[-empyre-] Welcome to Week 2 on Contamination

Bishnupriya Ghosh bghosh at english.ucsb.edu
Tue Nov 14 04:20:54 AEDT 2017

Hi Renate, Christina, Tim, and others in the contamination conversation,

Last week brought up some really key ideas around contamination and
boundaries that it assumes between organic units or states. My research is
on epidemic media, specifically focuses on how humans have learned to “live
with” pathogenic viruses. I am writing a book titled “The Virus Touch:
Theorizing Epidemic Media,” which essentially looks at the role of media in
living with viruses: that is, how do media modify biological processes so
as to “intervene,” as Anna Tsing puts it, in planetary damage. I’m excited
Tsing’s and Haraway’s pathbreaking works are already in the discussion—they
are central to the project.

After all, the Human Microbiome Project confirms microbial cells weighing
as little as 200 grams outnumber human cells 10 to 1. The “new biology,”
argues Rodney Dietert (*The Human Superorganism: How the Microbiome is
Revolutionizing the Pursuit of Healthy Life*, 2016), suggests humans are
multispecies “super-organisms” and not a single species at all. And yet,
there is cause for alarm when a new species relation endangers one species
at individual and populational scale. This is what happens when new viruses
skip into new populations. At that point, we think about contamination as
contagion. When the imminent takeover of one species by another--virus
proliferation killing off hosts--is at hand, technological interventions
materialize a series of mediatic interfaces. For example, living as
undetectable with HIV is one such interface realized as numeric threshold.
Such interfaces  separate microbial and human life; they are not
ontological barriers but a series of effects (as media theorist, Alex
Galloway calls them) contrused to regulate the existing or the potential
coexistence of different species. Because these interfaces build livable
microbial-human futures; because they enable multispecies accommodations, I
think of them as *environmental media*.

Yet every time I say I’m writing a book on epidemic media, folks think I’m
writing about contagion as purely negative—you know, the contagion media
that enthrone human heroism against pathogenic hordes. There is excellent
scholarship on contagion fiction and non-fiction, movies and television
shows, video games and comic books. Fed a steady diet of realistic
fictional outbreak narratives and apocalyptic futures, we have become
comfortably numb to the horror of coming plagues: to the symptomatic Ebola
infection-like hemorrhage, to the inevitable segregation of the sick and
the well, to the tales of military heroism and scientific triumph. Ebola
plays the phantom microbe in these contagion media; it is the iconic
instance of the resurgent bugs that scientist Joshua Lederberg once
christened “the deadliest threat to mankind.” We have grown accustomed to
its sudden emergences and drug-resistant mutations after the outbreaks of
Marburg, Ebola, and HIV in the early 1980s. The introduction of a new
course in infectious diseases at the Center for Disease Control in 1985,
argues Melinda Cooper, serves as one marker for crossing the historical
threshold into the age of “viral storms. In popular discourse, Laurie
Garrett’s non-fictional *The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a
World Out of Balance* (1994) was the tipping point for public panic. Since
then “living with” such deadly pathogens, living in anticipation of the
next outbreak has become historical necessity.

That panic is now folded into the productive agendas of living as
multispecies. Here, Anna Tsing is a key thinker, urging us to intervene in
the “blasted ruins of the Anthropocene” (*The Mushroom at the End of the
World*, 2017). The idea is not to return to a mythic natural contract, but
to live among the ruins, to act among the ruins, to tend the garden. For
Tsing, even “the most promising oasis of natural plenty requires massive
intervention” (85). The real question is which natural and social
disturbances can we live with? Which ones command our attention?

This is the ecological angle—I thought it has a good resonance with last
week’s concerns on residual contamination. I’ll post later on how
contamination re virality has been taken up in media studies.



