[-empyre-] the pharmakon in the mountains

Kevin Hamilton kham at uiuc.edu
Sun Dec 14 02:29:30 EST 2008

Hello all -

Christina invited me to chime in based on our conversations up in the  
Rocky Mountains of Colorado last summer. We talked about the pharmakon  
within yodeling range of John Denver's ranch, as I started a new  
project aimed in part at understanding the power of the Rocky Mountain  

I'm new to the Derridian context here, actually - I only learned of  
the pharmakon from Christina. But the question of subjectivity and the  
pharmakon's dual nature is close to what interests me about the  
subject. It seems to me that the "magic" power of a pharmakon comes  
from its duality, no? It's magic when a poison heals me, or when a  
remedy kills me.

There's a lot going against this in the modernities I know. We moderns  
don't believe in magic - we either rationalize it away or banish it to  
the domain of counter-rational romanticism. To read subjectivity into  
the pharmakon - to allow the poison to be a poison only to whom it  
kills - is to kill it. Or maybe it's the other way around - we  
construct subjectivity through splitting the pharmakon's powers.

Within an enchanted world, the pharmakon will still be a poison even  
for the person it cures - it will still be a remedy even for the  
person it poisons. The power in the thing grants it ontology apart  
from our perception of it. In the disenchanted world, the pharmakon  
will be only a poison to the dead and will only be a remedy to the  
cured. The thing only exists for the receiver.

We can look, for example, to the function of the Colorado Rockies as a  
pharmakon for white Americans, seeking a pastoral remedy from their  
urban/suburban lives.

As a modern skeptic, I can divide the poison from the remedy, and see  
how what heals me there in my fancy hiking boots is what kills the  
place and the people displaced by white settlement. I'm racist without  
meaning to be - sounds like the definition of white guilt.

But what if that's too subjective for the pharmakon? Can I look at how  
what's healing me is also a poison to me, in addition to looking at it  
as a poison to someone else?

Is my Rocky Mountain High a poison to me as well, a changing agent  
within me, that I exist in those spaces as someone who benefits from  
genocide? I think so. But it's hard to get my modern mind around - I  
fall so easily into displacing the evil done by attending to my own  
positive or negative transformation.

Kevin Hamilton

More information about the empyre mailing list