Tuesday, August 28, 2012

On Pillows vs Blankets: A Restless Community (NBC)

"How did it come to this, 
an era in which 'things' means ideas, 
and stuff so seldom?"
Ian Bogost, Alien Phenomenology


Promiscuous Bedmates

When I moved into my current apartment, some time ago, I was struck by tactile pleasure I received from the plush wall to wall carpet and resolved to further the experience throughout my décor. The first major gathering at my studio was dubbed a “Pillow Party” and the result being the beginning of a collection. The project was furthered with the addition of bing-bags and a semi-spherical chair I call “the Womb”.  Transformations continue—in the wake of some more reading by Object Oriented Philosophers such as Ian Bogost & Levi R Bryant, then while watching a Community (NBC) episode entitled “Pillows vs. Blankets” with the accompanying commentary and making-of featurettes on the Season 3 DVD, I was drawn to consider my fluffy friends with renewed playfulness and wonder.

Graham Harman in defending Object Oriented Ontology against the regular attack that it seeks to treat things without consciousness as though they had, invites us to observe and imagine the multitude of ways which objects relate to other objects with greater significance. Harman offers burning cotton as a useful example, wherein the fire relates to the cotton and consumes it, but does not ever fully integrate its “cotton-ness” into it. Here Pillows provide for me a clearer image.

I lay down in my bed, roll around, bend and twist—eventually fall asleep—then get up in the morning, all without giving much conscious attention to the pillows. Intellectually, I neither produced them nor found significant use for them. In terms of object relations, however, the pillows and my head were in constant conversation and conflict throughout the night. The evidence of this intercourse is imprinted on the pillow’s shape when I leave bed in the morning. The pillow has acquired an impression of me, but without fully touching or receiving the “essence” of what I am (the significance of my dreams or worries for the next day never occur to it). Likewise, I have not utterly changed the pillow from being a pillow.

This sort of withdrawal from affect, the pillows insistence on remaining itself, as well as our inability to make direct ontological exchanges brings is described by Harman as "vicarious causation" (we affect each other, our beings related, but not directly or completely). Bogost offers a similar concept, which harmonizes with my literary mind, when he calls such relationships as “metaphorisms.” In this case, the pillow has made a metaphor of me—a rough analogy of the shape and quality of what I am without really grasping me-myself completely or in all ways. The compounded distances between us, the air, the blanket, my pajamas, my folded arm, etc pass along these impressions, causations, and metaphors which are received by the pillows, but what it gets is a caricature of a caricature of my head. This system of relations from head to pillow, Bogost calls a “daisy chain,” for its fragility and its tenuous ability to convey any strong direct relationships. For all these reasons, for all our intimacy, my pillow and I hold on to a great deal of ourselves which the other does not receive.

And I am hardly the only thing that occupies or pass through my room. The invention of hypoallergenic pillows (which I am extremely grateful for) admits the relationship between my plush bed-mates and the air, the trees, their flowers and pollen, the bees, mold, and an ever widening ecology which passes through in macro and micro forms into my apartment. The fluffiness of pillows which frighten my immune system communicate to me the hint of many of my pillow’s object relations. The portion of its day and its existence which is shared with me is a fraction of its story—nearly all of which I will never know because I am only able to speak a few of the languages by which they are recorded.


Pillows vs. Blankets

Jane Bennett in her paper for Animal, Vegetable, Mineral: Ethics and Objects at the George Washington University in 2011, asked the question whether hoarding /collecting was pathology internal to the human or else an extra sensitive reaction to the power of things to captivate. There are many ways in which an expression of hoarding could behave as either as a reaction to an internal or external  or drive, and it is possible that both  stimuli may be active at the same time.

In the Community episode, Pillows vs Blankets, Troy and Abed set to work at constructing a campus-wide pillow fort. When asked whether it would be like the blanket fort that they created the year before, Abed replies, “No, we are making a pillow fort, way more difficult, way more awesome.” Soon, however, news that they are near the Guiness World Record for largest blanket/pillow fort (the record keepers do not distinguish) and the slow-pace of the build sets Troy and Abed against one another.

Troy, while admitting to Abed, “would do anything you do” becomes enticed by the prospect of gaining the recognition of building the largest fort and presses Abed to change the fort to blankets for “rapid expansion.” This choice mirrors the studio’s decision the prior year to make their former fort out of blanket, despite the show-runners insistence on a pillow fort—it be much quicker and cheaper to use blankets they convinced him, and after all fort of either material serves the same purpose. Furthermore, Troy becomes motivated by the Vice-Dean of the college to stand up for himself against his controlling friend, so as to eventually motivate a split in their projects. What stands out in all these factors, is that they cluster around human-oriented goals: friendship, recognition, staff-hours, power-dynamics.

  Abed, on the other side of the conflict, remains insistant that what he is interested is pillows, not people: “We are making a pillow fort, I don’t want to sacrifice quality for square footage. We don’t need a record to tell us we did something cool.” His interests are object oriented, at the expense, we will find, of human relations. Unable to sustain a simultaneous connection to the pillows and Troy, Abed tells his friend, “if you want to make a blanket fort, that’s fine with me, just don’t make it part of my pillow fort.” This demonstrates not only the equivelance, even primacy of certain object relations, but that bodies that relate in certain ways, also withdraw from relations. In order to be a pillow-fort, the build must remain separate from the blanket fort, so Abed and Troy are torn apart by their diverting interests.

The question of whether Abed is drawn by the thing-power of pillows is admittently difficult to conclude. As has been in demonstrated in a previous post on Articulating Aspergers, Abed is characteristically unable to relate with other humans on a variety of normative means; this includes the audience. “What makes Abed tick?” is a question asked throughout the series, and in this way, he becomes an object, an alienated thing, to others in a variety of ways. Often he is outright called a “robot,” a “computer,” or a “program”.  His withdrawl from others makes it difficult to understand what he is or does—yet because he works the boundary between subject and object, he suggests that perhaps Androids do dream. Alone with his fort, about to destroy it, he whispers to the fort as a friend, “Good-bye Pillow Fort, you were a beautiful dream,” to which he is corrected by the Vice Dean who had over-heard him, “More than a dream; it’s here!” Indeed Abed is not wholly ‘in his head’—he assembles, he responds to other objects (humans & nonhumans) forming intimate, dramatic relationships.


This Means War

In the conclusion of Pillows & Blankets, the shows central protagonist, Jeff Winger, meditates on the recent campus wide pillow fight and from it generalizes on war. “I know now that I will do anything for my friends. I think that is how everyone feels—which perhaps makes me understand war a lot better.” We are encouraged, both by the art of the episode and also in our human-centric framing mechanisms, to consider only the bonds of friendship between the study group and the particular relationship between Troy and Abed that propelled the war. But, as demonstrated, the conflict was motivated by, fought in the shadow of, and with the Pillow Fort itself—and the love of it.

And the war comes to an end by the pillow forts abandonment. With the Dean’s announcement that the Guiness world record serveyers will not be visiting the campus, the troops of both the blanket and pillow fort disperse. The only combatants that remain are Troy and Abed, who admit that they continue to fight only because they have vowed to no longer do anything together again once the fight is over—and so in love for one another they will keep it going. This battle too comes to a close when both agree to abandon this vow and grounds of its enactment; that is, the Pillow Fort.