On Sun, Nov 12, 2017 at 8:40 PM, Renate Terese Ferro <rferro at cornell.edu>

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> I would like to welcome Bishnu Ghosh, Christina McPhee, and Tim Murray to
> Week two of our discussion.  All of these guests our friends our
> subscribers all know from past years of participation on –empyre- and in
> their research and writing. .  Bishnu Gosh  has been a strong advocate and
> leader in the fields of cultural globalization and humanities.  We were so
> lucky to teach with her at Cornell at the Society for the Humanities when
> the topic was RISK from 2012 to 2113  https://societyhumanities.as.
> cornell.edu/2012-13-risk
> Christina McPhee worked closely with us on this –empyre- platform
> organizing and moderating many years of –empyre- discussions.  Her work as
> a painter and artist are simulations of evolving life-forms. Tim Murray
> ,also a long-time facilitator on –empyre-, has created web-platforms,
> writings, and curatorial projects evolving around the issues of
> environmental risk and contamination. I have attached their biographies
> below. Thanks to all of you for joining in.
> Catherine and Marissa I hope you will also chime in throughout the rest of
> the month when your schedules permit.  Thank you again for getting us
> started.
> Best to all of you.
> Renate
> Biographies
> Bishnupriya Ghosh (US) teaches global media studies at UC Santa Barbara’s
> Departments of English and Global Studies. Her first monograph, When Borne
> Across: Literary Cosmopolitics in the Contemporary Indian Novel (Rutgers
> UP, 2004) addressed cultural globalization and the market for world
> literatures; and her second,  Global Icons: Apertures into the Global (Duke
> UP, 2011) focused on globally circulating iconic images that constitute
> media environments. Around 2009, Ghosh turned to research on risk media
> from perspectives in the humanities. Both her current projects arise from
> this turn: she is writing her third monograph, *The Virus Touch: Theorizing
> Epidemic Media,* and co-editing *The Routledge Handbook on Media and Risk*
> (forthcoming 2018).
> Christina McPhee’s (US) images move from within a matrix of abstraction,
> shadowing figures and contingent effects. Her work emulates potential forms
> of life, in various systems and territories, and in real and imagined
> ecologies. Her dynamic, performative, physical engagement with drawing, in
> both her analogue and digital works, is a seduction into surface-skidding
> calligraphies and mark-making. Her work is in the museum collections of the
> Whitney Museum of American Art, New Museum-Rhizome Artbase, and
> International Center for Photography, New York; Kemper Museum of
> Contemporary Art, Kansas City; and Thresholds New Media Collection,
> Scotland. Solo museum exhibitions include the American University Museum,
> Washington, D.C., and Bildmuseet, Umeå, Sweden. She has participated in
> group exhibitions, notably documenta 12 (Magazine Project) with -empyre-,
> Bucharest Biennial 3, Museum of Modern Art Medellin, Bildmuseet Umea,  and
> Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive at the University of California.
> A new book, “Christina McPhee: A Commonplace Book,” edited by Eileen Joy,
> is a collection of essays by international critics and artists, is out this
> autumn with Punctum Books. https://punctumbooks.com/
> titles/christina-mcphee-a-commonplace-book/
> http://www.christinamcphee.net
> Tim Murray (US)  is a Professor of Comparative Literature and English and
> Curator of the Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art in the Cornell
> Library. A curator of new media and contemporary art, and theorist of
> visual studies and digital culture, he has been forging international
> intersections in exhibition and print between the arts, humanities, and
> technology for over twenty-five years. He is currently the Director of
> Cornell Council for the Arts at Cornell. He has been a moderator for
> -empyre since 2007.
> A recipient of fellowships and grants from NEA, NEH, Mellon, Rockefeller,
> Fulbright, and Korea National Research Foundation, Murray is currently
> working on a book, Archival Events @ New Media Art, which is a sequel to
> Digital Baroque: New Media Art and Cinematic Folds (Minnesota, 2008).
> Among his publications are the books Medium Philosophicum: Thinking Art
> Technologically (Universidad de Murcia, forthcoming, 2017), Zonas de
> Contacto: el arte en CD-Rom (Centro de la Imagen, 1999), Drama Trauma:
> Specters of Race and Sexuality in Performance, Video, Art (Routledge,
> 1997), Like a Film: Ideological Fantasy on Screen, Camera, and Canvas
> (Routledge, 1993), Theatrical Legitimation: Allegories of Genius In
> XVIIth-Century England and France (Oxford, 1987), ed. with Alan Smith,
> Repossessions: Psychoanalysis and the Phantasms of Early-Modern Culture
> (Minnesota, 1998), ed., Mimesis, Masochism & Mime: The Politics of
> Theatricality in Contemporary French Thought (Michigan, 1997), ed. Xu
> Bing’s Background Story and his Oeuvre (Mandarin), co-edited with Yang
> Shin-Yi (Beijing: Life Bookstore Publishing, 2016), and ed. with Irving Goh
> of The Prepositional Senses of Jean-Luc Nancy, 2 Vols., diacritics
> (2014-16).
> Renate Ferro
> Visiting Associate Professor
> Director of Undergraduate Studies
> Department of Art
> -empyre- moderator
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum
> empyre at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
> http://empyre.library.cornell.edu

Professor Bishnupriya Ghosh
Department of English and Global Studies
3431 South Hall
UC Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara, CA 93106-3170
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