Dear Betty: Run fast, bite hard! (a theoretical framework for the exhibition, part 2)

| 13 maggio 2016

2. Run Fast, Bite Hard / From burning wheels to techno-animism

In the warmonger fanatic ideology proclaimed by the “Manifesto of Futurism”, the contempt for woman was the perfect metaphor for a dichotomous view of the world, in which the young, mechanized male body of the violent warrior was erected against anything feminized: soft, limply pacifist, naturally organic and conservative or atavistic. Therefore, just like the futurists “drove on, crushing beneath [their] burning wheels, […] the watch dogs on the steps of the houses”[7] they preached hatred towards “women, the sedentary, invalids, sick, and all the prudent counselors”.[8] At our contemporary eyes, it is easy to recall, in this constrained alliance between dogs, women and the weak, the famously bitter reply “every animal is a female artist”, given by Rosmarie Trockel to the Beuysian “every man is an artist”. Nevertheless, it is with the “Manifesto of the Futurist Woman” by Valentine De Saint-Point (1912) that we gain a clearer vision of the development in the relationship between men, machines, animals and women in the early stage of Futurism.

Valentine De Saint-Point suggested a diverse dichotomy of gender relationships, stating that women were equal to men – but equal in terms of meriting the same disdain. To De Saint-Point, the limits of the feminine were the limits of the human, and both men and women should have taken the “brute” as their model, working on the de-sexualization of their bodies towards an efficiently functioning war-machine.

“Let Future wars produce heroines similar to that magnificent Caterina Sforza who, while suffering the siege of her city, seeing from the high walls her enemy threatening the life of her son to force her to surrender, heroically displayed her female sex and shouted: “Kill him if you wish! I still have the mold to make others!”[9] As Benjamin Nyos points out, in the “Manifesto of the Futurist Woman” “the solution to misogyny is to join an equality of brutality, confirming the phallic hardness of the machine as destination for both genders”.[10]

Interestingly enough, a slight echo of this anti-human and post-gender vision seems to appear in the oppositely idealized cyborg imagery suggested in the 80s by Donna Haraway, famous techno-science scholar linked to cyber-feminist theories. In “A Cyborg Manifesto”, in fact, the figure of the cyborg offered a radical political strategy for Haraway through the maze of traditional dualisms in which we have explained our bodies and tools, to question the space “between mind and body, animal and human, organism and machine, public and private, nature and culture, men and women, primitive and civilized”[11]. Thinking in the same epoch Paul Virilio named “transplant revolution”[12], signed by the almost total collapse of the distinction between the human body and technology, Donna Haraway proposed a revolution on the part of cybernetic technology and feminists against the rule of patriarchy and the antagonistic dualisms that order Western discourse. In opposition to Virilio’s view of an endo-colonization in progress – meaning the unfolding of an hegemonic war of militarized techno-science against the human body (both masculine and feminine), high-tech culture provides for Haraway a challenge to antagonistic dualisms that “have all been systematic to the logics and practices of domination of women, people of color, nature, workers, animals… all [those] constituted as others.”[13].

It is interesting to follow a little further Donna Haraway’s path in the search for alliances between intra-gender and cross-species contaminations, since in 2003 the dogs come back in the story, thanks to her strikingly popular “Companion Species Manifesto”. “Having worn the scarlet letters “Cyborgs for earthly survival!” long enough, I now brand myself with a slogan only Shutzhund women from dog sports could have come up with, when even a first nip can result in a death sentence: “Run fast bite hard!”[14]. The philosopher’s proposal is to look at the co-evolution of humans and dogs as an ethical, political and practical manifesto to rethink the relationship between culture and nature, technology and animality, hegemonic power and “significant otherness”. The idea is to go beyond biological reductionism or cultural uniqueness, since cohabitation, intra-action, symbiogenetic and cross-species sociality can fruitfully describe that “how organisms integrate environmental and genetic information at all levels, from the very small to the very large, determines what they become”[15].

While the more pervasive technology advances, Haraway proposes a non-anthropocentric vision, in which mechanic and organic entities collectively produce systems at work. The landscape surrounding us seems akin to the one described by Mark Leckey with the term “Techno-animism”, according to which we are in constant communication with every aspect of our ecosystem and “the more computed our environment becomes, the further back it returns us to our primitive past, boomerangs us right back to an animistic world view where everything has a spirit, rocks and lions and men”[16].

3. Too fast, too hard? / The built-in obsolescence paradigm

The Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics is probably one of the most quoted, misinterpreted and wildly insulted elaborations of our recent times. We can roughly synthesize the accelerationist dogma in the conviction that the metabolic relationship of humans to nature is fractured through the subordination of both of them to capital, and “the cure is posed as more of the disease”[17], meaning the necessity of the immanent radicalization of capital’s own dynamics, in the conviction that the only way out is the way through[18].

