Johnston—On Having a Furry Soul

On having a furry soul: transpecies identity and ontological indeterminacy in Otherkin subcultures

by Jay Johnston

[Johnston, Jay. 2013. “On Having a Furry Soul: Transpecies Identity and Ontological Indeterminacy in Otherkin Subcultures.” In Animal Death, edited by Fiona Probyn-Rapsey and Jay Johnston, 293–306. Sydney University Press.]

Points

  • The paper “examines the use the concept of the ‘animal’ is put to in the con­struction of Otherkin (Therian) identity and the ramifications of this figuration for conceptualising animal and human ontology. Does an Otherkin presence paradoxically require the erasure of the ‘animal’?” (294).

Otherkin: Fluid Definitions

  • “one of the delights of Otherkin subjectivity is the destabilisation of the real-fiction binary their concept of self proposes. Sharp distinc­tion cannot be drawn between the ‘real’ and the ‘imaginary’. When considering Otherkin engagement with the ‘animal: this is not purely a case of an imaginary relation” (294).
  • Johnston calls this Otherkin subjectivity transpecies identity
    • “This term is employed to represent a fluid subject position that questions normative categories including concepts of species and dimorphic concepts of gender. Further, transpecies identity undermines the categorical distinction of ‘human’ and ‘animal” (295).
  • “The role of the imagina­tion (not in the sense of derisory fantasy but as a significant epistemolo­gical tool for recognising and relating to one’s own species alterity) and creativity are privileged as modes for communicating with the other as­pects of self and for working with the Otherkin subjectivity in everyday life” (297).

Tracing the demise of both presence and absence: Derrida’s différance

  • Derrida for complete dummies like myself (this is not part of the article; it is for me and/or the hypothetical-etherial readership this comps blog does not have)
    1. Saussure says signs and signifiers have no inherent meaning—meaning only comes from their relation to one another (which is completely arbitrary)
    2. therefore, difference comes before meaning
    3. to stretch this beyond language—différance comes before Being; in other words, there exists an alterity to you before you do
    4. BUT this isn’t possible, because it is alter to what? A thing that is not yet a thing can’t be negated.
    5. Says Derrida—there is no identity that “is itself” by virtue of its being.
    6. What we mistake for “presence” is the “trace” of différance in articulation between existence-nonexistence, past-future, sign-signifier, self-alterity, etc…
  • This is all well and good to think with, but it leads to gems like this:
    • “This différance is a constantly erased trace, ineradicable but forever bey­ond the grasp of known presence (or absence). Paradoxically, this trace presences – without presencing – the other: radical alterity. It is a mo­bile, impartial interface that undermines the logic that proposes the dichotomy absence-presence” (298).
      • gross

Meeting the animal-other

  • “How can we conceptualise the Otherkin’s ontological rela­tionship to their Other? Does such a conceptualisation enact a death of both the ‘animal’ and the ‘human’?” (300).
  • A lot of animal rights discourse is modelled on women’s rights discourse, but this does not necessarily result in the re-inscription of a predictable dualism (male-culture/female-nature) onto species rela­tions. Indeed, the question of the ‘animal’ offers serious challenges to such normative logics” (301).
  • Derrida’s animot—half animal, half machine that is “Neither animal nor non-animal, neither organic nor inorganic, neither living nor dead … This quasi-animal would no longer have to relate itself to being as such” (Derrida quoted on 302).
    • “Is this also the ontology of Otherkin? A subjectivity, which in its multiplicity, pushes on the boundaries of prescribed human ontologies (neither process nor substance; but something betwixt and between)” (302).

Transpecies selves and the life—death of the particular

  • “In conclusion, a series of disparate relations remain. Paradoxically, while challenging the boundaries of the human, Otherkin identities simultaneously desire to maintain the definitions and borders given to animal and human in dominant discourse: otherwise the construc­tion of their own difference (from the ‘norm’) disperses. Can such a proposition of human-animal identity be proposed in a way in which radical difference is not elided?” (303-304).
    • “That is a proposal of Transpecies identity where ‘Other’ ceases to be the operative word: for it is always ‘other to what?” (303).
  • “Although it has been noted herein that Therianthrope subjectivity can be read as em­ploying a universal concept of the animal that does not ethically take into account radical difference (an alterity not premised upon the hu­man or dimorphic concepts of gender), it is equally evident that the questioning of the human and of normative identity categories that the subculture embraces is valuable. It is a more complex, creative and re­spectful approach to subject identity than that which is currently found in normative anthropocentric discourses of the human” (305).
    • “To consider oneself inherently and ontologically betwixt and between species is per­haps not so much pathological as political” (305).

