Bodies in Form, 2

Tabletop Roleplaying as Cosmic Poetics


This paper continues in a line of inquiry that I first embarked upon in my paper “Bodies in Form: Motricity Across Mediums in The Last of Us and The Last of Us: American Dreams,” which I presented at the University of Florida Graduate Comics Organization Conference in 2019.1 However, unlike that paper, which was concerned with a video game and a comic book, the present paper is concerned with tabletop roleplaying games (ttrpgs) and poetry. I intend to demonstrate the theoretical applicability of the embodied, phenomenological method of my 2019 paper across ludic domains, but also to ally ttrpgs with poetry in the writing of the body. In this way, play and poiesis become complementary terms, a coupling hopefully productive of what Isabelle Stengers terms a “metamorphic transformation” of both parties in the relation.2

To do so, I will use Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s concept of “motricity”3 and Alva Noë’s concept of “organization”4 to provide the framework for a phenomenological and enactive approach to ttrpgs as a form of poiesis, making—both auto-poetic, as defined by Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela,5 and sym-poietic, as defined by Donna Haraway.6 This self-making and making-with is not understood in the sense of either self-possession or self-realization, but as a mode of what Stefano Harney and Fred Moten call “fugitive planning,”7 a planning with the potential for direct action at the cosmic scale. This cosmic poetics is a poetics that rejects “the assignation of traits,” as Legacy Russell beckons us to do, delighting in the glitched becomings of “generic difference.”8 Bringing this theoretical constellation to ground, I will examine select examples from the recent boom in independent “lyric” games, situating them in their experimental aesthetic context in order to derive a praxis for the elaboration of the poetics here described.


Merleau-Ponty elaborates the concept of “motricity” in part one, section III of his Phenomenology of Perception (1945), “The Spatiality of One’s Own Body and Motricity.”9 His phenomenology of the body begins from the fact that “I hold my body as an indivisible possession and I know the position of each of my limbs through a body schema that envelops them all.”10 The schema, though “indivisible,” is not a purity or a totality, but rather a “plan” in which the discrete parts of the body are “implicated,” an altogether different kind of wholity that Merleau-Ponty also names as “posture.”11 With “posture,” Merleau-Ponty gets beyond Gestalt “form,” reaching for a “dynamic” sense of the body that is always already “toward a certain task, actual or possible,” a “situational spatiality.”12 In this situational spatiality, the word “here” as such “designates the installation of the first coordinates, the anchoring of the active body in an object, and the situation of the body confronted with its tasks.”13 The body does not careen about an empty field like a billiard ball, but rather shifts and slides through a thick mesh of contexts that it “is in and toward.”14

It is the in-ness and toward-ness of the body that affords what Merleau-Ponty terms “concrete movement.”15 Concrete movement and grasping movement are basic functions of the situated body. The grasp is “magically complete; it only gets under way by anticipating its goal.”16 This anticipation is neither a “positional consciousness” nor a “representation” because it does not require any such determinate thought for its performance.17 If I direct you to touch your nose, you do not first need to envision where your nose is to then be able to touch it; you simply touch it. Thus, Merleau-Ponty writes, “bodily space” can afford “a grasping intention without being given to an epistemic one.”18 Bodily space is first an “envelope” of “habitual action” before it is an “objective milieu,” and furthermore, the body can be a “means of insertion” into “familiar surroundings” without reference to any “objective milieu” whatsoever.19 In the completeness of concrete movement, there is a “lived relation” that is “given in the natural system of one’s own body.”20 Such an “operation takes place wholly within the order of the phenomenal” and has no need to “pass through the objective world.”21 Thus, for the craftsperson, workbench, tools, and materials are “presented to the subject as poles of action; they define, through their combined value, a particular situation that remains open, that calls for a certain mode of resolution, a certain labor.”22 And in this space, the body responds to the task with the “necessary movements,” the “motor reactions,” required of it, all “without any calculation” because my body is my “power for a certain world.”23

This power is “motricity,” the body’s basic “motor project” or “motor intentionality.”24 Motricity is the work that bodies do: “marking out borders and directions in the given world,” “establishing lines of force,” “arranging perspectives,” “organizing the given world according to the projects of the moment,” and “constructing upon the geographical surroundings a milieu of behavior and a system of significations.”25 Motricity “polarize[s] the world, causing a thousand signs to appear there, as if by magic, that guide action.”26 This structuring work Merleau-Ponty also names the “unity of behavior,” but again this “unity” is not to be understood as a purity or a totality.27 Rather, this unity challenges that of the “Kantian subject,” which “posits a world” over against the purity of its subjectivity, presenting the “actual subject” in its stead who “must first have a world or be in the world,” the subject who “must hold a system of significations around himself whose correspondences, relations, and participations do not need to be made explicit in order to be utilized.”28 The unity of the actual subject is a “primordial,” worldly unity, a “fundamental function,” an “intentional arc,” that “projects around us our past, our future, our human milieu, our physical situation, our ideological situation, and our moral situation,” that “ensures that we are situated within all of these relationships.”29 Motricity, the unity of behavior, is thus “original intentionality,” consciousness before the “I think that,” consciousness first as an “I can.”30 “The motor experience of our body is not a particular case of knowledge,” Merleau-Ponty writes, “rather, it offers us a manner of reaching the world and the object, a ‘praktognosia,’ that must be recognized as original, and perhaps as originary.”31

This praktognosia, practical knowledge, is the “elementary power of sense-giving” that undergirds all understanding.32 “To understand is to experience”—in the French, éprouver, test—“the accord between what we aim at and what is given, between the intention and the realization.”33 This test of understanding should not be understood as a matching of terms in a table of correspondences—rather, the body “is our general means of having a world” because it is the very proof of existence that allows for the subsequent projection of “a cultural world around itself.”34 The body “has its world,” has a “hold” on the world, and through this “naïve contact” projects or enacts worlds—ideological, moral, or otherwise.35


Alva Noë begins his Strange Tools (2015) with an anecdote about vision.36 In conversation with an artist, two competing questions emerge. Vision scientists typically ask: “How do we see so much on the basis of so little?” The particular artist in this anecdote asks, on the other hand: “Why are we so blind, why do we see so little, when there is so much around us to see?”37 The first question is premised on the belief that “seeing happens in the brain”; the second, however, is premised on the belief that “seeing isn’t something that happens automatically, or for free; we are too liable not to see even what is there.”38

To draw together Noë with our discussion of Merleau-Ponty, in the case of the vision scientists, the brain and the objective milieu are opposed, set in positional relation, their respective contents tabulated and matched. Examination of the optical apparatus on this basis therefore naturally leads to the question, how do we see so much?, given the paucity of data in that half of the relation. As Noë writes, seeing, in this view, relies on “tiny distorted upside-down images in the eyes,” and the brain somehow takes these images and produces the vibrancy and fullness of what is seen.39 However, as Merleau-Ponty contends, this interpretation of vision requires perception to be a “determination of the objective world,” and “such a representation either is or is not.”40 Representation “delivers to us its object without any ambiguity and as an identifiable term throughout all of its appearances,” but this is quite frankly not the case, as Merleau-Ponty shows throughout Phenomonology of Perception in his treatment of optical illusions and distortions, neuro-atypicality, and perceptual hiccups and glitches.41 The body is indeed the proof of the world that is, but the hold that it maintains is a “darkness,” like the “foundation of sleep,” or a “vague reserve of power,” or a “zone of non-being in front of which precise beings, figures, and points can appear.”42 Merleau-Ponty maintains, therefore, that we must “reject as abstract any analysis of bodily space,” or here, any analysis of vision, “that considers only figures and points, since figures and points can neither be conceived nor exist at all without horizons.”43 The body as background and horizon, as proving power, is always “implied” and ambiguous, and never guaranteed.44

For Noë, then, in the case of the artist, vision is not a matter of positional tabulation, but of insertion, of the around-ness of familiar surroundings. Consequently, seeing is “an achievement, our achievement, the achievement of making contact with what there is.”45 Seeing is not primarily epistemic, but rather a grasp, a taking hold of the real. And insofar as the grasp of vision is something to be done, we can indeed “fail to see.”46

This puts us in a rather paradoxical situation but, I would contend, a situation rich with potential. Between Merleau-Ponty and Noë, we see that the naïve hold of the body on the world is a proof that short circuits the doubt induced by the notion of the positional cogito—or, we might say, short circuits Cartesian doubt—restoring to us a belonging with being that is the elementary basis for our understanding. On the other hand, this basis is dark, ambiguous, vague, a hold that is sure, yet impossible to fix in place, impossible to guarantee or ground in an epistemic way. Certainty (I know that) is replaced with invitation (I could try to), what Stengers describes as the animating power of the “lure”—knowledge not as a set of identifiable terms, but as processes of “[a]lluring, suggesting, … inducing, capturing, mesmerizing.”47 These kinds of knowledge processes are often labelled as “specious,” but as Noë writes, these knowledge processes present in situ the “enactive” or “actionist” approach to human experience (or more generally, animate experience), recognizing that our experience, our knowledge, “is not something that happens in our brains, or anywhere else, for that matter; it is something we do or make, or achieve.”48 In Stengers’ terms, experience is a “craft,” an “art of immanent attention.”49 And for Noë, the craft of experience is precisely that which is potentiated by the ambiguity of existence as “active animals or people.”50

Noë writes that “art provides us an opportunity to catch ourselves in the act of achieving our conscious lives, of bringing the world into focus for perceptual (and other forms of) consciousness.”51 To provide us with a framework for understanding this achievement, Noë presents us with his concept of organization.

Motricity is original intentionality, the basic directedness of active animals, that by which an actual subject “hold[s] a system of significations around himself.”52 At their most basic, these significations are made up of the “affordances” of everyday life, the basic motor projects signified by the handle on a coffee cup or the keys of a keyboard.53 But, as Merleau-Ponty is also sure to note, these motor projects as poles of action—presented by the workbench, for instance—provide the foundation for more complex ideological and moral projects, which is to say, of cultural projects in general. This is in no way to say that cultural projects can be reduced to motor projects, but rather that cultural projects rely on this polarization of the world, which occurs through the dynamic interplay of motor subject and situation.

With organization, then, Noë helps us think through situation—what I described above as a thick mesh of contexts—getting beyond the simple tools of the phenomenologists (e.g., Heidegger’s hammer) to the “strange tools” of art, and the complex cultural projects or “organized activities” into which such strange tools invite us.54

The task solicited by an organized activity is not something that can be located in the brain, but rather “itself shapes, enables, and constrains us.”55 With the task, “we find ourselves put together and made up in the setting of the activity,” in the situation.56 We might say that the chef is made up in the setting of the kitchen, the hockey player in the setting of the rink, the soldier in the setting of war. The chef, the hockey player, the soldier are not essentially so, but only so insofar as they are organized in that way, insofar as their motor intentionality is entrained by their situation for the performance of a given task or tasks.

