- Affect in Deleuze, Hijikata, and Coates: The Politics of Becoming-Animal in Performance
This essay explores some of the implications for performance of philosopher Gilles Deleuze’s concept of “affect,” which is not understood as emotion, but as a prepersonal process of “becoming,” change or variation caused by an encounter between bodies. In particular, I want to evaluate the politics of the affective process Deleuze calls “becoming-animal,” and to address the relationship between this process and the approach to the animal taken by Butoh cofounder, Hijikata Tatsumi (1928–1986) and UK-based contemporary artist, Marcus Coates (1968-). A good deal of text and practice based performance research has already engaged with Deleuzian affect and the notion of becoming-animal.1 However, one could argue that, in many of the texts at least, Deleuze and Guattari’s thought appears more as a passing reference than as a core resource, and in some cases, the notion of becoming-animal in particular, is defined in what I construe as misleading ways.
Here, I attempt to provide a clear exposition of Deleuze’s account of affect before moving on to address the particular mode of affect that Deleuze and Guattari call “becoming-animal.” I will then examine the ways in which Deleuze, Hijikata, and Coates present the relationship between affect (or becoming) and imitation, followed by an outline of the political and ethical implications that the performance of becoming-animal might be understood to have. At the same time, I acknowledge that Deleuze and Guattari themselves by no means have a straightforward relationship to animals; indeed, there would certainly be a tension involved in any co-option of the concept of becoming-animal to what they would consider the “molar” project of animal rights. Deleuze and Guattari examine the suffering of animals—a dying rat and a horse being beaten in the street, for instance—less from the point of view of the nonhuman animal and more from that of the human who enters a becoming-animal through the encounter with suffering. But we shall return to this problem at a later stage.2
For now, let me briefly introduce Hijikata and Coates. As is well known, Hijikata (along with his lifelong collaborator, Ohno Kazuo) is the cofounder of Butoh—a form of dance-art that emerged in Japan following the Second World [End Page 189] War and strove to create an alternative movement vocabulary for Japanese dance in relation to a dominant context defined both by Western forms and by Noh. Although many of the features of Butoh have perhaps subsequently sedimented into a recognizable “style” (bodies painted white against a black background, out-turned feet, slowed gestures and so forth), we might suggest that, in its emergence, Butoh presented its audience with strangeness and uncertainty: flinching and flowing bodies barely visible as they appear out of and retreat back into darkness, limbs like part-objects seemingly operating independently of other parts of the body, and an absolutely precise yet unrecognizable articulation of movement. Hijikata’s dances, in particular, elude any fixed identification of the performing body in terms of age, health, gender, sexuality, “animation,” or as I will focus on here, species.3 From early examples such as the 1960 film Heso to genbaku (Navel and A-Bomb)4 to Hijikata’s final solo, Leprosy within the piece Summer Storm (1973), what Hijikata called “the body that becomes” remained at the center of his work.5
Coates, in contrast, first came to prominence in the commercial art world about ten years ago, becoming increasingly well known both for his video installations and live performances (and for the videos and photographs that re-present those performances). The vast majority of these deal with notions of “the animal” in one form or another—from relatively early video works such as Stoat (1999), which shows Coates “attempting to walk wearing a pair of six inch stilts loosely bound to his feet,”6 to Intelligent Design (2009), a video of two giant tortoises mating that Coates produced during a residency on the Galapagos Islands.
Despite coming from and operating within very different contexts, Hijikata and Coates share an emphasis on becoming...