Näyttämö ja tutkimus 7 (2018). Anna Thuring, Anu Koskinen ja Tuija Kokkonen (Toim.). Helsinki: Teatteritutkimuksen Seura.
In this article, I present ideas I have been working within my postdoctoral project that concern the complex relationship between thought and performance. In this research, my aim is to combine some aspects of the posthumanist philosophical debates and experimental performance art practice in artistic research. I am conducting this research as a postdoctoral fellow at the Academy of Finland funded postdoctoral research project ‘How to Do Things with Performance?’
The axiomatic Other
In her book Lose your mother Saidiya Hartman depicts her personal journey, from the United States to Accra and northern Ghana – the heartland of slave-route. She writes on the slavery, how the
“most universal definition of the slave is a stranger. Torn from kin and community, exiled from one’s country, dishonoured and violated, the slave defines the position of the outsider. She is the perpetual outcast, the coerced migrant, the foreigner, the shamefaced child in the lineage [- -] Stranger’ is the X that stands in for a proper name, it is the placeholder for the missing, that mark of the passage, the scar between native and citizen. It is both and a beginning. It announces the disappearance of the known world and the antipathy of the new one.”
What is this term Stranger=X, that has so different function than the Other? The Other is a concept that has a function for discourse, which designates how it can be used in a philosophical or ethical apparatus to signify alterity. We may recognize the concept of the Other through psychoanalytic theory or structuralism. In the Lacanian psychoanalytic theory with triangular concepts the Imaginary defines a realm of conscious and unconscious images, where it represents the ego and the Symbolic represents the Other. The symbolic is a sphere of signification and it is distinguished from the ego and self-image in the Imaginary. The last part of the triangular system is the Real, which should not be confused with reality. The Real concatenates with the Imaginary and the Symbolic. Therefore, the process of signification is where
“[t]he signifier, producing itself in the field of the Other, makes manifest the subject of its signification. But it functions as a signifier only to reduce the subject in question to being no more than a signifier, to petrify the subject in the same movement in which it calls the subject to function, to speak, as subject,”
writes Lacan. However, the X has no ‘field’ and it hardly manifest in subjectivity. It is, rather, an axiomatic function, or a placeholder for Hartman. She writes about the ambiguous position of a slave X, crossing the Middle Passage, and until now, “is always the stranger who resides in one place and belongs to another. The slave is always the one missing from home.”
The axiomatic has no direct connection for signification, or interpretation. It merely performs a task. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari write that the present state of capitalism (or since the time of publication of A thousand plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia in French in 1980) is that it is axiomatic. This means that it proliferates with new axioms, but needs no signification. They write that
“[c]apitalism is indeed an axiomatic, because it has no laws but immanent ones. It would like for us to believe that it confronts the limits of the Universe, the extreme limit of resources and energy.”
The axiomatic is the decoding of flows, without signification, it is not locked in positions or presuppositions. The ‘axiomatic capitalism’ produces the experience of life as ‘liveness’, through articulating potentialities. It functions as the apparatus of capture. The determination in the last instance for the axiomatic is the economy. Ray Brassier writes how
“the axiomatic deals directly with purely functional elements and relations whose nature is not specified, and which are immediately realized in highly varied domains simultaneously; codes, on the other hand, are relative to those domains and express specific relations between qualified elements that cannot be subsumed by a higher formal unity (overcoding) except by transcendence and in an indirect fashion.”
The axiomatic decodes our relationship with things and with the Other, but without a clear signification. The axiomatic functions like “a rhythm, a certain way of vibrating, a resonance,” writes Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi. Thus, the axiomatic X is not only a placeholder for the Other in the dualist calculation, but the axiomatic X is a function that performs without a subjectivity or signified identity.
The Other is already a concept – it is a postulation for metaphysical problems that exist. The Other has potentiality, possibility, duration and existence, whereas the axiomatic X is a function. It would be a mistake to conflate the Other and the X together, and search for the ‘Othering’ as a replacement for the axiomatic X. In other words, subjectification will not cease the axiomatic function of the X. They are from the two different registers, with different functions. The Other ≠ X. The Other is a particle of a dual system, whereas the X is a complex number. The concept of the Other acquires meaning from a discourse, but the X is merely a function. In the logbook of a slave ship, the X may have stood for the indeterminate amount of loss of cargo, i.e. humans as slaves. The X does not signify a face, but only a body, in other words, it is a thing or matter. The X may also signify slavery itself, for instance in the performative of rejecting the last name inherited from the slave owners by Malcolm X. The X may have a radical function, but it is hardly an alterity.
