“The bear was all cut open. It was full of people”: The Meaty Body in Herzog’s Grizzly Man

I’d like to use this post to explore some of the themes from my  previous posts (here and here) in relation to Werner Herzog’s 2005 Grizzly Man. Categorized as it is within the genre of documentary film, it is important to first discuss Herzog’s comments on the genre of documentary in general and on Grizzly Man in relation to that genre in particular. In her essay “Rediscovering Film Studies” (2007), Jill Nelmes suggests that “the construction of ‘seamless’ narratives in history and in film draws attention to the uncomfortable similarity between the production of what we call the factual and what we call the fictional” (Nelmes 7). She remarks on the ability of the French histoire to maintain the ambiguity between the production of fact and the production of fiction whereas the distinction in English between history – a genre presumed to be based on facts, documents and research – and story – a genre produced out of performative engagements with conventions as well as historical and cultural context – sustains “the illusion that it is possible to distinguish stories about the past written by learned experts called historians from other kinds of stories that circulate in culture” (Nelmes 7). Paul Ward, in an essay of the same collection, takes up this distinction in relation to the genre of documentary, particularly in the post-Second World War movements of cinéma vérité and Direct Cinema. Alongside the narrative-driven documentary forms of Robert Flaherty and John Grierson, Ward suggests that there developed forms of observational documentary guided by the “sense that it distils all the ideas about the camera (and film) as a recording device that can capture an unmediated slice of actuality, with attendant beliefs in accuracy, objectivity and impartiality” (Ward 183). While cinéma vérité, in the work of Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin for example, was much more participatory and performative than observational, involving extensive interaction between filmmaker and subject, its adaptation in the U.S. lead to the so-called Direct Cinema movement where filmmakers like Richard Leacock, Robert Drew, Don Pennebaker, and, to an extent the Maysles Brothers, upheld the distinction between narrative construction and historical documentation, asserting “that the presence of the camera and filmmakers did not have an impact on the subjects – or not much of one, at least” (Ward 183).

It is precisely against this particular iteration, and the desires for unmediated representations of actuality that they speak for, that Herzog positions himself. In his 1999 “Minnesota Declaration,” he declares that “so-called Cinema Vérité is devoid of vérité. It reaches a merely superficial truth, the truth of accountants” (Herzog, “Declaration”). And in his collected interviews with Paul Cronin, Herzog goes so far as to state, “I truly hope to be one of those who finally bury cinéma vérité for good” (Cronin 239). It is not that “truth” or “reality” hold little importance for Herzog. On the contrary, as for Deleuze and Guattari, it is a question of which “truths” and which “realities” are at stake and Herzog suggests that he is concerned with the poetic, ecstatic truths that film is able to reach through fabrication, imagination, and stylization (Herzog, “Declaration”). It is the moment in which film is able to call our entire sense of reality into question and Truth, ecstatic truth, is illuminated (Herzog, “Ecstatic Truth”). These are the terms in which Herzog conceptualizes Grizzly Man. The film is not what he would call a bureaucratic documentation of Timothy Treadwell’s thirteen summers in Katmai National Park and Preserve and the work he conducted studying grizzlies. Rather, as he states in an interview with Marrit Ingman, “The kind of insight we gain through [Treadwell] into our innermost nature is just astonishing. And that’s the key to the film. It’s not a film about wild nature. It is a film about the deepest human condition” (Ingman). Dismantling the distinction between fiction and documentary, Herzog says of his work that,

I am able to penetrate into a deeper stratum of truth most films do not even notice. The deep inner truth inherent in cinema can be discovered only by not being bureaucratically, politically and mathematically correct. In other words, I start to invent and play with the ‘facts’ as we know them. Through invention, through imagination, through fabrication, I become more truthful than the little bureaucrats. (Cronin 240)

Understanding Herzog’s relationship to certain sub-genres of the documentary form in general, and his understanding of Grizzly Man’s relation to that genre in particular, is important to not only providing an effective reading of the film but also in challenging the limits of some of the film’s conservative, critical receptions.

Grizzly Man provoked a maelstrom of critical responses that almost seem like caricatures of the traditional ways in which human-animal relations are read – representatively, metaphorically, pathologically, etc. That is, critics have in large part read the film according to a representative logic where Treadwell represents the failed attempt to suture the chasm between man and nature in general and man and animal in particular. Furthermore, critics seem to have read Herzog’s framing and narratological interventions into Treadwell’s over 100 hours of archival footage against his own understanding and method of film making, remaining on the surface – the bureaucratic level of truth – without attending to the ironies, complexities, and inconsistencies which continually undermine the film’s most dogmatic “declarations about the essential hostility of nature” (Pick 170). Treadwell, as I have mentioned, spent thirteen summers in Katmai National Park and Preserve studying and living among grizzlies, only to be eaten along with his partner Amie Huguenard by one of these bears – known only as “Bear 141” – in 2003. Very early in the film Herzog claims that in Treadwell’s footage “lay dormant a story of astonishing beauty and depth. I discovered a film of human ecstasies and darkest inner turmoil. As if there was a desire in him to leave the confinements of his humanness and bond with the bears, Treadwell reached out seeking a primordial encounter.” Yet critics have nonetheless remained predominantly fixated on Treadwell as an intense, effeminate, and high-pitched bear enthusiast who gave cuddly names to the bears and foxes with which he was living, Disneyfying his nonhuman co-habitants.

What Anat Pick designates as the “standard reading” of Grizzly Man, that is, an oversimplified reading driven by a fear of sentimentalism, is initiated by one of the film’s interviewees, Sam Egli. He says,

Treadwell was, I think, meaning well, trying to do things to help the resource of the bears but, to me, he was acting like a, like he was working with people wearing bear costumes out there instead of wild animals. Those bears are big and ferocious and they come equipped to kill you and eat you, and that’s what he was asking for: he got what he deserved in my opinion.

In a review of the film, Oliver Burkeman of The Guardian echoes this verdict writing, “Treadwell’s fatal error, Herzog makes clear, was to believe in a Disneyfied version of nature: for all his talk of being killed, he saw the bears as fundamentally cute” (Burkeman). Pick suggests, however, and I believe rightly so, that Grizzly Man is too complex and multi-layered a text to remain at the surface with a representation of a “goofy” and ill-fated protagonist. In fact, in the testimony of Egli cited above, he hypothesizes that the only reason Treadwell lasted as long as he did was because the bears must have sensed that something was wrong with him, specifically that he was “mentally retarded.” Pick notes the conflicting ways in which the bears are configured: on the one hand, they are environmental assets (i.e. “the resource of the bears”) while, on the other hand, they are anthropomorphized with the attribute of comprehending and responding to human eccentricity. Pick finds irony in the way in which Egli’s testimony ultimately supports Treadwell’s claim that he had found a way of living with, or alongside, the grizzlies. “Such inconsistencies,” Pick writes, “run through the film’s various testimonies and illustrate the false logic of anthropomorphism to sidestep overlaps between human and animal life” (Pick 171).

