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Michel Serres “The Parasite”

Serres, Michel 2007 [1982]. The Parasite. London; Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. serres_walkback

Interrupted Meals. Logics

The modern illness is the engulfing of the new in the duplicata,  the engulfing of intelligence in  the  pleasure  [jouissance]  of  the  homogeneous.  Real  production  is undoubtedly  rare,  for  it  attracts  parasites  that  immediately  make  it something  common  and  banal.  Real  production  is  unexpected  and improbable;  it  overflows  with  information  and  is  always immediately parasited.  (4)

I call the language of many portals „philosophical“. (6)

There is no system without parasites. This constant is a law. (12)

Mistakes,  wavy  lines,  confusion,  obscurity  are  part  of knowledge;  noise  is  part of  communication,  part of the house. But is it the house itself? (12)

The difference is part of the thing itself, and perhaps it even produces the thing. Maybe the radical origin of things is really that difference, even though classical rationalism damned it to hell. In the beginning was the noise. (13)

One of  the  first, he jumps to \ the  last  position. But  the  one  in  the  last  position  wins this  game. He has discovered the position of the philosopher. (13)

Theorem:  noise  gives rise to a new system, an order that is  more  complex than the  simple  chain.  This parasite interrupts at first glance, consolidates when you look again. The city rat gets used to it, is vaccinated, becomes immune. The town makes noise, but the noise makes the town. (14)

The bit of noise,  the  small  random element, transforms one system or one order into another. To reduce  this  otherness to contradiction  is  to  reduce everything  to  violence  and  war. (21)

You  are  sleeping quite  peacefully,  and when  you  wake  you  find yourself in debt. You live with no other need, and  suddenly,  someone  claims  to  have saved your country, protected your class, your interests, your family, and your table. And you have to pay  him  for  that,  vote  for  him,  and  other  such  grimaces. (22)

One day we will have to understand why the strongest is the parasitethat is to say, the weakestwhy the one whose only function is to eat is the one who commands. And speaks. We have just found the place of politics. (26)

[…] anyone who wants to  sit  on the shoulders of an athlete  does not want him  to see well. He who likes to  command can  do  so,  but  on  one  condition:  the  eyes  of  the  producers,  of  the energetic  and the  strong,  have  to be poked out. Those who have energy necessarily  cannot have  information ; thus, those with  information  can do  without  energy.  Information  is  as  precious  as  it  is  rare. (36)

Or rather,  to those points as operators, as sources of relations. And that is  the  meaning  of the prefix para- in the word parasite:  it is on the side, next  to,  shifted; it is not on  the  thing, but on its relation.  It  has  relations, as they say,  and makes a system of them. It is always mediate  and never  immediate.  It has  a  relation  to  the  relation,  a  tie  to  the  tie; it branches onto the canal. (38-39)

More Interrupted Meals. Technique, Work.

Noise is the person – that is the lesson of the Pentecost. It is the third person. (51)

In the  system, noise  and  message  exchange  roles according to  the  position of the observer and the action of the actor, but they are transformed into one another as well as a function of time and of the system. They make order or disorder. (66)

[…] whoever belongs to the  system perceives noises less and represses them more, the more he is a functioning part of the system. He never stops being in the good, the just, the true, the natural, the normal. All dogmatism lives on this division, be it blind or decided. (68)

Maybe I understand the message only because of the noise. (70)

The system is very badly named. Maybe there is not or never was  a system. As  soon  as the world came into being,  its  transformation  began.  The  system  in  itself is a space of transformation.  There  are only metabolas. (72)

The only  systems, instances, and substances come  from  our lack  of knowledge. The system is nonknowledge. The other  side  of  nonknowledge.  One  side  of nonknowledge is chaos; the other, system. Knowledge forms a bridge between the two banks. Knowledge as such is a space of transformation. (73)

You can’t eat  an image but you can fight to the death for an idea. The longer struggle  is  all the  rage,  and the  longer  it  goes  on,  the  more  the objects disappear.  In a world lambent with lights and shadows, the war goes on. History. (75)

