Damián Arteca is an MSc student in Psychiatry in the Division of Social and Transcultural Psychiatry at McGill University and an MA student in Philosophy and Critical Thought at the European Graduate School. His MSc research focuses on the neuroscience of cultural ontology, while his MA research focuses on the philosophical foundations of Ontological Anthropology.
Website and Links: https://www.instagram.com/the.ontological.turnt/
The Therianthropes (or Therians) are a small community of individuals who identify as non-human animals. The Therians emerged in the early 1990s alongside the origin of AOL chatrooms and have retained a consistent, if reclusive, internet presence for nearly 30 years, making them one of the longest-standing 'Posthuman' spiritual communities to exist in the modern West. As well as identifying as non-human animals, the Therians exhibit a rich repertoire of norms and ritual practices designed to elicit experiences of non-human corporeality (what the Therians call 'shifts') and a complex system of metaphysical beliefs regarding the cosmology of the Therian world. Between 2018-2020, I conducted cyber-ethnographic fieldwork in Therian cyberspace with the specific intention of examining their 'ontology'. By developing their own ontological framework, the Therians do not simply assume a position of 'liminality' but rather retroactively obviate the self-identity of the human in the act of inventing a new cosmology, whereby they purport to assume a human 'exteriority' and a nonhuman 'interiority'. In this paper, I take seriously this act of 'invention' and attempt to provide a model of the basic structure of Therian Ontology. The interpretation of this 'invention' of a new (trans)human through an 'obviation' of the human is informed by the Theory of Symbolic Obviation offered by Roy Wagner, which I place in close dialogue with Philippe Descola's recent structuralist attempts to propose identificatory modes 'par delà nature et culture '. I outline how each of the four identificatory modes identified by Descola assumes positions in Therian Ontology and note how only one of these modes -the doubled similarity of interiority and exteriority Descola dubs 'Totemism'- remains unavailable to the Therians in their own cosmology. This place of absence coincides with the Taboo Therians place on 'Physical Shifts' (P-Shifts), and essentially guarantees the Therian position -discoordination between human exteriority and nonhuman interiority- will be preserved. On this point, I bring Descola's structuralist schema in close dialogue with the psychoanalysis of Jacques Lacan. Through Lacan' concepts of Fundamental Phantasy [$ <> a] and objet petit a, I suggest that the transition from the human to the Therian transhuman involves effectively a 'traversal' of the phantasy of naturalist ontology in which the Therian assumes the position of a paradoxical object or objet petit a. However, the creation of a new ontology guarantees a novel 'posthuman' phantasy which contains its own point of contradiction - namely, the Totemic mode of identification, which is occluded by the P-Shift Taboo to prevent, in turn, a traversal of the Posthuman itself. In a dialectical twist, I thus attempt to show how the Therians successfully sublate the human through a self-reflection on the paradox of Naturalist cosmology. However, they exhibit their own diremptive practices of avoidance, in a reification of their own novel Posthuman space that preserves an externalist division between 'soul' and 'body'. Through a close dialogue between Therians, Wagner, Descola, and Lacan, I thus attempt to offer not only a picture of the structure of a posthuman ontology, but also examine through a psychoanalytic lens how it both emerges and solidifies itself through negotiations with contradiction and paradox. This investigation thus aims to take seriously the radical potential of a genuinely posthuman ontology while also examining how its structure is conservatively preserved from within.
The featured work, entitled 'Eight Triptychs', is an experimental film that serves as an exercise in the novel filmic genre known as 'CoreCore'. CoreCore emerged in 2020-22 during the peak of the pandemic. CoreCore was first known as 'NicheTok', as it emerged first on the social media platform TikTok. The research I intend to develop at Foreign Objekt is precisely an investigation of the cultural and ideological significance of CoreCore as a genre. Briefly, CoreCore is a kind of pseudo-Dadaist avant-garde film genre whose method deliberately precludes any 'external' element, such as a narrative scaffold or hidden meaning. CoreCore must be understood as an attempted surmounting of 'Core', which has become a dominant memetic format in digital culture, originating arguably in the 'moodboard' era of Tumblr circa 2014. In a few words, 'Core' is a suffix that indicates that its object has assumed the status of an aesthetic category. Thus for example, 'cottage', when taken as 'cottage-core' assumes the position of an agalma, a kind of hidden 'center' around which various other objects of experience orbit. Wooden beams, candles, rain on windowpanes, mason jars, etc. all are 'authenticated' by virtue of their proximity to the 'core' of 'cottagecore'.
Crucially, however, the 'cottage' in cottagecore is itself a member of its own set, which reduces the 'core' in cottagecore to a kind of zero-signifier implying the meaning-bearing property of the category despite assuming no particular meaning itself. The infinite proliferation of 'cores' thus cannibalizes any object of experience and 'voids' it in assigning it the status of a center. 'Core' effectively represents the ultimate example of naively dualistic, essentialist thought -what Hegel would call 'external reflection'- in that appearance is constantly pushed up against a hidden 'essence' which escapes it, motivating an indefinite paranoiac quest for identity, authenticity, brand... indeed, of 'core'. CoreCore, however, represents an attempt to supersede the logic of 'core' and push into the 'appearance as appearance'. Rather than assembling a series of appearances in reference to some external voided 'core', CoreCore incorporates this gap between 'essence and appearance' (Core vs. its object) into the very series of appearances itself. This move, which is arguably a form of 'sublation' of Core, presents 'CoreCore' as a sort of 'speculative moment'. It is for this reason that CoreCore seems ‘empty’ or ‘uninterpretable’ - for the consciousness caught up in external reflection, CoreCore’s lack of ‘external referent’ presents as a lack of essence. In reality, CoreCore exceeds this logic by incorporating the gap between the ‘cottage’ and ‘core’ into its very form: i.e. ‘Core-Core’. What is one to make of a culture that invents CoreCore? This is the question I seek to address at Foreign Objekt.
My contention, and what I intend to articulate at Foreign Objekt, is that CoreCore is an inevitable consequence of our ‘spectacular’ society, which has been overtaken by phantasies and images designed to forcefully mediate the means by which its citizens enter into thought and relation. When the relationship to others and oneself is mediated by the proliferation of memes, narratives, images, and various other late-modern spirits which constitute the ‘society of the spectacle’, something like CoreCore can be read as an attempt to express the emptiness of such a habitus and an attempt to supersede said limit. In other words, CoreCore is what you get when a society of images, a society constantly shelled by the appearance-essence gap constitutive of the paranoiac quest for identity, brand, and authenticity; attempts to think itself out of itself. I argue that this desire to supersede the superegoic demand to disclose a ‘hidden’ authentic essence (as Byung Chul Han puts it, the conversion of a subject to a ‘pro-ject’), i.e. the cultural exhaustion with external reflection, is also visible outside of CoreCore in the explorations of novel forms of Irony which do not figure irony as being in opposition to a hidden ‘authentic’ sincerity that can remain unthreatened by any missteps the subject might commit. In sum, I intend to explore the origins and potential of ‘CoreCore as a cultural micromovement.