• Ashley Haywood


The Cell of My Art as an Amoeba is a philosopoietic essay. Theory is manoeuvred with poesies, as creative thinking and experimentation is informed by theory. Rainer Maria Rilke’s concept, the cell of my art, invites philosopoiesis, and the outcome, here, is a mouth poetics. The cell of my art is an imagining with mouths. The cell of my art is becoming-mind as mouth, and mouth as amoeba. Mouthness is an articulation of openings and enfoldments, and an amoeba is a body of mouths, feeding on multiplicities of being and otherness. The cell of my art becoming-mind suffers indigestion and vomitous reconfiguration to accommodate newness. Mouthness is used as a ‘molecular’ language to bring bio/semiotic concepts and world-making ontologies into my thought experiment: the cell of my art becoming-mind, receptive to complex semiotic and material loops and flows of my Umwelt, is feeding into my understanding of what is mind and sign. This essay is a writerly embodiment of mouthness making itself into a body of mouths, desirous of ‘everything’ in its mouths, a ‘total’ impossible articulation. My philosopoiesis brings what it can of my poetic engagement out into the open, making my deeper processes—mind in a Play of Musement, a state of playful passivity, in open-ended relationships with/in my Umwelt—more explicit, along with my partnerships with many writers. Other writers and theorists, including Wendy Wheeler, Gregory Bateson, Karen Barad, Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, Donna Haraway, Floyd Merrell and Clarice Lispector, are brought into the Peircean folds of this essay. 


Keywords: semiotics—biosemiotics—mouthness—mouth poetics—mind—amoeba—complexity—sympoiesis—responsiveness—play of musement—cultural evolution—philosopoiesis


‘Somehow I too must find a way of making things; not plastic, written things, but realities that arise from the craft itself. Somehow I too must discover the smallest constituent element, the cell of my art, the tangible immaterial means of expressing everything.’ —Rainer Maria Rilke in a letter to Lou Andreas-Salomé, 10 August 1903 (trans. Joel Agee)



The cell of my art, embodied and enworlded, is the not yet ‘node’ of a complex biocybersemiotic feedback system—or ‘mind’—and product of such systems which are iterative and interconnected across biological and socio-cultural strata (Wheeler 2010b). The cell of my art is immanent and adventitious, arising as ‘news of difference’ (Bateson 1979) with/in minds and subsystems of minds, which are made up of signs and sign relations. Mind, or an ecology of minds, ‘belongs to the looping and recursive semiotic flows between chemical and central nervous systems, bodies, natural and socio-cultural environments’ (Wheeler 2010a: 43), where ‘“information” (semiosis) circulates in a complex symphony of causes, feedback, and further “effects” (signs)’ (41). The cell of my art becoming-mind is an imagining with mouths, openings receptive to semiotic and material flows—feedback, converging, mingling, merging—and the potential for emergence.

The cell of my art is a mouth/less enfoldment becoming-mind as mouth, and mouth as amoeba (a body of mouths). A body of mouths is mind and sign as system. And sign is a no-thing feeding on ever more signs, enfolding them into its body of mouths. What is happening here is, amoeba and mouthness are being fed into a symbol (object) for what is a sign. We can think of a body of mouths as an object (signified) in semiotic terms. Objects (things or ideas) presuppose the story of a sign, but not how the sign’s narrative is read or interpreted in the here now and the there then to come—for what is to come is a matter of interpretance (Hoffmeyer 2008) and a matter for mouths, mouths open-receptive to strangers, otherness, questions. What is also beginning to happen is that a writerly embodiment of mouthness—a mouth poetics—is making itself into a body of mouths. This essay, as a body of mouths, is desirous of ‘everything’ in its mouths, a ‘total’ impossible articulation. 

My writing moves back and forth, building on what has come before, to make moves toward somewhere new in my thinking about mouthness. The mouthness of amoebae invites thinking as feeding on multiplicities of being and otherness, with consequential indigestion and vomitous reconfigurations to accommodate newness. I am thinking with, and often mixing, multiple theories and metaphors to avoid the pitfalls of thinking in one metaphor—with one mouth. All of this is my way of examining and experimenting with the potential of a mouth poetics using Rainer Maria Rilke’s concept, the ineffable ‘cell of my art’, and the qualities of amoebae to further my understanding of what is mind and sign. 


