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  • Zoextropy. The Posthuman Beauty | Maria Morata
Zoextropy. The Posthuman Beauty | Maria Morata

Zoextropy. The Posthuman Beauty

Maria Morata

Zoextropy explores new ways of thinking the aesthetic categories of the beautiful and the sinister through contemporary artistic production within the context of recent philosophies of thinking which question anthropocentrism. These currents of deterritorialization of the human seek to make porous the borders between the individual and their “others”, and entail a criticism of the humanist concept that conceives the subject as a unity and the centre of all thought and knowledge. It is not, as Rosi Braidotti points out, a cognitive or moral loss, but rather an expansion of the human being, making us flexible and allowing us to adopt several identities and dimensions. Her concept of the posthuman explores the practice of hybridization, dislocating the differences between humans, animals, plants, bacteria and other species.

Zoextropy originates from the concept of Zoe which Hannah Arendt defines as natural life, that which continues and repeats itself constituting the life of the species, in opposition to Bios, the concrete life of an individual, which begins with birth and ends with death. Equally it suggests a movement towards the exterior, exo and the quality of deviating, turning and taking another route in order to think about objects and categories, trópos.

The exhibition proposes a selection of artistic practices and debates that are at the frontier between science and technology, and that address on the one hand the terrain of human limits, generating new ontologies such as the non-human or the a-human, and on the other the limits of beauty, both in the representation of one’s own body and in its intricate relationship with other living entities.

Exoskeletons, technological prostheses, interspecies sexual organs, neural networks, biological prototypes, wi-fi organs, nanoparticles, sensor technology, neurobotics, microbiology, neurology, are some of the fields of intersection between art and techno-science which introduce new processes of creation and reinterpretation of the environment through new aesthetic and conceptual understandings. Art acts here as an essential and non-hierarchical factor of knowledge production thanks to its speculative capacity, which allows it to create new models of interpretation of the world and of reality, to question established structures and to balance epistemological asymmetries.

The framework of thought which inspired the exhibition is that of the new materialism, which recovers the importance and agency of matter, traditionally forgotten or displaced by a humanist thinking based on rationality and the human consciousness as a tool of superior and unique knowledge. The truth is that we are thinking bodies, but above all bodies, which are intimately entangled in the environment and the biological surroundings in which we live, and in relation with the other inhabitants of the same environment. The very heterogeneous authors of this new theoretical current cover a wide spectrum of fields and approaches, but as a whole they propose a new paradigm in order to think about matter and question the vision and human relationship of and with it, introducing new organic, hybrid and inclusive perspectives, and reviewing the previous anthropocentric schools of thought.

Following the ideas of Karen Barad, knowledge is based on an intricate and direct commitment to matter, becoming a practice of intra-action with the world, being part of it and being influenced by its dynamic configuration and its constant process of interaction and change (Barad, 2007). Likewise, her concept of a subject that “feels, converses, suffers, desires, yearns and remembers” establishes a broad platform from which to observe and understand the world in new ways, because “feeling, desiring and experiencing are not singular characteristics or capacities of human consciousness “(Dolphjin, van der Tuin, 2012). Also the vibrant materiality defined by Jane Bennet that runs through both human and non-human bodies, highlights the need to re-think the vitality of bodies and non-human formations recognizing and considering the active power of living things (Bennet, 2010). This materiality of life is just an update of Spinoza’s idea that there is only one nature for all bodies, individuals and their variations and responds to the practice of reinterpreting and updating previous thoughts and theories within a new context.

As a result, the aspirations of Zoextropy are, to extend the area of ​​the ambiguous, the shared and the hybrid, of the entangled and unclassified and to marvel at the matter that we have before our eyes, and to rescue it from epistemological oblivion. For this it will be necessary to question where, when and by whom the canons, taxonomies and classifications of the world that surrounds us are established, going out to meet with other subjectivities and thus surpass humanist exceptionalism. Zoextropy aims to explore how this new orientation in the conception of matter, the decentralization of the human and the inclusion of the non-human in philosophical thought reconfigure the classic aesthetic categories of the beautiful and the sinister. Both concepts, which have been traditionally articulated around anthropocentric premises and models, far from the situated knowledge proposed by Donna Haraway that questions subjectivity and the context of who produces it (Haraway 2013).

