The Open Whole
By a feeling I mean an instance of that sort of element of consciousness which is all that it is positively, in itself, regardless of anything else.... [A] feeling is absolutely simple and without parts-as it evidently is, since it is whatever it is regardless of anything else, and therefore regardless of any part, which would be something other than the whole.
Charles Peirce, The Collected Papers 1.306-10
One evening while the grown-ups gathered around the hearth drinking manioc beer, Maxi, settling back to a quieter corner of the house, began to tell his teenage neighbor Luis and me about some of his recent adventures and mishaps. Fifteen or so and just beginning to hunt on his own, he told us of the day he stood out in the forest for what seemed an eternity, waiting for something to happen, and how, all of a sudden, he found himself close to a herd of collared peccaries moving through the underbrush. Frightened, he hoisted himself into the safety of a little tree and from there fired on and hit one of the pigs. The wounded animal ran off toward a little river and ... "tsupu."
Tsupu. I've deliberately left Maxi's utterance untranslated. What might it mean? What does it sound like?
Tsupu, or tsupuuuh, as it is sometimes pronounced, with the final vowel dragged out and aspirated, refers to an entity as it makes contact with and then penetrates a body of water; think of a big stone heaved into a pond or the compact mass of a wounded peccary plunging into a river's pool. Tsupu probably did not immediately conjure such an image (unless you speak lowland Ecuadorian Quichua). But what did you feel upon learning what it describes? Once I tell people what tsupu means, they often experience a sudden feel for its meaning: "Oh, of course, tsupu!"
By contrast, I would venture that even after learning that the greeting "causanguichu," used when encountering someone who hasn't been seen in a long time, means "Are you still alive?" you don't have such a feeling. Causanguichu certainly feels like what it means to native speakers of Quichua, and over the years I too have come to develop a feel for its meaning. But what is it about tsupu that causes its meaning to feel so evident even for many people who don't speak Quichua? Tsupu somehow feels like a pig plunging into water.
How is it that tsupu means? We know that a word like causanguichu means by virtue of the ways in which it is inextricably embedded, through a dense historically contingent tangle of grammatical and syntactic relations, with other such words in that uniquely human system of communication we call language. And we know that what it means also depends on the ways in which language is itself caught up in broader social, cultural, and political contexts, which share similar historically contingent systemic properties. In order to develop a feel for causanguichu we have to grasp something of the totality of the interrelated network of words in which itexists. We also need to grasp something of the broader social context in which it is and has been used. Making sense of how we live inside these kinds of changing contexts that we both make and that make us has long been an important goal of anthropology. For anthropology the "human," as a being and an object of knowledge, emerges only by attending to how we are embedded in these uniquely human contexts-these "complex wholes" as E. B. Tylor's (1871) classic definition of culture terms them.
But if causanguichu is firmly in language, tsupu seems somehow outside it. Tsupu is a sort of paralinguistic parasite on the language that somewhat indifferently bears it.Tsupu is, in a way, as Peirce might say, "all that it is positively, in itself, regardless of anything else." And this admittedly minor fact, that this strange little quasi-word is not quite made by its linguistic context, troubles the anthropological project of making sense of the human via context.
Take causanguichu's root, the lexeme causa-, which is marked for person and inflected by a suffix that signals its status as a question:
Are you still alive?
Through its grammatical inflections causanguichu is inextricably related to the other words that make up the Quichua language. Tsupu, by contrast, doesn't really interact with other words and therefore can't be modified to reflect any such possible relations. Being "all that it is positively in itself," it can't even be grammatically negated. What kind of thing, then, is tsupu? Is it even a word? What does its anomalous place in language reveal about language? And what can it tell us about the anthropological project of grasping the various ways in which linguistic as well as sociocultural and historical contexts form the conditions of possibility both for human life and for our ways of attending to it?
