17 Dec 2023

what does the virus say?

I find real limits to futurity after the last few years. Like I think, the data’s clear on what COVID can do to children, um, and we’re seeing declining rates of vaccination in certain populations — not just [for] COVID, for all kinds of things now — and so I think that there are real limits to it. And I loved what you were both talking about, like, what fantasies emerge, which are engaged and which are displacing other things we can’t think about? . . . I think it was just last Thursday the 9-11 Emergency Act was re-authorized for the twenty-first time. And, you know, the COVID public emergency’s over, even as it kills hundreds of people a day, still, in the United States, but the 9-11 myth of the outsider coming in to harm us — we’re still taking off our shoes, we still can’t take, you know, a can of Coke onto a plane — and that fantasy pushes away, in some ways, the thing that’s too difficult to think about.

And I think the animality is interesting that way too, because — you’re right, Patrick, like, if we look . . . you know, we can see, as we’re treating people in prison the same way that we’re treating hogs, it affects them both, it also affects the workers in those environments as well, and everyone in their networks — but I think what’s really being displaced with a lot of animal things is the ‘ick’ factor of people wanting to see a separation that’s not there. They don’t like, we don’t like to think that we’re close enough to a monkey or a pig that we could share viruses. And the viruses, like, show that’s not true. …

This might seem like a tangent, but I did a panel at the socialism conference about leftist political possibilities in popular science fiction, and it led to — I thought no one would come, it was the last morning of the conference — it was packed, and it led to so many interesting conversations, including, after the fact, talking about space travel in a way I had not heard, from an indigenous perspective. The idea of another planetary — like, being able to colonize, and using that word purposely — um, colonize another planet is laughable if you think about how dependent we are on other systems. Like, it’s like thinking your fingernail is going to represent life. Um, that we could live on another planet without, like, everything in the sea, and everything in the air, and every other thing in the land.

And I think that viruses, like, make us confront that reality, that we cannot separate — as much as we want to see a hard line between humans and non-humans, um, the viruses say, ‘Nope.’ Like, this one will jump between deer and humans, this one between rats and humans — not all of them do, but a lot of them — this one will go between birds [and humans], some will move between some species and kill, and not kill, some will kill both of them — um, but there is a relationship. And I think if there’s one over-arching lesson I’ve tried to work through in this book: that everything is about relationship, there is no ‘I’ by itself. And that is a fundamental threat to, like, the American sense of itself.

Steven Thrasher, talking with Abby Kluchin and Patrick Blanchfield about themes of his book The Viral Underclass for the podcast they co-host, Ordinary Unhappiness.

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