In his book Lo bello y lo siniestro, 1982 (The beauty and the sinister) Eugenio Trias proposes an interweaving of the aesthetic categories of the beautiful, the sublime and the sinister, the latter being the condition and limit of the former. For this philosopher the serene and balanced harmony of the beautiful dialogues with the disturbing strangeness that appears when what should be hidden manifests itself, suddenly revealing the unsettling face of what was hitherto perceived as familiar, nice and stable, and which Friedrich Schelling defined as the umheimlich (Trias, 1982). From Plato to Kant, via Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Schiller or Wittgenstein, beauty, since the beginning of Western philosophy, has been one of the concepts which has been more speculated upon, but basically it has been linked to truth, good, the just, the harmonious, to that which does not harm but, on the contrary, provokes an aesthetic pleasure. This aesthetic category never shows the disturbing a priori, but is nevertheless capable of containing it in itself. It is precisely in this point of inflection in which beauty leaves its territory, the zone bordering on the sinister, the moment in which its slightest touch with this border makes its halo of harmony fade to make way for the unsettling, in which the works of the exhibition palpitate and resonate with different intensities.

Simultaneously and in different degrees and registers, the works in Zoextropy traverse the two aesthetic spectrums of the beautiful and the sinister, questioning their limits and inviting us to rethink these categories from a different perspective and conceptualization.


The bodies hybridized with the machine, in the work of Marco Donnarumma are tinged with a certain tragic aspect in their metamorphoses and intertwinings. Calyx presents fragments of skin manufactured artificially by the artist himself which incorporate elements of his own body. A robot equipped with artificial intelligence has exercised a delicate brutality on them, cutting them with a steel knife. An autonomous prosthetic piece (Amygdala) performs this intervention. Its design resembles an articulated arm endowed with a dark anthropomorphism and through being connected to a neural network it is capable of organic behaviour, learning as it carries out its activity. Despite not being defined as such, these skins suggest the human, its belonging to the living, its fragility and resistance. They are shown after having experienced a mechanical process inspired by tribal rituals in Papua Guinea, Africa and Eastern Asia, which have imprinted scars rather than traces. Calyx not only opens a field of ambiguity and speculation about the origin of organic material, but also about the autonomy of a prosthesis that does not replace any ill-fated organ or belong to any visible body and which is as distant from the calculated movements of the logistics robot industry, as from medical applications that enable the movement of phantom limbs. Waste material as an aesthetic element questions the limits of our perception and makes the vitality of matter eloquent, even in its quality as remains and the relic of a techno-ritual, as the artist himself describes it.

In the same line in her video Delusional Mandala Lu Yang designs a digital avatar of herself based on her own body. To do this, she uses digital clinical technology such as three-dimensional and magnetic resonance scanning (MTR) as well as 3D animation technologies. The echoes of her visual universe refer to video-games and Japanese manga, and her heroine dances for most of the video to the rhythm of electronic music. That is, when it is not connected with devices of visualization and clinical intervention used in neurology and subjected to deep brain stimulation tests. However, in the baroque and overflowing visual display of Lu Yang technology connects with the most basically organic and the mystic-spiritual. The body devoid of visible sexual organs, overcoming sexual dichotomies and differences, appears in some fragments as a collage of head and visible organs (lungs, heart, intestines) that become sick and change in consistency. Lu Yang wonders about the location of the soul in the body using science and its ability to analyze and manipulate the brain. But in the end she integrates the influence of meditation and human identification with God at the moment of death without religious distinctions.

The fields of scientific speculation about human cloning, embryonic ectogenesis and the ethical questions and emotional responses that accompany them are picked up on by Renaud Marchand in his work Daniel & Esther. Two tanks of water surrounded by containers and other laboratory elements which contain the exact chemical composition of both bodies are presented as a still life of natures in a state of vital suspension. The decomposition, quantification and analysis of the natural for its investigation is part of the scientific method of verification which excludes everything that can not be proven empirically. This practice of isolation of the components seems to be at the antipodes of a hybridization between beings. But in spite of being presented here as a mere accumulation of substances in a non-anthropomorphic representation, between them Daniel & Esther exists a relationship of affection and vibrational bond. And although they are disconnected from their organic continuum, they question the place of the soul, or at least of consciousness. A lamp hangs over these chemical bodies containing the DNA of both in the manner of a clinically controlled and zenithal eye of God that watches over the capricious entanglement of the genes for forming two humans: Daniel and Esther, the characters in the novel “The possibility of an island” by Michel Houellebecq (2005), which give the work its name. It is a pre-state or perhaps a para-state of existence, in which the apparently inert matter creates an emotional bond with the public, challenging the sterile and aseptic environment of the laboratory created by science.

Diametrically opposed to Marchand’s aseptic method, Dust Bunny the work of Alan Warburton, concentrates on the dust, dirt and remains of the digital work stations that create the animation universes of large contemporary film and commercial productions. His encounter with these materials has a dual purpose. On the one hand, the great human effort and technological expense to insert a real biological aura, the noise of living matter and traces of the organic in the pristine and flawless digital image in order to create realism and empathy with human perception. On the other hand, the technical care taken so that the same dust and dirt generated by the work of the large computers producing the images, mixed with the skin and tissue cells of the humans who handle them, is completely eradicated from contact with the electronic systems. A human agency in the almost schizophrenic machine, which Alan Warburton encapsulates in a figurine made from the dust which sticks to the machines’ filters, simultaneously including the presence and absence of the human. A highly unstable micro-monument in honour of the first 3D animation test creature: the bunny created by the University of Stanford, located in Silicon Valley.

Natura (post)

The discovery of the huge patch of plastic in the Pacific, also known as the plastic continent, is an example of the need to think about the so-called hyperobjects (Timothy Morton). Amongst them are found new elements and phenomena produced by continued industrial action and a massive human consumption that exceeds our imagination, the evolution of which and the consequences for life, as we know it, are unknown. The primordial soup in which life was born on Earth is inhabited by plastic and in An Ecosystem of Excess, Pinar Yoldas speculates on a new concept of nature and biological forms that follow their evolutionary process incorporating the changes produced in their environment.

Within these new ontologies of life, monsters abandon their tragic and romantic character to become hybrid, symbiotic matter that drinks and enjoys enriching mutations. This particular tangle of the living suggests new models for conceiving the organic and a revision of the aesthetic canon. In the ecosystem imagined by Pinar Yoldas, the creatures seem to be happy in their bio-evolutionary process, adapting to the changes that humans have introduced into nature, fruit of our greed for consumption and ecological irresponsibility. Life remains. A colourful life, which develops new organs and whose bodies mutate taking the plastic on like any other primordial material. A biological variation that does not need humans and has the ability to develop on our industrial aftermath and the toxic waste which the former may not have outlasted. Perhaps we should not only talk about post-nature, but also about a post-beauty that, still being dazzling, extends itself tentacularly through the fields of the sinister and the disturbing.

Developing a concept of nature inhabited by other forces and spirits Yvonne Roeb composes her sculptures from natural and artificial materials. Her creatures float in an ambivalent state that hybridizes sketched, but not exactly recognizable organic forms from the animal and vegetable kingdom. In her pieces resonates an echo of the natural which is not distorted, only recoded. These present new possibilities of intertwining between organic and non-organic substances, and at the same time invoke a sacred and mystical retreat. Matter seems to be endowed with life in its staticism and the chimerical but serene sculptural compositions explore the asymmetrical dialogue between the human and the non-human. Wrapped in a supernatural animism and even suggestive of a ritual totemism that can be read in terms of anthropology and cultural theory, the pieces invite us to aesthetically blur the humanistic boundaries between naturalia and artificialia and to let ourselves be carried away by a spiritual contemplation.

In vegetal terms, Suzanne Treister’s algorithmic mysticism combines digital, botanical and cabalistic Hebrew parameters in the context of high finance. HFT the gardener is an imaginary financial trader who discovers the power of certain plants to alter consciousness and access worlds that oscillate between the real and the imaginary. Fascinated and obsessed by the magical, medicinal and spiritual qualities that have been attributed to these species, he undertakes an investigation and classification of these by drawing them meticulously, using new parameters in his taxonomy. The botanical name is translated into Hebrew and this in turn converted into figures through the Hebrew mystic technique known as gematria. These figures are related to the universe of finance and associated according to their number to various corporations of the global ranking of companies. Appropriating neocapitalist and digital tools to create a new universe, HFT which questions the power and structures that govern the world by introducing associations between science and rationally antagonistic disciplines. Visually inspired by Ernst Haeckel´s scientific illustrations of nature and the surreal worlds of the outsider artist Adolf Wölfli, HFT proposes another type of speculative knowledge, non-hierarchical and without scale of value, integrating the natural, the organic, the shamanic with the obsessive human quantification delegated to digital algorithms. An alternative in order to think of the world from other unconventional perspectives with exceptionally beautiful results, but from a disturbing trajectory. One possible therapy for an individual who decides to get out of the neoliberal machine and set out on other paths.