Although not exactly a word, tsupu certainly is a sign. That is, it certainly is, as the philosopher Charles Peirce put it, "something which stands to somebody for something in some respect or capacity" (CP 2.228). This is quite different from Saussure's (1959) more humanist treatment of signs with which we anthropologists tend to be more familiar. For Saussure human language is the paragon and model for all sign systems (1959: 68). Peirce's definition of a sign, by contrast, is much more agnostic about what signs are and what kinds of beings use them; for him not all signs have languagelike properties, and, as I discuss below, not all the beings who use them are human. This broader definition of the sign helps us become attuned to the life signs have beyond the human as we know it.
Tsupu captures to some extent and in some particular way something of a pig plunging into water, and it does so-weirdly-not just for Quichua speakers, but to some degree for those of us who may not have any familiarity with the language that carries it along. What might paying attention to this not-quite-wordlike-kind-of-sign reveal? Feeling tsupu,"in itself, regardless of anything else," can tell us something important about the nature of language and its unexpected openings toward the world "itself." And insofar as it can help us understand how signs are not just bounded by human contexts, but how they also reach beyond them. Insofar, that is, as it can help reveal how signs are also in, of, and about other sensuous worlds we too can feel, it can also tell us something about how we can move beyond understanding the human in terms of the "complex wholes" that make us who we are. In sum, appreciating what it might mean "to live" (Quichua causa-ngapa) in worlds that are open to that which extends beyond the human might just allow us to become a little more "worldly."
In and of the World
In uttering "tsupu," Maxi brought home something that happened in the forest. Insofar as Luis, or I, or you, feel tsupu we come to grasp something of Maxi's experience of being near a wounded pig plunging into a pool of water. And we can come to have this feeling even if we weren't in the forest that day. All signs, and not just tsupu, are in some way or another about the world in this sense. They "re-present." They are about something not immediately present.
But they are also all, in some way or another, in and of the world. When we think of situations in which we use signs to represent an event, such as the one I've just described, this quality may be hard to see. Sitting back in a dark corner of a thatched roof house listening to Maxi talk about the forest is not the same as having been present to that pig plunging into water. Isn't this "radical discontinuity" with the world another important hallmark of signs? Insofar as signs do not provide any sort of immediate, absolute, or certain purchase on the entities they represent, it certainly is. But the fact that signs always mediate does not mean that they also necessarily exist in some separate domain inside (human) minds and cut off from the entities they stand for. As I will show, they are not just about the world. They are also in important ways in it.
Consider the following. Toward the end of a day spent walking in the forest, Hilario, his son Lucio, and I came upon a troop of woolly monkeys moving through the canopy. Lucio shot and killed one, and the rest of the troop dispersed. One young monkey, however, became separated from the troop. Finding herself alone she hid in the branches of an enormous red-trunked tree that poked out of the forest canopy high above.
In the hope of startling the monkey into moving to a more visible perch so that his son could shoot it Hilario decided to fell a nearby palm tree:
I'll make it go pu oh
Ta ta and pu oh, like tsupu, are images that sound like what they mean. Ta ta is an image of chopping: tap tap. Pu oh captures the process by which a tree falls. The snap that initiates its toppling, the swish of the crown free-falling through layers of forest canopy, and the crash and its echoes as it hits the ground are all enfolded in this sonic image.
Hilario then went and did what he said. He walked off a little way and with his machete began chopping rhythmically at a palm tree. The tapping of steel against trunk is clearly audible on the recording I made in the forest that afternoon (ta ta ta ta ... )-as was the palm crashing down (pu oh).
Lowland Quichua has hundreds of "words" like ta ta, pu oh, and tsupu that mean by virtue of the ways in which they sonically convey an image of how an action unfolds in the world. They are ubiquitous in speech, especially in forest talk. A testament to their importance to Runa ways of being in the world is that the linguistic anthropologist Janis Nuckolls (1996) has written an entire book-titled, appropriately, Sounds Like Life-about them.
A "word" such as tsupu is like the entity it represents thanks to the ways in which the differences between the "sign vehicle" (i.e., the entity that is taken as a sign, in this case the sonic quality of tsupu) and the object (in this case the plunging-into-water that this "word" simulates) are ignored. Peirce called these kinds of signs of likeness "icons." They conform to the first of his three broad classes of signs.