We are lead to feel that the war has concluded without significant loss, because it is not a human loss. The fading visuals of the episode however give us a sense of the non-human casualties: torn sheets, punctured pillows, strewn feathers, and the ruins of the fort collapsing on itself.  Indeed, not only have we lost the Fort as it was, but the Fort as it was becoming; the significance of which is perhaps not evident without voices speaking for it; but if we look to Bruno Latour’s book, Aramis, for the Love of Technology, wherin we concludes by imagining the voice of Aramis, the French rail project which was abandoned before its fruition, we might hear echoed in it the Pillow Forts parting words to its abandoners:

“Silence is for me to bear, not you. You humans need to talk, argue, get mad, that’s your role in this imperfect world. A frightened conspiracy of silence is what imposed silence on me. I would exist, on the contrary, if you had spoken, you silent ones. And the funniest thing of all is that you really thought you’d said enough about me. You really had the impression that…discussion…plans…counter plans, were enough, that it was time to quit, time to move on at last to the serious things; you had the impression that I had to be finished. But that is precisely what finished me off… Does God abandon his creatures when they are still of unbaked clay? And even if you don’t believe in God, does nature abandon its lineages in the sketchy state in which fossils are found? Isn’t Darwin riught? Isn’t creation continuous?” (295).

It may be true that things that don’t come to be, lack a kind of existence. There is a way that we can mourn the loss of those that were with us and a way we mourn those that never were. In a flat ontology, however, thoughts have being, ideas have force, and the loss of potentials produce not a void but an absence which can be felt. If we say that things, pillows, have power to draw us in by the love we bear for them, to serve as their midwives, then such abandonment as is witnessed by Abed and Troy is indeed a kind of miscarriage, the child of which we can listen to only in its haunting whispers.


Monday, August 20, 2012

A Fire Rises: Why Millennials Will Let Gotham Burn

“The global capitalist system is approaching an apocalyptic zero point.
It’s ‘four riders of the apocalypse’ are comprised by the ecological crisis, 
the consequence of the biogenetic revolution, imbalances within the system itself…
and the exploding growth of social divisions and exclusions”

Slavoj Zizek, Living in the End Times


Warning: Synopsis & Spoiler

The Dark Knight Rises begins 10 years after the previous movie and a full decade since Batman began. Because of the "Dent Laws" passed in memory of the District Attorney that died in the Dark Knight, the city's police have been free to use extraordinary force to arrest the undesirables of the city, often with little or no chance for bail and an expedited trial process. Batman himself has been busy and now with his body in ruins because of the abuse of pushing it for so long, he is looking to retire. 

Then Bane arrives. Explosions begin and the city's bridges are destroyed, making it next to impossible for anyone to leave. Then Bane announces that he will detonate a nuclear device if the city does not submit to his demands, which are, to enter into a French Revolution-like anarchy. The city obliges, homes are burned and looted, and citizen after citizen are put to death in a farce trial (to match those that criminals had recently experienced). Then to commit to the French reference, the prison is stormed and the Dent-Law convicts are set free. 

In the mean time, Batman, aided by a police-comrade and a Catwoman-like thief, confronts Bane only to be defeated and sent to a prison deep in the ground, across the sea (a perfect hell/death metaphor). Batman does return, just before the bomb is to detonate, and defeats Bane. Unfortunately, the bomb will still go off, so Batman takes his new flying machine and goes on a suicide run with the nuclear device across the harbor, vanishing in a burst of light.

Subsequently, we find that Gotham constructs a memorial to Batman and Bruce Wayne's property is distributed to his friends and the poor. In a final scene, however, we discover Bruce Wayne is alive and living abroad in France, with Catwoman. Then we return to Gotham, to discover the name of the police officer which had been Batman's assistant throughout the event, Robin. Robin, aware of Batman's true identity, sneaks onto the Wayne property and the last image we receive is of Robin rising on a stone that emerges from under the water to be gifted by the cave with all of Batman's old weapons and armor.


Who’s Afraid of the Big Black Bat?

“Does The Dark Knight’s extraordinary popularity not then point towards the fact that it touches a nerve in our idealogico-political constellation: 
the undesirability of truth?”
Slavoj Zizek, Living in the End Times

We didn’t ask to be born. We didn’t ask for your promises. We didn’t start the fire… But we take it nonetheless, not because of what you’ve said or what you’re now saying, but because we can and will do things that you won’t, like letting things collapse. We aren’t afraid of failure.

A recent article in the Huffington Post, by Ms. Emily Matchar entitled “How those spoiled millennials will make the workplace better for everyone” defends the hiring of the “generation Y” despite their panache for being “entitled:”
  • “Generation Y - loosely defined as those born between 1982 and 1999 -also known as millennials. Perhaps you know them by their other media-generated nicknames: teacup kids, for their supposed emotional fragility; boomerang kids, who always wind up back home; trophy kids - everyone’s a winner!; the Peter Pan generation, who’ll never grow up.” 
This characterization alone deserves attention, because Ms Matchar is not alone. CBS News , reported in 2008, in “ ‘The "Millennials" Are Coming:’
  • “They were raised by doting parents who told them they are special, played in little leagues with no winners or losers, or all winners. They are laden with trophies just for participating and they think your business-as-usual ethic is for the birds. And if you persist in the belief you can, take your job and shove it”
Likewise Meredith Bennett-Smith, in a '12 Huffington Post article, wrote
  • “They have been called the Millenials and Generation Y by some: the "Go-Nowhere Generation" and "Generation Why Bother" by others.”

To begin, I don’t know that we do behave as though we are “entitled,” but if we do, it is the fault of our founders. Those that made promises of what our lives and futures would look like, which they can no longer keep. Promises which they told us were our rights to receive. I do not think they lied, but are witnessing their own disastrous inability to make good on their word, they pass the bill (in so many ways) onto us.

We will take it, nonetheless, but what is doubly interesting, is that according to Ms. Matchar, we are expected to: “Work is done for less and less reward. Wages have been stagnant for years, benefits shorn, opportunities for advancement blocked. While the richest Americans get richer, middle-class workers are left to do more with less. Because jobs are scarce and we’re used to a hierarchical workforce, we accept things the way they are...Into this sorry situation strolls the self-esteem generation, printer-fresh diplomas in hand.…Will they adapt? They won’t. Ever. Instead, through their sense of entitlement and inflated self-esteem, they’ll make the modern workplace adapt”

In the following post I will explore these “entitlements” to demonstrate not how the Millennial’s prospects are grim, but how our embodiment of failure comes to us as projection of terror and despair by generations which witness their successes fail. Then I will demonstrate how our attitude which you cannot understand, is exactly what keeps us from jumping ship while our elders are ramming it into the iceberg after melting iceberg.