Annotation Summary for: Johnston – On Having a Furry Soul

Page 1, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “On having a furry soul: transpecies identity and ontological indeterminacy in Otherkin subcultures* Jay Johnston”

Page 1, Highlight (Cyan): Content: ” ata civic level the modern ‘West’ has three main modes of engagingwith that deemed other: aggression (annihilate it), accommodation (on terms set by the dominant culture) or render it peripheral and unim­portant (ignoring and ridicule are common techniques here). ”

Page 2, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Other kin’s ‘other’ in­ cludes – but is by no means limited to animals – the type of Otherkin focused on herein and known as Therian – faery, machines, media characters, anime characters, vampires and mythological beasts. Other­ kin identity can not only.be comprised of two-part combinations, but can also be ‘multiple: wherein subjectivity is understood to be com­ prised of numerous parts of different species; for example, rat, human, elf simultaneously. This is certainly no wholly human self.”

Page 2, Stamp (I don’t like this)

Page 2, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “However, as many theorists note, otherness is wondrously unruly and productive and continues to destabilise the ontological ground of subjectivity.”

Page 2, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “This chapter examines the use the concept of the ‘animal’ is put to in the con­ struction of O~herkin (‘Iberian) identity and the ramifications of this figuration for conceptualising animal and human ontology. Does an Otherkin presence paradoxically require the erasure of the ‘animal’?”

Page 2, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “In this discussion, Otherkin will be considered as proposing (and living) a form of transpecies identity.1”

Page 2, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “To commence this inquiry, the concept of subjectivity found in Otherkin discourse will first be elaborated, with particular focus on the conceputalisation of both ‘other’ and ‘animal: This will then be considered i:1 relation to Derrida’s work on ontological absence and presence, i nd. :;iuestions found in his work and that of Kelly Oliver con­ cerning meeting animal difference.”

Page 2, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Otherkin: fluid definitions”

Page 2, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “the recognition of the ‘other within’, ac­ cording to the data amassed by Lupa, is core to individual self-un­ derstanding and provides a narrative or a reason for ‘feeling different’ and is considered an ontological aspect of the self. These are selves that embrace a ubiquitous haunting; that one’s lived, felt subjectivity is not ‘normal:”

Page 2, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Otherkin are a heterogeneous subculture in which individuals consider themselves to be only partially – or something other than – human. The nonhuman element includes a variety of real and fictional species. Indeed one oft~ delights of Otherkin subjectivity is the destabilisation of the real-fiction binary their concept of self proposes.”

Page 2, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Sharp distinc­tion cannot be drawn between the ‘real’ and the ‘imaginary: When considering Oth~rkin engagement with the ‘animal: this is not purely a case of an imaginary relation. ”

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “the concept of ‘wolf spirit’ alerts one to the obvious influence of universal forms of contemporary shaman­ ism, especially the type popularised by Michael Harner (shamanism as constituted by techniques and practices that can be taught to anyone regardless of their cultural background) (Harner, 1980).”

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The role of the imagina­ tion (not in the sense of derisory fantasy but as a significant epistemolo­ gical tool for recognising and relating to one’s own species alterity) and creativity are privileged as modes for communicating with the other as­ pects of self and for working with the Otherkin subjectivity in everyday life.”

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “the prime concern herein is not to present a categorisa­ tion or even outline community· debates and dynamics, but to consider the forms of subjectivity being proposed – a ‘subjectivity’ built on the demise of the ‘human’ and ‘animal’ as ontologically distinct categor­ ies – and the ethics which emerge.”

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “We have a generic wolf, a wolf born of universal shamanism, and so it is that one meets the first ethical hurdle found in ‘Iberian identity – the other as generic rather than the specific animal”

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “To achieve this, two types of discourse are drawn together: on the one hand statements of individuals who con­ sciously self-identify as Therianthropes, and on the other hand discus­ sions of the ‘animal’ by Jacques Derrida and Kelly Oliver.”

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “the communities have offered a varyi ng array of beliefs about their origins, many of which use popu­ lar science, religious belief and mythological discourses as the founda­ tion narratives.”

Page 4, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Tracing the demise of both presence and absence: Derrida’s differance”

Page 4, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Meeting the animal-other”

Page 4, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “This dijferance is a constantly erased trace, ineradicable but forever bey­ond the grasp of known presence (or absence). Paradoxically, this trace presences – wi thout presencing – the other: radical alterity. It is a mo­bile, impartial interface that undermines the logic that proposes thedichotomy absence-presence.”

Page 4, Stamp (I don’t like this)

Page 5, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “In asking the question ‘What is this an­ imal Other of Other kin?: it is at least superficially clear that this animal is conceptualised from within the discourse of contemporary shaman­ ism, including the magical and healing aspects associated with animal species. However, tracing this conceptual linage with more precision is the task of another publication.”

Page 5, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “It is most certainly well recognised that much animal rights dis­ course has been modelled on women’s rights discourse and the con­ ceptual coupling of women-nature still lurks within it (Calarco 2008, 6-13 ). However, this does not necessarily result in the re-inscription of a predictable dualism (male-culture/female-nature) onto species rela­ tions. Indeed, the question of the ‘animal’ offers serious challenges to such normative logics.”

