Assemblages of Excess, or, Towards a Paradigm of the Leak Macklin Kowal

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Macklin Kowal


This presentation unpacks the idea of leakage as a theoretical principle and a tactic of performance. Questioning the associative links that the word presumes between the disclosure of covert information and the secretion of matter from a body or vessel, I adopt a leaky posture in my own body as I critique recent events befitting the semantic principles of the term. Ceasing to swallow my saliva, my body will leak as I articulate the perils of containment as a corporeal and discursive imperative. Secretion is a body’s sole constative besides death. I will demonstrate that a body performs, effectively, in adopting a posture of its anticipation. Our contemporary moment is inundated with events befitting the semantic principles of this polysemic word, leakage. Since the presidency of George W. Bush, information leakage in the United States has proliferated in step with the state’s sweeping expansion of executive power – specifically, its right to broaden the reach of state secrecy. The contents of such leaks have revealed the staggering degree to which the US government has employed acts of heinous violence against prisoners detained in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay. They disclose the inhuman as a political posture of brutality, one installed within the War on Terror to reduce victims to a status of less-than-human. Meanwhile, world affairs reckon with the ever-increasing occurrence of toxic leaks in the environment. The BP Oil Spill and the Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Disaster reveal the unremitting force of non-human actants in the course of worldly events, as well as the initiatives of multinationals that would attempt to regulate and contain their movement. These leaks, in turn, ravage the ecological sphere with toxicity and alter the course and quality of human and non-human life. Leakage conveys the stakes of the human, inhuman, and non-human in terms of their excess, and that excess’s capacity to impart action. This lecture-demonstration asks: In political terms, how do we account for ruptured forms, the material or informational outflow that accompanies them, and their causal forces? How can our proceedings in the wake of leaks regard these components as inter-related, as implicating each other? What processes of aesthetic recuperation can we direct towards the complexities of leakage, and can these endeavors serve broader gestures of re-situating the figures of the inhuman and the non-human in political discourse?

5 May 2010: A Leaking Body

I stand upright and slack-jawed, releasing a seemingly ceaseless stream of saliva from the slit of my mouth.

Intermittently, urine spurts from my urethra while tears flow from my unblinking eyes.

Sweat seems to ooze from my every pore.

I am performing Jorge De Hoyos’s Leakage Study – a durational work that demands its performers to enter into and sustain a state of perpetual leaking.

For ninety minutes, this performance unfurls, extending me further and further from any notion of myself as a continent human subject.

All the while, it elucidates my body as a mode of unremitting discharge.

This is what subjectivity is grafted onto: a body, in excess of itself, unable to fully contain the matter it either creates or accumulates.

To engage leakage as practice is to discover this; it reveals that our manifold promises to contain ourselves can only be partial, at best.

Paraphrasing Artaud, Derrida writes, “My body has been stolen from me by effraction […] The place of effraction can only be the opening of an orifice. The orifice of birth, of defecation to which all other gaps refer, as if to their origin” (Derrida 1978).

De Hoyos’s work reimagines the orifice, as all instances of leakage might propose, as a breach between two ideologies of the body: the discrete and the overflowing.

His attentive study – my performance to endure – reveals what is at play within leakage: the confrontation of a political paradigm that supposes containment and one that accounts for porousness.

It would seem that our contemporary moment is inundated with events befitting the semantic principles of this term, ‘leakage’.

In English, it is a word that presumes analogous links between the disclosure of covert information and the secretion of matter from a body or vessel.

From the Oxford Dictionary, I quote: “the accidental admission or escape of a fluid or gas through a hole or crack; the gradual escape of an electoral charge or current, or magnetic flux; deliberate disclosure of confidential information” (Augarde 1981).

Here, I close the quote.

Polysemy or, Language’s Opportunism

Since the presidency of George W. Bush, information leakage in the United States has proliferated in step with the state’s sweeping expansion of executive power – specifically, its right to broaden the reach of state secrecy (Sagar 2013).

Meanwhile, world affairs reckon with the ever-increasing occurrence of toxic leaks in the environment.

Chernobyl, the Exon Valdez loom in recent historic memory while only recently British Petroleum and Fukushima Dai-Ichi poison the waters of the earth, the under-waters of the earth, lapping toxins freshly on the shores of the world (Elliott 2012).

Whether by coincidence or convenience, language – at least the English language, among others – would presume these phenomena as proximal, as occupying the same discursive plane.

