ANT vs. SPIDER

Just now I was reading a passage of Tim Ingold's "When ANT meets SPIDER: Social Theory for Arthropods" out loud.

On this particular day, in this particular room, the audience for my recapitulation was a human being, a man, anthropos (though, of course, I was reading with and to other things, both "animate" and "inanimate"...but all moving, in one way or another). Thus, I suppose it is fair to say that I expected some intelligent response. Did I receive? Let's think—

Ingold's essay unfolds as a dialogue between two speakers:

  • ANT—an insect-speaker embodying actor network theory, specifically Bruno Latour's own account of his object-attentive ontological invention. [1]
  • SPIDER—Ingold's response to Latourian actor network theory, an acronym spelling out "Skilled Practice Involves Developmentally Embodied Responsiveness" (tongue firmly planted in mandible). [2]

ANT opens the debate with a brief epideictic speech on the essential virtue of his species:

‘We ants’, he declares, ‘are not isolated individuals. Our brains may be no bigger than pin heads, yet we can achieve great things. Our nests are monumental mounds and our roads are highways through the forest, overrunning everything in their path. We can accomplish these feats because we collaborate. We live together in colonies, many thousand strong, sharing our food and work. In a word, we are the most social of insects’. [3]

Here, my quiet, self-contained consideration of arthropods and boys was interrupted, as my listener sounded-off: "No, not more than bees!"

Now then, dear reader, my intention in offering this brief anecdote is pretty broken up. But let me ask a few questions:

  • Was my listener meant to keep silent?
  • Why would I think that?
  • Was he addressing ANT, Ingold, or me?
  • Was he speaking as himself, SPIDER, Ingold, or some other interested party (perhaps he imagined some self-righteous BEE overhearing the debate between ANT and SPIDER)?
  • Finally, was his interjection an anticipated/invited response to the reading of this little fable and, if so, did Ingold issue it or did I take it upon myself to open the author and his interlocutors up to such riposte?

Though phrased in the particular, such questions could be applied to any dialogic text—from the Platonic corpus to software-initiated dialogue boxes—all of which share a talent for invention, disruption, translation, and persuasion. Dialogues and the polyphony of voices they offer [4] are inextricably linked to rhetoric’s evolution as a discipline. [5] And to pitting things, as a language game (in theory?) or a war (in practice?).

 

[1] Made male (by Ingold). Personally, I'm thinking of Μυρμιδόνες, μύρμηξ re: game/war ^^^

I remember when I was canoeing and I felt something on my hand and I looked down to see a wolf spider the size of a saucer. They're often Minnesotan and so am I. Besides, I hate fire ants.

[2] Made female (by Ingold), likely relying on the classical metamorphic tale of Arachne, the hubristic girl-weaver whose insolence was punished by the goddess Athena. Maybe I'm reading Greek into all this (I tend to do that), but if Ingold is indeed relying on mythological precedent to prop up this gendering...maybe...the male/female binary (and where it breaks down) w/references to insects is worthy of rhetorical consideration. How I'd love to write a chapter on this, alone...

Is Ingold operating in the dialogic tradition of Plato, who cast Diotima as the philosophical goddess-teacher-mother to Socrates in Symposium? What might Ingold's (or Plato's, for that matter) gendering suggest with regard to the role of female speakers in anthropomorphic, extrahuman, transhuman, and/or posthuman dialogues?

I guess Imma go look for bugs and swarms (entomorphic features...but not merely "metaphoric" in terms of operation) in feminist and queer theory: J. Halberstam's "low theory" in The Queer Art of Failure; Donna Haraway's "Modest Witness@Second Millenium.FemaleMan Meets OncoMouse: Feminism and Technoscience" and When Species Meet. I'm still not sure how to frame the feminist and queer contours of entomorphism (i.e., the making bugly of people and things) in my dis. Like, what/who is cutting into what/who? Insecting. Bisecting. Bisexing. Sexting (both analytical and inventional): sussing the genders of bugly texts based on (human?) representations and constructions of gender and sexuality. Do I want to talk about feminist/queer theory as sects of entomorphism or do I want to talk about entomorphism as one section within a broader feminist/queer posthuman/transhuman project? Rosi Braidotti’s explanation of a “woman-insects nexus” or Elizabeth Grosz on insects as philosophic, fantasmic stand-ins for female sexuality...

In the past I've certainly demonstrated an concern for proto- or pseudo-queer moments in the history of rhetoric. My MA thesis on the erastes/eromenos relation in Phaedrus was kinda involved in this...in trying to figure out how Athenian pederastic practices functioned in terms of civic engagement and social networking, as well as how pederasty functioned rhetorically for Plato's ostensible critique of rhetoric and the technology of the written word. I guess there's something there I'm still chasing. Both my thesis and dissertation are invested in these subjects that tend to make people's skin crawl—pederasty and insect relations. Both tend to be quickly reduced to a discussion of good vs. bad, helpful vs. harmful. And it's not that I'm not interested in the real harm and real help offered by certain lovers, certain beloveds, certain bugs. I am. But my current research begs a question prior to good/bad...or above and beyond. See obv. Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil. Possibly also Grosz, The Incorporeal: Ontology, Ethics, and the Limits of Materialism.

[3] "When ANT meets SPIDER: Social Theory for Arthropods," Material Agency: Towards a Non-Anthropocentric Approach edited by C. Knappett & L. Malafouris (Boston, MA: Springer, 2008): 209.

[4] See perhaps Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of polyphony in dialogic prose, as well as subsequent contributions from feminist and postcolonial theorists—Dale M. Bauer (1988), Patrick D. Murphy (1995), Karen Hohne and Helen Wussow (1994), Robert Young (2005).

[5] The very term rhêtorikê, at least in its narrow meaning as a distinct verbal art with an identifiable body of teachings, emerged from Plato’s conversational and (still, imo) controversial critiques of sophistic practices in 5th- and 4th-century Athens. Edward Schiappa, “Did Plato Coin Rhêtorikê?” American Journal of Philology vol. 111 (1990): 460—73. NB: Schiappa’s argument was countered by John Poulakos in a series of exchanges in Philosophy & Rhetoric and later by both Henry Johnstone and George Kennedy.

E.R. Emison