Treating (with) Autoimmunity II

Andrews, Alice. 2012. 'Treating (with) Autoimmunity II'. In: 3rd International Derrida Today Conference. University of California, Irvine, United States. [Conference or Workshop Item]

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Abstract or Description

This paper will treat the question of autoimmunity by narrating an autobiographical account of autoimmune illness. If autoimmunity marks within biological, philosophical and political discourses a certain paradoxical moment of self-defensive destruction, then autoimmune disease marks an experience of this paradox that traces itself as a painful physiological, psychological and communal suffering that affects me, as well as what it might mean to say ‘me.’ From the situation of the sickbed, in the face of the threat of the radical finitude of death, the cruel, suicidal, petrifying terror of autoimmunity demands a response. By writing an autobiographical account of this experience, I will write (to) a self that desires to ‘return’ to health – to the safe, whole, and immune – through opening itself to three particular treatment ‘strategies.’

Firstly, I will give an account of biomedical drug treatments that function to suppress the immune system within the logic of self-nonself immunology. This defensive treatment will be seen, however, to iterate the autoimmune paradox both in regards to its immunosuppressive character, and in regards to its opening of the ill subject to a shared suffering with the laboratory animal. Secondly, I will address ‘alternative therapies’ and their placebo effects. Placebos – translated as “I shall please” – relieve symptoms via an act of faith that represses the fearful effects of an unknown future (in a biomedical analogy to Freud’s death drive). In rendering the deathly unknown pleasurable and therefore known, this treatment reinscribes the terror of the autoimmune with the arrival of the interruptive, radically unforeseen event. Thirdly, in light of the reappearance of an autoimmune ill in both of these treatments, I will treat the concept of autoimmunity with an account of Derrida’s deconstructive autoimmunity. I will characterise Derrida’s autoimmunity as a ‘homeopathic’ treatment that remains in force without force, and that treats with – in the sense of negotiating with – all these strategies of self-protection. It negotiates with the necessity of responding to an autoimmune ill or evil whilst never settling on a course of action. This unsettling treatment continually marks the self, and its concepts of health and immunity with the threat of an unknown future, pain and deathliness that terrifies, but this terror is treated as an autoimmune terror, a terror infected with a promise of better as well as worse.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Visual Cultures


11 July 2012Completed

Event Location:

University of California, Irvine, United States

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

23 Sep 2015 11:30

Last Modified:

07 Jul 2017 13:02


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