As Hilario had anticipated, the sound of the palm tree crashing frightened the monkey from its perch. This event itself, and not just its before-the-fact imitation, can also be taken as a kind of sign. It is a sign in the sense that it too came to be "something which stands to somebody for something in some respect or capacity." In this case the "somebody" to whom this sign stands is not human. The palm crashing down stands for something to the monkey. Significance is not the exclusive province of humans because we are not the only ones who interpret signs. That other kinds of beings use signs is one example of the ways in which representation exists in the world beyond human minds and human systems of meaning.
The palm crashing down becomes significant in a way that differs from its imitation pu oh. Pu oh is iconic in the sense that it, in itself, is in some respect like its object. That is, it functions as an image when we fail to notice the differences between it and the event that it represents. It means due to a certain kind of absence of attention to difference. By ignoring the myriad characteristics that make any entity unique, a very restricted set of characteristics is amplified, here by virtue of the fact that the sound that simulates the action also happens to share these characteristics.
The crashing palm itself comes to signify something for the monkey in another capacity. The crash, as sign, is not a likeness of the object it represents. Instead, it points to something else. Peirce calls this sort of sign an "index." Indices constitute his second broad class of signs.
Before exploring indices further, I want to briefly introduce the "symbol"-Peirce's third kind of sign. Unlike iconic and indexical modes of reference, which form the bases for all representation in the living world, symbolic reference is, on this planet at least, a form of representation that is unique to humans. Accordingly, as anthropologists of the human we are most familiar with its distinctive properties. Symbols refer, not simply through the similarity of icons, or solely through the pointing of indices. Rather, as with the word causanguichu, they refer to their object indirectly by virtue of the ways in which they relate systemically to other such symbols. Symbols involve convention. This is why causanguichu only means-and comes to feel meaningful-by virtue of the established system of relationships it has with other words in Quichua.
The palm that Hilario sent crashing down that afternoon startled the monkey. As an index it forced her to notice that something just happened, even though what just happened remained unclear. Whereas icons involve not noticing, indices focus the attention. If icons are what they are "in themselves" regardless of the existence of the entity they represent, indices involve facts "themselves." Whether or not someone was there to hear it, whether or not the monkey, or anyone else for that matter, took this occurrence to be significant, the palm, itself, still came crashing down.
Unlike icons, which represent by virtue of the resemblances they share with objects, indices represent "by virtue of real connections to them" (Peirce 1998c: 461; see also CP 2.248).Tugging on the stems of woody vines, or lianas, that extend up into the canopy is another strategy to scare monkeys out of their hidden perches (see frontispiece, this chapter). To the extent that such an action can startle a monkey it is because of a chain of "real connections" among disparate things: the hunter's tug is transmitted, via the liana, high up to the tangled mat of epiphytes, lianas, moss, and detritus that accumulates to form the perch atop which the hiding monkey sits.
Although one might say that the hunter's tug, propagated through the liana and mat, literally shakes the monkey out of her sense of security, how this monkey comes to take this tug as a sign cannot be reduced to a deterministic chain of causes and effects. The monkey need not necessarily perceive the shaking perch to be a sign of anything. And in the event that she does, her reaction will be something other than the effect of the force of the tug propagated up the length of the liana.
Indices involve something more than mechanical efficiency. That something more is, paradoxically, something less. It is an absence. That is, to the extent that indices are noticed they impel their interpreters to make connections between some event and another potential one that has not yet occurred. A monkey takes the moving perch, as sign, to be connected to something else, for which it stands. It is connected to something dangerously different from her present sense of security. Maybe the branch she is perched on is going to break off. Maybe a jaguar is climbing up the tree ... Something is about to happen, and she had better do something about it. Indices provide information about such absent futures. They encourage us to make a connection between what is happening and what might potentially happen.
Asking whether signs involve sound images like tsupu, or whether they come to mean through events like a palm crashing down, or whether their sense emerges in some more systemic and distributed manner, like the interrelated network of words printed on the pages that make up this book, might encourage us to think about signs in terms of the differences in their tangible qualities. But signs are more than things. They don't squarely reside in sounds, events, or words. Nor are they exactly in bodies or even minds. They can't be precisely located in this way because they are ongoing relational processes. Their sensuous qualities are only one part of the dynamic through which they come to be, to grow, and to have effects in the world.
