- Sounding the Black Box: Linear Reproduction and Chance Bifurcations in Rabbit at Rest
- Arizona Quarterly: A Journal of American Literature, Culture, and Theory
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 51, Number 4, Winter 1995
- pp. 69-108
- View Citation
- Additional Information
SALAH EL1 MONCEF Sounding the Black Box: Linear Reproduction and Chance Bifurcations in Rabbit at Rest What others consider as deviations are, for me, the data which determine my course. I base my calculations upon the differentials of time which, for others, disturb the "major lines" of analysis. Walter Benjamin, Das Passagen-Werk What living together is. What is the Collective? ... I still shall not decide whether the parasite is relational or real. ... I can also think that the one who eats with me ... is only a useful figure for thinking about adulthood , my fatigue at the end of the day, explosions, losses, hidden power, and the degradations or bursts of messages in the networks. Michel Serres, TL· Parasite We believe that feelings are immutable, but every sentiment . . . has a history. We believe in the dull constancy of instinctual life and imagine that it continues to exert its force indiscriminately in the present as it did in the past. But a knowledge of history easily disintegrates this unity, depicts its wavering course, locates its moments of strength and weakness, and defines its oscillating reign. It easily seizes the slow elaboration of instincts and those movements where, in turning upon themselves, they relentlessly set about their self-destruction. . . . History . . . should become a differential knowledge of energies and failings, heights and degenerations , poisons and antidotes. Michel Foucault, "Nietzsche, Genealogy, History" ?t??? the gigantic METAPHORic mosaic that constitutes Rabbit at Rest, Thelma Harrison's disease—systemic lupus erythematosus —is perhaps the metaphor that best represents the symptoArizona Quarterly Volume 51, Number 4, Winter 1995 Copyright © 1995 by Arizona Board of Regents ISSN 0004- 1 610 70Sahh el Moncef matology of postmodern economy as Updike retraces it in the dialectical movements of the psyche, the soma, and the societas. Indeed, at the heart of the many references to Thelma's disorganized body lies one of Updike's most ambitious narrative projects: the reconstruction of a complex structure of general equivalence between the effects of biological destabilization at the level of the "psychosomatic economy" of the subject and the effects of logical destabilization at the level of the political economy of the social body (Marty, Mouvements de vie 7-20, 82114 ). Thus, fot instance, when Thelma's pastor refers to her disease during her funeral service, he conveys far more than the account of a "physical affliction": She had explained her physical affliction to him as a minor misunderstanding, as a matter of some tiny wires in her system being ctossed. Then she had suggested . . . that perhaps God was responsible only for what we ourselves could experience and see, and not responsible for anything at the microscopic level.1 In more than one respect, the entire novel is a confirmation of the generality of Thelma's condition. As they express themselves in het body, the unpredictable movements of her immune system are literally an incarnation of the socio-economic condition of postmodern America. Gradually succumbing to the chain reactions of generalized parasitism, her body is a vivid embodiment of the (bio)logical paradox that contributes to the novel's dialectical vision of the political and psychosomatic economies of late capital. For what is at work in the disorganization ofThelma's biological processes is the insuperable aporia of chance effects superseding foundational causes: in the chaotic logic ofher "system ," we see the "minor misunderstandings," the "tiny" systemic catastrophes , and the unmappable play of "microscopic" work deconstructing and eventually supplanting the work of God, ultimate regulator of the economies of the psyche, the soma, and the societas.2 Like Thelma's destabilized immune system, the social body also finds itself confronted with the paradoxical logic of a parasitical economy "chewing [itself] from within" even as it reproduces itself: "We're turning into mad dogs," as Harry puts it, "the human race is one big swamp ofviruses" (Rest 328, 185). (And when he tells Stavros that "there's a lot of disasters ... for no apparent reason," the latter's ironic reply is significant only to the Sounding the Black Box71 extent that it problematizes the hierarchical relation between foundational causes and chance effects in the economy ofthe social body [Rest 233]· By arguing that every catastrophe has "some...