The face of the other
The Other has a face, or it is a face. The Other denotes, manifests and signifies a possible world, where the body of the Other occupies a space with my body. The Other is a concept, and we use it to decide on the place of things and beings; it is how we cut, withdraw and reflect our position as a subject in the world with the Other. The face of the Other is not only a ‘natural’ attribute, but a refrain that holds for a place. On the face of the matter, affects and different kinds of intensities gain discursive significations, as The Other. It is a ‘key’ that catalyses a specific sign. Guattari writes how “during the High Middle Ages [- -] the face of Christ Pantocrator [- -] began literally to haunt the multiple horizons of Christianity.” He calls this function as ‘faciality’. It is an ‘institutional stamp’, or a ‘messenger-bird’, like a refrain. A face is a signature, which engenders transformation of subject relations with the matter, affects and other intensities. A face is the:
“Icon proper to the signifying regime [- -] what gives the signifier substance; it is what fuels interpretation, and it is what changes, changes traits, when interpretation reimparts signifier to its substance.”
Thus, a face is not human, but it is a machinic assemblage of visagéité, faciality. This is a system with functions that do not produce only a face, but the entire body, its surroundings and relations with other faces, bodies and things. It is a white European face, a Christ; it is the passionate face of Jean D’Arc in the film by Carl Th. Dreyer, or the ‘deadpan’ and the ‘inhuman’ face of Buster Keaton in the Film by Samuel Beckett. The face is a monument, a zone of resemblance, and it is a necropolitical sign in the minstrel ‘blackface’— a death mask, at the other end of the spectrum. Then, instead of searching for recognition of the Same in the face of the Other, we pay attention to deviations in a system of variation and degrees from the white man’s face. It is a face that has a reference beyond modern, into the despotic and devotional imageries; a face has the function of a trigger for the affective response: The Other.
In the work The Artist is Present by Marina Abramović, her face evokes an affective and discursive engagement. Between March 14 and May 31, 2010, she performed to the visitors at the MoMA, where they “were encouraged to sit silently across from the artist for a duration of their choosing, becoming participants in the artwork.” Here, her face functioned as a signifier. It was present not only as a screen, but as a signifier of a transcendental enunciator: the face of the despot or Christ. It is this icon that produces a gap from the ordinary, or that ‘something’ in the performance. Lauren Berlant writes on this affectivity as a strategy of neoliberal governance, how it
“makes itself known as unstable, if not in crisis; in a regime of affective labour, structural relations of alienation are viscerally the opposite, saturating the sensorium while yet monetized, disciplinary, and exploitative.”
We use a tremendous amount of affective, physical and discursive capacity to calibrate our lives with the dominant modes of living within the normative parameters. In this we need the other to have a face of the Other, instead of the axiomatic variable of an X. In the brilliant simplicity in this performance, the face of Abramović refers to archaic and devotional imagery, as the folding-in of the archaic strata of material, relational and epistemological references. The face is not a black hole of indeterminacy, but it is the face of a Christ, that is able to help us to calibrate ourselves, again. It forces us to regard our subjectivities detached from the regulated place of the citizens.
In my doctoral research Schizoproduction (2017), one of the central artistic work was titled “Life in Bytom” (2012), which focused on the changes in a post-industrial mining town Bytom, in Silesia, Poland. In collaboration with the CSW Kronika in Bytom in 2012, I arranged workshops for the local people. They were mapping workshops where the participants drew diagrams of their experiences in their hometown. Then, in the following days I travelled around Bytom, trying to find these places that had a significant meaning for them. I had asked the people to draw dreamlike, fantastic or delusional landscapes of some site in Bytom. On one of the trips, we went to the area of Bobrek, which used to be a model for the organization of the working-class areas during the socialist period. The characteristic architecture of Bobrek was built for the mining workers in the early 20th century by Ludwik Schneider. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, and drastic economic transformations, most of the mining industry had been closed down in Bytom. This severely affected the Bobrek neighbourhood – only one out of the six mines still function. In the past twenty years, Bobrek has declined from a respectable neighbourhood into a ‘problem’ area. Before the 1990s sixty per cent of the people living there were working in the Bobrek mine or the steel factory. Now the numbers have turned upside down, and most people are unemployed. Paradoxically, from the point of view of the economy and biopolitics, poverty can be regarded as an asset. This results from necropolitics, where this recent development of biopolitics, does not concern only a third world life behind the wall in Mexico or Sub-Saharan Africa. It takes place in places like Bobrek, within the first world boundaries in the European Union.
