Unreal Nature

January 24, 2011

The Foreign Body

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 7:21 am

… “[I]dentity . . . can only affirm itself as identity by opening itself to the hospitality of difference from itself or of difference with itself.” [Derrida]

… Vaccination, Serres reminds us, is based upon this principle: the parasite that enters the body as contaminant then protects it against further contamination.

This is from the last essay “Love, Death, and Parasites” by Isabella Winkler in the collection of essays Mapping Michel Serres edited by Niran Abbas (2005):

… “In order to hear the message alone [without noise],” Serres writes, “[the receiver] would have to be identical to the sender.” At the moment there are two terms, sender and receiver, a third one exists between them: a relation that makes the connection, barely. Or from another perspective, a relation that barely manages to keep the terms separated. Static, or the parasite, is this relation, always both uniting and separating. … The parasitic relation, the only possible relation, thus marks both distance and proximity, attraction and repulsion.

… Slipping out of the simple alternative of presence/absence, the parasite is, as Derrida would put it, undecidable in its essence. Serres prefers to call it fuzzy. He takes this term from mathematics, where it designates an alternative to a binary logic. Rather than two discrete binary positions, inside and outside, yes and no, zero and one, a fuzzy subset blurs bivalences into a continuum composed of an infinite number of values. Incorporating an infinite number of values amounts to having no value per se. At once being and nonbeing, the parasite is also fuzzy in its effects: it acts at once as potion and poison. Vaccination, Serres reminds us, is based upon this principle: the parasite that enters the body as contaminant then protects it against further contamination. “The parasite gives the host the means to be safe from the parasite,” Serres writes. The inside then lets itself at once be contaminated and fulfilled, supplanted by the parasite without which, as things turn out, it is not complete. Perhaps one could say that the inside is always attracted to the contaminant despite its efforts to distinguish itself, above all, from that very thing. We said earlier that the parasite is an expert mimic … In order to “avoid the unavoidable reactions of rejection, exclusion” … the parasite even mimics the hosts tissue. “I don’t know if mimicry is entirely parasitic,” Serres writes, “but it is a necessary trick for the robber, the stranger, the guest.” The parasitic foreign body makes a home for itself on the inside, where it is kept in secret as part of the host.

All this has not a little to do with love.

… When Serres writes that “as soon as there are two, there is a medium between us,” he is talking first of all about love; love is for Serres the parasitic relation par excellence. Always between, “neither dead nor immortal,” love is “placed without precision and with rigor in the laws of the logic of the fuzzy area of the threshold, homeless and near the door.” There is no love without bad timing and miscommunication.

… One lover holds vigil over the other’s absence, as if over a dead body. He or she waits for love or the loss of love as one waits for death: with anxiety, in anticipation and already in mourning. Waiting is the lover’s condition of possibility: the one waits for an other to arrive with whom he can fall in love, an arrival that always comes unexpectedly despite its being anxiously awaited. Falling in love offers no reprieve: now the lover awaits the other’s loss. According to Barthes’s encyclopedic fragment A Lover’s Discourse, this loss is at the very origin of love. Anxious about a rendezvous that never lives up to its name, that is, that never takes place, the lover lives in fear of a mourning that has already occurred. … At the moment the desire for the other is formed, the other is already dead, framed in memory.

… “[I]dentity . . . can only affirm itself as identity by opening itself to the hospitality of difference from itself or of difference with itself.” [Derrida]

… To open up to the hospitality of a difference from or with the self creates the necessary conditions for the self to keep a secret from itself. … It keeps something hidden, a body of some sort, and it dissimulates the disguise so the self will not find out.

Worth mentioning, though not essential to the above is that one of Serres’s best known books is The Parasite.

-Julie

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