virus, virus


  1. Culture has always done so: prophetise that which already happened. In The War of the Worlds an invading army, a destructive global artefact, dies simply and sadly because it has no immunological system capable of supporting its life on Earth. In Independence Day, that atrocious Roland Emmerich film, there’s a similar matter. An alien war machine, obscure and gigantic, invades the Earth. Enormous and silent weightless crafts hover over cities, covering them entirely. They carry weapons of mass destruction and impregnable force-fields, as well as tiny fighter-pods that eject from the main matrix at hypersonic speeds whilst spitting lethal rays. Anyway. The problem is that such dazzling artefact is wholly dependent on an axiomatic technology centralised in some particular software. Its super high efficiency happens to be its weakest link. All it took was to infect the central software with a computer virus for the enormous machine to collapse under its own useless weight.
  1. It has now become easy for us to envision that the technocapitalist global machine—on account of the vulnerability of its blind axiomatics, its interdependence and its highly codified existence—has started coughing and having a high temperature and suffering from depression, infected by a simple virus born in the street-markets of Wuhan. A virus which causes pneumonia and which kills old people and immunodepressives like myself (who’ve been locked-up for a while now, teaching classes via the internet and constantly feeling unpleasant symptomlets all over). And it is not insignificant that Covid 19 has, at the very least, operated an inversion of the customary clinical metaphor. We are facing neither a simple disease acting on a healthy organism nor a destructive machine acting on an innocent body. We are facing something far more complex and, more specifically, something which is closer to the cure—or some would like to think so. Covid-19 is something that has come to place itself, albeit unawares, on the side of the resistance against that which is in effect a far bigger illness. It uncovers in one blow a set of invisible evidences: that the liberal market is totally incapable of organising a health programme; that drugs, medical technologies and systems shouldn’t become commodities; that the transport system shouldn’t be in the hands of businessmen whose only motivation is revenue and profit; that food and hygienic supplies shouldn’t solely benefit those who own a car and a trolley and fight in supermarkets to buy things the prices of which are hiked every ten minutes; that the media can’t keep earning fortunes thanks to the generalised medieval panic that they’ve been installing for decades in the masses. Etcetera. Yet, none of the above is inconsistent with the natural logic of capital. It is obvious therefore that the disease, or the invading machine, is capital itself. There’s a clear benefit in this reasoning: what was yesterday a stationary and invisible neutrality, seemingly part of the natural and organic reality of life, might be appearing today as an axiomatic fantasy, as arbitrary and as peremptory as any other thinkable historical form. Such “denaturalisation” of the capital-organism is something which we have already done many times before. But it is, nonetheless, something which we had to do again [algo que debíamos volver a hacer], or better, something which we are always having to do again—on the understanding that in each doing again there is something new, something which was not there before and that each time shows itself as deeper.
  1. There’s an organism, the metabolism of which is made up of a ruthless economic pragmatics, of incessant free flows of commodities and workforce, of capital and people, of hyperperformance, hyperprovision, and hyperexploitation, of extenuating competitivity, of growth and of continuous exponential improvement in every system and on every figure. And then, all of a sudden, there’s a virus in that organism. The logic of this virus resembles that of an autoimmune disease. Firstly, because the tense and unbearable metabolism of the organism is not at all innocent in the creation and reproduction of the virus affecting it. And secondly, because it is unable to fight it, since such hyperinflation of the imaginary component of the disease (which is what really kills) is part of the organism’s own immunological system. All those explosive reactions and automatic imaginary responses from news shows, all those teeny maps showing in real time the uncontainable advance of the plague, those helicopters with loudspeakers and armed men everywhere, those states of exception and emergency, all those Rambo-faced survivalists loading their supermarket trolleys, all the vigilance, the discipline, the barriers, the border closures, all the speculation, the decline in stock markets, foreign exchange and shares—all of that is something that has been awaited and, one might dare say, something that has been desired for a long time. All of that is no more than a prolongation of the natural state of metabolic acceleration of an organism doomed to paranoia, condemned in perpetuity to keep happy-triggering, blindly and madly, imaginary responses. Responses, that is to say, of an organism devoid of self-conscience and which therefore is itself nothing but its own metabolism. We were, from the outset, supposed to understand capitalism as something which would eventually come to embody that alienating machine to which I will have to adapt in order to survive and so forth—however, the logic of capital is itself the adaptation, the resilience, the technical shrewdness of the surviving body. In a word, it is its cleverness together with its deaf, stupid pleasure. This is what Covid-19 seems to have lain bare. Let us envisage that the logic of capital has been spreading like a cancer and that it has metastasised in each and every one of the global organism’s cells. The success of its growth and expansion resides in the fact that the organism has been unable to understand it as something “external” (because it is “internal”) and it is thereupon unable to fight it. All of the symptoms (“something is not right”) are absorbed by its own rational display (“being not right is part of being alright”: nothing here showing an outside to its normal mode of being). At present the virus seems to be acting like a “countercancer” [contracancer], like a disease that, by allowing the immunological system to attack the organism itself, enables the latter to combat the proliferation of bad cells. As the virus triggers an imaginary and mad immunological reaction from the cancerous organism, threatening to royally fuck everything up, it unwittingly forces a situation wherein the coherence of the body will have attacked and destroyed itself. Again: some would like to think of this as the curtain-raiser of the cure, or of liberation.