Furthermore, the problem of anthropomorphism is, for Pick, suspicious. It seems to imply that in trans-species relations, the human actor is only projecting human or, better, subjective qualities onto the animal whereas in inter-human relations there is an immediate access to or identification with a subjective interior of the other person. But even Kant (1956) radically problematized any sense of comfort in having a direct and transparent way of accessing our/selves and others. Pick writes, “As humans we invest the gaze of our fellows with reciprocity and response, but the investment entails – always – a desire and a leap of faith…This gesture, by which humans presume a communicable interiority, is precisely anthropomorphic” (Pick 172). Rather than reading Treadwell and Herzog’s editing of the archive simply, then, Pick suggests finding in Treadwell’s footage a deep love – at times “dangerous, all-engrossing, and just a little mad” (Pick 174) – that pushes the urgency of thinking through the relations between humanity and animality. Rather than a drama about the failed attempt to suture the chasm between man and animal, Pick urges us to read the film as “situated on the cusp of an impossible transition between man and nature, human and animal, the in-between of the encounter” (Pick 178-9); and if the film strikes us as awkward or leaves us embarrassed, it is due to a desire to remain all-too-human.

Pick’s book, Creaturely Poetics (2011), conducts a powerful analysis of Herzog’s oeuvre to combat the claim that his work demonstrates very little regard for the “natural” world. Tearing his work from the humanistic terrain of Romanticism, a reading given to Herzog’s work by critics like Timothy Corrigan and Alan Singer, Pick wants to suggest reading Herzog within the transhuman domain of the tragic in which the “human” is “not so much rejected as caught in mid-unraveling, a process simultaneously heroic and self-destructive” (Pick 153). She continues: “In Herzog’s nonfictions the human being is thrown into situations of harsh necessity. In the course of these ordeals, traditional human markers (reason, language, free will, and morality) gradually give way to the tragic and the creaturely” (Pick 153). The connection Pick builds here between Nietzsche and Herzog is important. As Nietzsche’s retranslation of man into nature is ill-conceived as prelapsarian or romantic, Pick wants to suggest that Herzog, too, is concerned with thinking “the human” along the material continuum. “The creaturely,” she writes, “neither reduces nor simply restores man to nature. It signal’s Herzog’s peculiar attentiveness to the material and the animal that pass through the human” (Pick 156). Whereas Pick’s reading of Grizzly Man is predominantly focused on the subject of the film, i.e. Treadwell, I would like to pay particular attention to how Herzog enacts the creaturely through form, namely, in the use of visual transposition and the contradictions between narrative and visual.

The film is, in large part, guided by a debate between Treadwell and Herzog about the proper conceptualization of “nature.” This becomes most apparent as Treadwell encounters the dismembered paw of a bear cub and the half-eaten corpse of a fox, both particularly affective scenes given the film’s development of Treadwell’s intense relationships with both species. Herzog narrates, “Perfection belonged to the bears but once in a while Treadwell came face to face with the harsh reality of wild nature. This did not fit into his sentimentalized view that everything out there was good and the universe in balance and in harmony.” As Treadwell sits over the corpse of the fox he says, “Oh, god! I love you. I love you and I don’t understand. It’s a painful world” to which Herzog must now explicitly state his formal disagreement. He states, “Here I differ with Treadwell. He seemed to ignore the fact that in nature there are predators. I believe the common denominator of the universe is not harmony, but chaos, hostility and murder.” As Pick notes,

This rehearses Herzog’s long-held view of nature in Burden of Dreams (1982), and in My Best Fiend (1999), in which Herzog mocks [Klaus] Kinski’s view of the jungle as ‘erotic’ by calling it ‘obscene.’ He speaks of the jungle as a place of constant struggle and death, terms that reverse Kinski’s [and, we could say, Treadwell’s] vulgar romanticism. (Pick 171)

Whereas Pick wonders whether nature’s murderousness is not replicated in the murderousness of civilization, I am lead to wonder, in addition, whether Herzog’s declarations are not ironic deployments, weak caricatures of the various arguments which preserve the distinction between the “safety” of civilization and the “dangers” of the wild.[1] Whether such declarations are made by Herzog or his interviewees, they are often soon contradicted by either further narration or by the footage itself. Within the same argument about the murderousness of nature, Herzog will show footage of young bears playing games of chase, and suggest that we are watching these animals in their “joys of being, in their grace and ferociousness.” This internal contradiction about the proper conceptualization of nature, which I would suggest runs through all of Herzog’s “nature” films, indicates an undecidability that disrupts the “self-congratulating sobriety” (Pick 168) read into his work: an ontology of “nature” that is too complex to be captured by either an overly-sentimentalized or overly-pessimistic view of the more-than-human, material world. It is an engagement with the world akin to Deleuze and Guattari’s engagement with the body, suspending the pre-formulated in favor of emergent and situated practices.

The undecidability of “nature’s” “natural tendencies,” an undecidability which neither restores nor reduces the human to the material order, leads us to Herzog’s use of visual transposition to evoke the material and animal which run through his human subjects. This point becomes most apparent at the end of the film. As Treadwell films a bear that sits only feet away from Treadwell’s partner, Amie, Herzog speaks of the bear’s blank stare (figure 1).

Figure 1. Still from Herzog's Grizzly Man. Herzog states, “I see only the overwhelming indifference of nature. To me, there is no such thing as a secret world of the bears. And this blank stare speaks only of a half-bored interest in food.”

Figure 1. Still from Herzog’s Grizzly Man. “I see only the overwhelming indifference of nature. To me, there is no such thing as a secret world of the bears. And this blank stare speaks only of a half-bored interest in food.”

He states, “what haunts me, is that in all the faces of all the bears that Treadwell ever filmed, I discover no kinship, no understanding, no mercy. I see only the overwhelming indifference of nature. To me, there is no such thing as a secret world of the bears. And this blank stare speaks only of a half-bored interest in food.” I would like to look at how both Herzog’s claims about the blank stare and its connection to the essential hostility of nature, of which the half-bored interest in food is a testament, are complicated when placed in relation to particular moments in the film.

To do so, we must pay attention to the way in which Herzog stages his interviews. Once again twisting the conventions of the documentary form, which often attempts to capture testimonials in “real time” as an unaffected bearing witness, there is something remarkably staged about the testimonials in Grizzly Man. Warren Queeney, an actor and close friend of Treadwell, appears to be performing a script with choreographed intonation, cadence, and stage positioning. In the scene in which Franc Fallico, the coroner of Treadwell and Huguenard’s case, returns the watch that was found on Treadwell’s dismembered arm to his former partner, Jewel Palovak, we see two characters awkwardly caught up in the performance of a ritual, unsure of the timing of their dialogue. Finally, in the two separate testimonies of Fallico on his own, in which he reconstructs the events of the night Treadwell and Huguenard were eaten, we see that not only does Fallico seem to be performing a script, but he’s markedly unsure of what to do with his hands once Herzog allows the camera to linger (figure 2).

Figure 2. Still from Herzog's Grizzly Man. Franc Fallico reconstructs the events of the night that Treadwell and Huguenard were eaten. The “monologue” seems to be obviously scripted but what I find most remarkable is the effect Herzog’s lingering produces once Fallico’s performance is completed. He stands awkwardly, not sure what to do with his hands, a blank stare on his face.

Figure 2. Still from Herzog’s Grizzly Man. Franc Fallico reconstructs the events of the night that Treadwell and Huguenard were eaten. The “monologue” seems to be obviously scripted but what I find most remarkable is the effect Herzog’s lingering produces once Fallico’s performance is completed. He stands awkwardly, not sure what to do with his hands, a blank stare on his face.