We will do it all, while examining the recent Batman film; a story about a home at war with terrorists, a failing economy, an energy crises, increased international and nuclear threats, as well as plagued by a siege mentality (“Get away! There isn’t much left, and we need it! Go try and find a future somewhere else”), and ready to be handed off to a younger generation by those who are ready to retire with a sexy younger girlfriend (who may or may not wear a cat-suit at night).  Ms. Matchar, writing on behalf of these Batmen writes with hope that “we should thank them for it. Because the modern workplace frankly stinks, and the changes wrought by Gen Y will be good for everybody.” Well, go ahead

Batman, Robin’s got this—but first, we will have to let Gotham burn.


Wards of the State

“Come Mothers and Fathers from across the land, 
and don’t criticize what you don’t understand…
Your old road is rapidly aging, 
please get off of the new one, if you can’t lend a hand” 
Bob Dylan, the Times They Are A-Changing

With the presidential elections over the past year, we have been hearing criticism that over generations we have effectively become wards of the state, dependent on hand outs we can no longer provide on a local, personal level. In its place, some want business to provide for us. What interests me in this, is that on both sides we see a tacit acceptance that the “nuclear family” (in many respects) has dissolved & the question has become: what to do with the orphans?

Between Batman and Robin, we see the Ward of Big Business & the Ward of the State. In the Dark Knight Rises, they come at the threat to Gotham from cross interest groups. Batman embodies the independently wealthy swooping in, trying to save the day with overwhelming force and the developments of new technology. Robin however starts off as a policeman, working as part of a team with the crooks and thugs (as we are led to regard the police of Gotham), attempting to save the day with unions of the faithful and moral superiority.

With the introduction of Bane, the good-times of Gotham’s business and state efforts are suddenly shattered and the city literally begins to crumble, devouring itself in a bloody mix of anarchism and revolutionary socialism (representing the extreme dreams/ nightmares of the right and left respectively). The question, or rather the tension, rises: what do we do when Daddy Business and Mommy Government can’t look after the kids?

Our answer when the city crumbles seems to be: us. When the parents are fighting, the kids band together or else look after ourselves. We may have lack of respect for institutions, but we have been given little reason to respect them given how quickly we are being eliminated:
  • Every 10 year-person that keeps his job, seals us out.
  • Every 20-year person that loses his job, takes an entry level one.
  • Every exec. cutting hours sees that we can’t get enough pay, if hired.
In this respect, Ms. Matchar is working off of good information when she cites Lindsey Pollak, saying that what the Millennials ask for is nothing more elaborate than the needs that all workers want, “they’re the first ones to leave when they don’t get it.”  This is because, while we fight for jobs, but we don’t expect to get them or keep them. We are opportunists. We are surviving, and we have loyalty to those that stick by us (which is largely not our employers).

We know how to share (easy as a ‘click’ for us) and how make do with owning less. We are skilled scavengers, ask most of us when we last paid for music. Companies are going under, staff is liquidated, and often because they are trying to solve new problems by outdated means; the execs don’t care so long as they make money. They burn down the house to collect the insurance. You can’t convince us to stay in burning houses. We aren’t afraid of the streets, we can’t be.

This brings us to a fundamental misconception with Ms Matchar’s description of the Millennials as entitled is her understanding of the relationship between our parenting and our development: “Since the cradle, these privileged kids have been offered autonomy, control and choices… encouraged to show their creativity and to take their extracurricular interests seriously. Raised by parents who wanted to be friends with their kids, they’re used to seeing their elders as peers rather than authority figures. When they want something, they’re not afraid to say so.” The problem with this description is not that it is wholly inaccurate, but that it functions off of a fraction of the facts. Entitlement may have been the plan of how our generation was raised, but its execution and context changed the results; such that we hold even less closely to mom & dad.

The United States over the last couple decades has gone through a crisis of “family,” with divorce rates now in the majority over “in-tact” partnerships. At the same time, we see an increase of women going for career and educational advancement instead of “settling down and starting a family.” Likewise more Gays and Lesbians are feeling free to come out, while remaining barred from marriage or adoption.  In the wake of these changes, the Millennial Generation is also the first Generation without a certain kind of “traditional” family and without great hope for its resurgence.

As a result, our lack of fear or sense of self-entitlement may come from a sense that we don’t have to worry about being marriage or parent material (at least not most of us or not for a while yet), so the concerns of settling into a stable job, getting a savings going, and finding a house (or moving out of our parent’s house) is not a concern.  This is then not really a feeling of “entitlement” but of dispossession. As orphans of the nuclear household, we see little reason to try to revive the “family-business”. We are less unilaterally interested in self-perpetuating institutions, we are ready to let many of them burn out.


A City Under Siege

“In order to apply a norm it is necessary to suspend its application, 
to produce an exception.” 
Giorgio Agamben, State of Exception

America is a country that feels perpetually under siege. Whether it is the Communists, the Terrorists, the Immigrants, the Exported Jobs, we have been told to fear the increasingly porous borders and globalization.

In this respect, America qua Gotham, are incredibly Medieval. The Knight was not only the protector at home, he was the one that went out of the safety of the walled-borders.  In that way, we was also a potential traitor. Like the mouth, the anus, genitals, etc, we are often very protective of our points crossing and of the things that cross in and out of them. Being a Knight, in this respect, is a Dark, dirty job. We want him to do our dirty work so we can stay clean, to be fearless so we can be afraid, to get hurt so we can stay safe--and Millennials are getting enlisted to serve as the outcasts and saviors by going where others won’t.

Evidence: The country remains afraid of myriad threats & enemies it perceives around the world.
  • It may criticize the ballooning military, but we don’t take serious measures to reduce it. And here too we have a generation gap. While many youth are opposed to our foreign wars, we nonetheless make up two thirds of its combatants. 
  • Besides the Border, Professionally, everyone is hunkering down. 
  • I can’t go to a conferences without there being a handful of panels about how Academia is under-siege and with voices continuing warnings that young scholars to go elsewhere.
  • I have looked and my fellow Millenials experience that statistic that the Washington Post offers, that 53% of us are out of work or underpaid. 
  • My friends in journalism, publishing, and yes, law, finance, and medicine are being told by all their mentors to look for work elsewhere because the field is over-saturated. 
  • Nearly every colleague of mine that went into teaching at public schools has since been eliminated from their position because of cut backs. 
  • Tech-jobs, supposed to be our generations golden ticket, are exported.
All over professionals are pulling up the draw-bridge, ridiculing millennials, left on the outside to scrape a living wherever we can, by moving back in with parents or drifting from job to job.

Those that are free to be naysayers and secret supporters are older and younger generations that stay safely behind our borders. Go ahead, call us entitled; we’ll stand by the friends that have died in your war, those that have come back with metal shards in their body, those that are out of work or growing deeper in debt. We understand fear, we understand what you are afraid of, we just don’t have the luxury to let it stop us (and you really don’t want us to). Those of you looking forward to a social security check, national security, and continued service industries are banking that we make it.

On this, Ms. Matchar again strike ironic tones, from inside the tower, watching us run out of the gate: “we could continue to roll our eyes at Gen Y, accuse them of being spoiled and entitled and clueless little brats. We could wish that they’d get taken down a peg by the “school of hard knocks” and learn to accept that this is just the way things are. But if we’re smart, we’ll cheer them on. Be selfish, Gen Y! Be entitled! Demand what you want. Because we want it, too.”

