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Sentient Performitivities
of Embodiment

Thinking alongside the Human

Edited by Lynette Hunter,

Elisabeth Krimmer, and Peter Lichtenfels

Lanham Boulder New York London

Published by Lexington Books

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Names: Hunter, Lynette, editor. | Krimmer, Elisabeth, 1967- editor. | Lichtenfels, Peter, editor.
Title: Sentient performitivities of embodiment : thinking alongside the human / edited by Lynette
Hunter, Elisabeth Krimmer, and Peter Lichtenfels.
Description: Lanham : Lexington Books, [2016]. | Includes bibliographical references and index.
Identifiers: LCCN 2016006408 (print) | LCCN 2016009330 (ebook) | ISBN 9781498527200 (cloth :
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Introduction: Ways of Knowing and Ways of Being Known 1

Lynette Hunter

1 Weird Embodiment 19
Timothy Morton
2 The Senses and Sciences of Fascia: A Practice as Research
Investigation 35
Joseph Dumit and Kevin OConnor
3 The Petri Dish: Somatic Praxis, Embryology, Becoming in
Marie Chouinards The Rite of Spring 55
Hilary Bryan
4 The Performativity of Performance : Doing Things with
Bodies and What Words Might Do in Relation to That: A
Lecture/Demonstration (Not for the Squeamish) 73
Jess Curtis
5 Enminded Performance : Dancing with a Horse 93
Nita Little
6 JUST LIKE THAT: William Forsythe : Between Movement
and Language 117
Erin Manning and Brian Massumi
7 Her Heart Can Life Mountains by Beating : Form and
Formlessness in Performance Process 143
Sean Feit
8 Transversal Affectivity and the Lobster : : Intimate
Advances of Deleuze and Guattari, Rodrigo Garca and La
Carnicera Teatro, and Jan Lauwers and Needcompany 159
Bryan Reynolds and Guy Zimmerman
9 Kantors DIRECTOR : I Will Be Myself but I Will Be With the
Actors 175
Peter Lichtenfels
10 Where Can Walking Be Taking Me? 195
lvaro Ivn Hernndez Rodrguez
Contents DRAFT

11 Walking with/Com-Pains : (Re-)(Em)Bodying Missteps and

Messmates 205
Ilya No
12 Walking Home : A Feminist Tracing of Home and
Belonging 229
Maureen Burdock
13 Jewish Ears and Aryan Dirndls : National Socialist Racial
Ideology and Jewish Identity 247
Elisabeth Krimmer
14 So That They Never Forget the Holocaust : Memorial
Tattoos and Embodied Holocaust 267
Verena Hutter
15 Presidential Dancing : The Bodies of Heads of State 285
Verena Hutter
16 Socialization through the Arts : Katherine Dunham as
Social Activist 297
Halifu Osumare

Bibliography 315
About the Contributors 331

Weird Embodiment
Timothy Morton

[1.0] In this essay, I show that the way we think embodiment needs to be
weird. Weirdness here means that we acknowledge that things (human
bodies, quasars, spoons, slime molds and chalk) are not simply constructs
made of other thingswhether those other things are smaller (atoms),
larger (processes), relational or correlationist (history, economic relations,
the subject). Why?
[1.1] All these theories assume that what constructs the thing in question is
more real than the thing itself. But this position has been untenable for
over two hundred years, that is, since the advent of Humes demolition of
metaphysical causality theories, and Kants underwriting of this demoli-
[1.2] What we need to assert instead is that there are things like dolphins
and forks, but in a weird waythey are not metaphysically present. They
ripple with something philosophers have often called nothingness. This
gives them a loop form best described by the topology of non-orientable
surfaces such as the Mbius strip.
[1.3] The essay will then walk around a logic square of four possibilities for
thinking embodiment in modernity. The most popular right now in the
humanities is some form of relational view such as Karen Barads or
Whiteheads, a reaction to the stasis and solidity of normative forms of
reductionist scientism. I show why it is better to think bodies as weird:
they are not reducible to their relations, but they are not constantly
present either.
[1.4] Thinking embodiment as weird is congruent with ecological aware-
ness, which is the creeping realization of what has also been going on for
over two hundred yearsnamely the inception of the Anthropocene, the
Timothy Morton DRAFT