This situational quality of the task is what makes it an “organized activity,” which can be defined by six key features: it is “primitive and ‘natural’” (inasmuch as complex, organized behaviour depends upon the entraining of specific reflexes—cutting vegetables, shooting a puck, aiming a rifle); it presents an “arena[] for the exercise of attention, looking, listening, doing, undergoing”; it “exhibit[s] structure in time”; it is “emergent” and is “not governed by the deliberate control of any individual”; it has a “function, whether social or biological or personal”; and it has the potential to be “pleasurable.”57

What is important to recognize here is that, although an organized activity “downward entrain[s]” the “behavior of the individuals caught up in it,” the activity is not itself an ideal form, existing outside, in some transcendental realm.58 Organization is “a biological concept,” and as such must be understood on the basis of the immanent contact between the body and the world.59 “Living beings,” writes Noë, “are organisms—organized wholes—and the central conceptual puzzle life throws up for science is that of understanding how mere matter, and the order characteristic of physics, gets taken up, integrated, and organ-ized in the self-making, world-creating manner of life.”60

The proof of motricity leads us to the conjuration of projection—éprouver leads to évocation.61 The magic of situation is the way it animates motor beings, the way it organizes the intentional arc for the performance of complex tasks. “To be alive is to be organized,” asserts Noë, and “insofar as we are not only organisms but are also persons, we find ourselves organized, or integrated, in a still larger range of ways that tie us to the environment, each other, and our social worlds.”62 To be alive, then, is also to be alive to difference, to the diverse possibilities of organized life. Though Merleau-Ponty is emphatic on the essential point of motricity, motricity entails that there are “several ways for the body to be a body, and several ways for consciousness to be consciousness.”63 The unity of behavior is not, to repeat, a unity in the sense of a purity or a totality, but rather the unity of an open situation. Indeed, in holding motricity or behaviour to be basic, Merleau-Ponty argues that, “if a single function is expressed throughout all of these experiences,” it is not the purifying nihility of the cogito, but the “movement of existence” itself, “which does not supress the radical diversity of contents, for it does not unite them by placing them all under the dominion of an ‘I think.’”64 This is why the praktognosia of the motor body is to be interpreted as not only “original,” but “perhaps as originary,” as cited above, because the movement of existence is, by definition, praxical.65 When what is speaks, it says, I do.

As Noë elaborates, the existentiality of action presents us with a profoundly saturated domain of research. There is “no tension between the natural and the learned when it comes to the ways we find ourselves embedded in patterns of organization,” because it is “our nature to acquire second natures.”66 It is little wonder, then, that habit has been such a recurring theme throughout the history of philosophy.67 Habit is simply, commonly biological—but what the biology of habit teaches us is that we cannot understand “organized activities … by considering these phenomena only in relation to what is happening in the nervous system of the participants,” nor can organized activities be understood at “the level of conscious, deliberate action.”68 Organization occurs at an “intermediate level,” the “embodiment level.”69 Embodiment is “a temporally extended, dynamic exchange with the world around us, one that is guided by principles of timing, thoughtfulness, movement, spontaneity, function, and pleasure,” but also by “all manner of learned understandings and expectations and engagements with this or that task.”70 To be a body is to be organized, but to be organized is to acknowledge that our bodies are always already compromised, porous, open. Noë writes:

We are organized. We get organized. We are organisms! Our lives are structured by organized activities, in the large, in the small. Our lives are one big complex nesting of organized activities at different levels and scales. Talking, walking, eating, perceiving, driving. We are always captured by structures of organization. This is our natural, indeed our biological, condition. It is the basic fact about us. And crucially, these structures of organization are not of our own making.71

There is certainly a terror in this alien agency that traverses our bodies, but this is also what makes our situations rich with potential. The structures of organization in which we are embedded are typically not of our own making, but art is what we make “out of organized activities.”72 Art is the staging of organization; it is about the “display” of what is staged, “about the showing” itself.73 Framed another way, Noë describes art as a “practice for investigating our absorption” in organized activities.74 For instance, Noë writes, if dance is a mode of being organized, choreography is the investigation of this mode.75 If life “is organized toward its own self-maintenance and self-production in the face of the physical processes that enfold and threaten to dissolve it,” then art “seek[s] to bring out and exhibit, to disclose and to illuminate, aspects of the way we find ourselves organized.”76 The arts are thus “reorganizational practices,” the praktognosic means whereby we come to understand “the ways we find ourselves organized and so, also, the ways we might reorganize ourselves.”77 Motricity leads to projection, organization leads to reorganization, and praxis, therefore, leads to poiesis.


Noë derives his understanding of life and organization from Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela’s Autopoiesis and Cognition (1980), and it will serve us well to turn to this work here. Maturana and Varela’s purpose in their study of autopoiesis—the self-making of living organization—is “to understand the organization of living systems in relation to their unitary character.”78 Autonomy, as the defining characteristic of a living organism, is a consequence of unity, but this unity is always contextual: a “universe comes into being when a space is severed in two.”79 Autonomy—the unity of behavior as we have termed it above—is basic, determinative of the individual organism as individual. But the individuation, the severing, is what is properly primordial. The individual organism is indeed autonomous, but as Gilbert Simondon remarks, the individual, as a consequence of the individuation, is a “relative reality.”80 The real is praktognosic, as we asserted above. And for Maturana and Varela, the praktognosic movement of individuation is what produces the autonomous organism as something concerned, in its very constitution, with the “maintenance of identity.”81

Maturana and Varela take a “mechanistic” approach to living identity in order to bracket out non-physical “forces or principles” in their analysis.82 But their mechanism is not interested in “properties or components, but in processes and relations between processes realized through components.”83 This approach supports Merleau-Ponty’s observation, cited above, that there are “several ways for the body to be a body.”84 In Maturana and Varela’s words: “It is our assumption that there is an organization that is common to all living systems, whichever the nature of their components.”85 Maturana and Varela are not interested in “classes or types of living systems,” but rather in the “phenomenology” of these self-making machines, in the praktognosic self-assertion of the living: I do.86

To get a hold of what, particularly, constitutes a self-making machine, Maturana and Varela are careful to define the broader domain of machines, often naïvely conceived as “concrete hardware systems,” before proceeding to carve out the space that can be uniquely defined as “living.”87 Machines are “unities,” significant “in terms of relations,” constituting “network[s] of interactions and transformations.”88 The organization of the machine is what defines the machine as a particular type of machine, but this organization can be realized by any given structure, which Maturana and Varela define as the “actual relations which hold among the components” of the organization.89 In this way, to use Noë’s example of dance for a high-level illustration, dance is clearly an organization insofar as it constitutes a particular network of interactions and transformations independent of its components, the individual dancers.

To proceed to consider living machines, autopoietic machines—for instance, the dancers organized by a dance—we see that there is a particular grouping of machines that “maintain constant, or within a limited range of values, some of their variables.”90 This is a process that occurs “completely within the boundaries of the machine which the very same organization specifies.”91 These machines are “homeostatic machines,” and all autopoietic machines are homeostatic machines, but not all homeostatic machines are autopoietic.92 Autopoietic machines are defined by the “fundamental variable which they maintain constant.”93 Maturana and Varela write:

An autopoietic machine is a machine organized (defined as a unity) as a network of processes of production (transformation and destruction) of components that produces the components which: (i) through their interactions and transformations continuously regenerate and realize the network of processes (relations) that produced them; and (ii) constitute it (the machine) as a concrete unity in the space in which they (the components) exist by specifying the topological domain of its realization as such a network.94

The “fundamental variable” that an autopoietic machine maintains is “its own organization.”95 For “a machine to be autopoietic, its defining relations of production must be continuously regenerated by the components which they produce.”96 As such, autopoietic machines are “autonomous,” have “individuality,” are “unities,” and “do not have inputs and outputs.”97

That “living systems” are “physical autopoietic machines” is, for Maturana and Varela, “trivially obvious,” but what is more radical is their assertion of the converse: that “a physical system, if autopoietic, is living.”98 Maturana and Varela assert that “autopoiesis is necessary and sufficient to characterize the organization of living systems,” and it will take them the remainder of the work to demonstrate that “all the phenomenology of living systems, including reproduction and evolution, indeed requires and depends on autopoiesis.”99 Though their analysis is remarkable and worth reading in full, what concerns us at present is the relation between an autopoietic machine and its environment, the larger system or systems in which living organisms find themselves embedded. Though Maturana and Varela are careful to focus on “the autonomous nature of living unities” in order to define life as such, this does not mean that “evolutionary thought,” or we might say, contextual thought, is unimportant, nor would Maturana and Varela say so.100 Autopoietic machines always exist within an environment, and as we have seen with Noë, that which is organized is always susceptible to reorganization.

The autopoietic machine itself does not have inputs and outputs in its organization. The structure of an autopoietic machine has inputs and outputs (e.g., nutrients incorporated into cells) but the organization can only be “perturbated by independent events and undergo internal structural changes which compensate these perturbations.”101 Maturana and Varela continue:

If the perturbations are repeated, the machine may undergo repeated series of internal changes which may or may not be identical. Whichever series of internal changes takes place, however, they are always subordinated to the maintenance of the machine organization, [the] condition which is definitory of the autopoietic machines. Thus any relation between these changes and the course of perturbations to which we may point to, pertains to the domain in which the machine is observed, but not to its organization.102

So, then, a self-maintaining machine can be changed in its structure while maintaining its organization, rendering inquiry into the domain of the machine worthwhile for understanding the existence of the autonomous entity as a nevertheless relative reality.

All autopoietic machines are “organized in such a manner that any physical interference with their operation outside their domain of compensations will result in their disintegration: that is, in the loss of autopoiesis.”103 Consequently, the “actual way in which the autopoietic organization is realized in one of these machines (its structure) determines the particular perturbations it can suffer without disintegration, and hence, the domain of interactions in which it can be observed.”104 Maturana and Varela expand on this point:

We can describe physical autopoietic machines, and also manipulate them, as parts of a larger system that defines the independent events which perturb them. Thus, as noted above, we can view these perturbing independent events as inputs, and the changes of the machine that compensate these perturbations as outputs. To do this, however, amounts to treating an autopoietic machine as an allopoietic [other-making] one, and to recognize that if the independent perturbing events are regular in their nature and occurrence, an autopoietic machine can in fact, be integrated into a larger system as a component allopoietic machine, without any alteration in its autopoietic organization.105

The projection of a motor subject into a cultural project, the reorganization of an organism, the allopoietic integration of an autopoietic machine into a larger system—this is the mode of poiesis with which we are presently concerned. To be sure, this mode remains poietic, remains a making. In her Staying with the Trouble (2016), Donna Haraway names this mode sympoiesis, no longer self-making but making-with.106 If autopoiesis describes the self-perpetuating operation of a living organism, sympoiesis describes the operations into which such organisms enter that take those organisms beyond themselves.

