Academic journal article Science Fiction Film and Television

Antiviral: Capitalism of the Fourth Kind

Academic journal article Science Fiction Film and Television

Antiviral: Capitalism of the Fourth Kind

Article excerpt

Capitalism is not a human invention, but a viral

contagion, replicated cyberpositively across

post-human space. ... [I]f schizophrenia is not yet

virally programmed it will be in the future.

Sadie Plant and Nick Land, 'Cyberpositive'

So the factory is hijacked by these self-interested

blueprints. In a sense it was crying out to be

hijacked. If you fill your factory with machines

so sophisticated that they can make anything

that any blueprint tells them to make it is hardly

surprising if sooner or later a blueprint arises that

tells these machines to make copies of itself. The

factory fills up with more and more of these rogue

machines, each churning out rogue blueprints for

making more machines that will make more of

themselves. Finally, the unfortunate bacterium

bursts and releases millions of viruses that infect

new bacteria. So much for the normal life cycle of

the virus in nature.

Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (131)

It would not be too farfetched to say that

the extermination of mankind begins with

the extermination of germs. Man, with his

humours, his passions, his laughter, his genitalia,

his secretions, is really nothing more than a

filthy little germ disturbing the universe of

transparency. Once everything will have been

cleansed, once an end will have been put to all

viral processes and to all social and bacillary

contamination, then only the virus of sadness will

remain, in this universe of deadly cleanliness and


Jean Baudrillard, The Ecstasy of

Communication (38)

I can really feel it coming on now, inside of

myself. I can't move, or think properly. I'm only

approximating myself.

Syd March, Antiviral

Brandon Cronenberg's Antiviral (Canada 2012) engages with themes of biotechnology, bodily transformation and psychosis, all the time maintaining a self-reflexive approach towards the cinematic image. Like the sf films of his father, David Cronenberg, Antiviral attracts Deleuzian and Baudrillardian interpretation: its schizomolecular machines respond to the unconscious, its viral images and the film itself place a premium on affect, yet they implode the biological and technological with terrifying, paranoiac results. Here, one must usually make a choice between Baudrillard's negative emphasis on technocapitalist ideological invasion of the human body and mind, and Deleuze's affirmative and immanent concepts of desire, affect and schizoanalysis.1 I want to suggest that Antiviral lays claim to a new, synthetic reading, inspired by Thierry Bardini's Junkware (2011), which is exceptional for its synthesis of Baudrillard and Deleuze into a new, fourth phase of capitalism. In this essay, I will briefly examine the theoretical rationale for this fourth phase and address the analytical shortcomings of Bardini's thesis. Then, using Deleuze and Baudrillard, I will examine how Antiviral allows us to think through sf cinema, biocapital and the newly contagious bodies, machines, thoughts, images, affects and sensations of viral capitalism. I want to show that although Antiviral is in some way symptomatic of this unfolding fourth order, as an sf film it offers a powerful, negative critique of its own conditions of possibility. Its affects are as exciting as they are terrifying.2

Bardini's Junkware describes a fourth stage of capitalism in the wake of the 'false promises of the molecular revolution' (26) but one that is founded on a synthesis of Deleuze and Baudrillard. Bardini's premise is twofold. First, 'biotechnological and biopolitical innovations beg for an extension of the Deleuzo-Guattarian framework' (11). The framework to which Bardini refers, put briefly, is Deleuze and Guattari's two modes of organisation (body, social, unconscious, political, economic) under capitalism: schizophrenia and paranoia, and the body without organs is the pivotal point between them. Their wager is that capitalism is a vast machine that produces machinic schizophrenics, 'molecular' subjects who rebel (desire) against the psychoanalytic and socioeconomic confines of the capitalist system in a movement they call deterritorialisation: the schizo harnesses the material energy of the capitalist system to invest positively in the sociopolitical field. The obverse side of the body without organs is the 'molar' paranoiac, reterritorialised as an orderly subject. The movement between the two follows that of capitalism itself, always approaching the point of overcoming itself, but then retreating from its own limit in favour of conformist social and corrective financial codes. The nuances of this theorisation will become more apparent, but for now it is crucial to note that Bardini gestures to the way in which Deleuze and Guattari's formulation of schizophrenia is becoming less an antagonistic process and increasingly homologous with the ideals of capitalism itself, a criticism made by Baudrillard as well as Jameson (Ideologies 75, 176, 375) and Zizek (Organs). Thus, Bardini writes that in a consumer culture, 'where everybody is taking care of his or her very own body without organs', 'societies are moving out of control' and towards 'the era of the machine of the fourth kind' (11).3 The second aspect to Bardini's thesis is that biology has entered 'the new "real" world of [Baudrillard's] simulation', in which 'DNA is the model medium for the new age of simulation, of capitalism of the fourth kind', genetic capitalism (11, 88). Bardini develops and performs his argument with close reference to the sf of William S. Burroughs (The Soft Machine (1961), The Ticket That Exploded (1962), Nova Express (1963)), of Philip K. Dick 's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) and other stories and Ridley Scott's film adaptation Blade Runner (US/ Hong Kong/UK 1982). As insightful as these are, a more contemporary sf text will better illustrate and augment a contemporary theory. My reading of Antiviral thus supplements Bardini's reliance on sf and, further, argues that the film stages a critical intervention in our understanding of this fourth stage in capitalism.4