geological period in which geology and human history drastically inter-

First Im going to say some things about weirdness. Weird comes [1.5]
from the old Norse root urth, which means twist or turn. A twist of
fate. A strange turnup for the book. Im having a funny turn. So when I
say weird essentialism I am saying something like twisted essential-
ism, or turned essentialismor perhaps better, essentialism in a loop.
From there, the essay argues that it is possible to think essentialism [1.6]
differently, and indeed that this has already been tried, but rapidly de-
leted by cynical reason. To do so, I shall make a distinction between
essentialism and the metaphysics of presence. Essentialism will here mean
that there are real things, despite my thinking them or not. What is not
necessary is that this reality be constantly present, underneath or behind
appearances, or in Kantian termsthat is within dominant Anthropocen-
tric humanist paradigms sponsored by Heidegger, Lacan and Foucault
in front of appearances insofar as my Da-sein or my subjecthood or my
discourse makes it real. This will enable me to draw up a logic square in
which four positions, three well established (and of those three, two very
well established indeed), and one almost entirely ignored, are possible.
These positions are: (1) Essentialism plus metaphysics of presence; (2)
Non-essentialism plus metaphysics of presence; (3) Non-essentialism mi-
nus metaphysics of presence and (4) (the road less traveled), Essentialism
minus metaphysics of presence.
In turn, this will mean that embodiment is not a case of being situated [1.7]
constantly and presently, but rather of shimmering or flickering.
This essay will conclude that to exist just means to be a loop, a twisted [1.8]
loop, like a Mbius strip. A Mbius strip is a non-orientable surface. This
means that every attempt to locate the twist on some precise region of the
loop is impossible: there is no part of the surface that is not already
twisted. This will be the same as saying that reality does not come with a
dotted line and a picture of scissors saying Cut Here, to separate, as
Plato puts it, the eidos into its components like a good butcher (Phaedrus).
Butchering reality becomes impossible. Instead, the job of philosophy is
to be a kind of Benadryl allergy medicine that enables me not to have an
allergic autoimmune reaction to the profound ambiguity of things.
So: let us begin by running through the four positions on a logic [1.9]
square that, I hold, illustrate the basic ways of thinking about reality in
At Position (1) we have Essentialism plus metaphysics of presence. Na- [1.10]
ture, for instance, is essentialist and constantly present, occupying Posi-
tion (1). So is reality according to an eliminative materialist: there is a
reality which consists of atoms or other tiny things which are more real
than medium sized things, by dint of the fact that they are constantly
present, if only for a time, while humans and spoons are just epiphenom-
DRAFT Weird Embodiment

ena. Well see that eliminative materialism is thus a reactive position

within modernity, which is better exemplified by Position (2).
[1.11] Position (1) is also exemplified by traditional Aristotelian and Platonic
ontology, and also by some forms of Pre-Socratic thought such as Demo-
critean atomism, or Thales notion that water underlay everything. Any
form of reductionism occupies position (1). Crude Position (1) assertions
are the sorts of thing that Aristotle blew up, things such as Anaximand-
ers idea of the apeiron or Heraclitus idea of fire as the most real thing
that underlay the others. In many cases contemporary materialisms map
uncannily well onto Pre-Socratic ideas, such that instead of Anaximander
we have the physicist David Bohm and his idea of an underlying impli-
cate order that transcends time and space; instead of Anaxagoras we
have Arthur Eddington (and so on) and his interpretation of quantum
theory, that everything is made of the mind, and so on. Yet Aristotle
himself also obviously occupies Position (1), with his assertion that
morph is more real than anything else and that this is the substance that
underlies accidents such as color.
[1.12] At position (2) we have Non-essentialism plus metaphysics of presence.
Position (2) thought considers the enemy to be essentialism, but neglects
to address the metaphysics of presence. In this position we find some
forms of new materialism and also correlationism. Nietzschean theories
of becoming, which substitute a flux for static being, occupy Position (2).
So here we have Elizabeth Grosz and Deleuze. There is no essence, but
there is a flux that is more real than any instance of the flux, such as a
milk bottle or a tiger. Correlationism also occupies Position (2), for two
reasons. First, there is usually an unthinking acceptance of some default
ontology, such as Aristotelian substanceaccidents theory (Kant accepted
this), or Newtonian spacetime, or atomism. Then there is also the meta-
physics of a constantly present subject that subtends and makes real the
things in themselvesthe subject opens the refrigerator, if you like, to see
if the light is on. Or in Heideggerian thought, Da-sein enframes or opens
the world. This is not the phenomenal subject, me with my clothes and
my habitual patterns and my hairdobut rather the transcendental one,
the giant invisible ocean of reason floating somewhere behind my head.
This inaccessible subject is more real than the phenomenal me, and I do
not coincide with it. In this sense, correlationism from Kant to Heidegger
does allow one kind of being to be weirdly essentialist: the (human)
subject. Thus Da-sein is not strictly subject to the metaphysics of pres-
ence. Still, Da-sein in its copyright control of beingand German Da-sein
as the best kind of Da-seinexhibits some of the troubling features of the
metaphysics of presence.
[1.13] The journey from pre-modernity to modernity was the journey from
Position (1) to Position (2). In light of Hume, and Kants grounding of
Hume, Position (1) assertionsincluding even atomism, strictlybegin
to look like uncritically held factoids. Position (2) is disturbing because it
Timothy Morton DRAFT

