by Jocelyn Deane
First, living alongside a virus – like a new, unfamiliar family in a suburban lot – is a privilege. Even the prospect of a virus. You – veins stringy on your paws – are staring behind the Permex glass, out at them, unloading their ute of furniture, acquaintances helping them dislodge boxes of kitchen utensils. Their flanges are multi-limbed and quivering. Their cellular rotors are visible. You meet a business friend who worked for the Keating government for tea, afterwards; they tell you about the importance of gut-biomes. Gut Biomes and their composition, John, have a crucial influence on our neurological processes: how we feel, how we feel. Individuality is a virus – literally, Tom. Everyone is one giant union, voting together. Living alongside a virus is a privilege because you are never the viral. You are never the virus, Rob. You eat a lamington for the first time and decide it’s alright.
Ben Shapiro asks on Twitter when a publicly available test will be on the market. He is predictably dragged, as God intended. One of the hosts of Chapo Trap House suggests it would be nice – right – if there were some schema in place, funded by taxation/budget re-allocation, ensuring free medical examination for those who needed it, free of predatory insurance companies/price gouging. Someone responds no, destroy the state. Someone named WeedLordVegeta tells him to pull himself up by his bootstraps and invent one.
You are a Millennial named Kate; you are cis, white and queer, living on stolen land. Your landlord is nice, floats the possibility of freezing rent after your casual shifts are cancelled. You were born in the early nineties, meaning you watched the Digimon movie on VCR when it came out. You can’t remember, now, why exactly you remembered it. Obviously, it deals with a virus infecting a rogue Digimon who then almost causes nuclear Armageddon/the end of capitalism, but this seems too easy. Maybe you remembered the trombone outro to All My Best Friends Are Metalheads and felt nostalgic.
The Digimon movie – according to TV Tropes – is actually three short Japanese movies frankensteined together into past/recent past/present segments. There’s a Digi-Rap. Whole plot threads are dropped/re-mixed for a western audience, jokes/puns are inserted to maintain interest, people announce their attacks – “transcendent sword”, “supreme cannon” – as though all action must be preceded by the word. In the beginning etc. A comforting idea: saying thoughts and/or prayers causes a giant wolf-head cannon to appear out of your left hand and a tyrannosaurus broadsword from your right. Foreshadowing is inserted between each part like neck bolts: the infected Digimon looks at the audience and tells you to Go Back to The Beginning. This was only truly written for the present segment, where it’s echoed by a second, unrelated Digimon. The main characters are de-aged to children by the second Digimon, infected by the virus, animalistically trying to reverse time and heal themselves. The movie ends with All-Star by Smash-Mouth.
The virus is never seen on screen except as a trail of wind. When the second Digimon – Kokomon – is “dragged away”, as their human partner describes, we only see the human’s terrified face. You think, shut in your Coburg share-house, windows drawn, is this real? Did this appear in the original, or was it invented for you? How many viruses were there?
“Nothing is more punitive than to give a disease a meaning”
– Susan Sontag, Illness as Metaphor, 1978
Susan Sontag gets up in 1978, looks down to the street, out the window of her New York loft apartment, almost like the Empire State building, and does what Susan Sontag did in 1978. You imagine her brushing her teeth and using regular products that have disappeared or rebranded into however many evolutionary offshoots. You imagine the boxes of cereal, coloured/formatted like latter-day Beach Boys albums, which went extinct at the end of the Cretaceous period. You imagine Mr Peanut actually looking like a monopoly piece instead of a smooth, CGI homunculus. This would be a 70’s archaeopteryx, almost, you imagine: distinct, apparently, but with obvious commonalities/continuities in bone structure, upon examination, to later organisms. You imagine going to Columbia University to study law or something, and learning about the Sorites paradox: how by gradually adding one grain of sand you will go from a collection of individual sand grains to a desert. How there will be no one point where you may observe a group of sand grains transforming into a desert. It is, as Stephen J Gould mentioned, a lawyer’s critique of evolution; just a theologian theorising with retail properties. To be is to be perceived.
