DOMINIC PETTMAN is a cultural theorist and author. He is Professor of Culture and Media at Eugene Lang College and of Liberal Studies at the New School for Social Research (New York). He has held previous positions at the University of Melbourne, the University of Geneva, and the University of Amsterdam. Pettman’s work combines cultural studies, media studies, and philosophical approaches on topics ranging from new media, European literature, popular culture, affect theory, philosophies of technology, and animal studies. Pettman’s books include After the Orgy: Toward a Politics of Exhaustion, Love and Other Technologies: Retrofitting Eros for the Information Age, Human Error: Species-Being and Media Machines (published as part of the “Posthumanities” series at the University of Minnesota Press), Look at the Bunny: Totem, Taboo, Technology, and In Divisible Cities.
Creaturely Love: How Desire Makes Us More, and Less, Than Human
From a certain angle, “the materiality of love” is something of a paradox or oxymoron. Our traditional narratives of love have, on the whole, diligently placed affection or passion on the side of abstract idealism, ineffable emotion, or the nebulous, virtual commerce of souls. (Leaving the meat of the matter to the messiness of sex.) Having previously emphasized the mechanics of love, as a specific and tangible configuration of communications media, I now seek to bracket technology, at least for a little while. I do this in order to explore some of the ways that love is inflected by and through bodies that are too restless, troubled, and/or excited to settle on a merely human ontology. (While duly acknowledging that the body has its own type of technics.) The focus for this latest project is thus the semiotic-material nexus of the (loved) creaturely body: suspended somewhere between the subhuman, the posthuman, the infrahuman, the nonhuman, and the superhuman. Informed by recent developments in affect theory, animal studies, and the new materialism, this approach asks a suite of questions of the “object of desire” – especially relating to its objectness (as well as its objections, and its objectivity) – in order to highlight the complex materiality of love.
My paper thus posits and sketches the figure of “creaturely love,” ultimately arguing that all love – whether between a man and a woman, a woman and another woman, or a transgender person and a cat – can be considered essentially creaturely (or inhuman). It thus seeks to expand the circle of the “lover’s discourse” – so beautifully detailed by Roland Barthes – to include non-humans; while simultaneously demonstrating some instances in literature, philosophy, and art where intense, transitive affection between humans threatens to dismantle the rigid ideological distinctions between species. This paper will thus discuss some key moments in which animals have played allegorical roles in our own libidinal economy, and how these can either fortify or compromise the resilient humanist engine which powers Giorgio Agamben’s “anthropological machine.” The goal of the project is to track some of the ways in which our own dormant or repressed animality has provided the material-conceptual reservoir for emotions and expressions that (disingenuously) seek to reinforce our sense of human exceptionalism. At the same time, it seeks to identify some moments in our various media archives where creaturely love is not so much used as a figure of disgust or disavowal, but rather constitutes an unfulfilled lover’s promise, all-too often only whispered beneath the noisy exclamations of human ardor. Creaturely love, I will argue, is thus a form of under-recognized mutual attunement which can help us better navigate the more abject aspects of contemporary life: specifically, narrowly presented biopolitical modes of affection within and between beings.