In other words signs are alive. A crashing palm tree-taken as sign-is alive insofar as it can grow. It is alive insofar as it will come to be interpreted by a subsequent sign in a semiotic chain that extends into the possible future.
The startled monkey's jump to a higher perch is a part of this living semiotic chain. It is what Peirce called an "interpretant," a new sign that interprets the way in which a prior sign relates to its object. Interpretants can be further specified through an ongoing process of sign production and interpretation that increasingly captures something about the world and increasingly orients an interpreting self toward this aboutness. Semiosis is the name for this living sign process through which one thought gives rise to another, which in turn gives rise to another, and so on, into the potential future. It captures the way in which living signs are not just in the here and now but also in the realm of the possible.
Although semiosis is something more than mechanical efficiency, thinking is not just confined to some separate realm of ideas. A sign has an effect, and this, precisely, is what an interpretant is. It is the "proper significate effect that the sign produces" (CP 5.475). The monkey's jump, sparked by her reaction to a crashing palm, amounts to an interpretant of a prior sign of danger. It makes visible an energetic component that is characteristic of all sign processes, even those that might seem purely "mental." Although semiosis is something more than energetics and materiality, all sign processes eventually "do things" in the world, and this is an important part of what makes them alive.
Signs don't come from the mind. Rather, it is the other way around. What we call mind, or self, is a product of semiosis. That "somebody," human or nonhuman, who takes the crashing palm to be significant is a "self that is just coming into life in the flow of time" (CP 5.421) by virtue of the ways in which she comes to be a locus-however ephemeral-for the "interpretance" of this sign and many others like it. In fact, Peirce coined the cumbersome term interpretant to avoid the "homunculus fallacy" (see Deacon 2012: 48) of seeing a self as a sort of black box (a little person inside us, a homunculus) who would be the interpreter of those signs but not herself the product of those signs. Selves, human or nonhuman, simple or complex, are outcomes of semiosis as well as the starting points for new sign interpretation whose outcome will be a future self. They are waypoints in a semiotic process.
These selves, "just coming into life," are not shut off from the world; the semiosis occurring "inside" the mind is not intrinsically different from that which occurs among minds. That palm crashing down in the forest illustrates this living worldly semiosis as it is embedded in an ecology of disparate emerging selves. Hilario's iconic simulation of a falling palm charts a possible future that then becomes realized in a palm that he actually fells. Its crash, in turn, is interpreted by another being whose life will change thanks to the way she takes this as a sign of something upon which she must act. What emerges is a highly mediated but nevertheless unbroken chain that jumps from the realm of human speech to that of human bodies and their actions, and from these to events-in-the-world such as a tree crashing down that these realized embodied intentions actualize, and from here to the equally physical reaction that the semiotic interpretation of this event provokes in another kind of primate high up in a tree. The crashing palm and the human who felled it came to affect the monkey, notwithstanding their physical separation from her. Signs have worldly effects even though they are not reducible to physical cause-and-effect.
Such tropical trans-species attempts at communication reveal the living worldly nature of semiosis. All semiosis (and by extension thought) takes place in minds-in-the-world. To highlight this characteristic of semiosis this is how Peirce described the thought practices of Antoine Lavoisier, the eighteenth-century French aristocrat and founder of the modern field of chemistry:
Lavoisier's method was ... to dream that some long and complicated chemical process would have a certain effect, to put it into practice with dull patience, after its inevitable failure, to dream that with some modification it would have another result, and to end by publishing the last dream as a fact: his way was to carry his mind into his laboratory, and literally to make of his alembics and cucurbits instruments of thought, giving a new conception of reasoning as something which was to be done with one's eyes open, in manipulating real things instead of words and fancies. (CP 5.363)
Where would we locate Lavoisier's thoughts and dreams? Where, if not in this emerging world of blown glass cucurbits and alembics and the mixtures contained in their carefully delimited spaces of absence and possibility, is his mind, and future self, coming in to being?