Likewise, I have to insist, invest in us. You may not like our attitudes and methods, you may not like us, but if you’re only interested in your own well being, you need to see that we succeed, in our waywardness. Sieges are won by starving out the city or smoked out. Unless Knights have the ability to go out & come back, to boomerang, nothing of your generation will survive the fire.


The Once and Future Generation

“Save Yourself, I’ll Hold Them Back”
My Chemical Romance, Danger Days: the True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys

Too big to fail has become a motto revered and hated in today’s infrastructures. The great irony being, of course, they fail. In the Dark Knight Rises, we very much see our state of affairs embodied by Gotham, Bane, & Batman wherein the forces of Creation, Destruction, & Salvation (or Self, Other, & Exception) respectively brought to the limit at which each part fails.
  • Gotham's success, in terms of finance & security, calls Bane wrath. 
  • Likewise, the scale of Bane’s terror, which withholds nuclear obliteration to bring about greater spiritual desolation (here I mean spiritual to refer to a whole host of intangibles), provides the room by which Gotham is able to preserve itself. 
  • Finally, Batman has raised himself physically & symbolically to such a limit, godlike, king-like, Christ-like, that materially he is deteriorating & literarily he can go no further without becoming void or else transcendent—which is what happens: Batman dies, comes back for a time, then finally disappears across the sea, into the clouds, consumed by light—then like Arthur & Camelot or Jesus & the Apostles, the people are left alone. 
Ultimately the salvation of Batman is no final victory, but more like a stimulus package, to hold back one great catastrophe, while the over-stressed bulk of Gotham continues to literally burn.

That is why we need Robin—which is no guarantee that he will fulfill our dreams of him. Honestly, our fantasies will continue to resemble a kind of exaggerated or even regressive images of our old regime: a New Batman; a New Great(est) Generation. The “undesirable truth” which Zizek refers to, and to which I have been trying to stress, is that this is not coming. What may make the Millennials most adored and most hated is the new promise being made for us that we will be the death knell and the savior of the great society; and both will be fueled by the half-truth that we will fulfill those roles. The Millennials will let Gotham burn—and we will build a new city, constructed by the broken pieces of the past and for the broken challenges of the future.

So what might the Millennial Gotham look-like? No doubt, there will be some dreams fulfilled, giving credence to Ms. Matchar’s prophecies from the past that: “The American workplace has been transformed during economic upswings and downturns. The weekend was a product of labor union demands during the relative boom of the early 20th century. The Great Depression led to the New Deal’s Fair Labor Standards Act, which introduced the 40-hour work week and overtime pay to most Americans. But now, workplace change is coming from unadulterated, unorganized worker pushiness.” The bad-news, so to speak, is that the possibility of such new deals will come out of the loss of old deals. Our lack of loyalty to things which we currently hold as sacred is what will allow us to harvest them for resources to serve the ends which we do hold as important. You can dream that the King will return from Avalon, but the reality, for better and for worst, is that you will receive something utterly new and different.

What will come?--- We make no promises. We may have hope, but our search for it will be like looking through Pandora's box. As such, I finish with a few parting words in and on Pandora's Hope, by Bruno Latour, in 1999:"In this century, which fortunately is coming to a close, we seem to have exhausted the evils that emerged from the open box of the clumsy Pandora. Though it was her unrestrained curiosity that made the artificial maiden open the box, there is no reason to stop being curious about what is left inside. To retrieve the Hope that is lodged in there, at the bottom, we need a new and rather convoluted contrivance. I have had a go at it. Maybe we will succeed with the next attempt."


Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Partitioning the Prosthetic: Olympiads, Crips & Vandals

Guest Post by Kadie Groh

“There are certain metaphysical rules internal to art that stand in the way of its ability to change perception [of the body and aesthetics]. The most stable and intrusive ones, of course, have to do with the habitual expectation that art object and world will correspond in some degree of mimetic exactitude because they compel audiences to reject or correct wayward representations.”
Tobin Siebers, Disability Aesthetics, page 85


In this post, I use the term “impairment” to reference bodily differences (specifically amputated limbs) rather than “disability.” I am one of many current disability scholars who believe that “impairment” is only concerned with the physical body and non-normate (normate meaning able-bodied) types of embodiment, whereas “disability” is a state of oppression on top of impairment, imposed by State legislation, built physical environment, and social structures. “Disability” causes non-normate (i.e. impaired) bodies to be at a significant disadvantage -- a disadvantage that would not exist were social structures altered.


On the "Whole" Subject of Art

“Cognitive dissonance is a good way of putting it. In my mind, there is an image of an Olympic-level runner. He is a human thoroughbred, powerful and graceful, like Michael Johnson, the world-record holder in the 400 meters. Oscar is certainly powerful, and graceful in his own way, but I could not look at him and say: this is the highest order of the human form. You can’t. There’s something missing. So I had to adjust my mind and say: this is also a runner, possibly an Olympian, and regard him on his own terms.”
Michael Sokolove, New York Times, “The Fast Life of Oscar Pistorius”
On Oscar Pistorius, the first double amputee to run in the Olympic Games 

Classical art, especially sculpture, traditionally attempts to show the human form at its most perfect. The corporeal ideal is part of what establishes aesthetic standards for the art world, and those aesthetics transfer out of the art world and into the world of the living. 

From the practice of “contraposto” (a particular stance in which the bodies are posed--think of Michelangelo’s David for a good example) to the practice of showing nude or partially nude bodies (indicating the importance of the body itself, not its adornments, in establishing beauty standards), classical sculpture represents the ideal body. The ideal is “whole” in that it has no visible physical impairments. This concept of “whole” art has informed the concepts of beauty; this influence continues today with television, print media, the fashion industry, etc.

The Olympics (also a classical invention) are intended to show human bodies as close to physical perfection as possible. They are an opportunity to see exactly how close to ideal a living human body (as opposed to a sculpted one) can get. The competition is a forum that highlights the nebulous margin between art and athletics, between artistic and living ideal. The Olympian archetype, as Sokolove succinctly describes above, exists as the exemplary human--the ideal or “whole” body type. In the Olympic Games, we have the opportunity to see life imitate art.



Re-Markable Disability: Deconstruction

“[Vandalized sculptures] have nothing to do with disability. Rather, their shattered form invokes the idea of disability. We know that they were not conceived as such. They were conceived as able-bodied, and we see the perfect image evaporate before our very eyes.”
 Tobin Siebers, Disability Aesthetics, page 92

Athletics and sculpture are two fields in which the ideal body is not only an ultimate goal, but the standard by which other bodies outside the realm of art and athletics are inevitably judged. However, art often does not represent anything attainable by living beings. Sculptures of humans are often not to scale or skewed to make them more aesthetically “perfect” depending on their size and the angle from which they will be viewed (again, Michelangelo’s David is an example of manipulating perspective and scale).

Despite the imaginary ideal “whole,”evidence of impairment continues to emerge in both the genre of sculpture and in athletics, constantly challenging the idea of a whole body. Often, time, transportation, and general wear-and-tear contribute to statues losing parts--usually arms. The Venus de Milo, for instance, represents a whole-turned-fragmented sculpted body. 

