Aphids and Immortality by Dr. Jeanne Randolph
cucumber mosaic virus is an animate entity of course, willing to thrive, an
unconscious and unself-conscious animacule impelled by its natural Will. Except
for the metaphor in its name, the cucumber mosaic virus has not yet been depicted
sympathetically (which is to say with human poetry or philosophy). As a menace to
the lucrative poison industry, the cucumber mosaic virus has been depicted only from
a technological perspective: This T = 3 virus is a truncated icosahedron. There are
three copies of capsid protein in each icosahedal asymmetric unit. Lying between the
three subunits on each icosahedral face are quasi-equivalent threefold axes. At the
icosahedral threefold axes, the B and C subunits are arranged with nearly perfect
quasi-sixfold symmetry and form hexameric, torus-like protrusions. About the five-
fold axes, the A subunits form pentameric capsomers that do not protrude as far above
the surface as the hexameric structures. Carboxyl termini of the capside proteins form
extensive interactions between the pentameric and hexameric structures. Cucumber mosaic
virus has a twelve-angstrom diameter, indicating a "swollen" state.
like a phallus, more like a breast, the virus is the animate equivalent
of a hypodermic needle. A virus will use mechanico-chemical propulsion to insert its
DNA or RNA into its victim -- compared to the mechanico-hydraulic propulsion of the
hypodermic needles we humans use. It is impossible to talk about viruses and not play
the language-game of predator and prey, a language-game, in human terms, which is in-
herently a morality play. And yet the cucumber mosaic virus has only Will. It is beyond
consciousness and self-consciousness. It is beyond good and evil. It is pure function,
the best little technological device ever, with no margin of error between its Will
and its structure.
with the cucumber mosaic virus, the tobacco leaf looks like many
cigarettes have been butted out on its surface.
The cucumber mosaic virus, however, needs a vehicle to get to the tobacco.
mosaic virus does not know in the human sense that it needs a vehicle
to get to the tobacco. The cucumber mosaic virus doesn't even know that its sleeping,
which it does a lot, is not death. It has no cognizance, in human terms, that if a
vehicle transports it, no matter what happens to the vehicle, the cucumber mosaic
virus will not die. This could be explained in human terms by the truth that the
cucumber mosaic virus is dead already, because the cucumber mosaic virus at any given
time may be hibernating in a state of Will that is not actively willing, not willing
in the human sense, but of and in Will as mere potentiality (or it may be said that
the cucumber mosaic virus in its dormancy does not have even a vestigial Death Wish).
In this inhuman, unfathomable and unfathomably lazy position the slumbering cucumber
mosaic virus is a passive twelve-Angstrom jot in, on, within, upon burdock, catnip,
flowering spurge, horse nettle, Jimson weed, milkweed, motherwort, nightshade, pigweed,
poke weed or white cockle. It may also linger inertly in the seeds of chickweed, corn-
spurry, red deathnettle and inbred muskmelons. The cucumber mosaic virus can be such a
dormant little nothing that it is not, strictly speaking, even an it. The hibernating
cucumber mosaic virus is more like a spill that can adhere to anything that steps into
it. A green-peach aphid, for example, is a species that often walks through a smear of
millions of numb cucumber mosaic viruses, and maybe a hundred thousand of the virus
stick to an aphid foot.
aphids actually do a lot of walking. They can walk wingless for miles,
like up a horse nettle stalk, out to the end of the nettle. They can take a bite of
the nettle, cringe, shiver, spit it out, turn around, walk back across the nettle to
the stalk, walk down the stalk and stroll over to a motherwort or a whitecockle,
walking, biting and spitting day after day after day, perhaps resting at times with
head upon a cornspurry seed, then toddling along the next day, walking on and on, till
one afternoon the green-peach aphid walks into what a Judeo-Christian might name The
Promised Land, or a psychoanalyst name "the object of desire," or what Nietzsche and
Schopenhauer never named as such, and in technical terms would be a feeding ground,
as if we know for certain that aphids experience hunger specifically. Here the sextuple
steps would quicken, the antennae quiver, as the green-peach aphid hurried up a stalk
to the first nicotantia leaf accessible. Here the green-peach aphid would imbibe sap
till its digestive bladder could fill no more. The Will-besotted aphid would
sputter and slurp, it would slobber and suck -- splashing cucumber mosaic virus all
over the tobacco leaf.
are these green-peach aphids fulfilling? -- None whatsoever; to be a
vehicle for a comatose cucumber mosaic virus is coincidence.
to this coincidence, however, the walking green-peach aphid must die,
engulfed in a monsoon of insecticide.
has no effect on the cucumber mosaic virus, whose impulse to function
lives, virus lives, aphid lives, tobacco lives, you might say, that have
effects and are affected by other effects. Or, in human terms one could say, they do
not have lives, but they live. This brute living, the idiocy of this pageant of
perpetual Will, its force and eternity, evokes in me, as it must have in Nietzsche,
Schopenhauer and Sartre, an existential consciousness, disdain for puny human concepts,
evokes la nausee. What can a human do in relation to this parade of parthenogenetic Will?
this inexorable Will! Counter with a surge of resistance, a compulsion to
defy, to thrust or parry with the strongest antithesis -- the Death Wish; light up
a Canadian Classic, and ever so tenderly slightly inhale, ever so tenderly savour
the aroma of a silver wisp, unfurling at the edge of breath, a jest of clouds.