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The Voiceless Texture of the Octopus

Octopus Silence

“There is something about octopus intelligence that invites an almost perfect projection of the missing elements that are not swept up by lingistic descriptions. The radial non-anthropocentric nature of their bodies, the fluidity of their movements and contortion, the highly tactic nature of their engagments, their reclusivity, and yes, the incredible topographic aspects of their communications, a communications that works to express just as much as to conceal (camouflage), to connect to their surroundings…all work to give us to see some missing vector of what we too do when we speak, gesture and move.”

The above is my comment from Fido the Yak’s “Voicelessness as Symptom” post, speaking the way that vocalization is conflated with powers of cognition. His turn to the vocalizations of dolphins is what brought up the octopus for me. Also, when considering the textile dimension of intellection, the Ovidian myth of the rape of Philomena (at the hands of her sister’s husband who cuts out her tongue to silence her), and the tapestry she voicelessly wove to reveal the crime (a common feminist metaphor), comes to mind. Along with Deleuze’s notion of a Distaff tradition in philosophy.

When she first saw his sword above her head.
Flashing and sharp, she wished only for death,
and offered her bare throat: but while she screamed,
and, struggling, called upon her father’s name,
he caught her tongue with pincers, pitiless,
And cut it with his sword.–The mangled root
still quivered, but the bleeding tongue itself,
fell murmuring on the blood-stained floor. As the tail
of a slain snake still writhes upon the ground,
so did the throbbing tongue; and, while it died,
moved up to her, as if to seek her feet.–
And, it is said that after this foul crime,
the monster violated her again…

…But even in despair and utmost grief,
there is an ingenuity which gives
inventive genius to protect from harm:
and now, the grief-distracted Philomela
wove in a warp with purple marks and white,
a story of the crime; and when ’twas done
she gave it to her one attendant there
and begged her by appropriate signs to take
it secretly to Procne. She took the web,
she carried it to Procne, with no thought
of words or messages by art conveyed.

- Ovid, Metamorphoses Book 6

We follow the Greek word for “irrational” often attributed to brute animals ἄλογος (a-logos), surely linked to the powers of vocalization itself. As well as the Greek onomatopoetic word which became our “barbarian” βάρβαρος (bárbaros), thought to mimic the incoherent sounds of foreign tongues to the East. Of silence, Ovid’s invocation of the tongue as snake (which itself sees with its tongue) is fitting for our imagination of the vocalizationless animal who inconcordantly speaks at the Fall, a wisdom/threat beneath speech. The semiotic tactility within the capacities of speaking, part of what Cixous/Irigaray called two lips touching. The semiosis that occurs at the limits of folds, where on thing ends in intensity and another begins, and vectors in orientation to it. Weaving.

And then under questions of rationality and vocability we have the case of Amanda Baggs, an autistic who until she got a computer keyboard was thought to be a low functioning schizophrenic. I’ve thought about Amanda Baggs before: Amanda’s “Private Language”.

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