They are perceiving the rhythms of different temporalities and indexing them as gradations of experience. They are living at the forefront of a future of changes to come. They are unconsciously training their bodies to attune to change. And I draw the voluntary exhaustion of the monks and the ultra-runners and their altered sensory perceptions. They are challenging the desert landscape within themselves by examining every grain of their being, through excruciating and repetitive actions. They are training the plasticity of their bodies and of their minds. Arakawa & Gins wanted to create architecture that would reverse the destiny of a person. Defying death is disjointing a linear perception of time. They want to infuse the experience of living with new forms of energy and new forms of being together. To uncover a virtual energy that continuously expands as the body realizes what it can do.

“How do human-snails overcome the limits of our temporal frameworks?” I ask myself out loud. “That is now for you to find out,” the keeper says in a creaky voice hovering somewhere in the dark behind a large storage unit….


[1] The keeper of the core samples at times lends the voice of the French philosopher Henri Bergson, more specifically his last work The Two Sources of Morality and Religion. His lendings are not necessarily verbatim. The present remarks also draw on Suzanne Guerlac’s piece “Bergson, the Void, and the Politics of Life.” See pages 40-60.

[2] See Suzanne Guerlac’s piece “Bergson, the Void, and the Politics of Life,” pages 40-60.

Works Cited

Bergson, Henri. The Two Sources of Morality and Religion. London: Macmillan, 1935.

Borroughs, William S. Exterminator! London: Penguin, 1979.

Guerlac, Suzanne. “Bergson, the Void, and the Politics of Life.” In Bergson, Politics, and Religion. Eds. Alexandre Lefebvre and Melanie White. Durham: Duke University Press, 2012.

Gins, Madeline & Arakawa. Architectural Body. Tuscaloosa and London: University of Alabama Press, 2002.

Gilles Deleuze’s Ectoplasm

Alanna Thain
McGill University

Prologue: I is for Infidelity

This essay first emerged from a prompt to think the television series Gilles Deleuze from A to Z (L’Abécédaire de Gilles Deleuze) as a media object, as part of a workshop called “Mediating Gilles Deleuze” organized by Nathan Lee and Kenneth Berger at Brown University. In eight hours of interviews produced in 1988-89 by Pierre-André Boutang and screened on French television channel Arte in 1994-1995, Deleuze is interviewed by his former student and collaborator Claire Parnet following a schema that works its way through a Deleuzian alphabet from “A is for Animal” to “Z is for Zig Zag.” He agreed to the project on the condition that it would only be screened after his death, and while making it he was already quite ill. In the end though, Deleuze outlived his ability to resist the supplications of Boutang and the series screened the year before he died.

As a prelude to the Brown event, the organizers screened the entirety of the television series the day before, presenting the work in a format that I have come to think of as an endurance event, that travels across long form works from Andy Warhol’s Empire to Jacques Rivette’s Out 1 to Christian Marclay’s The Clock but also through television series in an age of streaming and DVDs. The specific prompt—to treat the work as a media object—on the one hand produced a desire to be faithful to the object and experience of the series, and on the other hand revealed almost immediately the impossibility of sticking to that faithfulness. In the end, I am not even entirely sure what the object is; its untimeliness in many forms (the long duration, the curious pre-post mortem of its making, its irregular rhythms of episodes and uneven individual letter section, and its necessary detours into dialogues with both the historical moment of its production, and with the flurry of work Deleuze and Guattari made at that time) makes it unruly and prone to fabulation (the technical expression of infidelity) in response to any attempt to pin down its truth value. Thus in my own infidelity I have felt a kindred spirit in this strange object. Deleuze himself almost instantly detours Parnet’s prompt in “F is for Fidelity” into a long discussion of friendship as an experience of experimentation, full of comic timing and radical distrust, and situated entre chien et loup (that twilight hour where form cedes to fabulation), and lastly, over the love of the délire, the break, and mark of madness. I set out to follow the breaks to move from the exhausting rigidity of fidelity to the inexhaustible path of detour in approaching this work, born out of a long philosophical friendship with Deleuze’s work and the potentials it affords.

Friendly, in fact, is how the abecedary is often characterized, above all as an introduction to the key preoccupations of Deleuze’s work, for beginners or non-specialists. Boutang, the producer, noted that he received feedback from people who told him they watched a little bit of the series every day in the morning, a sort of philosophical constitutional: it’s such a homely image. [1] But in “Q is for Question,” Deleuze imagines what it would be like to be asked to appear on philosophical talk shows or in the news, to be asked to give his opinion on world affairs. Faithful to his loathing for the personal, he is appalled at the idea and complains: “I don’t want to be on TV,” precisely because of his sense that television is domesticity in its purest form. Parnet responds ironically from off camera, “Well, you will be (on television), but on the condition that it is posthumous,” drawing out the uncanny temporality of the abecedary, its ability to render the familiar unfamiliar through a becoming-unhomely, into full view. Handled lightly and with humour throughout, the question of Deleuze’s failing health and promised death runs through the work like a refrain. This uncanny temporality serves to undomesticate the image, returning it to the urgency of signaletic material – that is, what is utterable rather than what signifies – in excess of what can be extracted as a primer on Deleuze’s thought. [2]

Thus one way that the abecedary as media object functions is through its ambiguous occupation of the space of the home, in the way that media content and mediums are always in a relation of immediation to their enactive ecologies. The series is set in Deleuze’s apartment, though the space itself is never explored and the camera never moves. But in a different way, the series unsettles TV’s domesticating occupation of our contemporary space-time. What is the work of the undomesticated in the series? And how is a process of undomestication linked vitally for Deleuze to what follows “Q is for Question,” that is to say “R is for Resistance”?

Resistance, positioned against communication or information, is at the heart of the pedagogical project that the abecedary self-consciously engages; this project bears a special relation to exhaustion as the undomestication of rest. I want to suggest that this is the work of resistance to information that for Deleuze is the hallmark of the work of art, which neither communicates nor informs, a second quality of thinking the work as media object in terms of its status as a work of art or a creative act. How might we think of the work of art in relation to such a seemingly artless work like the abecedary, devoid of formal beauty and with a curious relation to performance? At the Brown event, the abecedary was aired in a fashion that is both familiar and strange, that retains an undomesticating force of TV. Projected large like a movie in a darkened room, the series lost the medium-shot intimacy of domestic television. In the series, such consistent and homely framing is only half-heartedly broken a handful of times through what I came to think of as “pity zooms,” more numerous in the beginning and practically gone by the end when the series gave itself entirely over to its artless inertness. But while at the level of scale the televisual was displaced, the marathon screening format is a mode of binge-watching, a key condition of contemporary media, facilitated by TV’s migration from broadcast to devices of archiving (DVDs) and now to the ubiquitous availability of streaming content. What does it feel like to map this model on to the abecedary? Binging feels familiar and comfortable these days, but it also often relies on a narrative arc to activate a spectatorial impulse to persist and to modulate attentional capture. Binging wrestles with the duel demands of seriality and repetition, and the possibility/threat of skipping the dull parts. Each episode of the series opens with archival footage of Deleuze in his classroom at Vincennes before settling back into the apartment, and the question remains open about the homely nature of this televisual lesson. If distance learning displaces the classroom into the home space, what is domestically displaced as a result?

In “P for Professor,” Deleuze indicates the way that an uneven condition of reception, indeed an untimely attention economy, is fully part of the pedagogical experience. Students in a classroom are not a homogenous mass but tune in and out of the lecture at different moments and with different intensities of engagement. Rather than capture the domestication of focus, he suggests that lapses of attention and the textured fabric of a classroom space-time full of variable intensities of interest are fully part of the pedagogical experience. This is one way that resistance manifests against communication or information in the art of pedagogy. Deleuze likewise emphasizes the need to stay with stupidity, by not asking the clarifying question that simply releases the information via communication. He recalls how as a professor, students would pass him notes that read “you need to clarify this point, to go over this idea again,” polite attempts to re-master Deleuze’s nomadic thought; these notes, he says, pleased him enormously, even though he felt no need to directly respond to the demands. An untimely exhaustion event such as screening the entire abecedary reanimates the possibility of sheer consumption that binging seems to provide. In “A is for Animal,” Deleuze borrows an English word from Melville to speak to the deterritorializing, fabulatory effects of undomesticated detours: outlandish. I want to turn now to thinking the abecedary in such outlandish terms.

Part Two: The Machine in the Ghost

In thinking the abecedary as a media form, one of my habits was to look for where content is interrupted by signaletic material, what I came to think of as Deleuze’s ectoplasm. I read the series’ opening orientations in those terms; that is to say, via what falls out of but also conditions the content “proper”—what deforms form. At the beginning of the series, before the first letter, Deleuze sets the context for what we are about to see in a little preamble of bemused disavowal, in which failures of sense are opportunities for a kind of playful and productive nonsense, one that keeps signaling throughout the series as a whole. In particular, he sets the tone for how the series will deal with the question of mortality, the speculative and ironic tongue-in-cheek way that Deleuze’s mortality is experienced as fully lived throughout. It likewise stages the complicated time machinics of the form of the series, as Deleuze zig-zags through tenses to destabilize his presence. [3] Here is the very opening of the series, including the title credits over footage of Deleuze’s 1980 classroom at Vincennes:

You have selected as a format an ABC primer, you have indicated to me some themes, and in this, I do not know exactly what the questions will be, so that I have only been able to think a bit beforehand about the themes. For me answering a question without having thought about it a bit is something inconceivable. What saves me in this is the particular condition (la clause), should any of this be at all useful, all of it will be used only after my death. So you understand, I feel myself being reduced to a pure archive for Pierre-André Boutang, to a sheet of paper, so that lifts my spirits and comforts me immensely, and nearly in the state of pure spirit, I speak after my death, and we know well that a pure spirit if you’ve made tables turn. [sic] But we know as well that a pure spirit is not someone who gives answers that are very profound or very intelligent. They can be cursory. So anything goes in this: let’s begin, ABC, whatever you want. (Prelude to Gilles Deleuze from A to Z)

Fig. 1 Prelude to Gilles Deleuze from A to Z.

Parnet, without commentary, cuts to the chase “We begin with A and A is animal.” Answering without reflection is something new for Deleuze, it makes him uncomfortable. But what saves and reassures him is the clause that this will only be shown after his death, that he is speaking from beyond the grave. And in a sentence that is often cited as what soothes Deleuze and allows him to enter the game, he states: “I am become pure archive,” finished content for Pierre-Andre Boutang, the producer who gently nudged Deleuze for twenty years until he finally gave in. “I am become pure archive, a blank sheet of paper”: already, Deleuze confounds content and form. Evoking the purity, the cleanliness of writing, the receptivity of the blank page, Deleuze is figured as a living repository. But then he turns the tables, quite literally. In my mind’s eye, I think of this move in an animated fashion, quite literally picturing a blank sheet of beautiful, thick, white artisanal paper resting on a table, awaiting the pure line of the Japanese drawing Deleuze cites at another moment in the series during “M is for Malady.” In a flash, it shifts form and becomes a sheet, flying into the air and settling over Deleuze as he becomes a ghost, in a kind of gleeful and protective disguise, the way kids think the simple act of covering their visible bodies gives them a kind of spectral force. The pure sheet of paper becomes “pure spirit” and for a second we might be fooled into thinking of the elevated testimony of the philosopher, abstracted from the body. But no: in the speculative dimension of the “will have been,” Deleuze imagines himself as unruly spirit. “We have all done enough table turning/tipping to know that a pure spirit is not someone who gives very profound or very intelligent responses.”

At the start then, he considers the way that the machinic deranges sense in sound and noise, that language is interrupted for the better. Turning tables refers to the vogue for American spiritualism, and the summoning of spirits in séances who would make themselves heard, imprecisely, through raps on the wood. Spirits: what awful, even stupid, communicators! Deleuze seems to abscond from any imprecision in his thought this way: “Don’t blame me, I am just a ghost.” As every media scholar knows, American spiritualism found its source in the Fox sisters of Rochester New York, also home to Kodak and later, Xerox, in a confabulatory miasma of (now dead) mediums and media.

The entire preamble sets up the nature of such machinic ghosts, and in Deleuze there is little patience for a romantic idea of haunting by pale shadows of former selves. While the figure of the wasted or exhausted is the figure of the creator and philosopher across Deleuze’s body of work, this is always as the figure of the non-habitual exhaustion of the possible (Deleuze 1989: 209). “I am not in the habit of answering without thinking through,” he demurs. But across the abecedary we witness what Andrew Murphie, thinking about media form in Deleuze and Guattari’s work, calls the machine in the ghost (Murphie 1996). He traces a shift, articulated through Brian Eno, from the idea of “interaction” to that of the “unfinished idea,” to insist on the machinic, and to foreground expression over signification. Tiny enactments of such disarticulated possessions (signaletic expressions) stutter this work, which has little visual interest to recommend it. Watching under the prompt of media object, we can situate the abecedary within Deleuze’s understanding that the time-image “gives a body to a phantom” or to trace the machinic ghosts that populate what Guattari terms an ecology of the phantasm. What unites this is a sense of the productivity of haunting by such machinic ghosts, their faithlessness to origins, and their link to the work of pedagogy. In the series, Claire Parnet’s relentless smoking just offscreen or reflected in the mirror behind Deleuze functions as such a disarticulated possession of Deleuze’s heavy cough and his wasting. The cigarette smoke wreathes Deleuze in an ectoplasmic haze that belongs entirely to the singularity of the encounter.

The unruliness of the abecedary, its lack of domesticity, does the same. One final example to illustrate this is the felicitous accident of the film’s formal poverty, the opportunistic use of the unequal length of sound and image recording medium. Shot on 16mm, the conversational flow was constantly cut by the regular rhythm of the end of the reel, and Boutang elected to keep these stutters in the film. Throughout the series, the images often starts to flicker and goes to black, while the sound carries on as Deleuze and Parnet continue the conversation in a medium with a different recording timeline. More than once we hear Deleuze finish a thought from behind the bright glow of the image once the film has run out, and the small decision to keep these materials in are not so much the hallmark of authenticity as moments of ambiguous embodiment, an untimely speaking from the beyond of the image, an acousmêtre, as Michel Chion puts this (Chion 1999: 15).

In Cinema 2: The Time Image, Deleuze speculates on the potential of an emergent electronic image in a way that echoes his interest in Samuel Beckett’s productions for TV, to outline a pre-technological aesthetic of asymmetrical doubling, where sound and image are disjunct. The effect of this produces an automaton that exceeds capture by any individual. In the between and exchange of Parnet and Deleuze, and in the series’ unhomely and creative pedagogy, such a “non-psychological divided appearance” (the disjunction) is a means of staging the receptivity, as Deleuze terms it, of a pure speech-act (Deleuze 1989: 268). This reformulates the pure archive or blank sheet of paper we began with. Deleuze pursues the potential of the electronic image through a discussion of synchronization, which renders “the visible body, not now something imitating the utterance of the voice, but something constituting an absolute receiver or addressee. “Through it the image says to the sound: stop floating everywhere and come and live in me; the body opens to welcome the voice” (1989: 332). The effect of this, like the strange and persistent disjunction of temporalities that Deleuze evokes as his “escape clause” at the beginning of the series, is not an incorporation through synchronization that would stabilize relation. Instead, Deleuze argues that it produces a “pure informed person,” the automaton or archive, as the one who is most open to connection and receptivity (their machinic quality). Thus “audiovision” in the series is a “relational effect”; in the abecedary, what is motivated by a certain fidelity to thought and expression opens small, arrhythmic gaps in the flow of information that produces an effect beyond pragmatic necessity. Like the signaletic that exceeds signification, or expression in excess of content, we might think of these arrhythmic interruptions as the series’ stutter.

With the work of the stutter, the rappings on the table that fail to entirely communicate, we open onto an idea of possession as a minor practice in Deleuze and Guattari’s sense. In the abecedary, Deleuze retreads the initiating idea, “A is for animal,” over and over again, in particular working through the idea of the analpha-bête, the undomesticated animal as that whose sense is illegible outside of relation and contact, who deforms the distinction entre chien et loup and who invades friendship and familiarity with a dose of alterity.

So how does an audiovisual ghost get to speak? As a mode of possession, as a radical relation, not the seizing of autonomy: Deleuze returns again and again to this theme. In the discussion of the fold, one that runs through the film, in “C is for Culture” he discusses the reception of his book on Leibniz, The Fold, in a way that echoes the reception of Andrei Tarkovsky’s fabulated autobiographical film, The Mirror (1975). That film, which yokes a time travelling momentum to a dying man become “pure archive,” opens with a scene of televisual stuttering:

Fig. 2 The opening scene of The Mirror (1975).

A young boy turns on a television, which takes a while to warm up. He backs away to get a better view and we lose sight of the screen. The image cuts to black and white, as a woman interviews a man with a stutter asking him to give the details of his name and where he is from. The camera pans over to him and he looks directly into the lens, he shares the information and a landscape of movement ticks and small gestures like tossing his hair animate the scene. The camera tracks back to the woman and she starts to work the space between them, using gesture and touch to create a force field of influence between their bodies. On the plain white wall behind them we see the shadow of the microphone, a spectral, mute witness anxiously absorbing the scene’s information. The woman redistributes corporeal and mental energies, shifting tension from mind to hands, and then releasing it; she tells him “you will speak loudly and clearly your whole life.” She puts her own voice into his body in an act of ventriloquism and suspended will: “say: ‘I can speak’”! He repeats after her but she starts to double his words and he barely finishes before the scene cuts to the title credits.

This opening ventriloquism animated by the televisual medium echoes the letters Tarkovsky got from people who wrote in response to this deeply personal and subjective film to express astonishment that he should know “their” story, to tell him “that’s me!” (Tarkovsky 1986: 8). This is the mirror effect in Tarkovsky’s film, which opens with the television screen so often read as a medium of hypnosis and suspended will, and then presents an enabling “embodiment” as that which is shared ambiguously between bodies, as a pure speech act that displaces the personal. The “that’s me” Tarkovsky encountered is the mark that for Deleuze, distinguishes the forger from the artist’s generosity as enacted through fabulation. Deleuze, like Tarkovsky had a similar encounter in response to his own work on the publication of The Fold, evoking a kind of pedagogy of perception. He describes receiving letters from paper folders and surfers who write to tell him: “Votre histoire du pli, c’est nous.” For Deleuze, this enabled a sort of productive dispossession, a relay of effects that didn’t rely on communication, but a kind of shared condition, like the notes he received from his students: one way messages, table turnings. Deleuze explicitly frames these comments in the posthumous time of his “will have died.” He says: “Yes, these are encounters. When I say ‘get out of philosophy through philosophy,’ this happened to me all the time … I encountered the paper folders … I don’t have to go see them. No doubt, we’d be disappointed, I’d be disappointed, and they certainly would be.” What matters instead is the fragility of the correspondence. In Tarkovsky, the authorizing gesture that allows one to speak is connection, assemblage via media and medium. This is a mode of being moved by and with a sense of possession (“your story, that’s us) as a minor mode of resistance to information and communication. This minor practice of possession is one of infidelity, in the sense of faithlessness to what is in the sense of the actual, for an in-fidelity to change itself.

Part Three: Corporeal Choreographies

I want to conclude with a few thoughts on animated or dynamic form in the abecedary as a mode of exhaustion. In this work, we witness the question, also a pedagogical one, of how to let yourself be animated through exhaustion as an endurance event. Compulsive embodiment, like Tarkovsky’s stutterer, the boy hypnotized before the TV screen or the enabling hypnotism of the women, is a mode of possession, the movement impulse of being compelled. For much of the abecadary, Deleuze speaks with a relaxed but relatively static posture. What is notable is that although his hands and head move with ease and fluidity (if not extravagantly so), his torso tends to hold still as a block. As a viewer aware of his illness, I imagine this is due to his desire to not set off coughing, though his dreadful cough occurs more and more frequently as the series goes on. His posture isn’t rigid, but rather it is disjunctive, a bit like an animated figure in a cheap series where the part that doesn’t move doesn’t get redrawn. This changes, though, in the section “T is for Tennis” where Deleuze, who has previously spoken of the shame of being human before the television, and makes excuses for his own viewing habits under the guise of the privilege of the elderly to watch TV, is briefly caught up in a passion and his whole body moves in a new way. Choreographed by the as-if body of affect, his compulsive embodiment is but one of the multiple moments of possession that occur throughout the series, just here writ corporeally large. His body dodges and swerves, engaging the whole torso; it is as if his body is briefly borrowed not by the spirit of a player so much as by an entire attention somatechnics of sports spectatorship, between ball player, fan and social and media ecologies.

In no way is this brief possession in this moment inauthentic as a copy or a shadow of actual movement; rather it is fabulated, a machinic ghost. Faced with the endurance event of the abecadary, we might all share in the exhaustion that by the end of the series is clearly visible. Exhaustion for Deleuze is not simply being tired, it is the very moment of possibility. To be exhausted is to have exhausted the possibilities of the actual, but it is this very exhaustion that opens onto the possibility for new modes of subjectivation. It brings us back to Deleuze’s exhausted, signaletic spirit, where we began.

Writing on Beckett’s made-for-TV images in an essay entitled “The Exhausted,” Deleuze suggests that:

The image is not defined by the sublimity of its content but by its form, that is, by its “internal tension,” or by the force it mobilizes to create a void or to bore holes, to loosen the grip of words, to dry up the oozing of voices, so as to free itself from memory and reason: a small, alogical, amnesiac, and almost aphasic image, sometimes standing in the void, sometimes shivering in the open. The image is not an object but a “process.” We do not know the power of such images, so simple do they appear from the point of view of the object. This is language III, which is no longer a language of names or voices but a language of images, resounding and colouring images. (Deleuze 1997: 159)

Can we even say that the banal and impoverished media form of the abecedary could do this kind of work? Deleuze characterizes this language III as an aporia that “will be solved if one considers that the limit of the series does not lie at the infinity of the terms but can be anywhere in the flow: between two terms, between two voices or the variations of a single voice—a point that is already reached well before one knows that the series is exhausted, and well before one learns that there is no longer any possibility or any story, and that there has not been one for a long time” (Deleuze 1997: 157-58). This mode of exhaustion is at work in the series’ novel untimeliness and acousmetric dispossessions, in the face of contemporary endurance events, such as Christian Marclay’s 24-hour film The Clock (composed occasionally of TV images as well as cinema) and a series of endurance events prompted in part by today’s media deterritorializations and new mobilities that propose endurance and even exhaustion as a line of flight from the tiredness of relentless modulation of the control society. TV’s seriality as a relay form, the more-to-stories as a kind of internal tension, may be one way we can think beyond communication and information to Deleuze’s untimely return as unruly spirit. Isabelle Stengers, writing on “Gilles Deleuze’s Last Message,” proposes that:

Deleuze’s last message includes what could be a pedagogy of concepts, as it conveys what made him a philosopher, the encounter that decided that his thinking life would be philosophy. It is not a question of debt at all, rather a matter of relays. It may be what Deleuze, at the beginning of What is Philosophy? called a point of non-style. Pedagogy is not faithful transmission. Plato, Descartes or Kant are not faithfully portrayed. But the impossibility or vanity of faithful transmission is not to be identifier [sic] with the freedom to grasp and steal. Stealing, or grabbing whatever you like, is not a problem as such. The problem would be to derive grabbing and stealing as a new general model, mobilizing against the dead conformity of transmission. This conformity is a ghost anyway. We certainly never know what we transmit because what is meant to be transmitted never explains its own transmission. This is what makes a relay interesting. Relay transmission implies both taking over and handing over. The take over is always a creation, but the act of handing over also requires a creation, the creation of an arrow, conveying and honouring what produced the one who hand over, and will produce others. (Stengers 2010)

The relay function Stengers addresses is a familiar way to address the work of a last message, but it also addresses an infidelity to the self, one that Deleuze enacts as an ectoplasmic pedagogy in this TV series, a joyful, table turning resistance to the dead conformity of transmission.


[1] In an interview, Boutang recounts how “Quand c’est sorti en cassette, des gens m’ont arrêté dans la rue en me disant qu'ils en écoutaient un peu tous les matins quand ils se levaient” (Where the abecedary was released on VHS, people stopped me in the street to tell me that they watched a little every morning when they woke up” (Aubron and Boutang).


[2] The special issue of Journal of Aesthetics & Culture 4 (2012) dossier on “From Sign to Signal” contains several fine discussions of the concept of the signaletic, including Bodil Marie Thomsen, “Signaletic, Haptic and Real-time Material” and Christoph Brunner’s “Immediation as Process and Practice of Signaletic Mattering.”

