Tuesday, March 9, 2010

wednesday 2pm Section

"Viruses Are Good For You" author Julian Dibbell utilizes what I find to be a problematic division when speaking of computer viruses. He writes "Simply put, the only way to fully understand the phenomenon of autonomously reproducing computer programs is to take into account one of their essential differences from organic life forms: they are not products of nature but culture, brought forth not by the blind workings of a universe indifferent to our aims, but by the conscious efforts of human beings like ourselves". And yet, banished from the realm of the 'natural', the virus still "just isn't, well, you" where "you" here seems to position it both in a pseudo-subjective orientation akin to our most basic human urges and a radically different and unknowable motivation while still remaining within the the anthro-teleological realm of 'culture'.

Clearly, Dibbell does not want to say that computer viruses are natural creations because human beings created them, but is this really a useful distinction? Without going into the theoretical history of the debates around the nature/culture binary and the radical criticism of its validity as a theoretical distinction, I instead raise suggestions from two levels. The first is that of ontology.

Viruses are, strictly speaking, without 'being' and without ontology. They do not exist in the same way as material things. And, as such, they cannot ever fulfill the primary physical requirement for evolution: the requirement of a logical connection between matter and being. The article is shot through with the rhetoric of evolution in a weird techno-teleological sense which I hold constitutes a conflation and a mistake on the part of those noble virus 'breeders'. They have, in fact, been trapped by their biological metaphor. Of course viruses cannot evolve. But that is not because the laws of evolution fail. It is because viruses have no being, and thus absolutely no self-interest qua preservation of matter.

Yet what if, and this is my second suggestion, their very immateriality is supplementary to the presence we all think we have, the material being invoked by the "you" at the beginning of the article. What if we can conceive of viral evolution as being part-and-parcel of human evolution as such. There has been much research to show us that our subjectivity is founded on a fundamental absence, a lack of presence covered over with the fantasy of being qua psyche. And yet 'we' are never 'really there' though our physical bodies are certainly. And clearly we must deal with the liminal nature of the intersection of mind and body here; these terms too are inseparable and cannot remain binary opposites. So then, can we not think of the virus not as an evolutionary model, but as an evolution of our very selves insofar as we are 'split' and simultaneously constituted in the very incompatibility of our minds and bodies?

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