Briefly, succinctly, as much as either quality is possible: leakage – the word as the phenomenon – posits a major concern for political and intellectual thought today, implicating a range of spaces in a singular and dynamic question: that of matter’s escape – its tendency towards evacuation, its overflow from boundaries of containment.

In what follows, I would like to meditate on what it might mean, or what it might do, to conceive of these phenomena as contiguous events, capable of displacing or confusing each other within given registers of signification.

I do so as to gesture towards a poetics of transmission that complicates the authority of the human as privileged vector of material conveyance.

One can only complicate; to trump or thwart the human is as tenuous an initiative as is to champion its hegemony – however it may be constituted.

For very different reasons of course – or at least, apparently.

Let us set those aside for now with the promise to relocate them in the minutes that come.

For now, leakage, in itself, “in itself” in scare quotes: leakage as the conceptual frame for a poetics of the transmissive.

That is to say, leakage as the discursive basis of inundation as a politico-aesthetic paradigm: extending outward that which is simultaneously dislocating and inappropriable.

Let us begin here.

Incorporeal Cracks

Or, let us begin more narrowly, in the crevice – that crack that leakage necessarily traverses, creates, possibly, in order to deliver itself.

In his Logic of Sense, Deleuze describes the crack as a portal into states of delirium.

A crack, as the philosopher posits, is an incorporeal split that hovers over a corporeal surface (Deleuze 1990).

The crack is a contentious zone, targeted by forces that seek to edify continent human subjects.

Cracks are sealed to prevent the disclosure of fugitive information that could resist its own consummation as knowledge; cracks are sealed to contain flows of matter that could resist their own formation as substance.

Let us turn, as Jorge De Hoyos’s Leakage Study does with great focus, to the crack of the mouth.

Effectively, humans who are said to possess the faculty of speech experience their mouths as the fortified lips of a volcano, as buffers against the threat of total catastrophe.

However much linguistic fluency has intervened on the organ of the mouth, however robust and resistant the lips, teeth, and tongue have been rendered by the apparatus of language acquisition, the mouth stands poised as a breach into a pool of lava.

There is always the risk of an eruption, always the risk of a volatile matter that will issue forth and pulverize anything or even everything established as sensible.

Slips of the tongue are small waves of lava, lapping on the shores of sense.

“In an old house in Paris / that was covered with vines / lived two little girls / in twelve straight lines.”

These are swells that signal the inevitable cataclysm, the moment when nonsense issues from a human mouth at a personal velocity approximated to the force of Vesuvius.

Through his Leakage Study, De Hoyos extends the crack above a surface of the body, above the contiguity of tongue, teeth, throat whose own surfaces form a muchoid assemblage.

The mouth is reterritorialized as maw, moving from bouche to gueule, from a tense, precarious barrier to a loose gap.

A mouth drools, but a maw leaks saliva.

Leakage is the event that conveys a body of saliva as fact, as information, as testimony to processes occurring on surfaces of the body that are obscured by the outward visibility of the skin, the face.

Leakage is the passage from one surface to another.

A covert agent looks for the crack, slips the precious cargo through it.

Become slack jawed, don’t swallow: if committed to with consistent rigor, this score reveals a body’s ceaseless production of saliva, that a ceaseless river of the substance courses from the salivary glands.

It is negligible whether deglutition is a physiological destiny; without a doubt, it has been seized as a site of social and cultural conditioning.

Just as lips are commanded to stay shut, so too are throats ordered to swallow down saliva, lest it become drool, or even spit.

In Leakage Study, saliva laps out of the crack of the mouth-becoming-maw.

The extension of this crack subdues the threat of volcanic eruption.

A steady flow, an outward secretion: something that is counter to the stewing retention of swallowing.

Opening and extending along the surface, the crack prevents against total disaster while nevertheless offering a consistent dose of delirium.

Unlike the massacring delirium of the eruption, leakage allows for a languid hysteria.

In leaking from the mouth consistently, one disentangles one’s body from the premise of a sealed crack. Its effects are dizzying and markedly slow.

An elongated glide towards loss of control, the crack widening ever outward across the surface as we incline further and further towards an elusive horizon.

Our otherwise unimpressive, slack-jawed bodies become the topical location for “the agonizing aspect of the pure event [,] always and at the same time something which has just happened and something about to happen; never something which is happening” (Deleuze 1990, 63).

Our leaking bodies, supporting the diffusion of past into future, of future into past.

An exquisite sobriety. A solemn frenzy.

Such are the stakes of leakage – the phenomenon of slipping through cracks.