Autopoiesis is what defines the organization of living systems. Maturana and Varela’s emphasis on the autonomy of the unity of the organism is vital for preserving what François Laruelle terms the “principle of real choice” or “of choice as such.107 There is an “absolute contingency” to this autonomy, and a “diversity that is absolutely indifferent” therein, what Laruelle describes as the “radical that-ness” of existents.108 The autonomy of autopoietic machines must be retained if we are to have any sense of the individual as real. But this autonomy is also always relative, a unity severed from a surrounding space. The unity is not itself primordial, but profoundly contingent, grounded in a “radical absurdity.”109 As Maturana and Varela emphasize, living machines in themselves are “purposeless systems,” because purpose always “reflect[s] our considering the machine or system in some encompasssing context.”110 As Haraway contends, “nothing is really autopoietic or self-organizing,” because autopoiesis always takes place in a domain and is as such “complex, dynamic, responsive, situated, [and] historical.”111

The severing, the individuation, the determination itself of the unity, is primordial. To cite Simondon once again, we can say that the individual is “a certain phase of being that supposes a preindividual reality, and that, even after individuation, does not exist on its own, because individuation does not exhaust with one stroke the potentials of preindividual reality.”112 The individual appears by way of the unilateral determination of the individuation, and can as such be understood as a real individual, but must also be understood more broadly in the “pair individual-environment.”113 Autopoietic machines always dwell in sympoietic contexts.

There is something of sympoiesis even within autopoietic machines. As Maturana and Varela comment, we “can analyze a physical autopoietic machine in its physical parts, and treat all its partial homeostatic and regulatory mechanisms as allopoietic machines,” which need not in themselves be autopoietic.114 Haraway writes that the “irresistible attraction toward enfolding each other is the vital motor of living and dying on earth.”115 She continues:

Critters interpenetrate one another, loop around and through one another, eat each another, 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.116

The possibility of a sympoietic understanding of life is not precluded by Maturana and Varela, but is rather opened by them. As Haraway reminds us, archaea and bacteria eventually fused in an allopoietic feedback system to become the autopoietic machine we know as the “modern complex cell.”117 Refusing a “mystical or transcendental sense” to autopoiesis, as Maturana and Varela say we must, allows us to be clear-eyed in our examination of the machines before us, the machines we are.118 Autopoietic machines are always already “holobionts,” “entire-beings,” their structure constituted in “polytemporal, polyspatial knottings,” “hold[ing] together contingently and dynamically,” involved with “other holobionts in complex patternings.”119 “Critters do not precede their relatings,” writes Haraway, but we might make the point more general by stating, once again, that the movement of existence is, by definition, praxical, organizational, relational.120 The real itself is poietic. To be autonomous, a unity, an individual, is never to stand on one’s own. We are always already caught up in the praktognosia of what is. We must unlearn our isolated understanding of individuality if we are to understand the fact that we are always already “ones and manys.”121

To think through such existence, Haraway makes a call for “art science worldings” that help us come to know, in a praktognosic way, the doings of sympoietic life. The fourth worlding that Haraway presents draws on the cosmological performance of the Navajo idea of “hózhó” in the weaver’s work in an attempt to decolonize the terms “art” and “science” themselves.122 To follow Haraway in this work, I acknowledge, as Stengers does, that such “bridge-making is a situated practice,” that “I am situated,” and so “as a generative constraint I must accept to not feel free to speak and speculate in a way that would situate others.”123 So, I listen:

Hózhó is a central concept in Navajo cosmology and daily practice. Usual translations into English are “beauty,” “harmony,” and “order”; but I think a better translation would emphasize right relations of the world, including human and nonhuman beings, who are of the world as its storied and dynamic substance, not in the world as a container … Weaving is a useful practice, to be sure, and an economic one; but, fundamentally, weaving is also cosmological performance, knotting proper relationality and connectedness into the warp and weft of the fabric … Weavings are individual; they are made by a particular woman and embody her style and sensibility, recognizable by knowledgeable members of the community. Names of weavers and weavers’ lineages matter, but weavings are not made to be possessed as property … Weaving is neither secular nor religious; it is sensible. It performs and manifests the meaningful lived connections for sustaining kinship, behavior, relational action—for hózhó.124

The “art of weaving and care of Churro sheep” at the heart of this cosmological practice was directly targeted by the U.S. War Department in the 1860s, with the “[k]illing of Navajo animals … a central act of the removal” of the Navajo people from the land.125 A second targeted killing of Churro sheep in the 1930s under the direction of New Deal authorities was carried out in an appalling “act of scientific colonial arrogance and culpable ignorance,” from which Navajo pastoralism has not recovered.126 But in 1977, with the founding of the Navajo Sheep Project and the subsequent activist support of Churro care and weaving in several Navajo communities, the restoration of hózhó, of sympoietic relations, began to take place.127

Today, the Black Mesa Water Collective continues in this restorative work, continues to plan, continues to “practice for building on the strengths of local people, culture, and land, in alliance with many partners, to make resurgence on Black Mesa and beyond a reality.”128 We too must plan for “learning again, or for the first time, how to become less deadly, more response-able, more attuned, more capable of surprise, more able to practice the arts of living and dying well.”129 We must plan because the poetry of our being-together is “without guarantees,” always threatened by that larger system of colonist, capitalist violence that cannot bear the “mathematical vitality” of those ones that are less and more than one.130 We must plan, because to do so is to step into the possibility of organization at the cosmic scale.


The body plans, is planned by and with other bodies, projects itself and is projected into others’ plans. We say: let’s plan. Planning is an art science, but it is also much more than that, as the organizing concept of hózhó in Navajo culture teaches us. Planning, in this mode, is cosmic direct action, the body cosmic at work.

Stefano Harney and Fred Moten begin chapter five of The Undercommons (2013), “Planning and Policy,”131 with an epigraph from James Brown’s “Funky President”:

Let’s get together, get some land
Raise our food, like the man
Save our money like the mob
Put up the factory on the job.132

This call to planning is a direct challenge to the kinds of policies that saw the decimation of Churro sheep in the name of “carrying capacity”—an ecological concept to be sure, but one enforced with technocratic and patriarchal disregard for Navajo practices of care.133 For Harney and Moten, planning “sees through the evidence of mass incapacity, cutting the despair it breeds.”134 This cut, this severing, is not the metaphysical cut of philosophy135 but the sympoietic cut by which a “universe comes into being.”136 This cut is the cut of a “metacritical hope” that “has always exceeded every immediate circumstance in its incalculably varied everyday enactments of the fugitive art of social life.”137 This fugitive art “is practiced on and over the edge of politics, beneath its ground, in animative and improvisatory decomposition of its inert body.”138 Unlike policy, planning “emerges as an ensemblic stand, a kinetic set of positions, but also takes the form of embodied notation, study, score.”139

Planning is the “informal” mechanism of the “social reproductive realm,” but planning also acknowledges the essential informality of this realm. So this is the plan:

to invent the means in a common experiment launched from any kitchen, any back porch, any basement, any hall, any park bench, any improvised party, every night. This ongoing experiment with the informal, carried out by and on the means of social reproduction, as the to come of the forms of life, is what we mean by planning; planning in the undercommons is not an activity, not fishing or dancing or teaching or loving, but the ceaseless experiment with the futurial presence of the forms of life that make such activities possible.140

Planning is the reorganization of the living that refuses to be organized as one and only one. Planning is an investigation into our essential sympoietic organization, into the modes of making-with that shape everyday life. Planning is “self-sufficiency at the social level, and it reproduces in its experiment not just what it needs, life, but what it wants, life in difference, in the play of the general antagonism.”141 Planning directs autopoiesis into allopoiesis, projects the motor subject into social subjectivity, reorganizes the organized being into new choreographies of being-with, into a new, expansive self-producing, self-maintaining body. We see, then, that autopoiesis—life producing itself—finds in planning the “militant preservation” necessary for its ongoingness in a hostile world, expanding the “domain of compensations” that an individual organism can sustain.142

The care of Churro sheep is one such expansion. Indeed, as Harney and Moten argue, policy always seeks to “break up these means as a way of controlling them.”143 Risk—here, exceeding the “carrying capacity” of the land—is externalized, converted into “an externally imposed risk of all life, so that work against risk can be harvested without end.”144 This externalization of care is a “demonstration designed to separate you from others.”145 It denies the fact that care is a cosmic performance, that we are already in it, that the informality of hózhó is precisely the point. The “multitude is already productive for itself”—it does not need to be managed, because the multide “uses every quiet moment, every sundown, every moment of militant preservation, to plan together, to launch, to compose (in) its surreal time.”146

Policy demands that “those who stay in motion need to stop and get a vision,” asserting that one must see and know before one can hold.147 There is something wrong about those who plan, those “ones who do not know to seek their own correction.”148 “They are out of joint,” write Harney and Moten, “they seek solidity in a mobile place from which to plan, some hold in which to imagine, some love on which to count.”149 Those who plan say I do, “signalling the problematic essentialism of those who think and act like they are something in particular,” maintaining their “choreographic fixity and repose, this security and base and bass-lined curve.”150 Policy wants to give planners “vision,” because the space of planning is “too dark.”151 “You can hear something, can feel something present at its own making,” can feel the doing of the general antagonism, the social poiesis that is always already going on.152 Vision begins with a hold, in the hold, but what policy offers is “baseless vision, woven into settler’s fabric.”153

Planning is a matter of “means without ends,” of pure means, as Rodrigo Karmy Bolton writes, a destituent revolt with the power to “delegitimize a determinate regime” by revealing the “thoroughly ‘anarchist’ structure” of power, the fact that existence not only is, but does, praktognosic from every angle and in every direction.154 It is for this reason that Legacy Russell describes the body as cosmic in her Glitch Feminism (2020).155 In the praktognosia of bodies we express the praktognosia of what is, becoming “inconceivably vast” in our doing.156 The body’s projection into organization and reorganization, into planning and sociality, makes of the word body a “world-building word”—the poetics of being a body, the poetics of being a body with others, is thus a cosmopoiesis.157 To be cosmic, to do cosmopoiesis, is to “make[] room for realizing other realities,” to “explore [one’s] range.”158 Cosmopoietic bodies “have no single destination but rather take on a distributed nature, fluidly occupying many beings, many places, all at once.”159 This is a sympoietic passage “from unity to multplicity” wherein the body “consents not to be a single being and attempts to be many beings at the same time.”160 Cosmopoiesis is a “personal and collective dispersion toward vastness.”161

