Surfing the Self as Libidinal Motion

By Randy Lee Cutler, 10 March 1996

Randy Cutler discusses speed, cars, smoke and the limits of the human body...

We shall never ask what a book, a signifier or signified means, we shall not look for anything to understand in a book; instead we shall wonder with what it functions, in connection with what it transmits intensities or doesn't, into what multiplicities it introduces and metamorphoses its own, with what body without organs it makes its own converge. A book only exists by means of an outside, a beyond.<1>

Not long ago, I was talking to a group of students about the work of Mathew Barney. The Tate Gallery had recently opened up their Art Now room with an installation/video by the artist called 'Ottoshaft'. Of its many striking images the one that stood out was Barney rapelling the interior walls of an elevator shaft wearing nothing more than safety harnesses and a rubber cap similar to those used by greased up, long distance swimmers. He looked like a demon knocking at the gates of heaven. Allusions were made to anal passages, corporeal gateways and the inside of the body in general. At this point a student told us the following; One of the first principles learned in medicine are the internal and external areas of the human body. That the surface of the skin is outside the body came as no surprise. But what did confound us was that areas normally assigned to the 'inside' are actually oriented as 'outside'. While flesh, blood vessels, muscles, etc. remain 'inside', the space beyond that, the space starting at the mouth, moving down into the respiratory tract, the lungs, through to the intestines, the bodily organs and out through the anus or urethra is 'outside'. Not long after being told of this superb image/concept, I discovered the medical explanation for it. During the first two weeks of gestation, a fertilized egg takes the form of an embryonic disc. As this disc grows, the more difficult and treacherous it becomes for the center to feed and defend itself. In response to this potential immunity disaster, the embryonic disc cavitates, laterally folding on both sides to protect what was becoming dangerously inaccessible. After the third week a more complex organism evolves. What was formally the vulnerable center transforms into the lining of the gut, gastrointestinal tract, organs, etc. As a result of this process, little infection can penetrate the intact skin of internal body surfaces.<2> Not only does conventional morphology of the human organism seem to go against commonly held beliefs concerning the body, the inversion seems to surface in unexpected places and in marvellous ways.

Two issues back in this paper, I tried to delineate something called sur-zootechnics. Exploring elements from surrealist thought, I speculated on the effects of new technolgies within contemporary art practice. Sur-zootechnics was described as an ontology that cuts across nature, configuring new possibilities. It can entail metaphorical and at times literal cross breeding of technical and/or animal components with hominoid features. These constructed deities are akin to a surrealist paradox where the incompatible -in this case organic and inorganic and heterogeneous species- are in accord. On the subject of blurred boundaries, a few more lines of articulation and possibile functions can be filled in. The ontology of sur-zootechnics is one of potential, of mutating and forever immanent entities. This is a dynamic that both challenges the limits of human genetics and perpetually travels into a different register of being.

Coursing through this field of becoming and giving it form is motion. As a child in the back seat of a moving car my mind would wander gloriously over fantasies which I would slowly and deliberately construct, edit and rewrite. Gazing out of the window, the world seemed to offer itself to my imagination, providing a plethora of potential location shots. Sometimes on the return journey or over a extended period, I would loop a particularly exciting bit. These reveries would often center on erotic encounters or exhalted visions of future adventures. I had realized early that motion is necessary to dreaming. I knew this because when the car would stop, looseness of thought was immediately halted and only resumed once motion was reactivated. Actual physical motion is not even necessary, often it is enough to be in possesion of its eventuality. Being in transit, that is stationary but about to move, is as nourishing as actual motion: being inbetween, at the borders, undefined and fluid.

Motion, in the same family linguistically as emotion (emovere: to disturb), has to do with a disruption from physical and psychical stasis. As the body wonderously moves through space, the sensation is very much from within.<3> It is felt from the inside. This convergence of motion and emotion is an erotic combination. Desire is always present, climax a possibility; a continual, perpetual orgasm of motion and feeling. The motion being described is a frequency tapped into by the convergence of the physical and the psychic whereby subject becomes object; where self-reflection and self-awareness have no place. The very presence of motion implies action and action suggests a kind of redefinition of self; the desire to redefine oneself continually, to always become.

The greek origin for the word nomad is pasture. Moving from pasture to pasture (surface to surface) with no roots, no fixity, no anchor on this ship of fools. Octavia Butler in her Xenogenesis series decribes a world where nomadism and genetic mutation are what allows the Oankali species to survive for as long as it has. "We, Oankali and construct, were space going people, as curious about other life and acquisitive of it as Humans were hierarchical. Eventually we would have to begin the long, long search for a new species to combine with to construct new life forms. Much of Oankali existence was spent in such searches."<4>

The exploration of spatial and psychic possibilities is inscribed in the desire to exist at the limits of the human body. Sur-zootechnics accomodates this by envisioning a body that is neither intact nor finite. This ontology is everywhere; in visual representations, in evolutionary mutations but especially within a nascent human desire to practice what does not and can not have a form. The land of the free. This practice is similar to what Deleuze and Guattari have called the Body without Organs (BwO) and is something that everyone can make. "The field of immanence is not internal to the self, but neither does it come from an external self or a nonself. Rather it is like the absolute Outside that knows no Selves because interior and exterior are equally a part of the immanence in which they have fused."<5> Those who desire a Body without Organs, desire intense possibilities where angels fear to tread and demons storm the gates.

Randy Cutler

<1> Gilles Deleuze and FŽlix Guattari, On the Line, New York: Semiotexte(e), 1983, pp. 3-4.<2> Langman's Medical Embryology, 6th edition, Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins, 1990, p. 51.<3> A friend once described the experience of smoking as similar to being in motion. Instead of the body as the subject moving 'inside' space, inhaled smoke sailing through the respiratory tract, lungs and blood flow takes the form of a subject, 'inside'the space of the body. The roles are reversed. Having smoke move through her body seemed to be as delirious and sexy an experience as being in motion is for me. As of last contact she had quit smoking but was about to be in motion.<4> Octavia E. Butler, Imago, New York: Warner Books, 1989, p.23.<5> Deleuze and Guattari, ' November 28, 1947: How Do You Make Yourself a Body without Organs?' in A Thousand Plateaus, Capitalism and Schizophrenia, London: The Althone Press, 1988, p. 156.