Lavoisier's blown glass flasks point to another important element of semiosis. Like these curiously shaped receptacles, signs surely have an important materiality: they possess sensuous qualities; they are instantiated with respect to the bodies that produce and are produced by them; and they can make a difference in the worlds that they are about. And yet, like the space delimited by the walls of the flask, signs are also in important ways immaterial. A glass flask is as much about what it is as it is about what it is not; it is as much about the vessel blown into form by the glassmaker-and all the material qualities and technological, political, and socioeconomic histories that made that act of creation possible-as it is about the specific geometry of absence that it comes to delimit. Certain kinds of reactions can take place in that flask because of all the others that are excluded from it.
This kind of absence is central to the semiosis that sustains and instantiates life and mind. It is apparent in what played out in the forest that afternoon as we were out hunting monkeys. Now that that young woolly monkey had moved to a more exposed perch Lucio tried to shoot at it with his muzzle-loading black powder shotgun. But when he pulled the trigger the hammer simply clicked down on the firing cap. Lucio quickly replaced the defective cap and reloaded-this time packing the barrel with an extra dose of lead shot. When the monkey climbed to an even more exposed position, Hilario encouraged his son to fire again: "Hurry, now really!" Wary of the precarious nature of his firearm, however, Lucio first uttered, "teeeye."
Teeeye, like tsupu, ta ta, and pu oh, is an image in sound. It is iconic of a gun successfully firing and hitting its target. The mouth that pronounces it is like a flask that assumes the various shapes of a firing gun. First the tongue taps on the palette to produce the stopped consonant the way a hammer strikes a firing cap. Then the mouth opens ever wider as it pronounces the expanding elongated vowel, the way lead shot, propelled by the explosion of powder ignited by the cap, sprays out of the barrel (figure 4).
Moments later Lucio pulled the trigger. And this time, with a deafening teeeye, the gun fired.
Teeeye is, at many levels, a product of what it is not. The shape of the mouth effectively eliminates all the many other sounds that could have been made as breath is voiced. What is left is a sound that "fits" the object it represents thanks to the many sounds that are absent. The object that is not physically present constitutes a second absence. Finally, teeeye involves another absence in the sense that it is a representation of a future brought into the present in the hopes that this not-yet will affect the present. Lucio hopes his gun will successfully fire teeeye when he pulls the trigger. He imported this simulation into the present from the possible world that he hopes will come to be. This future-possible, which orients Lucio toward taking all the steps needed to make this future possible, is also a constitutive absence. What teeeye is-its significate effect, in short, its meaning-is dependent on all these things that it is not.
All signs, and not just those we might call magical, traffic in the future in the way that teeeye does. They are calls to act in the present through an absent but re-presented future that, by virtue of this call, can then come to affect the present; "Hurry, now really," as Hilario implored his son moments before he fired his gun, involves a prediction that there will still be an "it" up there to shoot. It is a call from the future as re-presented in the present.
Drawing inspiration from the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu and his reflection on how the hole at the hub is what makes a wheel useful, Terrence Deacon (2006) refers to the special kind of nothingness delimited by the spokes of a wheel, or by the glass of a flask, or by the shape of the mouth when uttering "teeeye" as a "constitutive absence." Constitutive absence, according to Deacon, is not just found in the world of artifacts or humans. It is a kind of relation to that which is spatially or temporally not present that is crucial to biology and to any kind of self (see Deacon 2012: 3). It points to the peculiar way in which, "in the world of mind, nothing-that which is not-can be a cause" (Bateson 2000a: 458, quoted in Deacon 2006).
As I discuss later in this chapter, and in subsequent ones as well, constitutive absence is central to evolutionary processes. That, for example, a lineage of organisms comes to increasingly fit a particular environment is the result of the "absence" of all the other lineages that were selected out. And all manner of sign processes, not just those associated directly with biological life, come to mean by virtue of an absence: iconicity is the product of what is not noticed; indexicality involves a prediction of what is not yet present; and symbolic reference, through a convoluted process that also involves iconicity and indexicality, points to and images absent worlds by virtue of the ways in which it is embedded in a symbolic system that constitutes the absent context for the meaning of any given word's utterance. In the "world of mind," constitutive absence is a particular mediated way in which an absent future comes to affect the present. This is why it is appropriate to consider telos-that future for the sake of which something in the present exists-as a real causal modality wherever there is life (see Deacon 2012).