The lingering of the camera is not unusual in Herzog’s work, either in the filming of human subjects or of landscapes. It points, I would suggest, to two things: first, Herzog’s engagement with the excesses of film, the inability for directorial intervention to manage all of the contingencies of that which is filmed; and, second, the way in which Herzog uses film to think through the shared creatureliness and excesses of (what we call) human and nonhuman forms of life. The former is a point that Herzog makes as Treadwell attempts to film himself moving through brush, camera in hand, ready for the perfect shot. As the camera rolls on a scene devoid of the human subject (figure 3), Herzog states that, “In his action movie mode, Treadwell probably did not realize that seemingly empty moments had a strange, secret beauty. Sometimes images themselves developed their own life, their own mysterious stardom.”

Figure 3. Herzog, in his editing, includes this scene in which we hear the wind blowing through the brush. It is a short devoid of the human subject and, I would suggest, attests to Herzog’s interest in the more-than-human world, especially as that world can be accessed through film.

Figure 3. Herzog, in his editing, includes this scene in which we hear the wind blowing through the brush. It is a short devoid of the human subject and, I would suggest, attests to Herzog’s interest in the more-than-human world, especially as that world can be accessed through film.

The visual transposition of these three moments (figures 1-3) – one of an animal, one of a human, one of plant life (all of these categories used only pragmatically) – provides us with the means of thinking through the way Herzog uses film to resituate the human in the material order. There is something of the blank stare in each image. As Pick writes,

The blank gaze – inscrutable and opaque – is one of Herzog’s signature gestures. He achieves this by momentarily disrupting narrative flow and fixing his subject in the gaze of the camera, usually in medium shot. The subject looks in the camera, but the gaze bypasses us without endorsing the communicability between spectator and subject. One can describe this gaze as “indifferent,” a term Herzog often uses to describe nature. (Pick 157)

I would suggest that this category of the blank stare or gaze can take on a more general logic. Between the animal, human, and vegetative, Herzog is attentive to the excess of contingency that cannot be contained by directorial intent, moments in which we are not concerned with a penetrative understanding of the secret worlds of any of the subjects. The “human” – and I position these images intentionally, with the human positioned between the animal and vegetative – is no longer effectively marked off from the rest of the material world, but is constituted and de-constituted by it: animal, vegetable, and human occupy a shared plane of creatureliness, caught up in processes of circulating forces, speeds, and intensities, zones of exchange that attest to their porosity, openness, and vulnerability.

I would like to go further by returning to a moment in my post on uncanny meat. This shared plane of creatureliness, of porosity and vulnerability, is most affectively pronounced towards the beginning of the film. For six seconds, Herzog disrupts the movement of the film with the still image of a photograph of bear 141’s carcass (figure 4) after it had been slain in “a bizarre meting out of interspecies justice” (Pick 170).

Figure 4. Still from Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man (2005). This is the carcass of bear 141 after he had been slain by human hunters in an act of retribution. This photograph is shown while Sam Egli describes how the bear was “full of people” but it is unclear whether the human remains had been removed prior to or after the photograph was taken, producing a zone of indiscernibility as to where human and animal flesh begins and ends.

Figure 4. Still from Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man (2005). This is the carcass of bear 141 after he had been slain by human hunters in an act of retribution. This photograph is shown while Sam Egli describes how the bear was “full of people” but it is unclear whether the human remains had been removed prior to or after the photograph was taken, producing a zone of indiscernibility as to where human and animal flesh begins and ends.

The photograph is shown while Sam Egli discusses how the bear “was all cut open” and “full of people.” As Pick notes, “This is the film’s only image intimating Treadwell and his girlfriend Amie Huguenard’s violent fate” (Pick 170). What is interesting about Herzog’s photographic disruption is that it is unclear whether the photo was taken prior to or after the human remains were removed from the bear, producing, like Francis Bacon, a zone of indiscernibility as to where human and animal flesh begin and end. Furthermore, the placement of the photograph at the beginning of the film is intriguing. It ensures that the death of Treadwell and Huguenard, and how those deaths attest to both the potential edibility of the human body and what that edibility means for our relations to nonhuman creatures, will haunt the film even as it continually attempts to disavow that edibility and shared space.

This disavowal, I would suggest, is most obviously rehearsed in two moments: first, when Jewel Palovak is presented Timothy’s watch. She/we are told that the watch was still attached to Timothy’s dismembered arm but it is presented in a sterile evidence bag; second, when Herzog listens to the audio of Treadwell and Huguenard’s attack, where Herzog stands as the trembling threshold between affirmation and disavowal, the fact of Treadwell’s attack and the audience’s access to that attack. Furthermore, this disavowal is constantly rehearsed in both Herzog’s and his interviewees’s declarations that Treadwell had crossed an invisible border (a strange claim since he doesn’t “cross” one border but multiple ones, immersed as he was in a complex assemblage of affects and relations with not only bears but also foxes, Alaskan fireweed, swarms of insects, rainstorms, salmon migration patterns, etc.)

Whether Herzog rehearses this disavowal intentionally or not is of little importance. It’s clear from the number of conservative responses to the film that that disavowal serves an important social function. I would suggest, however, that the photographic disruption can be situated within the reading of Grizzly Man I have been developing here; that is, as an attempt to use film to think through the “human’s” (dis-)placement in the material world. When Herzog concludes the film by stating it is “not so much a look at wild nature, as it is an insight into ourselves, our nature” I do not take him to be speaking of an untouchable, exclusively human interiority (a markedly humanist reading of the film), but of a material and bodily fact about the nonhuman relations, forces, and affects which constitute, traverse, and de-constitute the so-called human. Astrida Neimanis, in a counter-narrative to the conservative critical responses discussed here, writes, “As Herzog’s film makes clear…becoming-animal is not a speculative fiction. Becoming-animal happens to us. We experience it; we live it” (Neimanis 279).

[1] I would suggest that this is not a far stretch. The video I posted at the beginning of this post is from an episode of Aaron McGruder’s The Boondocks titled “It’s a Black President, Huey Freeman.” Herzog plays himself as a filmmaker documenting the Freeman family’s reaction to the election of a black president, and one can glimpse Herzog’s willingness to poke fun at himself and his tendency towards self-irony; a recognition that Herzog is, in fact, a character. After “tracking down the notoriously infamous Huey Freeman” and finding that Huey is not optimistic about Obama’s election, Herzog states, “I felt my sphincter clench and my scrotum contract in shock at his response” and soon after, when Huey claims we are witnessing the end of America, he states, “I felt a despair so terrible I briefly considered slitting my own wrists or bludgeoning myself about the head with a steel pipe or baseball bat. But I brought no blade, no pipe, no bat.” These are excellent dramatizations of Herzog’s general over the top narratological interventions in not only Grizzly Man but several of his so-called documentary films.