admits a certain amount of nothingness into the conversation. Consider

the reaction to Kant called psychologism. Psychologism holds that logi-
cal assertions are percolations of brains. Thus logic is a set of rules for
how healthy brains operate. Aside from the infinite regress of a brain
determining whether a brain is healthy, we have the infinite regress of
the idea All concepts are brain percolations being itself a brain squeez-
ing, on its own terms. Psychologism (John Stuart Mill and others) thus
tries to wipe out the nothingness that is the most interesting aspect of
what Kant unleashed. This is why Husserl is interestinghe reestab-
lishes the Kantian gap by arguing that thoughts have a logical form that
is independent of thinking. Thoughts are like fish in the ocean, or vi-
rusesor signs.
Materialism tries to elide nothingness. Ditto Hegel, this attempt to [1.14]
wipe out nothingness, the irreducible gap between phenomenon and
thing, which I cant locate in phenomenal spacetime. For Hegel, since I
can think the phenomenonthing gap, there is no gap. Thus there is a
metaphysically present substrate of phenomenathere are no things ex-
cept insofar as they are subsumed by Spirit or the Absolute. Rather than
substrate, perhaps it would be better to call it a superstrate. While Position
(1) favors reductionism, Position (2) favors the kind of upward reduction
that Graham Harman has christened overmining (see Harman, 718).
Thus despite its supposedly progressive or courageous assault on es-
sences, Position (2) thinking tends simply to be a new and improved
version of Position (1), substituting a Heraclitean Nature, where every-
thing is fluid, for a reified Nature, in which everything is just real if it is
natural. In Position (1) a tree is a tree, while in Position (2) a tree is a
moment in the flow of becoming, or some kind of intra-active process, or
an instant of tree-discourse, or a thing whose reality is posited by an
absolute subject. There is no essential tree, but my tree-discourse, or Da-
sein, or History (capital H) or the relations of production or the subject
make the tree real. A tree is a refrigerator and I have to open it to see
whether the light is on inside. I realize it, and this realization is more
real than the tree.
Position (2) is ironically the position from which I deny the validity of [1.15]
French feminism and ecofeminism, although many contemporary materi-
alist feminists occupy Position (2). This is because for Position (2), French
feminism is bad essentialism. Karen Barads thinking fits in Position (2)
because it uses Niels Bohr, who applies Kantian correlationism to quan-
tum theory as the architect of the Standard Model, for which measure-
ment is more real than measured thingsmeasurement at the quantum
scale meaning interaction with other quanta. Bohr argued that it made
no sense to make assertions about what exists at the quantum levelin
effect he made Position (1) statements about things smaller than 10-17 cm
illegal. Its not quite Protagoras, but perhaps it is something like a post-
DRAFT Weird Embodiment

human Protagoras: not that man is the measure of all things, but that
measurement is the measure of all things.
[1.16] At Position (2), the solid seeming islands of Position (1) start to melt
and dissolve. So Position (2) mistakenly thinks that melting and dissolv-
ing are more real aspects of things than non-melting and non-dissolving.
In a way, Position (2) just is modernity trying to wash off whatever fac-
toids it imagines lurking in the pre-modern view, in the same way that
you wash your hands maniacally once you have escaped from the shtetl
to New Jerseyyou wash your hands, thus making you susceptible to a
virus you have been coexisting with forever, polio. The attempt to have a
clean body and a clean mind becomes a magnet for more virulent strains
of virus, and viral code. Well return to this theme.
[1.17] Then we have Position (3), which is Non-essentialism minus the meta-
physics of presence. At least here you are refraining from saying anything
at all, since you hold that what comes out of your mouth will end up
being ontotheology. Position (3) is deconstruction, and it has the virtue of
refraining from harm. And of course its my continuing lineage. But it has
the vice of allowing scientism (and other toxic forms of metaphysics) to
continue unchecked, by abstaining from saying anything about reality.
[1.18] Which leaves us with Position (4), which is weird essentialism, or Essen-
tialism minus the metaphysics of presence. Existing means not being con-
stantly present, as in deconstruction, where the process of meaning mak-
ing is subject to diffrance and so on. Yet unlike deconstruction, I can say
that things do exist, yet they exist insofar as they are shot through with
nothingness. In a sense, Position (2) puts the nothingness of modernity in
the wrong placeit believes that nothingness means there are no things
as such, only processes or discourses or History or Geist and so on. Posi-
tion (3) puts nothingness at the core of meaning, which is promising,
since now at any rate I have decided that I cant make a definitive pro-
nouncementI have done a judo move on my modernity tendency to
want to achieve perfect geostationary orbit outside of reality, my satellite
cameras positioned to capture everything. But Position (4) goes further.
Position (4) puts the nothingness at the core of thingstoothbrushes, liz-
ards, smears of protein and bubbles.
[1.19] There are things, says Position (4), but I cant specify in advance what
they are, so they are strange strangers, irreducibly uncanny. Since I cant
put them in advance into a box called life or non-life, for instance, what
appears is a kind of spectral playground, a sort of charnel ground pos-
sibility space in which all kinds of necessarily partial objects float around.
There is no top thing, such as History or God or the subject, and there is
no bottom thing, such as matter, and there is no middle thing, such as
environment or world. Since there are no top, bottom or middle things,
there is no whole of which things are all components. Thus things are
necessarily partial. There is another sense in which they are partial,
which is that things are fragilemore on this in a moment. Position (4) is
Timothy Morton DRAFT

