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Configurations 8.2 (2000) 245-269
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Hermetism, Messages, and Angels
Translated by Trina Marmarelli
I returned, twenty years later, to San Candido, in South Tirol, at the source of the Drava, in order to recover the sense of bewilderment I had felt when confronted with so many rivulets of crystalline water dispersed among the rocks; the water's long course, after running through the Danube, Vienna, Budapest, and Belgrade, would end in the Black Sea. It is a small source in a mountain village that sees its own water flow in a perpetual oscillation: from the Dobbiaco pass it may slope toward the Pusteria River and the Rienza, ending in the Adige and then in the Adriatic--or follow the Drava, flowing into the Danube and finally into the Black Sea. From the same point the fluids, often flowing at negligible rates, take two divergent and opposed directions, becoming impetuous, majestic rivers. Twenty years ago, in order to understand this "miracle," I read Michel Serres's pages on river waters, on their diverse sources and mouths, on their reticular, intertwined courses: natural, vivid images of the complexity of fluxes and of communication, concrete examples of the forms of time, which, rather than flowing, "percolate," following a fortuitous flux in a fortuitous round (exactly like water at the sources of the Drava, or at the mouths of the Ganges). 1 Yesterday my bewilderment [End Page 245] before these minimal flows, always different and in unstable equilibrium, gave way to the knowledge that, thanks to Serres, permits me to understand turbulence: an "incarnated" knowledge that has helped me to re-cognize (ri-conoscere) the world. I would now like to recall that knowledge, starting from the limited perspective of the philosophy of communication inaugurated under the sign of Hermes and then diffused in the modulations of a new "angelology." 2
The index to Serres's work placed at the end of La légende des anges (1993) proposes a schematic, thematic division of a complex philosophy of science, culture, and history into three typologies: Equilibrium and Foundations (Rome; Statues; Les origines de la géométrie; Détachement; Le contrat naturel; L'hermaphrodite; Le tiers-instruit), Energy and Transformations (Jouvences sur Jules Verne; Feux et signaux de brume: Zola; La naissance de la physique dans le texte de Lucrèce; Genèse; Les cinq sens), and Messengers, Messages, and Message-Bearing Systems [End Page 246] (Le système de Leibniz et ses modèles mathématiques; Hermes I-V; Esthétiques: Sur Carpaccio; Le parasite; La légende des anges). 3
I will linger on the third title, which includes two of Serres's most notable investigations (Le système de Leibniz et ses modèles mathématiques and Hermès I-V) and--without any pretension to exhaustivity --I will refer, above all, to the programmatic writings and the last volumes (those that appeared after to the partition proposed in La légende des anges). I will follow the traces of the messages, messengers, and message-bearing systems, targeting a philosophy of the -duction announced in the name of Hermes--that neutral translator, conductor, producer, and trader of messages.
I. The Messenger: The First Set of Instructions
More than thirty years have passed since the day when, in an unusual session of the Société Française de Philosophie, a lecturer at the Faculty of Letters and Human Sciences of Clermont-Ferrand, a former pupil of Louis Althusser educated at the school of mathematics and navigation, having done long studies on Leibniz, announced his ambitious research program titled "Le messager." 4 The announcement, not easily comprehensible in those years, pivoted on the [End Page 247] prospective epochal change from the world of production and industrialism (the world of Prometheus) to that of communication and messages (the world of Hermes). Even today, despite our progressive and pervasive immersion in networks of message-bearing systems (electronic, telematic, multimedia), it is not easy to appreciate the significance of the tissue of information that envelopes man and nature in a grid of transmitters and interceptors of messages...