(A sort of diary written in 2019:)
I have been collecting images of things (mostly animals) squashed on New York roads these past few weeks. I normally find them when I am cycling into Parsons from where we are staying in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn.
Each picture invokes a different (often visceral) reaction. Many of the carcasses have made me feel a deep sickness in my stomach. Mostly this is the case with the fresher ones, where blood and guts hang out of mangled fur. The more abstracted ones — where the body is so pummelled it is indistinguishable from the road — give me an altogether different reaction. It is not a sickness, but a sudden awareness of my own fleshy, squishy self. They remind me of my vulnerability cycling through the city. In these abstracted versions, the body has often become-with the tarmac so that it is almost impossible to separate them. Often a single claw, or the bone from a tail or feather is the last remaining identifying feature that show me this patch of tarmac contains another body altogether. It reminds me of the softness of my own body in relation to the huge blocks of steel and rubber that could just as easily pummel me into the concrete and tarmac in the same way.
These animals are what my colleague Clare Thomson (2016) would describe as ‘liminal species’. Or what Terry O’Connor (2013) calls ‘liminal animals’ — ‘wild and domestic species who live on anthropogenic food sources and share their living spaces with humans.’ Pigeons, rats, and other usually wild animals can become liminal. Dogs, cats, and other usually domestic animals can also be liminal if, for example, they are stray or feral. As with wild and domestic animals, liminal animals are characterised by their living situation, not their species identity. These animals take on a new liminality where they become part city, part road, and part flesh.
In Dialogues II, Gilles Deleuze & Claire Parnet (2002) (and later Isabelle Stengers, 2010), discuss the orchard and the wasp as a becoming-together of two species that enable life itself. In these images of squashed animals, the becoming together of the car or truck, asphalt, concrete, and animal perhaps describes and demonstrates the precise opposite. In this particular becoming, the conditions for life are destroyed and pummelled into the ground, whereby the fleshy body becomes part of the surface of the city.
- Deleuze G and Parnet C (2002) Dialogues II. 2nd ed. edition. New York: Columbia University Press.4
- O’Connor T (2013) Animals as Neighbors: The Past and Present of Commensal Animals. 1 edition. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press.
- Stengers I (2010) Cosmopolitics I. University of Minnesota Press.
- Thompson C (2016) designing legal visibility. Available at: https://www.clare.space/designinglegalvisibility (accessed 6 June 2019).