Maybe you thought you could isolate yourself from viruses during the coronavirus pandemic shutdowns. Confined to your own apartment or small social bubble, you may have thought you were beyond viral influence. Think again. You have always lived in the virosphere, the vast but poorly understood universe of viruses.
With each breath, you take in about six liters of air. Those few liters contain thousands (if not millions) of virus particles. Viruses enter your body every time you take a bite of food or a glass of water. Of the billion virus particles you encounter every day, some are capable of infecting human cells, while others belong to the insects, fungi, animals and bacteria that live in or near us. These infectious agents are both world-formers and world-destroyers. They are nomadic – constantly floating among cells, bodies and populations, jumping species and moving between domains of life.
Viruses have been found in seemingly inhospitable places like deep sea vents, glacial ice, as well as extremely hot and acidic springs. Genetic diversity on planet Earth is a story of viral diversity. Viruses are the most abundant life form in the world and more than 99.9% of viral species remain unstudied. Simply put, viruses are the winners in the game of life.
Viruses have lurked on the fringes of cultural theory ever since Deleuze and Guattari suggested that “our viruses cause us to form a rhizome with other creatures”. According to Patricia Clough and Jasbir Puar, in the age of the Internet, virality has become “a form of communication and transmission in various fields: biological, cultural, financial, political, linguistic, technical and computer”. In recent years, however, virus theory in the humanities and social sciences has not kept pace with scientific initiatives beginning to peek into the vast unknown realms of the virosphere. This special issue of e-flow log seeks to reckon with the multitude of invisible viral agents waiting to disrupt, hijack and redirect established ways of life.
As the waves of the coronavirus pandemic gradually diminish in intensity, it is possible to ponder all the pluripotent possibilities of viral infections. The pandemic has demonstrated new possibilities for bringing rapid and dramatic changes to collective human behavior to protect the most vulnerable among us. Yet, as human industry, infrastructure, and technology disrupt the atmosphere and virosphere, we all become vulnerable. As many institutions and politicians continue to function as virulent parasites, learning to think like symbiotic viruses could offer ways to infect and disrupt their dominance, reveal a way out of contemporary planetary difficulties, and open new fields. generative possibilities.
—Eben Kirksey and editors
Eben Kirksey—Editorial: Welcome to the Virosphere
As scientists search the human genome for DNA sequences that set us apart from other species, evidence suggests that we share much of our genetic identity with viruses. Rhizomorphic connections with other creatures, mediated by our viruses, can occur all the time, along thousands of lines of flight. Infectious agents connect humanity to other creatures that live with us in shared multispecies worlds. We are relatives with our viral relationships.
Caitlin Berrigan — Kinship is Anarchy
Survival depends on negotiating and being with toxic relationships as much as chosen and desired relationships. Moreover, discerning food toxicities within the same relationship is a familiar task of anxiety. It is the practice of being – with the kinships that we do not choose – human and more than human. It is the practice of living within contradiction and contamination.
Stephan Guttinger—Viral Things: Twelve Key Words
There are many unknowns in human interactions with viruses, especially when faced with a new emerging virus. But the idea of viruses as “things” provides an overall strategy that promises to leave us mostly with known unknowns.
Sria Chatterjee—Contingent Contagion
Seeing is a political act. Who has the right to view what and how? I am interested not only in how scientists, artists and people in their daily lives have made the virus visible, but also what other processes, historical and contemporary, are making visible.
Mel Y. Chen—Death to Death/Life by Cuts
Death by a thousand cuts is the domain of relentlessly exposed and/or targeted, if not compromised, people who are wise about their desired or planned dismissal. It is also the domain of thinkers richly equipped with a theoretical imagination toward a species terminus, one that has been rationally preordained by the inevitabilities of climate change, allowing this teleology to predominate all other narratives of vulnerability. But is the extremity of a species correctly labeled “dead”?
Celia Lowe—The Real Viral
You think a dive into the unreality of Covid conspiracy theory couldn’t happen to you – I’m not so sure. Didn’t many of us assert not so long ago with confidence in the linguistic turn that the world was created entirely by language and discourse? With enough time to do our “own research” and few limits around the vectors that criticism can take, we could end up joining a “great disturbance” rather than exposing hidden truths. Isn’t it terribly easy to lose sight of reality?
Rachel Vaughn — Viral Junk
The waste haunting of bodies as ecosystems and the alternate lives created as a result of harmful or undesirable exposures help illuminate the viral trashcan and its pluripotent capacities within genomes. It is a reminder that germs, including viruses, are we. Old viral exhibits remaining in the genome may play a continuing role in gene expression or viral memory.
Tim Dean – Restaurant barebacking and other virosphere fantasies
We become intimate through the air we share. With SARS-CoV-2, there is no need to mix bodily fluids, only to breathe: the atmosphere is our medium of intimacy. In the biopolitics of respiration, what we share is indeed our interior.
Hannah Landecker—Viruses look more like conical snails than hijackers
Viruses are not like spaceships, and cells are not just like tractor-trailer trucks, armored vehicles, or 20th-century airliners whose resources can be plundered and whose operators can be forced into unwanted trips. Like many seemingly innocuous explanatory tropes, this figure of the viral hijacker perhaps hides as much as it reveals.
Eben Kirksey, Areeya Tivasuradej, Blake Palmer, Myint Than, Anne Atchara Changwong, Pietro Lo Casto and Maya Kóvskaya — Getting lucky in Thailand: or how to coexist with coronaviruses in multi-species contact zones
It would be easy to react with disgust to this scene. There we were, in a place that smelled like a damp New York alley, where people were apparently exposing themselves to viruses that had the potential to spawn a new pandemic. As we lingered in this multi-species contact zone, we contemplated the continued exchanges of viruses between humans and other species, while carefully considering the religious significance of the prayers.