In Antiviral, Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones) works for the Lucas Clinic, a company that buys viruses and tissue samples from celebrities in order to sell them to celebrity-obsessed members of the public: flu viruses, genital wart samples, herpes and muscle cells are purchased in full by customers or provided in loan packages. Syd works for the Lucas Clinic, but he also steals from their catalogue of viruses by self-injecting them, smuggling them inside his body, and sells them to an unauthorised cell gardener/butcher, Arvid (Joe Pingue). The film develops an economy that trades in genetic material: from boutique, engineered viruses sold by clinics, to crude steaks, a synthetic foodstuff extrapolated from cells and sold in butcher shops. The film reflects Deleuze and Guattari's sense of schizoproduction, whereby legitimate trade and ownership of modes of virus production and company property is undercut by corporate criminals like Syd and nomadic virus hackers, who fuel a thriving black market. Bardini's claim is that in this fourth-order capitalism, genetic code becomes the 'general equivalent', which 'now grounds absolutely the general equivalent in the realm of the living, making us living money in essence' (11). In the film, viruses and genetic information are commodities themselves, requiring producers, consumers and modes of production and distribution, and viral media is a complementary structure: indeed, as we shall see, the biological virus and viral media become commutable forms. The molecular structure of the viruses and the machines used to manufacture them respond to the cathexes of the unconscious. With its representations of pervasive technology, altered psychological and physiological states and media simulation, Antiviral seems amenable to Bardini's synthesis of Baudrillard and Deleuze. Deleuze and Baudrillard speak the same viral language, yet arrive at different conclusions. Deleuze and Guattari give the virus an affirmative, affective function and align it with their own rhizomatic philosophy (Thousand 11 and 266-7). Hansen summarises that Deleuze and Guattari arrive at a 'de-pathologised' viral becoming, where 'the destructive impact of viruses is effectively suspended: far from destroying the bodies of their hosts, viruses form new "bodies"'. But there is a significant limitation to Bardini's dependence on Baudrillard since it lacks Baudrillard's own theorisation of a fourth viral order, which will allow me to consider the economic, media and biological aspects of Antiviral and how they relate to Deleuze's schizophrenia.

