Becoming Inhuman

We — me, you, everyone we see and know — are enmeshed in various and diverse networks. Or, rather, we are at once enmeshed and constituted by these networks — social, temporal, planetary, biological, affective, traffic.

By which I mean that we are quite literally made up of all these things — not just our genitilia but our notions of genitilia; not just our bodies but the networks that make it and run through it, from blood and nerves to air and food; not just the environment but all the elaborate and ever-changing dynamics of the weather and the sun (everyday I drive from the fog to the sun and back and with each transition, I am transformed); not just our jobs but the global flows of capital and technology.

But if you look at movies and TV, we certainly privilege one network over others: the network we call civilization. That is, other people. I, for one, used to be quite taken with the human condition — with character studies and portraits, with human history, with how people operate.

And while this is of course important — I feel silly having to say that — I now like to explore how I’m made up of the non-human. The weather, for instance, or the taste of tequila or the stature of a cactus or the poise of a tulip; the swell of an ocean or the tumult of a hurricane; the expanse of the sky, the tilt of a dog’s curiosity, the wit of a ginkgo tree (take a good look at gingkos: they can be quite hilarious). This is to say, I see myself in things other than humans.

I do not mean to sound misanthropic. Clearly, my relationship to humanity is privileged. But I find a tremendous liberty as well as wealth of information from positioning humanity as just another network. So rather than my self being intersubjective, it becomes interobjective — or something to that effect.

Or perhaps we can call this identity chiasmatic: I am wound up with the world just as it is wound up with me. And so it is never self-identical at all. It is always marbled. Such, in fact, are the very conditions of perception: in seeing the world, I become (with) the world.

And so while I no doubt come to constitute myself in my relations with others, I’d like to expand this others to include the entire cosmos, visible and invisible. TC mark

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  • http://www.wilfordlauren.tumblr.com Lauren Wilford

    Lots of 3-dollar PhD words and concepts to ultimately convey an idea that is pretty captivating. This has been a Coffeen experience. 

    I usually talk about relationships with people as being the most important part of life, but this is a nice reminder that life is made up of a lot of meaningful things. Thanks.

    • Daniel Coffeen

      Alas, it’s not always easy to shed my training. And, well, there are certain of said 3-dollar words that I simply enjoy.  Methinks an odd work here and there — how often will you read “chiasmstic”? — keeps us on our toes, as it were.  In any case, thanks. 

  • Cathy

    Reminds me of the novel The Colour Purple where the girl is sitting in a field of violets and she like, becomes the violets.
    Anyway, great article

  • Ephrat

    Elegantly done. I really liked this. 

    Thank you. 

  • Ephrat

    Elegantly done. I really liked this. 

    Thank you. 

  • rachel

    Daniel Cofeen, you never cease to help me make sense out of the endless questions I have bouncing around in my mind, and as if that weren’t enough, you begin to help me answer these questions as well. This article reminds me of my ongoing fascination with the notion of taste — the matrix of objects external to oneself that one chooses to like in order to externally convey his/her identity. I feel that the older I get, the more I meet people who rely on their tastes (in music, in books, in movies etc.) to prove their identity to me. I used to struggle with the fact that I felt I hadn’t “found myself” in enough objects external to myself; I felt un-cultivated and maybe I am… But then I got to wondering what would happen if you took one of the people who rely so heavily on authors, directors, actors, musicians to make up who he/she is, and put him/her on an island, alone, away from all the treasured objects that make up his/her sense of taste and thereby sense of self. This person would obviously still have an identity, but he/she would now be released from the pressure of having to PROVE it to others. How would this affect a human being? I believe that it would open the doors for this person to make him/herself up of his/her experiences (what I believe you are calling the “non-human” above) instead of out of objects, and others’ ideas. Does what I’m saying make any sense…? I’ve been deliberating it for a while. Do you think that “finding oneself” in the works of other people is the same as “finding oneself” in the “non-human” you described? They seem so different to me, but they both involve making oneself up of external notions and objects… 

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