Towards posthuman beauty

Zoextropy proposes a reinterpretation of the aesthetic systems of the beautiful and the sinister within the current paradigm of hybridization between technology and the materiality of the living. It is not only about questioning the boundary between both categories, but also about overcoming, expanding and stretching it, making the dividing line a vast and exciting territory through which to travel. An area that expands our field of perception, thought and affectivity, freeing the aesthetic experience from well-travelled paths learned a priori.

The set of works and parallel activities, as well as its programme of interventions, call for a unique activation of the sensorial. But at the same time they aim to create reverberations with a new way of relating to the world, according to which power and intelligence belong to all matter and not only to humans, thus overcoming the anthropocentrism and centrality of the subject of Western thought.

– Karen Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway, 2007. Durham: Duke University Press, 379
– Jane Bennet, Vibrant Matter, 2010. Durham: Duke University Press, 96-99
– Rosi Braidotti, The Posthuman, 2013. Cambridge: Polity Press.
– Rick Dolphjin, Iris van der Tuin, New Materialism: Interviews and Carthographies, 2012. Ann Arbor: Michigan University Press, 15-16
– Donna J. Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs, and Women. The Reinvention of Nature, 2013. NewYork: Routledge
– Eugenio Trias, Lo bello y lo siniestro, 1982 (2018). Barcelona: Debolsillo Ensayo, 18

  • Xenowelt: The surrounding world that is no longer | Laura Benítez Valero
Xenowelt: The surrounding world that is no longer | Laura Benítez Valero


The surrounding world that is no longer
Laura Benítez Valero

In a similar way to what McLuhan stated in The Medium is the Message regarding what happens when a medium is taken to its limits, in the context of critical posthumanisms the human is taken to its limits, becoming something more, something in which differences converge and which goes beyond categories such as the beautiful. Yet the beautiful has little to do with Kant’s a priori principles of pleasure and displeasure, and even less with the defence of a universal aesthetic quality. Although, perhaps, we could allow with Kant that “there is no science of the beautiful, but only a critique of it” (Kant. The Critique of Judgement, p. 110) but with a different re-organisation: there is no science of universal beauty only a critical configuration of beauty as an overflow of what no longer is. The posthuman beauty would then be the beautiful as that which no longer operates, situating us through the artistic practices of Zoextropy in the overflow of the classic aesthetic categories. And it should be noted, not only of aesthetic categories, but also of disciplinary microcosms.

In Microcosmos, written by Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan, we find a statement that attacks the anthropocentric drive: “human beings are not particularly special” (Microcosmos, p. 195). Returning to Copernicus’ claims regarding the non-centrality of planet Earth in what at that time he agreed to call the universe, Margulis and Sagan highlight the non-centrality of the human being in biological terms, giving us a multiplicity of critical knowledge for proposals that aim to dismantle the precepts of anthropocentrism. According to Margulis and Sagan, our wisdom, that which has differentiated us from other species and which we have extolled through the flaunting of proof as a strategy to legitimize our exceptional nature as rational beings, is actually a permutation of the wisdom of the biosphere. We did not invent genetic engineering; we insinuated ourselves into the life cycles of the bacteria, which have been directly trading and copying genes on their own for some time now. We did not “invent” agriculture or locomotion on horseback; we became involved in the life cycles of plants and animals whose numbers increased in tandem with ours.

Zoextropy as a proposal preserves the strength of the uncertainty and power of the zoé, enabling alternative images to those which have subdued bodies, and not only human ones. Functioning as a multiplicity of re-signified bodies, reconfiguring the sensitive, reconfiguring common spaces through the interstices. Understanding that sort of being-in-common towards which Margulis and Sagan pointed, as a multiple denominator, like chains of disjunctive conjunctions and mobile (re)presentations, showing through artistic practices the stumbling blocks of dialectics, and its changes of direction.
The curatorial narrative of Zoextropy invites us to explore a critical cartography that differs from the universalist position that takes the human being as the centre and measure of all things, placing human exceptionality under threat. Works such as those of Pinar Yoldas or Lu Yang, not only call for a feminist revision of technoscience(s), but also highlight what we would have defined in the nineties as relational, but which, passed through the anti-universalist feminist filter, can thus be named as a post-human ethic-aesthetic and, therefore, positive, where the non unitary and nomadic subject becomes interconnected through the elimination of the obstacle symbolised by a self-centred individualism. Articulating theoretical proposals, from, in and through artistic practices, which help in the configuration of an anti-fundamentalist, materialist and vitalist subjectivity.