You hear myths, or a collection of individual anecdotes, about the queer scene of Pre-AIDS New York: ballroom, Stone-Wall, Marsha and Sylvia. You imagine it. You don’t trust people to describe it to you – straight, cis, white – if only because the hole left feels so legendary, like the sinking of Atlantis. You’re simply born afterwards. You remember those pictures of people-sculptures, standing casually, almost sauntering, on the seafloor. You feel your chest re-growing hairs you’d usually shave, itchy with sweat, like butterfly probosces poking out of the skin, trying to free themselves.
You’re worried about your immunocompromised friends, who had chest infections for two weeks prior to the initial outbreak, or pre-existing conditions, or are unable to continue their HRT, or who have moved back in with hostile parents, or whose jobseekers application has been cancelled, or who are dealing with apoplectic landlords, or racist denial of service, or the revellers at St Kilda beach to whom nothing fundamentally is happening.
“Language is a virus from outer space.” You – an exchange student, quarantined in Iowa for an MFA (the curriculum is exactly what you expect of an American institution) – are reading The Ticket That Exploded to pass the time, a cut-up novel, though Wikipedia describes it as a “fold-in” novel, which seems like distinction without difference. Apparently it’s the third of a trilogy – Naked Lunch, The Soft Machine – concerning Agent Lee and his mission to subvert the mind control schemes of the Nova Gang, an intergalactic crime syndicate who want to destroy the earth. It’s not clear from Wikipedia of which agency he is a part. Is he on the run after killing his wife like William Burroughs did, trying to shoot a shot of whiskey off her head William Tell style? Apparently it was adapted into an avant-garde electro-pop song by Laurie Anderson. It’s on YouTube. paradise is exactly like where you are right now only much much better
The lyrics are sung like a spoken word piece. The melody resembles a Talking Head Song, but it’s unclear which one. Performers in white ski-masks that look like the original Cybermen from Dr Who are miming performance, interspersed with concert footage. “i think he’s in some kind of pain. i think it’s a pain cry.” and i said: “pain cry? then language is a virus.”
Radio stations and SETI telescopes are projected behind the stage/musicians. 911 flashes; a landline phone dangling from off-screen. They just keep showing you the same pictures over and over. and when they talk they just make sounds that more or less synch up, synch up with their lips. that’s what i think
Occasionally an ad for the Aaron Sorkin Masterclass course plays, on writing good, convincing dialogue.
From the novel:
“The basic nova technique is very simple: Always create as many insoluble conflicts as possible and always aggravate existing conflicts—This is done by dumping on the same planet life forms with incompatible conditions of existence—There is of course nothing “wrong” about any given life form since “wrong” only has reference to conflicts with other life forms—The point is these life forms should not be on the same planet—Their conditions of life are basically incompatible in present time form and it is precisely the work of the nova mob to see that they remain in present time form, to create and aggravate the conflicts that lead to the explosion of a planet,
that is to nova—”
Jane Goodall and Donna Haraway both have espoused the idea that Humanity is virus-like, or dovetailed into it, like Agent Smith in the first Matrix movie. Like that scene in Avengers: Endgame where Captain America smiles ruefully at the whales re-appearing in San Francisco harbour. There’s too much to unpack.
“[…]To reproduce the world as it has been conventionally produced.”
– Paul Morrison, The Poetics of Fascism, 1996
You are a virus. You swim along with your little vectors. You are not alive, strictly speaking, but alive-ish. Enough to break down. You infect a cell and reprogram its wetware to make more of you. You are not a parasite. You are not alive and so can’t parasitise. Cell death is entirely co-incidental. You are entirely meaningless, in the same way you are not alive. Enough to break down. To merge, almost. You live in a pair of lungs. It’s warm/syrupy. They become more like you, and you like them, as your clones – like bees forming a nest – mulch out the centre. It can’t hold, can’t remain static, as the lungs and you turn to water.
Josie/Jocelyn Deane was born in London, 1993, before moving to Australia in 2001. Their work has appeared in Cordite, Southerly, Voiceworks, Australian Poetry and Seizure, among others. Their first book – The Second Person – is forthcoming from Girls on Key press.