Academic journal article Criticism

Warhol's Animal Life

Academic journal article Criticism

Warhol's Animal Life

Article excerpt

Midway through The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (1975), the narrator muses briefly on the subject of nourishment, defecation, and bees:

I think about people eating and going to the bathroom all the time, and I wonder why they don't have a tube up their behind that takes all the stuff they eat and recycles it back to their mouth, regenerating it, and then they'd never have to think about buying food or eating it. And they wouldn't even have to see it-it wouldn't even be dirty. If they wanted to, they could artificially color it on the way back in. Pink. (I got the idea from thinking that bees shit honey, but then I found out that honey isn't bee-shit, it's bee regurgitation, so the honeycombs aren't bee bathrooms as I had previously thought. The bees therefore must run off somewhere else to do it.)2

The passage-easily dismissed as an indecent digression-has only occasionally been deemed worthy of scholarly discussion. When it has been engaged, its interpreters have chosen to excise the parenthetical comment on bees and to focus instead on the passage's sexual or aesthetic implications.3 This essay argues, however, that this brief discussion of bees links up with a group of related themes in Andy Warhol's written and visual work regarding what Cora Diamond has called the "fellow creatures"- themes opening onto important problems in contemporary philosophy regarding anthropocentrism, abjection, zoophilia, biopolitics, and the possibilities of becoming-animal.4 Exploring animality also meant exploring what Jacques Derrida called the animal-machine-the idea, enshrined in Western thought, that, unlike humans, animals can only react and never respond.5 As an artist who famously "want[ed] to be a machine," Warhol seems to have been deeply skeptical of this long-standing distinction.6 His ruminations on these subjects were surprisingly extensive and sophisticated-they took up a question that was for Jacques Derrida "the most important and decisive": "the question of the living and the living animal."7

It turns out that Warhol had a vivid animal life. He was preoccupied by the lives of the other animals around him and the ways in which they intersected with his, and he often imagined his own life and art as creaturely. Others agreed. In 1962, Emile de Antonio described Warhol as "a super intelligent white rabbit, observing, pouring Scotch whiskey, not drinking."8 Marcel Duchamp made a similar connection immediately upon meeting Warhol in 1966: "Does he dye his hair? He looks like a Merino [sheep], a white rabbit with pink eyes."9 David Bowie remembered his first encounter: "I extended my hand and the guy retired, so I thought, 'The guy doesn't like flesh, obviously he's reptilian."10

Like Derrida's, Warhol's animals "multiply, gain in insistence and visibility, become active, swarm, mobilize and get motivated, move and become moved"-they are hard to track down or corral.11 There are dogs and cats and bees, but also fleas, fish, cattle, cockroaches, and reptiles- as well as their respective spaces, "the nameless, purposeless spacefs]," in Jean-Christophe Bailly's formulation, "in which animals freely make their way[s]."12 And yet, unlike Diamond's and Derrida's, Warhol's imaginings of animal life were typically expressed in a tragicomic tone, as though he understood them to be literally utopian-desirable but unattainable. This mood may be partly attributed to Warhol's own bodily limitations. Health problems rendered him unusually vulnerable to the outdoors, a circumstance that Warhol and those around him recognized and ridiculed. When Joseph Beuys convinced Warhol to endorse the Green Party in 1980, Bob Colacello teased him for endorsing "an environmental party":

"Oh, I know," said Andy. "And I can't even go to the country, right, Bob?"

We laughed our way through the litany of Andy's complaints against nature.

"I can't go to the beach . . ."

"... because you turn purple."

"I can't go to the mountains . …

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