Probably if Margulis visited Zoextropy she would observe a deconstruction of the supremacy of the human species in the proposal. If we included Rosi Bradotti in that visit, perhaps we could say that the itinerary, even in aesthetic terms, seems to opt for challenging any enduring notion of human nature. It is precisely on those same terms of Braidotti that Zoextropy makes it difficult for us to maintain that anthropos and bios are categorically distinct from zoé, therefore, as Donna Haraway would say, what is brought to the fore is the nature-culture continuum, that kind of structure embodied by an extended subjectivity.

Zoextropy functions as a multiplicity of porous bodies, ontologically multifocal, that exiles us through the aesthetic experience. An aesthetic in which that judgment of taste, which implied an aesthetic quality of universality which has so effectively sustained our ontological narcissism, no longer seems to work. The posthuman beauty brings those outside (exo) in, causing the insides to overflow, taking up the power of symbiogenesis as opposed to an existence based on struggle. Lynn Margulis defended, and demonstrated, that new species, appear by symbiogenesis. This means that new organisms are created by symbiosis, therefore a new generation of species is due to symbiotic processes. According to Margulis’s theory, eukaryotic cells (animals, fungi and plants) originated from the successive incorporation of prokaryotic cells (bacteria), which became part of different organelles, such as mitochondria or chloroplasts. She also defended the incorporation of cilia and flagella in eukaryotic cells through the intervention of spirochetal bacteria. That is, according to symbiogenesis, serial endosymbioses end up leading to a transfer of genetic material between the participating organisms, so that a new organism is formed that incorporates the symbionts that gave rise to it, as in the case of Elysia clorótica.

Certainly, Lynn Margulis’s theories have been very controversial since they have been read as a denialist attack on Darwin’s theory of evolution, but Margulis never attacked Darwinian theory, she expanded it, furthermore establishing the scientific bases that put a check on attempts to give a political reading of the theory of evolution. But not only Margulis was critical of those readings, thinkers like Piotr Kropotkin already, at the end of the 19th century, were very critical of some of the proposals of social neo-Darwinism. An example of this was the dialectic battle that Kropotkin and Thomas Huxley maintained about the interpretation of Darwin’s theory.

Thomas Huxley, a British biologist, was a strong supporter of the theory of evolution, but his peculiarity was that he focused on the factor of “struggle”. In 1888 he published an article “The Struggle for Existence in Human Society” in The Nineteenth Century Journal, where he insisted on the concept of struggle as one of the fundamental factors of success (in terms of scientific veracity) of Darwin’s theory. It was precisely in that context and in that same magazine, where Kropotkin published a series of articles in response to the one published by Huxley, whom he accused of appropriating Darwin’s theory to construct a political programme in defence of capitalism as a reaction to utopian socialist proposals for social change.

In his response, Kropotkin did not deny struggle in the evolutionary process but insisted on the importance of cooperation for evolution. The importance of cooperation is very present in Margulis’s proposal, to the point that she refers to a symbiotic interdependence, or as we could say in the context of Zoextropy: more than self-poiesis we are always already entangled in a sympoietic-being-becoming.

I understand, therefore, that what is called posthuman beauty in the context of Zoextropy is the power of becoming constituent, many-pointed and cooperative. A “constituent becoming that opens up new spaces for subjectification: it points towards the self-determination of embodied subjectivity, rather than to the representation of its abstract and universal totality” (Braidotti, 2018, 31). An overflow that offers us an inexplicit understanding of what we call, or what until now we had called, the world, a world no longer only human. That surrounding world (Umwelt) that is overwhelmed by the power of estrangement, of the xeno (strange) as a contemporary condition of being-in-the-world.

Xenofeminism (XF) insists that adapting our behaviour for an era of Promethean complexity is a task that requires patience, but a fierce patience which is against “waiting”. To assess political hegemony or a rebel memeplex not only implies the creation of material infrastructures in order to make explicit the values ​​that we want to articulate, but it also imposes demands on us as subjects. How do we become the bearers of this new world? How do we build a better semiotic parasite – one which excites the desires we want, that orchestrates not an orgy of autophagy, indignity and anger, but an emancipatory and egalitarian community underpinned by new forms of non-egoistic solidarity and collective self-mastery?

