Sasha Puchalski

Seeking the Animate, Imagining the Real


Free from the pressure of an indiscriminate societal body and its rituals, Carthusian and other ascetic monks use their voice in two predominant ways: either not at all, remaining silent and, in that silence, suggesting that involuntary exhalation constitutes an ample expression from the throat1, or, in order to chant, where each monk’s individual voice communes with that of others, where ceremony is embodied in heterophony. Silence or song. Predominant wordlessness or words intersected by the lines of a staff and vibrating across a spectrum of pitch. The relation between these two approaches to vocalization is that both are a manner of prayer, and in both the monk finds his self disintegrating in a swirling nexus that is the experience of community, and also, not coincidentally, a communication toward God.

To decisively enact a silence (of the voice or of a grander apparatus, the body entire) means one is listening. To listen disintegrates a self, and positions one on the brink of another’s world. In a mode of listening, we begin to hear the voices of other bodies, and then ‘hear’ (or become otherwise sensitive to) each increasingly full and unpredictable apparatus, the events of movement, thought, and desire that are its life. Sung or chanted prayer accomplishes a similar tuning of the self, for, in the aural pool constituted by a mass of voices, one’s own voice dissolves and integrates with that of others, and vice versa. In both of these modes of vocalization, it is not important for an “I” to be declared; “we” is broken up into small bits and constitutes each origin, each body.

And yet, as powerful as this experience of enacting silence is, there is no true silence; “silence” is a false state, both of one’s own body and of those encountered. Rather than actually perceiving a muteness of all things, experiencing silence is experiencing the loudness of the other when the self’s concerns, voice and expectations are de-volumed. To enact silence is to urge the consciousness toward a mode of perception where the self engages with that which is other by listening; a state of readiness of the body, alertness not yet culminated in a stance. In this state of listening, in readiness to discover just how impossible the circumstance of external silence is, an alert self senses the bodies of all its surroundings as one churning assembly. In the experience and performance of silence, there is no foreground.

Via a performed silence, the monk’s approach toward God and the monk’s approach or encountering of the outside, the other, is one in the same. By silencing one’s voice, pausing the organization of one’s experience into thought, and swallowing the descriptions that would ensnare each hypothetical body to a minimum fullness, the previously invisible, un-sensible worlds co-existing with ours open to this silence, and cascade into our sensitivities. In their gentle or violent apparition, we can see the invisible worlds that are each body’s reality, and know that the concept of the void, just like pure stillness or quiet, is false.

If “silence” is an impossible state of our body and our surrounding matter, and more so a mode in which one suppresses territorializing thoughts, words, and self-interests in order to bear witness to the ever-present bloom of sensations, rationalities, and expressions occurring in other beings and their worlds, then we are left with silence not as a state of environment, but as a state of the self2, and never more than that. In other words, there cannot be silence beyond the self, only silence of the self in varying intensities, and, at the most intense limit, an overwhelming hearing of the outside that results in a deafness, a suppression of the response mechanisms of the self which would hierarchically organize what is perceived into information of certain importance. If voices and judgments are silent, we perform no foregrounding, and we perceive no antagonist. Curiouser and curiouser, and in a taxis so exceptional it need never be explained, we could fall into the lion’s mouth, and find ourselves rejoicing at such an intimacy3.

When we welcome the idea of silence as an internal environment, we also gift ourselves a way of approaching the outside receptively; we begin to hear the presence of many more others, and we feel the pressure of many more of those others’ worlds. As with silence, a similar re-conceptualization must be made in regards to our tendency to name the bodies that we encounter, and that we expect to encounter, in that exterior, delimited as outside of our valences of self (which begin, at minimum, with our life, our “anima”, our breathing soul, and then, at the next shell, include our assumptions and our ideologies). In much the same way we construe “silence” to be a circumstance of the outside, when it is in fact a performance of the self, the word “animal” evokes a homogenized set of bodies-not-human perceivable in that outside, but is more accurate evidence of our own state in relation to the body named. It is not through calling or claiming to know some “animal” that we come to a state of self which is receptive to its actuality, it is by operating and approaching at a valence shared with that body, the valence of anima. When we express “animal” we are claiming already to know something sufficient about that body in its world, but in anima (silent of all ideologies save for an affirmative curiosity) we have no interest in generalities; we become receptive to, curious about, and imaginative of, the unexacting possibilities of that particular exteriorized body, and of its world.

