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)


1 comment:

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