The involutional impulse of the living to “consume and be consumed” becomes a “radical act of self-discovery,” a reorganizational investigation into how “a body can simultaneously, mutually, consensually” enfold and unfold new worlds in sympoietic play with other bodies.162 This play “requires us to remain in perpetual motion,” to “refuse definition,” to “become impossible” so that we “cannot be named,” because when “we name bodies in an effort to make them useful, we end worlds.”163 The autopoietic organization is purposeless, can only be defined as purposeful in allopoietic relations, in the larger systems and contexts in which it finds itself. To short circuit the purposing of the body as directed toward a determinate ends, to remain in the informal sociality of pure means, to choose survival, to continue to plan and play, we must “affirm and celebrate the infinite failure of arrival at any place,” finding “ourselves in outer space, exploring the breadth of cosmic corporeality,” becoming, as Frédéric Neyrat writes, “cosmic maroons” and “solar communists” and “cosmological wanderers”—those members, each, who “give rise, out of place, to the outernationale of planetary subjects.”164

To be a subject in this way is to “embody error by finding new ways to self-define,” to adopt the sympoietic cut as the possibility of what micha cárdenas calls the “stitch,” the “operation that involves using one entity to connect two formerly separate entities,” to “join, in the service of healing and creation, rather than in the service of destruction.”165 In the stitch, we reject the “assignation of traits,” the defining of bodies by their components, choosing, as Alexander Galloway writes, to “abstain from the bagging and tagging of bodies.”166 Russell continues to cite Galloway:

This does not mean that all bodies are now blank. Quite the opposite. All bodies are full. But their fullness is a generic fullness, a fullness of whatsoever they are. Likewise, it does not mean that difference has “gone away.” The opposite is the case, as difference may now finally come into its own as generic difference.167

Galloway is building on Laruelle here, on the radical that-ness of existents. For Russell, then, following in the virality of this idea, generic difference “keeps all doors open, all boxes—ticked, unticked, and those yet to be imagined beyond our wildest dreams of revolution—a possibility.”168 Generic difference affords the mobilization of direct action at the cosmic scale, a “fugitive” and “catastrophic” praktognosia, a “gorgeous, slippery, keyed up” doing, a means of cosmic praxis “modeled on no model” because the cosmos itself is already on the move, already moving through it.169 Cosmopoiesis is the making of “anarchitecture,” the building of “ecstatic and catastrophic” machines, machines that we are and were and will be, “beatific” and “leaky” and “limitless.”170 There is just one invitation that remains—one invitation, but one that is generic and full: do you want to play? Together, we speak with the cosmos: I do.


This paper began with a promise to apply an embodied, phenomenological method to the study of tabletop roleplaying games, and in so doing, to ally ttrpgs with poetry in the writing of the body. Having thoroughly prepared the ground for this work, we now must begin to do precisely that.

Motricity, the grasping, situated orientation of the body in space, is original intentionality. Motricity describes the thick contextual mesh that bodies inhabit, surrounding space polarized by a myriad of motor projects. Insofar as intentionality is projection, motricity naturally leads to the projection of bodies into projects irreducible to motor projects, projects we might describe as ideological, moral, or cultural. In this projection, we see how the organization of the body is open to reorganization, how the autopoietic self-making of living machines is a unity that nevertheless cannot be separated from its environment, and so always finds itself involved in allopoietic relations that produce ends other than the self-making of the machine. Furthermore, allopoiesis is a general term, capturing the cultural, political, and ecological sympoiesis of our being and making-with each other, and also the cosmopoiesis of bodies in the vastness of the outernationale of anarchic subjects.

In all of this, projection is a given, a naïve consequence of the primordial cut by which the universes of bodies are instituted. But this given is not determinative. The only determination is the unilateral determination of the individuation, the irrevocable, utterly contingent production of individuals. In this contingency of projection, individual bodies, living machines, are therefore open to reorganization and planning, to new choreographies, new worldings, that direct them into new poietic possibilities. Herein lies the possibility of ttrpgs.

In his treatment of concrete movement, Merleau-Ponty demonstrates the way in which the motricity of the body allows for the “insertion” of that body into “familiar surroundings.”171 But it is also possible for the body to perform abstract movement, to be inserted into unfamiliar surroundings, on the basis of this motor core. Merleau-Ponty uses the example of a subject being directed to perform a salute, a minimal gesture:

He role-plays with his own body, he amuses himself by playing the soldier, he “irrealizes” himself in the role of the soldier just as the actor slides his real body into the “great phantom” of the character to be performed. The normal subject and the actor do not take the imaginary situations as real, but inversely they each detach their real body from its living situation in order to make it breathe, speak, and, if need be, cry in the imaginary.172

This minimal gesture is one possible minimal form of play, or perhaps the minimal possibility of play as such—to perform, to act, to play a role that is understood epistemically as unreal, but to nevertheless do as bodies do, breathing, speaking, crying, saluting. The normativity and reality here invoked are not taken by Merleau-Ponty to in fact be so. These terms signify that our definitions of the “normal” and the “real” are always the product of the “spectator,” the one “who lends to the subject of movements his own objective representation of the living body.”173 What is basic to the living machines that are bodies is the “power” to “settle into my surroundings as an ensemble of manipulanda without intending my body or my surroundings as objects in the Kantian sense, that is, as systems of qualities linked by some intelligible law, as entities that are transparent, free of all local or temporal adherence, and ready to be named or at least available for a gesture of designation.”174 For the soldier in the army and the body playing at saluting, the motor experience is the same: there is “my arm as the support of these familiar acts, my body as the power of determinate action whose field and scope I know in advance, and my surroundings as the collection of possible points for this power to be applied.”175 In the Kantian sense, the spectatorial, normative, ‘realistic’ sense, in this motor experience there is “my arm as a machine of muscles and bone, as a flexing and extending apparatus, as an articulated object, and the world as a pure spectacle with which I do not merge but that I contemplate and that I point to.”176 This second sense is quite simply incorrect, reductively objective and so possessed of only superficial explanatory power.

I have described this experience of a gesture as minimal because certainly there is more at play here than the motor project of the gesture alone. The total experiences of the soldier and of the one who roleplays are quite different. The soldier is interpellated by ideological and political projects that solicit the response of a salute, while the role player, the actor, the cadet irrealize themselves to do so—each to a greater or lesser degree. And yet, the salute also organizes the body, downward entraining it, teaching those who play what it feels like to be called out by authority and respond correctly. Though the soldier and the roleplayer inhabit different contexts, the gesture is an organizing project with a distinct context of its own. This is especially clear in the case of cadets, whose play at being in the military is indeed the training and entraining of young bodies for military service. What is more, this training ties into even broader cultural projects that include sometimes heated negotiations of nationhood.177

If a salute can call up so much while being in itself so little, what then of the more elaborate choreographic projects that invite us to detach ourselves more completely from our living situations? What of those projects that seek to short circuit the militaristic and propagandistic entraining of bodily subjects, the moral and ideological training that demands all bodies be one and only one—those projects that seek instead the ecstatic and catastrophic trajectories of bodies that never arrive, but are always on the way? This is where, I argue, we meet the genre of the lyric game in contemporary tabletop roleplaying.

Though the popularity of ttrpgs generally can be attributed to the success of Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson’s Dungeons & Dragons (1974), which was itself derived from the fantasy supplement to Gygax and Jeff Perren’s tabletop wargame Chainmail (1971), what are today described as lyric games belong in their design—their organization—to a very different tradition.178 Jon Peterson’s Playing at the World (2012) has already done the work of presenting the history of mainstream “fantastic adventures” at the table.179 But for us, there is another history that is now to be considered.

My research into lyric games, and specifically my research into the conjuncture of ttrpgs and poetry, began with my encounter with CAConrad’s (Soma)tics or (Soma)tic Poetry Rituals, the first set of which, numbers 1-6, were published in Fence magazine in 2007.180 CAConrad has written 123 numbered (soma)tics, between 2007 and 2017, as well as two collections of (soma)tics, A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon (2012) and Ecodeviance (2014)—which is only a selection of their extensive bibliography.181 For CAConrad, poetry and ritual are “ancient technologies,” and their (soma)tic poetic practice explicitly invokes the “magic” of poetry that directs bodies to move, to make, and to do. Consider, for instance, (Soma)tic Poetry Ritual #1:

Wash a penny, rinse it, slip it under your tongue and walk out the door. Copper is the metal of Aphrodite, never ever forget this, never, don’t forget it, ever. Drink a little orange juice outside and let some of the juice rest in your mouth with the penny. Oranges are the fruit of Aphrodite, and she is the goddess of Love, but not fidelity. Go somewhere outside, go, get going with your penny and juice. Where do you want to sit? Find it, and sit there. What is the best Love you’ve ever had in this world? Be quiet while thinking about that Love. If someone comes along and starts talking, quietly shoo them away, you’re busy, you’re a poet with a penny in your mouth, idle chit chat is not your friend. Be quiet so quiet, let the very sounds of that Love be heard in your bones. After a little while take the penny out of your mouth and place it on the top of your head. Balance it there and sit still a little while, for you are now moving your own forces quietly about in your stillness. Now get your pen and paper and write about POVERTY, write line after line about starvation and deprivation from the voice of one who has been Loved in this world.

Poem, ritual, lyric game—this was my first encounter with the form, my first intimation that poems could be games and games could be poems, that the lyric, as old as Sappho and Pindar, was indeed a cosmic poetics, the play of the body in the movement of existence, the short circuiting projection of the body into absurd and contingent becomings. This was my introduction. CAConrad, however, was neither the first nor the last to write such things. There is a remarkable experimental context in which CAConrad is operating, and which allows us to get a first grasp on the alternative tradition of lyric games. In treating of the following experiments, it is not my intent to identify each individual with each other, to say that they are each expressing the same mystical or transcendental truth, but rather to identify the praktognosic impulses in each that loop around, cut across, and often collide with each other.