Rigorously  speaking, there  is  never  silence. The white noise is always  there.  If  health  is  defined  by  silence,  health  does  not  exist. (78)

Health  remains  the  couple  message-noise.  Systems work because  they do  not  work.  Nonfunctioning  remains  essential  for  functioning.  And that  can  be  formalized.  Given,  two  stations  and  a  channel.  They  exchange messages. If the relation  succeeds, if it is perfect, optimum, and immediate ;  it  disappears  as  a  relation.  If  it  is  there,  if  it  exists,  that means  that  it  failed.  It is  only  mediation.  Relation  is nonrelation. And that is what  the  parasite  is.  The channel carries the flow, but it cannot disappear  as  a  channel,  and  it  brakes  (breaks)  the  flow,  more  or less. But  perfect,  successful,  optimum  communication  no  longer  includes any mediation. And  the  canal  disappears into immediacy. There would be no  spaces  of transformation  anywhere. There are channels, and thus there  must  be  noise.  No  canal  without  noise.  The  real  is  not  rational. The  best  relation  would  be  no  relation.  By definition it does not exist; if it exists, it is not observable. (79)

What is  work? Undoubtedly, it is a struggle against noise. If we allowed things to happen without intervening, stables would fill up with manure, the fox would eat the chickens, and the phylloxera would cross the seas to dry out the vine leaves. The channel is filled with  mud. At low  tide, you  see  the  port filled with sand.  Soon, the  ships will not be able to get through. Things mix; don’t move, don’t stir with the spoon; the sugar will  sooner or later dissolve in the water. Sometimes there are convenient,  useful mixtures, but most of them are  obstructions  or encumbrances. To  work is to sort. Maxwell’s demon is unavoidable, just like the parasite. Alas, they are twins perhaps. There is an objective base or work without which the temporal flow toward disorder or complexity would be quicker. Contrary to what is said in both classical and contemporary  philosophy, men  are  not  the  only ones who work. We are never  that  exceptional.  Animals  work,  as  do  living  organisms. What I mean by that is that life itself works-that it is life through its struggle against the tendency to death, through sorting,  through the activity of Maxwells  demon’. (86)

Interlude. Full-length portrait of the parasite

Fortunately, the rare exists, exceptions come about,  novelty  appears-the  improbable  miracle.  Through  this  rarity, the  world  comes  into  existence,  we  live,  and  we  think.  These  three events  are  improbable  but  are  there  nevertheless. (122)

The collective is not a preestablished  harmony,  or  to  put it  another  way,  it  is  not  the  always already there. Noise comes out of the black box. Noise and shivarees. (123)

No,  we  know  nothing of the  “we” except  for what we  think we know of the ego, body and soul. In  sum, we know nothing, and once more, the collective is black and makes noise. (124)

Noise  destroys and horrifies.  But order and flat repetition are in the  vicinity  of  death.  Noise  nourishes a  new order.  Organization, life, and  intelligent  thought  live  between  order and noise, between disorder and perfect  harmony. If there were only order, if we only heard perfect harmonies,  our  stupidity  would  soon  fall  down  toward  a  dreamless sleep; if  we  were  always surrounded by the shivaree, we would lose our breath and our consistency, we would spread out among all the dancing atoms  of  the  universe.  We  are; we  live; we think on the  fringe, in the probable fed by the unexpected, in the legal nourished with information. There are  two ways  to die, two ways to sleep, two ways to be stupid-a head-first  dive  into chaos  or  stabilized  installation in order and  chitin. We  are  provided with enough senses and instinct to protect  us against the  danger of explosion, but  we  do not  have enough when faced with death from order or with falling asleep from rules and harmony. (127)

There  is  only  something  new  by  the  injection of  chance  in the  rule,  by  the introduction  of  the  law  at  the  heart  of disorder.  An organization is born  from circumstances, like Aphrodite rising from the sea. (128)

But as for me, separated from them and from everything, who am I myself? (130)

The more I write, the less I am myself. (134)