This Body of Mouths       

The cell of my art unfolds, as a sign unfolds, from ‘vagueness to generality, from wholeness to discontinuity’ (Merrell 1992: 264), from undifferentiated cell to phagosemiocytosic mouthlings—with urgency to desire, with disturbance to hunger—so long as I am receptive and responsive with/in my Umwelt. While the cell of my art is un/doing itself with openings, mouths become more specialised, more attuned, more generalised, and eventually singular in their goal to wrap their mouth around newness. A body of mouths is a body of discontinuities, so even a multiplicity of fixations will disrupt the body (mind) from ever settling in, dwelling in pitfalls, forming habits. This is the nature of signs as complex systems (Merrell 2006), and of intra-acting minds as complex biocybersemiotic systems, feeding on and feeding into semiosis across Umwelten.1

Enfoldment, openings and feeding concern the cell of my art and its becoming-mind. Arising as discontinuity, the cell of my art is ‘un/doing itself, as well as the notion of itself’—it polyps, shudders, stutters, panics, dances, vomits in its becoming—‘disrupting itself’, disrupting its disruptions (thinking with Barad 2010: 248). The cell of my art becoming-mind is always already re/interpreting, always already in crisis with the possibilities of its body of mouths (the potential of amoeba). Discontinuity is ‘neither the opposite of the continuous, nor continuous with [continuity]’ (247), but possibility. Amoeba is a body of multiple mouths in never-ending crisis: open-ended becoming. Mouths are empty-receptive to potential (e)mergings, which drive a hunger for (an)other than the body: becoming is a consequence of feeding on another, merging, aborting cannibalism, making adjustments, accommodating newness. A body of mouths is full of multiplicities of being and otherness.

When I am in a state of playful passivity, in open-ended relationships with/in my Umwelt—in a Play of Musement as Charles Sanders Peirce names this state (CP 6.458)—then I am most receptive, like a sleuth, to signs unfolding and enfolding their relations within and before me ‘like a series of questions posed’ (Bateson 1988: 118). ‘There are only mysteries. There are only questions’ (Cixous 1991: 124). And those ‘questions a system or an organism (nonhuman or human) chooses to answer will be those which, in its phenomenological epistemology, seem most urgently in need of a response’ (Wheeler 2010a: 37). Why mouth? Lynn Margulis offers me this: ‘[i]n both sexual and symbiotic fusions, hunger was a likely primordial factor urging the desperate to merge’ (1998: 89). And the mouthness of amoeba, especially as a body in crisis, is its mode of (e)mergence.

So this is my beginning not beginning: the cell of my art is a mouth/less enfoldment becoming-mind as mouth opening, and mouth as amoeba. A mouth/ess enfoldment is of infinite possible mouths in a wild play of indeterminacies. As a mouth/less enfoldment, the cell of my art is satiated with full mouths enfolding mouths. This wild play of mouths is in/finite for the cell of my art. The cell of my art is also a happening that has already happened, already a question on the tip of my tongue, a ghost. The cell of my art becoming-mind is a mouth with urgency—an opening and hunger—to respond to those questions, mysteries, strangers within who disrupt its closure/wholeness. Amoebae are cytoplasmic bodies of infinite possible pseudopodic mouth openings, and more: they are bodies of multiplicities of being and otherness. This body of mouths is performing the mouth poetics of amoeba.

This is a philosopoietic essay: theory is manoeuvred with poesies, as creative thinking and experimentation is informed by theory.2 The outcome is allowed to be poetic, and here the outcome is a mouth poetics, or a process and practice that embodies mouthness. My engagement with bio/semiotics and complexity theory, with intra-activity, symbiosis and sympoeisis ontologies, continually returns me to a state or process that is creative, playful and receptive to encounters with alterity—a Play of Musement as Peirce names this state, or what Françoise Jacob called Night Science (1988)—for this is my way of learning, of disturbing knowing. This is my way of allowing concepts to mingle and osmose in my suffering with strangers, who haunt the corner of my eye, the tip of my tongue, but who, nevertheless, can awaken my appetite, and excite change in my being and reality (knowing). My philosopoiesis brings what it can of this un/conscious engagement out into the open, making my deeper processes more explicit, along with my partnerships with many writers.



The cell of my art becoming-mind is a matter of mouths and complex (e)mergings. Mouthness is profuse across the biosemiosphere. Our biosemiosphere that has been described as ‘a semiotic web’ (Sebeok & Umiker-Sebeok 1992) and a ‘swarm of swarms’ of signs (Hoffmeyer 1997), intercommunicative and (bio)cybernetic (Bateson 1979), rhizomatic (Deleuze and Guattari 1987), symbiotic (Margulis 1998) and sympoietic (making-with, becoming-with) (Haraway 2016). Swarms and webs are examples of ‘master metaphors’ (Sebeok & Umiker-Sebeok 1992: 339), which describe ‘metapatterns’, or patterns of patterns which connect (Bateson 1979), wherein all organisms semiotically operate, though limited to their Umwelt. Mouthness is an articulation of openings, enfoldments and (e)mergings which make complex patterning possible, and possible to imagine the cell of my art becoming-mind as complex system with/in, and belonging to, the complex layering of my Umwelt.

