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Quasi-modal Circulation (Serres 3)



         The Konsult on well-being, exploring justice as capacity, is an updating of virtue (power) for electracy.  Every apparatus addresses power, but the metaphysics is different in each case, organizing differing realities.  Serres is representative of contemporary philosophy in his explicit contrast with literate (Aristotelian) metaphysics of substance, committing instead to turbulence.  As was the case with Heidegger's "destruction" (deconstruction) of the first beginning, Serres also return to the Classical epoch to find a new point of departure:  Lucretius (Atomism).  The difference is worth noting, since it has direct bearing on our theme of potentiality (dunamis).  Aristotle's solution to the paradox of Being was entelechy (beings fulfill their potential in becoming what they already are). 

With the idea of original multiplicity (everything that is may be unitary, but there is a countless number of such units), atomism introduced at once a new theory of movement and an alternative doctrine of contingency.  Where Aristotle could only regard chance as an interruption in a pre-determined causal sequence, atomism allowed for contingency as the outcome of an indeterminate beginning.  In Lucretius, this fundamental indeterminacy is articulated via the clinamen, which cannot therefore be interpreted as a cause of any kind.  To be a cause--even as accidental or chance--is to be isolable.  The clinamen, however, is by definition concealed beneath the lowest possible threshold of measurement.  Its angle of deviation is indiscernible (David Webb, "Introduction," in Serres, The Birth of Physics, xi).

            Teleological growth is replaced as the model of "life" with "fluctuations of turbulence."  Hence the emphasis on potentiality in electrate metaphysics:  actualization becomes invention.  "Without the vantage point required to survey the  whole, thinking and writing chart their own paths as they find their way along, producing local cartographies that reflect the specificity of environments, both physical and epistemological" (Webb). Here is the challenge:  choragraphy as ontology.

            Aristotle's categories, and the concepts generated by procedures of definition applying the categories, were positioned as overviews, surveying, looking down on the whole (god's universal vantage point).  The positioning of the group shifter, the virtual object, which Serres calls the quasi-object, is in contrast fundamentally local, in the midst of a milieu.  One of Serres most instructive models for the quasi-object (furet), is (again) a game (soccer).  His description of the ball game as model of turbulent discourse addresses our central question about how the shifter works to produce a group subject.  "The furet is the animal, the ferret, as well as the marker in a game somewhat like hunt-the-slipper or button, button, who's got the button?--Trans" (Serres, Parasite, 225). 

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" (mort).  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).

            Serres then proposed the "ball" as furet. "Playing is nothing else but making oneself the attribute of the ball as a substance.  The laws are written for it, defined relative to it, and we bend to these laws.  Skill with the ball supposes a Ptolemaic revolution of which few theoreticians are capable, since they are accustomed to being subjects in a Copernican world where objects are slaves.  The ball circulates just like the furet" (226).  These passages are worth recording in our archive, relative to our context of designing Appiphany  to support this ferret shifter. 

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."

            The terminology is critical--exchange, substitution, circulation.  The ball game, in any sport, models a metaphysics.  The task of choragraphy is as an aid to navigation of this circulation, with the egents playing "we."  The metaphysical context of the game allegory was noted previously in Avatar Emergency (Ulmer, 2012).

            The historical prototype is polo, invented in Ancient Persia.  The sacred dimension of this game as ritual provided an allegory of life:  you are the ball, the club is chance, the goal is destiny, god is the player (not you, you are not the player but the object in play).  In dream logic (hole), we understand that we are the addressee of every aspect of the scene.  The word “polo” means “ball,” derived from Tibetan “pulu.” This allegory was made most explicit in The Ball and the Polo Stick, by Arifi of Herat, a fifteenth-century Sufi account of ecstatic, self-sacrificing love (Huson, 21).  Huson notes that the allegory is invoked also in the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (eleventh-century Sufi poet and astronomer) to figure human helplessness before god. The added value in our context is that the emblems representing the four elements making possible polo play  (ball, stick, hole or goal, and stroke) are the historical basis for the four suits of playing cards, most importantly the four suits of the minor arcana of the Tarot (pentacles, wands, cups, swords).  Tarot (along with the I Ching) are complete image metaphysics, primary sources available for retrieval as relays for an Internet wisdom system. Divination is how the relationship between player and avatar was managed in the pre-modern habitus.  A task for concept avatar is the secularization and updating of these traditional image metaphysics, to do for electrate civilization what the oracles did for pre-modern cultures (Ulmer, Avatar Emergency, 166).

                        Serres's heuristic, as we saw before with the goose's game relay, is that the ball game too is a phenomenal schema, a pattern.  The four elements of the game refer precisely to Element as the replacement for substance in electrate metaphysics.  The four operators are "machinic" Deleuze and Guattari would say, and Serres has discussed the motor as a good model for the dynamic circulation we are mapping.  Gregory Bateson's account shows the correlation of the basic engine with circulating furet.

Imagine a machine in which we distinguish, say, four parts, which I have loosely called "flywheel," "governor," "fuel," and "cylinder."  In addition, the machine is connected to the outside world in two ways, "energy input" and "load," which is to be imagined as variable and perhaps weighing upon the flywheel.  The machine is circular in the sense that flywheel drives governor which alters fuel supply which feeds cylinder which, in turn, drives flywheel.  Because the system is circular, effects of events at any point in the circuit can be carried all around to produce changes at that point of origin (Bateson, Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity, Bantam, 1979).

            The match with the elements or suits of polo are evident:  cylinder = hole; flywheel = bat; governor = ball; fuel = stroke, with "god" as "energy input."  In any case, the machine is universal, present in the cultures of all the major civilizations.  China codified the elements in a system of five phenomena, used as categories or mnemonic classifications:  wood, fire, earth, metal, water.  The thermodynamic scene is recognizable in some of the presentations, showing the positive and negative directions of possible relations among the elements (building a fire to boil water).  The metaphysics of Element will be continued in other topics (Ka-Ching).


See Michel Serres, The Parasite, Trans. Lawrence R. Schehr, Johns Hopkins, 1982.


*Illustration, Motor Diagram, in Gregory Bateson, Mind and Nature.

**The Chinese Elements (note the "star" dimension of the relationship among the elements).