[3] For a discussion of the concept of time machinics see Thain 2017, chapter 4.

[4] Clip 1: Prelude to Gilles Deleuze from A to Z. The clip can be viewed at the following URL, or in the online version of this text.

Works Cited

Aubron, Hervé and Pierre-Andre Boutang. “Tout de Gilles et rien de Gilles.” Vertigo 25 (2004): 89-91.

Brunner, Christoph. “Immediation as process and practice of signaletic mattering.” Journal of Aesthetics & Culture [Online], 4 (2012):

Chion, Michel. The Voice in Cinema. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.

Deleuze, Gilles. Cinema 2: The Time-Image. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989.

Deleuze, Gilles. “The Exhausted.” Essays Clinical and Critical. Translated by Michael A. Greco and Daniel W. Smith. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997. 152-174.

Murphie, Andrew. “Computers Are Not Theatre: The Machine in the Ghost in Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s Thought.Convergence 2.2 (1996): 80-110.

Stengers, Isabelle. “Gilles Deleuze’s Last Message.” 2010.
Accessed April 2, 2017.

Tarkovsky, Andre. Sculpting in Time. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1986.

Thain, Alanna. Bodies in Suspense: Time and Affect in Cinema. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017.

Thomsen, Bodil Marie. “Signaletic, Haptic and Real-time Material.” Journal of Aesthetics & Culture 4 (2012).

Experimentation in the “Science of the Possible”
Specifying the Generative Dynamism between Form and Exhaustion through Divergent Series

Nicole De Brabandere

A clear plastic drop-sheet is stretched over and beyond the frame of video capture (see Fig. 1). The plastic surface agitates a heap of fine dirt as it tightens and relaxes under changing air pressure and the changing weight of the bouncing volume of dirt. The grains gently elongate diagonally over the plastic skin, reverberating the form of the caving plastic surface in the lifting and jumbling particulate collisions. The contour holds at the limit between form and dispersion, between the incessant lifting and landing of its own weight. The bouncing rhythm draws powder contours by shivering volumes, between contour and surface, in jumbling, multi-sidedness. As volumes of dirt turn in on themselves, they activate an intense and fleeting resonance between the surface of the plastic sheet and the contour of each particle. These underside or inside movements, exhaust and recombine tendencies of recognizing the relation between surface and form, as well as cause and effect, activating a virtual dynamism that is in excess of frame sequence.

Fig. 1 Sticky Currents (2015) 0:58 min.

In experimental media ecologies that stage analogue techniques for video capture, the videographic surface becomes an intense topography of emergent form-taking. Sequence hops, skips and jumps between stretch and release, depth and proximity, dispersion and contraction. Gestures start to pull at the space before and beneath the walls, perhaps to the beat of knocking to listen for tone, through irregular densities of plaster, or that of listening through the viscosity of amniotic fluid. Rhythms of walking collide with the vibratory resonance of impact, absorbing sequence, between shades of flat black and thick white. Plastic becomes elastic as tendons extend beyond how far you thought you could reach. The dissociation of movement from a recognizable source or sequence in the experimental ecology intensifies the tension between continuous time and the dynamics of topographic composition. This activates an intense consistency, before there is an order of cause, dimension, surface, trajectory or duration, where past worlds co-compose in the present. This is a multiple and variable consistency, where an unexpected resonance can take renewed hold on thought and attention all at once, generating precise breaks that are hard enough to forge new forms and intense relational alliances.

The experimental media ecology sets up the conditions for exhausting and modulating the continuity of inhabited alliances, which inform tendencies of recognizing form, practiced techniques, movements, or gestures. Erin Manning identifies the character of this dynamism as emergent in but not reducible to technique, and calls it “technicity”: “[t]echnicity sets the conditions for successive operations, each of which incorporates the implicit, creating an opening toward an ecology of experimentation” (2013: 35). The experimental ecology, then, is both the outcome and the means by which inhabited techniques develop and exhaust. For instance, in tending with the relations that co-compose in combing hair, the length of cut hair might fall out of synch with each successive stroke, and the mass of hair might all of a sudden become operative as an intense, lengthening and contracting elasticity. But the intense openings and exhaustions in the technicity of experimental media operations are only partial, and draw emphasis gradually, in poking and prodding the rote continuity of habit from different registers, durations and dimensions of attention.

In this article, I engage what Thomas Lamarre (2009) calls the “Animetic Interval” in an experimental ecology of video animation. To do so, I engage the qualities of this technicity from three different modes of entry. These are divided into parts and include 1) Emergent Form and Exhaustion in Experimental Process, 2) The “Animetic Interval” and 3) Divergent Series of the Animetic Interval. This organization weaves content between my own analysis of experimental media operations and a number of references that elaborate the dynamics of attention in the apprehension of emergent form. In some instances, the writing presented here changes register so that it can resonate more closely with the intensity of specific media operations. At the same time, I aim to draw explicit conclusions from this multi-modal process and make its instances of critical relevance clear to the reader.

Emergent Form and Exhaustion in Experimental Process

Gilles Deleuze’s concept of exhaustion is a generative concept in experimental media operations, since it expands the time before tendencies affirm given modes of recognition and identification. For Deleuze, exhaustion generates a space of recombination, which is an “any-space-whatever” (Deleuze 1998: 168-9). This any-space-whatever is not reducible to objective spacetime but involves a “fantastic decomposition of the self” (Deleuze 1997: 154). In the any-space-whatever there is “equality between the straight line and the plane, and between the plane and the volume” (Deleuze 1997: 160; De Brabandere 2015). Exhaustion is then a state that activates an opening for recomposing given tendencies of perceiving form and dimension. Exhaustion opens up the potential to experiment with tendencies of perception that tend to draw quick conclusions from the lived ecology, a potential that Deleuze calls a “science of the possible” (1997: 154).

Susanne Langer suggests that we recognize form through an inhabited alliance with feeling. Langer elaborates the example, of an undulating line, where an inhabited alliance with direction gives the line virtual movement affects (1953: 65). The co-composition between inhabited tendency and objective form is not fixed but exhausts as tendencies of form recognition take on new emphasis in situated ecologies of practice. For instance, if one emphasizes the rhythm of the undulations over the line’s directionality, the line seems to repeatedly impact the surface instead of move over it. When the edges of the line come into tension with the surface of the page it can seem as through the line carves a path through a thick, gummy surface, where direction slows in the sticky mass. The thought of these dynamic relations of emergent abstraction are felt, as emergent intensity, and the precise relations of corporeal abstraction that give it force, can only be identified after the fact.

Valéry describes the informing dynamics of situated ecologies in the context of operations of drawing texture, where a clear form is not given, but emerges by tending with the movements and qualities of emergent process (1938: 77). As the specific qualities of the rendering ecology generate intense tensions, they also inform how the texture is rendered and perceived. This intensity might emerge in the way a smooth surface informs a contour that seems to accelerate, or the way a contour rendered with drying ink informs the way a surface seems to become dense and textured. [1] The inform emerges in the experimental ecology as the situated relations of form-taking activate new openings to attention and inhabited alignments of force and form.

When the line begins to behave like a fold, or derive tendencies of folding from the inhabited past, it emphasizes the role of surface dimensions, rather than merely linear dimension, in the form-taking ecology. Such a change of emphasis can generate openings for experimentation with the way surfaces exhaust and become lines (when directional vectors activate surface tension, or when a page lifts to reveal its cross-sectional edge), or when lines exhaust to become topographic (as they widen and smear or bleed through the fibres of a page). This change in dimensional and directional emphasis is felt as much as it is activated in the media ecology and becomes perceptible by analyzing the relational dynamics of the emergent forms that it generates. The affective coincidence of line and surface compels me to inhabit the “any-space-whatever” where attention flickers in and out, long enough for lines and surfaces to resonate with dimensions that are in excess of Euclidian spacetime—where the page becomes equivalent with the surface of skin, or where the floor seems to harden as the legs walking over it start to tire and weaken. Or in an instant, banal forms acquire a newfound urgency to stand tall as the voice starts to pulse in and out in nervous, fumbled and fumbling speech.

In activating the concept of exhaustion in the experimental milieu, I need not exhaust a complete subject (towards death). Instead, I attend with how particular inhabited tendencies fall in and out of register, how they resonate with formerly unassociated dimensions of the inhabited past. This is a living dive without the top-down order of gravity, where the elastic need not snap back into formerly given terms for inhabiting and recognizing corporeality. Deleuze calls the content of this process “impoverished,” but its intangibility finds force in growing new legs, and the potential to inhabit an emergent world before it is practiced.

In regular kneading operations, the substance of clay, or dampened soil, is sustained in a continuous movement of emergent surfacing and aggregate re-composition. When different membranes are kneaded into the substance, there is an intense tension that slows attention from the repeated rotational movement to the way the surface pulls, presses and resurfaces against the membrane. This process exhausts multiple registers of intense alignment between feeling and form, including the rhythmic continuity of kneading (which was a practice that I had inhabited after several years of throwing pottery), the mass of clay as a distinct and homogenous material, and the clear distinction between surfaces involved in the kneading process (the surface of clay, skin, membrane and surface of the table or floor on which the clay is kneaded). The intense resonances that emerged through the operation gave germ to a series of operations involving kneading foil, balloons, nylon and charcoal powder into clay (De Brabandere 2015).

Now the clay is no longer a balled mass, but a felt tension on the surface, where its rhythmic tension between surface and rhythm remains as it is rolled into a slab that is placed on top of glass coated with charcoal bits (see Fig. 2). The movement becomes the rhythmic, pressing and lifting of a rolling pin against the top-side of the clay slab. Now the surface of video co-composes with the surface of clay as the view of the video camera is positioned under the glass to frame the action. In the video capture, the visible plastic, rolling, pressing, appears to stretch the charcoal contours flush against the smooth glass surface. The slowly stretching charcoal contours appear to heave the weight of the bulk of the clay, but also the screen, or the lens, in waves. The glass surface becomes intensely continuous with the emergent surfacing of clay, through the appearance of a moving image that exceeds identifiable cause and effect. This process haemorrhages a gaping potential in the operational ecology, such that it is prone to gather up new surfaces, rhythms and volumes in order to resolve the problem of irresolvable surface dimension.

Fig. 2 Charcoal Roll 01 (2015) 0:21 min.

The “Animetic Interval”

The co-composition of discontinuous surfaces in the spacetime of video animation activates a technical consistency for experimenting with the relation between force and form, position and dimension, recognition and affect. Thomas Lamarre explains the importance of the animation stand in emphasizing the “animetic interval” or the space between the layered planes of the animated image, relative to mechanical succession (as compared to the continuous movement of the camera in classical cinema): “[b]ecause of the relative immobility of the camera, the emphasis in animation often falls on drawing the successive movements from frame to frame” rather than the content of each individual frame (2009: xxiv). This change in the emphasis in the relations of image capture is critical, since it prolongs the space where form and feeling co-compose. Here, emergent, situated relations can begin to co-compose with tendencies of intense alignment, in relation with sequence:

The stacking of sheets or planes of the image (and thus compositing) happens in concert with the mechanical succession of images. Such a machine is not, then, a structure that totalizes or totally determines every outcome. It not only comprises the humans who make it and work with it, but also on other virtual and actual machines. It thus unfolds in divergent series as it folds other machines into it. (Lamarre 2009: xxvi)

The animetic interval thus opens a space-time where the continuous succession of images variably swells and folds with emergent techniques of movement and attention. Time is no longer an abstract continuity, but inflates, absorbs and stretches with the non-linear dynamics of emergent movement and attention that derive new resonances with the inhabited past. The intense alignment of continuous succession and situated relations of practice puts the fixed position of camera position, and the infallibility of its capture in tension. As different modes, movements and dimensions, confront the relentless drive of continuous time, they fold and spread new intense textures that defy any single direction or sequence. Anticipation congeals at the threshold of continuity and change, where tendencies of recognition reveal the thought of their own anticipation, where lifting and landing seem to cut between forward and reverse. As this compositional dynamism gives momentum to the emergent form of composite layers, it also permeates the flesh, and is strong enough to smoothen a nervous tremble into a thinning contour. The following sequence of descriptions traces a lineage across a divergent series, where the movement of the operation moves to make the transitions between frames (both intense and objective) apprehensible relative to a fixed camera position.

Divergent Series of the Animetic Interval

The surface of a marbled balloon no longer presses, stretches and contracts in relation with the dynamic pressures of kneading clay but invites the surface of video capture to stretch and contract with its movement (see Fig. 3). Now the balloon surface is stretched over the entire surface of the frame, while a finger presses into and distorts its marbled contours from behind. One can quickly identify the marbled contours that differentiate areas of the video surface, but as the surface is stretched and distorted by an invisible source, the objective difference between layers of lens and balloon breaks down. The stretching activates the balloon surface so that it resonates with the image of its own viscosity, but also with a video surface of variable density, elasticity and consistency.

Fig. 3 Sticky Currents (2015) 0:38 min.

The rhythm that intensely degrades the difference between particulate volumes of dirt and the plastic drop sheet (described in the introduction) or that softens the surface of glass in rolling, plastic undulations (in the operation of rolling clay over charcoal-coated glass), or that presses the balloon between viscous and elastic intensities in the above description, continues to activate an intense consistency between surface and position. This time the rhythm kneads the aggregate surface of pavement in increasing and decreasing acceleration with the pace of walking. The rhythm kneads the aggregate ground between swathing contours as it accelerates, and a grazing staccato as the movement slows into position (see Fig. 4). The video image emerges when holding the video camera downward while walking, and to the side to avoid letting walking feet enter into the frame. In co-composing the variable pace of walking with the surface of asphalt, and the distance to the ground from the waist down, the virtual intensity of the animetic interval emerges. The relation between movement and distance travelled, and the relation between image capture and the number of steps taken (and the rate with which they punctuate time in position) exhausts, while the alignment of surface and direction intensifies.

Fig. 4 Asphalt Knead (2015) 0:31 min.

The even rhythm of walking or of the glass that once pressed against heaving clay, returns as an irregular variation as the top-most layer of the animetic interval rolls and presses against a brittle, and slightly irregular charcoal stick (see Fig. 5). Now the camera is positioned facing downward over a glass surface that exerts an invisible tension over the charcoal stick, rolling it jerkily back and forth on its horizontal axis. The glass agitates the surface of the charcoal stick, exhausting its virtual alignment with the direction of linear proportion, under the pressing pane. The source of movement remains undetermined until, under increasing pressure, an irregularity in form or density cause the stick to crack, exposing the glass surface with a bursting spray of dust that coats its underside dimension. This quick release of material tension affectively coincides with the deflation of the intense anticipation of the animetic interval, where attention returns to identifying cause and effect.

Fig. 5 Charcoal Roll 02 (2016) 0:42 min.

The regular rhythm of the earlier examples remains exhausted, while the irregular movement relation between surface and form begins to amplify. White sheets of paper with edges aligned along the horizontal axis of the frame move and undulate in relation with each other (see Fig. 6). Now the glass is gone but the vague appearance of rolling lingers, as the lifting and lowering pages seem to roll. The gap between the edges articulates a contour of varying width as the edges of the pages impact and separate to reveal a black ground underneath. Then the edges impact and align, all of the sudden, and draw a contour in perfect synchronicity by sliding the point of contact between the two sheets in a smooth crescendo. While watching to identify a clear difference between the composite layers of pages and ground, a contour emerges that activates an intense, inseparable relation between them.

Fig. 6 Video Stills from Experimental Line, 2016, 3:06 min.

The synchronous force of the streamlining contour doesn’t hold but the form of the line as an animetic layer persists. A nervous shake returns to the arms holding the paper, activating a contour defined by hardened and straightened paper edges that bite flat and hard into the visible contrast that separates them (see Fig. 7). In the jittery agitation, the ground, or space of contrast between the two pages, becomes coated with charcoal powder (affectively and literally), so that the line spews and smokes a thickening atmosphere. Now the nearly vibratory movement of the nervous shake starts to become more refined as it resonates with the micro movements of the dissipating, multi-directional circulation of dust.

Fig. 7 Experimental Line (2016) 3:06 min.

In the next operation, the appearance of the movement of dust, and that of the movement of vibration linger, as does the dimension of the line as an animetic layer. A charcoal-coated elastic string is strung over a white ground and the position of the video camera is facing top-down (see Fig. 8). The tied ends of the string are cut from the frame so that the dimensions of the videographic staging become less clear. When the taut string is disturbed it oscillates, and releases charcoal dust. In the vibration the string doubles and falls out of focus, such that it is not clear whether the charcoal powder is falling off the string, or whether the string is transforming into powder. The convergence of line and dust co-compose an intense, durational atmosphere where cause and effect fall out of focus. Before the oscillation stops, and before the animetic intensity dampens to reveal a motionless, singular string (that is vulnerable to the optical space of intense object capture), the video footage is edited to cut between forward and reverse, drawing a last gasp from the intense indeterminacy between movement and image capture.

Fig. 8 Video stills from Charcoal String (2016) 0:07 min.

Concluding Remarks

In this rendering of divergent series, there is no singular, recurrent relation. Instead, what recurs is the way the different elements of the animetic machine exhaust existing tendencies of intense relation by activating intense openings for emergent form-taking. One of these elements includes the fixity of camera position, which exhausts the intense capture of cinematic camera movement, by intensifying the emergent form-taking in the movement and quality of co-composing, animetic layers. Another emerges in how editing out the clues that fix the animetic machine to its objective components, whether in framing or in splitting the clip, exhausts tendencies of equating optical recognition with infallible perception. The recovery from exhaustion, through emergent form, does not remain allied to any single mode of inhabited alignment, but resonates transversally. In turn the virtual movement of linear form might vibrate out of intense directionality, and the intense flatness of everyday architectural surfaces might acquire new give. The dynamism of these intense alignments changes the emphasis in how the past is derived in the present, a process whose impact can only be identified partially, after the fact. At the same time, the partial lineages of intense relation that emerge in this process become perceptible through the traces of divergent series (in this case the video renderings). By attending with and articulating the emergent alignments of form and intensity in the traces and operational dynamics of the animetic machine, I develop an analytic of emergent corporeal abstraction (or the felt thought of inhabited tendency as it comes into new intense relation with the inhabited past). Unlike the pervasive cultural tendency to presume a deterministic relation between identification and the lived ecology, I invoke the identification of form as part of a “science of the possible.” In the “science of the possible,” distinct entities implode and fold over themselves as they integrate intensities that are not definable by a co-ordinate system, a sequence of events or a stable relation with feeling. Through this process, artefacts remain that are prone to dislodge from their order of cause at any moment. In turn, the artefacts of this intense science are also prone to help activate diverse technical ecologies, by making palpable the emergence of felt thought. [2]


[1] I develop several variations of these intense, informing dynamics in (De Brabandere 2016).

[2] I have shown the videos presented here in different workshop settings, where participants are given similar materials to work and think with. This process amplifies the emergence of felt thought and the potential to think corporeal abstraction collectively.

Works Cited

De Brabandere, Nicole. “Experimenting with Affect across Drawing and Choreography.” Body and Society 22. 3 (2016): 103-124.

De Brabandere, Nicole. “Sticky Currents: Drawing Folds in Serial Exhaustion.” Journal for Artistic Research 9 (2015).

Deleuze, Gilles. Essays Critical and Clinical. Trans. Daniel W. Smith and Michael A. Greco. London: Verso, 1998.

Gil, José. Metamorphoses of the Body. Trans. Stephen Muecke. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1998.

Harney, Stefano and Fred Moten. The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study. Wivenhoe/New York/Port Watson: Minor Compositions, 2013.

Lamarre, Thomas. The Anime Machine: A Media Theory of Animation. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2009.

Langer, Susanne K. Feeling and Form: A Theory of Art Developed from Philosophy in a New Key. New York, NY: Scribner’s, 1953.

Manning, Erin. Always More than One: Individuation’s Dance. London and Durham: Duke University Press, 2013.

Manning, Erin. Relationscapes: Art, Movement, Philosophy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009.

Massumi, Brian. “The Thinking-Feeling of What Happens: A Semblance of Conversation.” Inflexions 1 (2008): 5–6.

Valéry, Paul. Degas Danse Dessin. Paris: Gallimard, 1938.

Whitehead, Alfred N. Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology. New York, NY: The Free Press, 1978.

The Neuroplastic Paradox

Adam Szymanski
Concordia University


A depression pandemic is sweeping the globe, and its end appears nowhere in sight. Study after study confirms skyrocketing diagnostic rates: now about ten times more prevalent than it was only a few decades ago, depression has become the world’s leading cause of disability. Approximately 350 million people live with a depressive disorder and over 800,000 people commit suicide every year. [1] These startling statistical trends have politicians and public health officials scrambling to mitigate a crisis that deepens with every moment. [2] The crisis has gotten so out of control that even the world’s financial elite have started to worry about the economic consequences. “This is not just a public health issue—it’s a development issue,” says Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank. “We need to act now because the lost productivity is something the global economy simply cannot afford” (World Health Organization 2016b). In an effort to entice further government investment into mental health services, Yong Kim underscores the economic advantages of treating depression and anxiety disorders—a “fourfold return”! (WHO 2016b) As well-intentioned as the World Health Organization’s call for increased mental health resources may be, the efficacy of these resources has come under close scrutiny, especially given that the depression pandemic’s continued intensification. Studies on dominant treatment methods are showing their benefits to be as modest as ever, and broad-based initiatives to administer “evidence-based treatments” to the public have yielded underwhelming clinical results. [3] Access to first-rate medical treatment has done little to change the unwavering fact that once someone has been diagnosed with severe depression, it is typical for them to battle with the black dog for their entire life. [4]

In an epoch in which more people than ever have access to professional mental health services, more people than ever find themselves depressed and living with disabling emotional pain. What is to be made of this burning contradiction? In this paper I would like to suggest that this contradiction can be partially understood through the paradoxical ways that neuroplasticity functions in a neoliberal economy: as both the promise of better mental health, and the enabling condition for economic performances that exhaust and depress.

Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to change, even into adulthood, as neurons “forge new connections, … blaze new paths through the cortex, [and] even … assume new roles. In shorthand, neuroplasticity means rewiring the brain” (Schwartz and Bigley 2002: 15). The discourse of plasticity forms the scientific ground upon which the dominant medical strategies in place for treating depression are built. The two most practiced treatments for depression today are the prescription of psychotropic medication (antidepressants) and a modern form of psychotherapy known as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. The rationale behind prescribing antidepressant medication is that the depressed brain has a chemical imbalance that can be regulated through medication. CBT operates on the principle that depression is characterized by a deficit of accurate thinking, and that the depressed person’s thoughts are trapped within the “cognitive triad” (a reinforcing loop of negative thoughts) which makes life situations seem worse than they really are. What undergirds both this former psychiatric practice and latter psychological one (which differ quite remarkably in their approach but are often practiced in unison) is the neuroscientific discovery that the brain can change, either by introducing new chemical compounds or thought patterns.

What I argue in the following pages is that the therapeutic efficacy of these institutionally sanctioned methods is largely thwarted by neoliberal power’s immanence to plasticity. Neuroplasticity may provide a solid scientific basis for insisting on the possibility of at least some form of therapeutic cure, even in the deepest bouts of despair. Yet this optimism fueled by various neuroscientific research initiatives is tempered by a harrowing contradiction: that the epoch of neuroplasticity is the same epoch that has witnessed the outbreak of a global depression epidemic. What institutionally sanctioned therapies fail to critically engage with, is the political operation of how the brain becomes subject. Perhaps unconsciously, or perhaps out of willfull blindness, the dominant medical strategies in place for treating depression uncritically lend themselves to the neoliberal free marketeering of life – the transformation of life into capital. They each assist this transformation by creating brain chemistries or thought patterns that facilitate the maintenance, or even enhancement, of one’s “human capital.” It is precisely through this becoming subject of the brain to assume its role as capital that the plastic paradox I would like to foreground here (a politicized variant of the one proposed by Norman Doidge) presents itself [5]: that despite its therapeutic promise, there is nothing inherent to neuroplasticity which prevents the production of subjectivity in line with affective suffering. After all, neoliberal power works immanently to the brain, so that (neuro)plastic qualities of movement, modulation, transformation, or restructuring cannot in and of themselves be valourized for their therapeutic value, since there is nothing preventing power from enticing these changes to serve its own interests, to the detriment of psychic and social life. [6] The subsumption of mental health services to the demands of the market (what Josep Rafanelli I Orra calls “therapeutic capitalism”) may not sound all that bad. After all, it is still “therapeutic.” But when analyzing therapeutic capitalism’s subjectifying apparatuses, Christian Marazzi’s reminder rings as pertinently as ever: “If we want to produce capital through life, we need to remember how little life is worth in the eyes of power” (150).