Page 5, Stamp (Star (Frame, Red))

Page 5, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Here~n, arguments are restricted to pondering: How can we conceptualise the Otherkin’s ontological rela­ tionship to their Other? Does such a conceptualisation enact a death of both the ‘animal’ and the ‘human’?”

Page 5, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Oliver goes on to advocate the ‘unimagined possibility of pansexuality’. While there is”

Page 6, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “much to support in Oliver’s critique, especially the understanding that troubling the man/woman and man/animal dualism necessarily leads to a radical rethinking of subjective (and ontological) difference, one is wary of the employment of a term like ‘pan’ (in ‘pansexuality’) and its potential to evoke the universal, or at an ontological level a concept of sameness. And does not the claim to ‘take the side of the animal’ con­ tain the assumption that one can speak for the subject of difference? Is this not yet another form of appropriation?”

Page 6, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Donna Haraway has made clear in her work on cyborgs and simi­ ans that the boundaries between such terms as ‘human: ‘animal’ (and ‘machine’) are so nebulous that the maintenance of the terminology no longer make? any sense.”

Page 6, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “In illustrating the animot, Derrida gives the example of the echidn.a and the chimaera: ‘the proper name of a flame·-spitting monster. Its monstrousness derived precisely from the multiplicity of animals, of the anirnot in it (head and chest of a lion, entrails of a goat, tail of a dragon)’ (2008, 41).”

Page 6, Highlight (Yellow): Content: “animot,”

Neither animal nor non-animal, neither organic nor inorganic, neither living nor dead … This quasi-animal would no longer have to relate itself to being as such (something Heidegger thinks the animal is incapable of), since it would take into account the need to strike out being’. But as a result, in striking out ‘being’ and taking itself beyond or on this side of the question (and hence of the response) is it something completely other than a species of animal? Yet another question to follow up. (2008, 39)

Page 6, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Transpecies selves and the life-death of the particular”

Page 6, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “In conclusion, a series of disparate relations remain. Paradoxically, while challenging the boundaries of the human, Otherkin identities simultaneously desite to maintain the definitions and borders given to animal and human in dominant discourse: otherwise the construc­tion of their own difference (from the ‘norm’) disperses. Can such aproposition of human-animal identity be proposed in a way in which”

Page 6, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Is this also the ontology of Otherkin? A subjectivity, which in its multiplicity, pushes on the boundaries of prescribed human ontologies (neither process nor substance; but something betwixt and between).”

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “radical difference is not elided?”

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “As with every bottomless gaze, as with the eyes of the other, the gaze called ‘animal’ offers to my sight the abyssal limit of the human: the inhuman or the ahuman. (2008, 12)”

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “That is, a proposal of Transpecies identity where ‘Other’ ceases to be the operative word: for it is always ‘other to what?'”

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Here is a productive recognition oflimit – this limit is also potentiality. This is simultaneously the death of the animal and the death of the human as well as their re-birth as an elusive limit.”

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Although it has been noted herein that Therianthrope subjectivity can be read as em­ ploying a universal concept of the animal that does not ethically take into account radical difference (an alterity not premised upon the hu­ man or dimorphic concepts of gender), it is equally evident that the questioning of the human and of normative identity categories that the subculture embraces is valuable. It is a more complex, creative and re­ spectful approach to subject identity than that which is currently found in normative anthropocentric discourses of the human.”

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “To consider oneself inherently and ontologically betwixt and between species is per­ haps not so much pathological as political.”

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “At first glance Otherkin may seem a faddish, perhaps even quaint or fashionable subculture. However, rather than simply dismiss or ridicule the subcultures, what is argued herein is that these individual’s relationships and their cri­ tique of the human can offer potentially useful renegotiations of the concept of subjectivity and how relations with radical difference (al­ terity) are lived. These negotiations are underlined by the productive death of both the animal and the human.”

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Both meeting species and/or understanding one’s identity as Transpe­ cies or as Otherkin do therefore require a certain vision, a response­ ability and a continual questioning: How does one enter into ethical relations with the animal-other: that one is and yet is not? For what · does this gaze call?”

Page 7, Underline (Red): Content: “Derrida J (2008). The animal that therefore I am. D Wills (Trans.). New York: Fordham University Press. Derrida J (1982 [1972)). Margins of philosophy. A Bass (Trans.). Chicago: University of Chica$o Press. Derrida J (1997). Choreographies: interview. In NJ Holland (Ed.). Feminist interpretations of Jacques Derrida (pp23-41). University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.”

Page 8, Underline (Red): Content: “Haraway DJ (2008). Foreword: companion species, mis-recognition, and queer worlding. In N Giffney & MJ Hird (Eds). Queering the non/human (ppxxiii-v’.). Aldershot: Ashgate. Haraway DJ (I ~91). Simians, cyborgs and women: the reinvention of nature. London: Free Association Books.”

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