Baudrillard's viral order sees media, capital and biology becoming less concrete in form (as medium, money and organism) yet simultaneously susceptible to manipulation and commutable with one another.5 The viral, then, relates to contemporary economies of finance and speculative capital, where the play of value becomes more profitable than industrial production, information replaces traditional commodities and genetic material becomes versatile and profitable once it is rendered as information (abstracted from the body) and its ownership becomes contested. The commutability between newly commoditised forms is what Baudrillard calls 'the fractal (or viral, or radiant) stage of value' (Transparency 5), where economic categorisations such as use-value (the capacity to which a commodity satisfies a particular need or desire) and exchange-value (the commodity's value relative to other commodities) go 'viral', becoming more useful than useful and more exchangeable than ever and with a wider range of commodities. The key passage in Marx's Capital with regard to value is that a commodity's usefulness 'does not dangle in mid-air. It is conditioned by the physical properties of the commodity. It is therefore the physical body of the commodity itself ... which is the use-value or useful thing'; exchange-value, by contrast, is the quantitative relation 'in which use-values of one kind exchange for use-values of another kind' (126). Put simply, Baudrillard observes the breakdown of the necessity Marx placed on the commodity's physicality and the proliferation of commodities that can be exchanged with one another. In Antiviral, the virus commodity itself becomes the common thread that facilitates the exchangeability of the biological with the machinic, the conscious with the unconscious, the real with the virtual. But there is a negative denouement to Baudrillard's analysis, which is that 'there is no point of reference at all, and value radiates in all directions, occupying all interstices, without reference to anything whatsoever'; 'there is no law of value, merely a sort of epidemic of value' (Transparency 6). Baudrillard posits a 'viral economy' in which media, capital, technology and the human body are all viral and contagious, imploding and infecting/affecting one another (Screened 29). Moreover, Baudrillard describes the viral in Deleuzian terms as composed of 'organs without bodies, flows, molecules, [and] the fractal' (Intelligence 108). It is on Deleuze's de-pathologisation that he fixates, saying that without negativity (pathogenicity) the body without organs metastasises in hypertely, the uncontrollable growth of organs: 'The body rebels against its own internal organisation, undoes structural equilibrium', resulting in an 'organic delirium', schizophrenic, in that there is nothing that is repressed or denied (Fatal 54). As capital provides more material and virtual affects, the body responds to new demands: to enter into a becoming, to be competitive in the market, to desire and be desired, to maximise its capacity to affect and be affected.

By making mise en scène of the above, Antiviral ultimately resonates with Baudrillard's virus, but it does so in a self-reflexive manner through powerfully affective cinematic images. Deleuze described both the cinematic image and the virus as affective forms, and Antiviral draws them together. At a glance, Antiviral seems little more than a glib extrapolation of celebrity culture. Celebrities have exclusive contracts to provide their viruses to the Lucas Clinic and similar corporations, such as Vole and Tesser. But there is a molecular obsession to the trash television news, gutter press and yellow journalism, which have reached new lows in their focus not only on the superficial aspects of celebrities, such as beauty and fashion, but now report on diseases celebrities contract and their general health. This media coverage plays in the background on ever-present screens, making for a subtle, yet saturated environment. Both in form and content, these screens are viral. One broadcast reports on a female celebrity's anus: the screen goes from an illustrated medical cross-section overlaid onto her body, then cuts to footage of her walking down the street. The frame tightens in on her crotch, closes in tighter again and transitions to a bodily interior of a pulsating anal gland, a televised 'orgy of realism' (Baudrillard Seduction 32). But technical perfection and obscene proximity no longer satisfy consumers. It is not only viruses that are bought and sold but bodily imperfections and deformities. There are a host of rumours surrounding celebrity Hannah Geist's (Sarah Gadon) sexual organs. When Porris (Douglas Smith), a customer, meets with Syd, he asks, 'Did you know she's deformed? You can't tell from the magazines. She has to have special underwear made. Fashion designers make her special underwear.' Another rumour amongst technicians is that Geist does not have a vulva, and 'that's what she meant when she told Spot Magazine that she doesn't have a face'. Others say that she has 'a unique, non-functional organ connected to her urinary system - it's worth millions on the celebrity meat market'. At the bottom end of this market, the bioeconomy, are muscle cells taken from celebrities, cultivated in cell gardens and turned into a foodstuff, marketed as 'astral bodies' and sold in butcher shops and restaurants: waxy, white roasts, sausages, steaks and plump moulds of reconstituted celebrity flesh extrapolated from a few cells. By contrast, viruses are boutique biocommodities, at the apex of the bioeconomy. At the Lucas Clinic, employees are heavily monitored by surveillance cameras, scanned and questioned as to whether they are secreting any of the clinic's bioproperty - viruses from their catalogue. Technicians check out virus samples for sales meetings so that they can be tracked and regulated, and returned at the end of the day: 'Gene banks are indeed the financial institutions of the machine/state of the fourth kind' (Bardini 131).