Perhaps the earliest experiment that we can make of use is Wagner’s Opera and Drama (1851), which, as Jacques Rancière remarks, is concerned with “the passage from a language of imagination to one of sensible reality.”182 For Wagner, “it is not enough for the new drama to signify a reality and describe an action. It is action that directly presents this reality to the senses in the language of the senses.”183 It is this idea that would be instrumental in Adolphe Appia’s manifesto for mise en scène—staging or scenography—Staging Wagnerian Drama (1895), in which the “theatre must no longer narrate actions, but directly express the potential of life,” a life that “affirms its potential in the energy of bodies,” in the intensity of “pure movement.”184

Another early experiment is that of Stéphane Mallarmé’s “The Book: A Spiritual Instrument” (1895), in which the poet asserts that “all earthly existence must ultimately be contained in a book,” not to be shelved away in a dusty library, but as “a hymn, all harmony and joy; an immaculate grouping of universal relationships come together for some miraculous and glittering occasion”—in short, a literary organization of the sensible, a textual mobilization of the living.185 Mallarmé would continue, in his enigmatic A Roll of the Dice (1897), to make an organizing gesture, the dice throw, the subject of poetic and typographic experimentation, a gesture that would go on to inspire Gilles Deleuze’s own treatment of the “ideal game” in The Logic of Sense (1969), once again stitching together poetry and play.186

A more concrete experiment is Bertolt Brecht’s Manual of Piety (1927), a collection of poetry “intended for the readers’ use” that includes such “lessons” as “Supplications” and “Spiritual Exercises”—this is poetry that does something to the reader, that invites the reader to a doing, using the framework of “piety” as a means for devoting readers to action.187 Brecht directs his readers to use the various lessons included therein to complement specific occasions, but regardless of occasion he advises readers to conclude “every reading” from the Manual with the final chapter, a single poem, “Do Not Let Them Fool You!”188 The third stanza reads:

Don’t let them get your hopes up!
Today is all there is.
Let pious people suffer!
Life’s all earth has to offer.
There’s no life after this.189

His Manual of Piety directs readers to attend to life, to this life, to the material conditions of our organization, to the utter occasionality of all things.190

William Carlos Williams takes an experimental approach to poetry as formal action, an approach he critically articulates in “The Poem as a Field of Action” (1948), but first demonstrates in Spring and All (1923).191 In the former, Williams writes that we need “a new measure or a new way of measuring that will be commensurate with the social, economic world in which we are living,” that in doing so we will be “making the mass in which some other later Eliot will dig,” that we must have “the pride, the humility and the thrill in the making” and “the clarity of knowing what we are doing—what we may do: Make anew—a reexamination of the means.”192 Such poetic action is not “putting the rose, the single rose, in the little glass vase in the window,” but rather “digging a hole for the tree—and as we dig have disappeared in it”—not an epistemic poetry but a grasping, praktognosic poetry.193

The means of which Williams writes is the structure of poetry, but in the “reexamination” of this means that he solicits, poetry itself is clarified as means, as a task, as a project—a means of making, by definition, but a making of and for the social world, the economic world, the concrete world—the world in which holes are dug. Williams make the same point in Spring and All, as follows:

So then—Nothing is put down in the present book—except through weakness of the imagination—which is not intended as of a piece with the «nature» which Shakespeare mentions and which Hartley speaks of so completely in his «Adventures»: it is the common tiling which is annonymously about us.

Composition is in no essential an escape from life. In fact if it is so it is negligeable to the point of insignificance. Whatever «life» the artist may be forced to lead has no relation to the vitality of his compositions. Such names as Homer, the blind; Scheherazade, who lived under threat—Their compositions have as their excellence an identity with life since they are as actual, as sappy as the leaf of the tree which never moves from one spot.

What I put down of value will have this value: an escape from crude symbolism, the annihilation of strained associations, complicated ritualistic forms designed to separate the work from «reality»—such as rhyme, meter as meter and not as the essential of the work, one of its words.

But this smacks too much of the nature of—This is all negative and appears to be boastful. It is not intended to be so. Rather the opposite

The work will be in the realm of the imagination as plain as the sky is to a fisherman—A very clouded sentence. The word must be put down for itself, not as a symbol of nature but a part, cognisant of the whole—aware—civilized.194

Williams’s poetry is “of a piece” with the anonymous common, and “composition” is not, consequently, an “escape” from this silent mass. Such poetry does not express the particular “life” of the artist, but derives its “vitality” from its actuality, from the fact that words are real—they do something in the world, they do something to the reader, they do something to the one who writes them: the word put down for itself, a part of nature, of the world, of the cosmos.

Charles Olson takes up Williams’s call for an active and actual poetics through his own experimental form, “projective verse.”195 Projective verse is for Olson to be understood in three senses: as “projectile,” as “percussive,” and as “prospective.”196 This poetics “involves a stance toward reality outside a poem as well as a new stance towards the reality of a poem itself”—the poem as being of “essential use”—“There it is, brothers, sitting there, for USE”—use in projection, percussion, prospection, that in which the “PLAY of a mind” is shown, not the mind as “egotistical Sublime” but as simple experience, “naïve contact” we might say, projects and projection, organization and reorganization.197

The editors of the collection explicitly state that Olson’s theory of projected verse is phenomenological, citing the poet John Clarke’s notes from a 1964 lecture of Olson’s that names “The Phenomenology of Perception of the 20th c.” as heralding the return “of the possibility of a paratactic poetics”—a poetics of placing side by side—which poetics was later developed by Olson as an extension of his projective poetics.198 The projective “does” something, Olson writes, it does something “both to the poet and to his reader,” and this something is precisely the “kinetics of the thing”—poetry is “energy transferred from where the poet got it … by way of the poem itself to, all the way over to, the reader.”199 This is a praxical theory, a praktognosic poetics. The editors include an excerpt from Olson’s later essay, “The Projective, in Poetry and in Thought; and the Paratactic” (1965), to illustrate the point:

my interest, in adding the paratactic to any previous though [sic] on the projective (prospective     prescriptive     eternal) is to assume, by experience, that the poetry and the thought called purposive behavior     “practice”     requires some different mode of action—activity literally, living around the clock, eating even, making love differently     finding yourself engaged in an impossible war with the realistic, and with realistic people—

… my … point would be … that syntax … or the order of all movement … has a name for itself      parataxis200

The projectile, percussive, and prospective here becomes the prospective, prescriptive, and eternal, that which Olson “assume[s], by experience,” to be the basis for poetry and practice, “activity literally,” the “order of all movement” as “parataxis,” or to reinvoke the terminology of above, the praktognosic movement of existence.201 Strangely, Olson describes this experience as “an impossible war with the realistic,” but we can perhaps oppose this to the “reality” of his earlier essay: so, “realistic” as epistemic representation of reality, versus “reality” as that of which all is part, the radical that-ness of things.202

Thus, we can properly understand what Olson means when he writes that projective verse is a “composition by field” wherein the poet “puts himself in the open,” into the “large area of the whole poem.”203 Quoting Robert Creeley, Olson declares: “FORM IS NEVER MORE THAN AN EXTENSION OF CONTENT,” which is to say that form and content are both of the same reality, working upon the same reality, toward the same reality, and that for this reason “every element in an open poem … must be taken up as participants in the kinetic of the poem just as solidly as we are accustomed to take what we call the objects of reality,” and “just as totally as do those other objects create what we know as the world.”204 The whole poem, the entire poem, is a part of phenomenological, praxical experience, is constructed in and through phenomenological, praxical experience—it is, we might say, a holopoem, poetry for holobionts. In turn, the whole poem is not an egoistic representation or reflection of the real, but a paratactic addition to it, a true doing.205 This paratactic doing is already present in “Projective Verse”:

ONE PERCEPTION MUST IMMEDIATELY AND DIRECTLY LEAD TO A FURTHER PERCEPTION. It means exactly what it says, is a matter of, at all points (even, I should say, of our management of daily reality as of the daily work) get on with it, keep moving, keep in, speed, the nerves, their speed, the perceptions, theirs, the acts, the split second acts, the whole business, keep it moving as fast as you can, citizen. And if you also set up as a poet, USE USE USE the process at all points, in any given poem always, always one perception must must must MOVE, INSTANTER, ON ANOTHER!206

There is much of CAConrad’s (soma)tic style in these lines, in their directed and directorial quality—projective, prescriptive, prospective. These are directions to be done. What is more, Olson names this doing “eternal,” much in the way that Merleau-Ponty names praktognosia as “originary.”207 In the later essay, he writes:

Aristotle called it the way beads are strung on a string one bead and thread after another     And there is that sense that it is one foot after the previous foot that nothing doesn’t happen expect [sic] as succession, and with that order of succession in time… known only if you do yourself place one next thing after one you have definitely expressed the placing of, like your foot the step before—etc the succession in time being solely the experience in terms of a different & known & palpable order—physical, literally, & temporal…208

A poetics of the “different & known & palpable,” of the “physical, literally,” but also of the “temporal”—Olson invites us to act, to get organized, to go “down through the workings of [our] own throat[s] to that place where breath comes from, where breath has its beginnings, where drama, has to come from, where, the coincidence is, all acts spring.”209 This is the springing up of the original (motricity) and the originary (the movement of existence), that poiesis of what is in which the I do finds its voice.

After Williams and Olson, we can consider Yoko Ono’s experiments with “instruction” in Grapefruit (1964) and Acorn (2013), which read like minimalist (soma)tics.210 Consider “Walking Piece” from Grapefruit:

Walk in the footsteps of the person in front.
    1. on ground
    2. on mud
    3. in snow
    4. on ice
    5. in water
Try not to make sounds.211

Or consider “Stone Piece,” also from Grapefruit:

Find a stone that is your size or weight.
Crack it until it becomes fine powder.
Dispose of it in the river. (a)
Send small amounts to your friends. (b)
Do not tell anybody what you did.
Do not explain about the powder to the
friends to whom you send.

Wendell Berry experiments with the praxical in his poetry, too, especially in a collection like Farming: A Hand Book (1970).212 In the “Farmer Among the Tombs,” his ecological and poetic sensibilities converge in a direction to act, a poem that feels as though, to be properly understood, it must be actualized, put into practice:

I am oppressed by all the room taken up by the dead,
their headstones standing shoulder to shoulder,
the bones imprisoned under them.
Plow up the graveyards! Haul off the monuments!
Pry open the vaults and the coffins
so the dead may nourish their graves
and go free, their acres traversed all summer
by crop rows and cattle and foraging bees.213

Plow, haul, pry—this is a grasping poetry, a poetry of the hand and the earth. Where Brecht is a fatalist, calling readers to act now because now is all we have, Berry’s handbook invites a different piety, a piety of life as born upon the soil, profoundly sincere, full of sorrow and hope.