Some proposals of Zoextropy reformulate, perhaps unintentionally, the modern being-in-the-midst (Sein bei der Welt) as becoming-in-the-midst. That is, unlike the Heideggerian proposal where there is nothing like a being-together of the entity called Dasein (being-there) with another entity called world, Zoextropy proposes a kind of co-habiting in estrangement, a Mitsein in der Xenowelt, where probably the only thing we can articulate is that which no longer operates. But it is precisely the experience of that surrounding world that no longer operates, that gives us power as tropos, spinning towards the question posed by Laboria Cuboniks in the Xenofeminist Manifesto: How do we become the bearers of this new world? A question that offers us the possibility to articulate other means when it comes to (re)thinking, articulating or even un-doing both what we call the world and the possible categories

The power that we find in Zoextropy is the generation of new imaginaries and new forms of affectivity. New forms of affectivity as a tangle of care in which it is possible to articulate other models, through the co-implication of matter and form, of alternative subjectivities that have nothing to do with the idea of the individual, of that ontologically isolated individual in a surrounding world that is their own. Therefore, the posthuman beauty is a bringing into play of differences, which converge towards common spaces, where the exceptionality of the human is diluted in highly contaminating encounters, generating a change in the plane of re-presentation. Un-making any stagnant endeavour subdued by the symbolic glue of anthropocentrism.

We find the posthuman beauty, as an overflow, in projects that break semantics and classical syntax, pointing out the power of babbling, of that which can not yet be said, of those aesthetic categories that escape between our fingers while we claim to name them. In the same way that the pretension sustained throughout Western history to maintain aesthetics, ethics, ontology and epistemology in separate spheres escapes us. The affirmative (con)figurations of this Xenowelt as a surrounding world that is no longer propose that we rethink ourselves in a sympoetic becoming and question us from an aesthetic dimension in terms of responsibility, without forgetting that, as Judith Butler points out, there is always an arbitrary distinction between species, therefore we can not ignore how posthuman beauty questions us in that which we could call the responsibility of asymmetries.

– Rosi Braidotti. (2013). The Posthuman. Cambridge (MA), Polity Press.
– Rosi Braidotti. (2018). Por una política afirmativa. Itinerarios éticos. Barcelona: Gedisa.
– Donna Haraway. (2016). Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Experimental Futures). Durham: Duke University Press.
– Martin Heidegger. (1962). Being and Time. New York: Harper and Row.
– Helen Hester. (2018). Xenofeminismo. Tecnologías de género y políticas de reproducción. Buenos Aires: Caja negra.
– Immanuel Kant. (1914). The Critique of Judgement. London: Macmillan and co.
– Piotr Alekséyevich Kropotkin. (1902). Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution. New York: McClure Phillips and co.
– Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan. (1986). Microcosmos. New York: Summit Books.
– Lynn Margulis. (1998). The Symbiotic Planet. Madrid: Debate.
– Jakob von Uexkull. (2014). Cartas biológicas a una dama. Argentina: Cactus.

  • The tapeworm (they came from inside of…) | Leticia Ybarra Pasch
The tapeworm (they came from inside of…) | Leticia Ybarra Pasch

The tapeworm (they came from inside of…)

Leticia Ybarra Pasch

So cultivate your inner housefly or cockroach, instead of your inner child. Let selectional processes do their work of hatching alien eggs within your body. (Steven Shaviro)

A recurring dream amongst pregnant women is giving birth to a deformed baby, an anxiety that hides the fear of what the human can become. During the second pregnancy of my aunt Mercedes, the news that in a few months she was going to be a mother was followed by news that she had the Taenia saginata; so this anxiety took a personal twist and her nightmares became filled with worms and babies.

The taenia, also known as the tapeworm, is an elongated worm without brain or eyes or mouth that, as an adult, installs itself in our intestines. Its entire body is a mouth-gut system that absorbs the continuous stream of energy that our body provides. With horror my aunt imagined how these two forms of life which she was carrying could affect each other, and she was especially disturbed by the strange reordering and overlapping of vital organs in the tapeworm (skin, mouth and intestine are the same), since a recurring dream consisted in the transmission of that disorder to the foetus.

