The Augmented Müle

Almost as a rejoinder to the apparently unavoidable tendency for the mule to assume human characteristics, we might also consider the prospect of its becoming-machine. But what would this suggest other than ways of furthering our consideration of it as a hybrid, not only in its own make-up but in its application – its transformation into alternate modes or designations, slipping away from fixed definitions like an indifferent agent?

More images are thrown up, seemingly part of a series demonstrating a process of mulish modification – there are elaborate strappings, beaten panels balancing heavy weights, clamps and shrouded barrels, etc. Such photographic evidence could be seen as showing the initial stages of processes of mechanisation whereby additional ‘limbs’ or faculties are grafted onto the mule’s body, but does this provide any kind of compelling evidence that the mule has ever been thought obsolete, or that it could ever be? Perhaps it is a revelation concerning the volatility of the mule’s potential loads – as a vehicle that can carry heavy weaponry or homespun turbines: the Jet-Pack Mule.

It is more tempting to recognise the images as odd portraits of militarised figures, perhaps even kamikaze mules (sterile singularities, apparently cut off from consequence by being the end of the ‘family’ line…) captured in proud, declaratory poses, all taken prior to a mission from which few can return. But what kind of faithful misreading of these images is this? How else to see the photographs’ formulaic, matter-of-fact composition? It could be that this is part of the same address to the mule’s way of speaking mentioned previously – that the creature’s attitude in these images (is it one mule, a repeating model?) confers something direct in relation to its muteness… And here there is another potent switching point, tracking between ‘mule’ and ‘mute’, marking a diagrammatic distance that contains the implication of the proximity of silence, forgetfulness or indeed meticulous completion in writing: crossing the Mule’s ‘T’s.

These strangely dignified mugshots, uniformly turned to one side, present profiles in a way more likely to contain something of the mule’s attitude to the capture of its own image. This is the loquaciousness of the mule’s pose – the way it makes itself seen as well as heard. But even here, then, there is no escape from text. The traces of words can be seen moving vertically down the backdrop, suggestive of the crinkles in a portraitist’s studio curtain. The stock-still mule is still voluble. In the midst of conflict, what could the mule be pressed into thinking?

“The mule’s large, spacious brain, used to conceiving vague images of smells, of form and of colour, was now conceiving an image of something very different, an image of a concept created by philosophers and mathematicians, an image of infinity itself.” (Vasily Grossman, The Road)