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December 16, 2011 / Wythe

Serres’s Archetypes

As promised. Two short lists by Michel Serres are what inspired our current character archetypes for RPGs.

1. “Jokers” (protagonists, actors):

  • The hero (Frodo, Luke, Link)
  • The saint (Jeanne d’Arc, MLK Jr, Gandhi)
  • The madman (Spider Jerusalem, Chance the Gardener, Deadpool)
  • The genius (Holmes, Beast)

From Le parasite.

Now, the actual, specific thing, there’s not much to it—just a passing list in the chapter delineating the attributes of the” joker,” the “white domino” or multi-valued sign—the model of multivalence—of signified-absorbing/chaos-making/system-breaking/empire-undermining/myth-regressing parasitism that eventually leads Serres to construct the general theory of the (specific) quasi-object.  The joker:  Batman’s villain.  Multivalence, poly-valence.  Melville’s whiteness.  The outsider that allows us to imagine an outside, and thus to define our inside.

Serres’s list (plus my suggestion of the rebel; plus the mimic, much discussed in the later chapter on Tartuffe; plus our “hapless“) inspired me to suggest that we could look for archetypes slightly more and less specific than “fighting-man,” “spellcaster,” and “rogue,” which are not at all literary or psychological archetypes, but jobs, or roles in a high-fantasy band of merry souls.  I think the archetypes we’ve come up with work better, overall, across genres and geographic settings.  They make for more interesting teams.

Anyway, here’s the full passage, from Le parasite, my emphasis:

86:  I shall call this object a joker.  The joker is often a madman…

91:  In Bergson’s theories, or in those of his recent parasites, through those of Thomas Kuhn, the new comes from the outside. The outside is not necessarily negative.  Novelty is not necessarily the opposite of what the father says, as some worthy sons have thought.  The negative is only redundant here, poorly distinguished from what it repeats.  The new cannot be foreseen.  It is outside, with the madman, the genius, the hero, the saint.  How is it possible for them to be there?

Whoever lives inside enclosures survives, eats the stock, parasites what justifies the closure of the system.  It is closed for and by the parasites.  Whoever is excluded from it is not provided for with food; he has no larder, no pantry.  He must make do with what he finds, seeking his fortune in the world.  Or else he dies or he goes mad.  Or else he becomes mad as a hatter or follows the paths of genius.

2. Aspects of Don Juan (villains):

  • The dog (the animal, the beast, the temptation toward sloth/regression/juvenility)
  • The Turk (the foreigner, the other, the temptation toward envy [grass = greener])
  • The madman (the inverted norm, the normal-looking evildoer, the temptation toward extremes)
  • The heretic (the inverted order[er], the temptation toward sin)
  • The devil (the supernal evil, the temptation toward Evil)

From “The Apparition of Hermes: Dom Juan,” Hermes I: La Communication; English translation in Hermes: Literature, Science, Philosophy, ed. Josue V. Harari and David F. Bell, John Hopkins, 1982.

Funny, he doesn’t mention the parasite here, though he does mention Don Juan, years later, in Le parasite.


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