Issue 2: Feminisms

On the Cosmic Origins of HIV and the De-Planetarization of the Body-Apparatus

Ashkan Sepahvand

Each body is composed of a hierarchy of interrelated bodies that together create a material-energetic envelope, like a multi-layered, infinitely folded robe, for the principle of existence to inhabit. Let us imagine these bodies as consisting of physical and non-physical components, and let us call the entirety of these envelopes the “body-apparatus”. The core of the body-apparatus consists of the “mineral-body”, the densest and most rudimentary material that serves as the base from which the principle of existence emerges. The mineral-body is cosmic dust — the building blocks of the universe, those elements, gases, and metals that are to be found in the organic as well as non-organic compositions of the planets, stars, and asteroids. The mineral-body spans the tension between life and non-life; it is poised with all the elements necessary to animate the vital force, but it need not strive to do so. In this sense, the mineral-body preserves the possibility of existence as a latent principle, and thus, can also be manipulated to give rise to forms of life and modes of being that have not yet been seen in the cosmos. The mineral-body's primary physical manifestations are in bone-form and in virus-form: the bone, as the calcification and mineralization of the elements to form a stable structure, not only supports the entity which exists, but also, the density of its material accumulation yields a rich core, known as marrow, that generates blood, the liquid medium through which vitalizing energies and biological information move and communicate with the rest of the body-apparatus. The virus, on the other hand, is the technological equivalent to bone — it is a synthetic mechanism, with a stripped-down structure solely adequate for the transmission of its internal code into a host entity. The virus also holds a type of marrow, a content it wishes to activate within the mineral-body of the body-apparatus. It is technically not “alive”, as metabolic processes and autopoetic regulation in no way occur over the course of its existence. But it holds a precious link to life, in that the code of nucleic acid it houses within its simple skeletal structure of proteins, will give rise to a future replica of itself. Like the bone, which accumulates minerals and, through the potential of its marrow to give rise to blood, the virus accumulates information, and its potential lies in what it wishes to communicate to the higher bodies its particular form of code. In many ways, the bone-form and the virus-form reveal aspects about the mineral-body that are important to mention here: the mineral-body is inherently linked to the Earth, to the “geological”, while simultaneously it is linked to technology, to machines, to the “artificial” and “alien”. Its bone-form bears an affinity to the processes of densification, accumulation, and granularization that create stones, that compact geological matter into mountains and tectonic plates, that give ground to the world upon which we stand, and whose movement and transformation over time is slower than any scale we can imagine and yet, foundational for the growth and maintenance of the biosphere. The virus-form of the mineral-body establishes the inevitable link between the geological and the technological, in that there is a geo-techné always on hand: from the minerals and resources of the Earth, technology self-articulates its future possibilities. The technological is an abstraction of the geological and a machinization of its elemental ground for highly-specified purposes of communication, transmission, and transaction. The processes whereby civilizations relate to the Earth, also known as territorializations, involve this level of abstraction, one that moves, expands, invades, infects, appropriates, conquers, and establishes highly coded techniques for (re)inhabiting the world. Codes are produced, maintained, and kept within a set of epistemo-economic relations, and, naturally, re-coded as necessary. Thus, the mineral-body expresses the register of civilization as a whole, seen as a geo-ontological entity, supported by the Earth and by its geo-machines. The bone is earthly. The virus is a code-machine.