When Yorgos Kentrotas discovered the statue in 1820, it was actually in more pieces than it is now--her torso and legs were separated from one another. Kentrotas also found pieces of one arm and one hand nearby. By contrast, some structural changes in sculpture are the result of vandalism: In 1972, László Toth struck Michelangelo’s Pietá repeatedly with a three-pound hammer. The Madonna lost a nose, in addition to sustaining damage to her arms and left eye. 

Art vandalism (or its gradual deterioration) and human amputation represent for the able-bodied community (and members of the art community who desire able-bodied sculptures) a shift from whole ideal to fragmented object. What we hold up as the absolute epitome of physical ability and beauty, classical statues and Olympic athletes, are contrasted by “broken” bodies; those bodies challenge the whole concept of a bodily ideal. And this year, Oscar Pistorius, a sprinter from South Africa, became the first double amputee ever to race in the Olympics. 

Vandalized art and impaired athletes challenge our conception of aesthetics and athleticism, and therefore “wholeness;” impairment also calls into question the seemingly stable identities of able bodies, as well. Chipped, worn, broken, or vandalized statues forces viewers to acknowledge what much of the able-bodied community and the medical model adherents so badly want to deny: 

Able-bodiedness is less a default as just another condition of humanness. There are many manifestations of embodiment, all appearing, evolving, growing, shrinking, disappearing, or going unnoticed within us and at the surface of our bodies. 



Aesthetic Prosthetics: Restoration

“Should the Olympics and other “able-bodied” competitions be open to amputees? The science, in simplest terms, attempts to compare the real-life Oscar with an imagined, able-bodied Oscar. How fast would he be with biological legs? But of course, no such person exists.”
Michael Sokolove, New York Times, “The Fast Life of Oscar Pistorius”
On Oscar Pistorius and Paralympian “crossovers”

Prosthetics are a means of “rehabilitating” vandalized art & disabled athletes—and of rethinking both.  Restorers of statues like the vandalized Pietá use resin to fill in or replace damaged parts. Sketches and speculations abound as to what Venus de Milo’s arms would have looked like--these mock-ups serve as hypothetical prosthestics. For amputee athletes like Pistorius, there are particular prosthetics for use in their respective sports, Pistorius’ being carbon fiber running legs.

A conflict arises from this, however. As Tobin Siebers writes, “Restorers often insist that artworks, once damaged, cannot be returned to their original condition. The future authenticity of the work somehow relies on preserving its status as disabled.” (Disability Aesthetics 93). When impairment occurs, a whole (the ideal body) transitions to a fragment. Language surrounding augmented bodies fixates that somehow the prosthetic-restored body remains fragmented. 

If we follow the logic of art restoration practices, vandalized art and impaired bodies were hypothetically created to be whole but became fragmented; however, restored art is not whole again. The impaired body is simply fragment + prosthetic, the prosthetic being a necessary but foreign addition which can never be fully incorporated into the body physically (and therefore conceptually and ideologically). 

What might promote this conflict is that the fields of art and athletics constantly identify prosthetics as such, re-separating part from pseudo-whole, while also imagining the impaired object or person as they “should have been.” Siebers points out that the restorer of the Pietá repaired the statue with a resin that had “high fluorescence, so that the exact location of the restored areas could be easily pinpointed by ultraviolet light and removed at any time” (Disability Aesthetics 93). 

The concept of showing and reinforcing the removability of the prosthetic is evident in much of the Olympic press coverage of Oscar Pistorius. There is a shockingly high amount of footage featuring Pistorius preparing his running prosthetics, strapping them on, adjusting them, removing them again, etc. Those viewing a restored body--whether living or art--want to know beyond any doubt what is “real” or original, and what is an addition.  There is an ableist fear of being duped by a restoration or a prosthetic user adept at “the masquerade,” as Tobin Siebers calls it. Viewers need to see the transition from fragment to pseudo-whole and back again, for repeated reassurance.



Vandalizing Olympus: Athletics as Performance Art

“The act of vandalism changes the referential function of the artwork, creating a new image in its own right. [...] First, the act of vandalism is an act of creation because a new image comes to life. Second, if a new image is created, it is potentially the case that a new referent also emerges.”
 Tobin Siebers, Disability Aesthetics, page 83

Paralympians and other athletes with prosthetics represent several paradoxes having to do with visibility, wholeness, subject-hood and inclusion. They highlight the conflicts inherent in imagining an ideal body; expecting that ideal to exist and perform in particular ways (and calling that hardly-attainable ideal the “norm”); and thinking of prosthetics as simultaneously inadequate and over-enhancing. 

Legislation regarding prosthesis contradicts the less-than-whole image of athletes like Oscar Pistorius: In 2007, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), the international governing body for athletics, amended its competition rules with a ban on “any technical devie that incorporates springs, wheels, or an other element that provides a user with an advantage over another athlete not using such a device” (144.2). The ban effectively prevented athletes with prosthetics from entering able-bodied competitions, regardless of how their performance (in Pistorius’ case, his race times) matched up with international minimum requirements. 

Asserting that athletes with prosthetics have an “unfair advantage” over their able-bodied competitors seems to imply that while amputees are fragmented bodies compared to the ideal, they are also more-than-whole because the prosthetic is a restoration plus. Thanks to Oscar Pistorius, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has since gotten rule 144.2 revoked, but doubts about the authenticity and equality of prosthetic users remains for much of the sporting world.

And that is a good thing. The desire to erase the apparent difference of athletes with prosthetics should be avoided. “Overstated differences [in the form of impairment] serve as small conspiracies against oppression and inequality. They subvert existing social conventions, and they contribute to the solidarity of marginal groups by seizing control of stereotypes and resisting the pressure to embrace norms of behavior and appearance.” (Tobin Siebers, Disability Theory, 119).

Call Oscar Pistorius and his carbon fiber running legs the three-pound hammer of the Olympic Games. This is a vision of vandalizing the ideal and then reimagining what it means to be whole and what it means to be human. As living bodies, we are all conglomerations of parts for a purpose, constructed and sometimes reconstructed. Some of the parts are made of flesh, and others are not; some were attached to us at birth, and others are prosthetics created for us. Regardless, bodies that disrupt the ideal and the fantasy of stable embodiment are not, in fact, fragmented, but new and different wholes.


Kadie Groh is a graduate student of Disability Studies & Early Modern Literature 
in the George Washington University English Department.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Transgender Warmachines in Animorphs: the Test #43

“The war machine... is like a pure and immeasurable multiplicity, the pack, an interruption 
of the ephemeral and the power of metamorphosis. 
He unties the bond just as he betrays the pack...
He bears witness... to other relations with women, with animals, because he sees all things in relations of becoming 
rather than implementing binary distributions between states”

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, 
A Thousand Plateaus

In KA Applegate's book series, Animorphs, a set of humans and one alien (an Andelite, Ax) are gifted with the power to acquire the DNA of other life-forms and use it to marshal their bodies into new shapes. Birds, bears, and guerrilla blood joins with their human and alien genetic coding, allowing them the multiplicity of identities to forge a war against an invading species of alien slugs, Yerks. Yerks enter into the heads of other species, expand across their brain, and take over their bodies. Quickly and secretly the Yerks are taking over all official and cultural areas of human power as their numbers steadily grow.