At its heart, any use of the word “animal” is more definitively evidence of an estrangement with the being referred to, than an accomplished description of that specific being. What is the nature of this estrangement? Technically, as a categorical description of multi-cellular, eukaryotic and heterotrophic organisms, the word includes us humans, yet we regularly reject this inclusion. Independent of a referent, “animal” signifies next to nothing of importance about the body it evokes, the inner experience of that body, or of that life’s situation in its world.

The imprecision of “animal” in describing a focalized body is balanced by a precision in describing a state, our state, when the word is uttered, written or thought: that state is, at base, an uncomfortable one, the state in which we sense (or, more commonly, are merely aware of the possibility of sensing) the other fully, in a not-yet-crystallized circulation of sameness to us, and difference from us. In this, the moment of suspended identities, we might engage with a body as “animal” or as anima, from a state of our being in anima. From this unassuming levelness, where a breathing soul encounters the possibilities of another breathing soul, we are reminded of what is shared before what is not: the inhabitation of a world, and an ability to communicate with that world’s current, future and imagined contents. So what circumstances compel us, then, to name or describe generally an actual or evoked body? What experiences does the use of “animal” preclude?

We know that, in relation to non-human beings, modern life is dependent in great part on a hesitation to explore, in uh-hinged time, and unfamiliar types of communication, other bodies as they operate in their worlds. Our modern life requires that we solidify certain sufficient differences, and certain sufficient samenesses, communicate these amongst one another, and rely on them as justifications for our personal and societal actions. These arrangements of certain differences and samenesses for different species facilitates a smooth progression along our goals, goals developed by a self which is regularly many layers beyond anima, brimming full of often excessive and unexamined ideology: our allegiances, fears, expectations, aesthetics, and tastes.

We try to prove and disprove the samnesses and differences that are most useful to us through the dissections of bodies, habitats, and cognitions via a scientific method and ideology. Through a process of physically and conceptually taking bodies apart, and then reconstructing in arrangements we see fit, we come to know the “animal” as it becomes object for use in our world. We research, and we explicate what is; we keep naming our world4 as if it is the only one. But the impossibility of inhabiting a body that has four legs or fangs is present with us all the time, and instead of decelerating or de-voluming the voice (our manners of speech and description inherently imbued with, and propagating of, these self-interests) in order to unearth access points into that being’s world, we choose to remain in our own and signify this distance with the deployment of the word “animal.”

When our self is at its most silent and receptive, in anima, we communicate neither a static power nor species, neither fear nor threat, just breaths of an open affect, breathing our animation in rhythms which try to integrate, and then inhabit, those of others. It goes without saying perhaps that the only time during which, state of mind in which we might actually encounter another body is at a time when we aren’t constraining its potentialities in a process of solidification, beginning with what we call or name it. For some body, that might be calling it “animal”, for a piece of paper that might be calling it “blank”; already the sheet is written upon by the idiosyncrasies of its production and, if we are being true with ourselves, we know that, microcosmically, something already lives upon it.

So it is in anima, in our silence, listening, indeed through a kind of prayer to the outside, to the other, that we might actually encounter the beings that we otherwise describe and believe we know through description, know how to engage with, know how to use. For this reason, the only way “animal” can be encountered and known is not through a reading of certifying characteristics, but rather, just as with “silence”, through performing a perception that, at its essence, is affective, a perception that is able to be infected by the actual and imaginable animacy of everything exterior and one that is expecting an amazement with the aspects of body and being that were previously banal or ignorable. Seeking out the breath of life which is shared in the other, we witness too that body’s own amazing and constant exchange (in and out) with it’s world; from this foundation of amazement, we wield an imagination for, and a tolerance of all further differentiations from it.

In the moment of an encounter amongst beings, where the only experience necessary to know is that which is there communicated, and lived, “animal” (which is a gesture of regurgitation regarding that which we think we know about a body, that which we need to know for our own purposes) carries little validity. “Animal” is never the body we encounter, but if we were hard-pressed to name the approached body at all, we must at least use a word which grants as much possible life not only to the body encountered, and to ours, as the awed, but also to the event of receptivity itself5, for, such moments, such circumstances, bear more life to our personal realities. They are moments of grace.

“Creature.” Sad, mythic, imaginary, demonic, to call something “creature” is to express an essence of strangeness and peculiarity in a body. This connoted strangeness or peculiarity is not so much important as a characteristic or quality of the being in question, but important more so as evidence of our being-in-circumstance, the circumstance of encountering and being stricken, apprehended, even infected, by the effusions of the body of an other.

