Becoming animal

Some days ago, I was invited to watch again a children-horror classic: The Witches, a Roald Dahl book adaptation for film by Nicolas Roeg. In the film, the protagonist Luke is transformed into a mouse by a convention of evil witches, whose goal is to exterminate all children from the face of the planet, for the only reason of their opinion that children are disgusting. The transformation of humans to animals was also an important motive in the recent movie The Lobster by the Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos. In the imagined universe of this film, the inhabitants who want to find a love partner need to check into a hotel isolated from society. If they failed to find a partner within forty days, they are transformed into an animal (of their own choice).

In both films, the transformation into an animal is considered as a curse. The protagonist in The Witches, Luke, easily adapts to its new existence as a mouse and plots a revenge against the witch convention with the help of his grandmother. For the protagonist in The Lobster, David, the transformation into an animal will only remain a daunting prospect, but daunting enough nonetheless to escape the hotel and live in the wild as a “loner” in a group of renegades who are actively persecuted by the “adapted” members of the society.

In both cases though, the cause of the transformation is clear. It is the result of an explicit policy to exterminate certain people from society; children and singles respectively. Not so clear is the cause of the transformation of Gregor Samsa in the famous novel by Franz Kafka Die Verwandlung (Metamorphosis), who wakes up one morning realizing he has become an insect. While Luke and David try to actively rebel against the people who instituted the transformation of people into animals, Samsa’s only possible action is to explore his own guilt to find out why he deserves such a punishment.

Becoming an animal is in all stories perceived as something involuntarily and undesirable. Being an animal if you have been human before is apparently a regression from a “higher” state of being. From transforming into an animal, it is only a small step to complete annihilation, which Samsa will in fact suffer. All stories show an anthropocentric worldview, to which animal life is clearly distinguished and also inferior. If we put the animal at the centre of attention, Luke could be considered as liberated from the repulsion of the witches (his new natural enemy will be the cat, another animal); David could find liberation from the pressures of human society to behave in a certain way if he would accept being transformed into a lobster. Only for poor Samsa, the transformation into an insect will just be the beginning of his soul searching. If guilt is not restricted to the human world, we could ask whether Samsa has in fact transformed into an animal or whether he can only really understand the gravity of the human condition as an animal.

Ineffable

Eternal Woman

The young Dutch philosopher Simone van Saarloos recently released a publication, which is called Het monogame drama (The monogamy drama). The book presents a case for multi-intimacy and it argues that many people are withholding themselves from living their real desires, because of the cultural dogma of exclusive love. Van Saarloos criticizes the cultural bias, which assumes that being single is just a transitory state on the way to the monogamous love relationship. Why can it not be the other way around, she questions. The argument has much in parallel with my own work on multiple religious belonging, which you could consider as a similar case for polyamory of religious affiliations. Why is it necessary to fix your religious identity (“I am a Buddhist/Christian/Atheist”) and is the spiritual seeker considered, by cultural bias, as a transitory stage?

Last week, I also went to see the Flemish music band dEUS playing in Carré. Front man of this band Tom Barman directed a film in 2004, Any Way The Wind Blows, which convinced me to stay in Belgium for a little longer (at that time, I was living in Ghent, but being confused about the inaccessibility of the Flemish, was considering moving to Amsterdam). Furthermore, one of dEUS’ songs is called Eternal Woman. In one of the lines, Barman sings: “Maybe I’m too romantic. These expectations I should quell.” The Eternal Woman of Barman might refer to the monogamous final lover, but in a saarloosian manner, we could also understand the eternal woman as the eternal object of love, which is beyond the particular person you love. Doesn’t anybody who follows either a pattern of serial monogamy or a full blown polyamorous lifestyle agree that all lovers are different, but then again, all lovers are the same as well?

To further deconstruct our cultural biases, we of course have to get rid of the gendered eternal woman too. Multi-intimacy will definitely not restrict itself to heteronormativity and gendered beings. The eternal woman; the mother, the lover, or the Holy Virgin – isn’t this also, to speak with Deleuze ones more, the result of generalized repetition? Shouldn’t we distinguish repetition from generalization and consider every partner in intimacy as something new, as a new creative moment? The attempt to capture the creation of love in a monogamous relationship resembles a theological reflex, to worship an ultimate divinity. Van Saarloos offers us the challenge to play with identities and to be creative, which is also very synonymous to intimacy. I believe the plea for multi-intimacy is therefore a plea to refuse to accept that creation is already finished.

Ineffable

Genesis and repetition

One day I worked on a film project in Rotterdam and Ghent. One of the actors in the film was, who owned a parakeet, which they claimed to have named after Gilles Deleuze. I learned that the name of the parakeet was in fact “Manzi”. Being quite surprised, I inquired how “Manzi” could possible be derived from the French philosopher. “Of course,” they explained, “Manzi that’s derived from Deleuze’s first name Gilles, Gillesman, and hence manzi.”

In the introduction to “Difference and repetition” – which is very conveniently called “Repetition and difference”, Gilles Deleuze aims at distinguishing repetition from generality. Deleuze writes “To repeat is to behave in a certain manner, but in relation to something unique or singular which has no equal or equivalent.” Just as Deleuze has made a project of thinking the diverse as diverse and not as unity, in this text Deleuze attempts to think repetition not as constituting natural law, but instead as creative. Repetition which only leads to general rules is what Deleuze refers to as “religion” – it generalises the singular into something ultimate or transcendent. Repetition is not mediation to a higher order – repetition is about the immediate.

In her inaugural lecture, “Mediation and the Genesis of Presence”, anthropologist Birgit Meyer explores a material approach to study religion. Her appeal is against the dominance of what she calls the “mentalist” approach towards religion, which places more importance on beliefs, texts and hermeneutics as the mediator of religion, whereas she argues that we have neglected our interest in the religious objects as mediators for religion. She proposes to look at how religion is generated through material objects, which serve as mediators between the transcendent and the immanent world.

On the outlook, Deleuze and Meyer have a different object of focus. While Deleuze refuses to look at religion, but is only interested in the immediacy of immanence, Meyer’s principal object of study is religion as a medium. But nevertheless, I believe their approach is in fact very similar: they are namely both interested in immanence and generation.

As scholars of religion, but using Deleuze, we could speculate that the religious – or the divine – is not something mediated, but something generated in the religious practice. This would reduce God from its function as transcendent being, to the moment of generation in the immanence of religious objects. If the divine could be generated in religious objects, this would  deny Deleuze’s rejection of religion and it would also deny Meyer’s attachment on the transcendent as the definition of religion. But this might be the necessary consequence if we want to focus on the immanent and the immediate.

Ineffable