by Nick James Scavo and Xander Seren
Sep 1, 2017

Vampyroteuthia is a composition project by Nick James Scavo and Xander Seren. Art by Kyselina. Concept by Vilém Flusser and Louis Bec. Text by Nick James Scavo.

nihil humani a me alienum puto

Science chose to name Vampyroteuthis Infernalis, The Vampire Squid From Hell, by fictionalizing it. It used terms that, although traceable to material etymological roots, are semantically and morphologically fictive: a genus from a folkloric creature (vampire) and a species from the devil’s domain (hell). These names come together in both their binomial name and in their simultaneous appeal to metaphor — as the squid itself was insufficient in representing itself with its own horror, its own mythology. Rather, it became human — a part of our horrific and anthropomorphic imagination. The squid’s diabolical character was installed as if out of necessity to apprehend its suspect existence in its abyssal void — a mysterious depth that, for the human, must always give way to our more fantastic visions of the “lower regions” that spur on our Wrathful imagination.

After all, “humans and vampyroteuthes live far apart from one another. We would be crushed by the pressure of its abyss, and it would suffocate in the air that we breath. When we hold its relatives captive in aquaria — both to observe them and to infer certain things about it — they kill themselves: they devour their own arms. How we would conduct ourselves if dragged to its depths, where eternal darkness is punctured only by its bioluminescence, remains to be seen. And yet, the vampyroteuthis is not entirely alien to us…”

The project of Vilem Flusser’s and Louis Bec’s eponymous chapbook as well as the music and creature of Vampyrotuethia simply acknowledge that the abyss that separates us from the Vampire Squid is incomparably smaller than that which separates us from extraterrestrial life, as imaged in science-fiction and sought by astrobiologists. Flusser and Bec’s text, German Artist Kyselina’s sculpted creature, and our music are experimental installations that merely seek to trace our insufficiency in approaching non-human life — those plural systems — Otherkin, Non-Therians, and Vampires that embody “transcorporeal” and inter-species intimacy with the human. Emphasizing this insufficiency is the attempt of the fictional installation. The assembled works trace pressurized lines of communicative breakdown both within the human species — the pedantic oral and inscribed languages of us humans — and speculate possible similarities to the the complex light-absorbing glandular language of the Vampire Squid. Moveover, the installation traces a compossibility between our human and squid culture altogether — acknowledging the existence of human-squids and squid-humans swimming and walking, mating, consuming one another in actual universes.

If seen explicitly etymologically, the binomial name Vampyroteuthis Infernalis places the creature within the taxonomical order of Vampyromorphida, one distinct due to its unique retractile sensory filaments — the filaments that allow for its complex glandular and communicative history and culture. The genus Vampyroteuthis, “Vampire Squid” — is from which the Slavic languages have borrowed the word from a Turkic term for “witch” (Tatar Ubyr). Czech linguist Václav Machek proposes the Slovak verb “Vrepiť Sa” (stick to, thrust into), or its hypothetical anagram “Vperiť Sa” (in Czech, the archaic verb “Vpeřit” means “to thrust violently”) as an etymological background, and thus translates “Upír” as “someone who thrusts, bites.”

The hilarity and, again, insufficiency, of our human linguistic attempts provokes our consideration of the Squid as fiction — close to the void and existing as an object of the human diabolical imagination. However, to wholly consider the Vampire Squid, as Flusser suggests, is to hold an unhuman mirror that reflects back a non-philosophy of life that again fictionalizes our separation from this creature.

When Flusser discusses the Vampyroteuthis Infernalis he, as Flusser scholar and researcher Paola Bozzi states, “acknowledges the abysses of the deep sea and their secrets as a realm for speculating ways of overcoming the straits of human consciousness.” For Flusser, the thought experiment is a concrete consideration of bare life of the biological dimension of the zoē — implying no guarantees about the certainty of the human life lived, but rather a bare consideration of the sheer biological fact of life, and through this sheer psychedelic biological facticity (in the case of the human’s relationship to the squid), we see vast possibility.

Accompanied by the artworks of Louis Bec, the inventor and “chairman” of the ficitive Institut Scientifique Paranaturaliste, Flusser’s writing outlines The Vampire Squid as the closest relative of the octopus’s earliest ancestor, which he considers in many respects one of the more interesting members of the Cephalopoda due to the creature’s strange communicative culture in it’s abyssal world. For Flusser, this mollusk intervenes actively and conspiratorially in its surroundings by outmaneuvering others with technical tricks and deceptive appearances. The squid actively constructs aporias in order to entangle its prey. Flusser wrote of a “culture of deceit, pretense and falsehood,” which the philosopher compared to the most recent developments of a human mollusk strategy (software) to immaterial art.

Flusser thus inverts the perspective between human being and animal. The Vampire Squid, a small phylogenetic relict, thus becomes the master of the fiction, the model of a fabulist, creative epistemology and at the same time the symbol of the human condition under postmodernism. Such, the text, image and music are deliberately provocative in their formulation to stimulate thinking and concepts around this pre/post-human situation and non-philosophy of life.