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Affect in Deleuze, Hijikata, and Coates: The Politics of Becoming-Animal in Performance

Cull, LK (2012) Affect in Deleuze, Hijikata, and Coates: The Politics of Becoming-Animal in Performance Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism, 26 (2). pp. 189-203.

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Animal affects: Deleuze & the politics of becoming-animal in performance This essay seeks to explore the implications for theatre and performance of philosopher Gilles Deleuze’s specific concept of ‘affect’, not understood as emotion, but as a pre-personal process of ‘becoming’ or transformation. In particular, I want to evaluate the politics of the affective process Deleuze calls ‘becoming-animal’, and to address the relationship between this process and the approach to the animal taken by Butoh co-founder, Hijikata Tatsumi and UK-based artist, Marcus Coates. In a recent essay, Leonard Lawlor has described our contemporary moment as one in which ‘a kind of war is being waged against animal life’ (Lawlor 2008: n.p.). Certainly in the UK – where the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition have either delayed or scrapped entirely the implementation of multiple, vital animal welfare initiatives supported by the previous government - there is currently little evidence of concern for the actual lived experiences of non-human animals. In contrast, I will suggest that the work of Hijikata and Coates acknowledges and responds to ‘the need to open ourselves affectively to the actuality of others’ – and especially, to animal affects (Mullarkey 2003: 488). In the first section of the essay, I provide a clear exposition of Deleuze’s account of affect. Influenced primarily by Spinoza, Deleuze insists upon a distinction between affect and emotion, insofar as he construes the latter as ‘a subjective content, the sociolinguistic fixing of the quality of an experience which is from that point onward defined as personal’ (Massumi 2002b: 28). Whereas emotion, for Deleuze, is related to the formation of subjects, affect throws subjectivity into disequilibrium, cracking our sense of self. In the process of identification that Deleuze links to emotions and feelings, the subject enfolds the threatening outside into its own internal world (as ‘introjection’), whereas affect acts upon the subject like an arrow (or ‘projectile’), forcing us to relate to the otherness of the outside, rather than suppressing its heterogeneity through identification (Deleuze and Guattari 1988: 400). Above all perhaps, Deleuze insists that affect precedes those who are affected; ‘it is from affects that distinct beings are formed’ (Colebrook 2002: 61). Secondly, I will address the links between this notion of affect and that of ‘becoming-animal’ – a concept which, along with ‘becoming-woman’ and ‘becoming-imperceptible’, constitutes an important part of Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of ‘minor politics’. Here, I emphasise that Deleuze conceives becoming-animal as a process of adopting and experimenting with the affects or modes of relation performed by animal others, not as an attempt to imitate the animal’s appearance or to merely imagine oneself as an animal. I then link this experimental strategy to minor politics, which is not concerned with the representation of existing identities or groups but the production of a ‘new world and a people to come’ (Deleuze in Thoburn 2003: 17) – including, I’ll suggest, a people open to animal affects. In third and final section of the essay, I explore the politics of becoming-animal in relation to two specific examples of performance practice. Hijikata Tatsumi famously argued that humans should ‘learn to see things from the perspective of an animal, an insect, or even inanimate objects’. Indeed, in 1968 (before the first mention of ‘becoming-animal’ by Deleuze), Hijikata was already insisting that he did not ‘merely imitate’ but became the animal in his dances and speaking of his frequent experiences of ‘becoming other than myself’. I then compare Hijikata’s techniques for approaching the animal in performance to works by the contemporary UK-based artist, Marcus Coates (1968-). Here, I look particularly at Coates’ video installation, Dawn Chorus (2007), the making of which involved members of the public in a process of becoming-bird through performing their song, and allows audiences to see a finished image which is both human and bird. Like Hijikata, Coates is concerned with the strategies artists might employ to ‘overcome mimicry’ and enter becoming (Coates 2007: 19), but his discussion of his practice also introduces a naturalization of art, of the kind we find in A Thousand Plateaus. Animals are artists too, insofar as they engage in their own processes of transformation, becoming and creating fictions – as Coates notes in relation to the blackcap bird who can sing ‘“in the style of” a robin’ (ibid., 33). Such artistry, I will conclude by arguing, calls into question the privilege accorded to human animals and demands a new approach to animal politics.

Item Type: Article
Divisions : Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences > Guildford School of Acting
Authors :
Date : 1 May 2012
DOI : 10.1353/dtc.2012.0023
Uncontrolled Keywords : hijikata, animals, affect, deleuze, becoming-animal, marcus coates, butoh, theatre
Depositing User : Symplectic Elements
Date Deposited : 16 May 2017 15:18
Last Modified : 05 Mar 2019 14:08

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