Mouthness is about influx and reflux, feedback and regurgitation, and the discontinuities that disrupt this flow, forcing feedback and vomitus reconfiguration. Mouthness is also about mouth sites, openings that can tolerate disruption. Openings are a way for systems (minds) to build discontinuities into being and knowing (thereby generating newness). Discontinuities are herein: possibility, strangers within, difference, otherness, non-knowing, touching. And more importantly: ‘Only in relating to me is the other other, and its otherness is registered in the adjustments I have to make in order to acknowledge it—adjustments which may never become wholly second nature to me’ (Attridge 2004: 30 [author’s emphasis]). ‘Recursiveness certainly proposes patterns of continuity. Yet gaps and discontinuities are a condition of grasping such continuities of form’ (Harries-Jones in Wheeler 2010a: 49). Wheeler refers to such gaps as ‘gaps of non-knowing’,  ‘spaces tolerant of discontinuities’, spaces for ‘knowing-in-knowing’ and the sacred (following Bateson) (Wheeler (2010a). We can surmise that gaps, spaces or mouth-openings are where pasts (including what has come before, what has been forgotten, and the non-conscious) can converge, mingle and osmose with/in strangers, and find ways of internalising difference as newness. Systems’ (minds’) complex growth relies on ‘openings’ that can tolerate the stranger within, wherein newness can be made, engulfed, assimilated, to be at some other time, regurgitated, recannibalised, remade.

As for this mingling, merging, (arrested) cannibalising in the process of making the new: ‘[w]hether in biology or language, the temporality of evolutionary process lies in the fact that the new always derives from elements of the past (or what already exists) which are creatively recombined’ (Wheeler 2010b [my emphasis]). Gregory Bateson refers to this process as ‘natural metaphor’, which is a process shared across the biosemiosphere. More than to carry information from one place to another, metaphor is a ‘matter of merger’ between like and like to generate newness.

A ‘matter of merger’ is how Lynn Margulis (1998) describes (endo)symbiosis, where ‘fellow symbionts’ are ‘touching each other or even inside each other’ (1998: 2). This is the story of the protist, such as amoebae, and the evolutionary story of complex cells (eukaryotes): Amoeba cannibalise in crisis, feeding on siblings or the like, but can fail to full digest them. So, they begin doubling, suffer indigestion, regurgitate and rearrange, until their bodies are both single-cell and complex. Margulis describes the evolution of complex organisms as endosymbiotic: a series of ‘failed acts of eating’, or ‘abortive cannibalism’, which became a ‘truce called sex’ (1998: 87-103). Amoebae do not pay the price of meiotic sex (death); rather, they pilfer and regurgitate genetic material (information) from ‘donor[s] dead or alive’ (Margulis 1998: 88).

Material flows, like semiotic flows, are complexly re/arranged over time in a process of building upon earlier forms. Of course we see this process/flow as complex iterations across strata: ‘coastlines, trees, mountains, galaxies, clouds, polymers, rivers, weather patterns, brains, lungs, and blood supplies [… to] the starkly dreamy shapes of canyons, mesas, and undersea grottos’ (Briggs and Peat 1989: 91) (mouthness of sediment, volcanic eruptions!). Mouthness is an articulation of this flow (influx, efflux), and what concerns me here is the mouthness of becoming, semiosis and practice.

Semiotically, we might call an endo/symbiotic fusion, most simply in Peircean terms, an interaction between icons, sign types based on likeness, in the Universe of Secondness—which is not so much a universe between a first and third, but a reaction within an un/doing ‘whole’.3 Secondness is desire to reach out for another, a desperation (and hunger) for dyadic interrelations—a realm of bifurcation, doubling, nodes. A reaction that pushes the musing mind from sensation (Firstness) to desire, from monadic bliss toward fusion toward multiplicities. Or, to use Deleuze and Guattari’s terms, Secondness is ‘electrification’, ‘constitutive of strata’, and ‘the process whereby similar particles group together’ to form ever bigger aggregates: it is ‘“the attraction of like and like”, as in a double pincer or double articulation’ (1987: 45). Secondness is the folding of strata, ‘however different they may be’, so, for example, ‘[t]o go from Vertebrate to Cephalopod, bring the two sides of the Vertebrate’s backbone together, bend its head down to it feet and its pelvis up to its neck’ (46). And, then, swallow.

Mouthness is an articulation of multiplicity of being (and knowing) and their un/doing, their un/weaving across semiotic universes, through intra-actions across the biosemiophere as far as it relates to the semiotic agent. Semiotic agents endo/symbiotically pilfer from (and feed back into) semiosis-rich Umwelten. We are in sympo(i)etic crisis (hunger) and excitation (feedback) in this process of becoming-with our surroundings (Haraway 2016); whereby, we are ‘creatively changing [ourselves]’, and ‘perhaps a little the world as well’ (Attridge 2004: 33).

The cell of my art becoming-mind as an amoeba is a body of mouths, or double articulations, with potentially far-reaching pseudopods, making mouths of bodily involutions—openings that are full empty—full with multiplicities of being and otherness inside its body. Receptive (full empty) mouths are enfolding fusions: mouths enfolding enfolded mouths. These pseudopodic arms, these ectoplasmic lips, are touching and ‘[i]s touching not by its very nature always already an involution, invitation, invisitation, wanted or unwanted, of the stranger within?’ (Barad 2012: 207). The cell of my art is a mouth/less enfoldment, and full of hauntings.