Tracking the Body (without Organs)

In his essay “Pity the Meat?: Deleuze and the Body,” John Hughes, I believe rightly so, indicates the difficulty of locating a coherent theory of the body in Deleuze’s work. The body is, Hughes suggests, both everywhere and nowhere and it “is not clear what kind of work the concept is supposed to do within Deleuze’s corpus, and it is not immediately clear what kind of work we can do with it” (Hughes 2). This is not entirely surprising, however. In What is Philosophy? Deleuze and Guattari argue that concepts have becomings, partially overlapping and having thresholds of indiscernibility with other concepts. To pin the body down into a coherent theory, then, would be to miss the ways in which the body, as both materiality and concept, is a zone of exchange that touches against other bodies, affects, forces, and relations. Instead, and this is where my interests lie, we are left with the task of composing situational concepts, or what Rosi Braidotti calls figurations of the body geared toward specific questions; and this is what we find in Deleuze and Guattari (in both their collective and individual works): the body as cosmological, embryological, perverse, racialized, animal, molecular, etc. All situated figurations but all designed with an eye toward the plays of forces and intensities (or what Deleuze calls virtualities) which both make and unmake those figurations, deconstructing any attempt to coordinate the “proper” parameters of any/body.

In Difference and Repetition, the figure of the body is mobilized in a paradoxical articulation of Deleuze’s general anti-somatism. The moniker “the body,”[1] as a reference to the human body, is further displaced as he moves across a continuum spanning from the embryological to the cosmological. Deleuze’s particular anti-somatism revolves the distinction between the virtual and the actual, where the former is the spatio-temporal dynamisms which subtend the latter, acting as actualizing and differenciating agencies beneath phenomenologically perceivable bodies. These agencies, Deleuze suggests, must be surveyed “even though they are ordinarily hidden by the constituted qualities and extensities” (Deleuze, D&R 214). Embryology, he continues, “shows that the division of an egg into parts is secondary in relation to more significant morphogenetic movements: the augmentation of free surfaces, stretching of cellular layers, invagination by folding, regional displacement of groups” (Deleuze, D&R 214).

Iain Hamilton Grant, in his book Philosophies of Nature After Schelling, draws a connection between Deleuze and Schelling vis-à-vis their understandings of the relationship between materiality and corporeality. For Schelling, and for Deleuze Grant argues, “materiality as such is not yet corporeality” (Grant 137). Instead, “the first and second forces of nature that combine to form the world-soul, being ‘too large’ for the domain of possible experience, cannot be deemed secondary to, but must be primary with respect to the body” (Grant 142). The distinction drawn by both Deleuze and Grant is that between the spatio-temporal forces which move over the entirety of the “world” and the bodies constructed and deconstructed by those forces.[2] Deleuze’s anti-somatism is, against some critics, less a question of neglect – i.e. Deleuze just doesn’t care about “the body” – than an attempt to move beyond an anthropocentric empiricism which would phenomenalize time, acting as a limiting ontological principle that reduces “nature,” or materiality in general, to so many (humanly) perceivable bodies and phenomena. “The world is an egg,” Deleuze writes, “but the egg itself is a theatre” (Deleuze, D&R 216). To remain at the level of the body in understanding an organism is to miss how a “living being is not only defined genetically, by the dynamisms which determine its internal milieu, but also ecologically, by the external movements which preside over its distribution within an extensity” (Deleuze, D&R 216).

The short film Das Rad (2003, above), produced by four students at the Filmakademie Baden-Wurttenmberg in Germany, provides an interesting insight into this post-anthropocentric analysis of temporality. The main subjects of the film are two anthropomorphized rocks overlooking a valley that is soon occupied by a developing human civilization. The temporality of the film is predominantly geological depicting the humble beginning and decadent decline of human civilization in the course of eight and a half minutes. Deleuze argues that “on the scale of millions of years which constitutes the time of their actualization, the hardest rocks in turn are fluid matters which flow under the weak constraints exercised on their singularities” (Deleuze, D&R 219). When the audience of Das Rad can only identify themselves as a possible, fleeting blip in the film, the enactment of a geological time operates to ontologically dis-locate the “human” body from its humanness. That is, rather than an essence or fixed biological substance, the body is configured, as Braidotti notes, as “a play of forces, a surface of intensities, pure simulacra without originals” (Braidotti 21). “Every typology is dramatic,” Deleuze writes, “every dynamism a catastrophe. There is necessarily something cruel in this birth of a world which is a chaosmos, in these worlds of movements without subjects, roles without actors” (Deleuze, D&R 219).

It is this emphasis on the virtualities, the play of forces and intensities which both make and unmake the body, which make “the body” so difficult to capture in Deleuze’s work. This is important, however, for reconfiguring the posthuman body and, as I said before, scrambling any attempt to map the body – human, nonhuman, geological, cosmological, or otherwise – according to fixed, normative coordinates. “The Body,” as the general singular uttered unabashedly, is exposed for the empty abstraction that it is. Which body? Which bodies (since there is never only one)? Organismic? Bodies of water? Celestial? Racialized? Queer? The site of touching but also the most difficult to touch, the site of relations but also the most difficult to relate to, bodies are both wretched messes and divine confluences of spatio-temporal organizations: organismic bodies need their microbiomes, the desert floor of the Mojave needs its cryptogamic crust, and the spherical planet needs its greedy gravitational field pulling everything toward its center. But, of course, all of these “needs” are contingent and their terms are constantly transforming according to different rates of speed. In 4 to 5 billion years, the sun will expand and the universe will lose a few more needs, most likely to be replaced by others. As Grant writes, “Where transcendental philosophy insists on the fixity of species, nature might extinguish humanity, as it already has the stars, and produce wholly ‘new species’” (Grant 121).

Understanding this configuration of the body in Difference and Repetition is important for a number of moments in which the body arises in Deleuze’s work. This is particularly the case in reading chapter six of A Thousand Plateaus entitled “How Do You Make Yourself a Body Without Organs?” The question is a provocation and further formulated as: “What does it mean to disarticulate, to cease being an organism? How can we convey how easy it is, and the extent to which we do it every day?” (D&G, ATP 159). Insofar as the BwO is not simply a concept but a set of practices, there is something both quotidian and exceptional about it. At the same time that the BwO is a limit towards which one is always moving, it is also the case that “On it we sleep, live our waking lives, fight – fight and are fought – seek our place, experience untold happiness and fabulous defeats; on it we penetrate and are penetrated; on it we love” (D&G, ATP 150). As the body is always caught up in material, relational, and affective transformations – a point taken from Difference and Repetition – it is always, to an extent, de-organ-ized. But Deleuze and Guattari want to pursue the practical question, outlining a program of becoming a BwO that is not completely destructive, yet pushes the limits of the disciplined body[3] to its maximum, though sustainable, threshold. The body, here, is configured as an important political battlefield for the BwO, operating as a site of experimentation and subversion. As they write, “You have to keep enough of the organism for it to reform each dawn; and you have to keep small supplies of signifiance and subjectification, if only to turn them against their own system when the circumstances demand it, when things, persons, even situations, force you to” (D&G, ATP 160). Mimic the stratum is their political slogan; you’ve botched it if you’ve wildly destratified is their warning. This sort of normative claim against wild destratification and botched becomings deserves its own conversation but for now it is enough to note how Deleuze and Guattari understand becoming-animal as an important threshold for becoming a BwO.

