Re: What does the replicating?

Toby Foshay (
Sun, 8 Jun 1997 05:17:53 -0700

Message-Id: <l03020900afc03f13ed25@[]>
In-Reply-To: <Pine.PMDF.3.95.970607173440.589370238B-100000@UTARLG.UTA.EDU>
Date: Sun, 8 Jun 1997 05:17:53 -0700
From: Toby Foshay <>
Subject: Re: What does the replicating?

I'm a neophyte to the list, come from a Humanities environment, and am
unable to wield the technical vocabulary of genetics and evolutionary
science. My interest in memetics follows from my attempt to study mimetic
practices and processes in modern philosophy and cultural theory.
"Mimesis" is a repressed category in modern discourse, largely because of
the shift toward the subject/object opposition, away from the
immanent/transcendental structure of classical thought. Mimesis is
unwelcome as a model of subject/object relations because it appears to
foreclose on the question of agency and generativity so necessary in the
absence of appeal to divine or transcendent agency. This modern resistance
to mimesis joins, of course, Plato's deeply repressive, ambivalent thinking
about mimesis, lurking as it does within the very emergence of
philosophical as self-assertively dominant over religious, poetic, and
historical discourse. Anti-mimesis has been a very effective and
archetypal meme cluster, which brings me to the point I wanted to add to
the "replication" thread.

imitative and does not require conscious intention or agency to reproduce.
In fact, and this is more to the point, a meme *resists* conscious and
critical scrutiny and participation. I say "conscious" intention, because
it does require intention or will, but that intention has to be cloaked,
diverted, or mediated so as to foreclose on resistance to its uncritical
mimetic reproduction. Plato occasionally acknowledges that there is "good
mimesis" and "bad mimesis". Philosophy, he admits in _The Laws_, is good
mimesis . . . but this in context of his overall project to define the
linear rational principle of non-contradiction -- something cannot both be
and not be, in the same respect and at the same time . . . i.e., it can't
be exactly what mimetic replication manages to be, with its manner of
imitative reproduction through identification/differentiation/repetition.

So, bad mimesis is exemplified by poets for Plato because poetic practice
is reproductive and not rational-critical, he says in _The Republic_,
repressing the function of rationality that imitates in a good way that he
elsewhere acknowledged. So, rational discourse originates, in Western
tradition, with a repressive distinction between rational and mimetic
processes. Anti-mimesis exemplifies how a meme functions by repressing
critical awareness of its mimetic qualities. The anti-mimetic posture of
rationalism, particularly in its idealist forms, has successfully
reproduced itself, by diverting attention from its artificial expulsion and
subordination of the mimetic function.

But if there is "good mimesis" and "bad mimesis" it surely will subsist in
the element of critical awareness of mimesis, of conscious recognition of
the mimetic elements of consciousness, of behaviour, and of "objective"
natural processes. The category "meme" and the function "memesis" is a
framing of the mimetic function as "bad mimesis", as unconscious repetition
or replication by means of indirection and diverted attention. This is
entirely consistent with the philosophical tradition in its modern
idealist/empiricist mirror relation.

If you think that I am diminishing empiricist discourse by asserting it to
be in a "mirror relation" to idealism then you harbour the rationalist meme
that mirror relations are subrational. I would suggest that
mimesis/memesis is everywhere at work and proliferates by discouraging
awareness of its replicative ambitions, which is not to say that awareness
is itself non-mimetic. With mimesis/memesis we are in the realm of desire
and fear and its multiple diversionary paths and tactics.

My apologies for the disjointedness of the above, done in a fit of
insomnia, a troublesome state of bad or hyper mimesis if there is one.


Toby Foshay

"Cyberspace is an accident of the real." - Paul Virilio

Toby Foshay Phone: 250.995.3043
2-652 Moss St. (Office) 250.721.7251
Victoria, B.C. Canada V8V 4N6

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