Featherstone, M (2022) Viral Law: Life, Death, Difference, and Indifference from the Spanish Flu to Covid-19. International Journal for the Semiotics of Law - Revue internationale de Sémiotique juridique. ISSN 0952-8059

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Abstract

What is viral law? In order to being my discussion, I note that the last two years have been extremely difficult to understand and that we, meaning those who have lived through the pandemic, have struggled to make sense. Thus, I make the argument that the virus has impacted upon not only the individual's ability to make sense in a world where every day routines have been upended, but also social and political structures that similarly rely on repetition to continue to function. According to this thesis, Covid-19 is more than simply a biological organism, but also a cultural virus that undermines the organisation of social, political, and economic systems and requires new ways of thinking about how we might move forward into a post-Covid world. In the name of beginning this project of making sense of Covid-19, I track back in history to the comparable reference point of the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1920 and, in particular, a reading of Freud's Beyond the Pleasure Principle, which the founder of psychoanalysis wrote in the shadow of the virus. In reading Freud's attempt to write a psychology of death in the context of this funereal period of history, I argue that he set out first, a mythological theory of viral law concerned with the death drive, before turning to second, a techno-scientific, biological theory of the same (viral) law characterised by microbial immortality. Beyond this exploration of Beyond the Pleasure Principle, in the third part of the article I turn to a reading of Lacan's interpretation of Freud's work, where viral law becomes a story of cybernetics and nihilistic mechanisation. Here, perfect mechanisation, and the endless oscillation between message and noise, looks a lot like living death. Finally, I take up Derrida's critique of Jacob's molecular biology and, by extension, Freud's theory of microbial immorality, that he thinks privileges an idea of repetitive sameness and opens up a space for cultural politics concerned with immunity against otherness. Derrida's key point here is that this biological fantasy ignores the reality of viral sex that enables evolution to happen. What this means is that the other, even in its microbial form, is ever present, and that we must recognise the importance of difference to the possibility of social, political, and economic change.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/.
Uncontrolled Keywords: Virus; Freud; Lacan; Derrida; (In)Difference
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
H Social Sciences > HA Statistics
Depositing User: Symplectic
Date Deposited: 22 Mar 2022 12:53
Last Modified: 29 Apr 2022 13:17
URI: https://eprints.keele.ac.uk/id/eprint/10755

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