Within the body-apparatus, the mineral-body is the most closely linked to, if not the furthest away from (in terms of the envelope spatial hierarchies) the mental-body. The mineral-body is resolutely material, it is the stuff of the cosmos itself, while the mental-body is immaterial in the sense that it exists as energy alone, quantifiable yet always and only a radiant register that has no particular shape, form, or appearance of its own. The mental-body seeks containment. Though it is purely energetic, it takes on its particular qualities in relation to the formats that contain it, that give it a perspective from which it may sensually operate. The mental-body has a structure: it consists of consciousness-organs, which may best be described as abstract machines that desire to capture and transmit information. These “organs” are not physical, so to speak, but formal, arising from ever-varying configurations of affect — they appear and disappear as moods, hopes, dreams, fears, and passions, and each demands a home for itself, each perceives information according to its own color. The variety of configurations between the affects, that is, the “organology of consciousness”, generate attributes that give color to the emergent qualities the principle of existence may imagine for itself. In other words, consciousness-organs, in their requirement for containment, and according to their own intra-organological spatializations, are able to take shape as either embodiments (creatures such as a “human” or a “dog”) or as forces (concepts such as “gravity” or “time”). The mental-body, through the consciousness-organs, is the means through which consciousness is channeled into the cosmos, and through which happenings are directed — thus, the mineral-body is permanently affected by the energetic intonations modified by the mental-body. In a way, if one views the mineral-body as the storehouse of the body-apparatus and its “code”, the mental-body is the programmer of this. The mental-body is constantly striving to “upgrade” the code embedded deep within the mineral-body, directing it to further variation and differentiation. This is astutely non-teleological — there is no operation akin to “progress” or “refinement”. Rather, the coding processes initiated by the mental-body take on a form of affective play, a generalized, energetic juggling of possibilities between information and materialization, aiming for further intensification. This is a process that necessitates mediation. Thus, there are additional bodies within the body-apparatus that act as agents in between the mental and the mineral, as a kind of conductor-link allowing for the “code upgrade” to effectively take place. These are the plant-body and the animal-body.

The plant-body is materialized as liquid and luminescence — as water and light, respectively, though, on a deeper level, these forms are simply the agents whereby particular energies are effectively transmitted as “nourishment” for the body-apparatus: simple sugars. The plant-body is the register of metabolic activity for the body-apparatus, that is, it is the book-keeper of the body-apparatus, balancing its spreadsheets, making sure that the rate of consumption and that of production match as closely as possible, with a minimum of waste. The plant-body is dedicated to renewable energy and efficient waste recycling. It exists in the twinkle of an eye, in the viscosity of saliva, in the bitterness of bile, the alkaline cloy of urine, in the humidity of perspiration. Indeed, these are the indicators of the plant-body's vitality — when imbalances within the body-apparatus emerge, the qualitative characteristics of light and liquid inherent to an entity are immediately affected. With a faltering economy, the plant-body's management of the body-apparatus is no longer efficient, and other “fuels” are necessary for maintaining the animating conditions for the principle of existence to occupy a particular being. The plant-body strictly maintains its metabolic pathways in the form of what one could conceive of as a “hydro-solar energy plant”. When disruptions arise, generated by re-attunements to the mental-body's informatic processing, the energetic economy of the plant-body is immediately affected. Thus, the hydro-solar mechanism falters, and other fuel sources are needed. That is when the animal-body steps in, as a collaborative relational form to the plant-body, guaranteeing other forms of fuel for the body-apparatus.

The animal-body is particularly adapted to responding flexibly and creatively to its environment and to the dynamic circumstances of the body-apparatus. It is characterized by activity, rather than by any specific materializations. These activities are predation and locomotion, that is, the activity of actively seeking out nourishment and the tendency to move and remain mobile — clearly, the two complement one another, for predation would not be possible without locomotion, and locomotion would be effectively limited without the energy surpluses that predation makes possible. If the plant-body operates on the premise that “all one needs is already there, it's just about utilizing it in the right way”, the animal-body instead firmly believes that “there is more to be discovered”, thus committing itself to follow the principle of desire over any inherent need. The animal-body is curious, open-minded, exploratory, and always hungry. If the plant-body consistently maintains a dedication to the most minimal elements necessary for its operation, exhibiting a form of distilled purity, the animal-body seeks the multitude, actively welcoming diversity and difference, if not a certain degree of chaos, thus displaying a messy volatility. It is no wonder, then, that endosymbiotic processes emerge from within the animal-body, where multiple life-forms occupy one another and create a type of internalized “zoo”, each agent contributing an additional degree of complexity to the entanglement of body-apparatuses. The animal-body's constant, mobile hunt belies a particular fear it has — perhaps there might be something missing, or perhaps it is never enough — and with this insecurity it generates both intention and will, forces necessary for maintaining its operations. The animal-body intuits the tools and techniques necessary for making its primary activities as efficient as possible, though these intuitions are only later developed by the mental-body's consciousness-organs into regulating forces — such as belief systems, or even, a sense of “personality”. The animal-body's need for utility informs the body-apparatus' configuration of its structures, such as physical organs, as well as its processes, such as digestion. Due to the capricious nature of desire over need, these organs and processes are very fragile, and may, in certain cases, dramatically transform, or stop working altogether, leading to particular imbalances for the body-apparatus that affect the embodied state of the principle of existence.