The Animorphs for many years continue to fight their secret war against a secret enemy. Both sides exist as semi-symbiotic parasites, shape-shifters, and infiltrators in their respective ways using whatever life forms will see them to their goals. While the series draws us in to ally with the Animorphs, to see the Yerks as the bureaucratic planners, and the humans (or Andelites) as the resistance fighters using what tactics they can to flip the enemy's plans on their head, from a distance, we can see that all sides are effectively outlaws engaging in guerrilla combat to capture control over the planet and it's life-forms.


War Hawk: Machine or Apparatus?

To war--to war---to war: they scream as their flight cuts across the front line, scattering the troops and sending order into chaos. In the last post we followed the parasites on the ground slipping past the enemy’s perimeter. This week we look at the Bird-Women that cut across all things, drawing them into themselves, exploiting everything and every form, wreaking havoc in its wake. These flying war machines do not head borders, but become them, ever existing between states. The machine can capture things, but only situationally, unlike the State apparatus, it does not stick around to hold the border, it is a front line that is ever on the move.

In the opening scene of Animorphs #43, The Test, we fly with Tobias, a shape-shifting red-tailed hawk with the mind of a boy, as he hunts for his morning meal. We soon learn that he is being hunted at the same time by his former torturer, Taylor, a girl under the mind control of an alien brain slug called a Yeerk. In the process of capturing him, she provides Tobias with the opportunity to acquire her DNA, giving him the power to transform into a genetic double of her and thus become woman capable of causing her damage in return. The narrative of their conflict introduces a host of war-machines which Tobias and Taylor embody in their becoming-woman, becoming-animal. In doing so, they demonstrate the perpetually ongoing warfare that troubles all ontology and identity. But do not be mistaken, this embodiment is yet another form of states mobilizing the war machine. They are specific things, and thus forever a secondary manifestation.

Specifically opening up the gender war to a host of other bestial transformations and machines demonstrates the multiplicity which perpetually disturbs the apparatus of woman. We have heard them say, Man created Woman in his image; that this division has been a war and an exile from the start. I would not contend that there was ever a moment “before” the gender war, I would only add that this does not go far enough. As soon as there was anything, there was theft and war. Ontology and identity are ways of being disposed, Judith Butler tells in Undoing Gender, and when there is possession and dispossession we have violence. We have looters and plunderers the moment we have police. They are parasites of one another. They steal ribs while the other is sleeping. No, they are not mirror images, because one side always has a little more than the other. Multiply and deconstruct these dichotomies and you will find, that every thing that exists is at war with everything.

Gender, as a mode of identity, is about drawing borders; demarcating what is and what is not included as part of the thing, but the drawing never ends. Men, women, trans, intersex, etc., all signify shifting relationships of alliance and opposition. This shifting is evidence of the fact that the limits of any identity are perpetually under dispute, and these borders are the site of ongoing rape, death, pillaging, and burning; in short: guerrilla warfare. Peace talks only issue in a new era of the game, where certain rooms are cleared out and cleaned up, leaving the pests to rattle around in other dark corners until your back is turned and they come back. And don’t you dare think that burning down the house will fix things, Michel Serres will tell you, as in his book Parasites, any structure you build in gender’s place will be home to countless pests before you first step into it. No, we are here to learn how to live amidst the war, not how to end it.

We are not wrong to move towards peace, but we must consider what that usually means in our language: the fixing of borders and the freezing of movement. As Henri Bergson maps out in his Essay on Laughter, “the slow progress of mankind in the direction of an increasing peaceful social life has gradually consolidated this layer, just as the life of our planet itself has been one long effort to cover over with a cool and solid crust the fiery mass of seething metals” but her also reminds us that it is for exactly this reason that “volcanic eruptions occur.” And literature evidences these eruptions, as Graham Harman tells us, “art is the volcanic force of our planet, releasing magma from the hidden core of things” (Guerrilla Metaphysics 130). Art evidences that we are not done yet in our motions, our changes, our lives, our choices.

Literature, like Animorphs disturbs concepts of property by keeping things ever in circulation. Even self-possession can be called a form of theft; not from some Ur-Property owner or some Pantheistic deity, but from everything else, including the self. Self-possession is a self-theft, because we perpetually remove ourselves from a state of our own control, “we live in a zone midway between things and ourselves, externally to things, externally to ourselves….What I see and hear of the outer world is purely and simply a selection made by my senses to serve as a light to my conduct; what I know of myself is what comes to the surface, what participates in my actions” (Bergson, On Laughter). The self is not what is contained within the border, it is the border itself. The self is the line, the “I,” the test, the war machine, the flight of the war hawks.



The Sirens: Machines of Capture

Every war is fought by captives. The state captures its own war-machines and holds onto them long enough to enlist more, but the key distinction is that they are never fully settled. Caught in transformation, they are like Sirens, forever disturbing ontology with its liminality. It is the sirens that call ships to their destruction. Tobias and Taylor as the soldiers of the Test are exemplary of the captured war-machine. Each are bound with their decisions into forms which they can not unmake. Each are bound to being themselves and may not be surprising that the conflict plays out between hawk and the woman, which have long been used as Sirens to conscript all things into the shape of war.

Shortly after deciding to join the Animorphs in resistance guerrilla warfare against the invading brain slugs, the Yeerks, and receiving the power to transform into any animal he touches, Tobias chooses to stay in his hawk morph past the 2 hour limit. The result of passing this limit is that he can no longer morph and remains in hawk form perpetually. The decision was made in order to avoid revealing to the Yeerks that the resistance fighters were human children (whose identities, friends, and families could then easily be found). Tobias used the power of choice and is now bound to the consequences. While Tobias later regains his ability to morph, including into a human body, he is bound by the 2 hr limit, after which time he must return to his life as a hawk.

The ability to transform however does not easily undo the effects of his binding. The siren of identity holds on fast to what it captures. In another book, Cassie tells us that “[Tobias] sort of forgotten how to express emotions with his face. Smiling when he’s happy just isn’t natural to him anymore, because hawks don’t smile. Now when people look at Tobias, they notice the strangeness of his face, not the face itself. Even when he laughs he doesn’t really smile” (9-10). This lack of expression demonstrates with volumes how every decision limits choices, each thing stands in conflict with the world of change and pliability.

Likewise, when Tobias confronts Taylor later, he notes how cold and frozen she has become, relative even to him. “Taylor glared at the boy. I laughed… I was alive. Taylor wasn’t. Not really. I had a sense of humor. Taylor had a coldness that enclosed her like a shield. The kid could see this. Anybody could” (49). As Harman noted about the dead crust on a living planet, the power of capture can hold on to the things with such fervor that it sucks the life out of it; and yet these cold surfaces can bare witness to the scars of past battle.

