Letter from the post-human: the fringe benefits of contamination?

Dear Host,

Sometimes it is so good to remember. In fact, these days I am constantly reminded of a famous scene that gave us, the micro of this world, legitimate visibility in tv and media. Have you ever seen Walt Disney’s The Sword in the Stone? Well, if you haven’t, there’s this scene in which the powerful wizard Merlin fights Madame Mim, an “evil” witch who’s Merlin’s nemesis – sort of like me and you, eh? The battle takes place with the two characters transforming into different existing non-humans, until Mim breaks the rules and becomes a mighty dragon. Merlin seems on the verge of defeat, and then, strike of genius; he disappears. Or, actually, he doesn’t: he just reduces himself to one of the most dangerous beings – a virus! More specifically, malignalitaloptereosis, a fictional cousin of mine that has measles-like symptoms.1 Madame Mim falls ill with pollox, the battle is won. Mini takes over Giga. Hooray! This is when I finally felt grateful to your species for giving us the credibility we deserve. Us, both infinitely small and infinitely feared. Us, the guests you never invited over yet are lodged within you. You’re not that good at hospitality, you know?

There once was one of those French guys expressing a similar concept… “hostipitality”, he called it.2 So apparently hospitality cannot be unconditional for you beings. I mean, you can’t even conceive hospitality among yourselves, no wonder you don’t welcome those like me. I sort of get it; you have this survival thing going on as most of the other living beings do. This drive for survival  takes a lot of effort and fear, I guess.

There is no possible unconditional welcoming for the other, so the other – me – must make itself comfortable anyways. Because we exist, you know. It seems you were forced to acknowledge it quite a few times in your historical lifespan: in 1348, in 1492, in 1918, in 1981 and today.3 Whether you want it or not, we are here. There’s many types of us and we’re not always one hundred percent bad for you Hosts, as sometimes we can also be a-pathogenic. Most of the time you try to destroy us, to eliminate our presence within your bodies. You aim to survive, I get it, no big deal. Yet ultimately, we tend to survive as well. I think that eventually it’s not even a mors tua vita mea thing…we just co-exist, we’ve always co-existed and that’s just how things go. I actually believe that it’s more of a vita mea vita tua attitude we should embrace (although you are still confused whether to consider me vita or not, I know). Basically, if you exist, this is also thanks to me. In all these years, by forcing myself through your threshold, I eventually contributed to the variation of genetic diversity.4

In some ways, we are way more similar than you think. In fact, haven’t you also widely contaminated soils, waters, oceans and biodiversity? Haven’t you forced yourself in and on different systems of being? Have you not exploited others for your own benefit and survival? I am not being metaphorical here, Host. I think we are one and the same, just with different sizes and aspects. You categorized me into your taxonomical domain, you studied me and tried to contain me, but I am still able to surprise you, and always will. The thing is that throughout all these years, mostly out of ignorance, that touch of anthropocentric hubris that so characterizes your species never flinched. You started believing that you were the ultimate being, Host, and not a tolerated guest of the world. You even fantasized that there is a superior entity that chose you – yeah, you among billions of beings – as the ultimate sentient master of the world. You forgot about us, about the whole network you owe your existence to.

A bunch of you guys once sang something that went along these lines: “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together”. 5 Well, ain’t that music to my ears! (As if I had any). These dudes were right in acknowledging that we are all entangled in this magical mystery tour also known as existence. I guess you erased that from your mind, dear Host. You forgot about your shared process of becoming part of, instead of egotistically being. You are so self-centered that you even have the presumption of writing these words – yes, dear, the ones you are reading/writing right now –  for me. As if they were not a mere extension of your speculative realm into the non-human domain. Thus, what can I tell you, my hateful friend, if not that I am the ultimate act of memory itself; I, he, her, it, us, you, we, are here to remind you that you do not over-exist alone, but you co-exist collectively.

Finally, I wish you the best of luck with your solipsistic delirium. I am sure it is never too late – not even for you – to be positively contaminated and penetrated by the complex environment we all share, and to fully understand that incommensurate hospitality can only exist once you switch from a purely individual to a collectively subjective perspective.

Contagiously yours,

COVID-19

 

  1. Coralli, Alessia and Perciaccante, Antonio. “The virus defeating madame Mim”, American Journal of Infection Control, Volume 45, Issue 10, 2017.
  2. Derrida, Jacques. “Hostipitality”. Angelaki, vol. 5, no. 3, Taylor & Francis Group, 2000, pp. 3–18.
  3. The aforementioned plagues refer to the bubonic plague also known as Black Death, the smallpox virus responsible imported by Europeans to the Americas, the so-called Spanish flu, the HIV pandemic and the current Coronavirus emergency.
  4.  P. Forterre and H. Philippe, “The Last Universal Common Ancestor (LUCA), Simple or Complex?”, The Biological Bulletin, vol. 196, no. 3, 1999, pp. 373-377.
  5.  The Beatles, “I am the walrus”, Magical Mystery Tour, Parlophone, 1967.
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