Fat cows and lean cows. Economy

The signal proper is noise for a third, who is excluded. Yes, of course,  that  is the origin of the central point and  the centralization of power. (142)

Parasite. The prefix para- means  “near,” “next to,” measures a distance. The sitos is the food. In this open mouth that speaks and eats, what  is  next  to  eating,  its neighboring  function,  is what emits  sound. Para measures a difference between a reception and, on the contrary, an

expansion.  The latter makes  one’s  own  what is in common and what will soon be even more one’s own, the living body. It already eats space. (144)

I  shall call  this  object  a joker.  The joker is often  a madman, as we  know.  He  is  wild, as they say in English. It is not difficult to  see  the double  of  the  sacrificial  king  in  him,  come  from  the  Celebration  of Fools, come  from the  Saturnalia.  This  white  object, like  a white  domino,*  has  no value  so as to have  every  value.  It  has  no identity, but its identity, its unique character, its  difference,  as they say, is to be, indifferently, this  or that unit of a given set. The joker is king or jack, ace or seven,  or deuce. Joseph is  a joker; Tamar, queen, just, despised, whore, is also a joker. A is b,  c,  d,  etc. Fuzzy. (160)

That joker is  a logical  object that  is both indispensable and fascinating.  Placed  in  the  middle  or at  the end of a series, a series that has a law  of  order,  it  permits  it  to  bifurcate,  to  take  another  appearance, another direction, a new order. The only describable difference between a  method  and  bricolaget  is  the joker.  The  principle  of bricolage  is  to make  something by means  of something else, a mast with a matchstick, a chicken wing with tissue meant for the thigh, and so forth. Just as the most  general  model  of  method  is  game,  the  good  model  for  what  is deceptively called bricolage is the joker. (160-161)

A new principle: the association of the included and excluded third. The  joker  changes; it is a token  of exchange; it is multivalent, and bivalent at first. (161)

The joker, in the position of bifurcation, makes it possible by the confluence of values  that  it  insures.  It  is  both  what  has been said and what will be said.  It  is  bi-,  tri-,  or  poly-valent,  according to  the  complexity  of  the connection.  The ramification of the network depends on the number of jokers.  But I  suspect  that  there  is a limit  for  this number. When  there are too many, we are lost as if in a labyrinth. What would a series be like where there were only jokers? What could be said of it? (162)

If you  increase the number of jokers or their percentage in a series, a cut, or a sequence, and go  to  the  maximum, the saturation point, polysemy overtakes the space with  multivalence  and equivocity.  Near the end is the world of dreams, completely  filled  with  polyvalence. At the  limits  of the dream ,  at  the limits  of  the  universe,  the  discourse  composed exclusively  of jokers is money. When there  are  only jokers, that’s  capital,  a bank account, the general equivalent. They overvalue the world. (163)

If the  researcher is in his  niche, if he has his method, his cup of tea,  his  pressure  group, he  stops producing and starts  reproducing.  He no longer  goes  out; he no longer heads toward the pitch-black attic; his whiskers  no longer twitch  at  imperceptible  signs; he  falls  asleep  in  the cradle  of the  same.  Do you want to discover? Forget about the cheese. (165)

Agriculture  and culture have the  same  origin  or the  same  foundation,  a  white  spot  that  realizes  a  rupture  of  equilibrium,  a  clean  spot constituted  through  expulsion.  A  spot  of  propriety  or  cleanliness,  a spot  of  belonging. The jo ker  is changed  into  a white  domino. It  is  fitting  to  understand  this  white  spot  that  appears  in  the ancestral  savannah s,  this rent in  the  middle  of their  fluctuating  stability. Have  we  ever  produced  other  objects  during  the  moments  that  history suddenly bifurcates? (179)

The  relation  upsets  equilibrium,  making  it  deviate.  If  some equilibrium  exists  or  ever  existed  somewhere,  somehow,  the  introduction  of  a  parasite  in  the  system  immediately  provokes  a  difference,  a  disequilibrium.  Immediately,  the  system  changes;  time  has begun . Change  comes  from  a rupture  in  equilibrated  exchanges.  Change is  the  disequilibrium  of  exchanges. (182)

