On Queer Viralities

Zach Blas

Queerness and the viral connect on numerous fronts, to its histories with HIV/AIDS and controlling medical practices and rhetorics, to bare-backing subcultures, to anti-capitalist tactics and frameworks.
The virus carries along with it themes common to queerness, such as risk, transgression, amorphousness, and multiplicity. Queerness could be said to exist in a paradoxical relation to the virus, as it is both subjected to viral control yet also finds the virus playful and pleasurable.

A queer interest in the virus might be to experiment with parsing dominant configurations of the viral. What a virus is and does cannot only be extracted into the qualifier viral just as the qualities of the viral cannot be reduced to the virus. We could say a virality, or viral, is one of many possible identities of the virus (constructed by the human) or that the viral is a creative opening or disturbance into the virus. Just as queerness has pulled apart supposedly causal relations between sex, sexuality, gender, and subjectivity, a queer viral politics must experiment with parsing the virus and viral in search of minor, or alternative, viralities. A queer viral politics is one way to expand queerness into the realm of the nonhuman.

Virus|Virus 1

Representations of the virus|viral today typically hinge on rapid spreadability and mutation. In fact, wherever one looks, the virus has gained the most attention through its abilities to replicate and disseminate. In line with this perspective of the virus, Alexander Galloway and Eugene Thacker, two theorists who have written extensively on viruses, state that the virus succeeds in producing copies through a process Galloway and Thacker refer to as “never-being-the-same” (87). Maintaining within itself the ability to continuously mutate its code with each reproduction, the virus propagates itself. Defining the virus based on action, they write:
Replication and cryptography are thus the two activities that define the virus. What counts is not that the host is a “bacterium,” “an animal,” or a “human.” What counts is the code–the number of the animal, or better, the numerology of the animal. […] The viral perspective is “cryptographic” because it replicates this difference, this paradoxical status of never-being-the-same. […] What astounds us is that the viral perspective presents the animal being and creaturely life in an illegible and incalculable manner, a matter of chthonic calculations and occult replications (87).

Virus|Viral 2

Can the viral operate as a diagram for queer illegibility? Galloway and Thacker have written that, “The next century will be the era of universal standards of identification […] Henceforth, the lived environment will be divided into identifiable zones and nonidentifiable zones, and nonidentifiables will be the shadowy new ‘criminal’ classes–those that do not identify” (259-260). While feminist theorist Elizabeth Grosz has called for a new feminism premised on the nonrecognisable, queer theorist Jack Halberstam has proffered notions of queer opacity and blackness as well as shadow feminisms that undo readability. What are the techniques for such a practice in relation to queerness and the viral? Is this viral something that has a presence but aids in processes of cloaking, making invisible, escaping, all through a shifting, altering physical volume. Is this viral dimension a tactic to critically evade identity and recognition control while maintaining a poetic and political never-being-the-sameness?

Works Cited

Galloway, Alexander R. and Eugene Thacker. The Exploit: A Theory of Networks. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007. Print.

Galloway, Alexander R. and Eugene Thacker. “On Narcolepsy.” The Spam Book: On Viruses, Porn, and Other Anomalies From the Dark Side of Digital Culture. Eds. Jussi Parikka and Tony D. Sampson. Cresskill. New York, NY: Hampton Press, 2009. Print.

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