[-empyre-] empyre Digest, Vol 60, Issue 7

Zach Blas zachblas at gmail.com
Tue Nov 10 01:31:09 EST 2009

hello everyone--

firstly, i’d like to extend a big thinks to renate and tim for inviting me
to contribute this month. i’m looking forward to discussing and learning
about the many viralities of contemporary existence.

although i am currently a phd student in various sorts of theory at duke, my
primary endeavor is art practice, so i would like to begin with a discussion
of my on-going project of the past few years called “queer technologies” and
how i attempt to develop a queer viral aesthetics as a resistant praxis and
politics within what Jussi Parikka has called viral capitalism.

the queer technologies (www.queertechnologies.info) organization i have
founded is not only an art collective but also an activist group and
company. We produce a critical product line for queer technological agency,
interventions, and social formation. Our products include transCoder, a
queer programming anti-language; ENgenderingGenderChangers, a “solution” to
Gender Adapters’ male/female binary; and Gay Bombs, a technical manual
manifesto that outlines a “how to” of queer networked activism. Queer
Technologies products are often displayed and deployed at the Disingenuous
Bar, which offers a heterotopic space for political support for “technical”
problems. QT products are also shop-dropped in various consumer electronics
stores, such as Best Buy, Circuit City, Radio Shack, and Target. as Judith
Halberstam has written, this work attempts to understand and explore—in the
queer style of “strange temporalities, imaginative life schedules, and
eccentric economic practices”--the effects of queer life on technology and
technology on the queer way of life. Queer Technologies produces flows of
resistance within larger spheres of capitalist structurations, “identifying”
and “disidentiying” with these spheres. All pieces are designed as product,
artwork, and political tool, materialized through an industrial
manufacturing process so that they may be disseminated widely. Queer
Technologies is currently developing a mapping application and data
visualization named GRID—an appropriation of Gay Related Immune Deficiency
(the name previously held by HIV/AIDS) and digital grids of communication,
capital, and transmission—that tracks the dissemination of QT products and
maps the “battle plans” for Queer Technologies to more thoroughly infect
networks of global capital.

Queer Technologies identifies its larger discursive practices as a viral
aesthetics, in that it encrypts itself within flows of capital to replicate
and permeate itself in relation / tension to capital’s own modulating, viral

Queer Technologies is interested in the viral as a multifarious tactic,
through viral design, within viral capitalism, generating viral affect in
its relationalities (which is a notion QT is currently working with; viral
queer affect as a form of political resistance).

If we begin with Galloway and Thacker’s statement that “counterprotocol
practices can capitalize on the homogeneity found in networks to resonate
far and wide
with little effort,” QT aims to project and propagate itself through the
viral networks of capital and consumerism as an acceleration into the
system--infection as hypertrophy. QT uses design as a sort of
disidentification, like Jose Muñoz has previously explicated, as an exploit
in / of capital. As QT products are designed to appear as mass technological
consumables, they are able to resonate far and wide.

i am so deeply within the queer technologies project that i could spread out
in a number of ways in its discussion. i think now that i’ve introduced the
work i would like to share some broader theoretical interests, concerns,
potentials, and questions around the virus, the viral, and viral capitalism.
i think this could be a great way to continue engaging with the queer
technologies project as well as other artwork, writings, and thoughts we
encounter throughout the month.

Alex Galloway and Eugene Thacker have defined the virus as “life exploiting
life,” that is, viruses, as beings, take advantage of their host entities
and/or systems to generate more copies of themselves. The virus succeeds in
producing its copies through a process Galloway and Thacker refer to as
“never-being-the-same.” Maintaining within itself the ability to
continuously mutate its code with each reproduction, the virus propagates
itself. Therefore, replication and cryptography become the two actions that
define the virus. What astounds Galloway and Thacker--and also Queer
Technologies--is that the virus reveals a life in an “illegible and
incalculable manner.” They suggest that the virus’ ability to mutate and
modulate itself is an example of artificial life.

If the virus is an artificial life, what is the potential of such a life?
Hardt and Negri hint at such an answer when they write on the monstrosity of
the flesh. For them, all flesh is pure potential, and it is the social
forces that give form to this fullness of potential. All flesh, then, is
monstrous, in that all life (constituted by flesh) is an artificial life, a
social life. So we are all monsters. Imporantly, Hardt and Negri note that
there are some monsters to resist and others to work with. Thus, the virus,
as a mutating artificial life form, is politically ambiguous. That is, if
something is said to be viral, it is not necessarily good or evil.
Interestingly, this viral flesh of potential opens the possibilities for
resistant practices, in that viralities can be used to infect dominant

    These traits of the virus have recently been discovered in larger
dynamic structures of contemporary life and society. In their writings on
global capital and new world order, Hardt and Negri argue that “Empire’s
institutional structure is like a software program that carries a virus
along with it, so that it is continually modulating and corrupting the
institutional forms around it.” Jussi Parikka has taken this claim further
in his writings on viral capitalism. He notes that capitalism is viral in
that it is now capable of continuous modulation and heterogenesis. Parikka
identifies this viral mode of operation organized around contagion,
mutation, and colonization. “The commodity,” he writes, “works as a
virus--and the virus part of the commodity circuit.” The flows of these
commodity circuits enables an examination capitalism topologically: the
connections they foster, enable, and forbid, the relationalities produced as
results of these connections between things, the forms these processes give
rise to, as well as the constant mutation of everything generates a grid (or
diagram) of flows operating under a viral logic. Viral capitalism, as an
artificial life form, replicates itself through a mutating act of
never-being-the-sameness. By this viral replication of difference,
capitalism generates an image (or face) of appearance. Parikka points out
that “viruses, too, have faces.” To work against viral capitalism, it would
seem one must first identify the face (overcoded thing)--and then escape it,
as Deleuze has called for.

i hope to continue this discussion with more detailed writings of specific
queer technologies projects as well as share more on the QT project GRID, as
it is currently in development. (i’ll also try to keep these posts shorter
in the future!)

zach blas
phd student
literature & information science + information studies & visual studies
duke university
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