Approximations of Language

The French term for “leakage” is proximal to if not synonymous with the English. Fuite.

The escape of a fluid or gas; a rapid flow; a divulging of secret information (Robert 1993).

Deleuze’s ligne de fuite is indeed a line of flight though not in the sense of a pathway through air.

It is an escape by dripping, by seeping, by leaking; it stains the course of its trajectory as much as it slides across its surface. It inundates as it transverses (Deleuze and Guattari 1987).

Leakage, or fuite: the event of overflow itself, the force of transmission.

We have only just begun.

And yet, let us begin again – there where we have been trained to begin if only to question why it is there where we have been trained to begin.

I speak here of Greece. Of the pens and paper of Plato and Aristotle, more precisely.

Against and counter to leakage there is the idea of incontinence – which, in English, we might approximate to the philosophers’ Greek: akrasia.

A-krasia: lacking command over one’s self.

For Plato, porte-parole of Socrates, akrasia is the quality of acting against one’s better judgment and therefore does not exist, as all humans operate in the service of their own self-interest (Plato 2008).

Curious that it should not exist though it bears a name.

For Aristotle it does indeed exist; it exists as action spurred by opinion rather than logic (Aristotle 2009).

Whether conceived as deficiency of character or of body, incontinence is markedly a problem of the human.

In the sense of the former, the incontinent human violates the precepts of logic.

In the sense of the latter, the incontinent human soils their pants.

In either sense, incontinence undermines an imperative of containment that would render the human master of itself – in command of its intellectual or physical self as property.

The problem with leakage is that it is often construed in terms of incontinence – particularly when capital loss is at stake.

Gestures of Imbrication

Dealing in disparate matters, the National Security Administration leak attributed to Edward Snowden and the Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Disaster each convey two interrelated performative gestures: the breaching of a vessel charged with the retention of substances (either informational or material), and the diffusion of its contents across an expanding sphere of implication.

Mutually, these events challenge the limits of property while implicating theories of transmission and contagion.

Their concerns are jointly juridical and affective, political and aesthetic.

As events of gradual emission, their direct impacts are manifest in irrevocable changes to the social and ecological topographies through which they take their course; their more implicit impact is a challenge to the ethics of privatization that is central to late capitalism.

Revealing the sweeping reach of the mass surveillance program, the NSA leak spurs debate on policies propagated by the US government without the knowledge of the country’s citizens or the global community.

Fukushima Dai-Ichi affects and alters ecological life in the Pacific Basin, and leads us to contend with the forces of its origin at the level of human infrastructure – namely oversight, negligence, and outright deception.

In either instance there is the flight of a hoarded resource, moving towards unknowable futures of enduring influence.

These are the leaks themselves – unfurling beyond any human intention or design.
And yet what are the stakes of conceding their performative affinities within a post-human ethics, when that affinity is conveyed to us by language? Language, that most human of devices.

And so, to conclude at last:

  • In political terms, how do we account for ruptured forms, the material or informational outflow that accompanies them, and their causal forces?
  • How can our proceedings in the wake of leaks regard these components as interdependent, constituting each other?
  • How can we recuperate leakage, both socially and aesthetically, as an ever-evolving site of encounter between conflicting theses of embodiment?


Aristotle. 2009. Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by Carlo Natali. Oxford University Press.

Augarde, A. J 1981. The Oxford Dictionary. Oxford University Press.

Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari 1987. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by Brian Massumi. University of Minnesota Press.

Deleuze, Gilles 1990. The Logic of Sense. Translated by Mark Lester. Columbia University Press.

Derrida, Jacques 1978. Writing and Difference. Translated by Alan Bass. University of Chicago Press.

Elliott, David 2012. Fukushima: Impacts and Implications. Palgrave Macmillan.

De Hoyos, Jorge 2010. Leakage Study. Performance.

Nancy, Jean-Luc 2012. L’Équivalence des catastrophes (après Fukushima). Paris: Éditions Galilée.

Plato. 2008. Protagoras. Translated by Nicholas Denyer. Cambridge University Press.

Robert, Paul, Josette Rey-Debove, and Alain Rey 1993. Le Nouveau Petit Robert: Dictionnaire alphabétique et analogique de la langue française. Dictionnaires Le Robert.

Sagar, Rahul 2013. Secrets and Leaks: The Dilemma of State Secrecy. Princeton University Press.


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The Non-human and the Inhuman in Performing Arts — Bodies, Organisms and Objects in Conflict