The constant play between presence and these different kinds of absences gives signs their life. It makes them more than the effect of that which came before them. It makes them images and intimations of something potentially possible.
Considering crashing palms, jumping monkeys, and "words" like tsupu helps us see that representation is something both more general and more widely distributed than human language. It also helps us see that these other modes of representation have properties that are quite different from those exhibited by the symbolic modalities on which language depends. In short, considering those kinds of signs that emerge and circulate beyond the symbolic helps us see that we need to "provincialize" language.
My call to provincialize language alludes to Dipesh Chakrabarty's Provincializing Europe (2000), his critical account of how South Asian and South Asianist scholars rely on Western social theory to analyze South Asian social realities. To provincialize Europe is to recognize that such theory (with its assumptions about progress, time, etc.) is situated in the particular European context of its production. Social theorists of South Asia, Chakrabarty argues, turn a blind eye to this situated context and apply such theory as if it were universal. Chakrabarty asks us to consider what kind of theory might emerge from South Asia, or from other regions for that matter, once we circumscribe the European theory we once took as universal.
In showing that the production of a particular body of social theory is situated in a particular context and that there are other contexts for which this theory does not apply, Chakrabarty is making an implicit argument about the symbolic properties of the realities such theory seeks to understand. Context is an effect of the symbolic. That is, without the symbolic we would not have linguistic, social, cultural, or historical contexts as we understand them. And yet this kind of context does not fully create or circumscribe our realities because we also live in a world that exceeds the symbolic, and this is something our social theory must also find ways to address.
Chakrabarty's argument, then, is ultimately couched within humanist assumptions about social reality and the theory one might develop to attend to it, and so, if taken literally, its application to an anthropology beyond the human is limited. Nonetheless, I find provincialization useful metaphorically as a reminder that symbolic domains, properties, and analytics are always circumscribed by and nested within a broader semiotic field.
We need to provincialize language because we conflate representation with language and this conflation finds its way into our theory. We universalize this distinctive human propensity by first assuming that all representation is something human and then by supposing that all representation has languagelike properties. That which ought to be delimited as something unique becomes instead the bedrock for our assumptions about representation.
We anthropologists tend to view representation as a strictly human affair. And we tend to focus only on symbolic representation-that uniquely human semiotic modality. Symbolic representation, manifested most clearly in language, is conventional, "arbitrary," and embedded in a system of other such symbols, which, in turn, is sustained in social, cultural, and political contexts that have similar systemic and conventional properties. As I mentioned earlier, the representational system associated with Saussure, which is the implicit one that underlies so much of contemporary social theory, concerns itself only with this kind of arbitrary, conventional sign.
There is another reason why we need to provincialize language: we conflate language with representation even when we don't explicitly draw on language or the symbolic for our theoretical tools. This conflation is most evident in our assumptions about ethnographic context. Just as we know that words only acquire meanings in terms of the greater context of other such words to which they systemically relate, it is an anthropological axiom that social facts can't be understood except by virtue of their place in a context made up of other such facts. And the same applies for the webs of cultural meanings or for the network of contingent discursive truths as revealed by a Foucauldian genealogy.
Context understood in this way, however, is a property of human conventional symbolic reference, which creates the linguistic cultural and social realities that make us distinctively human. However, it doesn't fully apply in domains such as human-animal relations that are not completely circumscribed by the symbolic but are nevertheless semiotic. The kinds of representational modalities shared by all forms of life-modalities that are iconic and indexical-are not context-dependent the way symbolic modalities are. That is, such representational modalities do not function by means of a contingent system of sign relations -a context- the way symbolic modalities do. So in certain semiotic domains context doesn't apply, and even in those domains such as human ones where it does, such contexts, as we can see by attending to that which lies beyond the human, are, as I will show, permeable. In short, complex wholes are also open wholes-hence this chapter's title. And open wholes reach beyond the human-hence this anthropology beyond the human.