My aunt´s nightmares took a path which was affected by the helplessness of not being able to take medicine to expel the tapeworm during her pregnancy and by the numerous readings on tapeworms which she resorted to compulsively during those months. However, there was an original structure that was always repeated: in all the nightmares my aunt gave birth to a little head that screamed in the body of a worm. She never specified if it was a natural birth, caesarean section or if she gave birth through the mouth or anus. Her mutant baby had a seemingly human head instead of a scolex, although it clung to her chest and was able to absorb milk through all the pores of its face. My aunt’s reaction in the first dreams was to pick up that modified child, take it to the kitchen and start to cut it up like a loaf of bread.

My aunt watched with horror as, when she beheaded her child, they regenerated their body and the segments that followed the little head took on a life of their own. My aunt then remembered Mike, a chicken that was famous, according to the TV, for surviving eighteen months without a head. The more she wanted to get rid of her child, the more it responded with its capacity for life and its ability to mutate into something even more grotesque. My aunt, obviously, took those reactions as insolent behaviour and the persistence of something that “shouldn’t be there where it is”.

As the dreams went on, my aunt perfected her technique and even came to presume the baby-worm dead (although she did not really know what that meant) by cutting it vertically and horizontally to make it into a kind of mince. However, killing the mutant baby was a temporary victory, as soon as she fell asleep, she gave birth to it again.

My aunt continued reading about the tapeworm and how well it was adapted to the human intestine, to the point of wondering, like Burroughs, “what came first, the intestine or the tapeworm?” Although the common ancestor of the tapeworm and the human being separated 1.7 million years ago, later they reunited and co-evolved. Perhaps the most cruel revenge would be to cut off that symbiosis and, instead of killing it, expel the baby-worm and abandon it. “Somewhere out there wanders a tapeworm without an intestine. Can you think of a sadder biography?” However, every time she got rid of the baby-tapeworm, it returned, disorientated but very hungry for intestine, so at the first lapse of concentration it crawled back into my aunt through her mouth.

By the fifth month of pregnancy, the initial structure of my aunt’s nightmare was still as follows: she gave birth to a little head that screamed in the body of a worm. Her mutant baby clung to her breast and was able to absorb milk through all the pores of its face. However, instead of trying to prevent breastfeeding, my aunt began to breastfeed and let it play and suck her nipples with all its face-mouth. As the doses lengthened, my aunt fantasized about finding a name for it.

Finally she decided to call him Leto, in homage to the character in Dune who carries out a symbiosis with the sandworms of Arrakis. In addition, Leto was a neutral name and my aunt thought it was the right way out for whatever her child’s gender was, since both male and female genitalia could be found in each of the segments that constituted its body. Still, the fact of giving a name to that hitherto unpronounceable chimera did not mean my aunt was committed to the later upbringing of Leto. She knew that even if she managed to overcome the repulsion she had for her child, it would be seen by everyone else as a destabilizing creature, evidence that monstrosity is always latent in all human inkling. Nobody was going to play a part in that effrontery, so the tragedy of Leto would be the constant search for looks that humanized them. And even if they had the approval of their mother, my aunt imagined her child withdrawing into their shell after the constant rejection of everyone. They would find a half-place only near her. For example, for a week, my aunt dreamed that, after so much abjection and ridicule, her child decided to roll themself up in their leg and refused to separate from it except to breastfeed. Then my aunt had to go out in the street with a long skirt, but the mutant child grew and grew, and the bigger it became, the more impossible it was to find a place in the world for it.

The recurring dream always began in the same way, that is, by the eighth month of pregnancy the initial structure of this remained as follows: my aunt gave birth to a little head that screamed in the body of a worm. Her mutant baby clung to her chest and was able to absorb milk through all the pores of its face. However, after many nightmares (six to ten per week and several in the same night), and multiple outcomes, after reading a lot of articles and papers and having watched many Mundo singular (Strange World) TV programmes, the nightmare was finally displaced when at last my aunt managed to normalize Leto’s existence and find a place where they could be. In these final dreams, my aunt, after giving birth and breastfeeding her baby-worm, rehabilitated it as a “pet parasite”. She just opened her mouth wide and waited for Leto, spontaneously, to jump into it, and from there, reach the intestine.

My intestines are on as intimate terms with their tapeworms as they are with my mouth, my asshole, and my other organs; the relationship is as ‘intrinsic’ and ‘organic’ in the one case as it is in the other. Just like the tapeworm, I live off the surplus-value extracted from what passes through my stomach and intestines. Who’s the parasite, then, and who’s the host? (Steven Shaviro)

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