Although he is, all at once, a salesman, biochemist, machinist, virologist and corporate criminal, Syd's daily routine signifies the monotonous and repetitive existence of life under capital but also gives us a vision of labour in viral capitalism, employed as he is by one of Bardini's genetically renovated financial institutions. Syd's body wakes him before his alarm goes off. Gasping, shivering and sweating profusely, his skin puckered and blotchy, his first instinct is to tend to the mucous that has collected in and around his nostrils. He ignores the viscous saliva that has collected around his mouth overnight and reaches into a minifridge he keeps by his bed. From the fridge, he withdraws a sterilised swab on a thin, plastic rod. Unwrapping it from its plastic packaging, he reclines his head and inserts the swab deep within his nasal passage, choking and gagging as he does so, and then deposits the sample into a sterile container. While Syd sleeps, the valuable viruses he carries incubate within his body. He then staggers groggily into the kitchen, self-medicates (he takes a handful of tablets each morning but also constantly monitors his temperature with a thermometer throughout the film) and opens his fridge to shelves of singleserve, pre-packaged sandwiches and bottled orange juice, contrasting his public profession as one who trades in affect and contagion with his isolated, utilitarian private life. He then slumps down in front of his stolen machine, a fourth-order virus copyprotector.

Bardini announces that

global capitalism has now entered its genetic phase, the phase of our encounters with machines of the fourth type. After the simple machines of the old societies of sovereignty, the motorised machines of the disciplinary societies, the information machines of the control societies, human beings now face - or will soon face - genetic machines. (127-8)

Like their cybernetic precursors in control societies, these fourth-generation machines are oriented towards molecular biology, yet differ in one crucial way: while cybernetic machines 'regulate [genetic] components as such without being able to actually build them', genetic machines 'both regulate and build [their] components'; it is 'no mere computer. It is tomorrow's biocomputer' (Bardini 127-8) (see also Thacker 51). The fourth-order machine is the axis on which Antiviral rotates, and it generates its most powerful, affective and contagious images: a Readyface virus copyprotector, equal parts Rube Goldberg machine, bioreactor and biocomputer, which Syd stole from the Lucas Clinic for personal use. Behind a concealed panel, in his claustrophobic, secret cupboard/home-office cubicle, Syd sits before the machine and presses a test tube containing a virus sample into a port, flicking a switch which stimulates a fluorescent backlight. A small breath of air inhales the viral fluid. One cog twitches and clicks softly while another glides on its axle. Its lung - a pneumatic pump - shudders as it expresses stale air and smoothly draws in the fresh, while the rest of its mechanisms whir softly. The viral solution courses through transparent plastic arteries, past components that recall a film projector and a camera-film spool. A horrid face appears on a screen that is more like an X-Ray illuminator than a monitor. Syd pushes another button and clasps a round dial between thumb and forefinger, and the face now starts to respond to the rotations of the dial. Syd's hunched back and slumped posture contrast to the concentration expressed on his own face as he glares unblinking at the grotesquely metamorphosing visage. The machine has analysed the biological virus, translating it into a digital 'face graphic'. This image, Dorian, the head of the Lucas Clinic, tells investors, 'represents the structure of the disease. It is, in a sense, the face of the virus, dense with information.' In manipulating the face, Syd and other technicians manipulate the structure of the virus. The machine responds to their bodily gestures, changing the face accordingly. But the machine is also sensitive to the technician's unconscious, and the virus responds in turn: it 'fluidly incorporates [the] technician's unconscious mental resources'. Dorian again:

The human face is a powerful messenger. Our brains are attuned to its every nuance. The smallest shift in its musculature can translate itself into complex, non-verbal information so subtle, and communicate it so quickly, that we often don't even register it - not consciously. One could say that for human beings, the face is a structure with a high-information resolution. ... The Readyface console is designed to engage the user's unconscious mental resources by exploiting the brain's sensitivity to facial patterns.

Syd is doing two interrelated things. First, the Readyface machine manipulates the face of the virus and, thus, its structure, in order to render it non-contagious, its pathogenicity limited to the customer, a single infected host. Second, Syd is copyprotecting the altered virus so that the original, unaltered virus will remain the sole property of the Lucas Clinic, since the altered virus cannot be spread beyond the client to those who would otherwise have to pay for it. The altered virus is both a simulacrum, a copy without an original, and a difference emerging from repetition. The Readyface machine visually resembles a bioreactor, 'an instrument of fabrication', which, as Cooper writes, 'promises to deliver ... not a standardised equivalent, but a whole spectrum of variable tissue forms, all of which may be generated from the one tissue source. Such novel modes of production have called for their own methods of abstraction and simulation' (123-4). We can consider this technology through both the lenses of Deleuze and Baudrillard. First, on a molecular level, this process is thoroughly Deleuzian. The engineering of biological material privileges 'forces and relations', 'the morphogenesis of form as process', using technology that 'exploits the active responsiveness of living tissue, its power to affect and be affected and thus to change in time' over the 'semiotics of code, message and signal' (Cooper 103, 105, 113)6 - essentially, Deleuzian molecular assemblages and affective thresholds rather than Baudrillard's code-determined semiology. And yet, Deleuzian microperceptions wallow so far down in the molecular that they miss the larger picture: it is the molecular itself that is being bought and sold, genetic 'code itself is sold and exchanges in its own medium, as code is now the currency, the general equivalent, and the product, the object of the transaction, political economy and [Baudrillard's] political economy of the sign conjugate' (Bardini 149) in the viral economy.