A brief contextualization of neuroplasticity’s primacy within neuroscientific discourse will help to frame this paradox of neuroplasticity in which we are snared. Long gone are the days when scientists thought that the brain finished developing during childhood, and that adults were stuck with a “hard wired” brain that could only diminish in capacities due to psychical trauma, mental illness or aging. The rationale that the adult brain can heal from even severe impairments is now commonplace, and constitutes the basis for a vast array of therapeutic options, that all seek, through different means, to modify the plastic structure of the brain into some non-pathological form.

According to Catherine Malabou, plasticity has become “the dominant concept of the neurosciences.” “Today,” Malabou argues, “it constitutes their common point of interest, their dominant motif, and their privileged operating model, to the extent that it allows them to think about the brain as at once an unprecedented dynamic, structure, and organization” (Malabou 4). The brain’s ability to be rewired, even into adulthood, has promised a new wave of hope for the treatment of “mental illnesses” (now also frequently referred to as “brain disorders”) and a host of other conditions. [7]

As the shift in emphasis from the “psy” to the “neuro” continues to intensify across a broad range of societal discourses and institutions, especially those pertaining to the management of health [8], the reductionist temptation to desubjectify the depression pandemic we are living through presents itself as strongly as ever. Take for example, the words of pioneering researcher in brain plasticity, Michael Mezernich: “Contemporary neuroscience is revealing, for the first time in our history, our true human natures,” he says. “Human wisepersons and societies have had great fun pondering about the mysteries of the origins of the ‘self’.… We now have first-level scientific answers to these questions. We now understand the basic processes that underlie the genesis of the ‘self’” (Mezernich). If the self can be reduced to primary brain processes, then what distinguishes a life coloured by depression from an exuberant one, a life on the verge of suicide from a life with an appetite for more? According to this material reductionist viewpoint [9], the difference between these two tendencies of life lies in the brain. And make no mistake, it undoubtedly does, but only if the brain is granted an expanded sense that confounds its orthodox usage in the neurosciences.

As Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s own theoretical turns from the “psy” to the “neuro” in the 1980s and 1990s attest, theories of subjectivity production that seek to break from established analytic topographies are apt to explore the neurological dimension. The real schism between a reductionist scientism and a politicization of subjectivity is that the former thinks the brain in isolation, “outside of organism and milieu” (Rose 2016), whereas the latter thinks the brain as milieu, “event,” or “screen” (Deleuze 2000: 366; Deleuze 1995: 176). By constructing an isolated brain as the essence of subjectivity (and psychological affliction), neuroscience and the hegemonic therapies couched in it, all too frequently treat the “social as a supplement” (Rose 2016), effectively effacing the political contingency of the brain’s plastic composition.

Deleuze may have advanced a “materialist psychiatry,” but his take on the brain couldn’t differ more from material reductionist schemas. That’s because the materiality of the brain is thoroughly “psychosocial,” a membrane at the limit of the desire and the social: “the brain is precisely this boundary of a continuous two-way movement between an Inside and Outside, this membrane between them” (Deleuze 1995: 176). Deleuze’s brain-as-screen is material; a materially constituted milieu which includes the reality of relation between polymorphous flows of desire (or “stimuli”). Read in this expanded sense, the brain is indeterminate, a brain for the making and in the making, shaped by the movements of desire that impress upon it. As Deleuze writes: “Cerebral circuits and connections do not preexist the stimuli, the corpuscles, or particles that trace them” (Deleuze 2000: 366).

Such a conception of the brain may seem a bit counter-intuitive at first; it is not the brain inside of the head, but the brain as the screen, as materially immanent to the (plastic) movement of the psychosocial event. Deleuze elaborates:

One might equally well speak of new kinds of event, rather than processes of subjectification: events that can’t be explained by the situations that give rise to them, or into which they lead. They appear for a moment, and it’s that moment that matters, it’s the chance we must seize. Or we can simply talk about the brain. […] I think subjectification, events, and brains are more or less the same thing. (Deleuze 1995: 176)

Rather than the originator of experience, or the building block of some essential human self, as is posited by the material-reductionist hypothesis, the brain is an eventful milieu of subjectivity production—a milieu that can engender the hardened confines of an unshakeable depression, or even the most unexpected of therapeutic recompositions.

The shift in neoliberal strategies of governance from industrial capitalism’s emphasis on discipline towards deployment of control, has seized the potential of brain plasticity. “Control society” is the term that Deleuze uses to describe a new type of power that emerges in the late 20th Century, in contradistinction to Europe’s “disciplinary” and “sovereign” societies that figure prominently in Michel Foucault’s work on discipline and punishment in the 19th and 18th centuries. Strategies of control augment the state-run disciplinary institutions of confinement such as the military barracks, the classroom and the psychiatric ward by governance through more decentralized and corporatized means. New forms of subjectivity have been produced as a consequence of this shift in power. Whereas disciplinarity operates by molding its subjects from the outside (through confinement, repetitive drills and exercises as well as moral strictures), control works more seductively to induce conformity by way of modulation from within the subject who performs its own enterprising sense of self (by incurring debt, seeking motivation and conducting self-audits). Significantly for this study of plasticity and power, Deleuze attunes to how these strategies of power are to be distinguished by their tendency to either mold or modulate. He writes: “Confinements are moulds, different mouldings, while controls are a modulation like a self-transmuting moulding continually changing from one moment to the next, or like a sieve whose mesh varies from one point to another” (1995: 178). Of key importance here is that rather than restricting change by confining and disciplining movements through moulds that hold for a set period of time (the school day, the tour of duty, etc.), control societies work immanently to change, by directing, inflecting and modulating it indefinitely—“In control societies you never finish anything,” Deleuze adds (1995: 178).

The rise of the control society poses a whole new set of questions about political resistance that were absent from the discourse of political modernism. Neoliberalism has, at least in many “advanced capitalist” pockets, ceded to worker demands for more free time and less rigid work structures; feminist and queer demands for gender fluidity and non-heteronormative relationships; and postcolonial demands for minority recognition. But at the same time that many of the 20th century’s desires are seeing themselves fulfilled, and stifling old molds have given way to some more flexible identities, schedules and borders, power has not ceded any of its capacity to modulate modes of existence.

This modulatory style of control is emblematic of what Mark Fisher calls “capitalist realism,” the idea that it may be easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. For Fisher, capitalist realism “entails subordinating oneself to a reality that is infinitely plastic, capable of reconfiguring itself at any moment. […] We are presented with what Jameson calls ‘a purely fungible present in which space and psyches alike can be processed and remade at will’ ” (199). In the control society, power entices never-ending adaption to a plastic reality in perpetual change and modulation, regardless of how unconducive to wellness or how unsustainable such economic imperatives have proven to be. Faced with this neoliberal reality political resistance cannot be content with only working towards the abolishment of confining structures and identities.

Catherine Malabou and Marc Jeannerod address this predicament at the heart of the neuroplastic paradox in the most politicized passages of the book What Should We Do with Our Brain? In order to salvage the concept of plasticity, they propose a distinction between the neoliberal economy’s demands for infinite flexibility and the potentially therapeutic qualities of neuroplasticity. They warn:

Let us not forget that plasticity is a mechanism for adapting, while flexibility is a mechanism for submitting. Adapting is not submitting, and, in this sense, plasticity ought not to serve as an alibi for submitting to the new world order being dreamed up by capitalism.… What flexibility lacks is the resource of giving form, the power to create, to invent or even to erase an impression, the power to style. Flexibility is plasticity minus its genius. (Jeannerod: xiv; Malabou: 12)

The distinction that Malabou and Jeannerod set up between plasticity and flexibility posits plasticity’s creative capacity to challenge the neoliberal demand of interminable flexibility. According to their formulation, plasticity actively shapes the world, whereas flexibility submits to the shape that the world has already taken. For these thinkers, the act of giving form, creating, inventing, erasing and styling constitute the pragmatic and experimental basis for resistance. Conversely, flexibility would entail a subduing of this creative capacity in order to accept the form of the world as it is (in its becoming), and submit to its modulatory impositions, rather than contribute to its ongoing formation through acts of creation.

It is hard not to see the appeal of this sort of optimistic assertion that creative actions can defy the control society’s demand of endless flexibility. Yet what needs to be emphasized here is that even plasticity’s creative capacity cannot escape the “plastic paradox” outlined above; the paradox that plasticity can habitually reinforce psychological suffering as much as its therapeutic overcoming, political oppression as much as emancipation. What scholarship on the various incarnations of the control society points to is that the creative capacity to give form far from guarantees a break from the logic of “the new world order being dreamed up by capitalism.” In a control society, modulatory controls work immanently to plastic creation and change, and find ways to strategically revive old disciplinary moulds in key instants.

Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi elaborates this idea in his extensive writings on the political conditions that enable widespread depression. His approach advances the view that neoliberalism strategically abandons a politics of repression, and instead entices creative expression and novel change. This idea comes from Deleuze, who in bemoaning the excess of communication in late capitalist society, writes: “repressive forces don’t stop people from expressing themselves, but rather, force them to express themselves” (Deleuze 1995: 129). [10] Berardi builds on this idea most overtly in his article “Repression, Expression, Depression” where he writes: “The pathologies of our epoch are effectively no longer the neurotic pathologies produced by the repression of the libido, but rather the schizoid pathologies produced by the expressive explosion of ‘just do it’ ” (189). In “Re-Assessing Composition: 40 Years After the Publication of Anti-Oedipus” he reiterates this view: “Psychic suffering does not come so much from repression but mainly from the hyper-expressive compulsion…” (Berardi 2012: 114). The overarching concern running throughout Bifo’s recent work on the politics of depression is neoliberalism’s ability to promote aggressive and exhausting competition by inducing labourious performances for economic gain, or even just for mere survival. By making this critical diagnosis of the contemporary situation, Bifo is prompted to call for “a new cultural task”: “to live the inevitable with a relaxed soul. To call forth a big wave of withdrawal, of massive dissociation, of desertion from the scene of the economy, of nonparticipation in the fake show of politics” (Berardi 2011a: 148).

The political directive to withdraw is historically grounded in the Autonomia movement’s refusal of work strategy, but can be criticized as promoting a culture of defeatism and falsely equating all action, including activism, with unconsciously performing the interests of neoliberalism. [11] I include these extracts here in order to show how Malabou and Jeannerod’s plasticity-flexibility binary that allies plasticity to creativity and flexibility to submission is troubled by the fact that neoliberal economics depend on creativity, expressivity and novelty in order to extract surplus value and reproduce its lecherous relationship between capital and life. This is not to say that all actions are inherently coopted and futile, and that we should follow Bifo in his most depressive moments by withdrawing from the scene of activism, but simply to point out that in the control society, power is savvy enough to encourage the expressive, creative, and modulatory capacities of (neuro)plasticity, but in ways that never risk its dominance.

Deleuze makes exactly this point in his essay on the intercessor where he bemoans the excess of communication that surrounds late capitalist society: “repressive forces don’t stop people from expressing themselves,” he writes “but rather, force them to express themselves” (Deleuze 1995: 288–89). This insight that neoliberal power works as much through expressivity as through repression was speculatively glimpsed in Anti-Oedipus, his earlier work with Guattari on desire and its machinism. In Foucault’s preface to the English translation, he famously articulates this strange paradox that repressive forces don’t stop people from expressing themselves as inherent to the “molecular fascism” that Deleuze and Guattari went to such great lengths in that book to identify and eradicate. Molecular fascism, Foucault writes, is “the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behaviours, that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us” (Foucault 1983: xiii). The desire for power, or for fascism, is always already productive. Not coincidentally, what one if the subjective formations it is productive of, is none other than the individual: “The individual is the product of power” (Foucault 1983: xiv).

One of neoliberal power’s most enduring strategies for maintaining its dominance amidst the deterritorializing effects of a plastic reality that incessantly expresses, creates and modulates is to reterritorialize onto the site of the individual. If there is a historical through-line linking the disciplinary society to the control society, which should be taken as evidence that one type of society does not replace the other but that it emerges over and on top of the other, like an archaeological site or palimpsest, it is the enduring and unwavering presence of the individual. This individualized subject is not a natural given, though neoliberal ideology often presents it as such. It is the result of a highly abstract form of subjectivity production that parses the individual from the machinic assemblages in which it is immersed as a component part. Nevertheless, this parsing of the individual from the “dividual” is a fundamental aspect of the capitalist production of subjectivity that Maurizio Lazzarato calls “social subjection.” Found in regimes of power based both on disciplinarity and control, the apparatus of social subjection assigns “subjectivity, an identity, sex, profession, nationality, and so forth” to produce “an ‘individuated subject’ whose paradigmatic form in neoliberalism has been that of ‘human capital’ and the ‘entrepreneur of the self’ “ (2014: 24). Though really inseparable from the creativity and novelty of the dynamic plastic assemblages in which it takes part, power parses an individual who is made “guilty and responsible for his fate” (24). In an undulatory reality of endless modulations, characterized as “infinitely plastic,” the individual and its lingering mould incessantly returns as a dominant refrain, confirming power’s vested interest in an ontology that separates self from world and makes the former unduly responsible for all that happens in the latter.

If the individual is the product of power, and if power subjects the individual in such a way as to encourage its performance as modulatory “human” capital, then there is no reason to believe that the individual’s ability to creatively shape the plastics of its world would somehow mark power’s undoing. Nor is there reason to believe that therapeutic methods which encourage brain plasticity to move more in sync with the economic demands of life under neoliberalism would somehow lead to wellness or flourishing, even if they may lead to being “symptom-free.” Plasticity, as much as flexibility, can constitute a total submission to the status quo, without us even being cognizant of it—hence the plastic paradox. After all, there is nothing unusual about desiring “the very thing that dominates and exploits us,” and thus producing its (and by extension, our) very existence.

Given neoliberal power’s immanence to neuroplasticity as well as its immanence to the dominant therapeutic methods which justify themselves with recourse to the concept, the lofty hopes that have been invested in neuroplasticity beg to be critically tempered. Yet I would like to conclude on a pragmatic note, which also happens to be a positive one, and suggest that by reintroducing the question of subjectivity—of how the brain becomes subject—into the plastic dynamics of the event, we may ride the quantum of potential that neuroplasticity does offer: the potential for transversal social practices constitutive of therapeutic activism to usher in novel subjectivities whose processual composition amounts to nothing less than well-becoming—a collectively animated well-being whose therapeutic and political value lies in the how of its making.


[1] For more statistics on depression see the World Health Organization’s factsheet (2016a).

[2] Politicians are increasingly making mental health a policy priority. Take for example the UK secretary of health Jeremy Hunt’s recent admission that mental health services are the NHS’s greatest area of weakness, and his subsequent announcement of £1.4 billion for children and young people’s mental health care (Campbell 2016: n.p.). In Canada, mental health funding has become a hot-button issue in failing budgetary negotiations between the federal government and the provinces, due largely to Federal Health Minister Jane Philpott’s insistence “that billions in new federal money be devoted specifically to mental health care” (Curry 2016: n.p.).

[3] A recent meta-analysis published in the American Psychological Association’s Psychology Bulletin shows that Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is proving less and less effective as a treatment for depression (Johnsen and Friborg 2015). In the UK, more than a million people have received free CBT as part of the initiative that economist Richard Layard helped to push through with the Oxford psychologist David Clark (Burkeman 2016; Department of Health 2012). In spite of these massive governmental efforts, mental illnesses such as depression are still higher than ever in the UK (Campbell 2016). On the psychopharmaceutical side of things, the critical literature is ever mounting, from within the scientific disciplines and without. The success rates of antidepressants in treating depression overall have drastically fallen off since the 1990s, a time when initial numbers had been inflated by drug companies selectively revealing their studies to the FDA. Marcia Angell, the former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, shares this history in “The Epidemic of Mental Illness: Why?,” a lengthy 2011 review of three books critical of the psychiatric establishment’s reliance on psychotropic medication (Irving Kirsch’s The Emperor’s New Drugs: Exploding the Antidepressant Myth; Robert Whitaker’s Anatomy of an Epidemic: Magic Bullets, Psychiatric Drugs, and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America; and Daniel Carlat’s Unhinged: The Trouble With Psychiatry—A Doctor’s Revelations About a Profession in Crisis). Furthermore, a recent patient-level meta-analysis has raised doubts about the effectiveness of SSRIs for “milder forms” of depression (Fournier et al. 2012).

[4] Depression recurrence statistics show that “50 percent of those who recover from a first episode of depression having one or more additional episodes in their lifetime, and approximately 80 percent of those with a history of two episodes having another recurrence” (Burcasa and Iacono 2007: 960). For depression recurrence statistics, see Burcasa and Iacono’s “Risk for Recurrence in Depression.”

[5] The plastic paradox that I present here is a politicized variant of the one presented by Norman Doidge in his book The Brain that Changes Itself. Doidge’s “plastic paradox” accounts for the brain’s duplicity, its ability to be afflicted or to be healed, or simply to yield to influence. He describes the paradox as follows: “the same plasticity which allows for the brain to change and heal, even in adulthood, is also the same plasticity that reinforces patterns of behaviour and habits of perception, and consequentially can entrench a number of disorders into the brain” (Doidge: xx).

Neuroplasticity makes equally possible the most miraculous of therapeutic cures and the most agonizing of afflictions. It insists on the brain’s capacity to affect and be affected, and to modulate its dynamic form, but can condemn as much as it can liberate.

[6] Even though neuroscience has nothing to say on the question of how the plasticity of the brain is conditioned by the operations of power in the field of its emergence, philosophers of the brain do miss out on this crucial point. Drawing on the work of Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello in The New Spirit of Capitalism, there are moments where the Derridean philosopher Catherine Malabou actually echoes Deleuze’s formulation of the brain as a decentralized eventful screen composed in tandem with the psychosocial flows of desire. Malabou writes: “Neuronal functioning and social functioning interdetermine each other and mutually give each other form (here again the power of plasticity) to the point where it is no longer possible to distinguish between them” (Malabou 2008: 9). As a result, “the functional plasticity of the brain deconstructs its function as the central organ and generates the image of a fluid process, somehow present everywhere and nowhere, which places the outside and the inside in contact” (Malabou 2008: 35).

[7] I put the term “mental illness” in scare quotes here to signal that many conditions which are officially labelled as such in the DSM-V are being reclaimed by the neurodiversity movement, which seeks to celebrate and de-pathologize neurological difference by privileging the strengths of diversity. See, for example, Thomas Armstrong’s Neurodiversity: Discovering the Extraordinary Gifts of Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, and Other Brain Differences.

[8] For more on this shift from the “psy” to the “neuro” see Nikolas Rose and Joelle M. Abi-Rached’s Neuro: The New Brain Sciences and the Management of the Mind.

[9] “The brain” is a fetish object of bourgeois psychiatry and the materialist-reductionist ideology that it holds dear. Mark Fisher, author of Capitalist Realism, puts it bluntly: “The chemico-biologization of mental illness is of course strictly commensurate with its depoliticization” (Fisher 37). Materialist reductionism is a cluster of dominant beliefs within neuroscience research that account for all human experience and consciousness in terms of biological processes, and thus refuses to admit either experience or consciousness as scientifically valid entities. For materialist reductionists, conscious experience is nothing more than the sum of firing neurons. According to this widely held scientific worldview, experience is reducible to the brain, and thus the key to understanding all psychopathology lies in unlocking the neurological mysteries of brain functioning. It is easy to see how such a perspective is commensurate with the depoliticization of melancholia since it completely disengages the brain from the psychosocial field of experience and its conditioning by power. As Jeffrey Schwartz writes in The Mind and the Brain: “To the mainstream materialist way of thinking, only the physical is real. Anything nonphysical is at best an artifact, at worst an illusion” (24).

[10] The translator of this essay chose the work “meditator” for the French “intercesseur.” At the SenseLab, we prefer to translate “intercesseur” as “intercessor” since “mediator” implies a logic of representation at odds with the immediate, free indirect nature of the intercessional act.

[11] For an elaboration of this important critique, see Erin Manning’s essay “In the Act: The Shape of Precarity” in “Melancholy and Politics.” (Manning, 2013b)

Works Cited

Armstrong, Thomas. Neurodiversity: Discovering the Extraordinary Gifts of Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, and Other Brain Differences. Cambridge, MA: De Capo Lifelong, 2010.

Boltanski, Luc and Eve Chiapello. The New Spirit of Capitalism. London: Verso, 2005.

Berardi, Franco ‘Bifo’. After the Future. Edinburgh, Oakland, Baltimore: AK Press, 2011a.

Berardi, Franco ‘Bifo’. “Repression, Expression, Depression.” In The Guattari-Effect. Eds. Éric Alliez and Andrew Goffey. London and New York: Continuum, 2011b.

Berardi, Franco ‘Bifo’. “Re-Assessing Composition: 40 Years After the Publication of Anti-Oedipus.” Subjectivity 5.1 (2012): 111-119.

Berardi, Franco ‘Bifo’. The Soul at Work: From Alientation to Autonomy. Trans. Francesca Cadel and Guiseppina Mecchia. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2009.

Deleuze, Gilles. Negotiations: 1972-1990. Trans. Martin Joughin. New York and Chichester, West Sussex: Columbia University Press, 1995.

Deleuze, Gilles. “The Brain is the Screen: An Interview with Gilles Deleuze.” In The Brain is the Screen: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Cinema. Ed. Gregory Flaxman. Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2000. 365-373.

Doidge, Norman. The Brain that Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science. London: Penguin, 2007.

Foucault, Michel. The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978-1979. Trans. Michel Sennelart. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, 2008.

Foucault, Michel. “Preface.” Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983. xi-xiv

Fisher, Mark. Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? Winchester, UK and Washington, USA: 0 Books, 2009.

Lazzarato, Maurizio. Signs and Machines: Capitalism and the Production of Subjectivity. Trans. David Joshua Jordan. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2014.

Malabou, Catherine. What Should We Do With Our Brain? Foreword by Marc Jeannerod. Trans. Sebastian Rand. New York: Fordham University Press, 2008.

Manning, Erin. “In the Act: The Shape of Precarity.” |Π| Magazine for Live Arts Research 2 (November 2013): 10-15. Special issue: “Melancholy and Politics.”

Manning, Erin. The Minor Gesture. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2016.

Marazzi, Christian. Capital and Affects: The Politics of the Language Economy. Los Angeles, California and Cambridge, Massachusetts: Semiotext(e), 2011.

Merzenich, Michael. “The brain plasticity revolution.” “On the Brain” with Dr. Micharl Merzenich.

Rafanelli I Orra, Jopsep. En finir avec le capitalisme thérapeutique : soin, politique et communauté. Paris: La Découverte, 2011.

Rose, Nikolas. “Brain, Self and Society.” Andrew F. Holmes Dean of Medecine Distinction Lectures. McGill University. Montreal, Canada. October 27, 2016.

Rose, Nikolas and Joelle M. Abi-Rached. Neuro: The New Brain Sciences and the Management of the Mind. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2013.

Schwartz, Jeffrey and Sharon Begley. The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force. New York: Regan Books, 2002.

Être fatigué d’être

Steve Giasson

Un énoncé (conceptuel)

Être fatigué d’être. Ainsi s’énonce la Performance invisible No. 129. Curieuse performance, me direz-vous, qui suggère d’”agir” l’impuissance, d’opter pour l’asthénie !...

Pour mieux situer celle-ci, il faut savoir qu’elle clôt pratiquement une exposition de longue haleine, intitulée justement Performances invisibles, que j’ai réalisée en collaboration avec DARE-DARE Centre de diffusion d’art multidiscipLinaire de Montréal, dans le cadre de leur programmation « Micro-interventions dans l’espace public », entre le 7 juillet 2015 et le 7 juillet 2016.

Ce projet était (et est toujours) constitué de cent-trente énoncés conceptuels – de courts textes autonomes, plus ou moins descriptifs ou « poétiques » – colligés sur le site Internet dédié : Toutefois, ces énoncés, ces “œuvres préalables”, peuvent également se lire comme des partitions, parfois sibyllines, pouvant donner naissance à d’autres œuvres : des performances minimales, pouvant et ayant été exécutées par moi dans l’espace public ou privé, sans qu’aucun public ne soit convié.

La documentation entourant ces exécutions était ensuite publiée sur le réseau social Facebook ainsi que sur le site Internet mentionné plus haut. Leur « public à posteriori », si j’ose dire, les utilisateurs et les utilisatrices, était aussi invité.es à interpréter à leur tour ces énoncés et à m’envoyer leur documentation, afin qu’elle soit ajoutée sur le site.