The figure of the egg returns in the BwO chapter and its operation remains consistent with its deployment in Difference and Repetition, marking the forces, speeds, and intensities through which bodies of all sorts are formed. The BwO is the egg before the formation of the organism and the organization of its organs, it is “defined by axes and vectors, gradients and thresholds, by dynamic tendencies involving energy transformation and kinematic movements” (D&G, ATP 153). The figure of the egg operates theoretically to shift the focus from a somatic phenomenology and metaphysics of recognizable forms to an ontology of still indeterminate movements in the process of formation – haunting organ-ization, the BwO both provides the conditions of possibility for and deconstructs the so-called well-formed body. “The BwO is the egg,” they write, but “the egg is not regressive; on the contrary, it is perfectly contemporary, you always carry it with you as your own milieu of experimentation…The egg is the milieu of pure intensity, spatium not extension, Zero intensity as principle of production” (D&G, ATP 164).

The process of circulating forces, speeds, and intensities is used in the BwO chapter in order to understand a particularly intense scene between a masochist and his programmatic becoming-horse. They ask, “What is this masochist doing?” (D&G, ATP 155). It’s something entirely different from imitation but it is also “less a destruction than an exchange and circulation (‘what happens to a horse can also happen to me’)” (D&G, ATP 155). Horses are trained, with humans imposing transmitted forces “that regulate the former, select, dominate, overcode them” (D&G, ATP 155). The masochist, on Deleuze and Guattari’s account, effects an inversion of signs, subjecting his body to the transmitted forces of the horse to construct “an entire assemblage that simultaneously draws and fills the field of immanence of desire; he constitutes a body without organs or plane of consistency using himself, the horse, and the mistress” (D&G, ATP 156). The masochist constructs a field, a program, which plugs his body into immanent circulations of affect and intensity. His masochism is a practice of de-organ-izing the normative parameters of the human body, assembling a field in which his body is capable of being subject to the transmitted forces of the horse, producing a zone of indiscernibility in which both human and animal body can be subjected to various mechanisms of discipline. A practice which enacts the BwO does not do so with a sledgehammer, Deleuze and Guattari argue, but in inventing “self-destructions that have nothing to do with the death drive…[by] opening the body to connections that presuppose an entire assemblage, circuits, conjunctions, levels and thresholds, passages and distributions of intensity, and territories and deterritorializations” (D&G, ATP 160). Once again, the body is deployed as a space of experimentation and subversion in becoming a BwO. The threshold of becoming-animal is given attention precisely because it enacts a zone of indiscernibility in which both the horse and the human body converge at what Deleuze and Guattari understand as the longitudes and latitudes of bodies (I will return to this point shortly).

In the well-known chapter of A Thousand Plateaus, titled “Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal, Becoming-Imperceptible…,” Deleuze and Guattari make a number of suggestions for what becoming-animal is not: it is not a correspondence of relations, imitation, resemblance, fantasy, dream, etc. Becomings are real; but, as they suggest, it is a question of which reality is at stake. “For if becoming animal does not consist in playing animal or imitating an animal,” they write, “it is clear that the human being does not ‘really’ become an animal any more than the animal ‘really’ becomes something else…What is real is the becoming itself, the block of becoming, not the supposedly fixed terms through which that which becomes passes” (D&G, ATP 237). Per usual, Deleuze and Guattari detail their enemies explicitly: structuralism, which can only think animals along an axis of regression-progression in relation to man; psychoanalysis, which can only read human-animal relations as stand-ins for oedipal dramas; and filiative evolution, in its desire for origins or explanatory original forms.[4] In opposition to these systems, Deleuze and Guattari posit “involution” (D&G, ATP 238) and “unnatural participations” (D&G, ATP 240) in order to think through “transversal communications between heterogeneous populations” (D&G, ATP 239). This helps to make sense of their claim that “becoming lacks a subject distinct from itself” (D&G, ATP 238) because rather than tracking the movement of individuals, unnatural participation and involution are concepts attentive to the way in which becomings form blocks. As they write,

The difference [between terms like contagion/epidemic and filiation/hereditary] is that contagion, epidemic, involves terms that are entirely heterogeneous: for example, a human being, an animal, and a bacterium, a virus, a molecule, a microorganism. Or in the case of the truffle, a tree, a fly, and a pig. These combinations are neither genetic nor structural; they are interkingdoms, unnatural participations. That is the only way Nature operates – against itself. (D&G, ATP 242)[5]

Donna Haraway makes a similar point in The Companion Species Manifesto (2003) when she argues that co-evolution must be defined in broader terms than the visible morphological transformations in species – a point reminiscent of our discussion of Deleuze’s anti-somatism. Moreover, she argues, to describe adaptive transformations in dog species as a biological response to human communities and transformations in human species as a cultural or purely inter-human development is a mistake. “At the least,” she writes, “I suspect that human genomes contain a considerable molecular record of the pathogens of their companion species, including dogs. Immune systems are not a minor part of naturecultures; they determine where organisms, including people, can live and with whom” (Haraway 31).

Opposed to an evolutionary model that preoccupies itself with filiative production and hereditary reproduction which, according to Deleuze and Guattari, leads to thinking difference according to a duality of the sexes and small modifications across generations, they argue that “there are as many sexes as there are terms in symbiosis, as many differences as elements contributing to a process of contagion…All we are saying is that animals are packs, and that packs form, develop, and are transformed by contagion” (D&G, ATP 242). These packs are never composed of one species and bodies, whether organismic or cosmological, as well as the relations between them become infinitely more complex: “they come from different worlds, are borne on the wind, form rhizomes around roots; they cannot be understood in terms of production, only in terms of becoming” (D&G, ATP 242). Analysis no longer begins from a pre-formed image of what a body can do or what relations might be possible. Rather, once again citing Haraway, “Answers to these questions can only be put together in emergent practices; i.e., in vulnerable, on-the-ground work that cobbles together non-harmonious agencies and ways of living that are accountable both to their disparate inherited histories and to their barely possible but absolutely necessary joint futures” (Haraway 7). Once thought begins from this position, from a position of messy relations and indeterminate openings to affectivity, “It is no longer a question of organs and functions, and of a transcendent Plane that can preside over their organization only by means of analogical relations and types of divergent development” (D&G, ATP 255). Not a question of organ-ization, but of com-position: “not of development or differentiation but of movement and rest, speed and slowness” (D&G, ATP 255).

This leads Deleuze and Guattari to a program for analysis of the body according to its longitude and latitude. The longitude of a body refers to the “particle aggregates belonging to [a] body in a given relation,” i.e. a carriage horse with its blinders, bridle, etc., while the latitude of the body refers to “the affects of which it is capable at a given degree of power, or rather within the limits of that degree,” i.e. a carriage horse collapsing under the driver’s whip (D&G, ATP 256). “We know nothing about a body until we know what it can do,” Deleuze and Guattari write, “what its affects are, how they can or cannot enter into composition with other affects, with the affects of another body, either to destroy that body or to be destroyed by it, either to exchange actions and passions with it or to join with it in composing a more powerful body” (D&G, ATP 257). This program of analysis is, for Deleuze and Guattari, an Ethics in the Spinozoan-Nietzschean sense of experimentation with life. It is an attentiveness and relation to life based not on description or systematization, but on a playful working out of how bodies can get on with one another. As they write, “At each stage of the problem, what needs to be done is not to compare two organs but to place elements or materials in a relation that uproots the organ from its specificity, making it become ‘with’ the other organ” (D&G, ATP 258-9).