the position advocated in object-oriented ontology (OOO), and it is also

resonant with some positions within French feminism and ecofeminism.
There are things, but they dont come with a handy little dotted line [1.20]
that says Cut Here to separate the essence from the appearance. Yet the
appearance is not the essence. So there is a weird essence that is and is
not its appearance. A thing is strangely physical and semiotic at the same
time. Thus weird essentialism is fully up to speed with Kant, for whom a
raindrop is a raindrop, not a gumdrop (alas), but for whom the raindrop-
py phenomena I feel as wet droplets on my head, or even raindrop-ideas
I can think about, are not the raindrop itself. Yet we have also decided
that I am not the referee of realness, the adjudicator who gets allowed
into the realness equivalent of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. To do so
would be to fall into Position (2), since for (2) there is an underlying
metaphysics of presence, a presence that resides in the adjudicator. In a
way, Position (2) is desperately trying to contain the explosion of things
in the Anthropocenefossils, evolution, geological time, biosphere, cli-
mate, capital, lifeforms without species or genus. It is trying to contain
this explosion by restricting realness to some kind of magical adjudicator,
or to some kind of underlying flux. Position (4) is not reactive against
I cannot assert that there just are things and that these things are truly [1.21]
constantly there, like Position (1). Lubricated by Position (3), I can instead
say that there are things, and yet there is no top thing, no reality adjudica-
tor. Another way of saying this is that every entity has what Heidegger
calls Da-sein, which means that an entity does not occupy time or space,
but rather times and spaces in such a way that it is weirdly strung
out, as in the case of a tiny yet visible tuning fork in a state of quantum
coherence, both vibrating and not vibrating at the same time. 1 The fork is
both here and not here at onceit is not metaphysically present, since it
is breathing, yet it is not just a processual blob that only looks like a
tuning fork to me or to History: it is its own weird little vortex, its own
weird little loop, a weirdly essentialist thing whose realness is precisely
its trickster-like ability to be here and not here at the very same time.
A thing is a twisted strand of the web of fate, which is just to say that [1.22]
it is made of the pastform or appearance is the past. Yet a thing is also
an uncanny stranger whose essence is distinct yet radically unpredict-
able, withdrawn. This is the same thing as saying that essence is the future.
If you really want to drop the metaphysics of presence, you have to drop
the present. You have to drop the idea that there is a thing called the
present, and that this thing is itself constantly present as a kind of atom of
time, whether that atom is a blob or a block or a tiny instant or a billion
year eon. What we have instead is nowness, which is a weird relative
motion between past and futurewhich is to say, a sliding between ap-
pearance and essence. A thing is a train station in which past and future
slide past one another, not touching. Nowness is the queasy relative mo-
DRAFT Weird Embodiment

tion of this sliding, and as a meditator or a tiny tuning fork in a state of

quantum coherence will tell you, the present as a static frame is just an
arbitrary construct that you can specify to arbitrary proportions (a nano-
second, a century). Meditation is perhaps a magnifying glass in which we
can observe what it is like to be a thing. Nowness is a kind of between,
which in Tibetan is bardo, and in Tibetan there is a bardo of living, a
bardo of dying, a bardo of the state between life and death, a bardo of
being born, a bardo of meditation, and so on. To exist is to be in a bardo
which is to say, a shifting, in-between state that is neither present nor
absent, neither living nor dead, neither awake nor dreaming.
[1.23] Again, the minimal form of this nowness train station is a Mbius
strip, a strange loop in which on the one hand there is futuralityI won-
der what will happen to my finger if I keep going around this loop, and
pastnesshey look! My finger is on the other side of the loop, so there is
only one side of this loop! But what is called present is just a plunging
of my finger around a twist I cannot locate exactly anywhere on the
loopthe whole thing is twisted. The twist inscribes nothingness into the
structure of the loop, so that wherever I am, I am also not there, just
slightly twisting over onto the other side of the strip. I feel that I am
magically getting somewhere, that I am able to escape this side of the
strip and miraculously jump to the other side. Yet this feeling is automat-
ically cancelled by my realization that I am always on the same side, that
there are not two sides of this strip, just as there is no gap between
appearance and essence. Whenever I think I am close to the essence of a
thing, I am immersed in the octopus ink of its appearance.
[1.24] Think of a Mbius strip, the sine qua non of a loop that is strangea
loop that appears to have closureor is it incessant opening, or is it a
weird twist of fate that keeps locking you back into the loop?only on
the other side. Consider a virus. On the one hand, it is just a loop of
physical things, just a string of chemicals. On the other hand, in a certain
environmentits host, which just is a sequence of DNA and its attendant
ribosomesit starts to become readable. It becomes semiotic. A virus is a
partial object, a component without a machine, which is the logical pre-
condition of all life, though not the chronological precondition, since sin-
gle-celled organisms had to arise first. But the virus is a little loop that
shows up the necessary incompletion of any single-cell system. A single-
cell system must be fragile in order to exist, which is to say that it is
capable of being hacked. In comes the virus and tells the DNA, in effect,
that there is a version of it somewhere in the DNA sequencethis state-
ment is called, in logic, a Henkin sentence. 2 But while the DNA looks for
the viral segment, the virus unleashes another kind of sentence, rather
like the Liar, which says, This sentence is false. And this paradoxical
sentence causes the DNA to go into a loop, making more and more copies
of the virus. Death from influenza is when you have become a virus-
making factory. You can become this because your DNA is necessarily
Timothy Morton DRAFT

