Sunday, 15 February 2009

The Alien Virus I

Toward a consolidation of all that has fallen from the lens of reason. Consigned to the dusk of an obliterated life-world. And then, set far out to sea, amid a rocky surface in which only endangered animals roam. Tonight, the world has gone silent. We are facing a horizon, in which memory is detaching itself from time and occupying a colonised zone close to surface of the Earth. The payload is precious.

(Image from Elena Dawson)

Earlier this week, Havi Carel came to Sussex. Her talk was on illness. Her talk was aimed at inserting phenomenology into the world of clinical medicine. For Carel, phenomenology breeds hope. The hope is founded in the idea that by attending to the primacy of lived experience, a richer account of illness can be put forward, in which classification is displaced with a qualitative focus. Not only this, but Carel went on to argue that some degree of health is possible within the horizon of terminal illness, understood as a mode of “adaptation.” So, instead of illness being seen as a deficient mode of existence, via Merleau-Ponty, Carel suggested that a new life-world is conceived in the midst of illness, as unified as the previous mode (a claim she also expands upon in her excellent paper on Cronenberg’s The Fly and deals with more generally in her also excellent book on illness.)

However, while I admire Carel’s commitment to a renewed understanding of illness and disease, I worry. I wonder, for instance, if Carel’s idea that the body adapts to situations—a theme consistent throughout Cronenberg—neglects the independence of embodiment and memory. After all, Merleau-Ponty’s discussion of the phantom limb shows us, that while there is much that is brought into unity through the “intentional arc,” there is much that nevertheless remains sedimented in the body that is alien to the self. Does striving toward unity as a rational measure dispense with what the body hungers for of its own accord?

Tonight, I would like to think of memory in terms of an organism: that is, a living thing, with the potential to grow, decay, develop and, above all, maintain homeostatic regulation, the result of which is bodily stability. This recourse to biological terminology does not aim at a strictly physiological account of memory, however. Rather, thinking alongside memory as an organism means attending to memory as a lifeforce on its own terms, processing data in both a dynamic and independent manner. I have discussed elsewhere the idea of an uncharted experience of the past, which is given expression through the primacy of the body and manifest in a belated form. I need not go over that territory here. But what remains unsaid is the idea of memory as an alien virus.