PATRICIA MACCORMACK is Professor of Continental Philosophy. She is the author of Cinesexuality (Routledge 2008) and Posthuman Ethics (Routledge 2012) and the editor of The Animal Catalyst (Bloomsbury 2014), Deleuze and the Animal (EUP 2017), Deleuze and the Schizoanalysis of Cinema (Continuum 2008) and Ecosophical Aesthetics (Bloomsbury 2018). Her newest book is The Ahuman Manifesto: Activisms for the End of the Anthropocene. She recently completed a Leverhulme Fellow researching and developing Death Activism and completing the monograph Death Activism for Bloomsbury. She is also the author of numerus journal articles and anthology chapters.
What is so queer about death that it remains the one thing which unifies life but is still repudiated by the majority of humans, and the very structure of anthropocentrism perceives it as under its control? And how is art part of the catalyst which allows us to embrace death, thereby embracing the end of the Anthropocene itself?
Queer theory has a long relationship with endings—both the ending of lives and the appeal to the end of species in homophobic discourse. The concept of the “natural” and “unnatural” are invoked in anti-queer rhetoric. Yet the “unnatural!” as an exclamative intervention masquerades the very anthropocentric, especially Oedipal family, Church, State, and is itself oppressively dominating—aspects of the power humans exert over nature: over the minoritarian, the other, the unlike, gender, ability, racial, sexual, animal other, all of whom belong to nature. The truth is, we are nature. We are the natural. We are the queer fabulations and infinite differentiations that the metamorphic and evolving natural produces. The Anthropocene is against nature. Against life. Whether we invoke the capacity for reproduction or not in our queer becomings, queering the Anthropocene is a deeply creative, imaginative, artistic, and ecological mode of expression that locates humans as pinpoints in a cosmic infinity, producing without reproducing, creating beyond capital. Queering our creativity embraces the death of anthropocentrism, through manifesting alternate modes of signification and understanding, through new escape routes via art (including the art found in science and technology, ethics and theory). The Anthropocene sees itself as the center of the cosmos, the colonizing phallic enforcer, repudiating death through technology, religion, and reproduction, through lines of blood, familial, and national, which persecute alterity and divide the world. The other already belongs with the nation of the dead for the Anthropocene—we are the unmournable, the killable, none so much as the nonhuman animal and the ecological environments destroyed by human encroachment and capitalist extractionism. The natural world is not divided, however, by the ownership of certain peoples based on blood and soil, devastation of colonialism, or environmental rape-like exploitation. That is an anthropocentric trope. The world is divided into geo-strata of ages, to which we humans shall be relegated as another un-memorialised carbon collective within the Earth. Let’s embrace that future available to us imminently, when we can give back to the Earth with our flesh and our care, our dissolution and our decay. Queer embrace of death laughs at the dominance of the Anthropocene, seeking to make the future of the Earth, of care, and of compassion immediate, while attesting to the material devastation humans have perpetrated upon the Earth and its inhabitants as unnecessary and not inevitable. Queer death ends the age of the Anthropocene.
The relationships of nature collapse the dialectics of Man. They are not dissymetrical. They are not moral. Aberrations are normal. Perpetual repetition is perpetual metamorphosis. The relationships of nature occur in the spaces between each organism within each individual, as each individual entity nourishes its own ecosystem. Each entity forges strange participations with all other entities to constitute one another. Temporal. Geo-spatial. Ephemeral. A slice of life. A plane of consistency. We do not yet know how these planes operate cosmically, how gases and stardust and myriad molecules create their own relationality. What is there to know? For anthropocentrism the impulse to knowledge is a will to power that begins with curiosity and ends with exploitation. It imposes a social contract onto anything there “to be known.” From excavation to manipulation. The natural wonder converts to resource. The impulse to artistic creativity in curious thought is different. It is at once an escape route from anthropocentrism and a seeking to gorge strange relations with the exhaustively unknowable. The natural and the cosmic are different in consistency, but resonant in their comminglings, constellations of manifold unlike intensities. Or perhaps their resonance is simply a first step to thinking the ways we can go beyond anthropocentrism to embrace the wonder of alterity and the end of the master and slave, including the other as resource. In our curiosity how can we become resource? How can we desire curiosity with consent and reciprocity? In the terrestrial natural world this is more difficult. We can care for environments and for nonhuman animals. We can listen to non-anthropocentric utterances and share escape routes. Our tactics remain mammalian, predatory, problematic, perhaps irresolvable, but we continue because the most important ethical projects are of course the impossible ones. Yet if we wish to become host, to care with becoming-resource, and resourceful, we must learn to die. We must become queer to ourselves and unbind the self that we seek to refine or sustain in the increasingly capitalist pursuit of “equality” or “superiority.” While Eastern metaphysics has long espoused the joys of the death of self, Western metaphysics has overcome the crisis with God, Logic, Science, Capital. Always an overcoming. What if death of self was about desire instead of lament? Is this an artistic expression of radical compassion, caring for a world whose death we are causing?