Cette exposition s’inscrivait ainsi ouvertement dans le sillage des Event Scores (Partitions d’événement) de Fluxus (Yoko Ono, George Brecht, Mieko Shiomi, La Monte Young, etc.), des Gestes de Ben Vautier et des œuvres textuelles de plusieurs artistes conceptuels et néo-conceptuels (Lawrence Weiner, Robert Barry, Clifford Owens, Peter Liversidge, etc.), puisqu’elle soulevait « ... des points qui sont au cœur de l’art conceptuel : 1) le caractère idéal de l’œuvre, face à la diversité de ses manifestations ou moyens matériels ; 2) sa définition linguistique ; 3) l’infinité de ses réalisations possibles ; 4) le fait qu’elle dépende de la participation du public ... » (Osborne 2006 : 22).

De fait, à l’instar des autres œuvres de cette série, la Performance invisible No. 129 ne renie pas ses influences, au contraire. J’aimerais brièvement relever ici certaines d’entre elles, afin de donner une lecture possible, quoique partielle, de ce travail, par le biais d’une analyse intertextuelle et historique, en rappelant, pour commencer, le sens que Roland Barthes a donné au mot “intertexte” :

Tout texte est un intertexte ; d'autres textes sont présents en lui, à des niveaux variables, sous des formes plus ou moins reconnaissables : les textes de la culture antérieure, ceux de la culture environnante ; tout texte est un tissu nouveau de citations révolues. Passent dans le texte, redistribués en lui, des morceaux de codes, des formules, des modèles rythmiques, des fragments de langage sociaux, etc., car il y a toujours du langage avant le texte et autour de lui. […] L'intertexte est un champ général de formules anonymes, dont l’origine est rarement repérable, de citations inconscientes ou automatiques, données sans guillemets. (Barthes 1973 : n.p.)

Parmi les « citations révolues » qui tissent la trame de la Performance invisible No. 129, quelques-unes au moins peuvent être repérées plus distinctement, malgré l’absence de guillemets :

La première réside dans l’énoncé lui-même : Être fatigué d’être. Il provient des entretiens de Marcel Duchamp avec Pierre Cabanne. Duchamp répond à la question : « Qu’est-ce que vous faites toute la journée ? » : « ... [Q]uand je viens ici [en France], c’est avec l’idée de me reposer. Me reposer de rien puisqu’on est toujours fatigué, même d’être » (Duchamp & Cabanne, 2014 : 132). Cette inactivité proclamée par l’inventeur des ready-mades et “ingénieur du temps perdu” était feinte. [1] Néanmoins, se rejoue avec elle un questionnement qui a poursuivie Duchamp une grande partie de sa vie et qui, à mes yeux, n’a rien perdu de sa pertinence aujourd’hui. En effet, dans un autre entretien avec le critique d’art du New Yorker, Calvin Tomkins, Duchamp se demande :

Pourquoi l’homme devrait-il travailler pour vivre ? Le pauvre a été mis sur la terre sans son consentement. Il est obligé d’être ici. Le suicide est une chose difficile à réaliser. La vie c’est les travaux forcés. C’est notre destin, nous devons travailler pour respirer. Je ne comprends pas pourquoi c’est aussi admirable. Je conçois parfaitement une société dans laquelle il y ait une place pour les fainéants. J’avais même pensé fonder une maison pour les fainéants, l’Hospice des paresseux. Si tu es fainéant et que les gens acceptent que tu ne fasses rien, tu as le droit de manger, de boire, d’avoir un abri. Une maison dans laquelle tout cela gratuitement. À condition de ne pas travailler. Si tu commences à travailler, tu es chassé. (Tomkins 1964.)

La « fatigue d’être » de Duchamp, sous ses airs provoquants, s’apparente ainsi à une quasi utopie, en prenant volontiers le contresens du culte de la performance, que le capitalisme « comme religion » (dirait Benjamin), a érigé en dogme, pour lui préférer la paresse, encore et toujours péché capital...

Mais, « être fatigué d’être » comme performance, peut également évoquer l’épuisement que Gilles Deleuze retrouve chez Samuel Beckett [2] et son long cortège de pâles figures, et qu’il prend bien soin de distinguer de la fatigue :

L’épuisé, c’est beaucoup plus que le fatigué. « Ce n’est pas de la simple fatigue, je ne suis pas simplement fatigué, malgré l’ascension ». Le fatigué ne dispose plus d’aucune possibilité (subjective) : il ne peut donc réaliser la moindre possibilité (objective). Mais celle-ci demeure, parce qu’on ne réalise jamais tout le possible, on en fait même naître à mesure qu’on en réalise. Le fatigué a seulement épuisé la réalisation, tandis que l’épuisé épuise tout le possible.... Il épuise ce qui ne se réalise pas dans le possible. Il en finit avec le possible, au-delà de toute fatigue, « pour finir encore ». (Deleuze 1992 : 57-58)

Ici, le philosophe (lui-même épuisé [3]), semble se faire écho, si l’on en croit Igor Krtolica :

Chez Deleuze, le fatigué est le personnage conceptuel de notre modernité, la disposition subjective issue des catastrophes du XXe siècle, dont Maurice Blanchot et Dionys Mascolo ont su déceler les symptômes : « La catastrophe consiste en ceci que la société des frères ou des amis est passée par une telle épreuve qu’ils ne peuvent plus se regarder l’un l’autre, ou chacun soi-même, sans une ‘fatigue’, peut-être une méfiance, qui deviennent des mouvements infinis de la pensée, qui ne suppriment pas l’amitié, mais lui donnent sa couleur moderne, et remplacent la simple ‘rivalité’ des Grecs » .... « Le fait moderne, c’est que nous ne croyons plus en ce monde.... C’est le lien de l’homme et du monde qui se trouve rompu” ». « Croire au monde, c’est ce qui nous manque le plus ; nous avons tout à fait perdu le monde, on nous en a dépossédés. » Nous avons perdu le monde, car nous ne croyons plus aux images qui l’animaient et nous reliaient à lui, images de papier. Deux aspects définissent notre situation, et dessinent la tâche de l’avenir. D’une part, nous ne croyons plus à un nouveau monde à conquérir, une terre à unifier, c’est plutôt notre capacité à habiter la seule que nous ayons qui est mise en question. Comme dit Nietzsche, « l’homme n’habite que le côté désolé de la terre ». Tel est, à la lettre, le résultat de la longue histoire du nihilisme capitaliste, dont Guattari cherchera à prendre la mesure dans Les trois écologies.... (Krtolica 2012 : 73-74)

Certaines Performances invisibles découlent justement de cette « disposition subjective issue des catastrophes du XXe siècle » . Je songe ici, notamment, à : la No. 113 (Attendre la guerre), dans laquelle on peut me voir, coincé dans un toboggan, sur le lieu même où furent incinérés Adolf Hitler et Eva Braun, au Führerbunker de Berlin, devenu aujourd’hui un jardin d’enfants et un stationnement pierreux ; ou encore à la No. 114 (Passer à l’Est), dans laquelle je pose en soldat soviétique de pacotille, devant Checkpoint Charlie, avec deux comédiens déguisés en G.I., cherchant peut-être l’Est, désormais invisible... ; ou la No. 115 (Arracher l'herbe (afin qu'elle reste verte)), dans laquelle je cueille littéralement la végétation poussant encore au pied du Mur de Berlin, ressassant en silence le leitmotiv de la pièce Mauser d’Heiner Müller : « ... le pain quotidien de la révolution ... est la mort de ses ennemies, ... l’herbe même / Il nous faut l'arracher afin qu'elle reste verte » (Müller 1979 : 43) ; ou la No. 117 (Tourner le dos), dans laquelle je prends un selfie devant le Camp de concentration de Dachau, dans une posture qui pourrait aussi bien évoquer celle de l’Ange de l’Histoire, telle que la décrit Walter Benjamin dans ses Thèses sur le concept d’histoire [4], que celle d’un touriste pathétique ou indécent.

Marquées au fer de la guerre, ces performances donc, commentent et procèdent de cette même « fatigue » qui, pour Deleuze, caractérisait notre situation après « la catastrophe » : « le fait moderne ».

Une performance

Dans un même esprit, pour exécuter l’énoncé « être fatigué d’être », j’ai choisi d’interpréter (to enact) un ensemble de photographies de l’artiste allemand Martin Kippenberger, créé dans le cadre de sa série Das Floß der Medusa (Le Radeau de La Méduse) (1996).

Cette série fût elle-même inspirée par le tableau de Théodore Géricault, Le Radeau de La Méduse (1818-1819), dans lequel le peintre romantique représenta un épisode tragique de l'histoire de la marine française : le naufrage de la frégate La Méduse au large des côtes de la Mauritanie, le 2 juillet 1816, qui frappa beaucoup les esprits, notamment parce que certains de ses passagers en vinrent au cannibalisme, afin d’en réchapper.

L’année avant sa mort, Kippenberger, atteint d’un cancer, créa ainsi une vaste série de quarante-neuf peintures, dessins et lithographies, basés sur les photographies en noir et blanc, prises par sa femme Elfie Semotan dans son studio, et dans lesquelles il réinterpréta en les isolant, certaines postures des passagers, morts ou vivants, du radeau, telles que les a dépeintes Géricault, notamment dans ses esquisses.

Mais que dire de la reconstitution (assez minutieuse, il me semble) que j’ai réalisée de ces clichés, avec l’aide inestimable de mon grand ami et photographe Daniel Roy ? Sachant qu’il s’agit de l’une des « citations révolues » qui constituent la trame de la Performance invisible No. 129, on peut d’abord se demander si, en m’éreintant à reproduire les postures de Kippenberger, interprétant lui-même celles des figures tourmentées de la peinture de Géricault, je ne cherche pas à en « épuiser » le sens ?

J’estime, au contraire, que mon reenactment en génère d’autres. En effet, comme le rappelle Amelia Jones dans son essai « The Now and the Has Been: Paradoxes of Live Art in History », quoi qu’on fasse, recréer c’est encore et toujours créer, en raison notamment de l’écart entre un original supposé, toujours en allée, et sa reprise, sa réplique, nécessairement imparfaite, « déloyale » :

Comme le dit Robert Blackson, en réfléchissant au phénomène de la fausse mémoire en relation avec les reconstitutions artistiques, « la mémoire, comme l'histoire, est un acte créateur ». Si l’histoire et la mémoire sont des actes créateurs, ... l’histoire est toujours elle-même une reconstitution. Pour Collingwood, l’histoire ne peut être connue que par l’identification performative de l’historien avec son sujet ... Pil et Gallia Kolletiv ont souligné qu’il existe un moyen pour que cette défaillance de l'authenticité opère de manière critique : « Un moment historique n’est jamais nouveau, ce qui signifie qu’il n’y a pas d’original à répéter ». Ils poursuivent, en s'appuyant sur la notion d’histoire sans « point de repère » de Michel Foucault, pour soutenir qu'une « reconstitution réussie [serait donc déloyale par rapport à son point d’origine, ce qui] ne relève pas du relativisme historique, mais active plutôt l'histoire à partir du présent, nous permettant de repousser toute tentative stérile de court-circuiter les médiations infinies du spectacle. » (Jones, 2012: 16) [5]

Ainsi, à première vue, on constatera que ma reprise se distingue de son original (supposé), notamment par le choix du médium (la photographie numérique en couleur, au lieu de la photographie argentique en noir et blanc) et par le fait que ces photographies ne sont pas destinées (a priori) à être re-médiatisées sous une forme picturale, mais plutôt à être mises en ligne et à servir, en quelque sorte, de tremplins pour la pensée (une interprétation, parmi une infinité d’autres interprétations possibles d’un énoncé conceptuel, diffusée quelque part au sein d’un flux incessant d’images et d’informations). Conséquemment, « [l]e pathétique fermé et théâtral de la peinture du 19e siècle [qui] était reconduit à sa conception dans l’atelier avant d’être déconstruit dans le champ coloré de l’art moderne » chez Kippenberger, demeure entier dans ma reconstitution et se donne pour lui-même : mon corps obèse et sillonné de cicatrices est montré sans complaisance et dans toute sa nudité (s’éloignant de fait des standards de beauté actuels) (Ohrt 1997 : 39).

Certes, on pourrait se surprendre d’une telle crudité. Mais c’est notamment elle qui, je le crois, donne un sens à cette œuvre, notamment parce qu’elle peut laisser perplexe.... En effet, les artistes conceptuels ont eu tendance à éviter toute forme de pathos ou d’ « expressionnisme », leur préférant une certaine dépersonnalisation des œuvres et laissant ainsi la prééminence aux idées. Seulement, il faut se rappeler, comme le fait Anne Larue dans son essai intitulé « La mélancolie conceptuelle » que : « ... l’art conceptuel est essentiellement ironique. C’est « l’effet Buster Keaton » : pas un sourire, mais plus le visage de l’art conceptuel est lugubre, plus sa force explosive comique éclate. Rien n’est plus drôle que tout ce sérieux » (Larue 2008).

Mon exécution, sous ses airs graves, procède ainsi, dirait-on, d’une ironie cruelle : ne suis-je pas en train de railler un mourant (Kippenberger) ? Ou même le mourant que je serai un jour ?

Mais il s’agit encore d’une autre forme d’ironie, qu’on peut qualifier, à la suite de Roland Barthes, d’ «autoréflexive » ou de « baroque » :

L’ironie n’est rien d’autre que la question posée au langage par le langage.… Face à la pauvre ironie voltairienne, produit narcissique d’une langue trop confiante en elle-même, on peut imaginer une autre ironie, que, faute de mieux, on appellera baroque, parce qu’elle joue des formes et non des êtres…. (Barthes 1981 : 150)

Ironie donc, au moyen de laquelle je prends pour cible mon propre travail et, en particulier, l’égocentrisme et le sentimentalisme qui, à mes yeux, l’imbibe parfois jusqu’à plus soif et par laquelle je porte encore un regard critique sur l’art performance, entrevu comme beaucoup trop autocentré et cédant trop facilement aux appas du spectacle. Je réactive ainsi le propos de Martin Kippenberger, lui qui, se voyant sombrer, mit un terme à « une recherche audacieuse et moqueuse [visant notamment] les prix exorbitants, les énormes égos et l’autocélébration, fabriquée en usine, qui infecte le monde de l’art contemporain » (Oisteanu 2009), avec une série d’œuvres caustiques, mais d’une extraordinaire vitalité.

Tout n’est pas si sombre, donc. « Croire au monde, [selon Deleuze,] c’est aussi bien susciter des événements même petits qui échappent au contrôle » (Deleuze 1990) – « Sinon ce serait à désespérer de tout. » (Beckett 1953 : 6) – Vue sous cette lumière, la Performance invisible No. 129 – petit événement parmi d’autres – pourrait être une manière d’« habite[r] le côté désolé de la terre », malgré la fatigue... Mais il se pourrait bien encore qu’elle se résume à une gesticulation vaine sur un lit simple, à l’image et dans la continuité des autres Performances invisibles ; une ligne de fuite, peut-être, un moyen comme un autre d’« épuise[r] la realisation » (Deleuze 1992 : 57), à défaut d’en épuiser le sens, « pour finir encore » ... Certes. La Performance invisible suivante : No. 130 (Se reposer de rien), qui vient conclure ce projet, s’en verrait éclairée.


[1] Le dévoilement posthume de son installation complexe intitulée : Étant donnés: 1° la chute d'eau, 2° le gaz d'éclairage . . . (1946-1966), réalisée sur plusieurs années dans le plus grand secret, en est la preuve patente.

[2] En outre, il faut remarquer que plusieurs Performances invisibles convoquent l’univers de Samuel Beckett, la plus évidente étant sans doute la Performance invisible No. 17 (Réciter à répétition dans le métro, avec une voix basse, nette, lointaine, peu de couleur, débit un peu plus lent que le débit normal et strictement maintenu, une phrase extraite de la pièce Dis Joe de Samuel Beckett : « Tu sais cet enfer de quatre sous que tu appelles ta tête... »). Mais on retiendra aussi la Performance invisible No. 18 (Broyer du noir, une nuit sans lune) où un portrait de Bruce Nauman dans une posture affligée, « répondant » à un portrait de Samuel Beckett sur la couverture du catalogue de l'exposition Samuel Beckett, Bruce Nauman, Kunsthalle Wien (2000), est reconstitué... et, bien sûr toutes les performances qui proposent simplement d’attendre quelque chose : Attendre sa paye ; Se faire attendre ; Attendre la guerre, qui suggèrent que l’attente n’est jamais une action totalement passive...

[3] Gilles Deleuze était déjà très malade pendant qu’il écrivait L’Épuisé et il s’enlèvera la vie, trois ans seulement après sa publication, le 4 novembre 1995.

[4] Il existe un tableau de Klee qui s’intitule « Angelus Novus ». Il représente un ange qui semble sur le point de s’éloigner de quelque chose qu’il fixe du regard. Ses yeux sont écarquillés, sa bouche ouverte, ses ailes déployées. C’est à cela que doit ressembler l’Ange de l’Histoire. Son visage est tourné vers le passé. Là où nous apparaît une chaîne d’événements, il ne voit, lui, qu’une seule et unique catastrophe, qui sans cesse amoncelle ruines sur ruines et les précipite à ses pieds. Il voudrait bien s’attarder, réveiller les morts et rassembler ce qui a été démembré. Mais du paradis souffle une tempête qui s’est prise dans ses ailes, si violemment que l’ange ne peut plus les refermer. Cette tempête le pousse irrésistiblement vers l’avenir auquel il tourne le dos, tandis que le monceau de ruines devant lui s’élève jusqu’au ciel. Cette tempête est ce que nous appelons le progrès. (Benjamin 2000 : 434)

[5] [A]s Robert Blackson puts it, reflecting on the phenomenon of false memory in relation to artistic re-enactments, “memory, like history, is a creative act”. If history and memory are creative acts … history is always itself a re-enactment. For Collingwood, history can only be known though the performative identification of the historian with his subject … Pil and Gallia Kolletiv have noted that there is a way for this failure of authenticity to function critically: “a historical moment is never new, which means that there is no original to repeat.” They continue, drawing on Michel Foucault’s notion of history without “landmark,” to argue that a “successful re-enactment would therefore [produce a disloyalty to the point of origin which] does not amount to historical relativism, but rather activates history from within the present, allowing us to move away from the sterile attempt to cut through the infinite mediations of the spectacle” (Jones 2012 : 16, ma traduction).

View Photo Credits and Descriptions Here


Barthes, Roland. « Texte (Théorie du) ». In Encyclopedia Universalis, 1973

Barthes, Roland. « Écrivains et écrivants » [1960]. In Essais Critiques [1964]. Points-essais. Paris : Seuil, 1981.

Beckett, Samuel. L’innommable. Paris : Minuit, 1953.

Benjamin, Walter, Thèses sur le concept d’histoire [1940]. In Œuvres III. Folio/Essais. Paris : Gallimard, 2000.

Deleuze, Gilles. L’Épuisé. In Beckett, Samuel. Quad et autres pièces pour la télévision. Paris : Minuit, 1992.

Deleuze, Gilles. « Le devenir révolutionnaire et les créations politiques. Entretien réalisé par Toni Negri ». In Multitudes. Futur Antérieur 1: Printemps 1990. Mai 1990.

Duchamp, Marcel. Entretiens avec Pierre Cabanne. Pin-Balma : Sables / Paris : Allia, 2014.

Giasson, Steve. 2015-2016. Performances invisibles.

Jones, Amelia. « The Now and the Has Been: Paradoxes of Live Art in History ». In Perform, Repeat, Record: Live Art in History. Dir. Amelia Jones et Adrian Heathfield. Bristol / Chicago : Intellect, 2012.

Krtolica, Igor. « Deleuze, entre Nietzsche et Marx : l’histoire universelle, le fait moderne et le devenir-révolutionnaire ». Actuel Marx 52 (2012) : 62-77.

Larue, Anne. « La mélancolie conceptuelle ». Itinéraires, 2008, Cycles et collections.

Oisteanu, Valery. « Martin Kippenberger, The Problem Perspective » The Brooklyn Rail, May 7, 2009.

Ohrt, Roberto. Kippenberger.
Köln/Lisboa/London/New York/Paris/Tokyo : Taschen, 1997.

Osborne, Peter. Art conceptuel. Paris : Phaidon, 2006.


Tomkins, Clavin. « Interview de Marcel Duchamp : ‘Je ne crois pas à l’art, plutôt à l’artiste’ », 1964

Œuvres citées

Duchamp, Marcel. Étant donnés: 1° la chute d'eau, 2° le gaz d'éclairage . . . Médium mixte. 242.6 × 177.8 × 124.5 cm. Philadelphia Museum of Art. 1946-1966.

Kippenberger, Martin. Série Das Floß der Medusa (Le Radeau de La Méduse), Vienne, 1996. Photographie par Elfie Semotan.

Kippenberger, Martin. Sans titre, de la série “Le Radeau de La Méduse”. Huile sur toile, 200 x 240 cm. 1996.

Géricault, Théodore. Le Radeau de La Méduse. Peinture à l'huile, toile sur bois, 491 × 716 cm. 1818-1819.

Giasson, Steve. Performance invisible No. 17 (Réciter à répétition dans le métro, avec une voix basse, nette, lointaine, peu de couleur, débit un peu plus lent que le débit normal et strictement maintenu, une phrase extraite de la pièce Dis Joe de

Samuel Beckett : « Tu sais cet enfer de quatre sous que tu appelles ta tête... »)
Performeur : Steve Giasson. Photographe par Daniel Roy. 29 août 2015.

Giasson, Steve. Performance invisible No. 18 (Broyer du noir, une nuit sans lune). Enactment d'une photographie de Bruce Nauman sur le catalogue de l’exposition Samuel Beckett, Bruce Nauman, Kunsthalle Wien (2000). Performeur : Steve Giasson. Photographie par Daniel Roy. 18 juillet 2015.

Giasson, Steve. Performance invisible No. 113 (Attendre la guerre). Performeur : Steve Giasson. Photographe : Martin Vinette. Führerbunker, Berlin. 15 mai 2016.

Giasson, Steve. Performance invisible No. 114 (Passer à l'Est). Performeurs : Steve Giasson et deux performeurs anonymes. Photographe : Martin Vinette. Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin. 14 mai 2016.

Giasson, Steve. Performance invisible No. 115 (Arracher l'herbe (afin qu'elle reste verte)). Performeur : Steve Giasson. Photographe : Martin Vinette. Mur de Berlin, Topographie des Terrors, Berlin. 14 mai 2016.

Giasson, Steve. Performance invisible No. 117 (Tourner le dos). Performeur : Steve Giasson. Photographe : Steve Giasson. Camp de concentration de Dachau. 26 mai 2016.

Giasson, Steve. Performance invisible No. 129 (Être fatigué d'être). Enactment de Martin Kippenberger. Das Floß der Medusa (Le Radeau de La Méduse). 1996. D'après Théodore Géricault. Le Radeau de La Méduse. 1818-1819. Performeur : Steve Giasson. Photographe : Daniel Roy. 1er juillet 2016.

Giasson, Steve. Performance invisible No. 130 (Se reposer de rien). Enactment de Mladen Stilinović. Artist At Work. 1978. Performeur : Steve Giasson. Photographe: Daniel Roy. 26 mai 2015.

Modes of Existence, Modes of Exhaustion [1]

Peter Pál Pelbart


Our era revolves around this pathology: market-ready modes of existence. Part of the contemporary effort is to diagnose this illness and retrace its genesis, ramifications, and effects. Among them is the daily rejection of “minor” modes of life that are not only more fragile, precarious, and vulnerable (poor, crazy, autistic), but also more hesitant, dissident, and at times more traditional than others (Indigenous people); that are, on the contrary, still being born, tentative, even experimental (to be discovered, invented). There is a war between different modes of life or forms of life today. Perhaps this is what has led some philosophers recently to dwell on such atypical modes of existence, even if they pertain to a bygone era: the Franciscans in Agamben, the Cynics in Michel Foucault, the schizos in Gilles Deleuze-Félix Guattari, the autistic in Ferdinand Deligny, but also the Araweté in Eduardo Viveiros de Castro or even the fireflies in Georges Didi-Huberman. This is the zigzagging line of inquiry that in the last decades has been crossing the philosophical, anthropological, subjective, and aesthetic domains, challenging our political imagination.

Questions arise from the clues in these observations:

What is a form of life, or a mode of existence?