If we look beyond poetry, we see this active, praxical impulse in other disciplines throughout the twentieth century. In music, John Cage’s experiments, Fluxus, and Danger Music see myriad disparate investigations into organization and instruction. For example, George Maciunus writes in the Fluxus Manifesto (1963): “PROMOTE A REVOLUTIONARY FLOOD AND TIDE IN ART, promote living art, anti-art, promote NON ART REALITY to be fully grasped by all peoples, not only critics, dilettantes, and professionals.”214 Takehisa Kosugi’s Music for a Revolution (1964) is stark and brutal, just a single sentence: “Scoop out one of your eyes 5 years from now and do the same with the other eye 5 years later.”215

In the same period, we can consider Guy Debord and the Situationist International’s politically oriented “situations” and Allan Kaprow’s “happenings.”216 For Debord, the mobilizing energy of the situation is that “the world must be changed”—we must do something, we must act, we must make something new.217 Debord writes: “Our specific concern is the use of certain means of action and the discovery of new ones, means which are more easily recognizable in the domain of culture and customs, but which must be applied in interrelation with all revolutionary changes.”218 The construction of a “situation” is thus “the concrete construction of momentary ambiances of life and their transformation into a superior passional quality”—organization and reorganization of the living, the projection of motor bodies into revolutionary cultural activities.219 Kaprow’s happenings, unlike Debord’s situations, “appear to go nowhere and do not make any particular literary point”—they are “open-ended and fluid” events in which “nothing obvious is sought and therefore nothing is won.”220 This is an art practice disinterested in praxis of the political kind, and yet Kaprow also writes that the possibility of such work is the “certainty of a number of occurrences to which we are more than normally attentive.”221 Though lacking political consciousness, happenings nevertheless depend on the essential organization of bodies and the possibility of their reorganization.

Kaprow describes happenings as “essentially theater pieces,” and if we turn once more to theatre, it is worth considering the rise of that experiment with the mode of dramatic presentation as such that we find in improvisation. Viola Spolin’s Improvisation for Theater (1963) is perhaps the ur-work in the field, and Keith Johnstone’s Impro (1981) is an essential addition.222 Improv has been identified as a valuable discipline for those in the ttrpg scene, too, as evidenced by the publications of Martin Ralya’s Unframed: The Art of Improvisation for Game Masters (2014) and Karen Twelves’s Improv for Gamers (2018).

Improvisation as a technique of organization is not restricted to theatre, however. Stefano Harney and Fred Moten frequently invoke the potential of improvisation in the context of jazz as an instrument of planning, and thus a powerful means of sociality.223 In their recent work, they connect the practice of improvisation with Walter Rodney’s “groundings” and the “rasanblaj” taught by Gina Athena Ulysse and M. Jacqui Alexander—means that challenge the racist meritocracies of western capitalist societies by getting “displaced into this (dis)position” that is both the comportment (disposition) of the body as organized and organizing grasp and the refusal of positional consciousness ((dis)position) that requires the subject to be one and only one, to be one whose “position is scaffolded with ideas of development, improvement, merit”—the position that, in my own position, I have been entrained for my entire life.224

Rodney writes that “the black intellectual, the black academic, must attach himself to the activity of the black masses.”225 He teaches that grounding is a practice, a praktognosia, and I listen:

I was prepared to go anywhere that any group of black people were prepared to sit down to talk and listen. Because that is Black Power, that is one of the elements, a sitting-down together to reason, to ‘ground’ as the brothers say. We have to ‘ground together’ … I would speak wherever there was a possibility of our getting together. It might be in a sports club, it might be in a schoolroom, it might be in a church, it might be in a gully. (Those of you who come from Jamaica know those gully corners.) They are dark, dismal places with a black population who have had to seek refuge there. You will have to go there if you want to talk to them. I have spoken in what people call ‘dungle’, rubbish dumps, for that is where people live in Jamaica … I have sat on a little oil drum, rusty and in the midst of garbage, and some black brothers and I have grounded together.226

Grounding with those labelled as “criminals and hooligans,” Rodney’s practice is a practice of fugitive planning, of social poetics, of collective reorganization.227 Rasanblaj is similarly praktognosic, similarly a matter of sociality. For Ulysse and Alexander, you cannot have “rasanblaj (as a organizing principle, of sorts) without even attempting to do a rasanblé (gather as people), especially knowing the nuances and multi-layered significations in this term.”228 Rasanblaj begins at the syllable (Olson would be delighted):

Resist the impulse to translate, pronounce it first. Think consciously of the sound. Let the arch of the r roll over the ah that automatically depresses the tongue; allow the hiss in the s that will culminate at the front of the teeth to entice the jaw to drop for the an sound while un-smacking the lips will propel the bl surrounding the depressed ah again ending with j. Play with its contours. Know what this word feels like in your mouth. In Haitian Kreyòl. 3 syllables. Ra-San-Blaj.229

This syllabic beginning projects us into a physiological, phenomenological, enactive politics, a play of the body, a sympoietic experiment. This (dis)position is “defined as assembly, compilation, enlisting, regrouping (of ideas, things, people, spirits. For example, fè yon rasanblaj, do a gathering, a ceremony, a protest).”230 It is ordering and reordering, gathering and regathering, a politics and a sociality that derives its vitality from that originary movement, a politics and a sociality that is that very movement.

We could cite a number of games, chart a path through kriegsspiele and the old school scene, brush shoulders with the grognards—but to think by this milieu would only be to reproduce its particular organization. I want to be reordered, disordered—I want to delight in the energy of bodies, dance in this glittering occasion, dig a hole for a tree, be transformed by a superior passional quality. I want to ground together. To experiment with lyric games, this is the tradition with which we need to experiment and plan.


There is a world being made, indeed, a myriad of worlds. This is a range that I want to explore, a range in which we might personally, collectively, disperse toward vastness. The cosmopoietic energy of these games is anarchitectural, ecstatic, catastrophic. We move, we dig, we project, we use, we ground, we assemble.

In the way that CAConrad’s (soma)tics first showed me what poetry could do, how poetry could organize both writer and reader, Anna Anthropy’s Game Poems (2018) were the first to frame this mode of poetic action explicitly as games. Consider “Game: Manifesto”:

Come up with a “must” sentence.
“We must make weird art.” Find
ten ways to rewrite the sentence
so that the meaning stays the same.231

Jay Dragon’s zines in the Games For The Missing & The Found series (2019-2020) have been widely influential for those interested in lyric games. The short piece, “were queer & in a field,” is a strong early example:

Before play begins, stand on the ground and listen to the weather. Feel the grass press against your bare feet. Breathe.232

Riverhouse Games publishes ritualistic games that are grounded in and attentive to the experiences of everyday life. In The Yielded Peace of Little Ground (2019), we are given a ritual for planting seeds:

Magical Principle #1: Magic is natural. Plant your seeds and cast a spell. As you plant your seeds, hold a desire in your heart. Put your desire into the soil where it will feed your plant. You may add more to this ritual if you wish but you don’t need to. Write down your desire here:

Go to the next page when your seeds have sprouted.233

And in Six Spells To Help With Your Curse (2019), a collection of self-care exercises, we are given a ritual for doing laundry, a potent reorganization of this otherwise mundane task:

Components: Laundry that has been worn, Laundry detergent, A washing machine, A dryer or laundry rack.

Somata: Gather the laundry together in a basket and think about the times that you donned each outfit. Recall the dust that each cloth has picked up throughout the day. Imagine that all of the effort you spent is contained in each mote of dust. The clothes are full of sweat and spent energy. Place them into the washing machine one by one, giving each of them a look over. Add the laundry soap. Start the load and as the machine fills with water, imagine the soap is a salve that dissolves the sweat and effort stored in each fiber. Once the cycle is completed, remove your now clean clothing and dry each piece, either all together in a dryer, or hung up on your rack. As the water evaporates, each piece of clothing is made anew. Smell the dry clothes in a deep breath. One by one, fold them.

Your folds store energy for when you need it. You are imbuing each article of clothing with power that you will use later.234

Jared Sinclair brings together drama, poetry, and play in Ophelia, A Role-Playing Game (2019), a one page, meditative solo game:

Character Creation. You are Gertrude, Queen of Denmark, widow of King Hamlet, now married to Claudius. This is true: you are Gertrude, whether your friends and family know it or not.

You are also you, whoever you were before you started playing this game. Nonetheless, you are Gertrude. You should remain Gertrude for as long as you can remember that you are her.

How to Play. You are you, and should go about your life as you would normally. The fact that you are also Gertrude has very little practical effect on your life. In truth, you may sometimes forget that you are Gertrude, as if she is sleeping inside of you. This is fine; perhaps you’ll remember again one day.

Whenever another person near you says the word “drowned,” Gertrude awakens and responds by saying, “Drowned, drowned.” For this moment, you are no longer you, but fully and only Gertrude, and you are unspeakably sad.

After Gertrude responds this way, she recedes into you, as before. You are still Gertrude, but she is gone. She will not respond again to “drowned” or any other word until the sun has set and risen. You are, of course, still you.235

Adam Dixon’s Long Games for Two Players (2019) is a collection of four game poems meant to be played across great spatial and temporal distances, tangling with intimate relationships through poetic action. In “Now Then,” Dixon writes:

Play with a friend that you used to know better.
Whenever you bump into them, greet them by saying,
“Now then!”

You may never talk to them for longer than five
minutes. Talk about anything other than how you really

In Sing It Again (2019), Riley Rethal uses the mechanics of Powered by the Apocalypse games to adapt Anaïs Mitchell’s Hadestown into a single-player poem. Sing It Again begins:

when you meet a boy who makes you
feel alive in a way you’ve never felt
before, take a +1 forward to resisting
the temptation to leave.

when you meet a girl who makes you
want to sing a song so beautiful it
might fix the world, roll. on a 10+, hold
three. on a 7-9, hold one. spend hold
to make promises you can’t keep.237

Abe Mendes’s Moon Game (2019) is presented as a collectible trading card game wherein the “cards”—the moons—to be traded are produced through the repetition of the central ritual Mendes describes, a poetic subversion of a highly consumer-driven genre:

How to play:

  1. Look up (at night).
    For best results, also go outside.
  1. Collect a moon.
    Capture the image of the moon in a photograph, a drawing, a poem, or a song.
  1. Reflect.
    Observe your moon for a moment. Take one deep breath. Then set it aside and carry on with your night.
  1. Repeat.
    If you ever look up at a moon and recall this game, add that moon to your collection.
  1. Trade moons.
    Should you encounter another who has collected at least one moon, exchange one of yours with one of theirs. Describe the night your moon was collected, as best as you can remember, and listen closely as they do the same. When you part ways, watch over their moon as you would your own.238

Small Gods Press has published a number of poetic and ritualistic games, but their Ludicrous Compendium takes the poetic impulse literally, using haiku to do something more evocative with the format of the monster statblock:

All-seeing thoughtless spirit
Suffocating all revealing
Trapped frustrated desperate seeking239

Maria Mison and Jay Dragon collaborated to make 101 Games for Survival (2020), released in response to the “terrible time[s]” of COVID-19. #47 in the collection is particularly startling and beautiful:

Make a little effigy of yourself. Draw a self portrait, or give a spoon some arms and legs, or forge a homunculus. Whenever you get mad at yourself and want yourself to die, look at the effigy. Does it deserve to die also? Would you condemn such a fragile thing to be destroyed, for no reason other than its own existence and its glorious life?