“Creature” speaks of a contagion, the experience of one’s world becoming surprised by, infected, so to speak, with the sight or other sensation of a unique being that seems not to belong in one’s world. What is present in these uses of the word “creature” that is lacking in “animal” is an implicit demonstration of the importance of an event, of a moment, of how, in a state of listening, strangeness can be sensed as a beauty, how difference cannot be altered or named into dejection because it is everywhere, and how rarity does not have to be ostracized, exoticized or commodified.

When a body is encountered not as “animal” but as creature, there stands an almost indescribable being, powerful, intelligent, or perceptive beyond all imaginable deductions and imagined applications. Instead of breaking a being down into constituent characteristics, when it is encountered as creature (that is, when we enact a state of self that is anima, a mode that perceives bodies as unnamable vibrancies) what that body comes to be known as is tied to the event, relying, more importantly than any other thing, on our receptivity. When a body is evoked, described or encountered using the term animal, there is a “what” question implicit, and “what” orients us to an objective state of reality and to an objective aesthetic: “What makes this being recognizable, known, to me?” But when a body is evoked, described or encountered as creature, there is a “when” question implicit, and “when” orients us to a reality and an aesthetic of affectivity, mysterious compounds of matter and memory that lead us to care, regarding other bodies: “When (in what manner of event, of the other and of myself) was this being affecting me, when did it allow me (or when did I allow it to allow me) to quiet my self, my classifications, the logic of my world, and enter its?”

And so we come to know a world where light is living:

Beyond others as god, beyond herself as god, she rose. She saw light, like a piece of tackle. Without even the sensation of movement, she found herself before it, and found it receding immediately. She became no less than a fish.

In this, the most important mode of perception, listening, or openness, one is receptive to the other; the self silences toward anima, the “animal” generality is annihilated, all body is approached as creature. Our self becomes, in the technical meaning, more “animal” in turn, in the sense that one becomes that which it is open to, becomes member to that world that it has gifted itself glimpse of. In this most important mode of perceiving (the one that glimpses other worlds, and knows not more information, but more life), there is not just the joy of merely encountering other life in a non-colonizing interaction, there is also the joy of imbuing what is encountered further and further with life, with vibrancy. There is the joy of imagining for, and giving each object the kind of world we want to affirm and inhabit, instead of one we want to nullify, or, none at all.

And so in anima, it is not just for living objects that we imagine worlds, not just by the living that we become amazed, it is for all matter, by all matter. The animism of material objects already seems commonplace. It is not hard to understand children’s gestures to further animate their stuffed plushies, for they already resemble in form and texture certain living bodies we might see most regularly on television or in a zoo. But we should also perceive and offer an animation of objects which carry no form resembling typical life or animality. In the state of self that is seeking animacy, we can encounter commonly classified “animals”, humans, and also abiotic objects equally as creatures of animacy, whenever they arouse us (or we rouse ourselves) to imagine the worlds they might inhabit.

Stuffed animals that we want to wrap in blankets. Flags that, receptive to the wind force, swell and twist and round their image. When we bear our anima to those who we come into contact with, we are experiencing an object, a thing, and imbuing it with a vibrancy that then reflects back to us. We see a tool that we do not know how to use, whose application we can only imagine; it is not yet a part of our world. Until we are deep in an unending process of imagining those ‘lived’ experiences and applications, we are not yet a part of its. If we were to create a body in this animate mode, it would be that being we might know if we never lifted the pencil from the page. And finally, there is the body we encounter when, after uttering our last word, we realize that every word spoken comprised a body as well; that our words were not so much of an effort to name other bodies and describe ourselves as much as they were the creation of a gift for those other bodies. The animacy of our words stand as echoing gifts for those bodies, creatures, who, through force and through love, urged us out of our own world, and into that light world constituted by whens and encounters that feed our body with vibrant time, the world in which we’ve always been praying.

By Sasha Puchalski on Vimeo.

1 Involuntary, but controllable to a degree, the Latin for breath, air, spirit, is anima.

2 And specifically, the most bare self, which is necessarily in relation to, but not entirely separate from, everything else, even the processes of one’s own body, and its affect.

3 A true desire for communion, no matter the consequence, could never be called stupidity, while relentless desire for distinctions, no matter how inconsequential they seem, might be the very essence of stupidity.

4 For power and for lucidity in whichever communities we care about.

5 Moments that unfix the self to its anima baseness, and to the infinity of possible communications that rest in this state.