How might the plurality of modes of existence and forms of life be made visible? Assuming that a mode of existence constitutes a “world,” with its own “duration” and singular “subjectivity,” what does it mean, in concrete terms, for different “worlds,” divergent “subjectivities,” distinct “durations” to coexist or collide?

What type of pluralism and perspectivism is demanded or imposed by such a challenge? Which processes of subjectivation and desubjectivation are created through these frictions?

How do such singular temporalities manifest themselves in an aesthetic apparatus such as a theatre company composed by so-called schizophrenics, as Ueinzz Theater Company?

Which frontiers does such an apparatus shuffle beyond the already established ones, like those between madness/sanity, individual/collective, subjective/scenic, art/life? Wouldn’t we need to rethink the doublets: construction/unfolding, force/fragility, exhaustion/creation, impossibility/invention?

How does this miniature experience that is Ueinzz flow over its delimited contour and establish a connection with other theoretical, aesthetic, micropolitical, macropolitical experiences? And how does it contribute towards a cartography of contemporary existence, exhaustion, sensibility and its mutations?



Many of these questions came to the fore when, some years ago, I came upon Fernand Deligny’s work. He was an unclassifiable conjuror who engaged for years in daring experimentation with the autistic, at the margins of institutions. He went against the grain of practices prevalent in the late 1960s, be they psychiatric or psychoanalytic, pedagogical or simply institutional. During a brief period at La Borde’s clinic in France, where he met Guattari, he grew dissatisfied with its treatment practices, notwithstanding the novelty of institutional psychotherapy, treating the institution before being able to treat patients. Deligny left and adopted an autistic child, christening him Janmaire, and moved to the Cévennes region. There he started a unique mode of communal living and coexistence with autistic children, in the company of adults not specialized in this area—where what he later called the “tentative” was born. The tentative is not a project, an institution, a program, a doctrine, or a utopia. It’s something fragile and persistent, comparable to a mushroom in the plant kingdom. Eluding ideologies, norms, moral imperatives, it can only survive if it doesn’t establish a finality. This tentative has no purpose, I refer to the tentative that can rely on habit, which can favour the inadvertent, the event: together with the autistic and in open air, cooking, washing dishes, chopping firewood, baking bread, putting the goats out to graze, were all part of a basic and customary routine. Amid that reiteration of the everyday, the drifts, wanderings, and irruptions appear, the unique gestures where each individual can take initiative to trace unexpected lines. A tentative is comparable to a raft. Pieces of wood are loosely joined together so that when the waves come, the water can cut across the gaps between the logs and avoid turning over. The raft is not a barricade, but “with all that was left of the barricades, rafts could be built” (Deligny 2007: 23).

The autistic person is defined by the vacancy in spoken language, and to some that is what he/she lacks for reasons several branches of psychiatry or psychoanalysis must explain in their own way; surprisingly, none of that interests Deligny. For him, the entire problem lies in how to prevent language from killing. By saying “that boy,” one already produces identity. How can one allow the individual to exist without imposing the He, the Subject, the Him, that whole series that we ascribe to individuals? Deligny is convinced that we stand before an individual in rupture of the subject. Through the empire of language, we always feel impelled to convey order-words and to emit signs. In this way, we create an Inside of communication, signals, signs, and language. Deligny maintains that autistic people aren’t Inside that circle, and the question is not about sticking them in there. One could say that Deligny is prejudiced against language as bearer of meaning, finality, project, output. Autism, at the opposite end of language, allows for the evacuation of finality, its tyranny. The strength of that idea is remarkable: art is for nothing, and politics makes projects; here too, art would place itself at the level of “for nothing.” What is always in question for Deligny is not the Whole, but the rest.… Power wants the Whole, it gets exasperated, it makes inventories of being and having, of the yes and the no, while Deligny thinks for the elusive, the refractory, in a “milieu” that only just allows one to exist.

The extent to which all of this fascinated me isn’t surprising given the years of experience amid the Ueinzz Theatre Company. For better or for worse, some of these traces were present, despite the schizophrenic world being very different from the autistic world, beginning with the presence of language in the former, if somewhat subverted, derailed, decoded. But it was also important for us that language didn’t convey order-words, that we didn’t submit to a blind productivity, to a capitalization of existence, and that we remained at the level of the “tentative,” the raft, the open, in order to give way to the inadvertent, irruption, gestures, following the erratic (wander) lines. We can even sustain a temporary finality—to put together and perform a theatrical piece—but that shouldn’t predetermine anything. The whole challenge is to be at the service of something we don’t know, can’t anticipate or predict. We must place ourselves in the present without hoping to “entertain” or “fulfil,” without the fear of “nothing happening”—the dreaded scene of any supervisor, animator, entertainer, businessman, cultural agent, for whom everything always has to be filled in; the show must go on.

As La Borde director Jean Oury highlights, along with Guattari, that is the condition for something to happen—nothing “must” happen—since it’s precisely when something must happen that the most impalpable happenings run the risk of being aborted. In the end, what is it really that matters? What can be seen? What is produced? What takes place in the interstices? What lies in a state of almost being? What escapes? What is lived in a state of exhaustion? And what community is this one, which doesn’t necessarily produce theatrical pieces, which doesn’t necessarily need to show any piece, which doesn’t necessarily find itself in the piece it makes?



Some years ago we were invited into a joint project by the artistic/political collectives from Finland and presqueruines from France. The project consisted of crossing the Atlantic on a cruise from Lisbon to Santos, where we were supposed to put together and perform a piece inspired by Kafka’s Amerika, as well as to make a film. A luxurious cruiseliner conceived for unending consumption, uninterrupted entertainment, and continuous feasting left no space for anything: mental, psychic, physical saturation, a pleasure-seeking semiotic bombardment where nothing, precisely, could “happen.” There was no way to create one’s own space, to subtract oneself from the cruise’s frenetic rhythm in order to put together a theatrical piece amid the interminable programme and infinity on offer. As Deleuze would say, the possible has been exhausted.

At a certain moment, Erika Alvarez Inforsato, one of the coordinators, decided to read passages from her doctoral thesis in our rehearsal room. She explained, among other things, what travelling with this group meant to her. In one of the most beautiful parts, entitled “Unworking: Clinical and political constellations of the common,” the author exposed, within the context of her work, the Blanchotian idea of unworking or inoperativeness (désoeuvrement), which with great precision designated something that was being lived by many at that moment: a sort of resistance in “making a piece” amid the foul, unworldly production of the cruise. A set of impossibilities began to open up, however paradoxically, towards a common happening, towards running the risk of concluding that nothing happened. Nothing, that there is no piece, but that in that absence of a piece something from a common order was able to happen. “A community for the art of not making work,” said Inforsato, resisting prescriptive dynamics—to sustain suspension, the drift, to leave the field open instead of betting on edifications.

We had lost many things along the way: senses, hierarchies, projects, certainties, securities—including our director. Those may be the best moments to “think.” Not in order to think an “object,” but to ask oneself: Why sustain a group such as this, which experiments with something of the order of the unliveable, perhaps of the useless, and through which, after all, one tries to breathe precisely in an unbreathable environment? Again, Deligny: for nothing, in order that something may erupt. Or again Deleuze: In the depth of exhaustion, when nothing else remains, there arises the “pure image,” an intensity that stands “apart from words, stories, and memories, [and] accumulates a fantastic potential energy, which it detonates by dissipating itself.” The philosopher adds: “What counts in the image is not its meagre content, but the energy—mad and ready to explode” (Deleuze 1997: 160).

I can’t avoid a personal statement. It has to do with an old habit, a sort of secret, almost inadmissible pleasure: to arrive at the rehearsal, lie down on the floor, close my eyes and give into a sort of disappearance. As if I could leave myself and abandon that character which at times sticks to my skin (the teacher, the author, the philosopher, the coordinator), deserting the regime of requests, obligations, interactions, interactivities, and activities. To be nothing, no one, to-be-for-nothing, not-being, almost-being, quitting, taking a rest from myself, unmaking the I, just fluctuating like an incorporeal outpour. That is where I am sometimes, potentially, visited by exploding images. Enrique Villa-Matas wrote a novel in which he relates how he decided to disappear. But deep down, he checked his e-mail every day to verify if his friends had realized he had disappeared, if they were looking for him, if he was missed. That is, it was the opposite of any such disappearance. It was an inspection of his presence in the world. Now, the opposite was happening to me there. But what I felt amid the group was only possible with those people, in that Ueinzz atmosphere with its warmth, support, anarchy, and voices—a network of connections where disconnection is allowed, legitimate, and part of it. I found out that the directors became restless and at times angry with that apparently passive, unconnected, useless attitude. This was from the perspective of a performance, the putting together of a piece and theatrical challenges. But I wasn’t giving in. One cannot die in any old place. If I did that at the university I would get fired or hospitalized, if I did that in the street I would be taken in, at home or alone it wouldn’t be possible. To die for some time knowing there is the buzz of life around—that’s what allowed me to “let go.” We’ve lost our right to die, to disappear, to disconnect, to subtract ourselves from the imperatives of communication or interlocution or reciprocity. The tyranny of sociality—socialitarianism—it’s one of our century’s plagues against which Deligny protested like a visionary, preaching silent contiguity, not noiseocracy, not “reciprocation” (the “eye to eye” that autistic people can’t stand, the question-answer from which the vacancy of spoken language protects them). Therein lies a regime of coexistence in which it isn’t necessary to guarantee fulfilment, continuity, accumulation. But it is precisely because one can die that one can live, because nothing needs to happen, something may happen. That an actor leaving a rehearsal is jokingly approached by an actress, “Do you have permission to leave? Have you signed the form?” And that the dialogue can become the involuntary seed of a Kafkaesque scene in which for each movement each person is made to fill in a form with their details. Life becomes, precisely, an incessant filling in of details, and everywhere we are urged to account for everything. Here’s a scene that arises from chance at that precise moment, gaining strength in the process of putting together a Kafka-inspired piece, and which attunes with humour to the generalized bureaucratization, digitization, and codification of contemporary existence.



Perhaps what is at play in this series I’ve just exposed, from the right to die and to disconnect to the obligation of accounting for everything, relates to Maurizio Lazzarato’s (2014) recent thoughts on the notion of demobilization. We know political mobilization, with all its imperative courtship: a state of alert, connection, availability, activism, and submission. Now, as paradoxical as it may seem, since Jünger’s Total Mobilization written in the 1930s, where he reported a new state of the world where all of man’s and Earth’s energies were in constant mobilization, whether in capitalism, communism (and afterwards, Nazism), for war or production purposes, minor voices plead for a pause, a suspension, an interruption, a break on the blind train of infinite progress. That’s true for Walter Benjamin, but also for Paul Virilio or Eduardo Viveiros de Castro. Hence Lazzarato’s insistence on articulating a political mobilization in tandem with civilizational demobilization, a deceleration, or only a change in the quality of movement, as Brian Massumi put it, so that the political mobilization won’t mirror the degree of arrest and vampirism of the available energies imposed by the prevailing regime. In my view, Deligny functioned entirely within that register, in his refusal of wanting to include, socialize, entertain, reciprocate, cure, and make productive the autistic people he looked after. That refusal didn’t imply political resignation. Deligny was a longstanding member of the Communist Party, as paradoxical as that may seem. He was radically critical of all institutions of enclosure with which he lived during the war and, more broadly, with a civilization that produced war, enclosure, and the people capable of this. For Deligny, a civilization that obliges us to do all the time stands against his injunction to act, which is devoid of utility and finality. Remember the filmmaker Straub’s phrase: “The present moment, that is stolen from us in the name of progress, this fleeting present is irreplaceable … we are ransacking human feelings as we ransack the planet, and the price we ask people to pay for progress or for well-being is too high, and unjustifiable” (Albera 2001). Hence the curious conception about what constitutes a political film for him. “The militant film captivates people with a sense of urgency again. And urgency is the result of the system that invented gas chambers.”

Another time would be necessary, a time not pressed by urgency. So that something different might occur which isn’t the mere realization of the previously established finality, be it sinister or progressive. Drifts, errors, erring are necessary and need space to occur. On the maps that Deligny suggested to be drawn at the end of each day, there were the customary lines (habitual routes) and the wander lines (where something inadvertent had happened, a new gesture such as a walk to a spring, a stop by a specific point). Nothing was induced or imposed: to accompany, not to drive.

After the above mentioned cruise, we felt disorientated, estranged in the absence of our director. Between abandonment and relief we literally jumped from the ship onto the raft. From the project to the tentative. From the monocratic direction to sustained anarchy. The idea was not to substitute the director, to fill in the void and put together what was left in fragments, but to navigate this new chaos, where the most disparate voices met with grumblings about the need for a conductor. Amid ideas for outrageous pieces someone would ask if the group would end. The shipwreck feeling materialized in a subsequent piece, where a ship in angry waters tumbles and all aboard are launched into the sea. However, in the sequence they wake up as sheep bleating helplessly.

If those shipwrecked turned into sheep as they looked for a shepherd, a leader, a king (a director?), ultimately they conceived something else: a thought. Instead of a chief, thoughts. Among many other things, the theatrical piece dramatized our mourning for the director, in addition to the idea itself of having a director. Deleuze and Guattari enunciated a formula to describe that new logic: n-1. n represents any multiplicity (for instance, actors) and 1 is the instance that overcodes the multiplicity thereby placing itself at the centre (ie. a director). But the same applies to everything: on one side, people (multitude), on the other side, a representative of capture and centralization (a pope, a president, a leader, a doctrine, an order-word, God, Oedipus, Capital, the Signifier, Progress). The One that transcends that multiplicity is subtracted, returning it to its horizontal, immanent dimension. A publishing house I founded with other partners was called n-1 publications, taking its inspiration from this phrase in A Thousand Plateaus: “In truth, it is not enough to say, ‘Long live the multiple,’ difficult as it is to raise that cry… The multiple must be made… always n-1… Subtract the unique from the multiplicity to be constituted; write at n-1 dimensions” (1987: 6). Not by chance, the editorial and theatrical line got crossed.

I can’t deny that twenty years ago, at the beginning of that theatrical experience, when I considered myself the “coordinator” (a sort of 1 together with the directors), I had an active presence. In recent years I started to retire from that function, or I was gradually removed from it. It could now circulate, pulverize, or simply self-dilute, in favour of a more mobile or dissolute composition. This n-1 operation corresponded to a kind of desubjectivation, where we abandon the identity cloak which had identified us. Perhaps this is a condition for a new collective composition less centered on the Subject, on the I, on intersubjectivity, and more open to connections of a different order. Not by chance one of the strongest moments of the piece Quay of Sheep (later rechristened Sheep Chaos) was the birth of an enormous bundle of red yarn that little by little spread out connecting to all in an entanglement akin to the work of Lygia Clark: mobile and rhizomatic, formed by threads, bodies, and movements, like a collective body born of a thought.



After several performances of Quay of Sheep, we found ourselves in limbo again. Exhausted. We didn’t know what, if anything, could occur. Many images popped up, several lines, exhaustive and at times insipid laboratories. During that period, Rodrigo arrived. He used to carry a little notebook hanging around his neck, and, apparently, had written many books (he’s currently writing one called To Talk or to Listen, that is the Question). Excited by the idea he might become an actor in a “true” piece, he manifested the desire to put together the story of Adam and Eve. Much later he brought a helmet with wires and electrodes capable of a “sidereal connection.” He had dozens of those helmets in his house, each in a different colour or style. In any case, it was off-season during which everything still felt uncertain and our rehearsals didn’t point to any particularly defined line. Collazzi, our narrator, and one of our oldest actors, had brought up a carriage that reached the sky on its way to the stars. So we improvised a spatial voyage inside a time tunnel; Collazzi sketched a science-fiction story with a biblical backdrop. [2]

In 2013 the opportunity arrived to present a project for a cultural institution. It was a chance to get more consistent financial support for the first time in many years. For a whole year, it would allow actors to receive monthly payment. We thought of elaborating on a project inspired by Deligny. On a previous trip to France I had visited the archive of the Institut Mémoires de l’édition contemporaine (IMEC), situated at the Abbaye d’Ardenne in France, where I researched the correspondence between Deligny and Guattari. I found fifty-seven letters from Deligny, and only one answer from Guattari (the others are not in the archive). I was quite surprised when I came upon a sketch, in one of the letters, of a theatre piece or film that Deligny planned to set up. At the time Guattari had a house in Saint-Étienne-de-Gourgas made available to all sorts of collective initiatives and projects. Deligny’s script described a situation in which there are more actors than roles in a troupe. That is, there wouldn’t be enough costumes for all. Divided in two groups, the Gours and the Gasses, the Gours were those who were able to get into the skin of a character, and the Gasses “those who are capable of nothing: not even (to be) a character, nor a policeman, nor a thief, nor a priest, nor a prisoner… nor man, nor woman: afflicted souls, individuals who, without having entered the skin of a subject, are left with no project, they are redundant, they’re worse than nothing, worse than the mob.” Hence, the Gours rehearse while the Gasses err, idly, in discontent. But all those who were Gours at one point will eventually be Gasses.

The idea that there are more people than roles seemed to me frighteningly strong and simple. Isn’t it what we see all the time around every corner, whether we think of the distribution of wealth, jobs, or natural resources in a city or in the world at large? One part of the population is expendable; it’s useless even to serve, and in those extreme situations must be exterminated. When Lazzarato writes that the artistic act becomes resistance as long as there is transversality between the molecular action of rupture and composition in a specific domain and in macropolitical domains, we can’t help but agree and situate ourselves on that horizon where the micro and macro resonate (2014: 15-16). As Guattari asks in another context: “Will the revolution that is coming elaborate its principles from something said by Lautréamont, Kafka or Joyce?” (Guattari 2015: 275) We would add: from something stated in Deligny’s script, by the unreasonable, foolish, by the schizo or the autistic, or even by the diverse devices capable of giving them a voice?

So we decided to promise to make a piece inspired by Deligny. We added an additional event in which his editor Sandra Álvarez de Toledo projected films by or about Deligny. There was an exhibition with several maps produced by his collaborators throughout the years, and a parallel publication of one of his books (The Arachnean, by n-1 publications)—in other words, a sort of Deligny occupation. Finally, the project was approved.

But how could we imagine that this group, with its inventiveness and its capacity for improvisation and skewed appropriation, could fully obey a script without distorting it completely? When we brought the idea of the Gours and the Gasses to the group, what came back was Adam and Eve, the sidereal connection. Little by little, what unfolded was no less than a Story of the World, from the Big Bang to the final Destruction of humanity, planet Earth and the World itself. (At the time Viveiros de Castro and Deborah Danowski’s book, Há mundo por vir? [now translated as The Ends of the World] had just come out, condemning our progress-oriented civilization that sought endless accumulation and the depletion and exhaustion of natural resources, putting an end to living conditions on the planet). Amid such thematic expansion several planets began to emerge in the rehearsals, as if the actors manifested a counterargument vis-à-vis Deligny’s script: there weren’t enough roles for all in this world, but why deny the possibility of there being other worlds, where everyone had a role? Even in this world of ours, everything multiplied. Yes, there would be Adam and Eve, but not an Adam and an Eve, rather many Eves and Adams. The binary itself of gender was broken, since Adam became Eve or vice versa.

The initial synopsis of that last theatrical piece was: “There isn’t enough space for all people in the world. Some people live in limbo, between walls, others were thrown into the sea. A small group decides to board a ship in search of other worlds, of possibles, zero gravity… Utopia, evasion or lucidity?”

There were all sorts of made-up planets. One of them came up via Luiz, an actor that in the play repeated the word Klonoa, taken from a mobile phone game. It was suggested he follow a line stretched between apples thrown on the ground by the Eves. From that point on he would turn into the Klonoa planet, around which the group would orbit. On another occasion, the actor Onéss, during a song, solitary, made an encyclopaedic speech on the birth of the stars. Paula read a Calvino story where a character repeated, “that is not to be explained.” Both fragments came together in a scene in which Onéss gave a sort of master class about the birth of the stars. To the unanswered questions she would respond: “That is not to be explained.” That scene changed because Onéss felt assaulted by her comment since after all “everything has an explanation.”

Rodrigo spoke a lot about a crazy physiology: some very extravagant theories on the drop of neurons, the forces that circulate through the body, etc. He decided to study biomedicine. In one rehearsal, after a conversation with Paula who is a doctor, he experimented with being a doctor/shaman. Thus, one of the planets that the spatial explorers from Gravity Zero would explore, in their expeditions, was full of the sick and moribund. It was the doctor/shaman’s task, along with an assistant, to ask what they suffered from (answers ranged from “infinity vertigo” to “merchandise illness”), then to instantly attribute a bizarre diagnostic (“spatialitis” or “infinititis”) and place a helmet filled with wires and electrodes on the sufferer’s heart as in shock therapy. But on that planet, instead of shock therapy, each patient received a shamanic treatment based on contact with luminous stones, gestures, and magical words, ultimately from indigenous languages. In one of the performances I was a sick person. When asked who I was, I quite suddenly came up with the answer, “God.” And what’s your sickness? “I am losing my powers.” They tried to heal me, but in vain. God died. “God is long gone,” they ascertained.

Deep down, we should take all that happened in that theatrical mode quite seriously: in a world where God is dead and can no longer guarantee its unity, not even if ours is the best of all possible worlds, as Leibniz would say, we could inhabit many worlds. Not a universe, but a pluriverse, Deleuze would offer.

Collazzi who was already quite elderly died in the process of creating the piece. He was our most inspired narrator, who for years lived as if he were to die each day, repeating every morning that he was exhausted, going through every day as if it was a Herculean task. As a narrator, with a quivering voice, he would bring forth some of our world’s most abyssal tremors. This is how I came to be entrusted to read that piece’s prologue in his place:

At the beginning there was Chaos, Tohu Vavohu. The Earth was formless and void. Darkness was over the surface of the abyss, and the spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Only sparks crossed the darkness – luminous rays, explosions, implosions, abysses, waters floating everywhere… Then God said, Let there be Light, and there was Light; God said, Let there be a firmament to divide the waters from the waters, and there was firmament; God said, Let there be land and there was land; God said, let there be fish, animals and birds; God said, Let Us make man in Our image and likeness. And God created man and woman. And God saw that it was good. And he put man and woman in Heaven, but forbid them to touch the fruit of wisdom. But Adam and Eve ate the apple and discovered transgression and freedom. They discovered the pleasure of disobedience, the lust of insubordination, nudity and shame, desire and the sublime sins, murder and sacrilege, punishment and escape, heresy and delight. And they realized that the Earth was not only inhabited by man and woman. There were Gay Adams and Lesbian Eves, Bisexuals, Transexuals, Transgenders, Countersexuals, there were all sorts. And just as the world wasn’t divided only between men and women, it also wasn’t divided between the mad and the sane, the good and the bad, the quick and the fast, black and white, intelligent and dim, modern and primitive, brutal and sensitive, São Paulo fans and Corinthians fans. Deep down, everything was a lot more mixed up than what he had led them to believe. They also discovered that not only Earth was inhabited and inhabitable. They felt free to search for other planets, to build powerful spaceships, to cross the universe from one end to the other. And they discovered that not only this universe exists. So they started visiting other worlds, parallel worlds, virtual worlds, impossible worlds, incompossible worlds. And they started seeing other gods which are less vain or vengeful or exclusive than Abraham’s God, Greek gods, Roman gods, Indian gods, Egyptian gods, tupiniquim deities, yanomami entities. And they envisioned many other spirits roaming their surroundings. Minute, luminous, shimmering beings with small dicks would fall from the sky like silver rain, dancing gaily around them, once more populating the world and helping them to heal the sick. Men discovered that even though banished from Paradise, or precisely because of that, they were capable of multiple ecstasies and delightful mysteries, unutterable crimes and numinous solidarities, zero gravity and sidereal joys.

As Erika has expressed, this reasonably connected prologue gives the spectator the illusion of a cohesive narrative, which frees him to enjoy what will come without worrying about “understanding” anything, since there is nothing to understand. This is where the true theatrical adventure begins, when one lets go of comprehension in order to enter another sphere, a mode of affectation, of multiple worlds and multiple times.




At the end of 2016, we were invited to Amsterdam to present this piece at If I Can’t Dance I Don’t Want to Be Part of Your Revolution. Our ten-day stay was an adventure of incredible intensity thanks to the hospitality of our hosts, the relationships we forged with the welcome team and other artists, and the entire dynamic that such a trip implies. The company had been on several tours in the past: in addition to traveling in Brazil, we went to Finland, Scotland, Germany, France, and Portugal. Of course, the excitement, the emotion and the traveling itself will inevitably intensify certain aspects of the supposedly most banal everyday nature: anxiety, stress, fear, risks, possibly crises, collapse, exhaustion, everything that constitutes the groundless ground that we are facing at every moment in this project, all the more on an international tour. Between acceleration and paralysis, success and failure, presence and absence, always just about to flourish or implode. Everything happens at the edge of the abyss. We are used to it and, yet, we’re are living always on razor’s edge.