Following these distinctions between the different envelopes of the body-apparatus, the term “hierarchy” is insufficient in communicating the inextricable entanglement of each body with the other, for it is indeed the case that the body-apparatus is a whole, a unity, a one, and also extends beyond the particular embodiments it takes, whether as human being, parrot, palm tree, or a chunk of granite. Perhaps “folding” is a more appropriate term, indicating differences that are indeed very difficult to differentiate and separate out from one another. Indeed, the one-body is the cosmic body, existing along planetary proportions, if not upon a universal scale (though this is, quite frankly, impossible to imagine). What this means is that the principle of existence, colored by the infinite variations of body-apparatuses, undergoes an articulation that one may term “evolution”, though there is no particular linear trajectory that existence takes on: it does not seek to perfect itself. The “states” of existence produce what one can term “civilization”, the collected negotiations of the body-apparatus as a movement of emergence within the cosmos. Civilization gives and takes color to the principle of existence, and it is within the information generated by civilization that the codes programmed by the mental-body, expressed through the mineral-body, and mediated by the plant- and animal-bodies take on their particular alpha-numerical configurations. The language of these codes reflects the state of any given civilizational formation.

The period after the Second World War is known by some as the time of the “Great Acceleration”. It is in this recent historical interlude that the mediation between the mental-body and the mineral-body dramatically altered, leading to an intensification of certain consciousness-organs over others, and thus, altering the mineral-body's auto-expression. A fundamental civilizational shift took place, and concordantly, the language of this civilization's code modified itself accordingly. The rapid increase of anthropogenic intervention within the Earth system had a negative feedback effect: the mediated instability of earthly metabolic configurations has forced the principle of existence to alter its tendencies, animating previously unknown entities that thrive on instability and transitory doubt. Beyond the significant advancements in the complexity and degree of industrialization, mechanization, technological intensification, and environmental intervention, the affect-forces within the mental-body's organology have been elevated to the degree of “head code programmers”. These affects are colored by greed and gluttony, for the Great Acceleration would not be possible if an accelerated modality of desire, a certain insatiability, were not present and, in fact, put on command. This can be described in more concrete terms, using the language of political economy with which many readers may be more familiar: economic organization after the Second World War, irrespective of whether one classifies it under the rubric of “capitalism” or “communism” (the distinction is unnecessary for this argument), was based on both accumulation and production as guiding ideological forces. To make stuff, to make a world, to gather things, to gather people. This dedication to “more, more, more” (a larger empire, a wealthier people, a total society, a mass communization) emphasized the affect-form of greed, which, as it affected the energetic intonations of the mental-body, also had consequences for the entire operational configuration of the body-apparatus as a whole. Most explicitly, the animal-body was the first to respond to the surge of energy instigated by the greed that emanated from the consciousness-organs and gave color to its flows of desire.It sped up in its movements and predations, acquiring surpluses of kinetic energy and material acquisition that it could not maintain, heating up its inner drives to a temperature just shy of spontaneous combustion. This overheating had consequences for the plant-body, which found itself faced with a significant imbalance between its liquid components and its luminescent components — all the water was boiling, turning into steam, and escaping the power plant altogether, while the light was becoming increasingly hostile, shifting along the spectrum to unwieldy wavelengths such as gamma and ultraviolet. The metabolic pathways, acclimated to specific temperatures and densities, were no longer efficient, and spaces within the apparatus that used to be closed were now all of a sudden open, and vice versa. Not only is