Blog Post

Fallacy Corner #2: Hooray for Chimaerogenesis!

My friend works in the world’s weirdest building.  It’s all made of grass, it has no walls or ceiling, and it’s full of people making financial transactions.

Yes, it’s a bank.  What an outlandish, impossible thing a bank is, then!  Its very existence in Anglophone culture is enough to overturn 2,500 years of ontotheological tradition.  And that’s got to make you happy, next time you’re standing in line to get a roll of quarters.

Chimaerogenesis is fun!  Using simple everyday words, you can make crazy mythical beasts, part ATM-house and part daffodil zone.  Part unit of measurement, part barbecue location.  Part pinnacle, part spinning toy.  Or part nocturnal flying mammal, part wooden object you use to hit balls with.  (I’d like to see A-Rod get a home run with one of those!)

(Illustration by the wonderful Jacqueline Basu.)

How can you do it, you ask?  It’s simple.  All you have to do is take a word which has multiple meanings, and then pretend that they combine to form a single, weird object. 

Let’s say there’s an ancient Greek word meaning “drug.”  Well, don’t forget, drugs are sometimes largely good for you (aspirin) and sometimes largely bad for you (chloroform).  OK, so now pretend there’s a special thing which is “the thing that’s both good for you and bad for you at once.”  Bingo!  Now you’re a famous writer!

“The ‘essence’ of the pharmakon lies in the way in which, having no stable essence, no ‘proper’ characteristics, it is not, in any sense... of the word, a substance.” (Plato's Pharmacy, 125-6)  Quite right, Uncle Jacques.  Oddly enough, that’s the “essence” of my friend’s workplace, too!

“All translations... produce on the pharmakon an effect of analysis that violently destroys it, reduces it to one of its simple elements by interpreting it...” (99)  Ugh, I know exactly what you mean.  My friend hates it when French people say he works at a banque, instead of a rive-banque.  Quels salauds.

“The pharmakon in general... [is] that which, presenting itself as a poison, may turn out to be a cure” (125).  That’s so true, there is a “pharmakon in general”!  Don’t listen to anyone telling you there’s no thing here, just a bit of wordplay.  My friend is fully aware that there is a “bank in general,” namely that which, presenting itself as a financial institution, may turn out to be a nice place to have a picnic.

“The pharmakon is the same precisely because it has no identity.” (169)  Zing!  See what funny things you can come out with?

Let’s get going, folks!  Send me your favourite chimaeras.  Meanwhile, I’m off to season my pasta with a dance move.  It’s precisely because it’s a dance move that it gets to season my pasta.

Joshua Landy's picture
Joshua Landy is the Andrew B. Hammond Professor of French and Professor of Comparative Literature at Stanford University, where he co-directs the Initiative in Philosophy and Literature. His books include Philosophy as Fiction: Self, Deception, and Knowledge in Proust (Oxford, 2004), How to Do Things With Fictions (Oxford, 2012), and (as coeditor) The Re-Enchantment of the World: Secular Magic in a Rational Age (Stanford, 2009).