[-empyre-] Welcome to Week 2 on Contamination

Bishnupriya Ghosh bghosh at english.ucsb.edu
Wed Nov 15 17:14:42 AEDT 2017

Love these images, Renate. They exemplify virality as picked up in new
media criticism. As we know, in those studies,  the virus is fêted for its
ability to contaminate—to replicate through informatic cutting, pasting,
and multiplying (the meme). Its simple microprocessuality (the homegrown
machine); its bottom-up hydra-headed acentered organization (the swarm or
brood); and its ability to set in motion a series of sudden and
unpredictable effects (contagion) are all celebrated as machinic
possibilities. Jussi Parikka’s early *Digital Contagions *(2007) references
HIV as a cultural figure for understanding the behaviors of computer bugs,
worms, and viruses; in fact, in the 1980s, informatic contagion would be
known as “computer AIDS.” Tony Sampson’s *Virality* (2012) extends the
model of network contagion to rethink micro socialities and the capacity
for social transformation through such contagious networks. Both Parikka
and Sampson see contagion not as a fearsome force but an open-ended system
that enables a jump cut to something qualitatively new. Some call it an

Your students’ proliferating images—so gorgeous!—resonate with this
understanding of mediatic virality. The contamination jumps to the new,
something creative and qualitatively different, a series of micro-actions
generating a network.

Of course, it is now commonplace to think biological and machinic together
in some strains of new media criticism. I find Tiziana Terranova’s *Network
Culture* (2004) most persuasive: thinking of virality, she theorizes the
actions of “relatively simple machines” as the bases of radical
transformation, social and political. Emphasizing the informatic turn in
the biological sciences, Terranova argues infinite zeroes and ones better
simulate the “sudden discontinuous variations” in microscopic states. In
this view, organisms are not complex machines but aggregates of large
populations of simple machines whose variable actions are calculable.
Therefore new media (as in disease surveillance networks) are most capable
of predicting where and how the next radical disturbance, the new event
will emerge.

On Tue, Nov 14, 2017 at 9:27 PM, Renate Terese Ferro <rferro at cornell.edu>

> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
> Dear Bishnu and Tim,
> Thanks Bishnu so much for writing about the research for this new book.
> It sounds fascinating in light of the panicked contangion that permeates
> the news so frequently.  I find the visual documentation  related to these
> accounts fascinating for examble a few years ago, the photographs of the
> doctors and nursers in fully sealed protective suits caring for Ebola
> patients and the videos of their boides being hosed down after a work day
> provided us with visual documentation but also an imagined understanding of
> the Ebola virus but also the cultural, racial, and political complications
> that became so entwined with that epidemic.  Looking forward to hearing
> more about your research on media and virsuses.
> Thanks Tim for the link to  C-Theory Digital Terror and also reminding us
> of how contemporary networks of contamination can fluidly slip across
> borders via  politics, language, images, and media  My intention in
> introducing this topic was to encourage cross-disciplinary ways that
> contamination manifests itself in contemporary global environments and this
> week’s news of North and South Korea is a great example.
>  Earlier this semster my students in Introduction to Digital Media
> brainstormed a list of media—books, tv, movies—inspried by a prompt I posed
> to them.  What happens when  bio-networks go awry?  We looked at ways that
> artists, writers, filmmakers simulate contagion and other models of
> contamination.  With the creative research as inspiration the students
> wrote creative  narratives.  After writing they were asked to collect an
> assemblage of found  natural objects from nature and with high definition
> scanning they composited visual models. Using  magnification, repetition,
> overlap, inverting color and other visual strategies they imapped  the
> microsopic contamination of their narratives.  We took multiple projectors
> and projected their simulated models on bodies and surfaces interjecting
> them back into the environment as a final intervention. The simplified
> prompt I gave to these 1st year art students prompted engaging discussions
> about health and safety, politics, the environment, language, truth, and
> more not to mention to resulting creative visual interventions.
> I have attached a couple of images here. Hoping you will share more about
> your ideas of  media, viruses, and panic this week.
> Welcome back Christina McPHee who should be joining us tomorrow.
> Renate
>     ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>     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.
>     cheers,
>     Bishnu
>     Renate Ferro
>     Visiting Associate Professor
>     Director of Undergraduate Studies
>     Department of Art
>     Tjaden Hall 306
>     rferro at cornell.edu
>     On 11/13/17, 2:41 PM, "empyre-bounces at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au on
> behalf of Bishnupriya Ghosh" <empyre-bounces at lists.artdesign.unsw.edu.au
> on behalf of bghosh at english.ucsb.edu> wrote:
>         ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
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Professor Bishnupriya Ghosh
Department of English and Global Studies
3431 South Hall
UC Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara, CA 93106-3170
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