Sunday, 29 December 2013

Becoming Gerbil: Part 3 - Becoming-furry

This is the last blog in the Becoming-Gerbil series. Please click here for the previous parts of this blog:
Part 1 – Becoming-Genome
Part 2 – Becoming-Small

Becoming-furry, while connected to becoming-small, is really about communication and therefore is ultimately about becoming-gerbil at its most fundamental level. Deleuze and Guattari discuss the becoming of the child and woman as being partly about integrating the voice with its surroundings. They also provide the example of how insects make molecular vibrations through their “chirring, rustling, buzzing, clicking, scratching, and scraping” (2007: 340). Sister M does not chirr or buzz in any way that I can hear, although the frequency she communicates on is audible to other gerbils. Most of the sounds that I can hear are pretty much all a side-effect of her burrowing practices.

On the night she moved in she squeaked a bit in a way I could hear, which I am sure was probably because she was scared to be in a new space – perfectly understandable. I can sometimes hear her when she is in her burrows chewing her bedding. It is a very quiet sound, but when I hear it I know what she is doing. The loudest sounds she makes is when she is chewing pieces of wood or the cardboard tubes I put in as ‘boredom breakers’ (this is what the pet industry call these types of pet products).

I talk to Sister M like probably most people talk to their animal-beings, in a gentle, soft, encouraging voice like one you might use for a child or baby. This is what the prevailing advice seems to be, but it also feels like an automatic thing for a human to do. She has got used to my voice, and hearing it tells her that the giant shape coming towards her house is myself, and I am no threat. I would love to talk to her in gerbil, but in the absence of any Gerbil for Dummies book, I just try and educate myself on the bodily displays she makes: sitting up on hind legs, tail wagging, leg thumping, distraction activities, etc. I’ve tried to reflect some of her displays back to her, which one website recommended as a way of communicating, like the blinking she does when she is enjoying something she is eating, but I don’t know if it means anything to her. I look nothing like a gerbil and does she see my eyes as being like gerbil's eyes? Does she even remember what a gerbil looks like when they are enjoying their food?

In a way the communicative signs I make are relatively simple and are translated into the lower levels of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: physiological and safety needs (see below). In all actuality it is a testament to Sister M’s ability to adapt to my attempts at communicating, as I am sure she does a better job than I do in understanding her. Becoming-furry, then, is about an appreciation of the barriers between human and gerbil consciousness (psychic space) and the struggles to communicate in shared space (concrete space).

Related Links:
God Admits He Never Created Gerbils

Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix. 2007. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. by Brian Massumi (London and New York: Continuum).

Monday, 9 December 2013

Becoming Gerbil: Part 2 - Becoming-Small

Please click here for:  Part 1: Becoming-Genome

I feel there is some degree of prejudice directed at small animals (wild and domestic) as opposed to larger, more popular, 'pets' like cats and dogs. I would describe it as a hierarchical value system that involves not only size, but also such qualities as ‘cuteness’, possibly also furriness. This is apparently the reason that animal charities promote larger furry animals in order to gain donations. Despite the fact that there are many ‘less attractive’ animals in greater need than some of those that are shown in the adverts for animal charities, people just don’t donate money to animals that are considered culturally not so cute, such as reptiles. I also believe that some people could understand perfectly well why you might mourn the death of a family pet like a cat or dog, but might think there was something wrong with someone who mourned the death of their gerbil. Is it less worthy of mourning (based on it being a rodent? based on its size?)?

This blog looks at the becoming-small of the human. While not exactly the becoming-imperceptible of Deleuze and Guattari, it does have qualities in common with that. Becoming small is about changing one’s spatial perspective and accessing the space of the other such that you become inseparable from your environment and are better able to communicate (the issue of communication appears in the next blog). This is what Deleuze and Guattari say about becoming-imperceptible: “To go unnoticed is by no means easy. […] This requires much asceticism, much sobriety, much creative involution.” (2007: 308).

I am a giant next to Sister M, not that she actually sees my body as a contiguous object: she sees my head, hands/arms and legs as all separate phenomena. For instance, when I am sitting on the bed, she will run over my legs as if they are part of the bed/terrain. I have had the same experience with squirrels. While she is used to the separate parts of me, for instance, my gerbil-sized hands in her cage giving her food and my gigantic head looming over her to land a kiss on her tiny body (neither of which seem to intimidate her at all), my body moving around her space can disturb her if it is unexpected. If I suddenly appear, or if I accidentally loom up from below her cage (like prey) or if I raise my arms (like a bird), she gets scared and disappears into her burrow. So, she is used to me on one level (close up where she can smell me and check out the signs that, to her, make up my body), but not if I behave in any way like potential prey. Even though she has probably never seen any potential prey in her short life, she is hard-wired to react in this way.

While I cannot technically become smaller. I can address my behavior so as to fit into her environment in such a way where I appear less perceptible to her in any threatening way. This comes through experience from living with her, educating myself about her and altering my behaviour where necessary. Becoming-small enables me to move into her space and creates a conducive environment for her to move into mine, so that we can have a more symbiotic relationship. We both become changed – hopefully for the better of us both - through my becoming-small.

Please click here for: Part 3: Becoming-furry

Here’s a short clip of Jacques Derrida talking about violence and the human/animal dichotomy:
Jacques Derrida And The Question Of ‘The Animal’

And there’s a book about deconstruction and animals that you may find interesting:
The Animal Question in Deconstruction

Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix. 2007. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. by Brian Massumi (London and New York: Continuum).