Tick Variations


My contribution to the Through Phenomena Themselves Research Cell consists of a case study in non-human phenomenology.

It is also inspired by Tuula Närhinen´s current Research Pavilion project "Insects among us" within the "Traces of the Anthropocene" cell. 


The idea itself, that of ”non-human phenomenology”, is not as contradictory as it may sound at first. The founding figures of phenomenology, like Husserl, Scheler, Heidegger or Merleau-Ponty, paid already in their times quite a lot of attention to the possibility of study phenomenologically the experience of the non-human human beings. (see Lotz & Painter 2007) The new Millenium, and the posthumanist perspectives it has opened, has given to the issue a new topicality. (Bogost 2012, Maoillearca 2015, de Castro 2014)


I have, in some of my earlier writings, tried to approach the topic from the point of view of performing arts. (Kirkkopelto 2004, 2013, 2015, 2017). With this endeavour, I have not been alone (see for instance Broglio 2011, Lavery 2018). My reflections have mainly been based on a particular artistic practice that I have been developing since 2004 in Helsinki with a group called Other Spaces (“Toisissa tiloissa”). The aim of the group is to develop collective corporeal “exercises” which alternate the practitioner´s experience of her body allowing her to enter in contact with different kinds of non-human phenomena. (Cf. https://toisissatiloissa.net/en/) In my opinion, performing arts, and especially the body techniques they imply, constitute a potential but still a relatively little exploited methodological source for research concerned by the corporeal encounters and interaction between human or non-human beings, agents or actors. 


The topic of my study derives from Jakob von Uexküll´s (1864–1944) classical ecological studies on the “lifeworld” (Umwelt) of animals. In order to make his reader understand what he means by that notion, he uses as an example a tick (ixodes ricinus), a tiny 8-legged insect, which nourishes itself by the blood of the mammals. As the author himself confirms, tick has a central role in his argument: “The fundamental aspects of the structure of the environments that are valid for all animals can be derived from the example of the tick.” (Uexküll 2010, 51)


Uexküll´s “tick” is famous and it has been commented by many researchers also from outside the biological and ecological research. One of the first non-scientific commentators of Uexküll was Martin Heidegger in his 1929–1930 seminar. (Heidegger 2001) Although tick is not mentioned by the German philosopher, his remarks concerning animal´s “poverty in world” (Weltarmut) obviously originates from Uexküll´s analysis, where the latter speaks about the “poverty” of tick´s lifeworld. (ibid.) Later, several philosophical commentators have returned to Heidegger´s argument, and therefore to Uexküll as well, to start with Giorgio Agamben and Jacques Derrida (Agamben 2004; Derrida 2008). If the non-human phenomenology is discussed, the (dis)connection Heidegger builds between human and non-human experience still constitutes a relevant problem.
















In this artistic research project my aim is to test Uexküll´s and his interpreters´ conclusions in practice. According to the initial argument of Uexküll, the poverty of the tick´s life-world (the author does not speak about “World” like Heidegger does) is based a very limited number of environmental elements. The author calls these factors “carriers of meaning” (Bedeutungsträger). In Tick´s case, there are basically only three of them: the smell of the mammal, its warmth, and the tactile contact with its skin. However, according to my hypothesis, these three factors do yet not exhaust the experience of the tick. In between these semantically meaningful factors, there are areas, whose way of appearing is ambiguous but no less real for the one who conceives them, no matter if it were a human or a tick. 


In order to test this hypothesis, I will create a series of “phenomenotechnical” arrangements (Rheinberger 2005) inspired by, but not based on, my earlier artistic practice. These arrangements, that I call “Tick variations”, are designed for this particular purpose and their aim is to translatesomething of tick´s corporeal existence into the human corporeal experience. Each arrangement will focus on one particular aspect in tick´s behaviour, the way it encounters its “environment” (Umgebung) and deals with the related “carriers of meaning”. What happens between these focus points is as important as what happens at them. In order to get in contact with the given lifeworld – the significant moments as well as the time between them – I will test my arrangements with voluntary human participants, at first stage with the members of the research cell. The feedback of the volunteers will be gathered both in one-to-one interviews based on a simple questionary and in a collective open discussion between the participants. I hope that on the basis of these discussions, we can estimate the epistemic and methodical output of the arrangements. 


The results, gathered and explained in the RC exposition, will be compared critically with the existing phenomenological understanding of “corporeality” and “world(s)” in Husserl, Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty.



Bogost, Ian 2012. Alien Phenomenology, Or What It is Like To be a Thing, Minneapolis & London: University of Minnesota Press.

Broglio, Ron. 2011. Surfance Encouters: Thinking with Animals and Art, Unversity of Minnesota Press.

de Castro, Eduardo Viveiros. 2014. Cannibal Metaphysics.For a Post-Structural Anthropology. University of Minnesota Press.

Derrida, Jacques. 2008. Séminaire La Bête et le souverain(2002–2003). Vol 1. Paris: Galilée.

Heidegger, Martin. 2001. Fundamental Concepts of Metaphysics. Indiana University Press.

Kirkkopelto, Esa 2017. “Species-Beings, Human Animals and New Neighbours. Non-human and inhuman in contemporary performance”, Performance Research, vol. 22, number 2, 87–96.

Kirkkopelto, Esa. 2015. “The Ethics of the Gastropods. Analysis of a Trans-Human Practice”, Eurozinehttps://www.eurozine.com/the-ethics-of-gastropods/

Kirkkopelto, Esa. 2013. “Provisional Absolutes. The Second Manifesto for Generalized Anthropomorphism”, Manifesto Now! Instructions for Performance, Philosophy, Politics, Laura Cull & Will Daddario (eds.). Intellect. Bristol, UK / Chicago, USA, 196-210.

Kirkkopelto, Esa. 2004.A Manifesto for Generalized Anthropomorphism, Eurozine (www.eurozine.net).

Lavery, Carl. 2018 (ed.). Performance and Ecology. What can Theatre Do? Routledge.

Lotz, Christian & Painter, Corinne. 2007. Phenomenology and Non-Human Animal, Springer.

Maoillearca, John Ó. 2015. All Thoughts are Equal. Laruelle and Nonhuman Philosophy. University of Minnesota Press.

Rheinberger, Hans-Jörg. 2005. “Bachelard and the Notion of Phenomenotechnique”. Perspectives on Science. The MIT Press, vol 13 number 3, 313–328.

Uexküll, Jacob von. A Foray into the World of Animals and Humans with A Theory of Meaning. Joseph D. O´Neil (trans.). Minneapolis & London: University of Minnesota Press.

A tick in the hunting position