Fellow Sorcerers: Rhizomatic Animality in New Media Art

On: September 6, 2010
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About Allison Guy
Allison Guy graduated from Yale with a degree in Environmental Studies. She spent one year working for a small online services company in New York City while enjoying the all the digital life the city had to offer. She now studies New Media in the University of Amsterdam, and is attempting to make the transition from the NYC subway system to the NL bicycle system.


Here’s my thesis, relevant for any fan of cyborg studies: Fellow Sorcerers PDF


Beginning in the industrial revolution and possibly before, the balance of animal life has tipped away from a state of autonomy to a state of subjection and suffering under the influence of the human. The ‘Anthropocene,’ a geological era characterized by the complete dominance of mankind, is beset by global climate change and a planet-wide collapse in biodiversity. Yet despite this, the moral and ethical dimensions of this planet-scale disaster have largely been relegated to the margins of contemporary philosophy, particularly in regards to the individual non-human animals that it impacts. It is becoming increasingly unjustifiable for the human to placidly accept the dominant culture of ‘carnophallogocentrism,’ a version of anthropocentrism that places an emphasis on animal sacrifice, the masculine, and the privileged position of language and rationality.

This essay will argue that the solution to the ‘problem of the animal’ lies in a Derrida’s considered reaction to the animal as a individual, unique point-of-life. This radical individuality must then be couched within performative networks that encompass of the ‘becoming-animal’ of Deleuze and Guattari, and the embodied cyborgs of Haraway and Hayles. Within this notion of ‘rhizomatic animality’ lies the significant finding that new media technologies are essential to disrupt the human-animal duality and make possible interactions that could otherwise have never occurred. This process is most capably explored in new media artwork, which harnesses the ability of virtuality, technology and aesthetics to rupture the sense of a sovereign humanist self. After discussing the relevant theorists, this essay will turn to case studies of pieces by five artists that investigate aspects of rhizomatic animality. The success of these artworks in regards to destabilizing anthropocentric thought depends on their willingness to alter the human participant first via the visual sense and secondly via the bodily sense, fitting it into forms that either directly or indirectly recall that of the animal. Only after the human subject has been made sufficiently de-territorialized is she able to accept the elimination of a hierarchy that normally exalts the human, and enter into a reciprocal relationship with her fellow organism.

This essay should ultimately provide an actionable roadmap for the adherent of rhizomatic animality that wishes to engage on a profoundly respectful level with non-human lives. This revised ethical approach will make room for mutual ‘ways-out’ wherein the human negotiates the latitude of her arrangement with the animal based on the subtly individuated sphere of capacities of each animal, and on an understanding that the negotiation of ‘becoming animal’ aims at an endpoint that can never be reached.

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