fragile at the ontological level, namely incomplete, in the same way that
in order to be true, a logical system must be capable of making sentences
such as This sentence cannot be proved.
For life to be life, a lifeform must depend on spectral beings that are [1.25]
neither living nor dead, but instead they inhabit a Goth possibility space,
a kind of ontological graveyard in which all kinds of partial object swim
about. This is what happens when you start to think the world without
metaphysics but with essences. It means that there is an irreducible play
element in reality. I define play here along the lines of Bateson: when a
cat play bites you, it is a bite with a strange meaningThis is a bite, and
this is not a bite (see Bateson 177193).
A weird thing is a strange loop, what some of us call an object. Thus [1.26]
it is looked down on by the constructivist spokespeople of anti-art, which
is also an anti-products movementthe dominant mode of high art since
the inception of the Anthropocene. The idea is to create the ultimate anti-
product, because, in the words of one sound artist, I love listening to
noise music because I cant remember any of it. On this view, good art is
a kind of spinach, rather formless and nasty, and good for you. Heavens
no, not the sugary pop objects, not the sparkly things made of beauty and
sadnesskeep them away! Better to make a disgusting thing that turns
everyone off instantly, or write a manifesto about how making things
always ends with a sellout. You can see why people have trouble with
OOO, calling it a version of commodity fetishism, and you can see why
people have trouble with Cixous fur coat. And with the radical nonutil-
ity of Kantian beauty.
Yet the spinach view of art is a resistance to modernity itself, insofar [1.27]
as I am cordoning off in advance what counts as beauty, what counts as
an aesthetic reaction, by educating you in how to feel appropriately dis-
gustedthis education must be authoritarian, and modernity is my deci-
sion that I can transcend what is given to me by authority; and insofar as
the spinach view attempts to produce an infinite distance towards the art
object. This manifold of attitudes allows me to resist the viral prolifera-
tion of commodities and the nihilism of the commodity form. Art and
philosophy are ways of sobering up from the drunkenness of modernity.
Thus the ultimate art object is, as Derrida argues, a splat of vomit, a little
punk pool of disgust (see Derrida 225). Art as disgust maintains a stan-
dard of taste, if only in the negative, which is why it is constantly strug-
gling against beauty, against the seduction of the aura, against determi-
nacy and the constraints of form. It resists the cognitive style of moder-
nity, which just is awareness of a host of beings that are weird, not meta-
physically present, not specifiable in advance. Disgust aesthetics is Posi-
tion (2) in art mode: anti-essentialism plus the metaphysics of presence.
There are no beautiful things as such, only more or less well-disguised
splats of vomit, and my job as an artist or as an art critic or critique
practitioner is to ferret out the vomit, to find the disgusting in the beauti-
DRAFT Weird Embodiment

