Dislocating Agency and Moving Objects: Association, Demarcation, Transformation – ASCA International Workshop Amsterdam 2013

Transgression as Regression: How Puppets “Fail” Agency

What could be more transgressive for progressive critical theory than to be ‘against transgression’?” (M. Shildrick)

Following Shildrick’s critical revaluation of the powers of transgression, I want to uncover “what is at stake in the corporealisation of transgression in anomalies that, though they appear arbitrary, and sometimes monstrous, speak to the undecidability of all forms of embodiment. Transgression is not an optional add-on, but the retrospective default position.” 1 Transgression as potential regression, as losing and shifting instead of gaining agency, shall be the theme of my paper. For matter to transform, it is bound to transgress its own defining borders, its containment, its material dimensions. For bodies, which are materialized through discourse and cultural laws, transgression becomes a political project and affects the embodied subject’s agency. For so-called anomalous bodies, the discursive as well as the material grounds for agency are vulnerable as long as they remain within a defining norm. Yet, what are the risks of transgressing this norm when the body’s discursive and material conditions meet, merge, and clash? In Maja Gehrig’s puppet-animation Amourette (2009), the discursively constructed as well as the material qualities of bodies are exposed to the simultaneous, yet antithetical, transgression of form, relationality, and agency: Two wooden dolls are having sex on sandpaper; as a result of their wrestling acts and amorous play, they sand themselves off by rubbing the floor. Eventually, the love act turns into a race against time, in which all attempts to stay “in shape” – unimpaired, autonomous, and alive – fail. Transformation of matter here leads to the transgression of discursive constructions of sex, sexuality, and subjectivity at the price of losing substance. I want to read Amourette as an attempt to rethink and challenge the powers of transgression through transformation.