The Cell of My Art

The cell of my art is not yet nodular or node, but a mouth/less enfoldment of no-place, a void. An undifferentiated cell—a not yet mind—in the in/finite instant of its own kairos. What an im/possible beginning! Clarice Lispector writes: ‘How can I begin at the beginning, if things begin happening before they happen?’ (1992: 25). The cell of my art becoming-mind is immanent, already making moves toward pre-Firstness: before sensation, desire, cognition and tentacular manoeuvres.

The semiotic realm looms: the universe of ‘tentacular’ thinking (Haraway 2016), Thirdness is from where we are able to, more or less, consciously perceive the emergence of new forms and the complex conditions of their emergence (Wheeler 2011). From here, we can reach back to into earlier iconic folds, fall back into sensation (and a Play of Musement), so to begin again; thereby, continuing the growth of symbols. ‘The woof and warp of all thought and all research is symbols, and the life of thought and science is the life inherent in symbols’ (CP 2.220). And such is the cell of my art (and its becoming): a symbol, a complex minded assemblage on the move across Universes (Merrell 1992).

Only through combustion can I escape (Deleuze & Guattari 1987). ‘Only through the interplay of all three categories [Universes] can we keep the pathways open, through improvisation’, experimentation and imaginings (Merrell 2012: 120). Combustion is experimentation, an instant of deterritorialisation, but there is no escape from the woof and warp (or reterritorialisation). All we have is the instant. The cell of my art is a stuttering, shuddering body of the enfolded instant, suspended from the present, in which it is neither mind nor non-mind, and not even possibility.

A thought experiment, a virtual imagining. The cell of my art is a self-touching, self-eating enfoldment in the void. And:

virtuality is a kind of thought experiment the world performs. Virtual particles do not traffic in a metaphysics of presence. They do not exist in space and time. They are ghostly non/existences that teeter on the edge of the infinitely fine blade between being and nonbeing’. (Barad 2012: 210)

As an enfolded whole in void, in/separable to experiential life and time, the cell of my art is more than windowless—if ‘[m]onads have not windows, through which anything could come and go’ (Leibniz 1898 [1714]: p 7). The cell of my art is not yet windowless. Becoming-windowless is becoming-mind, and the cell of my art is non/mind: not yet disturbed from its wild play in a void of indeterminacies, where it is ‘having a field day performing experiments in being and time’ (Barad 2012: 210).

The cell of my art is a ghost. Who haunts? A stranger. A question. What touches the tip of my tongue? Who lurks in this enfoldment? The stranger within is the not yet mind, which is to say, the cell of my art becoming-mind is immanent, which is to say, it is always already making moves toward pre-Firstness: happenings are happening before they happen!

Pierce describes the universe of Firstness as pure sensation. A universe of ‘relatively free-wheeling multiple possibilities’ (Merrell 2012: 120), or ‘the possibility of consciousness of something’ (102 [author’s emphasis]). As like ‘a soul admitted to itself’, the cell of my art becoming-mind senses the ‘Finite infinity’ of its dis/continuity (Dickinson 1986: ‘There is a solitude of space’). We are not ready for Firstness! (Who is we? We are multiplicities at every level of mouthness).

Merrell describes pre-Firstness as ‘emerging from the void’ and flowing ‘into the becoming of signs of Firstness’ (2012: 103). We are teetering on the ‘possibility of something becoming what it might become’, or ‘the becomingness of becoming’ (106). And with this, becomingness is becoming-present, and what could be worse for an imagining that is the blankness of a blank page? A symbol, an utterance? Time, as a symbol in Thirdness, desperate and hungering for the end of its inquiry, will attempt to consume even the void in its dream of completeness.

The enfolded cell of my art is the warped dream of ‘completeness’, a closed-looping instant, in which it simply is. ‘Each thing has an instant in which it is […] And in the instant resides its own is […] I want to capture my is’, writes Lispector on what we may call the cell of her art in Aqua Viva (2010: 3-4 [author’s emphasis]). She divides herself ‘a thousand times’ (Lispector 2010: 4) like a jelly-fish to nullify quantity and intensify the instant—‘how do we capture the unknown quality of the instant’? (4)—so it is at once tangible and vibrating pre-possibility. She is asking, how do I to capture discontinuity? How can I capture the cell of my art?

With mouths enfolded into nullifying pleats, suspended within intensities and from complex growth—not yet phagocytic, but autophagic—the cell of my art is on an endless feedback loop, feeding on the instant of its own kairos. This term, kairos, from the Ancient Greek, means supreme or opportune instant. What would that feel like? An uncontrollable urge to act—to move toward, to turn toward, to turn around—to open! And ‘we stood there / in the space between word and plaything, / upon a spot which, from the first beginning, / has been established for pure event [reinen Vorgang]’ (Rilke 2001: 27 [‘Fourth Elegy’ in Duino Elegies]). The cell of my art is not yet with urgency to open—a pure event, a raw sensation, a hunger. As a mouth/less enfoldment, it is a satiated no-thing, feeding on autophagic urges and it has infinite possible urges to absorb.