  1. There are, however, a couple of evident dangers in this reasoning. First of all, if the organism (capital) is nothing but its metabolic logic, if it is indistinct from the blind indices of proliferation, growth and expansion—or, to put it differently, if there is no substantial organism there, original and healthy, to be infected by a disease but it is rather the case that its disease and its living coincide, then there is no way of discerning good cells from bad ones, inasmuch as the distinction itself does not obtain (which partly explains the media’s fascination with abstract figures, indices, averages and simulations). Secondly, I cannot help but feel uneasy about a certain millenarianist religious ring to it all. This exhausted world, corrupt, obscene, unjust and unequal, cries out for a catastrophe: the survivors, tempered by the praxis of emancipation and heroism, shall build the world to come. The cancerous cells will have been extirpated. And so on. I don’t find this account dangerous because of its cruelty but rather because of its naïvety. There’s no way in which a real catastrophe (a pandemic, a tsunami, a meteorite, a war) can eliminate “bad cells”. This is one of the main problems of the revolutionary phantasy in the classical and irruptive sense of the expression. We still understand capitalism as a power, as a dominating master, as an exterior totality objectively represented and against which we can fight in a hot war. And, should that be the case, this is all well and good—however, it is not enough. We are dismissing the fact that capital, in its tumoral logic [su lógical tumoral], is lodged in the neutrality of imaginary life itself, in the spontaneous ontology providing us with “internal” coherence, in the cleverness of each and every one of those bodies expertly executing their own machinic functioning [expertos en su propio funcionamiento de máquina], perfecting their performance in endless games of survival and not dying, of fighting and winning, of exchanging, competing, rivalling. We failed to understand the revered new man as a concept and instead we took it as a simple fantastic realist object, thus turning it into the nucleus of a redeeming and avenging delirium. The new man is something neither to be reached, nor achieved, nor manufactured, nor produced. It is an idea allowing us to understand ourselves as lack: it is there for us to understand that we will always already have been “old men”. It is not a simple variant of the superman, a robust and heroic figure standing on values or principles such as solidarity and cooperation. It is, if anything, the infinite process of getting to understand, firstly, that the life which I stubbornly and automatically live was always already capitalism and that capitalism can be thought as an exteriority which I thereupon face. And following that, secondly, that the exteriority of capitalism is now (has always been) an interiority determining and constituting the language itself with which I say it and think it (viz., it is a concrete universal). In other words: the real issue is not to change the substantial or objective reality. That is simple enough and any virus can do it. The issue here is to analyse and to dismantle the sociality or the ontology which vertebrates us [la socialidad o la ontología que nos vertebra] and this is something that can neither be anticipated nor planned: this can only happen within practices producing new events capable of (re)socialising and (re)politicising.
  1. Wherefore the annoyance I get from arguments which appeal to the confrontation between two worlds as two “systems of values”: opportunism, selfishness, isolation, distrust, fear, rivalry, greed and avarice, against generosity, solidarity and collective spirit. Either of those two worlds could simply be understood as part and parcel of the organism’s imaginary responses to an emergency or a threat. Both of them are marked by a primitive imaginary fantasy which far predates the social and the political. In fact, they are both triggered automatically and indiscriminately. Just as an example, in the name of solidarity and cooperation it is now usual to demand the heads of those who transgress the quarantine. Every one of these theatrical and hypertrophic forms of good and evil, love and empathy or massive hate, will remain inscribed in the fearful exacerbation of the immunological system for as long as nature’s clarion call “every man for himself ” lasts. Once the tremor is over [Cuando pase el temblor], once the state of exception runs its course and the capital-organism restores to good health, what will be the fate of, say, the much admired (and subsequently viralised) measures taken by the young president of El Salvador? Do these make sense only because we are now threatened with death? Is it therefore the case that justice, reasonable distribution of goods and services, opposition to monstrously unequal access to medical technologies and health care, state intervention in order to correct what the market has created but is unable to confront, soliciting that landlords suspend rent, that companies providing basic services such as food or energy stop charging or charge less, that capital itself ensures a rent for all, etc., have to be understood purely within the exceptional framework of war and catastrophe? If so, then, compassionate do-goodism as much as survivalist do-badism are both mere part and parcel of the imaginary impotent reactions of an organism (capital) which, once everything has settled down, will itself have remained intact.