In a project that I created with Karolina Kucia in 2016 and 2017, we encountered similar conditions of labour with the migrant labourers in Andalucía. The project focused on the living conditions of workers in the food production in the Almería region, which takes place in massive areas of greenhouses, called plasticulture. Due to seasonal nature of the work, conditions for the immigrant workers are precarious and unstable. In the workshop that we conducted with Moroccan workers in Nijar, Almería in April 2017, we encountered stories of racism and exploitation. In most cases, common work agreements are not kept or do not follow European law. Moreover, a migrant worker without a permanent labour contract is easily replaced, since there is always a flow of migrant workers on hold for a job, waiting for their chance. We worked with the labour union Soc-Sat, and with their representative Spitou Mendy. He explained how the migrant workers from North and Sub-Saharan Africa are often completely ignorant of their rights. Moreover, they are often illiterate and thus easily fooled by landowners and employers, who deliberately ignore the European law of worker’s rights.
At the moment of writing this article, we are in the process of finishing a short film based on these stories and interview materials. Our main concern is that there is always a paradoxical difficulty in representing them. Obviously, they need visibility for their predicament, and this was clearly emphasized in the discussions with Mendy. From their perspective the artistic practice creates visibility for a significant issue in their life. It is an issue that we may not neglect, since without that, the project will fail in its mission to present the true conditions of food production in Europe, as well as the humanitarian stakes and the effect on the environment of this industrial and erosive food production. However, we need to ask: is the emphasis on the artistic practice or on the activist propagation of information?
The fictioning practice
There is a necessity to keep some adherence with the axiomatic X in the practice. It means that the artistic practice always has a placeholder for an indeterminacy of the Other, and what it may signify. For this I need to introduce a term ‘fictioning’, which relates with the slightly more familiar term of ‘fabulation’, used by Henri Bergson and later on by Deleuze. Fabulation is a creative process and an act, that runs through the process itself as a ‘myth-making’ axiom. It has no significant ‘truth value’, but it has significance for any creative process—even for the documentary cinema. Both fabulation and fictioning take place along the act that runs through them. It is the interval between durations and a way to emerge from the singular duration, where one may recognise the multiplicity of durations and perspectives. Fictioning, like fabulation has the capacity to emerge from the enclosure of subjectivity. In her book on documentary cinema, Ilona Hongisto argues that fabulation as a compositional modality can: “undo the antagonistic dichotomy between the true and the false.” Similarly, fictioning has no truth-function, or it is not pure ‘fiction’ or ‘fantasy’, but as an intransitive term it is a modality. It is not a process of resemblance or perceptual sameness. Simon O’Sullivan writes on fictioning, particularly how it inserts itself into the world, which necessarily changes our perception of reality, where we are never in correlation with a proper reality.
Instead of dual positions between a subject and the Other, truth or falsehood, the fictioning has a perspectivist quality. A Brazilian anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro writes about perspectivism where the “world is inhabited by different sorts of subjects or persons, human and non-human, which apprehend reality from distinct points of view.” A perspectivist point is a capacity to occupy a point of view in an acentric plane. Each point does not represent a linear conjunction with a clearly defined subject, or a dependency between these points, but as Deleuze writes on perspectivism, “a subject will be what comes to the point of view, or rather what remains in the point of view.” From the perspectivist point of view the subject and the Other are rather what remains, instead of how the subject positions herself in this relationship. In similar terms with faciality, which denotes a face as the remainder of certain intensities, it may become a point of attention in a documentary film or a performance. My aim in using perspectivism with fictioning aims to rebuke in artistic practice and research these focus points of attention. In other words, the aim is to recognize how the ‘faciality’ has the function of the Other within a face, but it is culturally and normatively intensified.
Fictioning is not a product of imagination or fantasy, but it is an experimentation with thought itself, or it is the ‘diverging of perspective’. Fictioning presents the concatenation of meanings, where we may regard the epistemic violence of the proper thought, in other words, the dual positions of the ‘I’ and the Other. Peter Osborne writes on the artistic practice of the Atlas Group, a project by Walid Raad, that the “the fictionalization of artistic authority and the collectivization of artistic fictions,” relate the construction of subject position and fictionalization and collectivization in contemporary ‘transnational space’. The Atlas Group’s work consists of photographs and works on video, which are presented as found archive materials from Lebanon. The work My Neck is Thinner Than a Hair: A History of Car Bombs in the Lebanese Wars, Volumes 1-245, supposedly presents archive material from the collections of the “foremost historian of the Lebanese war” Dr. Fadl Fakhouri. For Osborne the work of the Atlas Group corresponds with the “dual fictionalization [- -] and renders visible the fictitiousness of the contemporary itself.”
