Doyle’s On Beyond Living

Richard Doyle
On Beyond Living: Rhetorical Transformation of the Life Sciences
Area: Digital Media
Chapter 1: The Sublime Object of Biology

•    Not the economy of differences between signs and things, but the force field that organizes the relations between them
•    The ‘freezing’ of scientific discourse suspends its relation to history as well as its relations to language.  For what does not appear in the freeze-frame of science is the technology of framing itself, what I call rhetorical software
o    Rhetorical software foregrounds the relational and material interactions that make possible the emergence of scientific statement
•    Foucault: pre-19th century, “life” didn’t exist because biology as a science hadn’t yet been articulated (Order of Things)
•    Life becomes the unseen guarantor of biology, knowable only at a distance
•    Living species are classified alive because of what they conceal
•    Ontological economy = spent life
•    Reproduction maintains life, it doesn’t create it
•    Any given cell can be seen as nothing but the instantiation of a memory of past “choices”—directed by the genetic program
•    Postvital organism is nothing but coding
•    What are we studying when we study life?
•    Two meanings of resolution: precision and closure
•    Transparent body, unseen, resolved into nothing: memory of a body, body of a memory—past choices of ancestry
•    Two deaths: symbolic and biological (Lacan)
•    Rotman: meta-sign—inscription marks absence
3: “We usually think of an experimental report as a narration of some prior visual experience: it points to sensory experiences that lie behind the text. This is correct.  However, we should also appreciate that the text itself constitutes a visual source.  That is, narrative functions as a kind of supplement to the material technology of the air pump, framing it in a coherent and persuasive fashion so that others might be convinced of Robert Boyle’s finding at a distance in the absence of the pump or of Boyle.”
4: “For Derrida, writing about the writing of philosophy, this impossibility of arriving at the final or complete metaphor of metaphor exhibits philosophy’s dependence on the passed over, the preterit, something ‘outside the system.’  That is, the very working of metaphor, the fact of metaphor, testifies to the fact that language works through a forgetting, at the very least a forgetting of what we mean by metaphor.  Our mania for accounts of language that stress the possibility of univocality and overlook the force and rhetoricity of language occludes the ways in which language matters.”
9: “The virtual is the unsaid of the statement, the unthought of thought.  It is real and subsists in them, but must be forgotten at least momentarily for a clear a statement to be produced….The task of philosophy is to explore that inevitable forgetting, to reattach statements to the conditions of their emergence.” (Deleuze)
15: “For cells, as for computers, memory makes complex programs possible; and many cells together, each one stepping through its complex developmental control program, generate a complex adult body…Thus the cells of the embryo can be likened to an array of computers operating in parallel and exchanging information with one another. Each cell contains the same genome and therefore the same built-in program, but it can exist in a variety of states; the program directs development along various alternative paths according to a combination of the past information the cell has remembered and the present environmental signals it receives.”
16: “These choices lead to the eradication of the centrality and sovereignty of the cell as agent, much as in the rhizomatic example drawn from Deleuze and Guattari’s ATP: ‘Puppet strings, as a rhizomatic or a multiplicity of nerve fibers, which form another puppet in other dimensions to the first.”
17: “For the postvital body, the overlooking or disappearance of the body displaces this ‘beyond’ onto an ever denser and ever more complex genetic apparatus.  That is, it is not simply that the accelerating pursuit of knowledge of molecular genetics leads to a greater appreciation of the richness of genetic expression. Rather, the intensity of the pursuit of a ‘complete understanding’ of C. elegans increases the resolutions of analysis and plunges research ever deeper into the genome to a place beyond the molecule, the postvital.”
Chapter 2: Mr. Schrodinger Inside Himself: The Rhetorical Origins of the Genetic Code
•    Pattern = cradle-to-grave biography
•    “Smart” DNA = DNA as an AI
30: “Derrida has argued that philosophy cannot be extricated from its rhetoricity, most notably due to philosophy’s reliance upon metaphor.  But the other side of this analysis also shows the extent to which rhetoric is indebted to philosophy: ‘metaphor remains, in all its essential characteristics, a classical philosopheme.’ Philosophy nad rhetoric thus mark not oppositions, but lines of difference, what Gilles Deleuze might call a ‘fold,’ or what Derrida explicates as ‘the contamination of logic, the logic of contamination.’  These cross-pollinating models all point to the ways in which discourses, like the chromosomes in Schrodinger’s text, cross over and ‘contain’ each other.  As a play of differences rather than a tool for meaning and communication, scientific discourse can be seen to be both productively and hopelessly embedded in the discourses of technology, philosophy, and as we shall see, cartoons.”
36:  “The cyborg now constructs and orders the slave ‘body’ in smart but lifeless immanence, fulfilling the function of the ‘director to the board of an industrial corporation,’ while the proteins work ‘by processes essentially resembling those of assembly plant robots.’ In short, Adam’s text announces that the cyborg no longer needs the organism to ‘implement’ its program.  In a reversal of McLuhan, ‘man’ becomes the extension of the nanotechnological, a mean puppet run by molecular machines.”
Chapter 6: Emergent Power: Vitality and Theology in Artificial Life
•    The rhetoric of molecular biology implies (literally) that there is no outside of the genetic text
•    Vitality, too, in the age of simulation, that which can be ‘xeroxed’
•    Dawkins: “raining DNA”—everything can be replicated; it is real/can live
110: “Rhetorical softwares play a crucial tactical role in this regime of power, as it is through rhetorics that he uncanny connection between the machine and the organism is installed and managed.  Dispersed from the unity of the organism, life gets networked, located, and articulated through a computer screen.”
113:  “Life is no longer that which can be distinguished in a more or less certain fashion from the mechanical; it is that in which all the possible distinctions between living beings have their basis” (Foucault)
123:  “The age of simulation thus begins with a liquidation of all referentials—worse: by their artificial resurrection in systems of signs….It is no longer a question of imitation, not of reduplication, not even of parody.  It is rather a question imitation, nor of reduplication, nor even of parody.  It is rather of question of substituting signs of the real for the real itself.” (Baudrillard)


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