There are so many ways to die. But for many of us humans, most in fact, we were never granted the full subjectivity and agency humanism peddled to us. So isn’t it time we stopped trying to be equal by performing sameness, where women have to become men to succeed and people of color have to erase their history, where the disabled have to adapt to prove worthiness, and where species are treated based on their proportionality with humans—eat the pig, pet (or kick) the dog, wipe out the species or incarcerate it for our children’s entertainment. This is a false ascendency. We should instead be sharing escape routes from anthropocentric superiority and its seriality (A is to B) and proportionality (A is to B as B is to C) to a full liberation from the structures that validate through recognition and “knowledge.” We all already share escape routes, the woman walking home alone at night, the man of color pulled over by the cops, the nonbinary person using a toilet, the disabled person figuring out how to ask for assistance without wanting to seem to need it, and the billions of animals screaming as they cower from slaughter, or pace in their cages, or slink away in the dark because they know that to not be known is better than being known by humans. When we are silent and we exist in the dark, we do not have to consider ourselves absent. Yes it is important and pleasurable to be heard or seen in the right way. But there is artistry in all escape route tactics of alterity. The actions, always toward as well as away from, a multi-trajectory escape, are what defines the self, instead of the signification and subjectification of our gender, race, sexuality, ability, and most importantly for Earth ethics, species. Our identities queer when we all exist as singularities in the silent darkness, because we know that we monsters can hear in this silence and see in the darkness. The Enlightenment was an interrogation room for us witches. Our doings, whether they be science, literature, philosophy, must orient toward artistry and care for the Earth to flourish. Our doing. Not our being. Our constituting new escape routes and new spaces for the infinite others who cannot do or be because of the suffering imposed by human subjects, we who subject the Other.
So let’s be monsters. If women are monsters, let’s embrace it. If the racial other, the disabled, the trans, all of us who have belonged to the arena of teras, wonder and terror, have always already been monsters, with high killability capacity, let’s belong with our brethren the dead. There are many kinds. But they all share delightful distortions of ambiguity with genders, desires, the natural and the social, the human and the nonhuman animal. It is not our place to fetishize or co-opt the materiality of the otherness of an individual human or animal, so the new narrative of devolved becoming (becoming-woman, becoming-animal) is out. Instead let us think through and activate our artistry with the monsters of death: vampires with their femme phallic seduction (always preferable to the hero), to the witches from Circe and Hekate and Inanna to modern witches occupying the veil with unashamed womanhood and queer gendering, to Frankenstein’s creature, that brown-skinned vegan empathic creation, whom Mary Shelley made far more ethical and articulate than his hubristic maker, to the zombies who critique and make account colonial violence while transforming from servile reminders of perpetual slavery to plague crazed reminders of the prioritising of science toward the healthy white man, to the lycanthrope who shows the natural still lives in us, giving men a lunar cycle that means they eat their family. The world of art, literature, film creates the animated dead who express escape routes toward life lived differently, who make humans the host, who sometimes enchantingly and sometimes violently treat us as we treat them. But instead we become the willing victims. And in this willingness our desires are queered, our death is a queer rebirth.
