NATHAN BURR DESIGN INTERACTIONS 2012
Dissertation Extract Nathan Burr
THE WORD VIRUS TRAJECTORY STAGE ONE (Solid) In between the words “From symbiosis to parasitism is a short step” and “The flu virus may once have been a healthy lung cell” are found the words “the word is now a virus1”. These words are found in the top third of page twenty-six of the one hundred and five pages that form the book The Ticket that Exploded. The Ticket that Exploded was written by the American author William S Burroughs and first published in 1962. It is the second book in a trilogy referred to as the nova trilogy. The Ticket that Exploded is loosely based upon a narrative concerned with mind control by psychic, electronic, sexual, pharmaceutical, subliminal and other means. In an essay written in 1970 called Electronic Revolution Burroughs develops his statement that “the word is now a virus” into a theory on the nature of language, “the written word was literally a virus that made spoken word possible” 2 he says. According to Burroughs the reason that we don’t recognize language as a virus is because it has reached a stable state of symbiosis with us as its host, but he suggests this relationship is gradually breaking down and we are in danger of the parasite attacking the host. Burroughs suggests that with the aid of technology, especially modern (at the time) electronic recording technology, the virus can be biologically extracted, activated and used against the original host. He says: “Steinplatz postulates that the virus of biologic mutation, which he calls Virus B-23, is contained in the word. Unleashing this virus from the word could be more deadly than losing the power of the atom. Because all hate, all pain, all fear, all lust is contained in the word”. The human organism is the time binding animal3 but today it feels as if we have become animals bound by time, slaves to our own technologies. We are bombarded by the mass media and coerced into engaging with new forms of communication more than ever. It is difficult to know where these new technologies actually begin and where they end. As Giles Deleuze says ‘we are denied the privilege of having nothing to say4’. If we didn’t have the written word we would not be able to communicate to anybody outside of our present spatial temporal dimension; in fact if there were no written word then there would not be any other spatial temporal dimensions. Language has allowed us to pass on and develop the knowledge we use to create today’s technology. Could Burroughs have been right? Is language, the most primitive of technologies, an entity beyond our control? Is there a way to move beyond language if it is a virus? Is the final piece in the jigsaw our ability to use technology to move beyond technology? 1 Burroughs, W., 2010. The Ticket That Exploded. Fourth Estate.p 26 2 Burroughs, W., 2000. Electronic Revolution. 11th edition ed. Pociao's Books.p 5 3 Burroughs, W., 2000. Electronic Revolution. 11th edition ed. Pociao's Books.p 4 4 2005. The Deleuze Dictionary. Edinburgh University Press.p 54
STAGE TWO (Liquid)
Since William Burroughs death in 1997 biology and technology have merged together to form of technology that instead of being hard, external, massive and fixed is becoming increasingly miniscule, soft, internal and wet5. Biotechnology and synthetic biology are the two main branches of science that engineer and use the building block of life (DNA and RNA) to create this new generation of living machinery. In 2009 the Canadian poet Christian Bök used biotechnology to take William Burroughs theory that the word is virus one stage further by placing a poem inside the DNA sequence of an e-coli bacteria cell, to create what he has called “living poetry6” in a fascinating project called The Xenotext Project. I plan to compose my own text in such a way that, when translated into a gene and then integrated into the cell, the text nevertheless gets “expressed” by the organism, which, in response to this grafted, genetic sequence, begins to manufacture a viable, benign protein—a protein that, according to the original, chemical alphabet, is itself another text.7 The bacteria that Bök chose to place his poem inside of (Deinococcus radiodurans) is a bacterium found in exceptionally hot and caustic environments and could conceivable outlive language and humanity. The Xenotext project is the first such attempt at literary immortality. The Xenotext Project evolved the word virus into a reality and Burroughs original statement (regardless of how far fetched the concept may have appeared to have been) has now become a prophecy. If the boundary between science fiction and science fact is fast disappearing then so to is rationality. I would like to take full advantage of the rapid advancements that are happening today in science to take the word virus trajectory one stage further to predict a gas stage. Although, gas by its very nature is unpredictable so delivery technologies would need to move beyond their current level of precision to become desirable for coding into a product for consumption. Because of this it is the stage beyond a normal gas that i believe holds the truly fascinating hypothetical potential for the word virus.
