2.5. Posthuman polytics of becoming

2.42. Trans-species gatherings. In collaboration with Marika Troili. Røst Artist in Residency, Skomvær.

Adrienne Rich in her landmark speech on June 1, 1984 provides the formulation of a feminist ‘politics of location’:

Begin … not with a continent or a country or a house, but with the geography closest in – the body. … to begin with the female body … as locating the grounds from which to speak with authority as women. Not to transcend this body, but to reclaim it. … Begin, as we said, with the material, with matter, mama, madre, mutter, moeder, modder, etc. etc. … let us go back to earth – not as paradigm for ‘women’, but as place of location. (2007: 369-71)

I want to turn attention to the refrain—“begin…begin…”, this is a performative summoning of a shared field, of a field that cannot be enclosed:

The difficulty of saying I―a phrase from East German novelist Christa Wolf. But once having said it, as we realise the necessity to go further, isn’t there a difficulty of saying “we”? (ibid.: 378)

‘I’ is always already emplaced within ‘we’. This situated/entangled body asks: ‘Who is we? Who am I?’ It is to be written without pause: who-is-we-who-am-i 1. Learning from the history of feminism as a social movement, ‘we’ is a continuously changing field of differences, a re-iteration of both the ‘we’ and the ‘not-yet-we’. How these differences are sensed, and how they deterritorialise the previously constituted ‘we’ is a question of politics of location. Adrienne Rich concluded her speech with: “Once again: who is we?” [my emphasis] (Rich, 1988: 41). Once again responds to the iterative dynamics of worlding in its continuous reworking of boundaries. Reiterating this question is to remake a cut, to un/do the boundary: “how can we become together?” This question is always an invitation, a dispersal of ‘me-us’.

In a posthuman naturalcultural continuum, ‘i-we’ questioning is entangled with the embodied and embedded recognition that “we are in this together” (Braidotti, 2011: 144). The dis/continuity of the ‘i’ and ‘we’ is entangled with the co-constitutive in/determinacy of ‘we’ and ‘this’, they are heterogeneous and co-constitutive ecologies of the mental, social, and others (Guattari, 2000). To rework and re-orient these cracks is to refuse to see ‘i’ as a ‘foundational fantasy’ of independence (Brennan, 2000) or negation from the other, but as intra-active dynamics of differentiation with ‘we’ and ‘this’. Iterative re-affirmation of ‘this-we-i’ is a practice of the polytics of belonging/becoming.

2.43. Pre-enactment of for tilva roš, mynydd parys, buenavista del cobre, and other red mountains. In Process, December 2015 – January 2016, Project Space, University of Westminster.

2.5.1. Minoritarian ecologies

In this section i analyse eco-aesthetic praxis from the perspective of a practice of posthuman polytics. I claim that eco-aesthetic praxis is situated amongst the apparatuses of capitalist production, but that it aims for posthuman ‘happenings’ (Tsing, 2015: 23). The case in question are specifically the apparatuses of the capture of life, biopolitical machines. I will analyse them here as technologies of production of majorities and minorities. The majority―minority relation, as described by Deleuze and Guattari, provides a clinical perspective on the ecofeminist problem of the logic of dualism, opening creative venues for its potential undoing.

First, a look at two important techniques of modern apparatuses: discipline and control. Disciplining is a combination of strategies of power that have as their goal the “normalisation” of subjectivities, one of the principal aims of biopolitics (Foucault, 1977: 184). Normalisation is organised from the perspective of “departure from the norm, the anomaly” (ibid.: 255). Thus, norm(al) is constituted as a negative identification grounded in the anomalous. In this sense, discipline participates fully in the logic of dualism, with one important specification. Contrary to science, disciplinary logic does not aim to assimilate, its goal is “to set up and preserve an increasingly different set of anomalies, which is the very way it extends its knowledge and power into wider and wider domains” (Dreyfus & Rabinow, 1983: 198)2. Its extension to ‘wider and wider domains’ goes deep beyond culture to a generalised biopolitical normalisation and abnormalisation of life, both human and extra-human3. These are the generalised tactics of the ‘state of exception’, which, according to Agamben, characterises modern biopolitics:

The particular “force” of law consists in this capacity of law to maintain itself in relation to an exteriority. We shall give the name relation of exception to the extreme form of relation by which something is included solely through its exclusion. (1995: 19)

Agamben, following Carl Schmitt, explains that exception is ‘a taking of the outside’ (Schmitt, in ibid.: 20). Transposing this onto the logic of dualism, it becomes clear that nature is appropriated by making it an exception to culture, discursively and materially, as Plumwood (1993) pointed out.