The relationship between the machine and the unconscious in Antiviral resonates with Deleuze and Guattari's model of the molecular unconscious, which is indebted to the work of biologist Jacques Monod (Thousand 54-5; Anti-Oedipus 288, 328). While the literalness of the appropriation is dubious, the reasoning is clear. Monod cites Bergson (thus his appeal for Deleuze) with approval and develops a theory of random, creative, yet impersonal, non-teleological evolution: non-living 'fortuitous perturbations' lead to the 'disintegration of all structure' and the 'unrestricted liberty of creation, thanks to the replicative structure of DNA' that puts a premium on genetic chance (Monod 113). From Monod, Deleuze and Guattari borrow microscopic cybernetics and apply it to desire, the unconscious and the body without organs, arriving at a biological and 'biocultural' model of the unconscious as the 'schizophrenic cell, the schizo molecule' (Anti-Oedipus 289) and the body without organs (Thousand 49): 'molecular biology is itself schizophrenia (Anti-Oedipus 289). That the human organism is composed of indifferent matter is 'negative only in appearance'; rather, it renders matter affective and, thus, impersonal and asubjective, so that it 'must be understood positively in terms of force' (Anti-Oedipus 288). The fourth-order Readyface machine is a schizophrenic machine that stimulates and reacts to the cathexes of the molecular, schizophrenic unconscious. Deleuze describes schizophrenic machines as aggregates of pre-existing machines, leftover components that work together because they have no relation, and this is true of the schizophrenic unconscious (Two 18-19). That is, the machine and the unconscious are novel schizo assemblages, the technician-virus-Readyface assemblage. So, Syd and other virus-hacking criminals steal licensed Readyface machines, assemble and rebuild them out of discarded and co-opted parts, rewrite copyprotected viruses and sell them to piracy groups, undercutting the very same monopolistic corporations that employ them.

From a Deleuzian perspective, that the face is the interactive threshold, the recording surface, between the virus and the unconscious, is remarkable. The viral face graphics do more than aesthetically recall the paintings of Francis Bacon; they vividly enact Deleuze's assessment thereof, in that the technician- virus-Readyface assemblage hinges entirely on the relationship between the virus molecule, the schizo unconscious and the face. The face, according to Deleuze and Guattari, is purely a surface, produced only when the head ceases to be part of the body, when it ceases to be the signifier of subjectivity, anthropocentricism, the ultimate conveyer of organic organisation (Thousand 188). Bacon's figures, for Deleuze, dismantle the face, 'dismantle the organism in favour of the body, the face in favour of the head' (Bacon 33), so that to move beyond organic resemblance, going from one contour to another, is to 'liberate a more profound resemblance in which the organs (eyes, nose, mouth) can no longer be discerned' (Bacon 109). It is in this sense that Bacon's faces enact a becoming-animal, revealing the face as animal-as-trait, constituting the 'zone of indiscernibility or undecidability between man and animal', their common 'meat' (Bacon 16-17). The Readyface produces the acephalic body without organs, making the face an affective surface that responds to the unconscious, a microperception machine,7 registering the unconscious in affective terms, drawing together the meat and the virus into a new assemblage.