At the quantum level, Barad tells us about self-touching and similar urges, called perversities: ‘the electron’s self-energy takes the form of an electron exchanging a virtual photon (the quantum of the electromagnetic field) with itself’ (Barad 2012: 212), so it ‘goes along for a while and suddenly emits a photon; then (horrors!) it absorbs its own photon!’ (Feynman in Barad 2012: 212). An infinite number of possible perversions is explored by the virtual particle touching itself, and touch touching itself, and so on. A mouth enfolding mouths? An im/possible conclusion, whole articulation: ‘self-touching is an encounter with the infinite alterity of the self’ which goes on to have an ‘effect on mattering’ because ‘[m]atter is an enfolding, an involution [] and in this self-touching it comes into contact with the infinite alterity that it is’ (Barad 2012: 213 [author’s emphasis]).

What does this mean for the cell of my art? A self-touching not yet mind, within an ecology of self-touching minds (and so on): ‘self is dispersed/diffracted through time and being’ (Barad 2012: 213). The cell of my art really is a ghost! An enfoldment of mouths, making in/finite ghosts of itself, until it can see (touch not touch) its own reflection. A body full of possible possibilities, unhooked urgencies, strangers lurking in/as mouth folds—what could be, who is yet to be—in the no-place, or void, of indeterminacies.     

So what of the cell of my art becoming-mind as mouth, an emptying-opening, and mouth as amoeba, a full body of openings? What of the mouthness of its becoming? What of the cell as mouth full of urgencies, becoming hunger for another than itself, of osmotic rushes that would push back and forth between cell walls making windows and doors to engulf ever more strangers? An enfolded cell emerging from the void into a preludial universe is the possibility of mouth as possibility in the everything and nothingness. The cell of my art is a mouth/less enfoldment, becoming-mind as mouth (opening), and mouth as amoeba. And amoeba is both sign and an interesting metaphor for the object in a sign relation.


The Dynamic Amoeba

Peirce writes that ‘all this universe is perfused with signs, if it is not composed exclusively of signs’ (CP 5.448), which includes ‘all thought (all “mindedness”) [… and we can say that] his philosophy is a complex nonlinear evolutionary emergent system of sign relations’ (Wheeler 2011). ‘We only think in signs’ (CP 2.302). And, as Bateson writes, ‘mind is empty […] It is a no-thing’:

It exists only in its ideas, and these again are no-things. Only the ideas are immanent, embodied in their examples. And the examples are, again, no-things. The claw, as an example, is not the Ding an sich; it is precisely not the ‘thing in itself’. Rather, it is what the mind makes of it, namely an example of something or other (1979: 11 [author’s emphasis])

Wheeler responds: ‘These “no-things” are in fact signs and sign relations’ (2010a). Deleuze and Guattari add: ‘God is a Lobster’ (1987: 61). Signs ‘lag after themselves […] in the act of signing themselves’ (Merrell 1992: 270). Their ‘bodies’ always already behind their encircling, enfolding ‘double pincer’ reach (see Deleuze and Guattari 1987). ‘[A] sign, unlike an object [signified], stands never for itself but always for another than itself’, and more: a sign is ‘one thing representing another than itself to yet another’ (Deely 2004: 30-31 [author’s emphasis]).

Pierce described a sign, in its simplest form, as a triadic relationship between representamen (description, ‘ground’ of the sign), object (things or ideas described, signified) and interpretant (the potential of the sign); all are signs and, like performers, can each swap roles in a sign relation that signs a sign to yet another sign (CP 2.228). The ‘performance’ is more than the sum of its relating signs.

So, if we think of a sign relation as like a narrative, representamen address the organism or semiotic agent, setting the scene as like a prologue. Objects determine the story, as John Deely writes, ‘a sign is what every object presupposes’ (2004: 4), but interpretants are what the agent brings to the setting and story (e.g. causality). Interpretants are in local context of the agent. They are the elements that re/interpret, or ‘rewrite’, how a sign is ‘read’, and, so, can potentially develop the sign in profoundly new ways.

As long as the interpretant (and agent) stays ‘in touch’ with the sign, the sign relation is like ‘a poem about the lover’s mind in the act of constructing desire for itself’ (Carson 1988: 16). Anne Carson is not writing about signs per se, but on the triadic nature of desire as ‘lover, beloved and that which comes between them’ (1988: 16). ‘We see clearly what shape desire has there: a three-point circuit is visible [… .] They are three points of transformation on a circuit of possible relationship, electrified by desire so that they touch not touching’ (Carson 1988: 16). Carson further notes, as have thinkers since Socrates: ‘There would seem to be some resemblance between the way Eros acts in the mind of a lover and the way knowing acts in the mind of a thinker’ (1988: 70). Abductive moves, creative leaps or lines of flight, are bittersweet manoeuvres.