At the level of becoming-animal the body functions for Deleuze and Guattari as a site of analysis that allows for the deconstruction of the metaphysics of subjectivity, especially as that configuration has operated on the assumption of a unified human consciousness, reminding us of the way in which we are always-already caught up in various nonhuman relations, pulled toward and beyond the categories Animal, Woman, Vegetable, Molecular; the body is an affectively charged site of de-familiarization, unmaking the subject in its very attempts to constitute itself. As Braidotti beautifully writes, “This scandal, this wonder, this zoe, that is to say an idea of Life that is more than bios and supremely indifferent to logos, this piece of flesh I call my ‘body,’ this acting meat called my ‘self’ expresses the abject/divine potency of a Life which consciousness lives in fear of” (Braidotti 132).

Here I would turn to Deleuze’s engagement with Francis Bacon and his configuration of the body as meat. I did that in detail in my last post and would prefer to not be redundant. It is important to note, however, that in the Logic of Sensation, particularly in the chapter titled “Body, Meat and Spirit, Becoming-Animal,” “the body” operates as an ethical and political starting point, enacting as it does this zone of indiscernibility between (what we call) humans and animals. Rather than thinking through our relations to animals vis-à-vis rights (elevating animals to the status of humans), or consistently reminding ourselves of our biological roots (de-elevating the human), or even incessantly refining and complicating the distinctions between humans and animals, thought and practice that begins from a zone of indiscernability derives from a positive desire to think through political, ethical, and ontological questions without the guardrail of the traditional human-animal distinction.[6]

This post is meant to track at least a few elaborations of the body and the body without organs in Deleuze’s work as well as in his work with Guattari. There are more, to be sure; and the tracks I have followed speak more to my particular interests than to what Deleuze and Guattari have to say about the body per se.

[1] Given the displacement of “the body” from the material actualities of what we call bodies (i.e. animal bodies, cosmological bodies, geological bodies), I am continually aware of the awkwardness of using the general singular “The Body.” I hope that the reader will continue with me in reading “the body” as only ever a pragmatic placeholder.

[2] These are, interestingly, similar questions to those posed in the field of biogeography which attempts to understand the distribution of species and ecosystems across geographic space and geological time. It is these kinds of trans-disciplinary overlaps – Deleuze and Guattari might call them “unnatural participations” – which have produced an exciting opening for cross-pollination between the humanities and sciences.

[3] Deleuze and Guattari have a number of adjectives they use to describe the “disciplined body” including: organ-ized, territorialized, subject-ified, oedipalized, signified, etc.

[4] It is important to note that these theoretical “blockages” are indicated on Deleuze and Guattari’s account. While I am entirely sure that such reductions could be challenged it is not the purpose of this paper to defend these theoretical camps. For Deleuze and Guattari, I would suggest, their naming of “enemies” is as important to their work as the mobilization of various concepts. That is, it is a gesture which allows them to articulate certain positions and theoretical movements while, perhaps questionably, freeing them from the “baggage” of tradition.

[5] Again we find exciting trans-disciplinary overlaps between the humanities and sciences, particularly with different fields of biological and medical science. Zooanthroponosis and anthrozoonosis are both terms which refer to the crossing of infectious disease across the human-animal threshold (the primary root indicates from which direction the disease is crossing). My compulsion to point these moments out indicates an admiration for the way in which “the human” has already been compromised across a number of fields, all of which have the potential to provide useful concepts, i.e. zooanthroponosis as a concept compliments and intensifies Donna Haraway’s concept of naturecultures.

[6] I owe this entire point to Matthew Calarco, particularly his essay “Identity, Difference, Indistinction”.

Uncanny Meat

It is our custom
to consume
the person we love.
Taboo flesh: swollen
genitalia nipples
the scrotum the vulva
the soles of the feet
the palms of the hand
heart and liver taste best.
Cannibalism is blessed.

I’ll wear your jawbone
round my neck
listen to your vertebrae
bone rapping bone in my wrists.
I’ll string your fingers round my waist –
what a rigorous embrace.
Over my heart I’ll wear
a brooch with a lock of your hair.
Nights I’ll sleep cradling
your skull sharpening
my teeth on your toothless grin.

Sundays there’s Mass and communion
and I’ll put your relics to rest.

- Gloria Anzaldúa, “The Cannibal’s Canción

My purpose here is to mobilize a concept I will call “uncanny meat” that is capable of traversing a number of practices – poetry, literature, film, theory, politics, etc. – that reconfigure “the body” as meat. I operate under the assumption that, despite certain analyses that begin with the fact of human embodiment, we are, as Matthew Calarco notes, “loathe to accept the fact that [that] embodied existence relegates us to a zone of indistinction wherein our bodies can potentially be reduced to ‘mere’ flesh or ‘mere’ meat for others – others who might be human or nonhuman” (Calarco, “IDI” 57). It is my suggestion that the concept of uncanny meat has the potential to disrupt the traditional ways in which animals and human-animal relations are read – representatively, metaphorically, pathologically, etc. – in order to think through the shared spaces of ethical and ontological experimentation which these different artistic, theoretical, and political practices enact.

That said, the poem which serves as the epigraph to this post captures my intentions quite well. While a reader might want to attribute to “The Cannibal’s Canción” a thick metaphorical content, perhaps noting the consumptive logic of relationality – what Derrida called introjection (Derrida 115) – there is nonetheless a type of materialism pulsating in the subterranean; a materialism that is attentive to not only the fleshiness of bodies but also to their edibility. Furthermore, Anzaldúa reminds us that as flesh, as meat, as edible, as vulnerable and decaying, the body is also a zone of exchange invested with eroticism: flesh drawn to flesh, a zone of touching in which bodies are enlivened to one another (Irigiray 25).

In his elaboration of the uncanny, in his 1919 essay of the same name, Freud turns to literature, to E.T.A. Hoffmann’s short story “The Sandman.” What I find most striking in Freud’s reading and explication of the experience of the uncanny is its intensely corporeal dimensions. Freud continuously refers to moments in Hoffmann’s text where the protagonist, Nathaniel, is seized by terror or some other passion in dramatically physical ways: as he spies on his father and his father’s advocate Coppelius, he is overcome “by the wildest terror” and falls from his hiding place; in his performance of the poem he has written for his fiancé when he is irresistibly carried along, both gesturally and posturally, by the reading of the poem; and the madness which overtakes him when Clara obstructs the view of his spyglass, and he lunges at Clara and finally throws himself to his own death. When Julia Kristeva speaks of the abject, a concept indebted to Freud’s uncanny, she speaks of spasms, of vomiting or dry heaving, the shriveling up of the organs and body, the provocation of tears and bile, increase in heartbeat, and the perspiration of the forehead and hands. The uncanny, it would seem, is inextricably linked to corporeal and not only psychic manifestations.