As a result of being captured by Taylor, Tobias learns about the Yeerk and its host’s history. “Taylor’s story is a sad one. A story of a girl who’d lost her face, arm, and leg in a terrible fire. The Sharing, the Yeerk front organization, had been there for her. Offering her a new face and arm and leg. All she had to do was agree to be infested. A voluntary Controller. All she had to do was let a vile gray slug wrap around her brain. But the Yeerk that infested Taylor was nuts. Taylor had pretty much lost it too. Not a very stable situation" (25-26). As explored in earlier posts, the decision to become enslaved is one that undoes the ability to decide, just as the decision to bind the mind to madness alienates the machine which had the power to cut it free again. But there may yet be volcanic activity left in the captured war machine that might unearth it.

Tobias, Taylor and the Yeerk find themselves captured in bound by their own decisions to be what they are. As a consequence, their bodies as well as their brain will emphatically defend their existence as such. These borders of bodily definition is what Harman means when he writes that ontology functions like the mechanism of platinum: “not insofar as it is made of atoms and governed by chemical laws, but rather insofar as thought ‘platinumness’ were what was at stake in the entire cosmos, as though it were obsessed with being platinum—which of course it is” (GM 139). The cost of being anything, is that is looses the potential to be anything else. Every expression eschews every other potential act.

And yet, there is the war machine. Every thing that obeys the law, Chesterton writes is an anarchist. Bergson tells us that this is integral to life: "tension and elasticity are two forces, mutually complementary, which life brings into play... A continual change of aspect, the irreversibly of the order of phenomena, the perfect individuality of a perfect self-contained series: such, then, are the outward characteristics... which distinguish the living from the merely mechanical." One may join the war to become free, but as a warrior, you will become a pawn of the State which will continue to watch you uneasy eyes; because it knows the war machines are the very engines which will be its undoing. Caesar was a General, before he conquered Rome and became Emperor, his personal body guard in the city, was the army he was given to be with him on the front lines. The Republic, in enlisting an army and general to protect its liberties, ensured its overthrow.



The Harpies: Machines of Plunder

The war machine as it flies on its rampage does not affect all things equally. One house may be transformed or captured in the fury entirely, while others may find the house and many of its residents standing, but their stores completely plundered. The hawk and the woman, as Harpies, as war machines, can swoop in and take what they want and leave the rest for the carrion birds. This is how they perpetually rearrange the battle field, transforming the borders and the premise of the game at play; as Deleuze and Guattari suggest, making a game of Chess into a game of Go.

Plundering is a game which takes advantages of weaknesses, and in so doing, as Harmon suggests utilizes a things strengths against itself. "We cut into granite exploiting its weakness, only to take advantage of its strength" (GM 131). The Plundering Machine grabs what is less defended with the hand that is not being watched, so as to turn it back against the enemy in a surprise attack. The Harpy will use its talons while you watch her hands and her hands when you fear her talons. Plundering is a game of opportunity.

In Taylor's case, her disabilities after the fire have left her prosthetic arm as a machine of little significance. But it is its lack of humanity, the avoidance of eyes on the mark of her cripness, that allows her to transform the prosthetic into a weapon for plunder. In his struggle against her, Tobias learns the consequence of keeping his attention fixed on the human arm. “Taylor grabbed my cage with her artificial hand. The hand she had accepted in exchange for her freedom” (26). and in his attempt to break free from it, Tobias realizes that it contains sleeping gas. Tobias has found himself pillaged by Taylor, the crip, the parasite, the prosthetic, the woman cyborg, because he forgot the rule of war: battles, like robberies, are won by deception.

Utilizing his own deception and disability, Tobias grabs at Taylor with a power which no other creature in a morph has: the ability to acquire DNA. “I stretched out my talon. I gripped the fleshy fingers of her real hand. Then I closed shut my ears, shut it all out. The animal screams, the grunts, the human shouts. The horror of reliving a nightmare. Acquire her. Acquire her. Become her” (26-27). By using his ability to capture DNA from a creature by touching it, Tobias hopes to lull her into the trance which comes when an animal is acquired. It works temporarily, as her genetic code is taken without her knowledge, the result of a surprise attack by the perpetually evasive harpy.

This exchange ends with Tobias unconscious, but he is late freed, so that they might meet again for another go. This time, it will occur in a public mall, which means the human will have the advantage. In an attempt to surprise her and take control over his former controller, Tobias volunteers to go in the form of Taylor, the morph which he just acquired from her. In doing so, he not only plunders a human identity, but a female identity (all his human forms are male), and particularly his enemy’s identity, with one significant difference. “I was dressed to kill” Tobias narrates “And I would have looked great in rags. See, morphing uses DNA, and I’d morphed her body as it would have been before the fire, before the accident. No artificial arm. No reconstructed beauty” (46-7). Embodying the Harpy, Tobias transforms from Hawk into a duplicate of Taylor, which notable changes, genetically reconstructed bodily features emphasized with the addition of attractive clothing. Once again, Taylor was expecting the talons and receives instead the knife-point of her own stolen war machine.

The ploy works, and Tobias finds himself taking from and taking advantage of all sorts of goods which his stolen body allows him to take. “I was a cover girl who could give even Angelina Jolie a run for her money. “Taylor,” I said easily, coming up behind the tall blond wandering the wildlife section. She spun around, surprised and off-guard. Her mouth dropped open. She was face to face with herself. And for a second, I’d trumped her. She was mine” (46). This win is only temporary, as Tobias literally uses Taylor against herself, but the plundering machine hardly sticks around long enough to worry about holding onto the victory.



The Cuckoos: Machines of Infestation

When war machines pass through, they often leave things in their wake. Like the Cuckoo, the hawk-women of Tobias and Taylor leave behind infestations which will grow amidst the local population until they squeeze out the others in the nest.

In the case of torturer and tortured, their war have crossed them, intermeshed them, leaving living fragments of the other in their minds. This trauma, especially for Tobias, is another kind of parasite, the voice of a Yeerk-Human Controller (Taylor) playing in his head which continues to jibe at him as he attempts to focus on finding food. Reliving and recording the echoes, Tobias narrates for us at the opening of the book: “The Yeerks captured me. A crazed and insane human-Controller made my life a hell for several excruitating hours. I survived. I even thought the torture was over. I didn’t realize that torture didn’t end when you’re freed. People think it does. People who’ve never been through torture think that when the physical injuries heal, you’re healed too. They’re wrong. Torture plays tricks on your mind. “You’re weak and scared” it says. “You think you’re in control? Hah!” It says. “Doubt yourself. Worry and question and fear” It tells you” (4). Existing in this state of trauma puts Tobias into a loop of memory, with the war machine running through him functioning like cognitive anti-thought, resisting his ability to regain control either of the event or of his mind, raising the sense of losing control.