In the contemporary position, each perspective is supposedly equally valid and true—or false, as Viveiros de Castro writes. In the contemporary no absolute or correct representation exists. However, through the examples of Bytom, Andalucía and the possible connection with the Atlas Group, it is possible to see that no equal network exists. When the migrant worker ‘X’ from Mali, Senegal, Morocco, or from Poland thinks, it has altogether different intensity for the contemporary market, than the articulation by a contemporary artist, curator or the funder of a project. Each performance has a different value in the economy; performance=value times X. From the discourse of the Other, there are antagonistic positions with divergent perspectives. In the end, it is the economy as the determination in the last instance, which produce a network, and which is not equal, but significantly antagonising. The economy is not a humanist determination, but in the contemporary, globalist context it is the economy that determines humanism. A Slovenian artist and a philosopher, Marina Gržinić argues that in this context the term ‘refugee crisis’ is a smokescreen for the postcolonial racism. The global economy has shifted from national borders towards the economic and military zones. Gržinić quotes Étienne Balibar in that after 1989:
“it is possible to claim that social racism constitutes the essential form of ‘European apartheid’ [- -] all those who are seen from its Western perspective unimportant [- -] are constructed as subhuman through a process of dehumanization [- -] This process stays unreflected also due to the new rhetoric developed in contemporary philosophy and theory of the posthuman.”
The rhizomatic networks of perspectivism are heavily utilized by the militant exploitation determined by economic interests, which in turn create identity politics, and where the use of the concept ‘the Other’ has determinate functions. For this reason, such writers like Gržinić, Reza Negarestani, Eugene Thacker or Nina Power argue that:
“Paradoxically, it is perhaps the case that what makes us most human is our capacity for the inhuman, which is to say, reason forces us to confront all the many ways in which we are not such a special animal, and all the ways we can, for example, be carved up into chemicals and atoms and DNA [- and that -] there is a sense, or several senses, of thinking about inhumanism that both take violence into account and move beyond it [- -] Humanism completes and incompletes itself because its inhuman drive perennially reopens itself to the universe and produces knowledge that potentially undercuts what it means to be human at any given historical moment.”
It is the use of the term ‘humanism’ that is the base for exploitation in inhuman ways. We need a representation of a human in order to understand, but also to accept the necessity of violence determined by economic instances. And still, the true exploitation is pure violence, which functions through algorithms and axiomatic incentives. What we can get out from the argument by Power, is that exploitation and violence need to be seen not only as the violence against humanity, but propagation of ‘proper’ epistemologies and ontologies. The exploitation of the Other is a necessary part of the equation, due to the decisions needed for the proper epistemology—cognitive production of labour.
The conceptualization of suffering through the concept of the Other is entangled with necropolitics—the move from biopolitics of life into regulating “life through the perspective of death, therefore transforming life into a mere existence below every life minimum [- -] ‘let live and make die‘,” where
“a sovereign power [- -] set up for the maximum destruction of persons and the creation of deathscapes, unique forms of social existence in which vast populations are subjected to conditions of life which confer upon them the status of living dead.”
The necropower processes an equation where the ‘X’ is represented as the Other, in order for exploitation and destruction to become feasible. This is what we can get from the argument by Gržinić, that the European racism is the origin of the dehumanizing project of the ‘refugee crisis’.
Philosopher François Laruelle criticises the same positions intellectuals take in contemporary society reflecting humanism with crises. According to him, these reactionary positions and reflections are here to abuse victims. He proposes not to think about the victims or as victims, but to do ‘victim thinking’ (penser victime). Here, the victim, or the victim=X, has no position of a placeholder for the proper thought—which is always the universal plane created by intellectuals like philosophers, public figures or artists. ‘Victim thinking’ is not the universal thought, where the place for a victim is the position of an exception or deviation. Such a place of exception of deviation is one that has only a function to fortify community in excluding them. In other words, the victim for Laruelle has no identity. We may say that the victim is not human, but inhuman in the first place. For Laruelle it is One, or generic Man, but never the Other. The function of the Other is a reduction of the X into a position of a deviant from the norm, which is defined by the universally accepted (katholikos) and the proper (orthodoxos) thought. The community of the proper and the universal thought must define the victim=X as a position or a sufficient identity of the Other.