That being said, I would like to put Freud’s reading of Hoffmann to the side and consider two moments in the text which I find remarkable and particularly productive for thinking about the uncanny in relation to the body. The first follows the caretaker’s description of the Sandman in which he is described as a wicked man who steals the eyes of children to feed them to his crooked-beaked children. Nathaniel writes to Clara’s brother Lothair,

The Sandman had introduced me to thoughts of the marvels and wonders which so readily gain a hold on a child’s mind. I enjoyed nothing better than reading or hearing horrible stories of goblins, witches, pigmies, etc.; but most horrible of all was the Sandman, whom I was always drawing with chalk or charcoal on the tables, cupboards and walls, in the oddest and most frightful shapes. (Hoffmann)

Nathaniel’s anxieties surrounding the Sandman do not simply operate as mechanisms of repulsion but, also, of attraction, i.e. Nathaniel’s fascination with not only the Sandman, but with liminal, non-normative figures and bodies in general. This moves the reading of Nathaniel from a personal psychology, which might stop at his own fears of, say, castration, to a psychoanalytic of the social that interrogates the ways in which certain configurations of the body (i.e. goblins, witches, pygmies) are ejected from the Rational or Normative order but nonetheless continue on as haunting specters; that which is radically excluded yet, as Kristeva writes, “draws me toward the place where meaning collapses” (Kristeva 2).

The second moment I would like to bring attention to deals with an experience Nathaniel has with his own body. When Nathaniel falls from his hiding spot, Copellius grabs the boy and is about to sprinkle red grains from the fire into Nathaniel’s eyes but is stopped by the begging of Nathaniel’s father. He recalls to Lothair,

Whereupon Coppelius answered with a shrill laugh: ‘Well, let the lad have his eyes and do his share of the world’s crying, but we will examine the mechanism of his hands and feet.’

And then he seized me so roughly that my joints cracked, and screwed them back in again, one after the other. (Hoffmann)

In a moment that seems too quick and too subtle, Nathaniel recalls that his body is taken apart and put back together. Where Freud reads vision and its obstruction as the dominant mechanism of Nathaniel’s castration anxiety, we have to notice that in this scene his vision is only threatened, whereas the supposed Unity or intactness of his body is radically undermined. It is effectively de-organ-ized, dismembered, rendered inhuman in its proximity to Olympia, the automaton. Hoffman, I would suggest, therefore produces an uncanny experience of the body through his attention to the ways in which the Unity of the body can be and, in its disavowed inhumanness, is always-already undermined, drawn toward that space in which the normative configuration of the human body loses all cogency.

I want to continue further. In his engagement with Francis Bacon, that great 20th century painter of meat, Gilles Deleuze argues that the artist undertook a very peculiar task as a portraitist: “to dismantle the face, to rediscover the head or make it emerge from beneath the face” (Deleuze, Bacon 20-21). The distinction between the face and the head, which Deleuze insists upon, is a distinction between a structured, spatial organization that presents an identifiable human form on the one hand and a point dependent upon the body on the other – the raw, fleshy materiality of the head which might not even be human. And, as in the 1976 Triptych (slide 2), where the human face does emerge, it just as soon loses its form through techniques of “rubbing and brushing that disorganize it and make a head emerge in its place” haunted as it is by the quivering traits of a bird (Deleuze, Bacon 21).

1976 Triptych

Figure 1. Francis Bacon, 1976 Triptych.

In Bacon, we find animal traits, not forms: sometimes the shadow of a figure is indistinguishable from a sleeping dog (figure 2) or the figure’s shadow itself acquires its own indeterminate animal existence (figure 3).

Figure 2. Two Studies of George Dyer with a Dog 1968.

Figure 2. Bacon, Two Studies of George Dyer with a Dog 1968.

Figure 3. Triptych May-June 1973.

Figure 3. Bacon, Triptych May-June 1973.

Deleuze’s interest in Bacon as an artist is motivated by his reading that in place of formal correspondences, “Bacon’s painting constitutes a zone of indiscernibility or undecidability between man and animal…It is never a combination of forms, but rather the common fact: the common fact of man and animal” (Deleuze, Bacon 21).

This common fact of man and animal, this zone of undecidability, is a zone of exchange – or what Deleuze refers to as a plane of immanence – in which forces, intensities, and affects circulate. Meaty bodies suffer. But they are also sites of “delightful invention, color and acrobatics” (Deleuze, Bacon 23). Deleuze demands that we “Pity the meat!” (Deleuze, Bacon 23) but in a sense that is more profound than any superficial identification: “[T]he man who suffers is a beast, the beast that suffers is a man. This is the reality of becoming. What revolutionary person – in art, politics, religion, or elsewhere – has not felt that extreme moment when he or she was nothing but a beast, and became responsible not for the calves that died, but before the calves that died” (Deleuze, Bacon 25). In this particular Deleuzean configuration, “the body” operates as an ethical and political starting point, enacting as it does this zone of indiscernibility between (what we call) humans and animals. Bacon’s paintings provoke a radically different approach to the way we think about animals and human-animal relations, deriving from a positive desire to think through political, ethical, and ontological questions without the guardrail of the traditional formulations of the human-animal distinction (cf. Calarco, “IDI” 54-59).

Los Angeles-based artist Victoria Reynolds, another painter of meat, displays these meat paintings in ornate frames, emphasizing the beauty of flesh while the frame indicates the non-puritanical content of the painting. She states that “When viewing the paintings, some say they have a gag reflex while thinking at the same time they’re beautiful” (“Meaty Art”).

Figure 4. Victoria Reynolds, Down the Primrose Path (2003).

Figure 4. Victoria Reynolds, Down the Primrose Path (2003).

Performance artist Jesika Joy, in her depictions of various animal parts in relation to her exposed body (figure 5), places into conversation the shared pornographic production of the female body and animal meat, while calling attention to the porosity, vulnerability, and mortality of flesh (“Body as Art”). And we might put this into conversation with a photograph from Lee Miller, c. 1930, (figure 6) displaying a severed breast from a radical mastectomy on a plate with knife and fork.

Figure 5. Jesika Joy, Chicken Heart performance piece

Figure 5. Jesika Joy, Chicken Heart performance piece.

Figure 6.  Lee Miller. “Untitled (Severed Breast from a Radical Mastectomy)” c. 1930.

Figure 6. Lee Miller. “Untitled (Severed Breast from a Radical Mastectomy)” c. 1930.

Continuing to traverse mediums and historical moments, similar themes can be found in Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali’s short film Un Chien Andalou: the sliced eye (figure 7) splits and the interior spills out, an image we can put into conversation with a photograph (figure 8) which disrupts Werner Herzog’s 2005 film Grizzly Man (a film haunted by the meaty, edible body even as it rehearses the disavowal of that meatiness); a pierced hand (figure 9) reveals a swarm of ants beneath the unified exterior of the body; a severed hand in a street  (figure 10) provokes a man to grab his own wrist (figure 11) as he is reminded of the possibility of his own meaty dismemberment; and the seeming heteronormative conclusion of the film is radically undercut by the mortality of flesh with the death of the two lovers (figure 12).

Figure 7. Still from Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali’s short film Un Chien Andalou (1929).

Figure 7. Still from Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali’s short film Un Chien Andalou (1929).

Figure 8. Still from Werner Herzog's Grizzly Man (2005). This is the carcass of bear 141 after he had been slain by human hunters in an act of retribution. This photograph is shown while Sam Egli describes how the bear was “full of people” but it is unclear whether the human remains had been removed prior to or after the photograph was taken, producing a zone of indiscernibility as to where human and animal flesh begins and ends.