If your answer is yes, rip it to pieces and create anew. Keep rebuilding yourself until you fall in love.240

Using one of the most venerable forms in English literature, Chris Bissette’s Sonnet (2020) implements poetry in the construction of a compact, elegiac resolution mechanic:

You have been born to wield the voice of fate,
Its song writ large across your tattooed skin.
And fate calls down numbers from one to eight,
Cries out to you, “cast the bones to begin!”
On lowest throw silence, you speak no more,
Oh highest throw sing your view of heaven.
Your dreams are red violence on two through four,
Caked in dust of age if five through seven.
Eight times the cry comes down with tumbling die,
Eight people met, eight judged through your dark lens.
Stain your page with truth; never falsify.
To wield fate is to scour and burn and cleanse.
You were born to watch the havoc of time;
Keep your journal in answer for your crime.241

Returning to Hamlet—and “playable in response” to Jared Sinclair’s Ophelia above—Mousewife Games’s Ophelia is a business card roleplaying game that addresses the question of living in an exchange between two players. The first half of this exchange reads:

O! To feel what you feel!
To play, pass this card face down to someone else.
Draw attention to a tragedy no one is noticing,
in a way no one will understand.
Leave them, bewildered.

O! To feel what you feel!
To play, redeliver this card to the person who gave it.
Tell them how long you’ve been holding it,
how much it needs to go back to them.
Give them a sad smile, and your attention.
Listening may do no good, but could it do any harm?242

This is in no way meant to be an exhaustive list. The “lyric-game” tag on has, at the time of writing, 188 entries, which does not include lyric games lacking the tag, or games published elsewhere.243 As such, this has been only a selection of those games with which I have previously entered into sympoietic loopings and crossings, games that have helped me in my own cosmopoietic practice.

There is no mystical, transcendental truth that unifies these works. There is, however, a consistent praktognosia in each, an intimate contact with the movement of existence that is irreducible to some purity of intent—original intentionality, our hold upon the world, the projects of our collective making and remaking, are always already compromised and contingent, embodied and absurd, organized and open to reorganization.

As the publication dates of each of the games above indicate, the emergence of lyric games has been a relatively recent phenomenon, and as such we have only seen the beginnings of a profusion of critical philosophies and creative visions for these means akin to the profusion of praktognosic experiments in theatre, poetry, music, and politics that we also examined here. It my hope that in placing lyric games in conversation with those experiments that poets and game designers and critics and creatives will discover new and generative spaces for planning and collaboration, organization and resistance, drawing on the radical lineage of lyric games to bring about vast and impossible transformations in the tabletop roleplaying scene, and to use tabletop roleplaying games to bring about even more vast and more impossible transformations in culture at large.

There is no conclusion—only making and more making, a poetics of the and. So for now, let’s play. And together, we speak: I do.


Stein, Eric. “Bodies in Form, 2: Tabletop Roleplaying as Cosmic Poetics.” Presented at the Bio and Psyche: Reading the Symptomatic Body, May 28, 2021. Mirrors: Academia, ResearchGate.


  1. Eric Stein, “Bodies in Form: Motricity Across Mediums in the Last of Us and the Last of Us: American Dreams” (April 13, 2019),

  2. Isabelle Stengers, “Reclaiming Animism,” e-flux, no. 36 (July 2012): 1–10,, 9. 

  3. Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, trans. Donald A. Landes (Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2014). 

  4. Alva Noë, Strange Tools: Art and Human Nature (New York, NY: Hill; Wang, 2015). 

  5. Humberto R. Maturana and Francisco J. Varela, Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living (Dordrecht, NL: D. Reidel Publishing Company, 1980). 

  6. Donna J. Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016). 

  7. Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Black Study (Wivenhoe, UK: Minor Compositions, 2013). 

  8. Legacy Russell, Glitch Feminism: A Manifesto (London, UK: Verso, 2020). 

  9. Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, 100-148. 

  10. Merleau-Ponty, 100-101. 

  11. Merleau-Ponty, 101-102. 

  12. Merleau-Ponty, 102. 

  13. Merleau-Ponty, 102-103. 

  14. Merleau-Ponty, 103. 

  15. Merleau-Ponty, 106. 

  16. Merleau-Ponty, 106. 

  17. Merleau-Ponty, 106. 

  18. Merleau-Ponty, 106. 

  19. Merleau-Ponty, 106. 

  20. Merleau-Ponty, 108. 

  21. Merleau-Ponty, 108. 

  22. Merleau-Ponty, 109. 

  23. Merleau-Ponty, 109. 

  24. Merleau-Ponty, 113. 

  25. Merleau-Ponty, 115. 

  26. Merleau-Ponty, 115. 

  27. Merleau-Ponty, 121. 

  28. Merleau-Ponty, 131. 

  29. Merleau-Ponty, 131, 137. 

  30. Merleau-Ponty, 139. 

  31. Merleau-Ponty, 141. 

  32. Merleau-Ponty, 143. 

  33. Merleau-Ponty, 146. 

  34. Merleau-Ponty, 147-148. This proof also has analogs in Hans-Georg Gadamer’s understanding of the “subject matter” and Umberto Eco’s understanding of the “continuum.” See Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall (London, UK: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013), 187, and Umberto Eco, Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1984), 45. 

  35. Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, 141, lxx. 

  36. Noë, Strange Tools, xi. 

  37. Noë, xi. 

  38. Noë, xi. 

  39. Noë, xi. 

  40. Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, 106. 

  41. Merleau-Ponty, 106. 

  42. Merleau-Ponty, 103. 

  43. Merleau-Ponty, 103. 

  44. Merleau-Ponty, 103. 

  45. Noë, Strange Tools, xi. 

  46. Noë, xi. 

  47. Stengers, “Reclaiming Animism,” 8. 

  48. Stengers, 8, and Noë, Strange Tools, xi-xii. 

  49. Stengers, “Reclaiming Animism,” 8. 

  50. Noë, Strange Tools, xii. 

  51. Noë, xii. 

  52. Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, 131. 

  53. The term “affordance” originates in James J. Gibson, The Senses Considered as Perceptual Systems (London, UK: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1966), 285. 

  54. Noë, Strange Tools, xii, 5. For an excellent discussion of simple tools and the development of phenomenological thought with respect to them, see chapter two of Don Ihde, Technology and the Lifeworld: From Garden to Earth (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1990), “Lifeworld: Praxis and Perception,” 31-38. 

  55. Noë, Strange Tools, 5. 

  56. Noë, 5. 

  57. Noë, 6. 

  58. Noë, 5. 

  59. Noë, 6. 

  60. Noë, 6. 

  61. Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, 115. 

  62. Noë, Strange Tools, 6. 

  63. Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, 125. 

  64. Merleau-Ponty, 139. 

  65. Merleau-Ponty, 141. 

  66. Noë, Strange Tools, 7. 

  67. For the philosophical history of the concept, see Dermot Moran, “Edmund Husserl’s Phenomenology of Habituality and Habitus,” Journal of the British Society for Phenomenology 42, no. 1 (January 1, 2011): 53–77, For an intersecting history of the concept in neuroscience, see Javier Bernacer and Jose Ignacio Murillo, “The Aristotelian Conception of Habit and Its Contribution to Human Neuroscience,” Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 8, no. 883 (November 3, 2014): 1–10,

  68. Noë, Strange Tools, 8. 

  69. Noë, 8. 

  70. Noë, 9. 

  71. Noë, 10. 

  72. Noë, 10. 

  73. Noë, 13. On this point, Noë reproduces Hans-Georg Gadamer’s hermeneutic phenomenology, as laid out in Truth and Method (1960), though Gadamer is not cited. Chapter 2 of Truth and Method, “The Ontology of the Work of Art and its Hermeneutic Significance”—and specifically Gadamer’s remarks on play, occasionality, the ceremonial, and decoration therein—prefigures Noë’s biological approach in a remarkable way. See Gadamer, Truth and Method, 106-178. 

  74. Noë, Strange Tools, 15. 

  75. Noë, 15. 

  76. Noë, 15-16. 

  77. Noë, 16-17. 

  78. Maturana and Varela, Autopoiesis and Cognition, 75. 

  79. Maturana and Varela, 73. 

  80. Gilbert Simondon, “The Position of the Problem of Ontogenesis,” trans. Gregory Flanders, Parrhesia, no. 7 (2009): 4–16,, 5. 

  81. Maturana and Varela, Autopoiesis and Cognition, 73. 

  82. Maturana and Varela, 75. 

  83. Maturana and Varela, 75. 

  84. Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, 125. 

  85. Maturana and Varela, Autopoiesis and Cognition, 76. 

  86. Maturana and Varela,, 76. 

  87. Maturana and Varela,, 77. 

  88. Maturana and Varela,, 77. 

  89. Maturana and Varela,, 77. 

  90. Maturana and Varela,, 77. 

  91. Maturana and Varela,, 78. 

  92. Maturana and Varela,, 78. 

  93. Maturana and Varela,, 78. 

  94. Maturana and Varela,, 78-79. 

  95. Maturana and Varela,, 79. 

  96. Maturana and Varela,, 79. 

  97. Maturana and Varela,, 80-81. 

  98. Maturana and Varela,, 82. 

  99. Maturana and Varela,, 82. 

  100. Maturana and Varela,, 75. 

  101. Maturana and Varela,, 81. 

  102. Maturana and Varela,, 81. 

  103. Maturana and Varela,, 81. 

  104. Maturana and Varela,, 81. 

  105. Maturana and Varela,, 82. 

  106. Haraway, Staying with the Trouble, 58. 

  107. François Laruelle, Philosophies of Difference: A Critical Introduction to Non-Philosophy, trans. Rocco Gangle (London, UK: Continuum, 2010), 204. 