Here is just the latest example of this. Alexandre Bernardes is known as the “founder” of our company. He’s the one who suggested that we do theatre when we were still inside a day hospital two decades ago. With a considerable psychiatric record, he was a raw thinker who never stopped asking himself and everyone he met the most vital questions. Who is alive? What about the poor? Who will survive the current wars? Why does she not like me? Let’s make love! And what about machine domination? Are you sleeping well? With his exuberant libido and a strong tendency for head-on confrontations, his poetic terrorism did not leave anybody indifferent. Sometimes he would kiss a stranger on the mouth or he would lie petrified on the floor for hours; he would disappear without warning, have the most daring ideas and could have an astonishing clear-sightedness. He would often read an interlocutor’s thought with precision or humour. (Oh, how often he said to me: “You are depressed today,” or “You’ve become so bourgeois,” or “You need to get laid a bit more.”) He gave out diagnoses to everyone and was oftentimes our therapist. He’s the one who asked director Christoph Schlingensief, who was looking for actors for his production of an Opera Ghost Train in São Paulo and wanted to meet our company to see whether we’d be a good fit, whether he had ever made love to a corpse. Schlingensief immediately hired us—this degree of unmediated presence is exactly what he needed for his piece.

Alexandre played several roles throughout the pieces we made. The first was Artaud’s anarchist emperor, inspired by Elagabalus; the last was the role of Cesar, crushed by his mother. On stage, he led touching dialogues, gave enthusiastic monologues or bizarre exhortations (“What you need is sex,” he threw in the faces of a perplexed Finnish audience). Occasionally, he would simply wander the stage in silence, with a lowered head and curved back that seemed to carry the weight of the world, and you’d know that in his head all the voices of the planet were confronting each other in an unforgiving battle. He repeatedly said that art didn’t comfort him.

From the beginning of our trip to Amsterdam, he was very distressed, certain of an imminent catastrophe in his life. He kept repeating the word “passage.” Was he referring to his father who was already old and whose death he expected? Or to himself? Or to our trip? We stayed very close to him during our time in the Netherlands but he already seemed to be exhausted beyond repair: he saw no way out. In the Van Gogh Museum, he let out a terrible scream that mobilized the entire security team of the museum from which he was immediately barred. Van Gogh would have handled the situation differently, had he been there. Alexandre refused the life of the museum, life in the museum, museumized life, artefacts made to suffocate life. His solitude was enormous, even though he was surrounded by a group of people that he kept mobilizing day and night, affectively, concretely.

During our performances, he was either strangely silent or he crossed the stage like an astronaut, stuffed into several jackets and a hood, as if he needed to protect himself from an unbearable cold which seemed however to chill him from inside.

Arriving back home in São Paulo where he no longer found a place for himself, Alexandre immediately went back to wander the streets. I was told that he went to a friend’s bar where he got drunk on cachaça. The police found him unconscious in a street far from his neighbourhood and brought him to a public psychiatric service. There Alexandre stepped onto his via crucis: heavyweight nurses, agitation, screams, he is strapped to a bed as was customary centuries ago. Pedro França and Ana Goldstein from our company visit him and find him upright, his body still strapped to the bed, an untameable, howling King Kong. To the surprise of all the scared bystanders in the hospital, Alexandre calms down as soon as the two move closer to him. Subsequently, in our absence, he was medicated heavily and transferred to a general hospital “for clinical exams.” God knows what they did to him in the intensive care unit during the first night, after a visit by Paula Francisquetti who found him pumped with tranquilizers, his hands and feet strapped to the bed, abandoned in the dark. I’m not sure whether he died during my visit the next day—looking asleep—or whether he had already been dead for hours without anybody at the hospital noticing. The important thing was that he didn’t bother anyone any longer. Eduardo Lettière was right to say that Alexandre wouldn’t have died if he had slept downtown that night, on Praça da Sé where he often went and where he had friends among the homeless and the prophets of the street who would have paid more attention to what he said than the nurses and doctors at the public hospital. In short, this was institutional, psychiatric, medical and perhaps even familial murder. People didn’t want to bother with the level of suffering and anxiety that he carried in himself or the noise he made—it’s so uncivilized to disturb a calm and orderly environment. Life has to continue without trouble in our cities and especially in hospitals, even though the latter are supposed to care for and attend to pain and not silence those who suffer. According to Erika Inforsato, Alexandre was a bomb of a man, but they managed to make him implode on time. Or according to Alejandra Riera, with whom we did a number of projects in which Alexandre had a strong presence: “He was a deserter, like many of us, but in his own way. He needed to make himself heard. Not to say something very articulate like a philosopher or to state something just as politicians and militants claim to do. No, this kind of talk irritated him. He needed to make his entire body heard, his body which always thought so hard, to sound out a cry like “God is a machine” and slam his fist on the table to finally say what he thought of computers, of the 0s and the 1s. He needed things to resonate as they certainly resonated inside him.” Again Alexandra Riera: “In the end, Alexandre only spoke politically and poetically in the sense of escaping all established frameworks. He seemed very concerned by everything going on in the world and at the same time didn’t let anybody structure his thoughts or his speech, nothing. His character was destructive in a nonviolent way, for he was a destroyer of false illusions, false promises, false political speech, declarations of love or else. He was a very subtle, reserved person in the end.”

And Pedro França, who was assistant curator of the 2012 São Paulo Biennale but has since joined our company and became Alexandre’s best friend these last years, who invited Alexandre to be his “assistant” during his art history classes, wrote: “For him, theatre was a way of being in the world. Stealing from a McDonald’s for the thrill and glamour, robbing an Itaú bank, plundering the refrigerators of São Paulo’s rich neighbourhoods, maintaining silence for minutes while running in circles on stage, pass by the Praça da Sé, that’s being alive in the world. That is how there was life, effectively, where one can touch others and see the stamps, passports and tickets dissolve. Over at the hospital’s emergency service, where we first found him [upright strapped to the bed], my friend maintained a kind of stage awareness … it was monumental … in a way, there was no difference between Dockzaal [where we performed in Amsterdam] and the hospital, between the theatre, performance and the people there, between Herod and Herodias. [3] Ale is a guy who effectively, effectively, beyond any cliché, has revealed the line between art and life, has destroyed all documents, attestations and diplomas, has turned all forms inside out (forms of fashion, of rhetoric, theatre, gastronomy) and, I don’t know, for me he’s a kind of hero, in addition to being a great friend.”

After the funeral, we gathered at Praça da Sé on the steps of the Cathedral, where a homeless person read Alexandre’s texts as if he were his reincarnation, identifying with those sentences full of irreverence, questions and poetry. Afterwards we went to a popular restaurant where Alexandre liked to eat feijoadas and we ate and drank in tribute to him.

In spite of all the joy he had and gave to us during the twenty years of our company, which he helped found and support, with his caustic humour, his comings and goings, we didn’t know how or weren’t able to prevent the worst. This was a suicide by society. We are devastated.



Should one consider these lives as bare life? Without a doubt, from the point of view of power, here we find these lives susceptible of being killed without it constituting a crime, in a state of exception that is “scientifically legitimated.” However, if we refuse starting from bare life in order to think biopower, and follow Muriel Combes suggestion in a Foucauldian and Simondonian line, it is rather about thinking these lives through the notion of “lives capable of conduct” (conduite)—from here a totally different horizon opens up. Even in the concentration camp but similarly in the most delicate contexts of our time, it’s about our lunatics, Deligny’s autists, the Bartlebys being a little bit everywhere, or even the anonymous of the protests in Brazil in 2013, it’s always about the gestures, manners, modes, variations, resistances that are molecular and multitudinous.

We can dare a little supplementary leap. This living ensemble is being traversed by a double movement, asymmetrical and paradoxical, as much by desubjectivation as by subjectivation. Obviously, there are desubjectivations that kill, and other vital ones, the desirable subjectivations, but also other horrible ones.

Let’s return to Alexandre’s case. For a long while he had been submitted to a mortifying desubjectivation: he doesn’t do anything, he doesn’t serve anything, he’s nobody. At the same time here is the subjected subjectivation that remains his only option: he is the lunatic, the schizophrenic, the ill, in a minoritarian state and civil dependence, reterritorialized by the State, the family, psychiatry, social insurance. Desubjectified, subjectified, deterritorialized, reterritorialized. And yet, throughout the years together he could demonstrate an important inversion in two directions. On the one hand, his desubjectivation touched upon a nomadic drift (dérive), where erring became an exploitation of worlds, of affects, of uncoded connections. At the same time, a kind of heretic subjectivation took off: the anarchist emperor, the stubborn challenging of consensus, the different modes of performative desertion.

The question one can pose through the case of Alexandre is the following: how to repair or create these points, situations, contexts, dispositives through which the mortifying desubjectivation tips over into a nomadic desubjectivation, or, where the identitarian subjectivation shifts towards a creative process of subjectivation? This all concerns a micro- and a macropolitical challenge because it touches upon the mechanisms of discipLinary and biopolitical power. How to make a nomadic desubjectivation be accompanied by a creative subjectivation under the sign of affirmation, of a resistance, of a liveliness?

Maybe we have to consider exhaustion at the heart of this existential intersection, micro- and macropolitical, biopolitical. Does exhaustion signify the end of the world, or the end of a certain world we have to leave behind? Is exhaustion the sign of the end of the subject, or of a certain subjectivation? Of a desubjectivation, or a certain desubjectivation? Is it mortifying or vital? Black hole or opening? At the point where we are, it would be necessary to speak of Nietzsche’s nihilism, with all its proper ambivalences: one doesn’t have to defend oneself in regards to nihilism, but has to traverse it, take it to the end to open up a new horizon. As long as this shift is not reached (destruction/creation), the untying is uncertain. The same goes for exhaustion.



I allow myself to take up again a fragment on the notion of exhaustion, that I had been working on through some open paths left by Deleuze, in the light of these ambivalent perspectives.

Exhaustion is not mere tiredness, nor a renunciation of the body and mind but rather, more radically, it is the fruit of a disbelief, an operation of disconnection. It consists of unleashing the possibilities that are presented to us relative to the alternatives that surround us as well as the clichés that mediate and dampen our relation with the world in order to make it tolerable. While these clichés make the world tolerable, because they are unreal, they conversely end up making the world intolerable and unworthy of belief. Exhaustion undoes that which “binds” us to the world, that “imprisons” us in it and others, that “captures” us with its words and images, that “comforts” us with an allusion of entirety (of I, of We, of meaning, of freedom, of the future) in which we have long ceased to believe, even as we have remained attached to them. There is, no doubt, in this act of separation, a certain cruelty, which is in no way absent from the works of Beckett [who inspired Deleuze to think exhaustion], but this cruelty carries within itself a certain pity of another kind (Deleuze & Guattari 1987: 351-423). Only through such a negation of adherence, such an unfastening, such an emptying, together with the impossibility that is established in this way, which Deleuze calls “rarefaction” (as much as he called for “vacuoles” of silence in order to be able, at least, to have something to say) does the necessity of something else arise, something which, with excessive pomp, we call “the creation of the possible.” We should not merely abandon this formula to the publicity experts, however; we should also avoid overloading it with an excessively imperative or capricious incumbency, replete with “will.” Perhaps we should preserve, as Beckett does, the trembling dimension which, amidst the most calculated precision, in his visual poetry, point to that “indefinite state” to which beings are elevated and whose correlative, even in the most concrete contexts, is the vagueness of becomings, at the point where they achieve their effect of deterritorialization. If Zourabichvili is correct in detecting “political chords” in The Exhausted, this is because Deleuze himself never ceased to extract such chords from the authors he analyzed, from Melville to Kafka, from Lawrence to Ghérasim Luca. In the clinic, in art or in politics, there is a circuit that runs from the extenuation of the possible to the impossible, and from there to the creation of the possible, without linearity, circularity or determinism. It consists of a complex and reversible game between “nothing is possible” and “everything is possible.” (Pelbart 2015: 130-131)

It is the Catalonian psychoanalyst Tosquelles, master of a whole generation of French institutional psychiatry, in his book Le vécu de la fin du monde dans la folie, who evoked situations of collapse or illness felt as if nothing is possible, however, at the same time, everything is possible. Nothing is possible, everything is possible. Isn’t it strange that we live in a similar way today, but in a somewhat twisted sense? When everything seems possible (Arab spring, June 2013 in Brazil) the truth emerges: nothing is possible anymore (military or juridical coup d’Etat, Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen). When the immoderation of power and the excessiveness of pain effectuate that the formula “everything is possible” thus becomes a horrible expression, since it means that it could always be worse, and, if “everything is possible” is equal to “nothing is possible,” we feel that the terms of this game deserve another configuration, or even another chessboard that we have to build day by day.



Deborah Danowski and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, in the aforementioned book The Ends of the World, defend a political ecology of delay, hesitation, and attention. Against acceleration and the obsession with progress, “cosmopolitical delay,” a break, a suspension. In Lars von Trier’s film Melancholia, the few who realize what is coming take refuge in a cabin made of twigs that won’t protect them from the irreversible event: the collision with a star coming from space. By means of a ritual, the shock becomes a happening, in the strong sense of the word. Danowski and Viveiros de Castro write:

That little hut is the only thing in that moment that is capable of transforming the inescapable effect of the shock into an event, in the sense that Deleuze and Guattari give to that concept, when they say “the part that eludes its own actualization in everything that happens.” There, in that almost purely virtual hut … what passes (the pass) … is an operation of deceleration, of slowing down …

And furthermore:

The autochtonous peoples of the American continent—the collectives of humans and non-humans whose history dates back to millennia before their collision with planet Commodity—are only a small part of contemporary Terran Resistance, this broad clandestine movement that has only begun to make itself visible in the planet occupied by the Moderns: in Africa, Australasia, Mongolia, in the backstreets and basement of Fortress Europe. They are not really in a position to lead any final combats or cosmopolitical Armageddons; it would be ridiculous to picture them as the seed of a new Majority. Above all, we should not expect that, if they could, they would run to the rescue of Humans, to redeem or justify those who have persecuted them implacably for five centuries … one thing is for certain: Amerindian collectives, with their comparatively simple technologies that are nonetheless open to high-intensity syncretic assemblages, are a “figuration of the future” (Kroijer 2010), not a remnant of the past. Masters of the technoprimitivist bricolage and politico-metaphysical metamorphosis, they are one of the possible chances, in fact, of a subsistence of the future. To speak of the end of the world is to speak of the need to imagine, rather than a new world to replace our present one, a new people, the people that are missing. A people who believes in the world that it will have to create with whatever world we will have left them. (Danowski and Viveiros de Castro 2017: 120-123)

We can’t avoid the echoes that impose themselves. We’re not native tribes; there are few of us, and we too, before the nearing of the asteroid, or the many asteroids that have already collided with our existences – the Great Enclosure mentioned by Foucault, the Eurocentric, anthropocentric, rationalist, and scientist Humanism, of which a certain psychiatry inherited the most infamous aspects—build our fragile cabin made from twigs where we hold our small rituals. There we rescue a slowness. We reconnect with the voices of unreason, and from them we prospect possible futures. We are not the “new people.” Yet, our delayed experimentation necessarily echoes many others from the homeless of our megalopolises to the yanomami spirit xapiris. Each on its own singular scale, however small, time, however derailed, and its happenings, however minuscule, compose a minor inhabitation. Nomadic and uncertain, as fragile in the face of the world’s economy and strong in sustaining that fragility, making a body out of each voice that affects it, with each gesture that reaches it, composing with each dissonance.



[1] Translated from Portugese by Veronica Cordeiro. Additional passages in French have been translated by Christoph Brunner and Toni Pape. Translations of quotations have been provided by Filipe Fereira and Steve Berg. A significant part of this text was originally written for the occasion of the visit and presentation of Ueinzz in Amsterdam as part of the If I Can’t Dance I Don’t Want to be Part of your Revolution’s Performance in Residence program within Edition VI - Event and Duration (2015-2016). It was published in English under the title Cosmopolitical Delay, in December 2016. We would like to thank Fédérique Bergholtz and Susan Gibb for their generous authorization to use larger fragments, even though they are redesigned, completed and inflected for the present edition of Inflexions.

[2] Several of the extracts that follow were told to me by Paula Francisquetti and others, since during that period I had to miss many rehearsals.

[3] Herodidas here means the female version of Herod as it was also used in the theatre piece.


Works Cited

Albera, François. “Cinéma [et] politique: ‘Faucille et marteau, canons, canons, dynamite!’ Entretien avec Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet.” Hors-champ, special issue, no. 7 (2001):

Danowski, Déborah and Eduardo Viveiros De Castro. The Ends of the World? Cambridge: Polity Press, 2017.

Deleuze, Gilles. Essays Critical and Clinical. Trans. Daniel W. Smith and Michael A. Greco. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997.

Deligny, Fernand. Œuvres. Ed. Sandra Alvarez de Toledo. Paris: L’Arachnéen, 2007.

Deleuze Gilles and Félix Guattari. “1227: Treatise on Nomadology – The War Machine.” A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987. 351-423.

Guattari, Félix. Psychoanalysis and Transversality: Texts and Interviews 1955–1971. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2015.

Lazzarato, Maurizio. Marcel Duchamp and the Refusal of Work. Trans. Joshua David Jordan. Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2014.

Pelbart, Peter Pál. Cartography of Exhaustion: Nihilism Inside Out. Minneapolis: Univocal Publishing, 2015.

The Common Sense: Episodes 1-5

Melanie Gilligan

Shot of the white wall with a group of students standing, waiting for the class to start, each one in their own head, not acknowledging one another. Their professor, Gibson, walks toward the classroom. She opens the door to the class and the students file in.
The students get settled. Gibson starts the class where she left off the previous week.
We’re continuing to look at Entrainment this week. We use the Patch all the time. We’re so familiar with it that we probably think we don’t need to study it.
Lina is distracted by something that’s happening in her perceptions.
Lina, no blips during class.
Sorry, but I have to.
She sinks into herself.
Gibson (to the rest of the class)
Fine, it’s your tuition money…
The class laughs. Gibson continues.
Gibson (cont’d)
…which reminds me, tuition repayment is from 4 to 7pm today. We’re working on a new project for Gelatin Unlimited.
Gibson walks to her desk.
Gibson (cont’d)
I brought in something to show you…
Sorry Gibson, I just got a message from my job. I have 10 mins to respond. Do you mind?
Gibson (cont’d)
Go ahead…
Jesse drops out.
Gibson (cont’d)
I’m going to show you a video.
Is it one of those cheesy early Patch programs?
Other students laugh.
No, it’s from before the two-way models. It’s called The Common Sense, in fact your parents may have told you about it…
A television program begins to play on the screen in front of the class. The TV show starts with a commercial for the Patch. It shows a simple line animation. In the animation, we zoom through many points in space and stop at two floating circles. The off-screen voice of a product designer for the Patch narrates the scene.
Product designer
All through human history we’ve wanted to connect. In the beginning there was the Patch one way.
The two circles become connected by a line. The circles rotate around one another.
Product designer
The one way is about experiencing someone else’s emotions in real time. When someone else’s feelings change how you feel, it can change your world.
We pull back to see many of these circles linked by lines, floating in space.
Product designer
With the two way we’ve found a way to take it to a whole new level.
The white curved disk of the Patch spins into the frame and turns on its side. Around it forms two lines that link up to make a circle.
Product designer
Your brainwaves will send at the same time as you receive. With the two way, we can act and create together.
This two linked circles pulsate and as they do a rainbow of colourful dots radiate from it.

Product designer
We don’t know where this will lead. It’s a new design for the human being and it’s for you to find out.
The CEO of a company is on stage giving a talk. He is launching a new version of the Patch.
I have been waiting for this day for three years…
Audience applauds.
I would like to present to you the Two-Way. It is the first two-way entrainment device where users send their experience and receive at the same time (audience applauds enthusiasm). We have overcome incredible obstacles in hardware and software design to bring this product to the market today. This device is going to blow your mind.
The difficulty now is that 70% of people are left out of the reproduction of goods and services in the economy. And only about 20% of those people have been able to find work through the Patch.
A pregnant woman, JACKIE, is sitting in a dingy office that has a vaguely medical feeling. She looks over a contract on a computer screen while an automated system gives her instructions.
Automated Voice (V.O.)
OK, let me walk you through your contract signing this you agree that the device will be left as inserted for the fixed term of nine months. Transmissions from your womb to third parties will be the private information of Juvi. Any medical, emotional or employment related events that may occur…
Jackie’s face has a blank, numbed quality.
We are in the same room. Jackie reconfigures the furniture in the room while an automated voice gives her instructions.
Automated voice (V.O.)
Please move table A to area marked D.
Jackie is lying down.
Automated Voice (V.O.)
I am about to begin insertion. You will feel a slight pinch. It should only hurt for a few seconds.
A light slides into view above her as the operation starts.
A wealthy businesswoman, VICTORIA, sits looking at her emails on a transparent surface. The CAMERA approaches her from over her shoulder to read the message. It is from her boss. We read it in segments.
Text on screen:
New – Urgent
Jamie Jack, Senior Vice President for Affective Technologies Inc.
Please be informed that your present performance levels are not acceptable. Your position will be up for review next month.
Victoria stands up and paces angrily.
Text on screen:
A timer comes up on the screen recording her response time.
A “ping” sounds suddenly from her screen. Another message has arrived.
Text on screen:
New – Juvi
Your new baby has arrived!
Congratulations! Your pre-birth neural entrainment session is ready! Login to feel the rejuvenating brain waves of life before birth.
She smiles, sips her COFFEE. A new piece of news catches her attention.
Victoria strides into a corporate lobby and up a short flight of stairs on her way to a meeting.
The head of a company is addressing a small group of executives.
As most of you have already heard, The Bridge are releasing a Two-Way neural entrainment device. What does this mean for our strategy? How can we rework operations to maintain security for our clients? Things will change quickly. I want ideas.

Liz walks to work through a long snowy park. She walks up some stairs toward a classical looking building.
Text on screen:
Starting today all employees must wear entrainment devices at work at all times.
Liz walks through a hallway making her way to the Outreach Center. As she walks she receives another message.
Text on screen:
Two-Way models from The Bridge have arrived. Please collect at front desk.
A common room where students are hanging out and working. A male student is leaning back in his seat. His eyes are open but dull. His hands are twitching slightly as if he is playing a video game in his mind.
A female student walks up to him and looks happy to see him.
Female Student
The male student does not notice and remains absorbed in his perceptions. She walks away, disappointed but not especially surprised. She goes back to join another student nearby.

We see an abstracted and partial point of view shot of a female runner as she jogs around an indoor track [doubled-perception]. This perspective is overlaid on top of the point of view shot of a of the male student who is connected to her as she runs. The filming and atmosphere have an intimate quality.

Episode 2

Liz comes out excited. She runs to Ulysses and jumps on his back.
What you excited about?
He connects with her.
The two-way? Jules says they’ll use it to monitor our customer service.
Liz loses her enthusiasm.
I know.
You’re kidding.
No, I’m serious. It’s totally ridiculous. It’s incredible. I was so excited too for it but…
Students are watching the screen. Gibson is standing at the back of the room.
The projector is switched off. The lights in the room come back on. Gibson speaks to the class.
So, what do you think so far?
They’re using visual techniques to represent using the Patch but that’s completely wrong.
I know, for us it’s completely ridiculous today.
It’s quaint. 