This conflation of representation with language-the assumption that all representational phenomena have symbolic properties-holds even for those kinds of projects that are explicitly critical of cultural, symbolic, or linguistic approaches. It is apparent in classical materialist critiques of the symbolic and the cultural. It is also apparent in more contemporary phenomenological approaches that turn to the bodily experiences we also share with nonhuman beings as a way to avoid anthropocentric mind talk (see Ingold 2000; Csordas 1999; Stoller 1997). It is also, I should note, apparent in Eduardo Viveiros de Castro's multinaturalism (discussed in detail in chapter 2). When Viveiros de Castro writes that "a perspective is not a representation because representations are a property of the mind or spirit, whereas the point of view is located in the body" (1998: 478), he is assuming that attention to bodies (and their natures) can allow us to side step the thorny issues raised by representation.
The alignment between humans, culture, the mind, and representation, on the one hand, and nonhumans, nature, bodies, and matter, on the other, remains stable even in posthuman approaches that seek to dissolve the boundaries that have been erected to construe humans as separate from the rest of the world. This is true of Deleuzian approaches, as exemplified, for example, by Jane Bennett (2010), that deny the analytical purchase of representation and telos altogether-since these are seen, at best, as exclusively human mental affairs.
This alignment is also evident in attempts in science and technology studies (STS), especially those associated with Bruno Latour, to equalize the imbalance between unfeeling matter and desiring humans by depriving humans of a bit of their intentionality and symbolic omnipotence at the same time that they confer on things a bit more agency. In his image of "speech impediments," for example, Latour attempts to find an idiom that might bridge the analytical gap between speaking scientists and their supposedly silent objects of study. "Better to have marbles in one's mouth, when speaking about scientists," he writes, "then to slip absent-mindedly from mute things to the indisputable word of the expert" (2004: 67). Because Latour conflates representation and human language his only hope to get humans and nonhumans in the same frame is to literally mix language and things-to speak with marbles in his mouth. But this solution perpetuates Cartesian dualism because the atomic elements remain either human mind or unfeeling matter, despite the fact that these are more thoroughly mixed than Descartes would have ever dreamed, and even if one claims that their mixture precedes their realization. This analytic of mixture creates little homunculi at all levels. The hyphen in Latour's (1993: 106) "natures-cultures" is the new pineal gland in the little Cartesian heads that this analytic unwittingly engenders at all scales. An anthropology beyond the human seeks to find ways to move beyond this analytic of mixture.
Erasing the divide between the human mind and the rest of the world, or, alternatively, striving for some symmetrical mixing between mind and matter, only encourages this gap to emerge again elsewhere. An important claim I make in this chapter, and an important foundation for the arguments to be developed in this book, is that the most productive way to overcome this dualism is not to do away with representation (and by extension telos, intentionality, "aboutness," and selfhood), or simply project human kinds of representation elsewhere, but to radically rethink what it is that we take representation to be. To do this, we need first to provincialize language. We need, in Viveiros de Castro's words, to "decolonize thought," in order to see that thinking is not necessarily circumscribed by language, the symbolic, or the human.
This involves reconsidering who in this world represents, as well as what it is that counts as representation. It also involves understanding how different kinds of representation work and how these different kinds of representation variously interact with each other. What sort of life does semiosis take beyond the trappings of internal human minds, beyond specifically human propensities, such as the ability to use language, and beyond those specifically human concerns that those propensities engender? An anthropology beyond the human encourages us to explore what signs look like beyond the human.
Is such an exploration possible? Or do the all-too-human contexts in which we live bar us from such an endeavor? Are we forever trapped inside our linguistically and culturally mediated ways of thinking? My answer is no: a more complete understanding of representation, which can account for the ways in which that exceptionally human kind of semiosis grows out of and is constantly in interplay with other kinds of more widely distributed representational modalities, can show us a more productive and analytically robust way out of this persistent dualism.
