Becoming A Lyrebird

Lyrebirds are among Australia’s most famous native species, owing largely to an ability to mimic the natural and synthetic sounds of their habitat. Equipped with the most complexly muscled syrinx of any passerine, or songbird, the lyrebird’s call commonly includes the individual songs of other birds, along with less familiar sounds, like chainsaws, car alarms, camera shutters, barking dogs, and the human voice. What awes us about the bird is not simply mimicry, however, but the process by which it sheds its metaphorical plumage to become something foreign, concurrently rendering and recasting the surrounding soundscape with such fidelity that most animals sharing space with it are fooled. In this way, the lyrebird points toward the potential of rhizometry–the capacity the conceive our world(s) horizontally, rather than hierarchically–to undermine the essentialized origins and destinations of identity, unveiling becoming as a universal processual flow through which supposedly fixed and pre-given assemblages may be changed.

Consider, then, the implications of the lyrebird for an ecopolitics reduced to a struggle against ecclesiasticized capitalist modernity, as was evinced by Donald Trump’s assertion  about the Environmental Protection Agency during the 2016 presidential elected that, once elected, he was “going to get rid of it in almost every form. We’re going to have little tidbits left but we’re going to take a tremendous amount out.” (He’s well on his way to achieving that goal.) Rather than extol secular deconstruction over political ontotheology, the lyrebird croons about the relational expansion of potential into power when one becomes the other. As Deleuze and Guattari instruct:

A becoming is neither one nor two, nor the relation of the two; it is the in-between…a zone of proximity and indiscernability, a no-man’s land, a nonlocalizable relation sweeping up the two distant or contiguous points, carrying one into the proximity of the other–and border-proximity is indifferent to both contiguity and distance (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 1987).

For the example cited above, a politics of becoming would carry environmental debates–from global climate change to the entrapment of nature-cultures within systems of biopolitical exploitation–into interstitial domains, where an intersubjective negotiation of identity can, like the fluid acoustic narrative of the lyrebird, enable coeval, but dissonant identities within pluralistic communities to carve space for a new political identities to be articulated. One thinks of the competing claims of protestors at Standing Rock, where privileged white entertainers mixed with abjected Native Americans–themselves a protestor population representing hundreds of tribes–to turn back the Dakota Access Pipeline under the appellation of “water protector.”

If all politics is identity politics–an idea we must take seriously in the Age of Trump–then we must also recall that subject positions, like borders, are nominal, not natural. Exploring our own capacity to become-other than the positions we currently occupy will be mandatory in confronting the challenges long, hard Trump years to come.


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