  108. Laruelle, 203, 206. 

  109. Laruelle, 206. 

  110. Maturana and Varela, Autopoiesis and Cognition, 85-86. 

  111. Haraway, Staying with the Trouble, 58. 

  112. Simondon, “The Position of the Problem of Ontogenesis,” 5. 

  113. Simondon, 5. 

  114. Maturana and Varela, Autopoiesis and Cognition, 82. 

  115. Haraway, Staying with the Trouble, 58. 

  116. Haraway, 58. 

  117. Haraway, 61. 

  118. Maturana and Varela, Autopoiesis and Cognition, 80. 

  119. Haraway, Staying with the Trouble, 60. 

  120. Haraway, 60. 

  121. Haraway, 60. 

  122. Haraway, 89. 

  123. Stengers, “Reclaiming Animism,” 1. 

  124. Haraway, 90-91. 

  125. Haraway, 91-92. 

  126. Haraway, 93. 

  127. Haraway, 95. 

  128. Haraway, 97. 

  129. Haraway, 98. 

  130. Haraway, 98, 89. 

  131. Harney and Moten, THe Undercommons, 73-82. 

  132. Harney and Moten, 73. 

  133. James Brown, cited in [@haraway_staying_2016], 94. 

  134. Haraway, Staying with the Trouble, 73. 

  135. Laruelle, Philosophies of Difference, xx. 

  136. Maturana and Varela, Autopoiesis and Cognition, 73. 

  137. Harney and Moten, THe Undercommons, 73. 

  138. Harney and Moten, 73. 

  139. Harney and Moten, 73-74. 

  140. Harney and Moten, 74. 

  141. Harney and Moten, 76. 

  142. Harney and Moten, 76, and Maturana and Varela, Autopoiesis and Cognition, 81. 

  143. Harney and Moten, The Undercommons, 76. 

  144. Harney and Moten, 77. 

  145. Harney and Moten, 77. 

  146. Harney and Moten, 77. 

  147. Harney and Moten, 77. 

  148. Harney and Moten, 78. 

  149. Harney and Moten, 78. 

  150. Harney and Moten, 79. 

  151. Harney and Moten, 79. 

  152. Harney and Moten, 79. 

  153. Harney and Moten, 84, 81. 

  154. Harney and Moten, 82, and Rodrigo Karmy Bolton, “The Anarchy of Beginnings: Notes on the Rhythmicity of Revolt,” Ill Will, May 8, 2020,

  155. Russell, Glitch Feminism, 41. 

  156. Russell, 41. 

  157. Russell, 41 

  158. Russell, 43. 

  159. Russell, 46. 

  160. Édouard Glissant, cited in Russell, 46. 

  161. Russell, 46. 

  162. Russell, 103. 

  163. Russell, 74-76. 

  164. Russell, 88, and Frédéric Neyrat, “Undercomets: On the Structure of Antagonism and the Cosmo-Geological Field,” Ill Will, April 8, 2021,

  165. Russell, Glitch Feminism, 77, and micha cárdenas, cited in Russell, 78. 

  166. Alexander Galloway, cited in Russell, 122. 

  167. Alexander Galloway, cited in Russell, 122. 

  168. Russell, 123. 

  169. Russell, 129, 150. 

  170. Russell, 152-153. 

  171. Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, 106. 

  172. Merleau-Ponty, 107. 

  173. Merleau-Ponty, 108. 

  174. Merleau-Ponty, 107-108. 

  175. Merleau-Ponty, 108. 

  176. Merleau-Ponty, 108. 

  177. For instance, see Postmedia News, “Veteran Calls Out Canadian War Museum for Using Wrong ‘American-Style’ Salute on Promotional Poster,” National Post, January 24, 2016, I recall having my form corrected as a child by an older relative, and being told “that’s not how Canadians salute”—even though there are no soldiers in my family. 

  178. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, Dungeons & Dragons (Lake Geneva, WI: TSR, Inc., 1974),, and Gary Gygax and Jeff Perren, Chainmail (Lake Geneva, WI: TSR, Inc., 1971),

  179. Jon Peterson, Playing at the World: A History of Simulating Wars, People and Fantastic Adventures, from Chess to Role-Playing Games (San Diego, CA: Unreason Press, 2012). 

  180. CAConrad, “(Soma)tic Poetry Rituals,” Fence 10, no. 1 (2007): 55–59,

  181. CAConrad, “(Soma)tic Poetry Rituals. (Soma)tic Poetry Rituals,” Blogspot, n.d.,, CAConrad, A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon: New (Soma)tics (Seattle, WA: Wave Books, 2012), and CAConrad, Ecodeviance: (Somat)tics for the Future Wilderness (Seattle, WA: Wave Books, 2014). 

  182. Jacques Rancière, Aisthesis: Scenes from the Aesthetic Regime of Art, trans. Zakir Paul (London, UK: Verso, 2019), 122. 

  183. Rancière, 122. 

  184. Rancière, 120, 130-131. 

  185. Stéphane Mallarmé, “The Book: A Spiritual Instrument,” in Mallarmé: Selected Prose Poems, Essays, & Letters, trans. Bradford Cook (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Press, 1956). 

  186. Stéphane Mallarmé, A Roll of the Dice, trans. Jeff Clark and Robert Bononno (Seattle, WA: Wave Books, 2015), and Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, trans. Mark Lester and Charles Stivale (London, UK: The Athlone Press, 1990), 58-65. 

  187. Bertolt Brecht, Manual of Piety, trans. Eric Bentley (New York, NY: Grove Press, 1966), 9. 

  188. Brecht, 11, 233. 

  189. Brecht, 233. 

  190. For occasionality, see Gadamer, Truth and Method, 144-159. Occasionality is a characteristic of those works of art that concretely present the occasion of their “coming-to-presentation,” which is both the structure of the work of art and the structure of being itself. 

  191. William Carlos Williams, “The Poem as a Field of Action,” Poetry Foundation, 1948,, and William Carlos Williams, Spring and All (Paris, FR: Contact Publishing, 1923),

  192. Williams, “The Poem as a Field of Action.” 

  193. Williams. 

  194. Williams, Spring and All, 21-22. 

  195. Charles Olson, “Projective Verse,” Poetry Foundation, 1950, See also Poetry Foundation, “An Introduction to the Black Mountain Poets,” Poetry Foundation, accessed May 22, 2021,

  196. Olson, “Projective Verse.” 

  197. Olson. 

  198. Olson. For Clarke, see footnote 4. 

  199. Olson. 

  200. “The Projective, in Poetry and in Thought; and the Paratactic” (1965), in Olson. 

  201. “The Paratactic,” in Olson. 

  202. “The Paratactic,” in Olson. 

  203. Olson. 

  204. Olson. As cited above, Umberto Eco maintains that the “matter, the continuum about which and through which signs speak, is always the same.” He continues: “In order to express them, one must choose formalized or formalizable portions of the continuum, which are the same as what is talked about, that is, the same continuum segmented by the content … The matter segmented in order to express something expresses other segmentations of that matter.” See Eco, Semiotics and the Philosophy of Language, 44-45. 

  205. Hans-Georg Gadamer would say that the poem is an “increase of being.” See Gadamer, Truth and Method, 154ff. 

  206. Olson, “Projective Verse.” 

  207. Olson, and Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, 141. 

  208. “The Paratactic” (1965), in Olson. Readers might hear a resonance with Deleuze and Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus: “A rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo. The tree is filiation, but the rhizome is alliance, uniquely alliance. The tree imposes the verb ‘to be,’ but the fabric of the rhizome is the conjunction, ‘and… and… and…’ This conjunction carries enough force to shake and uproot the verb ‘to be’ … American literature, and already English literature, manifest this rhizomatic direction to an even greater extent; they know how to move between things, establish a logic of the AND, overthrow ontology, do away with foundations, nullify endings and beginnings. They know how to practice pragmatics. The middle is by no means an average; on the contrary, it is where things pick up speed.” See Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 25. Olson, likewise, shakes and uproots the verb to be: “‘Is’ comes from the Aryan root, as, to breathe. The English ‘not’ equals the Sanscrit na, which may come from the root na, to be lost, to perish. ‘Be’ is from bhu, to grow.” 

  209. Olson, “Projective Verse.” 

  210. Yoko Ono, Grapefruit: A Book of Instructions and Drawings (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1965), and Yoko Ono, Acorn (New York, NY: OR Books, 2013). 

  211. Ono, Grapefruit

  212. Wendell Berry, Farming: A Hand Book (Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 1970). 

  213. Berry, 20. 

  214. George Maciunus, Fluxus Manifesto, 1963,, 47. 

  215. Takehisa Kosugi, Music for a Revolution, 1964,

  216. Guy Debord, “Report on the Construction of Situations and on the International Situationist Tendency’s Conditions of Organization and Action,” trans. Ken Knabb, Situationist International Online, June 1957,, and Allan Kaprow, “Happenings in the New York Scene,” in Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life, ed. Jeff Kelley (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1961), 15–26. 

  217. Debord, “Report on the Construction of Situations and on the International Situationist Tendency’s Conditions of Organization and Action.” 

  218. Debord. 

  219. Debord. 

  220. Kaprow, “Happenings in the New York Scene.” 

  221. Kaprow. 

  222. Viola Spolin, Improvisation for Theater: A Handbook of Teaching and Directing Techniques, Third Edition (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1999), and Keith Johnstone, Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre (London, UK: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018). 

  223. Harney and Moten, The Undercommons

  224. Fred Moten, Stefano Harney, and Stevphen Shukaitis, “Refusing Completion: A Conversation,” e-flux, no. 116 (March 2021): 1–14, 13. 

  225. Walter Rodney, The Groundings with My Brothers (London, UK: Verso, 2019), 67. 

  226. Rodney, 67-68. 

  227. Rodney, 68. 

  228. M. Jacqui Alexander, “Groundings on Rasanblaj with M. Jacqui Alexander,” Emisférica 12, no. 1 (2015),

  229. Gina Athena Ulysse, Emisférica 12, no. 1 (2015),

  230. Alexander, “Groundings on Rasanblaj with M. Jacqui Alexander.” 

  231. Anna Anthropy, Game Poems, 2018,, 11. 

  232. Jay Dragon, Games for Lost People, 2019,, 4. 

  233. Riverhouse Games, The Yielded Peace of Little Ground, 2019,, 4. 

  234. Riverhouse Games, Six Spells to Help with Your Curse, 2019,, 6. 

  235. Jared Sinclair, Ophelia, a Role-Playing Game, 2019,

  236. Adam Dixon, Long Games for Two Players, 2019,, 4. 

  237. Riley Rethal, Sing It Again, 2019,, 2. 

  238. Abe Mendes, Moon Game, 2019,, 2. 

  239. Small Gods Press, The Ludicrous Compendium Volume I, 2020,, 8. 

  240. Maria Mison and Jay Dragon, 101 Games for Survival, 2020,

  241. Chris Bissette, Sonnet, 2020,

  242. Mousewife Games, Ophelia, 2021,

  243. For reference, see, “Top Physical Games Tagged Lyric-Game,” accessed May 24, 2021,

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