We humans are not the only ones who do things for the sake of a future by re-presenting it in the present. All living selves do this in some way or another. Representation, purpose, and future are in the world-and not just in that part of the world that we delimit as human mind. This is why it is appropriate to say that there is agency in the living world that extends beyond the human. And yet reducing agency to cause and effect-to "affect"-side steps the fact that it is human and nonhuman ways of "thinking" that confer agency. Reducing agency to some sort of generic propensity shared by humans and nonhumans (which in such approaches includes objects) thanks to the fact that these entities can all equally be represented (or that they can confound these representations), and that they then participate by virtue of this in some sort of very humanlike narrative, trivializes this thinking by failing to distinguish among ways of thinking and by indiscriminately applying distinctively human ways of thinking (based on symbolic representation) to any entity.
The challenge is to defamiliarize the arbitrary sign whose peculiar properties are so natural to us because they seem to pervade everything that is in any way human and anything else about which humans can hope to know. That you can feel tsupu without knowing Quichua makes language appear strange. It reveals that not all the signs with which we traffic are symbols and that those nonsymbolic signs can in important ways break out of bounded symbolic contexts like language. This explains not only why we can come to feel tsupu without speaking Quichua but also why Hilario can communicate with a nonsymbolic being. Indeed, the startled monkey's jump, and the entire ecosystem that sustains her, constitutes a web of semiosis of which the distinctive semiosis of her human hunters is just one particular kind of thread.
To summarize: signs are not exclusively human affairs. All living beings sign. We humans are therefore at home with the multitude of semiotic life. Our exceptional status is not the walled compound we thought we once inhabited. An anthropology that focuses on the relations we humans have with nonhuman beings forces us to step beyond the human. In the process it makes what we've taken to be the human condition-namely, the paradoxical, and "provincialized," fact that our nature is to live immersed in the "unnatural" worlds we construct-appear a little strange. Learning how to appreciate this is an important goal of an anthropology beyond the human.
The Feeling of Radical Separation
The Amazon's many layers of life amplify and make apparent these greater than human webs of semiosis. Allowing its forests to think their ways through us can help us appreciate how we too are always, in some way or another, embedded in such webs and how we might do conceptual work with this fact. This is what draws me to this place. But I've also learned something from attending to those times when I've felt cut off from these broader semiotic webs that extend beyond the symbolic. Here I reflect on such an experience that I had on one of the many bus trips I made from Quito to the Amazon region. I relay the feeling of what happened on this trip, not as a personal indulgence, but because I think it reveals a specific quality of symbolic modes of thinking-the propensity that symbolic thought has to jump out of the broader semiotic field from which it emerges, separating us, in the process, from the world around us. As such, this experience can also teach us something about how to understand the relation that symbolic thought has to the other kinds of thought in the world with which it is continuous and from which it emerges. In this sense, this reflection on my experience is also part of a broader critique, developed in the following two sections, of the dualistic assumptions at the base of so many of our analytical frameworks. I explore this experience of becoming dual, of feeling ripped out of a broader semiotic environment, that I had on a trip down to el Oriente, Ecuador's Amazonian region east of the Andes, by means of a narrative detour. Apart from serving as a bit of a respite from the conceptual work done in this chapter, I hope it will give some sense of the way in which Ávila itself is embedded in a landscape with a history. For this trip traces the trajectories of many other trips, and all of these catch this place up in so many kinds of webs.
The past few days had been unusually rainy on the eastern slopes of the Andes, and the main road leading down to the lowlands had been intermittently washed out. Joined by my cousin Vanessa, who was in Ecuador visiting relatives, I boarded a bus headed for theOriente. With the exception of a group of Spanish tourists occupying the back rows, the bus was filled with locals who lived along the route or in Tena, the capital of Napo Province and the bus's final destination. This was a trip I had made many times by now, and it was our plan to take this bus along its route over the high cordillera east of Quito that divides the Amazonian watershed from the inter-Andean valley and then to follow this down through the village of Papallacta, the site of a pre-Hispanic cloud forest settlement situated along one of the major trade routes through which highland and lowland products flowed (I refer you to figure 1 in the introduction). Tod