ful. My mortal enemy is the dreaded kitsch, which is an object caught in a

humans narcissistic loop. Which means that the condition for my mortal
enemy is the narcissistic loop of the other. So my main job is to find
narcissism and burn it.
[1.28] What happens when you take the boron rods out of the nuclear reac-
tor of beauty, the rods that restrict beauty mode (German Stimmung) to
the human subject? Recall that there is no good reason not to, since Kan-
tian beauty just is an object-like entity insofar as it is not-me. I discover in
my experiential space evidence for the wrongness of solipsism, and this
evidence is called beauty. The beauty of the thing is ungraspable, yet it is
somehow there, yet not metaphysically there, since I cant cut a piece
out of the thing and say that this is its beauty. Beauty is a quantum, a
thing that I cant slice up, yet it isnt an atom (a-tomos, uncuttable) since
it refuses to be a little metaphysically present ball of something. Instead,
beauty is a weird coherence between me and a thing that isnt me, avail-
able in me as an object-like entity that again isnt me, and I can taste it
and feel it, but I cant totally grasp it. This is the same thing as saying that
the beauty mode is sad: beauty has a melancholy flavor to it, because of
the ungraspability, and this flavor just is an object-like entity, the foot-
print of something in me. The necessarily horrible or disgusting proxim-
ity of a thing is a condition of possibility for beauty, then, but beauty is a
kind of allergy medicine, a sort of vaccine that consists of this disgusting
thing in a loop: Oh happy living things! No tongue / Their beauty might
declare, which is to say, the water snakes in The Rime of the Ancient
Mariner are unspeakably horrible, or unspeakably beautiful, at the same
time (Coleridge, part 4, lines 283284).
[1.29] It is no accident that the top effect of the first half of the Anthropocene
so farthe half called Victorianis morbidity, since this is the result of
realizing that (1) we coexist with thousands of millions of lifeforms that
dont fit into a species or genus box; (2) geological time, which reveals a
disturbing inhuman depth of these entities, and (3) a derangement of
scale, as Timothy Clark puts it, that means I cant be sure at what level I
am seeing things (Clark 148166), and I am unable to check whether my
level is the right levelI could be looking at infusoria down a micro-
scope but who knows, Martians could be looking at me down their tele-
scopes, and so on, as H.G. Wells insists in the very first paragraph of The
War of the Worlds (Wells 7).
[1.30] Anthropocentrism becomes absurd, like Wile E. Coyote suspended
over the abyss. Overwhelmed by the weird presence of things whose
existence I simply cannot specify in advance, and which are undulating
from within with an intrinsic nothingness, I feel morbid, depressed, mel-
ancholic. I make things that correspond with this affect; they are routine-
ly dismissed by high art as bourgeois, or opiated, or kitsch, or pre-Ra-
phaelite (or all three), and so on.
Timothy Morton DRAFT

Since beauty is already a trace of not-me within me, there is nothing [1.31]
stopping the beauty virus from going viral, as it were, and applying to
interactions between all kinds of entities. Between an oak needle and the
grooves in an ancient record or wax cylinder. Between a diamond and the
silver that encases it in a ring. Between algae and fungi, coexisting as
lichen. Between this gravestone and the writing on it. Between mud and
the foot of a dinosaur, and my eyes seeing a JPEG of the footprint of a
dinosaur in some mud. Beauty is the warning light in all these interac-
tions that says, Amplify this and it will destroy you. You run away
from a disgusting thing or you are transfixed by a horrifying thing. But
you let in an ethereal or beautiful thing. You allow yourself to be seduced
by the song of the siren. Unlike musical spinach, a great pop song lives in
your head, an earworm, a literal parasite, a loop of viral code that you
cant help playing and replaying. You have become infected by it, since
you are susceptible to itdont we talk about infectious pop tunes?
Within beauty, not opposed to it, is the sublime, which is the infinite [1.32]
depth of inner space, the fact that a weird thing resembles the Tardis of
the BBC science fiction character Doctor Who: namely, a thing that is
bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. The sublime is the active
ingredient of beauty. It is the vertigo of nothingness, the fact that a thing
just cannot correspond with its appearance, and yet just is this appear-
ance, and not something else. When, for instance, I experience vertigo, I
imagine myself flyingI imagine myself jumping off the height on which
I stand. I realize that my inner space is far scarier than outer space, since I
have the desire to fly, which is basically the desire to cancel myself out.
All lifeforms down to DNA are trying to cancel themselves out, in the [1.33]
same way that Freud writes about single-celled organisms and the death
driveonly even viral code, even DNA (which is just a kluge of viral
code insertions, virions and so on), is trying to unzip itself. The trouble is
it unzips itself in a protein environment that ironically causes the unzip-
ping to make more DNA. The DNA is in a weird loopit is trying to
escape its fate, and in so doing, it reproduces its fate. Because even non-
life just is caught in the very same loop, which we know theoretically
since, as Freud argues, death comes logically before life (Freud 43102).
Life is a rare form of death, as Nietzsche might have put it. Since to exist
is to be inconsistent, according to weird essentialism, an entity is predi-
cated on the possibility of its nonexistence, and indeed it has this nonexis-
tence embedded throughout it like layers of sediment. This is not saying
that all things are subject to entropy. It is saying that entropy exists because
all things are fragile, as a condition of possibility for their existence. And
why is that? Because a thing is a physical system that is also a semiotic
system, without a convenient dotted line separating the two. Because a
thing is a strange loop. Because a thing is riven between essence and
appearance, even unto itself.
DRAFT Weird Embodiment

