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Damián Arteca

Updated: Dec 20, 2023

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.


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.

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