Eben Kirksey, Curator and Editor
Elan Abrell, Karin Bolender, Laura McLauchlan, Jeffrey Bussolini, Editorial Board
Craig Schuetze, Provocateur
Manon Meyer-Hilfiger, Jane Kang, Production and Editorial Assistants
Alphabets have been used to make sense of disparate fragments of discourses by philosophers such as Gilles Deleuze and Roland Barthes. They capture emergent concepts that are not fully formed, but that start to take on order within alphabetic logics.
In codifying the ABCs of Multispecies Studies we are reaching out to our swarm of creative collaborators–poachers who are prepared to trespass within the lexicon of others, as well as authors who have coined their own concepts.
Alphabets typically involve a search for roots, which is perhaps why encyclopedias arose as a genre alongside disciplines that produced origin myths. In the domains of high art and in early enterprises of colonial anthropology, intellectuals gave prestige to originals and origins. In their recent refusals to conform to diachronic standards of validity, however, both artists and anthropologists have turned away from genealogical projects and practices that require an established pedigree.
The Multispecies Salon is creating a kind of alphabet that reaches to the biological as well as etymological–containing both roots and rhizomes. Authors of the Multispecies ABCs will move beyond the domain of ethnography, to bring in key morphemes from geography, ecology, archaeology, history, queer theory, and allied intellectual traditions. Letters will represent more than one word. A is for Animal as well for Anthropos; B is for Becoming and for Buzz; C is for Care and Charisma. Rather than privilege our favorite literal organisms, we will only accept critter keywords if they have serious figural potential, like P for Parasite.
Alphabets tell us as much about what we know as what we do not. In L’Abécédaire Gilles Deleuze used the letters X and Y to stand for unknown variables, black boxes of knowledge as uncharted as the elements on the periodic table. Yet these lacunas of language are not empty.
Bjorn Norgaard’s introduction to the Danish Cast Collection, a series of plaster replicas of some of Europe’s finest art, offers an archaeological perspective on types of alphabetic knowledge:
“In the 1960s we believed that the physical work of art was empty. But what postmodern philosophers referred to as “simulacrum” instead turned out to be like an alphabet in language, a vantage point even for recent art forms. Form, color, line, is the basic alphabet of visual art, just like A, B, C, D, E on the keyboard. Visual art, like science, is based on layer upon layer, accumulated through generations, through reference, rebellion, quotes, citations, new theories, stealing of other people’s work or ideas, charlatans, hearsay, and so on.”
Norgaard’s words offer an apt frame for the ABCs of Multispecies Studies. Our alphabet will map out citations and references, while offering rebellious readings of emergent theory.
You cannot argue with a dictionary. You can only write a new one.
Barthes, Roland (1978) A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments. New York: Hill and Wang.
Christensen, Inger (2001) Alphabet, New Directions.
Deleuze, Gilles (2011) Gilles Deleuze from A to Z. Cambridge: The MIT Press.
Raffles, Hugh (2010) The Illustrated Insectopedia: Insect Love From A-Z. New York: Pantheon/Vintage.
Click on a letter to view the corresponding Multispecies ABC entries
Alphabet des animaux, A. Caulo, Paris, 1856
Double Death by Deborah Bird Rose
Eros by Deborah Bird Rose
Gleaning by Jane Kang, poaching Rusten Hogness
Hope by Eben Kirksey
Labor by Jennifer Hamilton
Microbiopolitics by Heather Paxon
Rot by Joanna Radin