ATP Image Sources II: The Dogon Egg

Most readers will be aware that this image comes from Marcel Griaule and Germain Dieterlen’s famous anthropological study on the Dogon people of Mali, The Pale Fox (1965). In both Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus Deleuze and Guattari allude directly to this work.

Without pretending to master all the details of Griaule and Dieterlen’s extensive account of Dogon cosmogony and social organisation, in the following—an excerpt (eggcerpt?) from a lengthy endnote on myth, embryology, egg_irl, cthulhu, and more in Cute Accelerationism—I explore how this myth of creation, along with the ritual practice of drawing itself in Dogon culture, is a factor in the heterogenesis of Deleuze’s philosophical understanding of what he calls ‘dramatisation’—that is, the production of the actual from the virtual via spatio-temporal dynamisms, without a relation of resemblance or preformation.

The dynamic of the Dogon egg therefore converges with Deleuze’s interest in embryology (specifically, the work of Albert Dalcq— see Cute/Acc pp54–68), with myth and science providing convergent models of the BwO and the process of production.

Dogon cosmogony as documented by Griaule and Dieterlen presents an elaborate account of the birth of the world from the cosmic egg. The ‘descent and extension of the world’ is schematised in a four-stage hierarchical typology of diagrams that prefigure Deleuze-Dalcq’s embryological schema: ideal field of difference—gradients and fields—spatio-temporal dynamisms—actualised form.

The Dogon ‘egg with signs’ (M. Griaule and G. Dieterlen, The Pale Fox, tr. S.C. Infantino [Chino Valley, AZ: Continuum Foundation, 1986], 118) at first consists of 266 undifferentiated dots or dashes (bummo) which represent primordial essences, the ideal elements of Amma’s thought. After this first series of abstract signs comes the seeding ‘mark’ (yala), which is ‘like the beginning of the thing’ (ibid., 33) expressing ‘the future form of the thing represented’ (ibid., 95). Next, the tonu (outline, sketch, foetus, germination) ‘focuses on the organs or elements essential to that being’: it includes ‘its internal organs at the rough draft stage’ and ‘the “putting into place” of these elements’ (ibid., 98). Finally there is the representational drawing, the toymu (the thing in its reality, the child) which now has a relation of resemblance to that which it will become in the profane world (ibid.), unlike the bummo which were autonomous, prior to and independent of the things they produce (‘the independence and autonomy of the sign in relation to the drawing representing the formed being are […] emphasized’ [ibid., 98]; ‘the sign precedes the thing signified’ [ibid., 92]).

In the first creation Amma had made the seed of the first plant from the substances of his own body, superposed the four elements, and made them spin. This creation did not hold together, however, and a second creation was achieved through blending, using the seed left over from the first creation, into which Amma had infused the four elements. With these primordial traces (the bummo), Amma first draws the marks (yala) of a new universe inside his ‘egg’ or ‘womb’ (‘traced within himself the design of the world and of its extension’ [ibid., 83]; the ‘distribution of intensities’ [Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 149]). After the yala of the egg, with its 266 abstract signs, in a second yala we see Amma’s eye open into a star-shape tonu that prefigures the four cardinal directions of space (‘permitting the recognition of the basic elements which give rise to the thing’, Griaule and G. Dieterlen, The Pale Fox, 92; see ibid., 127). The seeds within the egg exit through the eye, spiralling, also becoming tonu, participating in the production of the space in which the toymu will be deployed, ‘ejected’, ‘thrown into space to manifest things’ (ibid., 88). Thus in a ‘series of signs which repeat the successive stages of all Things’ (ibid., 103), the entire cycle of existence is recalled in the progression from the bummo to the toymu which mark the budding of extensive development and by the same token ‘the first step toward destruction’ (ibid., 99).

[…] The production of these drawings, a ‘system of archives’ (Griaule and Dieterlen, The Pale Fox, 100) itself constitutes a ritual reenactment of and social participation in the cosmic cycle of creation and destruction they schematise. ‘The ritual execution of successive graphic designs is effectual and active: it promotes the existence of the thing represented, “re-edits” it by having it pass through its successive stages of formation’ (ibid., 99). Drawing on this ‘vast system of references in which all human activity is inscribed’, ‘[i]n his gestures and speech man relives myth and it is precisely this reactualisation that makes techniques, institutions, and prayers effective’ (M.P. Marti, Les Dogons [Paris: PUF, 1957], 56–57).

The hierarchy of diagrams also spans an esoteric-exoteric order: bummo are made by priests at the founding of an altar in a totemic sanctuary: ‘the abstract sign, executed in a profane manner, but in secret (in the image of the “secret” of God’s bosom where it was formed), is done for the initiate’; toymu may be drawn in common dwellings: ‘the actual drawing, which all may see, is for the neophyte’ (ibid., 100).

According to Mircea Eliade, myth never functions as conservative remembrance of primordial time; it serves to actively project into primordial time once more the human sick with chronology, confined to the mundane. Continual remembering reinserts Dogon society back into mythical egg-time, ‘the contemporaneousness of a continually self-constructing Milieu’ (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 165), reinitiating all the cascading process that continually flow from virtual to actual by way of the complex series of ‘transformations and elaborations’ which the drawings depict (Griaule and Dieterlen, The Pale Fox, 92).

Furthermore, the diagram is immanent to the reality of the earthly cycles it both precedes and invokes: the bummo are drawn with po pilu grains laid out on the floor, and will eventually be swept away into the field when the rain falls: ‘the drawing is washed by the rain, which “carries along (to the outside)” its form and force to “give it to man” and to promote that which it represents into reality’ (ibid., 100).

The Dogon egg no less than Dalcq’s embryology (‘the embryo […] functioning as a sketch’, Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, 25) […] functions as a model for ‘dramatisation’. In both, ‘[t]he egg destroys the model of similitude’ while revealing a dynamic which goes beyond any specific domain because it ‘expresses something ideal’ (ibid., 214, 250–51).

The pluripotent egg before development, qua embodiment of undeveloped morphogenetic potential (the field of the Dogon bummo) exhibits ‘the strict contemporaneousness of the adult, of the adult and the child, their map of comparative densities and intensities, and all of the variations on that map’ (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 164); it invites the would-be initiate to the amniotic anamnesis—both dis-organisation and re-membering—of an intensive ‘past’, a time which is ‘not “before” the organism; it is adjacent to it and is continually in the process of constructing itself’ (ibid., 164), a time accessed via induction into the embryonic state.

Myth, inseparable from ritual, confers upon its participants the ability to access this immanent mode of non-chronological ‘beforeness’ in which everything participates, and to emerge from it transformed.