A part from asking ourselves if and how a proper interpretation of the Manifesto could be politically fruitful, one of the most interesting outcomes of the “Accelerationst debate” is the amount of criticism its interpretation lit up in the last few years. In fact, if Accelerationism is an already-dead term, since “in the situation where we are told that There Is No Alternative, this is an aesthetics of the post-impossible after the end of the End of History”[19], then “the question is not “should we embrace accelerationism?” (to which I think the answer is a fairly obvious “no”) but rather “why not embrace accelerationism?” Why not throw your lot in with the massive abstract machinery and torrential flows of capital?” [20] One reaction after the other, it gets clearer that the real point of Accelerationist theories lays in their inevitable built-in obsolescence: Accelerationism is made not to last, just like our domestic electronic devices. It follows the pre-announced fate of a micro-trend in fashion, that “burns out because it flares too brightly, too quickly[21] as Natasha Stagg points out.

When we search for similarities between Futurism and Accelerationism, this is the first core issue I think we should address, since the Futurists were indeed the pioneers of the in-built obsolescence paradigm. As we read in Malign Velocities. Accelerationism and Capitalism, “the brevity of their own moment, disappearing into a war which killed several of their leading members before a brief interwar revival, is one sign of their own desire to accelerate into the future”[22]. In the suicidal run of the futurist martyrs towards their necessary death, there is no time to stop and think about dogs (there is almost no time to think at all!), and the ambiguous position of Umberto Boccioni must be seen as nothing different from a transition state between one point (not-futurist) to a following one (futurist). Hybridity must disappear, in a typically modernist vision of history[23], and, indeed, it fatally disappeared, with the artist’s early death I mentioned above.

As the last Manifesto I would like to address recites, this is “the sourball of every revolution: after the revolution, who’s going to pick up the garbage on Monday morning?”[24] I would add, “especially if all the revolutionaries fanatically got killed in the process?” Searching for some new, possibly long-term, surviving strategies for the co-evolution of humans, dogs and machines, and trying to define new narratives in defense of hybridity, I propose we give a chance to the futurist and undercover Boccioni we recently discovered, and to his revealing friendship with the beloved dog Betty. Boccioni’s underrated painting can become a metaphor of an unedited, practicable, caring view towards the recovery of the vector of the future, searching for a collaborative, though corrosive, view on the era we face.

Originally written for Gang of Duck’s Chronicles

[7] Manifesto del Futurismo, 1909 (English translation: 1973 Thames and Hudson Ltd, London).

[8] Filippo Marinetti, Let’s Murder the Moonlight, April 1909.

[9] Valentine de Saint-Point, Manifesto of the Futurist Woman, 1912.

[10]Benjamin Nyos, Malign Velocities. Accelerationism and Capitalism, Zero Books Editions, 2014.

[11]Donna Haraway, A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century, 1983.

[12] Paul Virilio. The Art of the Motor, 1993 (translation by Julie Rose, University of Minnesota Press, 1995).

[13] Donna Haraway, A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century, 1983.

[14]Donna Haraway, The Companion Species Manifesto. Dogs, people, and significant otherness, Prickly Paradigm Press, 2003.


[16]Mark Leckey in “Techno-animism” by Lauren Cornell, Mousse Magazine, 2014.

[17] “Abysmal Plan: Waiting Until We Die and Radically Accelerated Repetitionism”, by John Russell, e-flux magazine, 2013.

[18]“As an alternative and more realistic revolutionary path to the “neo-primitivist localism” and “folk politics” of contemporary social movements, and the doomed fantasies of a return to Keynsianism clung to by various leftist parties”. “Futurism or the Future: Review of the Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics”, by Aidan Rowe, Irish Anarchist Review, 2014.

[19] “Abysmal Plan: Waiting Until We Die and Radically Accelerated Repetitionism”, by John Russell, e-flux magazine, 2013.

[20]“Futurism or the Future: Review of the Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics”, by Aidan Rowe, Irish Anarchist Review, 2014.

[21]“Trends and Their Discontents” by Natasha Stagg, Fear of Content for Berlin Biennale 2016.

[22]Benjamin Nyos, Malign Velocities. Accelerationism and Capitalism, Zero Books Editions, 2014.

[23]Chus Martinez wonderfully described this concept in the conference “On Anselmo” that took place on May 7th 2016 at Castello di Rivoli (Torino), curated by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev and Marianna Vecellio.

[24] Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Manifesto for Maintenance Art, 1969.

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