2.44. Pre-enactment of for tilva roš, mynydd parys, buenavista del cobre, and other red mountains.

At the beginning of the 1990s, Deleuze claimed that disciplinary societies have transformed into ‘societies of control’, characterised by the logic of ‘modulation’ of power (1992). It is not that discipline disappears, it overflows from the spatially delimited disciplinary apparatuses to permeate subjective, social and environmental ecologies at large, marking a new phase in biopolitics. Whereas disciplinary apparatuses worked through the logic of sovereign exception, “the society of control marks a step toward the plane of immanence”, bringing capital and the management of life closer to biopower itself (Hardt & Negri, 2000: 329). Control is based on the logic of ‘protocol’, a moulding of distributed yet standardised networks that plug into life and capture it into the “informatics of domination” (Haraway, 1991: 161). Control is closer to life than discipline and is a ‘coding’ operated through the “capitalist axiomatic” (DG, 1983). Axiomatics of control work “through the brutal limitations of abstract logic (if/then, true or false)” (Galloway & Thacker, 2007: 81). Norms and codes have not vanished but proliferated exponentially, and thresholds of exception are more supple in order to capture more flows. This can be observed in the way in which capitalist axiomatics recognise the generative dynamics of difference, and try to use it as a motor for production of (normalised) value (e.g, authentic food, world music, labour-power skills) (Hardt & Negri, 2000: 339). Difference in capitalist axiomatics is not difference-in-itself but “difference in degree”, a discrete translation of differences into codes and protocols4.

Guattari and Deleuze read this axiomatics of exception or (ab)normalisation of difference as producing ‘minority’ and ‘majority’. Majority―minority is not a question of quantity, it is the question of “the constant or standard” in the protocol of a given apparatus. They use the following example:

Let us suppose that the constant or standard is the average adult-white-heterosexual-European-male-speaking a standard language (Joyce’s or Ezra Pound’s Ulysses). It is obvious that ‘man’ holds the majority, even if he is less numerous than mosquitoes, children, women, blacks, peasants, homosexuals, etc. (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987: 105)

2.45 . Pre-enactment of for tilva roš, mynydd parys, buenavista del cobre, and other red mountains.

Here DG show how “women, children, but also animals, plants, and molecules, are minoritarian” (ibid.: 291). “Majority implies a state of domination, not the reverse” (ibid.). This argument is very much in line with the ecofeminist analysis of the logic of dualism. In the plane of capitalist axiomatics, it may look like that capital and state are fully immanent, i.e. that there is no majority in the continuum of valuation. However, Jason Moore recently claimed that the chief axiom of capitalism is the production of “abstract natures”, or “Cheap Natures” as external “zones of appropriation” (2015: 85). These zones of appropriation are thresholds through which the earth itself is “minoritised” (Connolly, 2013: 48). Capitalist value-making minoritises life and self-organising processes, it minoritises possibilities of becoming. By coding (decoding and recoding) flows of life, capitalist axiomatics establish majorities and minorities. These axiomatics are very successful because of the constant ‘modulation’ of coding, so the process of modulation is presented as neutral, guided by the ‘invisible hand’ of the market or innovation. Beyond this ideological screen, it is visible that the great minorities are more or less the same as those listed by DG almost 40 years ago. In many respects, they were minoritised even further.

Together with this critical analysis, DG make a creative proposal how to undo the logic of majority―minority. ‘Becoming’ is a key onto-political concept in DG’s schizoanalytic project and it stands for an intensive transformation, as i have described above. Now situated in a biopolitical context as part of a broader posthumanist continuum, becoming is a performance of quantum leap away from the logic of domination. Becomings:

imply two simultaneous movements, one by which a term (the subject) is withdrawn from the majority, and another by which a term (a medium or agent) rises up from the minority. [my emphasis] (ibid.:291)

A becoming occurs through a ”block of becoming, a block of alliance” (ibid.: 292), an intra-active dynamics which is primarily “the process of desire” (ibid.: 274). Becoming emerges from the dynamics of the apparatus (subject/object), and distributions of power (majority/minority), but it is of a different logic. Becoming is the undoing or withdrawal from the apparatus dynamics because it enacts a difference that apparatus has been excluding. For this reason, there is no becoming-majority or becoming-man, “all becoming is a becoming-minoritarian” (DG, 1987: 291). Becoming is a withdrawal from the majority through a block of desire with the minority.

