Annotated Index of pre-(co)congealing
Content warning (Cw, Tw): Please be warned, this text contains graphic organic and bodily imagery
Pre-co(congealing) is a default material state of the ontological shift necessitated by the forceful and unsustainable forces of the Capitalocene.1 Pre-co(congealing) is a mechanism of what Donna Haraway has described as the Chthulucene: “the dynamic ongoing sym-chthonic forces and powers of which people are a part, within which ongoingness is at stake.”2 Haraway elaborates, that the Chthulucene, “entangles myriad temporalities and spatialities and myriad intra-active entities-in-assemblages—including the more-than-human, other-than-human, inhuman, and human-as-humus.” Continuing from this line of thought, the Chthulucene could be surmised as the ecological logic of always-becoming and un-becoming, located within a liminal state of constituency.
This ontology looks a lot like a body as imagined by Jean Luc Nancy. It is a “Polymorphous, oxymoronic body: inside/outside, matter/form, homo/heterology, auto/allonomy, growth/excrescence, mine/none…”3 It favors bodies with plasticity, such as amoeboids, which engage in multifarious becomings through unfixed parts and uncharted movements. It is decentralized, with unknown shape and lack of boundaries. It occasionally takes on a shape but then it shifts and shifts again, losing its contour and dissipating its center, then healing and reconstituting.
This ontology deals strictly in unregulated forms. It exists in fissures and creates from within them. It drips from open wounds and bodily orifices, creating excesses. It is knitted together, forcing relations between knots and between edges of flesh.
It is constructed along flesh, along the surface of the lively. It prefers to form lively communities, perhaps in the form of microbial mats, differing from the accumulation of dead organic matter of Anthropocentric substances, behaving more like bacteria that remain dormant but don’t really die.4 It is not ruled by the same binary principle of life/death, but is instead on a fluid spectrum where ‘inert’ matter is transformed, inhabited, and reused. It is a skin that breathes and shifts as it adapts and incorporates matter, a skin that stretches, cracks, retracts, sheds, and expands.
Like skin, upon a closer look, it reveals minuscule basins of pores filled with gelatinous substances and substrates with varying levels of surface access—pockets of reality inhabited by microorganisms, and discursive cumulus to be removed via microdermabrasion.5 Pre-co(congealing) is a mechanistic process which makes these clogged pores visible and allows significant discursive space to codify them again and again, as the substances cycle through.
The surface of this skin is multi-dimensional. It refuses linearity and aggregation. It shape-shifts holistically, capable of fluid transmutations across existences and lines of flight. It is composed of smooth space, Riemannian space: “The smooth is the continuous variation, continuous development of form; it is the function of harmony and melody in favor of the production of properly rhythmic values, the pure act of the drawing of the diagonal across the vertical and the horizontal.”6
This smooth space is encompassed by porosity but it’s ultimately navigable. It is an illusorily pristine space that reveals folds nested within folds. The system is not built or destroyed by a simple rupture, but is elaborated upon within a system of folds: “The severing of the inside from the outside in this way refers to the distinction between two levels, but the latter refers to the Fold that is actualized in the intimate folds that the soul encloses on the upper level, and effected along the creases that matter brings to life always from the outside, on the lower level.”7 These folds complicate the interstices between the inside/outside.
The space of pre-(co)congealing has a structural logic similar to that of patchwork: “there is no center; its basic motif (‘block’) is composed of a single element; the recurrence of this element frees uniquely rhythmic values (…) an amorphous collection of juxtaposed pieces that can be joined together in an infinite number of ways.”8 It invites linkages in all directions, laying itself atop categories and quietly wrapping bodies as it unravels and adds new patches to itself from all directions, allocating its wholeness multilaterally.
Pre-(co)congealing ontologies behave like textiles: pleated patchworks or fabrics. Pre-(co)congealment exists with and within these unabridged folds, gaps, and assemblages each coming figuration an invitation to redesign relationality and ways of life with rhizomatic directionalities. It allows itself to be unfolded, too, in order to elucidate the unfoldings of agency.9
Pre-co(congealing) is a form of agential realism. It is the material state before congealing because it allows ‘us’ to access the re-structuring of agency before it properly congeals: “On an agential realist account, discursive practices are not human-based activities but rather specific material (re)configurings of the world through which local determinations of boundaries, properties, and meanings are differentially enacted. And matter is not a fixed essence; rather, matter is substance in its intra-active becoming—not a thing but a doing, a congealing of agency”10
Pre-(co)congealing beckons us to navigate and mobilize in the asynchrony of matter, in its rhythms or lacks thereof, invites us to develop genders and genres in mucoid form. It forms unpredictably, resembling a teratoma. It disrupts cell fate and puts hair atop teeth atop moist tissues, granting them an amicable space to converse and enact.
This realm and its movement transpires within concrescence, as “the site of the process of convergence,” the exact location of a constitutive linkage or an apex of fulfillment.11
The sym-poesis of this mobile ontology creates co-constituted subjects, which produce and are produced collaboratively. It is at minimum bilateral and at most infinitely multiplicitous.
New autopoietic (but holistically concomitant) life arises from this co-constitution too. Lichens arise. Lynn Margulis, describes such phenomena in Slanted Truths: essays on Gaia, symbiosis, and evolution; “for example, the integration of a fungus attacking an alga for nutrients often–perhaps 25,000 times–has lead to a balance between the disintegrative responses of both fungal and algal partner. Eventually a lichen emerges. A lichen is neither a fungus nor an alga. As a “lichen” it is a composite symbiotic complex that itself is an autopoietic entity at a more complex level of organization.”12
This symbiotic complex is composed of and produces strictly interrelational, trans-individual and trans-species forms. They have no discernible center: every edge, every fragment is wholly embedded. They may appear to be incorporeal but they are always situated. They are forms that unravel, come apart, and form anew. They swallow bodies hole and converse with them undigested, interrupting metabolisms in order to inhabit again.13
Pre-(co)congealing is to inhabit and to renew shelter. The stuff of pre-(co)congealing necessarily alters functionalities and grants material-discursive shelter to previously un-encompassed kinds. It doesn’t engage in ecological condemnation, but rather utilizes the materials of ecological destruction as a place of restitution and an opportunity to reset material-discursive constructions.