On that note, and to avoid the pitfalls of thinking with one metaphor, a basic sign relation is like a lobster: pincers foreground the potential of the sign (representamen), the exoskeleton determines the sign (object), and a double pincer movement (interpretant) can encircle, or enfold, signs into the body of the sign. Interpretants invite monsters into the folds: double pincers are doubling, interconnecting interpretants, across steadily more integrated levels, or strata. (I climb out of this w/hole on a ladder of pincers). And, so, again: a sign is like an amoeba endlessly reaching for interpretants with its ectoplasmic body of infinite number of possible multiple mouths, feeding a body full (forever filling) of multiplicities of being and otherness. This body, more than the sum of what it has absorbed, is desirous for more, reaching for another than itself, touching yet another, un/doing itself—for the dream of completeness.

Peirce named the object, or symbol as the conceptual part of a sign, at the end of its inquiry the ‘dynamic object’. A symbol is a complex system of sign relations. ‘Signs grow into symbols, from raw sensation to volition to cognition, from sentiment to desire to intellection, from spontaneity to reaction to habit’ (1992: 271). As narratives are dynamic, ‘read’ with/in other narratives, so are symbols. The mouthness of my poetics embodies the desperation of such an object, where mouthness is, at every possible level, un/doing being and knowing, attempting the impossible ‘total’ articulation of a dynamic completeness out in the open. This is how signs, especially symbols, grow and evolve (CP 2.302)—desirous of (an)other, beloved, completeness.

The mouthness of this body is feeding on what has come before, while the ‘text-to-come’ is already feeding on it and ‘multiplying fissures’: mouth openings through which new text is ‘spawned’ and autophagic (Campbell 2013). As signs become more complex, enfolding and unfolding their narratives and sub-narratives, over time and with agent responsiveness, the wider the sign’s reach across ever more diverse semiotic terrain with/in Umwelten. With vast representamen and desirous interpretants—playful pincers and pseudopods—a sign is on the move, enfolding another and yet another into its body. This body of mouths is but a draft, a dream: ‘an intersection of infinite virtual pathways’ (Campbell 2013). If only this were paint—for in writing, which is attempting to hold this body still enough to be read, am I not in the pitfalls of mouthness?


Petite Bouchée

An abstract cell of the void arises as sensation, spilling into Firstness. The cell of my art becoming-mind is an urge to un/learn. A mouth is opening. We are in the horror of being un/done. ‘[S]ensation is the master of deformations, the agent of bodily deformations’ (Deleuze 2003: 36).

The cell of my art becoming-mind is a monadic polyp, and like the mythical Polyps, it is driven by ‘atrocious hunger’. Their hunger forced them to ‘gnaw at their own legs [… .] The dragon bites its tail and swallows it, / Taking most of itself for food [… .] It eats itself, vomits, dies, and is born again (Maier in Elkins 2000: 49). A monad is making windows. The infinite possibilities of the cell of my art have been made into the urgency of responsiveness. The cell of my art arises with an inexplicable urge to respond to the yet explicable. An immanent busting-open. An (em)urgency that might yet be, could have been, could still have been, that is unfolding into Firstness.

The cell of my art is shaking—time is here, momentum is here—with an awareness of mouth-folds becoming mouth openings. ‘Sensation is vibration’ (Deleuze 2003: 45) and ‘what determines instinct at a particular moment’ (39). What is it, this urgency, this electrification, this excitation, this adrenaline? A togetherness: mind is multiple ectoplasmic psuedopods making mouths of a mind-body in the pre-semiotic realm of sensation.

More than sensation, Firstness is the gloaming hours of not yet awake with not yet a clue (CP 6.459). Windows and doors are unlocking across Choras (Kristeva 1980), and we roam the ‘sinuous paths, tortuous streets, most often blind alleys’ of ‘Night Science’ (Jacobs 1988: 296). The substance of Firstness could be called paint or materia prima, which gives name to ‘the state of mind that sees everything in nothing’ (Elkins 2000: 84). ‘Paint is a sign that incestuous work [perversions!] has been underway’ (Elkins 2000: 157). The cell of my art is dressing itself in open mouths for the occasion.4

All of this invites the Play of Musement. ‘Pure Play has no rules, except this very law of liberty. It bloweth where it listeth. It has no purpose, unless recreation […] a petite bouchée [little mouthful] with the Universes […] or some connection between two of the three, with speculation concerning its cause [… .] I will call it “Musement”’ (CP 6.458). Peirce continues:

The dawn and gloaming most invite one to Musement [… .] It begins passively enough drinking in the impression of some nook in one of the three Universes. But impression soon passes into attentive observation into musing, musing into a lively give and take of communion between self and self (CP 6.459).

