Quantum Cloud & Capacitor by Antony Gormley
In the recent opening article of the archival category “Topie Impitoyable“, I was trying to develop a sort of manifesto around the notion of philosophical and political body. One of the proposition, “The body is not one, it is multiple” was under-developed and I want to elaborate about it in this article. In order to do so, I would like to start with a book that I do not quote very often: the New Testament. In the fifth chapter of the book of Mark, we are told that Jesus meets a man possessed by the demon, or rather by a multitude of demons as, when he is being asked what his name is, he answers “Legion:”
They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes.2 When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an impure spirit came from the tombs to meet him. 3 This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain. 4 For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. 5 Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.
6 When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. 7 He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? In God’s name don’t torture me!” 8 For Jesus had said to him, “Come out of this man, you impure spirit!”
9 Then Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”
“My name is Legion,” he replied, “for we are many.” 10 And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area.
11 A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. 12 The demons begged Jesus, “Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them.” 13 He gave them permission, and the impure spirits came out and went into the pigs. The herd, about two thousand in number, rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.
Rather than considering this story in its moralistic and transcendental dimension like most Christians would, I would like to interpret it in a sort of philosophical literalness: we, as a body, are not one, we are indeed “legion.” Our body is formed by trillions of living organisms that keeps emerging and dying. Their living material movement is the only thing that allow a form of vitality for our body. This matter that composes our body is continuously “renewing” itself — if this word even makes sense. Our hair and our nails, but also our sweat, our urine, our shit are the most expressive element of such a process but, as written in a recent article about hypochondria, 98% of the totality of the matter that constitutes our body is “renewed” every year.
We are a body, we are an individual, this is true as long as these trillions of living entities coalesce in such a way that they do form a coherent mass of matter animated by a given biology. However, maybe that defining ourselves as an individual is not paying enough tribute to our multiplicity. Gilbert Simondon, to which I will soon dedicate a series of articles, has studied the process of individuation, but also of what he called transindividuation, i.e. the process in which a group of bodies form a collective that constitutes more than the simple sum of its individual parts. We often understand this notion of transindividual at the macroscopic level, but really, our own body can be itself be called transindividual as it is composed of a multitude of entity that are continuously achieving their individuation and, together, form an ensemble that can physically produce/construct more than if no cohesion was effectuated between them.
Many readers might wonder what is the use of such a statement that, after all, does not constitute any breakthrough in itself. This idea is important however, for that it allows us to question notions of identity: does a “lost” hair or nail belongs to us legally or can the genome that is micro-folded in it be patented? I also questions our relationship to our material environment: when the trillions of particles that compose my body encounters the trillions of particles that compose the floor, does that make a part of the floor as being part of my body? And if it does, what does that mean as far as the design of this floor is concerned? Allowing ourselves to an illusory unity is precisely what makes us embrace moralistic interpretations of the world as it simplifies what the body can do to a predefined set of given behaviors that become immediately categorizable as soon as they are considered as limited.