“The Whale Caller” by Jaco Sieberhagen (Hermanus, South Africa). Photo by Gavin Steingo.

Project (2021)

Between Worlds: Music, Sound, and Interspecies Communication

“The anthropological machine of humanism is an ironic apparatus that verifies the absence of a nature proper to Homo, holding him suspended between a celestial and a terrestrial nature, between animal and human—and, thus, his being always less and more than himself.” So writes Giorgio Agamben in The Open: Man and Animal. But if the anthropological machine of humanism is an ironic apparatus, it is also a deeply ambiguous one. On the one hand, the European Enlightenment bequeathed to us an irreconcilable separation of the human and the animal. On the other hand, that particular legacy of European modernity has been undermined at every possible turn. In this project, I am interested in one particular undermining feature: namely, the impulse to constantly trespass the border between the human and non-human, to discover human-like non-humans either right under our own noses or at the far reaches of the universe. Between Worlds examines several significant cases of attempted communication beyond the human—several cases, that is, where the dualistic relationship of human to non-human is dramatically challenged. From a small coastal community in South Africa to a scientific laboratory in the Caribbean and a case of black performance art, the project charts various mechanisms that humans have devised to think about, and indeed to reach, beings very unlike ourselves. I understand each of the quite different cases as forms of experimentation, as speculative endeavors to reach beyond what we are and what we know.