Treating (with) Autoimmunity

Andrews, Alice. 2012. 'Treating (with) Autoimmunity'. In: Derrida Konferenz Frankfurt. Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main, Germany March 14-16 2012. [Conference or Workshop Item]

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Abstract or Description

This paper proposes to treat the themes of the conference – the character of “acts of deconstruction today” and deconstruction’s moving “beyond concepts by means of concepts” – with the “concept” of autoimmunity as it is named in the biosciences, and as it is employed as a deconstructive term in Derrida’s writings. I will explore these themes through various narratives of autoimmune illness. I will employ an autobiographical account of an experience of autoimmune disease in order to trace the paradoxical character of autoimmunity. In the biosciences autoimmunity names an ill or an evil that is instituted into life through the very act of protecting life. Here a body’s immune system destroys its self, by itself, as it marks its self as other to itself. Autoimmunity, therefore, names a certain destruction of the concept of a biological cohesion that affects one with a real, painful physiological suffering and the threat a suicidal death. For Derrida, however, the term ‘autoimmunity’ takes on a deconstructive character as it names the necessary opening of the ‘self’ to an ‘other’ that both threatens it and enables it to live on. Yet, for Derrida, this autoimmune movement of life is characterised as terrifying, cruel, and evil, it is fatal – both deadly and inevitable. The inevitability that Derrida finds in the deconstructive autoimmune act effects the ill-self with a trauma that continually threatens worse events, worse ills that reside within every act of treating, relieving and lessening the suffering of illness.

I will attempt to treat this potentially petrifying and exponential autoimmune condition that effects ‘me’ with a real painful suffering with three narratives of illness. I will look to the treatments of science that attempt to make the threat known in order to be treated and relieved with pharmaceutical products, and I will look to the psychological effects of an autoimmune trauma and treat these psychoanalytically with Freud’s theory of the death-drive and its ‘comforting’ relation to the pleasure principle. However, these conscious treatments of ‘my’ affliction will be seen only to unconsciously iterate the autoimmune self-destructive protective act, for the deconstructive character of autoimmunity will come to be seen to be at work in every act, and the terrifying ‘other’ found always to be already within ‘me.’ In a final attempt to treat this terror I will employ what I will call Derrida’s ‘homeopathic’ treatment of illness. This ‘treatment’ of autoimmunity finds in autoimmunity ‘itself’ a means of deconstructing the concepts of terror, pain and suffering, as well as those of comfort, relief and health. This treatment, which treats with autoimmunity, treats with it in the sense of negotiating with its terms, a negotiation that refuses to settle on any proper response that will decide once and for all on a course of action that will lessen the pain and suffering of an ill or an evil, producing instead the possibility of tracing differently the experiences of illness and health, pain and pleasure. This negotiation produces the deconstructive act, and it produces the concepts of illness and health that it simultaneously deconstructs, it must do so for, as the experience of autoimmune illness suggests, this treatment is not a treatment that I chose, it chooses ‘me’ as ‘my’ life continually traces itself as other.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Visual Cultures


March 2012Completed

Event Location:

Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main, Germany

Date range:

March 14-16 2012

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

23 Sep 2015 11:25

Last Modified:

07 Jul 2017 13:02


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