This ontology begs for re-signification and provides innumerable spaces for the re-distribution of agency. It moves away from the totalizing retro-fitting power of Homo sapiens by inscribing agency onto seemingly fragile and precarious subjects. It is mushroom dust, a cloud of spores reproducing frantically and often asexually.
The realm of pre-(co)congealing is “viscous porosity,” a subsuming web created as a product of layered interrelations and conversations, a slowly seeping puddle —sometimes of tar.14
This puddle is constantly changing states, shape-shifting, and de- and re-territorializing. Encounters occur between the plateaus of its state changes, warped in its viscidity, and trapped in its refusal to congeal. It subsumes elements into inescapable interaction, bundling them to generate the rich conversations necessary and to re-construct the matrices that have been simplified and binarized in the Capitalist project.15
The state of the pre-(co)congealing ontology is as a conversation shared between water and corn flour. Its substance refuses to coalesce and refuses discursive-material solidification. It calls us to enter its ontological realm by playing with boundedness and becoming co-constituted slime.16
The term ‘Capitalocene’ as opposed to ‘Anthropocene’ speaks of a “a rematerialized and ecologized history of capitalism” which shifts the focus of this epoch onto the rise of capital and marks its beginning not just from industrialization and increased human expansion but rather “from a long historical process of economic exploitation of human beings and the world, going back to the sixteenth century and making industrialization possible.” From: C. Bonneuil and J.B. Fressoz. “The Shock of the Anthropocene: The Earth, History and Us.” (Verso Books, 2016) ↩︎
Donna Haraway. “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Chthulucene: Making Kin.” (Environmental Humanities 6.1, 2015). 159–65. ↩︎
J. L. Nancy. Trans. R. Rand. “58 Indices on the Body” in Corpus. (New York: Fordham University Press, 2008). Pg. 159. ↩︎
“The anthropic changes in the composition of the atmosphere have left traces even in the Antarctic ice cores. Extinctions and modified distributions of species (explosive invasions in the last few centuries, migrations bound up with climate change or the anthropization of biomes) cannot fail to leave fossil traces in the sediments. (…) As for the biomass of the 7 billion humans and their domestic animals, this makes up the predominant share of the overall biomass of terrestrial vertebrates, which will certainly appear remarkable to future paleontologists.” From: C. Bonneuil and J.B. Fressoz. “The Shock of the Anthropocene: The Earth, History and Us.” (Verso Books, 2016). ↩︎
“There are no empty pockets in physical reality” From: T. Morton. Realist Magic: Objects, Ontology, Causality. (Open Humanities, 2013). ↩︎
G. Deleuze and F. Guattari. Trans. B. Massumi. ”Smooth and Striated Space.” in A Thousand Plateaus. (University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis,1987). Pg. 478. ↩︎
See: G. Deleuze and F. Guattari. Trans. B. Massumi. ”Smooth and Striated Space.” in A Thousand Plateaus. (UPress, 1987). From: G. Deleuze. The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque. Trans. Tom Conley. (University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis, 1993). Pg. 30. ↩︎
G. Deleuze and F. Guattari. Trans. B. Massumi. ”Smooth and Striated Space.” in A Thousand Plateaus. (University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis,1987).Pg. 476. ↩︎
“If humans have agency, can we not say the same thing about extra-human natures? That sounds right, but does not, I think adequately capture how agency unfolds.” From: Jason W. Moore, Capitalism in the Web of Life. (Verso: 2015). The Chthulucene is the texture needed to unfold agency and therefore make visible the distributed agencies of naturecultures. ↩︎
Karen Barad, “Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter” in Signs, Vol. 28, No. 3, Gender and Science: New Issues (Spring 2003), pp. 801–831. (University of Chicago Press, 2003). Pg. 828. ↩︎
Isabelle Stengers. Thinking with Whitehead : a free and wild creation of concepts. (Harvard University Press, 2011). P. 308 ↩︎
Lynn Margulis, Slanted truths essays on Gaia, symbiosis, and evolution. (Copernicus, 2013). Pg. 69–70. ↩︎
Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan posit certain milestones of cellular development as being dependent on cellular bodies swallowing others, not digesting them completely, and therefore co-existing in this in-between non-digestive cohabitation. See: L. Margulis, D. Sagan. Microcosmos. (UC Press, 1997). ↩︎
Nancy Tuana’s term, from: N. Tuana. “Viscous Porosity: Witnessing Katrina.” in Material Feminisms. Comp. S. Alaimo and S. J. Hekman. (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2007). 188–213. ↩︎
Specifically the deconstruction of ‘Two Cultures’ (nature/culture) that Capitalism relies on and the reorientation of it:
“We still lack an approach that puts oikeios at the center. Such a perspective would situate the creative and generative relation of species and environment as the ontological pivot—and methodological premise— of historical change. This reorientation opens up the question of nature-as matrix rather than resource or enabling condition-for historical analysis,” From: J. W. Moore, Capitalism in the Web of Life. (Verso, 2015). ↩︎
Agustine Zegers (b. 1994) is a Chilean bacterial community, visual artist and student at NYU Abu Dhabi. Their work focuses on decomposition(s) and new materialisms of our post-apocalyptic world.