2.46. Analytics of extraction industry chain. Score for we ♥ copper & copper ♥ us vol. 3: mineralizacija.

To illustrate this idea, DG sketch out a “kind of order or apparent progression for the segments of becoming in which we find ourselves: becoming-woman, becoming-child; becoming-animal, -vegetable, or -mineral; becomings-molecular of all kinds, becomings-particles.” (DG, 1987: 274). From where they “find themselves”, all becomings “pass through a becoming-woman” (ibid.: 291). This point has attracted fervent criticism, which is in many ways justified because DG proposed a radical departure from identity-based politics, however without sufficiently attending to the specificity of their actual social locations. Rosi Braidotti has performed extensive refinement of DG’s still rather metaphysical proposal to outline a situated politics of posthuman becoming:

I think consequently that the process of becoming-nomad (-minority, -woman) is internally differentiated and depends largely on where one starts off from. The politics of location is crucial. (2002: 84)

Location, or cartography for Foucault and Braidotti, within the disposition of a given apparatus determines the possibilities of a body. DG claim that becoming proceeds with the ‘principle of proximity or approximation’, which is to establish relations or a ‘zone of proximity’ “closest to what one is becoming, and through which one is becoming” (DG, 1987: 273). In the translator’s note on the ‘zone of proximity’, Brian Massumi explains that DG use voisinage, a term from the set theory, which in English is ‘neighbourhood’ (ibid.: 542). Therefore, becoming is a local, embodied and situated topological movement that begins from where one is, and tries to come close to what is excluded, the secluded minority, ‘always already there’ (Dolphijn, 2015).

2.47. Copper comes home. Fieldwork for we ♥ copper & copper ♥ us vol. 3:
mineralizacija. Bor, Serbia.

For a ‘block of alliance’ to become, a minority needs to enter into assemblage intra-action with a majority. DG insist that becoming is ‘asymmetrical’ (1987: 278) because it proceeds by ‘advance’ or ‘flirtation’ (Barad, 2015). A lichen cannot become-rock of its own. If and when lichen and rock constitute a zone of in/determinacy, “a proximity, an indiscernibility” (DG, 1987: 279), a possibility of lichen-rock assemblage can actualise. But it is not a lichen that is becoming-rock, or the other way around. At that point of intra-action, we cannot talk about lichen and rock anymore. All becoming is becoming-multitude, all assembling agencies become-other. (In fact, there are only multiplicities/assemblages to ‘begin’ with. Rock is never only a ‘rock’ but partakes in a number of assemblages, and is embedded within a multitude of real possibilities to become-other.)5

Because of the conversational or polyvocal quality of becoming, a praxis of becoming is different from ethics, which is grounded in subjectivity. Becoming is a plural ethico-polytics of response-ability between differences. The meaning of assemblage is a ‘simultaneous movement’ of a multitude in a ‘shared conversation’. Shared conversation, however, is not made of answers and responses. Assemblages are ‘dispersed’ ‘summonings’ and situated response-abilities (Górska, 2016; Dolphijn, 2015). In the zones of situated approximation, a becoming, a symbiosis can happen. Ecology is not the dominion over a household, it is a polymorphous conversation in an expansive topological neighbourhood across species, families, kingdoms.

2.48. Performance score. we ♥ copper & copper ♥ us vol. 3: mineralizacija.

Becoming-minor is an enactment of a collective leaving (deterritorialisation) of power positions previously held in an apparatus of capture. Becoming-minor from the perspective of a modern apparatus can thus be understood as a (quantum) leap from identity to multitude, “a diffraction/dispersion of identity” (Barad, 2012b: 47), or a ‘situated-dispersal’ of power-knowledge (Górska, 2016). From quantum physics emerges that when an electron leaps from a higher to a lower energetic level in an atom (when it becomes-minor), it fires a photon, it disperses a tiny lightning bolt (Barad, 2012c: 40). A quantum leap is a dis/continuous jump—it cannot be determined when the photon is fired, before, after or during the jump—there is no ‘here-now’ and ‘then-there’ (. The particle and the zone of proximity (fields) come together in the in/determinate performance of the leap (ibid.). A quantum leap is a rupture in the determinacy of the atomic apparatus, but it is a suture that enacts another continuity, that of possibilities, of a world that is becoming. Quantum field theory reveals the polity of the matter, a “political physics” (Kirby, 2011), because it shows that justice is always already engrained in the dynamics of spacetimemmatering.