And what of the cosmic? There are certain monsters invoked by certain writers, whom I choose here to not name for their variously misogynistic, racist, ableist blatherings, but, in true queer style, I both read and misread. These writers of what could be horror, fantasy, sci-fi express their inner existential anxieties through externalized monsters and terrifying worlds. Except… many of these ancient ones and elder gods, these necromancers (only of the entrails of the human dead, mind) and most of all, these non-anthropocentric scales, these enormities beyond human apprehension, these are us. The mostly white, male, heteronormative authors, just like the Ancient Greek heroes, are seeking escape routes from these cosmic beings and worlds. They exclaim the horror and try to flee without ever developing the compassion and empathy which that impulse could convert into. While we think how to become compassionate resources in our immediate surroundings, our multidirectional desiring trajectories can also become cosmically inclined to those incomprehensible worlds and monsters beyond our capacity to know or demarcate. These monsters, these cosmic shudderings, we feel. And in their absolute fabulation perhaps this is how we can become intuitively sensitive to those for whom we are the inapprehensible gods. For what else can billions of nonhumans be thinking, that they are led into unimaginable suffering and murdered? Without seriality or proportionality we can attend to an obligation (attendre) borne from a liberation (becoming queer-dead) taken from a horrification (of those writers with great worldings but tedious responses).
So what of the obligation of art? It is even deeper and more cosmically intimate. How can art view from a cosmic perspective while retaining the absolute critical intimacy of an animal in pain or of a gallery viewer in need of an affect that produces the ability to think without knowing, and comprehend without apprehending? The mystery of the cosmos is also the abstraction of what art can do now. The history of women like Shelley and idiot stereotype white men have been queered by new theorists and theories of affect. What kinds of jolt can be produced to kill subjects? To kill the desire to be a subject? To be recognized? To climb the ladder of subjectification? That is an arena which belongs to desire and so the affect of art must quell that desire more than it reiterates subjectivity, even if it is in need of representation. Are the occupants of art, the figures, the characters, the forms, the outlines, the slashes able to show verbings, escape routes? Neo-capital has made art very small indeed, a tiny verisimilitude of value which has displaced affect or even the didactic and dialectic version of art we were relieved to see go. Can our ecosophical ethical art practice, in all epistemes, a queer, cosmic art that makes the Anthropocene die?
Man seeks to defeat death. Or is defeated by death. For those never-Man, we run towards death as an act of love. To lose oneself. To be born. In acts of creativity through art we are lost to ourselves, we become immersed, not in the nihilism, martyrdom, or sacrifice of subjectivity, but in the ecstasy of becoming-cosmic, of becoming-generative through each molecule and its unique trajectory of novel connectivities. Nothing is lost. Everything is its own potential through the unlike ways in which it connects with all else. What matters is our capacity to allow the other to be generative, to open up liberty for the other. Our escape routes are themselves liberated from being defined by the paradigm from which we seek to escape. Art metamorphizes escape routes into probing immersions in the mysteries of what can be when we are dissipated within and as the cosmos instead of bound by reactive diminishing anchors of subjectification and stratification. That is all we need ask of art—is it a dissipative practice of ecstasy, where “the artist” themselves are dead because only imaginative action and affect matter as they transform the matter of those who witness and experience the art? The art is the escape route, we are mere psychonauts adventuring through what the art envelops us in, what enraptures us toward multiple ecosophical relations which encourage the human, nonhuman, vegetal, mineral to thrive. How can art create experiences of seeing in the dark, of listening to and hearing those utterances and cries inconvertible to human language? How then can these art forms ignite an ecstatic jouissance which allows our activism to be jubilant, even while we mourn for the unmournable and save the uncounted? Finally how can we smooth the consistency of the many divergent and often dissonant collectives of activism in order to ensure we are always acting and performing artistry in ways which open new spaces for the other to express their own jouissance freely and without anthropocentric conditions? The answer to this is to die to ourselves, to call out the seductive lie that is the promise of subjectivity existing as equality in the anthropocentric world. To run toward the death of the subject as a coveting of new creative unions where intensities coagulate, where mucosal skeins and veils compress and expand, and where the endless signifying divisions of the Anthropocene are no more, collapsed instead into a cosmic universe of escape routes and infinite escaping toward pure potentials for otherworldly, and yet deeply natural, becomings.