[1.34] A thing is a hypocrite, which is to say an actor, which is to say a being

that does and does not coincide with her role or appearance. A thing is a
form of delivery (Greek, hypokrisis) of another thing. An MP3 is a hypo-
crite. A coffee mug is a hypocrite. A hypodermic needle is a hypocrite. A
human is a hypocrite. A galaxy is a hypocrite. The universe is a teeming
mess of halting (in the Turing sense), lame hypocrites. Hypocrites with
nary a cynic in sight. To be a cynic requires a metalanguage with which I
can ascertain what counts as a valid statement (or appearance). But since
for any metalanguage I can easily invent a viral code that causes the
metalanguage to break by exposing its fragility, there is, as Lacan argues,
no metalanguage, which just is the truth of the phenomenological project
and, indeed, of ecological awareness (Lacan, crits, 311).
[1.35] A thing is a hypocrite, which means that it is twisted into a strange
loop. The very attempt to escape itself performs itself. Philosophy then
becomes not the desperate search for a perfect cynical distancewhich I
hope you now see is just a reactionary regression from modernity, for all
its avant-gardist sheenbut rather philosophy becomes a kind of Bena-
dryl, allergy medicine to help me tolerate the not-me that is me and the
not-thing that is (in) a thing.
[1.36] Which is to say that philosophy is like beautyand that both are an
ecology of the sign. The philosophy of the post-modernity age is allergy
medicine, to allow beings at the very least to coexist without trying to
delete one another. This is not the happy nihilism of pure machination or
eliminative materialism, but rather a dark nihilism with a funny twist, a
nihilism of kitsch if you likea nihilism that doesnt delete the disgust-
ing enjoyment-things of the other in advance.
[1.37] Thus to exist just is to performnot because there are no things as
such, but in fact because there are things. To exist is to be engaged in a
certain form of play, which as Gregory Bateson argues, has the structure
of negation: a cats nip says This is not a bite (Bateson 2000). There is a
long conversation here in which one might tease out relationships be-
tween queer theory, exemplified by Judith Butlers performativity, and
French feminism, exemplified by Irigaray and Cixous. The weird double-
edged thing made by combining these forms of thought is something like
the weird essentialism Ive been arguing for here.
[1.38] Reality, in the end, is a kind of drama. The haptic intimacy of Platos
cave exemplifies thisstrangely, it is the inside of the cave that promises
something most closely resembling a weird essentialism.


[1.40] Now we are in a position to explore how this might relate to a specific
kind of performance, namely the performance of contemplative forms of
yoga. To begin this exploration, we need to investigate two different
Timothy Morton DRAFT

types of nothing. First, there is absolutely nothing at all, which with Paul
Tillich I shall call oukontic nothing. This is the kind of nothing you find
in Spinoza: there is substance, and not even nothing besides substance. On
the other hand, there is what Tillich calls meontic nothing, or what we
often call nothingness (Tillich 188). Meontic nothing is disturbing be-
cause it is palpableit is not absolutely nothing at all. Imagine the uni-
verse according to Spinoza, in which there is absolutely nothing apart
from substance, or the Deleuzian realm in which there is no lack: there is
not even nothing in such a world. On the other hand, a world in which
there is nothingness is a world in which I can detect that things are not as
they seem. And the trouble with this is precisely what Lacan says about
pretense: What constitutes pretense is that, in the end, you dont know
whether its pretense or not (Lacan, Le seminaire, 48). Raindrops are rain-
droppy, not gumdroppy. Yet I find myself unable to determine for sure
what this wet thing is, because I am incapable of directly accessing the
thing in itself.
What this means is that nothingness is strangely physical. It is not [1.41]
physical in the way that metaphysicsand the metaphysics of presence,
in particularspecify: I cannot grasp the raindrop in itself, whereas for
standard Aristotelian ontology, I can do just this. Likewise, in post-Kan-
tian eliminative materialism, I can also do it: I can strip away appearances
and be left with the thing, simply by eliminating appearance. The way
the thing exists, according both to Aristotle and to eliminative material-
ism, is as a presence that constantly subtends the (illusory or accidental)
appearance of a thing. Thus we might see eliminative materialism as a
falling away from Kant, another kind of reaction to him, similar to Heg-
els idealism insofar as it disavows the anxiety of the phenomenon-thing
Fear of nothingness is fear of a certain physicality, a physicality whose [1.42]
phenomena I cannot predictably demarcate from its reality in advance.
Thus we might hypothesize that this physicality has the quality of given-
nessit is just there, yet not in a way I can grasp conceptually. Rather,
it forms the necessarily disturbing substrate of my phenomenal experi-
ence, disturbing precisely because it is not just stuff, just some kind of
neutral stage set on which I strut and fret my hour. I experience such a
givenness as a distortion of my phenomenal world (Marion 3740).
Something is wrong, out of joint, glimpsed out of the corner of my eye, a
slight flickering. There seems to be some correlation between this idea,
which is housed in phenomenological theology, and the Buddhist Prajna-
paramita Sutras notion of emptiness: Form is emptiness, emptiness is
form. 3 Eliminative materialism and idealisms appear to have little trou-
ble with the first formula (form is emptiness). It is the second one,
emptiness is form, that gives them trouble.
This trouble is ironically also common to the experiential etiology of a [1.43]
Buddhist meditator. As Chgyam Trungpa puts it, form comes back
DRAFT Weird Embodiment

(Trungpa 189). Reductionism and elimination make one feel clever, but
what happens when the meditator drops her fixation on feeling clever?
Or consider the frequently repeated slogan of the Soto Zen master Dgen:
first there are mountains, then there are no mountains, then there are
mountains. Is it not the case that what appropriations of Buddhism
within eliminative psychology ward off is precisely the third statement?
What on earth could it mean?
[1.44] Nothingness is not nothing at all, so it is physical, but not in the sense
of constant presence. Nothingness is disturbing. It is there, in a mind-
independent sense; it is part of what is given. But I cannot see it directly.
There is a weird crack in my world. Perhaps there is only one crackthe
one between subject and non-subject: this is how Kantians (and others
including Heidegger) police the gap, by putting some kind of copyright
control on it. Or perhaps there are as many gaps as there are things, and
relations between things. This is what object-oriented ontology has begun
to think about the phenomenonthing gap.


