The Excluded Third
“As is well established, noise is not simply an excess of information, an overloading of the signal, but a supplemental background, a diffuse layer upon which information traverses. As Niklas Luhmann puts it, “the continual self-determination of meaning” relies on the “the difference between order and perpetuation, between information and noise. Both are, and remain, necessary.” This notion that noise is a carrier, a compulsive force, no longer a restraint to be overcome, enables it to be understood as a productive paradigm. This definition is crucial to Michel Serres’ conscription of noise as the interruptive agent in his notion of abuse value, a relation that precedes our common negative assumptions of that term. Posing abuse as neither exchange nor gift but simply the one directional narrative of those that take according to their needs, abuse is an intersubjective agency, a cascade, an irrevocable consummation that is as primal as it is generative. As Serres writes, “abuse appears before use”; it is a relation that precedes an economy of exchange, of equilibrium, for the “host is not a prey”, nor the other “a predator but a parasite”.
Importantly, one of the meanings of the French term parasite is precisely this notion of noise as static, as the intermittence of a signal. Serres puts to work this valence in his exhortation of the parasitical relation as an origin myth for human culture, one in which the relation between positions is not an exploitative relation but rather a productive paradigm. As he suggests, noise, in this sense, is not only the conducive background, but an excluded third, an integral relation at the very source, the very intermittence of a stable terrain-plateau. “