In Antiviral, the relationship among screen, face and virus constantly recurs, not just in the way that it foregrounds an assemblage with the unconscious, but also how affect, sensation and capital become intertwined. As a biocommodity, there is a premium placed on the affective qualities of the virus. Antiviral's promotional slogan reads, 'What if you could feel like they do ... We can help.' One of the opening scenes introduces this, as Syd meets with a customer, Edward Porris. Syd and Porris (porous) sit opposite one another and on a screen between them is an endlessly repeating, six-second clip of Hannah Geist, performing the same action: turning and removing her sunglasses to reveal her eyes and slightly smiling, as though in recognition of another's presence. In a whisper, Syd says to Porris, 'I understand completely. She's perfect, more than perfect, more than human. Her eyes seem to reach right below your skin, and touch your organs. They touch your stomach, your lungs ... gives me the shivers.' Syd then presents a range of viruses acquired from Geist, each with its own face, but suggests for a 'man of taste, a connoisseur', an oral herpes virus that 'afflicted [her] during a much publicised affair', 'a must have for the truly devoted'. When Porris is infected with the virus, it is injected into the left side of his mouth, since 'Ms. Geist is infected ... to the right side of her mouth. Now, if she kissed you, it would spread to your left side, around here. On the left it would be like she gave it to you in person.' These lines are exchanged in a breathy, subdued manner, with Porris shuddering and exhaling in pleasure, gingerly brushing his lips with his fingers. In a later scene, Syd tells another female client that the virus is a 'biological communion', 'from her [a different female celebrity] body to your body, from her cells to your cells'. What is interesting about these scenes is the contrast between the glamorous, seductive faces of celebrities that repeat the same actions on the screen and the Baconesque viral faces. The Lucas Clinic sells neither beauty nor glamour, but pathogenicity (viral affect), and the face of the virus is not a representation, but material, desiring - production of the unconscious - one effectively buys a desiring-machine. The Deleuzian, de-pathologised viral becoming, the dismantled face, the molecular unconscious and the schizomachine of Antiviral are nothing other than investments in and of biocapital: a becoming that one buys, a molecular transaction, the general equivalent of genetic code as money.

Antiviral balances the two paradigms, the Deleuzian and the Baudrillardian, that Bardini synthesises. As Powell notes in an essay that touches on many of the same issues that I am dealing with here,8 'Aesthetics are viral in nature' and 'via facial mutation, schizocinema breaks down our immune defences, infecting and living in us on all levels, sprouting new growths of sensation, perception and thought' (116). Antiviral is a remarkable piece of schizocinema for these reasons, yet the schizo affects become increasingly paranoid, subsumed by Baudrillard's viral capital. Like Deleuze, Baudrillard was interested in Monod's molecular biology but suggested that Monod's teleonomy anticipated a 'techno-capitalist evolution' that might replace subjectivity with a geneticised social control (Utopia 98) and that Deleuze's molecular, desiring unconscious would merge with simulation as genetic capital (Forget 15, 35). Baudrillard's proclamations might once have been outlandish but, as Bardini points out, 'there is no more analogical thinking' (88), DNA is the model medium and the general equivalence of genetic capitalism. But this too is the schizoproblematic: capitalism produces schizophrenia and the schizophrenic process harnesses the material energy of the capitalist system to invest positively in the sociopolitical field. But any careful reconstruction of Capitalism and Schizophrenia shows that the schizophrenic is intended to be that which cannot be subsumed by capital. 9 Without this relation to capital, the schizo breakthrough, becoming turns into metastasis. Biocapital invests in the schizophrenic process so that schizophrenia itself is no longer just a process, but a business. It is not that Deleuze's formulation is incorrect; rather, capital chases Deleuze down to the molecule (Baudrillard Symbolic 60). Here, the distinction between paranoia and schizophrenia, the two forms of organisation determined by capitalism (Deleuze and Guattari Anti-Oedipus 281), becomes increasingly indistinct. When Deleuze and Guattari attend more closely to the schizo process, they say that one can botch a becoming, resulting in the paranoid, cancerous or fascistic body, products of desire nevertheless (Thousand 177, 183). We can dismiss as observation Baudrillard's accusation that the schizo, the desiring-machine and the molecular unconscious are animated by capital, since this cannot be a sufficient condition for objection in itself - this is precisely Deleuze's thesis. From the initial formulation that these sites of resistance provide only a mirror of capital in the form of desire, Baudrillard's objection must be redeveloped into one that attends not to the mirror but to the anticipation of subsumption and, thus, into the following formulation for the viral, fourth order: biocapitalism is the becoming-paranoid of schizophrenia. That is, the molecular is no longer the productive site of resistance, but the new, paranoid domain of capital.

