Tuesday, 5 May 2009


Serres’s meditations on the intermediary and the circumstantial dimensions of communication in The Parasite come to a climax with an extraordinary evocation of what he calls the ‘quasi-object’. The quasi-object is a form of mediation which originally comes into being as a way of fixing or stabilising social conflicts which might otherwise tend to degenerate into absolute chaos, or all-out, all-against-all war. In that it marks the boundary between the subjective and the objective, Serres’s quasi-object resembles Winnicott’s ‘transitional object’. But, where Winnicott’s model explicates the way in which an individual negotiates its relations to the world, Serres’s model concerns the complex interchanges involved in collectivity. What lies between partners in a dialogue, combatants, or opponents can be thought of like the mobile objects employed in games: the ball in a game of rugby, the parcel in pass-the-parcel, or the ‘furet’ (‘ferret’), used in a French game resembling hunt-the-slipper. Serres explicates the process whereby the rapid passage of the furet both distinguishes and connects, fixes and dissolves, the parties to the collectivity and their relative positions:

a farmer dying of hunger stuffs Poverty, a wizened old woman, into an empty marrowbone and throws it into a pond; some lord fishes out the bones or perhaps merely finds the old woman again and invites her home with him, thus bringing unhappiness into his own house

Leiris / manhood / 49

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