The  parasite  gives  the  host  the  means  to  be  safe  from  the parasite.  The  organism  reinforces  its  resistance  and increases its adaptability.  It  is  moved  a  bit  away  from  its  equilibrium  and  it  is  then  even more  strongly  at  equilibrium. The  generous  hosts  are  therefore  stronger than  the  bodies  without  visits ;  generation  increases  resistance  right in the  middle  of  endemic  diseases.  Thus  parasitism  contributes  to  the formation  of  adapted  species  from  the  point  of  view  of  evolution. (193)

Midnight suppers. Society

The  parasited, abused,  cheated body no longer reacts; it accepts; it acts as if the visitor were its  own organ.  It  consents  to maintain it; it bends to its demands. The parasite plays a game of mimicry. It does not play at being another; it plays at being the same. (202)

This  quasi-object  is  not  an  object, but  it  is  one  nevertheless, since it is not a subject, since it is in the world; it is also a quasi-subject, since it marks  or designates  a subject who, without it, would not be a subject. He who  is not  discovered  with the furet in  his hand is anonymous,  part  of  a monotonous chain where  he remains undistinguished. He  is  not an individual; he is not recognized, discovered,  cut; he is of the chain and in the chain. He runs, like the furet, in the collective. The thread in his hands is our simple relation, the absence of the furet; its path makes our indivision. Who are we? Those who pass the furet; those who don’t have it. This quasi-object, when being passed, makes the collective, if it  stops, it makes the individual. If he is discovered, he is “it” [m ort] .  Who is the subject, who  is  an  “I,” or who am I? The moving furet weaves the “we,” the collective; if it stops, it marks the “I.” (225)

I learn more on the subject of the subject by playing ball than in Descartes’ little room. (227)

This  quasi-object  that is  a marker of the  subject is an astonishing  constructer  of  intersubjectivity.  We  know,  through  it,  how  and when  we  are  subjects  and  when  and  how  we  are  no  longer  subjects; “We”:  what  does  that  mean? We  are  precisely  the  fluctuating moving back  and forth  of “I.” The  “I” in  the  game is a token exchanged. And this passing,  this network of passes, these vicariances of subjects weave the  collection.  I  am  I  now,  a subject,  that is to  say,  exposed to  being thrown down, exposed to  falling, to being placed beneath the compact mass of the  others; then you take the relay, you are substituted for  “I” and become it; later on, it is he who gives it to you, his work done, his danger finished, his part of the collective constructed. The “we” is made by the bursts and  occultations of the “I.” The “we” is made by passing the  “I.” By  exchanging the  “I.” And by  substitution  and vicariance of the “I.” (227)

Participation is the passing  of the  “I” by  passing. It is the abandon of my individuality or  my  being  in  a quasi-object that  is  there  only to  be circulated.  It  is rigorously  the transsubstantiation  of being  into  relation.  Being is abolished  for the relation. Collective  ecstasy is the abandon of the “I” ‘s on the  tissue  of  relations.  This  moment  is  an  extremely  dangerous  one. Everyone is  on  the  edge of his or her inexistence. But the “I” as such is not  suppressed. It  still circulates, in and by the quasi-object. This thing can be forgotten. It  is on the  ground, and the one who picks it up and keeps it becomes the  only  subject, the master, the despot, the god. (228)

Our  quasi-objects  have  increasing specificity.  We  eat  the bread of  our  mores;  we  drink  the  wine  of  our  culture;  we  speak  only  the words  of our tongue-I am speaking,  of course, of unfit people like me. And love,  I ask you:  what  about love between two people? Here, then, is the specificity. We  are  not  individuals.  We have  already been divided; we are always  threatened anew by  being. (232)

The  symbolic  is there; it  is divided  and  is not  divided. What is the symbol? A stereospecificity? It  is  also  a  quasi-object.  The  quasi-object  itself is a subject. The subject can be a quasi-object. (233)

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