Figure 8. Still from Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man (2005). This is the carcass of bear 141 after he had been slain by human hunters in an act of retribution. This photograph is shown while Sam Egli describes how the bear was “full of people” but it is unclear whether the human remains had been removed prior to or after the photograph was taken, producing a zone of indiscernibility as to where human and animal flesh begins and ends.

Figure 9. Still from Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali’s short film Un Chien Andalou (1929).

Figure 9. Still from Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali’s short film Un Chien Andalou (1929).

Figure 10. Still from Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali’s short film Un Chien Andalou (1929).

Figure 10. Still from Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali’s short film Un Chien Andalou (1929).

Figure 11. Still from Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali’s short film Un Chien Andalou (1929).

Figure 11. Still from Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali’s short film Un Chien Andalou (1929).

Figure 12. Still from Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali’s short film Un Chien Andalou (1929).

Figure 12. Still from Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali’s short film Un Chien Andalou (1929).

My purpose in citing these works is not a desire to be vulgar or pedantic, but to suggest that, like Anzaldúa, each of these artists, through different means, mobilizes the body as meat in order to engage those abjections and obscenities which haunt the normative configuration of the human body.

The claim that Deleuze and Guattari make in A Thousand Plateaus, that the human can only become-animal if at the same time the animal becomes something else (D&G, ATP 258) can be understood from this space of indiscernibility: both terms (human and animal) are posited and maintained by the Rational but are, nonetheless, incessantly dis-articulated by that which they disavow, the swarms of differences which the terms attempt to contain. The concept of uncanny meat attends to these moments of dis-articulation and provokes a “re-reading” of animals and human-animal relations. “It throws a question in our faces,” Calarco states in an interview, “how might (what we call) humans and animals relate, ethically and ontologically, otherwise? […] if ‘The Human’ is dead, along with ‘The Animal,’ then we don’t know who we and they might become, what kinds of affects and relations we and they might encounter, what kinds of worlds we and they might constitute and inhabit. In other words, viewing humans and animals as indistinct entails seeing all of us as caught up in a shared space of ontological and ethical experimentation” (Calarco, “We are Made of Meat”).


The concept of uncanny meat is part of a larger, ongoing project that was originally conceived as an anthropological analysis of sexual desires and practices between humans and various animals – what is called zoophilia or bestiality, though the former maintains a distinction from the latter. I worked through the sparse testimonials of zoophiles and analyzed their online forums while trying to understand the history of cultural perceptions of the practice in the U.S. This was particularly difficult for a number of reasons. First, and most obviously, information on zoophilia as a practice is limited to a few collections (cf. Beetz and Podberscek 2005) and online forums, the practice being as it is intensely closeted. Second, our cultural perceptions of the practice are nothing if not complex and, often, contradictory: while there seems to be a general public disgust with zoophilia, trans-species sexual practices nonetheless pervade our historical and cultural imaginary (cf. Dekkers 1994).

Despite these difficulties, I see in the practice of zoophilia, for obvious reasons, an interesting set of questions at the intersections of critical animal studies and queer theory. However, while zoophilia seemed to be an interesting point of convergence for the two fields, it also seemed to be an intense site of anxiety: perhaps, for queer theory because of non-normative sexuality’s historical association with bestiality and for critical animal studies because of its general commitment to animal liberation and zoophilia’s (perhaps, contentious) association with the “nonconsensual” use of animals. I, however, wanted to pursue this space, even if uncomfortably, and my general sense was that many of these anxieties were subtended by ontologies which, no matter their radicality, (1) maintained a fundamental difference between human and nonhuman bodies and (2) that this fundamental difference dis-allowed certain desires and forms of relating.

That said, configuring the body as meat, and the way in which the concept of uncanny meat draws attention to that configuration, can be seen as one mode of demonstrating the ways in which (what we call) human and animal bodies are caught up in these various shared spaces through which affects, intensities, desires, etc., circulate. My hypothesis, which I will conclude with, is that if there are no “proper” parameters of the body, there are also no proper parameters for desire. I think both of these statements are rather banal, especially to their primary audiences. But I also think they might provoke us to think of desire as connective and how sometimes the things we are connected to are strange: objects, animals, noises, smells. All bodies that can be just as curious about our own strangeness. I also think they might help us to imagine desire as infinite by which I mean that no program of analysis can ever totalize how desire works, its circulations, its sources. Deleuze and Guattari are not so much anti-psychoanalysis as they are opposed to any restriction of the movement of desire to determined territories, i.e. Oedipus in their reading of psychoanalysis. Not enough experimentation, not enough tools. Desire de-subjectifies. It doesn’t “make” subjects, it unmakes them, forcing unpredictable and often unaccountable unnatural participations. And one doesn’t even need to be a subject to be seized by desire; one only needs to be open like so many magnitudes of exposure. We are closer to beach sand and Jardim Gramacho than we care to admit.

Note: The concept of “uncanny meat” owes a great deal of debt to Matthew Calarco’s work and research I conducted with him in the Fall of 2009.

Work Cited

Anzaldúa, Gloria. Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. 2nd ed. San Francisco, CA: Aunt Lute Books, 1999. Print.

Beetz, Andrea M. and Anthony Podberscek. Bestiality and Zoophilia: Sexual Relations with Animals. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 2005. Print.

Calarco, Matthew. “Indentity, Difference, Indistinction.” The New Centennial Review. Vol. 11, No. 2 (2012): 41-60. Print.

—. “We are Made of Meat.” Animal Rights Zone, 3 June 2012. Web. 14 May 2013. <http://arzone.ning.com/profiles/blogs/we-are-made-of-meat-the-matthew-calarco-interview&gt;.

Dekker, Midas. Dearest Pet: On Bestiality. Trans. Paul Vincent. New York: Verso, 1994. Print.

Deleuze, Gilles. Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation. Trans. Daniel W. Smith. New York: Continuum, 2003. Print.

Deleuze, Gilles and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987. Print.

Derrida, Jacques. “‘Eating Well,’ or the Calculation of the Subject: An Interview with Jacques Derrida.” Who Comes After the Subject? Eds. Eduardo Cadava, Peter Connor, and Jean-Luc Nancy. New York: Routledge, 1991. 96-119. Print.

Freud, Sigmund. “The ‘Uncanny.’” The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XVII (1917-1919): An Infantile Neurosis and Other Works. Trans. Alix  Strachey. Ed. James Strachey. 1925. 217-256. Print.

Grizzly Man. Dir. Werner Herzog. Liongate Films and Discovery Docs. 2005. Film.

Hoffmann, E.T.A. “The Sandman.” Trans. John Oxenford. 14 May 2013. <http://www.ux1.eiu.edu/~rlbeebe/sandman.pdf&gt;.

Irigiray, Luce. To Be Two. New York: Routledge, 2011. Print.

Joy, Jesika. “The Body as Art.” Toro Magazine.21 October 2008. Web. 14 May 2013. <http://www.toromagazine.com/legacy/404e0361-3f0f-49e4-096f-ab73dd368c6e/&gt;.

Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. Trans. Leon S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982. Print.

Reynolds, Victoria. “Meaty Art of Victoria Reynolds.” 16 Jan 2006. Web. 14 May 2013. <http://senorenrique.blogspot.com/2006/01/meaty-art-of-victoria-reynolds.html&gt;.

Un Chien Andalou. Dirs. Buñuel, Luis and Salvador Dali. Billancourt Studios. 1929. Film.