This is the mental equivalent of wild fire or chaos, as Arthur Frank writes in a subsection of the Wounded Storyteller, Chaos Embodied. "The body telling chaos stories defines itself as being swept along, without control, by life's fundamental contingency ...contingency is not exactly accepted; rather, it is taken as inevitable...beyond bargaining, there is no way out" (102-103). This is however not evidence that the war machine is inevitable or embodied, but rather another apparatus has captured it and uses the disassociation of war to take control. Taylor has infested Tobias's mind in a very real way, through a cerebral agent, which causes him to submit and join in its efforts through despair. The body infested with captured chaos, Frank tells us, "is lived when "it" has hammered "me" out of recognition," (102) when the subject is blinded to their own powers of free agency, itself an enactment of chaos, perhaps in an effort to turn chaos into order by making it appear inevitable.

Thus when Tobias acquires Taylors DNA, bringing it into his own genetic existence and when he transforms from hawk to woman, the eggs of her voice in his head hatch. This surrendering to her presence as part of his mechanism is an attempt to control it by making it inevitable. He now is her, and speaks with her voice. Not sure whether it is Taylor the Yeerk or the girl that possesses this ability, he searches his newly acquired body for a way past his rhetorically disability. “I searched the brain of my new body for some savvy reply. A strategic comeback. I searched it for the ruthless, crushing Yeerk. What I found was gentleness, fear, and joy. Very little cunning. Almost no hate. The human Taylor had once been was an average kid. Like me. Like I’d been. The realization steeled me against the nervousness that gnawed at my stomach” (49). In a significant way, Tobias fails at finding the war machine he expects to find and to which he was surrendering, and instead finds that the chaos of the machine sets him free by surprising him. The strength that steels Tobias is the weakness that he shares with his enemy, that neither of them are in control; she will be undone by the chaos as well, and by chance, he may yet survive.

Of course Taylor is herself a walking nest for a war machine, a Yeerk, which is ever growing inside her head and infesting it with unforeseeable possibilities of capture and release. For a long time they existed together in a mutually beneficial relationship, but it seems that at this point in the series, the Cuckoo chick has finally reached its full stegnth and taken over. While speaking to Taylor over coffee, not sure whether it was the woman or the Yeerk speaking, “Suddenly, [Taylor’s] face transformed. All at once her blue eyes filled with desperation. Her pink lips parted in wordless horror. A different voice, a fightened, abused little voice, called across the table in a toneless whisper. ‘Don’t listen,’ it said. ‘Don’t listen to her!’…Taylor the Yeerk had a rigid command over her host body. No longer did she let her human speak independently. No. Somehow, she’d severed their collaboration. Except they’d been partners for so long, the host could still break in, on occasion. Taylor the girl could still break in. Did break in” (51). What these breaks into the present reveal is that things have been buried to start, like the zombies of dead we never mourned. It may not be until long after the war machine passes through that the effects of the destruction and capture reveal themselves.



The Phoenix: Machines of Fire

And sometimes things just burn. The wake of a war machine can mean the sudden and chaotic transformation of all that gets caught up into it into cinders. This is hardly the obliteration of the thing, but the result of an excess of energy and intensification. What Deleuze and Guattari call the "nature of things" breaks down and the unexpected is not so much produced but unleashed. From the ashes new little fires will kindle, but don't be mistaken about the Phoenix, this is not the same bird. Chaos never recognizes its children, even those born in captivity.

Directly stemming from the plans made at this meeting, the conclusion of the Test for Tobias and Taylor comes with the fiery break down of bodies and intentions. They combine forces to dig a tunnel into the Yeerk compound so as to blow it up in a massive gas explosion that would send the war into chaos. The Animorphs looking for the destruction of the Yeerks and Taylor set to overthrow the leadership, both throw themselves into the project to unleash hell. But before they arrive there, while they are still setting the pyre so to speak, there are signs that Tobias in becoming a hawk-woman, has begun to develop a sense of pyromania.

It is the liberation of the war machine that without the option to perpetually occupy identities, there may then be the reckless use and destruction of resources. As the coffee with Taylor continues, Tobias begins to take advantage of his ability to use and abuse his female body without consequences and enjoy his ability to flirt and enchant with it. “The high school kid behind the counter stared wide-eyed. One, make that two very attractive girls were closing in on him. “Uh, what can I get you?” he asked shakily. “Decaf latte with skin,” Taylor purred. The kid turned to take my order. I smiled and he almost fell over. It was crazy to have such power. I’d been on the receiving end before. I’d never been the course. Is this what Rachel experienced? Was this part of what made her so brave?" (46).

It is noteworthy that it is the effect of his female body on others which is the chief aspect described of this morph for Tobias. Less than the sparse description of Cassie's gendered experience of becoming a man in Animorphs #29, Tobias's narrative gives us no phenomenological description either external nor experiential of what it is like to be or become a woman.We learn that he is beautiful and able bodied, and that it bothers Taylor to see it. It is the bravery, the force, and the destruction that comes from the woman that becomes the focus of the text; the hawk-woman as war machine.

Harman reminds us, however, bravery and the reckless abandon of the war machine, is itself a way of becoming fixed: "although it may sound paradoxical, courage is one of those moods in which we treat ourselves less as free subjects than as objects. To perform a courageous act is not to behave as a free trascendent self thrown out into nothingness: such a self is far too amoprhous to stand for anything in particular. Rather, the unshakable core of courage inside you is simply the character in your that does not change, that stands for something, and that would rather be shattered by events than reconcile itself to any shameful compromise." (141). We might as well read Tobias's intoxication with the power of becoming woman as a further unleashing of the destructive rampage that he is set on and will rise as the consequences of this meeting.

Picking up on Tobias's "inclement" towards violence, a kind of abuse of a woman's body, an attack on her body via proxy, Taylor lashes out. Standing at the register, showing off an intentional self-destruction of his female form via calories, Tobias orders a “Triple espresso. Heavy on the cream and the sugar.” Taylor turned to me. “You dare abuse my body, you filthy grass eater?” (48). In this move, Tobias is not only to use the sexual resources of his possessed female form, he is able to utilize it in ways that Taylor the Yeerk and Taylor the girl would not: he is able to eat fatty foods. Since he wasn’t raised in this body, Tobias may be completely unaware of this expectation.Also, this is not ground that Tobias is interested in keeping, he only needs this body temporarily so health concerns and the ingrained social pressures and expectations placed on women are something he can totally ignore. Whatever consequences he has on Taylor, witnessing a simultaneous tease and an attack with her (reconstructed) body, Tobias will not stay around to deal with it. He is free to let this one burn.

The final battle of the book climaxes when Tobias and his andelite partner Ax are transforming in and out of Taxxon morph, an alien species whose form overwhelms them with the desire to eat and destroy everything in its path. Taylor has temporarily allied with them so they can build a tunnel into the enemy base, so that they might together blow it up in a rain of fire. But then Taylor turns the table and attacks them, as soon as the work is done. Struggling to regain control of himself and the situation, Tobias attempts to direct his unstoppable anger, fear, and hunger towards useful targets, but finds he is ultimately unsuccessful. The War Machine takes over.

The situation spins out of even Taylor's control as their plan is discovered and others come to put out their fire. All of them escape, but with the knowledge that they crossed beyond the limit of their powers of choice and ability to hold things together. The war machine, even when you are a part of it, is hardly something that can be tamed or controlled. It unties all bonds and betrays all fellowships.



More Transgender in 
Animorphs: the Sickness (#29)