Peirce’s Play of Musement differs from Keats’ ‘negative capability’, for example, in that while both describe a state of passive receptivity, Peirce’s Musement is also an invitation, a gesture, from the stranger within (self) to self to play in a ‘lively give and take’. Play of Musement is an attending to sensation, and has a purpose: emergence. The emerging mind, belonging to a system of minds, is becoming more complex as interpretants are formed in Musement and, with abduction, fed into the loops and flows of semiosis.5

My opening cell-mouth, monadic polyp, windowless no-thing and dream, is an ‘overnight’ growth. I am waking to this node-like no-thing threatening avulsion from my mindbody, which is to say it is both forgotten and becoming, lost to and held in play. Strangers gather behind me. I feel them. The cell of my art is an urgency to be together with another, and yet another. We are on the verge of dance or panic in the gathering that is ‘me’; in the conversation with self and self, desperate to know the thing on the tip of my tongue. We are a thousand mouths full with knowing-in-nonknowing (Wheeler, 2010a). We cannot yet speak, for ‘we know more than we can tell’ (Polyani, 1967). There is only dot-dash-dot resounding in mouth openings. The cell of my art is either dancing or sending out distress signals. The cell of my art is both dance and panic.6

After seeing Virginia Barratt’s performance ‘The Expanse of a Dead Open Mouth’ (2016), panic is a combustion. Panic makes no threat to avulse from my gathering and spiralling semiosis. A becoming-mind in panic has already deployed multiple pre-minds without warning like the Big Bang in miniature, spawning multiverses and voids and all their perversions irretrievably elsewhere. Somehow Barratt performs this happening: is panic the haunting of too many questions, too many encounters felt at once?

Something brushes against my vibrating whole. ‘Enter your skiff of Musement […] push off into the lake of thought, and leave the breath of heaven to swell your sail. With your eyes open, awake to what is about or within you, and open conversation with yourself’ (CP 6.461). Strangers make this body of mouths into a dizzying labyrinth of hallways full of portraits and memorabilia, doorways to more mouths and more tunnels. We meet in kitchens, where the familiar mingles in un/familiar flavours. We abort our self-cannibalism. What has come before mingles in the mouth openings of a mind (and sign) as mouth, mouth as amoeba. This body of mouths is a complex of signs (intra-acting minds), a body full with multiplicities of being and otherness, receptive to what is to come. Mouths tolerate discontinuity—possibility, the self-invites of strangers—as sites for merging, and from where newness is first written into the body as the adjustments the body has to make in order to accommodate (reterritorialise) this ‘difference which make a difference’ (Bateson 1979). Intake, engulfment, re/enfoldment is the process that feeds systems’ (minds’) complex growth (and learning).


Out in the open

Out in the open, we are a body full of multiplicities of being and otherness like an amoeba, and this body is in/escapable. There is only experimentation. My relationships within my Umwelt are open to a Play of Musement, in which we are in a state of ‘radical passivity’, ‘polyamorous receptivity […] without specific agency, to attract encounters, to undergo encounters, to suffer encounters with alterity’ (Campbell 2013). I am most disturbed by those sensorial encounters that raise themselves like a stranger or question within me to the tips of my tongues—to the ‘tips of words’ (Cixous 1991: 134). I desire to wrap mouths around them, internalise them as newness, fed them into streams of semiosis.

Out in the open, the amoeba’s material landscape is compost, bodies and biowaste, and this further opens up new imaginings on the momentum of culture, which, like all complex living systems, draws upon what has come before, pilfering from donors dead or alive, in a play of semiotic and material imitations for newness; examples that point to this momentum, in terms of writing, include ekphrasis, intertextuality, citation and cut-up appropriation (which are ideas for yet another layer on the mouthness of culture).

With time, play and responsiveness, the cell of my art is emerging from a blissful state of yet-to-be into an open-ended becoming, differentiating, drifting with/in the primordial and cultural bathwaters of my Umwelt. Windows are thrown open to osmosis with the landscape before me and within me. I am always already differentiating, becoming in response to my Umwelt. What was the cell of my art is mind as amoeba, sign as amoeba: a body full of multiplicities of being and otherness, always becoming another than itself in open-ended sympoiesis.

With sufficient ‘indwelling’, gathering more information (semiosis), and putting that semiosis into practice and entities, an agent is becoming more skilled at making abductions (Wheeler 2006a). Skilled semiotic agents with high-level ‘interpretance’, who can read many sorts of c[l]ues in the surroundings (see Hoffmeyer 2008), are those who are most deeply immersed in the patternings of their Umwelt. Indwelling to this degree requires continuous open and deep engagement with concepts and matter in life (Wheeler 2006a). What is the nature of this indwelling? Haraway offers the term ‘sympoiesis’, a term which enfolds autopoiesis, symbiosis and symbiogenesis (also endosymbiosis) into its mouth folds. 

This is the mouthness of sympoiesis:

Critters interpenetrate one another, loop around and through one another, eat each other, get indigestion, and partially digest and partially assimilate one another, and thereby establish sympoietic arrangements that are otherwise known as cells, organisms, and ecological assemblages. (Haraway 2016: 58)

Sympoiesis describes the world-making, intra-activity of becoming-with a polyamorous semiosic web.