They were still very visual back then. Think about what a shock it would have been. For all of human history, sensations inside people were experienced by only that person and they shared them verbally or with images. (shakes her head with amazement). That’s how it was.
One of the students is distractedly taking in something from their Patch. They look toward the window, eyes half closed.
Saar puts up her hand.
Why is Liz so happy when the Patch arrives?
She needs a new Patch.
The class laughs.
Well, a lot of people believed it could bring about a collective political movement.
None of the students show any flicker of recognition about what Gibson is talking about.
Lina (laughs)
What? From sharing feelings?
Students in the class giggle.
Of course, the Patch did make life a lot more collective, just not the way they expected. Their belief that being connected would mean that people would join together to fight for a better collective situation was false.
What about cluster relationships?
Of course relationships did change. There are a lot more group relationships and group identities.
May I be excused? I have an 11 o’clock. 
Go ahead but we want you in class on the remote Lina and don’t forget repayment work. 
Max, your thoughts?
I say more sharing’s always good. What are we so worried about? We all know it’s the age of the post-individual. Employees might not always like it but it’s good for the economy. We just need to keep our transmissions tailored for the specific needs of our clients.
True, my man! Good point!
Any other thoughts? Ladies?
Victoria’s voice:
It will definitely open excellent employee monitoring opportunities. The raw experience data we will receive can help us build actionable interaction models between employees and between workers and managers. If we move fast enough we can patent and license them.
OK… Lance…
Ulysses is nearby when a client, Jake, approaches him.
I thought this place was for students only.
(referring to clients nearby who look older and less  well-off.)
We’re a drop in center open to anyone, but run by Porosity at the university.
I haven’t used the Patch before.
Dude, why?
A client is standing with Liz.
What do you plan to provide?
Well, I heard that people will pay to feel unemployed.
Liz (smiles sadly)
That’s a competitive area. There are just so many people offering it…
OK. Do you have any ideas?
Well, people want to feel different and they want to experience how other people live. Try a less common lifestyle if possible.
I’m not sure I can do that.
If you want my advice, you should get on two way.
Ulysses is still serving Jake nearby.
This is it. Check it out. 
OK, so my main question is will my girlfriend be able to hear my thoughts?
A lot of new users are worried about thought-bleed and you’re right to be concerned because when it comes down to it there are no clear lines between feeling and thought. But there are strict laws protecting your privacy of thought, whatever company you use. The catch area only includes those thoughts connected to the feeling, so like when she makes you angry, “you bitch!” might leak through. You gotta watch for that.  But once you get the hang of it, it’s like riding a bike. It shouldn’t be a problem.
CUT TO Liz and Patty:
One-way transmissions to a large audience can suck your sensation bandwidth. After a certain point you’ll hardly feel your experience yourself.
I’m aware of this.
Liz (ignores Patty’s comment)
…Sure, you’ll have new feelings the next time but… long term it’s not a great idea.
I don’t feel anything now.
Text on screen:
Negative customer feedback – Frustrated 3.
CUT TO Outreach Center:
Jake, his thumb in his mouth, getting the device in the right place in the roof of his mouth.
OK, now there are lots of ways to Patch up but the easiest way if I’m standing close by is to look at me and indicate, okay?
Ulysses stands before us [doubled-perception]. The two images don’t quite coincide and they shudder as they align. Ulysses walks over to the counter and takes out a milkshake leftover from lunch. He drinks it.
In the darkened room, Gibson receives a message. She looks around and makes her way over to Jesse.
Jesse, I just got a message about you. Can we talk?
The other students notice this and watch.
Student (to Saar):
Why’s Gibson worried?
Jesse’s poor…
Student looks at Jesse with disgust as Jesse gets up to leave the room with Gibson.
the television program plays the end of the scene in the Outreach Center in the darkened room:
A smile appears on Jake’s face.
I didn’t get any thoughts.
Gibson speaks from her script.
Look, I don’t have to tell you that it’s only through incredible commitment to self-development that students can survive in this competitive economy.
Is this about my payment? I promise I’m fine. I’m just in the middle of updating my profile.
You’ll need to fix it before tomorrow or no class.

Episode 3


Liz is with a man and a woman. They are sitting among all the other people having appointments at the center. The woman, Patty has a face red from crying.
I want to stay with him, but he’s so controlling.
Liz sympathizes with Patty.
Joey looks down, saddened.
…he makes me feel so guilty.
Liz speaks to Joey.
What does he make you feel guilty about?
Mostly small things, like the fact that he pays for more things than I do. You know he has little ways of letting me know that he’s in charge. I love him, I’m just getting really tired.
Does it help that your sister is working with you on these feelings?
Definitely. I don’t feel as much frustration.
That’s good. It works that way for most people.
Is there a way that I can get rid of these feelings entirely?
Would you want to?
Joey looks surprised by her answer, then is annoyed. Liz winces, and is surprised by the feelings she receives from Joey.
Sorry. I think there are several companies working on this right now. It should come out soon.
Text on screen:
Warning: Negative customer feedback – Insulted 6.
Liz rushes into the bathroom.
Fuck these new sets!
She receives a new message:
You are fired. Please clear your things out of the office by the end of the day.
The lights turn back on in the classroom and discussion starts immediately.
I know how Liz feels. Getting feedback makes you feel sick sometimes. 
It was new then, and only became mandatory a few years later. Raise your hand if you have a job where Patch use is enforced…
The students that are pay attention raise their hands. Other students who are drawn into themselves take a while longer to raise their hands.
Gibson (CONT.)
How many of you are doing paid work right now?
About half of the students put up their hands.
Lina what job are you doing?
I’m monitoring employee initiative. I’ve been in this job for so long I can do it in my sleep. So they gave me sleep-cycle hours.
So how many of you are sensing customer happiness in your job?
We all like to keep people happy.
Some students shift uncomfortably. Gibson sees this and feels their discomfort.
We all have to do it, right, Gibson? I mean you’re doing it right now…
The other students smile and are embarrassed. Gibson starts to feel uncomfortable but tries to control it.
Yes, that’s a good point… We’re doing it right now. How does that… feel, that your reactions are directly regulating my behavior?
Ulysses is on a computer terminal in the Outreach Center, looking at a bill.
Text on computer
The figure $12,185 appears on his screen.
What the hell? What the fuck?
Ulysses shakes his head and calls the company.
Hello, yeah I’m calling about… I just got billed again for twelve thousand dollars? I paid that bill… hello?
He answers the questions for the automated phone recording.
Ulysses, U-lys-ses…
While Ulysses is on the phone Jake leaves the center and is walking downstairs. He is still connected with Ulysses.
Billing, Billing
Ulysses is becoming increasingly annoyed.
Kaf-ka, Kaf-ka.
Fuck Man.
As Ulysses becomes more upset Jake gets very upset too and looks at people in the hallway in an angry and threatening way.
I just want to talk to a real fucking human being here…
come on, goddamn it.
Kaf-ka! Kaf-ka!
After a second Jake realizes what he is doing and moves away from others but is still very upset. He goes to a secluded place and kicks a wall.
Hi, can I help?
So my boyfriend and I are about to break up. I just need some advice on the best way to involve my network.
Ulysses (speaking like the student)
So like you want to enable touch-ins as well as full-feelies.
Yeah, exactly.
Yeah, we can do that. It’s good to have the support of your network at times like that, you know.
display tables in the center seen from the perspective of Michelle, the woman that we saw with her brother in a previous scene [double-perception]. 
As Patty looks through various kits sold to Patch users, she smiles in a sarcastic way, then she looks upset and as if she will faint, then she smiles sarcastically again.
Back to her P.O.V.
The overlapped images she seem suddenly snap out of synchrony. The camera tumbles down.
A few people notice the commotion at one side of the center. Liz and others approach to see what’s going on.
Michelle is having a seizure. Liz is obviously upset from the message she received but helping this woman gives her something important to focus on.
Camera moves to a close-up of Jackie, who looks in the direction of the disturbance. This is the first time we notice her in Outreach Center. She is having an appointment with someone else at the center (off screen). Jackie watches Liz helping.
What’s going on?
Is she having a Patch rejection?
I think so.
I’ve heard about them. Never seen one.
Some people are just allergic to sharing I guess.
Liz is helping the woman as she wakes up. While Liz does this, she explains to someone else nearby what just happened.
You know how using the Patch you can feel something about the other person is somehow different from how you feel? This isn’t your body, you haven’t had the same life, things feel off. Well, a rejection is just the same thing but stronger. But it’s harmless.
Liz gives her full attention to these last moments of helping this woman.
Jackie quickly exits at the other side of the room.
Jackie checks a new notification on her Patch and answers it briefly. 
Text on screen:
Client request: Mike wants it rough.
Then goes into the same bathroom where Liz had recently received the message that she is fired.
She answers her device and takes off her shirt. Leaning against the wall she closes her eyes. She starts to stroke her chest, her stomach and her lips.
Text on screen:
$50 has been credited to your account.

Episode 4

Class has ended and the students file out of the room. Gibson’s attention is caught by Jesse who is sitting in his chair feeling agitated.
Jesse, what’s wrong?
Jesse (upset)
I made this mistake today that might cost me my contacts.
What is it?
Saskia sent me information today on perfecting my business English, and I forgot to return a sense of thanks and appreciation.
Oh! (Gibson sounds surprised) Well… maybe she’ll understand. Are you feeling tired or over-extended? Could she tell?
Jesse shakes his head.
Low blood sugar, stress, work stress?
He shakes his head no. 
Huh, well… You do have reason to be nervous. I would send your most apologetic feelings. 
It’s taken me a decade to build these contacts.
Try to relax. Sometimes it’s easier to take your focus off the future and think in the now.
Jesse takes heart in this idea.
I’ve heard that it can help you with focus.
Yes. It’s good for studying.
Jesse sleeps in a shared room where five other roomates also sleep on other beds. At the other end of the room Lucas is waking up. Other men also get up. Jesse’s alarm goes off and slowly he sits up in bed.
Lucas eats a bowl of oatmeal while his roommates walk around the room preparing for their day. He looks exhausted.
Jesse sits down at the other end of a kitchen table.
You were up late last night.
I’m working freelance on a really big project. It’s amazing but a lot of work. … You know I could have gone to university if I wanted to.
Cut to the group apartment where Lucas tries to work while his roommates walk near to him, one of them bumping into his chair.
Lucas looks at him, annoyed, as the roommate walks by.
Later in the day, Lucas works in the coffee shop.
Lucas (V.O.)
I do on-demand data work from home. We work in a team. We keep each other on top of things…
Lucas is focused on his computer screen.  
Lucas (V.O.)
We welcome changing requirements, even late in the game. Harnessing change is a way to win the customer a competitive advantage.
Lucas drinks coffee as he works late at night. He looks tired.
On my breaks, I do short tasks. If you can’t finish a 50 cent task in a minute don't do it.
Romy arrives at a corporate looking coffee shop to meet Lucas who is sitting there, working.
Romy sits with Lucas. They talk and laugh.
Lucas (V.O.)
From 8 to 8.15 check in with my team leader. 8.15 to 8.20 look over new tasks. 8.20 to 9.30 new task completion. 9.30 to lunch ongoing tasks.
Romy leaves. Lucas returns to his work on the computer. 
Romy is getting up in the morning while her roommates sleep. Romy prepares breakfast at one side of the room.
Romy (V.O.)
It’s not my ideal situation but I’m making it work until I find something better.
One of Romy’s roommates wakes up and crosses the room to join her at the breakfast table.
Romy looks over at her roommate. She is sits without anything to eat.
No breakfast?
The roommate shakes her head.
Do you want me to tune in with you…?
Romy points at her Patch. Her roommate nods her head.
Romy tunes her Patch to her roommate. Then she sits down and eats her breakfast. The roommate savours the taste and and smiles.
Romy arrives at the area where she works selling sandwiches in a large restaurant cafeteria. She has just begun wiping down her counter top.
Her boss arrives.
I sent you a message.
10 mins ago. Did you not get it?
Oh I was just…
I expect you to respond in a timely manner.
The boss sends her his displeasure but then he realizes something. 
Wait a minute, I’m sending it to you now but you aren’t picking up.
I just leave my Patch off until I start.
The boss seems flustered.
Well I’ll translate for you then. I was transmitting that this is completely unacceptable. I shouldn’t have to explain this.
There’s no rule that I have to wear it before I get here, sir.
It’s expected. There are forty other employees here sensing right now. How could you possibly do a better job than them?
I can still do a good job…
We’ve gone over this… you do a better job than your neighbor or you have no job.
Romy nods.
I didn’t want to have to do this… Put in your Patch please.
Romy looks uncertain.
The boss stares at her. She inserts her Patch. The boss continues to watch as she does. As she puts it in the look in her eyes changes. She is disturbed by what the boss sends her.

Episode 5

The class is watching the TV program.
Victoria arrives at a factory boardroom and meets the Company Owner. They are standing in a glassed boardroom overlooking a factory floor.

On the floor the employees labour speedily and efficiently, intensely focused.

Company owner
I’m surprised you’re down here. They normally send juniors.
The company wants input from clients right now.
Company owner
Well you’ve given us a stellar service for the last two years. Labour productivity has been up 80% with the entrainment you provide. By using your technology along with your employment scheduling system we’ve been able to let go of 70% of our staff. I have to be honest with you, we don’t want anything to change now that the two-way set is out.
Let me assure you that nothing needs to change.
However, there are some new options that we can offer. For instance, employees can check in with managers via limited-wave entrainment.
Owner (V.O)
Let them entrain with managers? Why?
Studies show that if I receive my superior’s frustration via entrainment I’m 94% more likely to adjust my behavior to appease him. It gets straight into your employees’ limbic system. They’ll do anything to make the manager happy.
But it sounds so unpredictable. We can’t control how our managers feel.
Limited-wave entrainment only shared what we want to share. I’d recommend a slim band that includes displeasure and selected happiness for when work goes well.
Liz returns to the Outreach Center at the end of the day to collect her things. She is surprised to see several of her fellow employees still there including Ulysses. He stares at her wordlessly, entraining to her. She feels his disappointment and anger.
You’re fired too?
She leans forward and gives him a hug.
Yeah, we all are. Jen thinks it’s because people won’t need two-way assistance. I’m not sure. I think it’s because we won’t be able to manipulate the data collection for them the way we could with one way.
Ulysses and Liz hug.
See you sweetheart. Let’s keep in touch.
Liz collects her things from the back room. The door to the room is open. She hears someone at the door. A woman around her age but a bit younger is standing in the doorway. Liz smiles.
Sorry, the center’s closed.
Thanks. Sorry. I was wondering if you could spare a moment to talk?
Sure, go ahead.
I have a serious problem.
Gibson walks toward the front of the class while she speaks.
As you can see, a tool like the Patch was used for exploitations of all kinds when it first came out. But a tool is a tool and…
Gibson turns to look at the class…
…humans have always used them.
…and notices that none of them are listening.
Gibson (CONT’D)
What’s going on? Class?…
Saar (class looks really confused)
I’m not sure, I’m not getting my transmissions.
Me neither, for 5 minutes.
Me too. What does it mean?
Why is Jocelyn on the floor? What?
The class becomes increasingly unsettled and many of the students start talking at the same time, but not to one another, just talking all at once. Some sound more panicked than others but the upset is obviously contagious.
Hello…? I’d like to speak to the director… hello? I would like to speak to the director… yes the director?
16. Gibson runs out of class and down the hall, looking very worried. She knocks on the door of another staff member.
She returns with the other person both running slightly. 
Some of the students are lying on the floor looking really upset or dazed. Jesse is staring forlornly into the room; Lina is talking loudly, while other students act equally traumatized. 
Announcements on the news and radio say that the patch network has shut down.

In a room in Banine’s apartment, Banine sits looking toward the camera. 
Are you going into work today?
Class begins in an area at school filled with comfortable rugs and chairs. The students sit in silence, devastated. They stare at Gibson.
Do you want to talk?
The students look even more upset at this suggestion.
Gibson is at home in her apartment speaking to, Banine.
I told the students to go spend time together, to relate to each other. They wouldn’t normally hang out in person. They’re embarrassed to relate from the outside. All I could think of was to tell them to play trust games, to get to know each other without the Patch.
You would know how to handle the situation better. The problem is with their brains.
You know I can go do a check up if you want, on the really bad cases?
Really? Would you?
No problem.
The students continue to sit, silently staring into space.

End of Episode 5

On screen text

Next Week on The Common Sense
The scene between Jackie and Liz in the Outreach Center continues.
I’m transmitting from my unborn child. I’ve got serious debts and it’s the only way I could pay them off, but it has become unbearable.
Can’t you just have it removed?
No I’d be arrested immediately. I was wondering if you might be able to hook me up to the channel?
You realize what you’re asking me is illegal?
I did it. I got you access to your baby’s transmission. This is a Patch clone. It will let you connect with your baby.
Thank you.
Jackie excitedly gives Liz a hug.
Scene where Liz and Jackie kiss.


Mariana Marcassa

I prepare my naked body with two orthotics: a dental mouth opener and a posture corrector especially built for the performance.
The body is tied to the posture corrector, which is T-shaped, with horizontal strings.

It is positioned alongside the spinal cord, forcing the body to be erect and immobilizing the arms.
The forearms are free. The mouth is gaping. The spine is tied, straight.

Standing up, I open my Master of Arts thesis and read “Part 1” of such writing.
As I read, the body cries. The body shakes. The body sweats. The body drools.
The performance ends when the text ends.

January 28th 2011. Opening of the thesis defense “QUE CORPO É ESSE? Grupo EmpreZa, sensações de uma experiência-terreiro” [WHAT BODY IS THAT? Grupo EmpreZa, sensations of a terreiro-experience]

When in crisis, goes out to walk at night and, in coming back to consciousness, already is in another city, kilometres from home. Gathers the carcasses of animals devoured in the pasture, in between the cities. Pig, ox, dog. Gives the bones a special treatment. The house stinks of bone, lime, formaldehyde. Already in São Paulo, becomes a beggar, works cleaning plates in a restaurant in Santa Cecília. Starts sleeping in the restaurant. Time passes, and then comes the surprise of a love letter that calls for a return to the cerrado. [2] In Goiania, invests, in infinite instalments, in the motorbike that allows for the delivery boy to work. But the body in crisis continues its life between wandering at night, booze and pills. Boozes a lot, drives the motorbike drunk in the city streets. Falls. The bridge is fifteen meters high. The accident puts the body in a coma, and then there is the effort of returning to life. Help is needed. Food needs to be put into the mouth, the body washed, ass cleaned. And then, the hard work of locomotion, of moving unaided, eating unaided, speaking well. With the effort of re-education, has the chance of working as a farm peon. Takes care of cows and masturbates in the midst of the pasture. An exhaustive masturbation to satiate the world which tears the body. A full world, a packed world which throws it away from its petty reality of a life in the interior, between the roça [3] and the city. Slips with a cloth diaper in between the legs and lets the anxiety come. A horniness which wets everything, soaks the thighs. Sweats. An entire day until the exhaustion of the body. Where the hand can’t any longer, fingers hurt, a cunt hurts, a dick hurts, a body hurts. Enough, the entire pasture already smells like masturbation, the anxiety has gone. As a farm peon loses an arm and makes a living. Broken, without the arm dilacerated in the mowing machine, buys a car with the indemnity and drives with only one arm. Shits squatting over the latrine, it comes from the habit of life in the wilderness. Stutters while reading in public, has a lot of difficulty in thinking well, a collapsed body. A repressing gaze, mute, without words, torments dreams. Screams in such a way that causes deafness. Drinks every day, as much as necessary in order to forget the cancer of someone close and his fucked up miserable life. There is the embarrassment of waking up all came beside her. Only talks of sex and shouts the premature ejaculation to the seven winds. Drinks a lot, falls in the gutter. In the morning of the following day, beaten, robbed, sprawled on the street. Goes out to walk the night and carries the carcasses which stink in the pastures. But, on a random day, finds the animal alive. Starts talking with it, they become friends. Takes it home as if it were a carcass. Puts it in the kitchen. Pushes that enormous horse, all of it, inside the house which stinks of bone, lime and formaldehyde. Takes prescribed pills and drinks. It is then that the body is stricken by a rare disease, has to protect itself from the sun. But that hardened aristocratic blood causes paralysis: latifundiary aristocracy, of the rearing of cattle, of the possession of lands, of the massacre of peoples, of redemptive Catholicism. The body hurts with it, tries to escape from itself, wants to run. Goes from the schizo to the paranoiac. A paralyzed body, stuttering, decompensated. Cuts itself entirely: from top to bottom, the sharp knife opens a tear of blood in the marked body. Inside the skin, the tears tattoo the whole body and make evident its own pain. Takes pills to behave. At times, slips into tight, exotic, exaggerated clothes. Doesn’t know how to act his homosexuality in a city of machos. So many tight clothes, so many garments. Goes from the revolutionary to the reactionary. Standoffish body, difficult to come close to. Buckles because of it. Stutters full of twitches. Between the truck driver and the housewife fucks the roças dog. The dog cries. But to whom? Melancholy everywhere. The heat is intense and in the air ashes of fire squander the dry woods of the winter without rain. And like an old camarada [4] of the Goianian steppes, searches for shelter under the shadow of a contorted tree: with water wets the dried up lips at the same time that he eats the cassava flour sweetened by sugar cane syrup. Knows that from this fuck nothing will come out, no fucked up being will be born and continue his race. Thinking is rare. During break, remembers an experience which isn’t his own and smells the damp leather of the troops that in a distant time passed through there. That smell of sweat on the mule’s coat mixed with his own, with the smell of the penis he had just stuck into the dog. All these sensations, together with the intense heat, make him melt. In agony, looks up at the sky without clouds and thinks nothing. Croons like a singer and looks for an inexistent calm, a firm land of any kind, a ground, a home. The solitude is almost absolute. Around, mounds, lizards and sun. The burning of the surrounding woods insists and invites him again, in the burnt smoke mixed with sweat, to remember a time which isn’t his but is his. Images take hold of his sight as if the body could make them come out of its pores, announcing them as marks which belong to the depths: roasted buttocks from the long journey on the animal’s loin, the arid days inside the woods, the rummaging of lands. Stinking men hungry for gold. Bedevilled Indians, dispossessed slaves. The mute sound of suffering in erecting villages on the banks of the river. Vila Boa latifundia. The chapel, the priest, mass. And once again the sweat, the stinking smell of pain: black slaves, labour of the body, manual, hard, strict. Of the Goyáses remains the name and something deep in the skin of that body. Here, the little dog is a woman, a slave, an Indian. The dog cries, but to whom? The fire stops and the red dust rises, it irritates the eyes and makes the body suffer. Runs towards the stream. Finds limpid water, fresh, smooth. The minnows of the little river whisper the popular saying: eat live minnows and learn how to swim. Doesn’t hesitate, opens the mouth and throws live minnows inside the throat which goes to the stomach. Jumps into the water and swims like a wild animal. It is already night. After some time, comes the pig which longs to gain weight for any work whatsoever. Buys the pig, takes it to the roça. The pig becomes a pet. Takes care of the animal as if it were a Madam’s Lulu, strokes it, caresses it, gives it food, takes it for walks. Has love for the pig, fattens it and soon will make of it a good meal. A banquette where the pig is the guest of honour which knows how to come and comes a fucking lot. Writes on its behalf, thinks on its behalf. Screams on its behalf: the pig isn’t a metaphor! In a religious night, resolves to follow the procession on foot, from Goiania to Trindade. Finds an enormous staff on the road as if it were a bone of a dead animal in the pasture, and gazes at all those people which carry the Cross to redeem their sins. But the eyes laugh at all that frenzied religiosity. Arrives at Trindade, drinks a few and goes back. Exhausted, tired. In Goiás Velho throws himself against the church walls, again and again, seeming to free the sounds of the dead in that land. And the body shrieks as it bangs into the wall. Brutal brunts with which the body exhales the stinking smell of its ancestors pain: Goyases, Acroá, Kayapó, Karajá, Xambioá, Yavaé, Avá-Canoeiro, Kalungas. The scandalous voice of dead Maria Grampinho that buried all the filth from the streets in her hairs. Obsessed with the hair clips that she finds in the fissures of pavements, is burrowed, mistreated, dumped in the humid basement of Cora Coralina. [5] Mad black woman spends her life looking for ramonas [6] to stick in her hair. Dirty hair full of clips. From Cora Coralina, the dark, humid basement and her culinary witchcraft. When happy, the body drinks some more and, stuttering, can no longer speak. Speech comes to expel sound. The head trembles and the smirk takes over the face. Only Jesus! He sings. Only Jesus! In the streets, shouts out that his body is a hotel of the lowest category. Screams in sleepless nights, in the desire that someone may hear him and take him far, very far, from there. Drinks because of it. Dances because of it. Spins because of it. A tiredness is needed. Decides to pierce his own feet in a Serão Performático. [7] And that thick blood spread on the floor which smells like life and death causes wonder and uneasiness. But why, they ask. Why?

He stopped.

