Home > Uncategorized > Vicki Kirby “Autoimmunity: The Political State of Nature”

Vicki Kirby “Autoimmunity: The Political State of Nature”

Kirby, Vicki 2017. Autoimmunity: The Political State of Nature. Parallax 23(1): 46-60.

[…] autoimmunity’s riddle must accommodate the following paradox: the concept of autos, or ipse can no longer be something which is compromised, threatened or even secured, and this is because an identifiable self which appears under attack may never have existed. Given this apparent madness we begin to see why a robust discussion of autoimmunity as something unusual and presumably identifiable must also succumb to this same suicidal logic. (50)

If we entertain the suggestion, however difficult, that autoimmunity places the self (ipse, autos) under erasure, in other words, if this is not simply a suicidal agonism or self divided because there is no self that will anchor such descriptions, then the status of all evaluative terms, whether danger, wellness or benefit, would prove equally problematic. In other words, what foundational reference point can securely anchor these judgements? Or to put this another way, how is the difference between advantage and threat determined and by ‘whom’? (51)

The role of the Enteric System (ENS) in cognition, as well as the involvement of bacterial ‘passengers’ in determining what we conventionally call agency, behaviour, cognition and temperament, certainly complicate the
mind/body division, and in ways that are bewildering to contemplate. In effect we are forced to confront the suggestion that the corporeal residence of an individual – the site of self or ego – includes the bowel, and further, that this ego – this most intimate sense of personal identity – may well ‘be’ an intra-species agent that confounds the human/non-human opposition altogether. Titles in popular science journals in this relatively new research area point us in these provocative directions. In an article by Robert Martone in Scientific American we read, ‘The neuroscience of the Gut – Strange but true: the brain is shaped by bacteria in the digestive tract’,18 and in a report in
New Scientist by Emma Young – ‘Gut instincts: The secrets of your second brain’, we learn that ‘when it comes to your moods, decisions and behavior, the brain in your head is not the only one doing the thinking’. (53)

[…] it seems reasonable to wonder how agency can be dispersed across species and still be described as properly ‘mine’. (54)

I have mentioned the myriad ways in which critiques of sovereignty understand the problem as one of identity that loses integrity; that falls into error, failure and misrecognition. However, what difference does it make if our starting point is a sort of ecological involvement that has not lost its way because there is no proper way; an ecology that is so intricately enmeshed and all-encompassing that even those expressions (of itself) that appear circumscribed, isolated and autonomous, are ‘themselves’ generated by this generality? Referring back to Matzinger, this is not an
ecology among others but ‘One’ whose systemic self-reference is capable of discrimination and individuation. If différance is the life pulse of this ecology, such that difference is and always was différance, then we are not dealing with an aggregation of entities that pre-exist their involvement. Indeed, we could say that this ecology’s internal self-reference and self-recognition, its selfdetermination, undoes the clear division between health and threat, or even heteronomy and autonomy. (56)

[…] if nature is already culture then Cohen’s fears are allayed, at least to some extent, even as it remains true that life, here biology, is argumentative, left and right-leaning, aggressive, ruthless, generous, self-sacrificing, caring … and in a constant state of transition and metamorphosis because its own selfreflections are volatile. It appears that the sovereign has returned as autoimmunity, and ironically, by implication, deconstruction assumes a sort of sovereign status in this ubiquitous animation – this ‘no outside text’ that is life. (56)

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