5 Wershler, Darren (2012) The Xenotext Experiment, So Far. Canadian Journal of Communication, 37. P 45 6 Christian Bök, The Xenotext Experiment, (publishing the Unpublishable 022 ©2007 /ubu editions) p 7 Christian Bök, The Xenotext Experiment, (publishing the Unpublishable 022 ©2007 /ubu editions) p 5
STAGE THREE (Beyond Gas)
An atomic Bose-Einstein condensate, predicted by Satyendra Nath Bose and Albert Einstein in 1925, was first produced in the laboratory I 19958. Bose-Einstein condensate is achieved when atoms are cooled down to a temperature near absolute zero where they no longer display the properties of particles. Instead their wave properties are exaggerate and as the temperature approaches a critical threshold of -273.15ºC the waves of the atoms grow and display turbulence until the critical threshold is reached and the waves superimpose over the top of one another and spontaneously synchronise into an ‘atomic cloud’. This is Bose Einstein condensate. This relatively new state of matter can be controlled as an atomic wave because essentially all atoms occupy the same quantum state9. This means that instead of being an individual particle displaying properties that gives a state of matter their identity the matter behind Bose-Einstein condensate is in all places at all times. Bose-Einstein adds a new dimension to our rational understanding of reality. This is a material that exists beyond the realms of the physical world around us and yet we know exists. From a materialists point of view I cannot help but wonder if Bose-Einstein is the material of dreams? Engineered atomic waves have already led to the start of a new generation of Bose-Enstein technology. Different atoms in a Bose-Einstein state have been fused together to create BoseEinstein molecules and these have developed into atomic machines that manipulate and bend atomic waves in the same way that light waves are manipulated through a lens 10 . This technology is in its infancy so the repercussion of how its technologies will affect our lives is yet to be seen, but once again science is proving that beyond the boundaries of what is possible today is simply waiting for science to discover it tomorrow. “These things that, by his science and technology, man has brought upon this earth, on which he first appeared a feeble animal organism” Freud once said. We are at the stage of our evolutionary ability where we are no longer taming the wild chaotic temperament of nature; we are actually manipulating the building blocks of life itself. Beyond that, the ability to engineer and manipulate atomic waves, to me, suggests the ability to create machines from the same materials as dream.
8 C.J Pethick, H. Smith, 2008. Bose-Einstein Condensation in Diluted Gases. Second Edition ed. USA: Cambridge University Press. p.1 9 C.J Pethick, H. Smith, 2008. Bose-Einstein Condensation in Diluted Gases. Second Edition ed. USA: Cambridge University Press. p.2 10 C.J Pethick, H. Smith, 2008. Bose-Einstein Condensation in Diluted Gases. Second Edition ed. USA: Cambridge University Press. p. 77
I would like to postulate that in the not to far away future we will be developing the technology to manipulate and control thought waves. What this new generation of atomic wave technology would potentially have the ability to do is not only manipulate the appearance of the building blocks of reality from a distance by using superconductivity; they could also manipulate the building blocks of the mind. This postulate once again returns to William Burroughs theory of the manipulation of reality by the mass media through electronic technology, but on this return the word is no longer the manipulator as language as an external stimuli would no longer be needed. The ability to manipulate thought waves bypasses the need for both written and spoken language and thus also presents a way to exist beyond technology; through technology. But of course this is not realistic, as this technology would be designed in such a way that it would be able to expand economic growth first and foremost. A new form of language beyond word, beyond speech would need to be introduced before this technology was ever available to the public. But I am allowed to dream, even if one day my dreams will not be my own. Burroughs proposes a use of electronic recording equipment that cuts/up and subverts reality by use of the same technology that was being used to sensitize millions of people to receive scrambled versions of the same set of data11. Let me speculate that the viscosity of society one-day lowers due to the regulated flow of everyday life increasing because of war or natural disasters. Let us also speculate that a black market has appeared and that this technology has appeared within society and is being used by a counter cultural movement which has also appeared. The new atomic wave technology would allow mental communication that puts it beyond language, as we know it. It could be done remotely through superconductivity putting it beyond time and space. This form of protest would be free from the word virus and free from technology.
11 Burroughs, W., 2000. Electronic Revolution. 11th edition ed. Pociao's Books.p 16
But this maybe a dream built by science