elixirs, potions, cleansing the body toxic – affectus


elixir |ɪˈlɪksə, -sɪə|, 

a magical or medicinal potion: an elixir guaranteed to induce love.; a preparation supposedly able to change metals into gold, sought by alchemists.; (also elixir of life)a preparation supposedly able to prolong life indefinitely. figurative : he finds world train travel something of an elixir of life.; a particular type of medicinal solution: a cough elixir.; ORIGIN late Middle English: via medieval Latin from Arabic al-'iksīr, from al ‘the’ + 'iksīr from Greek xērion ‘powder for drying wounds’ (from xēros ‘dry’).

Detoxification is enormously popular, according to SPINS, a market research and consulting firm based in Schaumburg, Ill., that caters to the natural and organic products industry. Sales of herbal formulas for cleansing, detoxification and organ support among natural food retailers were more than $27 million from Dec. 2, 2007, to Nov. 29, 2008. A survey by Mintel International, a Chicago-based research firm, found that 54 food and drink products were launched in 2008 with the word “detox” in their descriptions — up from 15 in 2003. —from the NYT 22 Jan 2009.

The thinking goes that by avoiding certain foods, adding nutritional and herbal supplements and cleansing your innards, you can cure the body of all sorts of evils.


What, after all, was that chemistry over which the lieutenant and I racked our brains? Water and fire, nothing else, like in the kitchen. A less appetizing kitchen, that’s all: with penetrating or disgusting smells instead of the domestic kind; for the rest, there too aprons, mixing , burning hands, and washing up at the end of the day.

— Primo Levi, 'Nickel' in The Periodic Table

An array of glass chemistry vessels, image source unknown.

Given the capacities of nano-technology Primo Levi's words on chemistry now seem so very carbon-based: molecular micro-vision, genetic engineering to trigger transformations at the most minuscule of scales mathematically calculated. The glass vessels of chemistry take on a romantic tinge….

Chemistry glass brings to mind the work of Yhonnie Scarce. Yhonnie's cooling breath forges vessels from molten silica. Here Weak in Colour but Strong in Blood (Biennial of Sydney 2014), the installation includes her signature blown glass along with the paraphernalia of medical science and practice. Great title.

Perhaps one of the most notable events of BOS 2014 was the artist boycott demanding the withdrawal of Transfield Holdings, major funding partner of the Biennale, who gains from the suffering of asylum seekers through their relationship to Nauru and Manus Island detention centres that incarcerate them. 

Yhonnie Scarce, detail,  Weak in Colour Strong in Blood , Photo by Janelle Low.

Yhonnie Scarce, detail, Weak in Colour Strong in Blood, Photo by Janelle Low.


Ingestion, that which is taken into the body, provides nutrients —chemicals — that signal, bind, destroy, multiply. It wasn't so long ago that Kings and Queens has us all running around inside them, doing the work of nourishing the body and cleansing the miasma (hyperbole is my mode today – this being the work of words).

The detail in Utagawa's work uses communal food preparation (for a matsuri perhaps? the workers seem to all be male) to illustrate the role of the organs in nourishing the body of a privileged man – he wears the chonmage of the samurai of the Edo period. I hesitate to call him gluttonous, that would be way too prudishly moral. Though it could be that Utagawa is making some kind of comment on how low the samurai have fallen, sitting around sipping sake while the minions do all the dirty work. I wish I could read the hirigana script. I used this image in a serious research project a few years ago – all I could find out was who made it and when. I made up a title "Internal cosmos - 19th Century Man" and reproduced the image as is in paper format.

Do you know that google can match any image you select in a browser with others like it? So I searched for more about this image and this is what I found: Utagawa Kunisada (1786–1865). Dietary Life Rules (Inshoku yôjô kagami), woodblock print, 50 x 37 cm. I'm a bit disappointed – my wish for it to be a Gargantuan chronicle of the life of a gluttonous man has been thwarted by a pin.

Utagawa, Internal Cosmos, 19th Century woodblock print.

on entelechy and monads

In his 16th century collection of works Gargantua and Pantagruel, Rabelais invented Queen Entelechy, monarch of the island Entelechy (an island of unknown location). He was poking some fun at the Aristotelian mode of categorisation toward perfection. He called it’s port Mataeotechny, which means ‘home of useless knowledge’, or ‘an unprofitable art or science (from Greek roots meaning vain art)’. Real estate billboards placed around the Port Adelaide once invited people to 'Be Part of the Renaissance' (with a lot of government backing, including the grant that allowed us to make work related to the 'development' of the Port). What would Rabelais’ larger than life characters Gargantua and Pantagruel see in this 21st Century ‘Renaissance’, and what would they take away?

What illnesses might Queen Entelechy want to cure today?

Entelechy as a philosophical concept has it's origins in Aristotle. He invented this word, a neologism, as a play of the contemporary Greek word, endelechy. Where endelechy meant enduring, entelechy was taken to mean perfection and transformation. Many translators and philosophers have written about this play on words, and argued about the fine points of whatentelechy might mean. One for example translates entelecheia as "being-at-work-staying-itself" (Joe Sachs → "Aristotle: Motion and its Place in Nature"). What the commentators agree upon is the difficulty of assigning a clear and distinct meaning to the word, "there is no starting point from which we can descend to put together the cements of its meaning."

So then, a useless little machine for thinking.

As a concept entelechy operates a little like Plato's chora in that it is the source of all art (art as the only thing that resists death) but cannot be pinned down or clearly named - it's a kind of filter. From what I can gather the difference between chora and entelechy is to do with movement, which means time and space — the quality of being in multiple states, still and moving, at the same time. It's about what exists in something from inception and throughout all changes tha condition a life — a possibility, a chance or a potential to be a perfection of whatever it is right there — at first breath. A seeming contradiction that nevertheless happens, all the time, like Henri Bergson's recognition of the necessity of the virtual and actual as coinciding states.