Sign, mind, system: the cell of my art is no-thing that can have an affect on some thing, some kind of mattering—such as words on a page—but only with urgency, this urge, to respond to those questions that can walk through walls. The cell of my art as an amoeba is in/separable to the mattering of my art.

Matter in its iterative materialization is a dynamic play of in/determinacy. Matter is never a settled matter. It is always already radically open. Closure can't be secured when the conditions of im/possibilities and lived indeterminacies are integral, not supplementary, to what matter is. (Barad 2012b: 16)

The highly and passively receptive ‘sleuth’ (Sebeok 1981), or creative nomad (Deleuze and Guattari 1987), escapes their imaginings by continually disordering and reordering themselves, deterritorialising and reterritorialising across ever more territories, and with ever more play and skill, deploying, along lines of flight, multiple cells becoming-minds. With minds emerging with/in the digestive folds of feedback, between ‘I love you’ and ‘I love you too’ (Carson 1988), and as the stranger within, the nomad with their open-ended sympoeisis can only ever momentarily proclaim ‘Je est un autre’ (Rimbaud) for they are already another, forever arriving at the unknown. We could say that such agents, or sleuths, across all fields of knowledge, with deep immersion in a field, are of the always already and necessary avant-garde pushing at the boundaries of human Umwelten.


Another iteration

The mouthness of the cell of my art is just one way it has gone in my imaginings. ‘Mind’ is not reducible to ‘brain’, and more like an ecology of minds (semiosis). We only think in signs, and signs are no-things. But ‘[d]on't for a minute think that there are no material effects of yearning and imagining’ in the in/separable interplay with in/determinancies (Barad 2012b: 13). The cell of my art arises as discontinuity with urgency to unfold, and en/fold in a play of mouths, with desire to un/do being and un/learn. Becoming-mind as amoeba is becoming a poly-mind and complex system of sign relations. The cell of my art busts open in crisis, becoming mouth and mouths, turning on strangers within. We are hungry. We are a bittersweet feast of open-ended sympoieses. A ripple of mouth openings disturb ever more mouth enfoldments. Phagosemiocytosic imaginings, primordial polyps and adventitious growths are the by-products of recycling, and of the iterative biochemical and cultural bathwaters of my Umwelt. The sky is porcelain. There is no end these flows that pick up drifters—of my own un/doing—from the void. Mouths like faucets open, perforating boundaries, offering sites of in/finite possibilities. Minds harbour the cells of my art in their mouth folds like gut membranes. We are always already on the move. Another iteration. The cell of my art is neuronal. Dendritic arms reach into synaptic gaps. And off we go again.


The Cell of my Art as an Amoeba is the first essay, or collection of interconnected fragments, to be taken and reworked from my PhD thesis titled Harlequin Blue and The Picasso Experiment (Haywood 2015).



1 Umwelt is term introduced by Jakob von Uexküll, and describes the internal and external surrounding semiotic and material environments—from molecule to song—of an organism or semiotic agent. Jesper Hoffmeyer (2010) describes humans as organisms with the greatest ‘semiotic freedom’ in our ability to communicate and ‘self-describe’ the consequences (complexity) of our receptivity and responsiveness with/in our semiosis-rich Umwelt—a freedom which can potentially affect cultural change. The cell of my art as an imagining is demonstrating this (my) ‘semiotic freedom’. 

2 Philosopoiesis is a concept that emerged in conversation between myself and Virginia Barratt (October 2016).

3 There are three basic sign types (icon, index and symbol) which describe three kinds of sign relations and the universes of experience associated with them: icons, based on likeness, indexes, real or imagined relatedness, and symbols are more or less respectively interwoven across the Universes of Firstness, Secondness and Thirdness.

4 Why dressing? As the ‘bareness’ of the electron is ‘dressed’ by the cloud of virtual particles—nakedness and dressing as two infinities that cancel each other out—this overlaying ‘renormalises’ matter (Barad 2012).

5 Abduction is a skilled hunch and ‘the only logic which introduces newness’, and ‘requires a mysterious and incalculable move’ (Wheeler 2010a: 41; see CP 5.171); whereas deduction, for example, develops these hunches out in the open (see Deely 2004). 

6 Newness is incredibly difficult to internalise. Newness is the successful outcome of an encounter with difference, a difference which makes a difference (Bateson 1979), and the arrival of the cell of my art as new mind, a creative event. Neuroscientists, Tim Shallice and Richard P Cooper, describe the harrowing ‘journey’ of semiosis to the hippocampus (named after the sea-creature Hippokampos), where we temporally store new information (semiosis): when ‘new information’ is ‘in conflict with existing associations’ the hippocampus must ‘drip-feed this information to the cortex so as to overcome the so-called catastrophic interference effects on existing knowledge that can occur when new material is learned in connectionist networks’ (2001: 389). Hence, my imagining is in dance and panic on the verge of non/mind.


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