  1. How is it that Covid 19 appears so capable of inflicting such massive damage to the technoglobalised West? The virus itself has neither speed nor strength, given that it attains both from the infected organism. And the thing is that this organism—due to its neutrality, its laxity, its distension and its symbolic hypotonia—is perpetually living in the always imminent allergic exacerbation of its immune system (constantly roused by warnings and prophecies which are utilised as blackmail, or as threat, or to sell surveillance cameras, or weapons, medical services, security services, disinfectants, television shows, news bulletins, or what have you). This is why the organism is able to neither avoid nor control instantaneous outbursts of tremendous aggressiveness, nor unpredictable destructiveness, nor explosive chain-reactions when its life and metabolic circulation are threatened by an intruder inside the neighbourhood, inside the home, inside the body. It never reacts with a force equal and contrary to that of the real threat. Its strength, overreactive and paranoid, is proportional to the immense amounts of neutral energy accumulated and stored in the form of an ever-tense and anxious tranquillity. The virus, moreover, lacks any political component whatsoever. At best it only has the potency to reveal a sickness that is much more profound, encrusted and unconscious. It is the logic of capital which, not in spite of but precisely because of its continuous technological specialisation in immunology and security, will always be incapable of an adequate immunological response. Capital––deep down an idiot affected by a primal and radical symbolic impotence––will only be able to redouble and exponentialise its own logic [redoblar y exponenciar su propia lógica]: more security and more immunology, multiplying and exponentialising the states of exception. However, what people should know is that their depression is not immunological, but rather political and symbolic. And—here’s the thing—if we understand our depression as merely immunological this is because we have already been incorporated into the logic of capital. Covid-19, this “new disease”, has (like every new disease) the property of making visible the same old usual disease, one which lights up every now and again in an explosive and Wagnerian manner which thence conceals its underside. Such disease has always consisted in casting us into an imaginary hell inside of which we are trapped in a relentless fight to the death, wherein our own body and organism is the issue at stake. Therefore, Covid-19 is also a marvellous object. It is the catastrophic singularity functioning as an echo of the anastrophe, that catastrophe that has already happened as a concept long ago. First time as tragedy, second time as farce, or simulacrum, or singularity. As self-fulfilled prophecy. We have spent centuries inventing a world-as-horror-of-catastrophe and now we are horrified because a catastrophe has happened.
  1. There is a stupid hyperrealist amplification of the plague’s semiology on each and every television screen, on every website, on every teeny-weeny map showing the real-time progress of the cariosity, in each self-confined body interfacing with the all-encompassing anxiety [cada cuerpo recluido en interfaz con la ansiedad del todo], in every journalist’s melodramatic catastrophising (unfailingly either long-faced or miming a good nurse, guiding and advising us), in every exacerbated anger because there is someone sitting on a bench in the park, in every recount of lateral symptoms like the drop in car sales (no-one seems to ever think that the actual derangement is car hyperproduction), or the collapse of the tourist industry, or the fall in employment figures, or of the stock markets. What is getting out of the system’s hands is not the virus: it is its own immunological madness, its imaginary and disproportionate circus response, its radical political impotence disguised as a technological omnipotence. It’s been a long time since, rather than living in history, we’ve been living in a loop: we live in cycles, repeating the same, more of the same, in a relentless improvement of the same. Perhaps today we are closer to realising that the disease is hidden behind the gestaltic magic of every simulacrum. The state of exception hides in plain sight the fact that all the world and all reality has been, for ages, a state of exception. And so, we have to conclude that the West is tired. That it has already far surpassed its threshold of tolerance to that which has been keeping it alive at the price of enslaving it (that social formation wherein, as Marx says, “the process of production dominates man, instead of man dominating the process of production”). That it can no longer live in that tension, in that guilt and in that countdown- induced anguish [esa angustia de cuenta regresiva], in that desperate manic escape, perpetually fleeing onward like someone unable to make ends meet, month after month, and inexorably going overboard into debt. And finally the paroxysmal moment arrives, as in slasher films or catastrophe movies. We were all waiting for that moment to arrive wherein, at last, we get to see the stupid and shallow teenagers (ourselves) die at the hands of a blade-wielding monster. The countdown is finally over and we can witness the large-scale destruction of every single banner of capitalist power: its highways, its most beautiful artworks, its touristic cities, the tallest buildings, the safest airports, the most wonderful teenagers. The pleasure of witnessing the collapse of that which, deep down, we all meticulously hate.

Translated by Reynaldo Young

Mailing List Subscribe

To keep up to date with MSCP activities and local philosophy related events, please subscribe to our mailing list

The MSCP only uses these details for the mailing list. We will not pass your details on to anyone.