the body-apparatus presented with a severe economic imbalance, paired with a state of predatory overdrive, but it is also confronted with a new spatial configuration of itself, in which openings emerge and closings take shape, rerouting the pathways of its operation altogether. It seems that the body-apparatus is in a transitory state, then, one of metamorphosis, that in other words implies the transformation of the species altogether. Perhaps this is one reason why the amplification of greed as an affect-force finds itself not only reflected in the animal-body's volatile tendency towards mass accumulation, but also, in the exaggeration of the mental-body's desire flows, as a directing force for consciousness. This intensified desire re-codifies the language of the mental-body, transfixing it onto obsessions, fascinations, attention-modifying diversions, thus articulating at a rapid pace particular civilizational notions such as “the individual self” or “sexual liberation” or “freedom of expression” that serve to recompose the state of the cosmic body itself. This recomposition directs the body-apparatus towards increasing individualization, over-identification, and isolated fragmentation, causing splitting and separation from the cosmic mechanism. These individualizing tendencies contradict the generalized cosmic phenomenon of “folding” — it is as if the complex folds of a fabric are cut apart at random, single sheets removed, causing damage not only to the surface, but to the inner composition of the cosmic body. It is under these particular conditions, whereby the mental-body exaggerates its language of desire, the animal-body speeds up its consumption, and the plant-body systematically fails to keep balance, that the mineral-body is forced to react accordingly. From deep within its core, an alteration of the bone-form and the virus-form yield a new entity, all of a sudden animated with the principle of existence: it is the offspring of civilizational greed, of the Great Acceleration itself, of the anthropogenically-devastated Earth, of the technological abstractions necessary for dismantling planetary boundaries and opening up the body-apparatus to a highly vulnerable state of infection.

The autoimmune disorder that emerges within the body-apparatus is expressed through a code never before seen within the programming manuals of the body-apparatus' indices. Thus, the sudden appearance into the world in the late 1970s-early 1980s of a new disease known as the “human immunodeficiency virus” (HIV), which would result in the subject-status of “acquired immune deficiency syndrome”, must be seen as the complex product of information-materialization shifts between the mental-body and the mineral-body. HIV is, in this case, a product of a very specific form of civilization that has implications for the principle of existence itself. It is the manifestation of an evolutionary transition, not only of the human species, but of the principle of existence itself, as information-material, as mental-mineral bonds, towards what seems to be a total disembodiment — which would also mean a total de-planetarization, an abandonment of the Earth for the nebulous realm of consciousness clouds, infectious information, garbled code transcriptions, and anti-material auto-negations of matter. For those who were the greediest, for those whose appetite was the most insatiable, for those whose inner heat was intolerable, they were the ones, through no will of their own, rather, through the machinations of a civilizational prerogative to “desire, ceaselessly”, who gave birth to the material code of the virus. This mutant code emerged out of the mineral-body's density and discovered newly opened spaces for its operative expression in the blood generated by the bone marrow. This is to say, however, that the existence of this virus is, since its energetic emergence from a re-territoriliaztion of code, very real — it is transmittable in the same way that any other virus is, with all its particular idiosyncracies, and one may acquire it through such basic bodily interactions such as fluid exchange, as medicine has demonstrated. However, its contemporary reality and the lived histories it carries are foreshadowed by these most recent cosmic origins, the aim of this paper. For HIV would never have had the conditions of emergence if the body-apparatus were not put into a state whereby such code could ever be conceived, transcribed, activated, transmitted, and reproduced, a process that demands us to urgently question the volatile trajectories our current civilization has taken on for itself.