figure i : he stands opposite his rivals
You are the only one who can never see yourself apart from your image. In the reflection of a mirror, or the pigment of the photograph you entertain yourself. Every gaze you cast is mediated by a looking apparatus, by an image you must stand alongside. The gaze welcomes itself as a guest. The eye orders you to sit at its table, to share in the feast of one’s own image. The image stands beside the real, all the while eating at its table, stealing morsels from the feast it enables. The image is not reality, but the image is the only gesture you have in the direction of reality.
From the Greek pará-noos, he who suffers from paranoia has a mind beside itself. He is convinced that his partner conspires against him: a belief in turn organised by a conspiring mentality. I am confident that you are reading my mind: a position founded by my supposed reading of yours. The paranoid stand beside themselves; a part beside itself as part, conspiring against the whole. Paranoia is a kind of paradox, from the Greek pará-doxon, it stands beside the orthodox.
From the Greek pará-sītos, the parasite is a figure who feeds beside, an uninvited guest who eats at the host’s table nonetheless. I display my feast openly, in order that my status be established to the community I consider myself a part. The world outside never ceases at its attempt to gain access to my table. Here I consider to offer them a seat, to share my feast. Here I cast a hand skyward, signalling my absolute negation of their status as a guest. The boundary between my feast and theirs is drawn. As the host I set the conditions under which my body stands beside. My body is entire, but it is also part. I stand beside my community, a conglomerate of bodies, each themselves parts of a greater whole.
The parasite inhabits the host, breaching the boundary of the body in order to organise a new ecosystem around their own, distinct, metabolism. The parasite feeds on the body of its host. Some parasites alter their host’s body chemistry, perhaps affecting a biological shift from male to female, from alpha to drone, so that the parasite’s offspring have a better chance at survival. In order that the parasite enter the next stage in its life-cycle, it is often unimportant that the host survives.
figure iii : his faithful companion is always at his side
From the Greek pará-digme, the paradigm is literally “what shows itself beside”. Parasite, paranoid, paradox constitute a class of forms, standing beside one another, each in relation to the whole. They constitute a paradigm that organises the manner of their know-ability. To overturn the paradigm, one must stand beside it, constituting a reordering of knowing from the outside in.
These are the figures set beside each other: the host and the guest; the mind and its image; the belief as its own antithesis. But these are also a series of relations, figured by a paradigm. It may well seem natural to consider the host and the guest, the mind and its image – indeed the words come in pairs, set side by side on the printed page, or expressed as isolated figures of breath by the speaking subject. Once a relation is figured it becomes difficult to consider the isolated, the individual in opposition. After all, biological evolution has shown countless times, again and again, that an uninvited guest can become an accomplice; that a parasitic burden can become a treasured constituent of one’s own body. Parasitism is often indistinguishable from symbiosis. Buddhism teaches that the greatest oneness can only come when the division between mind and self-image has been obliterated. To defuse one’s paranoia, it is necessary to stand outside oneself, to places one’s state of mind beside itself as paradox, to break the condition of division.
Welcoming the parasite to your table requires you to see your body as their body. At the feast we coalesce, my guest and I. Overturning our differences through the manner of their know-ability. True symbiosis stands beside invitation. True symbiosis is a politics aware of its own difference; a paradigm shown beside itself (together again for the first time).
figure iv : some of the things read (side by side)
- What is a Paradigm? (essay) by Giorgio Agamben
- The Parasite (book) by Michel Serres
- Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading (chapter) by Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick