Human remains as quasi-objects

I want to share an excerpt from a paper that is going to be published in the forthcoming Kontaktstencil (a publication for the “Faellesnordisk Råd för Arkaeologistuderende” held every other year around the Nordic Countries).

In the article I discuss ontological issues of materiality and the subject – object division. I’m taking a step toward symmetrical archaeology (a concept proposed by Bjørnar Olsen) with my notion of human remains as serresian quasi-objects. Serres and Latour are often cited in articles on materiality and symmetrical archaeology and Latour uses the concept of quasi-object extensively in We have never been modern. I also briefly discuss modernity in the article. Maybe I’ll post something on that later. Anyway, here is a short passage on human remains as quasi-objects and quasi-subjects from the article:

“A quasi-object is a combination of natural and cultural attributes. They are a mediation between inanimate objects and human subjects. One central quality is the quasi-object’s ability to bring together, to combine. Quasi-objects are active. They circulate. The quasi-object is also a quasi-subject. To clarify this distinction, Serres gives the following definition:

”[The] quasi-object is not an object, but it is one nevertheless, since it is not a subject, since it is in the world; it is also a quasi-subject, since it marks or designates a subject who, without it, would not be a subject.” (Serres 1982: 225)

The quasi-subject, according to Serres, is a nominator of the subject. Through the quasi-subject we know how and when we are and are not subjects (Serres 1982: 227). This means that also the subject—object relation will be better understood through the consept of quasi-object. It is not simply the attributes of a subject or an object that define them. It is their relation to each other and to them as whole that gives them their significance. We can not discard division altogether but use it more precisely to better understand the complexity of materiality.”

  • Serres, Michel 1982. The parasite. Johns Hopkins. London.
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