It is that the old body sees the ocean for the first time. With the mellow wave which calms the nerves, the body begins to dress only in white. Shaves the head and sows the stretch marks which scar the womb, now the open fissure of an animal gusted with stripes. Learns to control losing control itself: vomits at the right time, chews with orthodontic mouth openers, controls the movements of a twisted body, the lashings which flog the slave’s body. Swallows dense batches of the hair of the head just in front, till it is all in the throat, spits it out again with the certainty that there wasn’t more to swallow. Sticks needles in between the nail and the flesh—subtle, delicate gesture—no longer is it known where lies the beauty and the horror. Throws itself naked against the walls. Reckons forces with the other: slap in the face, exhaustive scream, stone in the hair. A reckoning of forces which has nothing to do with the affirmation of oneself, nothing can be said under the sign of a dialectic, if man or woman, if white or black, if rich or poor. The reckoning of forces comes from the body’s effort to make itself expressed. It is more than a reckoning, the body enters entirely in an effort, a tension which it lives, expressing itself there with all the marks, the collapses, the pains, the stuttering disgraces of a body. And creates with them. The stuttering body, rumpled, anxious, grabs the roça, the cow shit. Death, the bones, the surgical instruments, the suffering and the blood, the aristocratic blood and the hardened religion, sex, nakedness and the skin, premature ejaculation and masturbation, the pain, the stone, the tension. And a life which insists, art.


[1] Mariana Marcassa is developing a post-doc at the SenseLab, Concordia University, Montreal. She holds a PhD in Clinical Psychology, tutored by Suely Rolnik at PUC-SP, and a MA in Clinical Psychology from the same institution as well as a Major in Visual Arts at the Federal University of Goiás. She is one of the founders of the Brazilian collective from the state of Goiás, Grupo EmpreZa, with whom she has worked for a decade (2001-2011):

[2] The cerrado is a vast tropical savanna ecoregion in Brazil, particularly in the states of Goiás and Minas Gerais.

[3] Roça can be used both as a noun and as a verb. As a verb, of which the infinitive is roçar, it means to rub. However, in Brazil, the word, used as a verb, and especially in rural contexts, adds to its meaning the act of chopping down vegetation. The verb, under both its senses, has been substantialized to also designate the place where this action takes place.

[4] Camarada can have multiple meanings, from friend to companion to even, in a political context, militant. Its use in the text, however, refers to a specific context of Brazilian history, already after the end of slavery, where the peon, although receiving compensation for his work, lived in conditions that differed only minimally from slavery.

[5] Cora Coralina (1889-1985) was a Goianian writer and poet. She lived her entire life in the same house, one of the first constructions (in the 18th century) of Goiás Velho, the old capital of the state of Goiás. A mad woman called Maria Grampino, that Cora Coralina is said to take care of, lived in the basement of her house.

[6] Ramonas are hair clips. A word used by the Goianians.

[7] Serão Performático is an expression used by Grupo Empreza to name a performatic event which includes a series of performances.

A speciation: a bloc of sensation, another regard’s counterpointing ?

Mayra Morales PDF

on reading “another regard”
bloc of sensation jumps off the page
bites the neck
becomes a speciation
as a gesturing of counterpoint
I wanted to intuitively offer
a way of entering into
the concept
bloc of sensation
to see-feel how these two
speciation-blocs of sensation
could dance together


blowing thoughts around:
in order to enter into a concept
one has to invent a way of doing it
because there’s modes of thought
that will require to do it differently
what would that different procedure be then?

perhaps a relational map of conceptual flashes
that not necessarily connect
but start building a presence
or an aroundness
a kind of composition of tickling wordings
toward an articulation of something
less clear and more ambiguous
yet truly important
and precise

ambiguity of thought as a political stance
(indiscernibility is more adequate perhaps)
as a way to bring forth other qualities of thought
intensive forces that in-form a felt sensation
rather than a sensical field
a bloc of sensation in the deleuzian sense
as a composition of percepts and affects
(Deleuze & Guattari What is Philosophy: 164-185)
we’ll come back to that

like this, a more improvisatory (weighting) writing
instead of a proved righting
a weighting in the nietszchean sense
in the sense of feeling fielding the forces at work
in the sense of exercising a valuation
as a productive act

valuation as feeling
feeling in the whiteheadean sense
(Whitehead, Adventure of Ideas, 177-182)
feeling as prehension
in the middle of process
what grabs and absorbs
in the middle of a learning process

there’s other ways of reading
that are not necessarily apt to
produce reviews
yet they produce something else
would it be interesting to witness
that something else production?

a flickering of pages
a forgetful reading
other kinds of notes
notes that produce movements
instead of anchors
movements of repetition
that will come back or not
in the emergence of fields of relation

to trust that these ways of knowing
could also be valid
could also produce different kinds of value
different textural gestural texts?

this way of writing brings the noted notes
in a different way
it pulls them out in-with the movement
of the writing
rather than from an already premade synthesis
the synthesis co-composes in-with the writing
the movement of the writing produces
an activation that makes possible for
past readings to have presence
from a produced necessity
from a relational encounter
from a field of relation
one that does not exist beforehand
but which emerges
as a platform
for articulating
the difficult

Day ·1

the text moves
and a concept jumps

blocs of sensation

encountered it three years ago
didn’t know that it was flickering there
it made an entry
it is (t)here

the story… i go searching:
have to touch
with my hands and nose
every single notebook
piled on the notebook’s shelf
was not there

found three notebooks
in a different pile
they were singled out
any other day
i don’t remember
it is (t)here
“blocs of sensation”
“a sort of definition of what deleuze calls sensation”
(notes from class on Francis Bacon: The Logic of  Sensation 2012).

i go reading chapters 7, no, chapter 6 and 12
on painting and sensation and the diagram

on painting and sensation

there’s levels of sensation but no blocs of sensation
this phrase calls my interest though

a whisper:
i feel i need to be reading chapter 8
on painting forces

but first let’s keep close to this opening
what about sensation?
something becoming in the sensation
and something happening through the sensation

“i experience the sensation
only by entering the painting
by reaching the unity of
the sensing and the sensed”
an interject:
reminds me of
whitehead’s objects and subjects
and how there’s no subjects on one side
who perceive or know objects
how the “composition of experience”
is not a knower-known relationship
with objects and subjects
on two opposite sides

an entering into focusing:
what i’m trying to do
is to find a way
to articulate
a body-space relationality
in which there’s no body on one side
and space on the other
but that there’s a process
where space is lived
in a different way than
by a separation from it
there’s a difficulty in articulating this
it is all about articulating that
and building at the same time
a way to articulate it
like what i’m just doing right here

reminds me of this phrase:

need to pay my bills

continuation of the interject:


a method is needed, and this varies with every artist and forms part of the work
(D&G What is Philosophy: 167)

(D&G ¿Qué es la Filosofía?: 168)
this phrase
emphasises how each creation will need
to create its own ways
here called “methods”
which I prefer calling techniques
this is exactly what I’m trying to do just here

and it also brings forth this:

a vast plane of composition that is not abstractly preconceived but constructed as the work progresses, opening, mixing, dismantling (D&G What is Philosophy: 188)


(ibid 191)

which is what I call the doubling technique
a compositionality that creates
its tools at the same time as it
creates what it creates

what I always say about
is that a research-creation project
invents its own ways
of becoming that project
on the go
as it walks
as it emerges
not before it exists

there’s not a how of research-creation
before it becomes
the how is in the becoming
it finds its how of compositionality
in its becoming

back on painting and sensation

deleuze talks about how
sensation is a way to
make a Figure rather than a figuration
the first one being a mobile composition
while the second one a narrative
more depictional and
of a world out there
“the Figure is the sensible form
related to a sensation;
it acts immediately upon the nervous system,
which is of the flesh”.
(Deleuze, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation: 34)

in brief
it provokes-creates
a felt sensation
rather than
a visual operation
of an easily recognized

in the words of Bacon
“the sensation (the Figure)
is the opposite of the form related to an object that it is supposed to represent (figuration)”
(ibid 36).


so we are near blocs of sensation
but not yet
we have “levels of sensation”
which means this
sensation that crosses across
different levels of experience
level body
level tissue
level color
order mouth
order sky
level raindrop
not as a raindrop falling into an open mouth
but as a mouth which has
a potential composition of raindrops
a mouth that shares
a raindropy quality
with a tear
i'm just speculating here
a how “. . . to feel a [compositionality]
more immediately real” (39)

this way of co-composing
of making felt the more immediately real
is what deleuze calls the motor hypothesis
what makes sensation cross across
different levels, orders and areas

is a motor
that is active
in the movement
that is triggered by a compositionality
of “arrests or snapshots of motion”
a way of recomposing
continuity and speed

it is not movement per se
what turns the motor on
of the immediately-felt felt
but actually a double character
that deleuze calls “a motion in-place”
a composition of pieces which themselves are
processual compositions
that is at once and at the same time
in movement yet in place
actual and virtual
other two terms that pull this
composition toward other place
to come back to later

we were talking about that
movement in-place
we have that:

(ibid 40-41)

so sensation
is the way
to create a Figure
which is different
from creating
in a representative way
a Figure acts directly in the nervous system
also a sensation is what passes
from one level to another
and what makes
sensation pass
from one level to another
is a motor
which itself is made
of a compositionality
of spasmodic
motions in-place
which reveals
“the action of invisible forces
on the body”

(ibid 41).

“the movement of [levels of sensation]
occurs between two spasms,
between the two movements
of a contraction in one place . . .
[this is what deleuze calls:] vital rhythm” (ibid).

the story . . . body movements:
not noticing yet rolling on the floor
donutting the body

a silent thought:
the reading didn’t happen like that
it jumped from chapter 6 to chapter 12 intermittently
remember the reading was looking for “blocs of sensation”
so it went back and forth
back and forth
wanting to go somewhere
as a way of reading

on the diagram

i don’t remember anything now
need to go back to the text
without going back to the text
what can i remember?
not much
this text can not
emerge from memory
it is impossible
it needs to emerge
in between
movements of going to the text
and coming to this text

i´m tempted to stop in chapter 8 on painting forces
very tempted
yet i go to 12
I ignore the force that calls strongest
to remain close to
yesterday day · -1.5
as an attempt to hold the movement in-place


“the painter is already in the canvas” (99)
the connection-commotion is more than
a there’s-something-there-that-draws-my-attention
there’s already a relationality in germ
bacon does not make sketches
he makes random marks
line traits of angles and speed
this is the preparatory work
invisible and silent
these irrational
involuntary traits
are manual traits
body traits
guided by
other forces
not depending
on will or sight
these traits
are traits of sensation
traits of sensation
produce the spasms
that open up way
to sensation
through the Figure
a compositionality
of the felt
where the
invisible and silent
has room to operate

these traits
for another world to emerge
“as if a zone from the Sahara
were suddenly inserted in the head”
(ibid 99-101).


they are no longer
or signifiers:
they are asignifying traits
. . .
traits of sensation” (ibid 100).

“the diagram is thus
the operative set of asignifying
and non-representative
(ibid 101).

the diagram is a germ of rhythm
a compositionality
of spasmodic forces
that unlock areas of sensation
unlocking areas of sensation
the direct sensation
upon the nervous system
through the power of vibration
and nonlocalization (109-110)

according to bacon
the diagram’s function is “to be suggestive”
according to wittgenstein
is “to introduce possibilities of fact”
(ibid 101)

on possibilities of fact see What is Philosophy? p.17
according to me
is to invent other modes
of life living
other modes of learning
other modes of
worlds worlding

we’re now almost arriving
to what pulled out this whole
movement for day 1
blocs of sensation

a trajectory:
somewhere in between
there’s always
having to go
taking the metro
another opening
oliver sacks enters
a bag
the bag enters
the metro
the bubble glasses of Mr. McGregor
enter the metro’s-seats-faces
they remind me of
relational fields
how these bubble glasses
were an artefact that
activated the relational field
that otherwise would
be inactive by a complex variation
on the capacity of relationality
of the vestibular system
caused by parkinson’s disease.
we’ll come back to that

back on track:
a bloc of sensation is a compositionality
of percepts and affects

“. . . -the thing or the work of art-
is a bloc of sensations,
that is to say,
a compound of percepts and affects.”

(D&G What is Philosophy 164)
like this
a bloc of sensations
is a compound
a compositionality
a being of sensation
of spasmodic rhythm
that tweaks
the traces-traits
of sensation
those invisible forces
a notion
in this case
the notion
of body-space relationality
that asks
what if the body is not a fixed entity
but a process of becoming?
a kind of diagram
a bloc of sensations
a body for itself
in direct relation
with space’s
own traces-traits
of continuities and speeds
of random marks and angles

remember that sensation is what is felt immediately
from one order to another
what is felt directly upon the nervous system

a bloc of sensation then
is not a linearity of encountering
of a one with another one
of a body and a space
but a compositionality in-with the encounter
of percepts and affects
of involuntary prehensions
before conscious perceptions
that already affect
a becoming

of asignifying traits
incorporeal forces


what acts immediately upon the nervous system
to experience sensation one has to
enter into the painting
reaching the unity of the sensing and sensed
entering into the world by becoming world
entering into space by
becoming space

to experience sensation

what passes from one order to another
and so is immediately felt
it is immediately prehended
it immediately effectuates
it immediately affects

what crosses across one level to another
by a motor
activated by
arrests and snapshots of motion
movements in-place
the invisible forces on the body
bodily deformations

as random marks
irrational involuntary traits
that co-compose
a diagram
an operative set of
lines and zones
not guided by will nor sight
but by a vital rhytm

a diagram
the operative set of lines and zones
the operative set of traits of sensation
in-form a bloc of sensation
a compound of percepts and affects

“percepts are not longer perceptions” (164)
(percepts are graspings and absorbstions
of forces with other forces
percepts are capacities for entering-into relation
capacities for co-composing
not with another
but from with-in
capacities for becoming
<<the world is made of these capacities >>)

“affects are no longer [emotions] or affections
. . . they go beyond the strength of those who undergo them
. . . they could be said to exist in the absence of man
because man itself is a compound of percepts and affects” (ibid)
man itself is a bloc of sensations
the body itself is a bloc of sensations
a-rhythmic compositionality
of invisible forces of bodily de-formation

to experience sensation
one has to enter the painting
the painter is already in the painting

not to put them in the same plane but what if
to experience sensation
the body has to enter space
one is already (in the) space
one is already a compositionality
with the lines and traces
with the traits of sensation
that co-compose space
lines, zones, angles, continuities, trajectories and speeds
one is already a compound of these movements
a bloc of sensations
body-space relationality
a bloc of sensations
a compositionality of movements in-place


cold mine

Marwin Vos - Poet
Translated from Dutch by Astrid Alben

in the abundance of appliances she is like nature and we can live with her decay

cold mine

that important layer, the bottom,
its remains

between pipelines, seabed telescopes, rocketwaste
outside, nearby

between the crust and the core
vibrations, not the right word

and calmly passing through
my bedding, cold mine
between pale fish, alien anglers, new

forms of life, a wealth of life around oilrigs
a stroke of luck for the sciences







back on time, between the location
of the sea-pirate and primitive refinement

coastal dialects
that shore up the predominant language

and later
in the new emission markets

a thorough supply
of cosmic energy

we are good at relocation and substitution
there is motion between the crust and the core

instead of poisonous fish a sea reservation
instead of the ozone hole, wormholes

vibrations and rocks
then rocks again






to be engulfed, answers
between optical mist

and mystic media
we find the lost lake

just in time in the glacier
quicksilver silt and tin ore

ensure us
of a goldmine, a threat

our own physical reserves
that we can use later on

more fear of emptiness
than occupation

everything blends together
at a very dull pace






in the meantime, life continues
with ships and instruments and weapons

with job division, organization and slaves
we send pioneers to the new resource territories ahead of

marine biologists, waste specialists, geneticists,
mammoth tankers and the extraordinary renditions

during longer lasting missions
the vanguard may be harder to find
voluntarily dedicating a part of life
to the cause

as with a winter sleep
rocks will just as easily cross the border

low-tech double slip song








a temporary return, never satisfied
we feed the important layer

the carefree men, wild miners
serve to advance the border

you will come across stones
from the longest ago in every layer

risk capital, arms dealers
occupy without care, unceremonial

army - pushed forward, private
companies, corseting the war

a body disorganized









layer is not the right word
phase would be more accurate
a nice little infection built in
intimately knowing they will explode

intimately enfolded in separate chambers
the mine is a mine in the time

seventy percent of the clusters remains

life continues
we control at a distance and time

the scattered body









the mine is always already open
the possibility of the mine is already a mine

agricultural satellites, shuttles, double slip cubicles
specimen testing and delay of executions

push the edges of the realm
insatiately, in a different phase

remains of a routine launch
vibrate comfortably through

the empty space keeps the motion steady
unbroken with hunger porous





struggles of an abstract animal

Francisco Trento


to infer the affective field of an abstract animal based on three different vibration points of each body, including sound awareness. the animal was named the cloudy cat: an ethereal cat made of the same material/s as clouds. Following reverberating lines from its calf to its spine, the cat vibrates. its touch-sense connected to its hearing ability of positioning within a determinate ecological environment. it is almost like a cat, but as a speculative animal, it can borrow some of the characteristics of an abyssal cephalopod being, Vampyroteuthis infernalis—cephalopodness. as if it was the result of an intense orgasmatic sexual intercourse between a cat and a giant squid in profound and dark waters. the copulation leaves a trail of fur and fluorescent sperm that creates bright constellations in the reverse watery sky.

Vampyroteuthis is sexually excited by the world. He grasps the world with tentacles equipped with penis and clitoris. He apprehends and comprehends with sexual excitement, and concepts lead him to orgasm. For him the world is not sexually neutral and therefore insipid as it is for men. For him, everything has male or female knowledge and is therefore exciting. The male conceives of the world using different categories than the female does, and so there are male and female “laws of nature.” The world is not made of “neutral stuff” but of “mater” and “pater,” and the dialectic of the sexes is the dialectic of the world. All the other dialectics between truth and falsehood, between beauty and ugliness or between Good and Evil, are reducible to the dialectic of sex. That is because Vampyroteuthis did not repress the female aspect of the world like man has. For him, the world has both dimensions which have to be synthesised. That is why Vampyroteuthis does not aim to reunite the world’s contradictions via theoretical edifices like man has, but via the vertigo of orgasm.

after capturing some of the qualities listed above, unfortunately, a tragedy occurred, the cloudy cat lost its nose. since cats are usually driven by smell, this could have been the end of the new species. however, losing this organ was an evolutionary advantage. the cat feels pheromones’ perfume of a male or a female individual of its species. it is agendered, plurigendered, whatever. it didn’t even need to feel the forms and figures of a human, a dog, a mammoth, a refrigerator or a popcorn vendor. all pores of its body were capable of feeling bunches and packages of sensations and of navigating between them, constructing a mutant sensory navigational map. it only feels the field of affectivity. this ongoing change is not painless.

that's how I tried to express an abstract animal I was asked to create in a workshop, working of three nerve connections of my body. somebody asked me, “what holds things together?” it was necessary to learn to walk again. colorful band-aids in every corner of the feet. for some months it was impossible to know what shoe-size was necessary. a cat wearing socks walks on the park trying to follow a family of squirrels. the legs were walking but without any visible connection with the sensorial system. fearful legs. when the body had assumed again, the foot had to learn that it was possible to walk along with the whole body. blisters and callus. a google search about diabetic foot and immunodeficiency disorders. learning to walk with the legs of a cat without being one or having this intention. there is a softness in the contact between the toe tufts and the ground. the hybrid cloudy cat carries the excitement of Vampyroteuthis; every grain of sand is a little needle if not in the right angle of contact.

the affective field is felt as a big elastic fabric stretched by innumerable sticks of kindling wood; every disturbance in this field is the result and the cause of other disturbances. if one of the infinite sides is put in excessive contact with its holding structure, obviously it’s going to hurt; Antonin Artaud once said, that at times of spikes in his schizophrenia crisis, words entering his auricular channels felt like needles penetrating his skull;

language hurts; major male language hurts more than ever; the difference between male and female language is only of modulation, without a clear threshold. it is not dialectic; it took two months until every word I knew in Portuguese had transformed itself into needles that perforated my cranium even if all my nerves and tissues were in the same place as before; even if I put on the most powerful noise cancelling headphones, it finds its way entering through the microscopic pores of the earphone’s pillows. through vision major gestures of micro-fascism can be felt in every eye corner that looks directly into my pupils; senses are never separated, but they start to completely melt into black zones of indistinction that reminds me of those really strange seconds just before fainting in which you are in a threshold between being awake and cold and sleeping;
language can easily turn itself into a bad disturbance in the affective field, especially if language is rendered only in its most terrible face, the order-words. i imagine language as two-faced, like the already very exhaustively referred Roman God Janus: one face is occupied by a doorkeeper that keeps asking in his rough male voice if you are authorized to enter his building or not. the other is the jaguar face. it's a jaguar, but could be also a person. an ordinary wild person. language is the most savage quality of the human. [the jaguar just an author animal affective preference, not a stereotype of forest animals as the only guardians of savageness. in Postulates of Linguistics, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari state that the elementary unity of language is the order-word, which aims to obey and instruct (impose) how to obey through enunciates. every word-order is a little death sentence, a verdict, small needles growing in size as they penetrate the ears of this mélange between this blend of the qualities of cephalopod/cat and myself. even being immanent, it can be felt as an extraterrestrial parasite that has the capacity of disrupting non-normative body-mind compositions, that spill blood out of every orifice of the body: sweating, little spasms, coldness, shocked sensations in extremities, goosebumps pulling the skin against the body. “language is made not to be believed but to be obeyed.” it intervenes … order-words are always masculine! [and even if they don’t have a gender, they usually come with a big and coarse exclamation mark]
for people who are too attuned to affective cartographies and intense sensitivities, it’s almost impossible to feel any sense of a metastable unity of themselves in atmospheres permeated by order-words. this face of language contaminates; exhausting every drop of energy in body and space. the bodies feel these disturbances as big black holes, drained by the nervous constant sweating exhaled by every furred pole of the skin, drying body and mind until complete [bad] exhaustion. this can happen at a very quick rate: one subway trip in a big city contaminated by micro and macro-fascist discourses and gazes can drain an individual for days, usurping his conatus desire for anything that can compose well with it: sex, falafels, black tea and lemonades; little discrete entities or copulation of entities that can produce joy.
i don’t recall the last time I heard Portuguese. I can’t look at people anymore on the subway. the bald guy at the apartment building entrance holds a poster: “animals are not allowed in this building” while he gives me a “fuck you, strange queer” face. I recall I was alphabetized in that language, but since the [subjective] crisis has begun, it’s like Portuguese has turned itself (inside out) into a major language for me with a virulent infestation speed. a language that penetrates a dense forest populated by piles of enormous, heavy, embodied order-words, condensing themselves in growing cubes of silver-tape material. I can barely move through its thresholds, my Portuguese struggles to ooze between them, my head has almost been completely transformed into pure metal, melted needles, red flesh mixed with liquefied Portuguese. I can’t see the light or the sky anymore, the black cubes block the sun, speaking is no longer possible…
november 25th, 2016. walking through Guy-Concordia subway station in Montréal. walking off the train, the outline of the tiles on the wall began to fade. i'm used to hearing a large quantity of distinct voices and languages in this city. but suddenly I felt myself stuck in a vortex of Portuguese speakers raising their tones above the usual French/English speakers. like if I were in the middle of a war between specters that belonged to two different clans. the battle would be won by those who can talk loud and clearer, pulling my organs to different directions disassociating their functions. the wall tiles were totally blurred now and fused with the aesthetic pattern of Consolação subway station, in São Paulo. i could feel the voices walk through my feet like if they were an anthill. in a few seconds, all of my body was completely tingling, which prohibited safe walking. although doctors would refer to this as a symptom of PTSD, i usually talk about this sensation calling it an inverse orgasm. as a good orgasm, it stresses all the nerves that can be felt, embodying this complete excitement of the already referred cephalopod-cat interbreed creature. but a good orgasm would put a dozen of organs and a couple or more of human bodies in a complete—but still full of multiplicities and non-linguistic grunts—fusion. maybe composing is a better word for this. a inverse orgasm disrupts the body, dismembering legs, eyes and fingers, making the act like independent entities, promoting total separation and killing any metastability through exhaustion.

how to escape exhaustion? there is a difference between exhaustion and tiredness, according to Deleuze’s analysis of the Beckett television play Quadrat, in which four a-gendered characters try to mathematically exhaust the space of a square through a set of constrained movements never really touching each other but always in the threshold of an almost-touch, drawn in their movements of desire but never actualized. “The tired no longer prepares for any possibility (subjective): he therefore cannot realize the smallest possibility (objective). But possibility remains, because you never realize some of it. The tired have only exhausted realization, while the exhausted exhausts all the possible”. i still don’t see the necessity of having a body every moment of my life. i just want to have a body sometimes.



Sophia Dacy-Cole

Inflexions is a member of the Open Humanites Press journal collective.

Inflexions by Senselab is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.