Human bodies are certainly not quanta as they are constituted in modern apparatuses of bodily production, hence the question for an eco-aesthetic practice is how to enact becomings-minor (from) within these apparatuses. With Barad we can see a posthuman “justice-to-come”, a queer ecology that exists on molecular levels, but how can it be transposed onto scales of human intra-action? How to (ab)normalise the apparatuses of capture to a quantum jump into other regions of possibility? This is a task for a posthuman polytics of becoming. In the context of eco-aesthetics, i will call this mode of performativity an infraphysics of becoming, opening apparatuses towards assemblies-to-(be)come.

2.49. Material-discursive scoring of laboratory experiments, by Dr Aleksandra Mitovski. we ♥ copper & copper ♥ us vol. 3: mineralizacija. Technical Faculty in Bor, Serbia.

Apparatuses of capture can be unravelled by various modalities of intra-action, and i believe this can be attempted through artistic praxis as well. The next Part will venture into some apparatuses of capture, and try to seek their minoritarian ‘re(con)figurations’ (Barad, 2007). Exposition in this Part II was essentially a set of analytical tools through which to approach and position eco-aesthetic performative practice with regards to majoritarian apparatuses. Agency, apparatus and assemblage are clinical-diagnostic tools for ‘seeking the secluded’ (Lyotard, 1989: 101-2) in material-discursive entanglement with the performance of the polytics of becoming. This performativity is local and in the possibility spacetime, but yearns for what is impossibilised, the subjugated areas of an apparatus.

2.50. Matter-real entanglements. In collaboration with Marika Troili. Røst Artist in Residency, Skomvær.

↑ Top
→ Next: Part III: minoritarian performance: infraphysics of becoming

← Previous: 2.4. ‘Situated-dispersal’ of assemblage


  1. The credit here goes to the Swedish band iamamiwhoami. It is also inspired by DG’s formulation of unique, singular individuals as haecceities: “This should be read without a pause: the animal-stalks-at-five-o’clock.” (1987: 263)
  2. Dreyfus and Rabinow point out “a striking similarity between Kuhn’s account of normal science and Foucault’s account of normalizing society” (1983: 197). This is in line with the overall ecofeminist argumentation that the key dynamism of modernity is the logic of dualism. Here Drefyus and Rainbow distinguish normalisation as a disciplinary technology from normal science which ultimately aims to show that anomalies are “compatible with the theory” (1980:197).
  3. As an example of normalisation of extra-human life, a recent article revealed that possibly half of all food produce in US is thrown away because of a “cult of perfection”, immense amounts of produce are left to rot or abandoned in the fields because of “minor blemishes” or “scars” (Goldenberg, 2016).
  4. Anna Tsing (2015) meticulously traces how translations of matsutake mushroom are performed from its biological existence in the forest all the way to the uptown markets of Tokyo. “Capitalism is a translation machine for producing capital from all kinds of livelihoods, human and not human” (Tsing, 2015:133).
  5. DG explain this by saying that all becoming is ‘molecular’ (1987: 275). In their terminology, ‘molar’ essentially stands for identity, individual, formed entity; whereas ‘molecular’ is the unconscious, suborganic, affective, multiplicity. (In many ways, molar maps into majority, whereas molecular refers to minority.) What i think DG wish to express by the claim that all becoming is molecular is that the mattering of the world is fundamentally molecular (quantum). However, social apparatuses operate in molar terms. DG are aware of this tension as they say:

    “It is, of course, indispensable for women to conduct a molar politics, with a view of winning back their own organism, their own history, their own subjectivity: … But it is dangerous to confine oneself to such a subject, which does function without drying up a spring or stopping a flow. … It is as deplorable to miniaturize, internalize the binary machine as it is to exacerbate it; it does not extricate us from it. It is thus necessary to conceive of a molecular women’s politics that slips into molar confrontations, and passes under or through them. (DG, 1987: 276)”

    If i were to use these two DG terms, i would say that posthuman politics and aesthetics would be about (re-)asserting/slipping the molecularity (multiplicity) in the domain of (molar) social practices. However, as the above passage, and numerous others in A Thousand Plateaus show, i think it is extremely complicated to maintain this distinction without slippages. The key problem, in my view, is that DG use essentially ‘molar’ terms, such as ‘child’ or ‘woman’, to describe the dynamics of becoming, which is essentially ‘molecular’. Another issue is their preference of using the word ‘particles’ to describe the ‘molecularity, but molecular particles could well be molar (individuals). Following Barad’s performative ontology, i take that bodies are determined through iterative intra-action, therefore i prefer to use apparatus and assemblage as dynamics of mattering. Exploring further resonances and dissonances between DG’s micropolitics and Karen Barad’s quantum-inspired agential realism is a collective endeavour (e.g., Thiele, 2016).