The universal thought is a perplexing because it presents itself as capable of regarding any perspective, in other words, all humans think in the human way, and thinking is human attribute. For this point of view, is impossible that there would be anything unthinkable. In other words, the presumed thought from the Other, may have a difference in denotation, manifestation and signification in any sense, but it is still determinate with a set of possibilities, and conditioned by the virtual possibility of a proper thought—or what may be called the ‘sufficient reason’. The rather abstract argument here, I find still valuable. Quentin Meillassoux writes, in the similar terms with Laruelle, how “there is no legitimate demonstration that a determinate entity should exist unconditionally.” In other words, there are no absolutely necessary entities, and thus no economy of sufficient reason, also. Victim thinking has no metaphysical foundation in the sense that proper thinking perceives it. Instead of a proper decision, the determination in the last instance should be regarded as the radical immanence, or the Real. Then, victim thinking is not only a possibility among multiple other ones, but a way to think when there is no correlation with proper thinking. The critique of ‘correlationism’ by Meillassoux proposes that the proper and universal thinking posit at first that there is always a fact, that there is a world. Because of this, victim thinking is always something beyond, but still within the limits of thought. The victim becomes a metaphysical concept of the Other. But instead, victim thinking is radically alien, which we may not approach through philosophical concepts of ‘friendship’ or alterity. My proposition is that the artistic practice may do this ‘non-philosophical’ move by fictioning, without succumbing to philosophising practice of the sufficient reason and truth.
When I speculate on the position of the migrant worker and his exploited conditions, these speculations take place in the world, or a shared correlation with the world. My speculations do not affect or have access to victim thinking. The migrant worker is not a representative of victim thinking, but in the case of the workshop she will aim to accommodate herself with the position of the Other. Her and I do not know what victim thinking would be. The Other is a universalized position of a victim, and in order to be ‘heard’ one must regard all thinking from this universalized position. The Other has always a possibility for a revolt, but never a chance to not to have that position. A thought of the Other is the “manifestation of the World of philosophy [- -] virtue of philosophical appearances,” argues Laruelle. The Other is an event in philosophy, in other words for the beliefs and desires of a subject thinking about the Other. Still, at least in the argument of Laruelle, such victim-thinking is not a ‘possibility’ but it is disguised in the world. It has only a posture of the Other in the world of sufficient reason. The victim may present herself in the universal position, and still the posture is visibly a disguise. It is the ‘advent’ of thought—both in the sense of the ghost and the becoming event—and not a possibility. It “no longer announces anything, it is neither absence or presence.” It is the solitude of radical immanence, which can be called victim thinking.
We may think like the Other through the universalising thought, since the victims, migrant worker or the unemployed are conceptual positions. However, another step is to regard how we are determined by these universal concepts on the verge of impossibility. The Other may be metaphorically as distant as the Alpha Centauri, but still, following the argument by Meillassoux on correlationism: “it is unthinkable that the unthinkable be impossible.” It is to say, that artistic practice and research may work in correlation with the concept of Other within the limits of thought, but here the position of the Other becomes a metaphysical one, according to the givenness of sufficient reason.
My concluding proposition is that there is no articulation for or about the victim, but that we must regard artistic practice from the point of view where the face of the Other turns into an ahistorical, opaque, and amnesic X, and where the face of the other is neither a mask, but only a posture of the Other.
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 Hartman 2008, 5-8
 Lacan 1998, 207
 Hartman 2008, 87
 Deleuze and Guattari 2004, 463
 Deleuze and Guattari 2004, 454
 Berardi 2009, 9
 Guattari 2013, 144
 Deleuze and Guattari 2004, 115
 “The subject is the face of Christ” (Baudinet 1990, 149).
 Abramović 2010, n.p.
 Berlant 2011, 69
 Berlant 2011, 180
 Hongisto 2015, 67
 O’Sullivan 2015, 86
 Viveiros de Castro 2014, 195
 Deleuze 1993, 19
 Viveiros de Castro 2014, 195
 Osborne 2013, 15-28
 Osborne 2013, 33.
 Viveiros de Castro 2014, 70
 Gržinić and Tatlić 2014, 12-13
 Power 2017, 1
 Gržinić and Tatlić 2014, 24-25
 Laruelle 2015, 81
 Meillassoux 2008, 33
 Meillassoux 2008, 40
 Laruelle 2000, 183
 Laruelle 2012, 8
 Laruelle 2000, 186
 Meillassoux 2008, 41