[1.46] A good example of weird embodiment in practice would be Buddhist

meditation, a strangely anxiety-provoking posture for some forms of
Western philosophy, because it is about putting yourself (including your
mind) into a strange loop. Is it perhaps the logic of Deleuze and Guatta-
ris body without organs (BwO), a hypothetical being towards which
they see humanity tending as capitalism continues what for them is its
undermining processes. Deleuze and Guattari imagine the body without
organs as a loop-like flow of energy within a sealed container, a flow that
is not different from a certain eroticism:
[1.47] The BwO: it is already under way the moment the body has had
enough of organs and wants to slough them off, or loses them. A long
procession. The hypochondriac body: the organs are destroyed, the dam-
age has already been done, nothing happens anymore. Miss X claims
that she no longer has a brain or nerves or chest or stomach or guts. All
she has left is the skin and bones of a disorganized body. These are her
own words. The paranoid body: the organs are continually under attack
by outside forces, but are also restored by outside energies. (He lived
for a long time without a stomach, without intestines, almost without
lungs, with a torn oesophagus, I without a bladder, and with shattered
ribs, he used sometimes to swallow part of his own larynx with his
food, etc. But divine miracles (rays) always restored what had been
destroyed.) The schizo body, waging its own active internal struggle
against the organs, at the price of catatonia. Then the drugged body, the
experimental schizo: The human body is scandalously inefficient. In-
stead of a mouth and an anus to get out of order why not pave one all-
purpose hole to eat and eliminate? We could seal up nose and mouth,
Timothy Morton DRAFT

fill in the stomach, make an air hole direct into the lungs where it
should have been in the first place. The masochist body: it is poorly
understood in terms of pain; it is fundamentally a question of the BwO.
It has its sadist . . . sew it up . . . .
Why such a dreary parade of sucked-dry, catatonicized, vitrified, [1.48]
sewn-up bodies, when the BwO is also full of gaiety, ecstasy, and
dance? So why these examples, why must we start there? Emptied
bodies instead full ones. What happened? Were you cautious enough?
Not wisdom, caption. In doses. As a rule immanent to experimentation:
injections of caution. Many have been defeated in this battle. Is it really
so sad and dangerous to be fed up with seeing with your eyes, breath-
ing with your lungs, swallowing with your mouth, talking with your
tongue, thinking with your brain, having an anus and larynx, head and
legs? Why not walk on your head, sing with your sinuses, see through
your skin, breathe with your belly: the simple Thing, the Entity, the full
Body, the stationary Voyage, Anorexia, cutaneous Vision, Yoga, Krish-
na, Love, Experimentation. Where psychoanalysis says, Stop, find
your self again, we should say instead, Lets go further still, we
havent found our BwO yet, we havent sufficiently dismantled our
self. (Deleuze and Guattari 150151)
Beyond the self concept there lies this thing, this weird embodiment. [1.49]
Yoga, Krishna, Love, Experimentation: precisely. From this viewpoint,
signification, the sign over the toilet, the look of a statue, the question in
the Kinsey report, is being put into a loop, sewn up back into objectal
status. Is this sewing up of the orifices, this closing of the body in on
itself, not remarkably like the Tantric text, Centering?
4. [W]hen breath is all out (up) and stopped of itself, or all in (down) [1.50]
and stoppedin such universal pause, ones small self vanishes . . .
... [1.51]
12. Closing the seven openings of the head with your hands, a space [1.52]
between your eyes becomes all-inclusive.
... [1.53]
14. Bathe in the centre of sound, as in the continuous sound of a water- [1.54]
fall. Or, by putting fingers in ears, hear the sound of sounds. (Reps
The sound of sounds is called anahata nada in Sanskrit. It means unstruck [1.55]
sound, a sound pervaded with nothingness, a sound that lies at the basis
of all other sounds. The loop-like recursion of sound of sounds suggests
this weird, transcendental yet physical entity.

NOTES [1.73]

1. See OConnell, et al. [1n1]

2. See Hofstadter 541543. The viral sentence (known as a Henkin sentence) [1n2]
sounds amazingly like Lacans il y a de lun.
DRAFT Weird Embodiment

[1n3] 3. I quote from the version of the sutra in twenty-five lines, translated into Tibetan
by Lotsawa bhikshu [monk] Rinchen De with the Indian pandita [scholar] Vimalamitra.
Translated into English by the Nalanda Translation Committee, with reference to sev-
eral Sanskrit editions.


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