The expansion of paranoiac capital into the schizomolecular is manifest in Antiviral at the intersection of three viral forms: the body, the unconscious and the media. The film juxtaposes the elegance and sophistication of the celebrity virus bioeconomy with self-replicating and ever-present news coverage, linking through contrast desire and deformity, venereal disease and viral media. (The conjoining of beauty and deformity is emphasised when Dorian explains to Syd that healthy tulips have solid-coloured petals, while the violet pattern on his yellow tulip, beautiful though it may be, is the result of a viral infection.) In the Lucas Clinic waiting room, glamorous, lustrous celebrity faces adorn the walls, while television screens play newscasts that speculate that an actress' protruding ribs betray an eating disorder and the breaking story consists of leaked topless photos that an actress took of herself with her cell phone. Later, on one screen, a woman's mouth and luscious red lips, adorned with a weeping pustule, suck seductively on an index finger. At the same time, on the screen to its immediate right, a celebrity crotch shot goes from a natural photograph to being irradiated so as to convey the heat from her genitals, afflicted with a venereal disease. That these two visuals play simultaneously and right next to each other indicates that they are to be consumed not individually, but together, as complementary rather than competing messages.

The film merges the biological with the digital, making the body a visual surface, on the one hand, but fragmenting and rearranging it on the other. A video installation at a nightclub isolates facial features (lips, eyes) in exploded close-ups across dozens of screens. In the back room, Syd finds the next thing that will 'catch on', a digitally simulated Hannah Geist, programmed to be hysterical and sexually compliant and, thus, entirely pornographic. Syd is unnerved by its fidelity to and pre-empting of both the real (hyperreality) and the user's desire, as it pleads and questions, 'Do you want me to hurt myself? I can't say no to you. Please repeat yourself so I can obey your command. Do you want me to hurt myself? Do you want to see my body?' This interactive digital celebrity body that desires its own degradation (in this sense anticipating its role as a mirror of the user's desire) recalls Baudrillard's third-order transparency, whereby the pornographic obscene overcompensates for the passivity of the spectator by increasing the proximity of representation, 'so close that it merges with its own representation: the end of perspectival space, and therefore, that of the imaginary and of phantasy - end of the scene, end of an illusion' (Seduction 29). But the fourth, viral order, as Baudrillard theorises (Vital 66-7), is the materialisation of fantasy, of the production of fantasies and the 'renewal' of the imaginary by means of genetic and digital technologies, intertwined in Bardini's fourth-order machine.

Syd's encounter with the digital Hannah Geist - the spectral connotations of the German Geist come into relief to coincide with Baudrillard - ends with an intense, lingering close-up of the illuminated celebrity screen body projected onto/reflected in his iris. Aesthetically, and affectively, this is Deleuzian schizocinema, whereby 'Everything can be used as a screen, the body of a protagonist or even the bodies of the spectators; everything can replace the film stock, in a virtual film which now only goes in the head, behind the pupils' (Cinema 2 207). Recalling the images displayed on the televisions in the club moments before, we inhabit Syd's gaze, seeing an exploded view of Geist's plump, red lips, already associated with oral herpes. The film's incessant labial and optical motifs suggest that these organs, both pervious and expulsive, merge the permeability of the mucous membrane with the newly tactile surface of the image, departing from the orthodox, pornographic erogenous zoning effected by the anatomical, genital zoom, so that the eyes and the mouth become the primary organs that respond to the sensations offered by the sexual and political viral economy.

As the camera-like components of the Readyface machine suggest, Antiviral itself needs to be formally appreciated along these very same lines. The intensity of its visual sensibility (excruciating close-ups of luscious lips, eyeballs, faces and flower petals contrast with deep-focus, symmetrical, austere environs, making for a Baroque visual palette) and its aesthetic hierarchy is tilted firmly towards the affect of the image rather than towards extended or even meaningful dialogue. There is comparatively very little dialogue in the film and most of the lines are spoken in hushed tones: mouths are transitive sites for infectious fluids, saliva, vomitus, injections and blood. In this, Antiviral belongs to that sf subgenre, body horror, so well developed by the director's father, the zombified, decrepit characters interacting with each other not so much through verbal communication but rather through viral screens and bodily contagion. The film thus implicates itself as part of the viral order: its own embedded images become contagious and infect and affect its characters.

Scenes like this foreground the viral body and its relation to the newly paranoid, molecular-machinic unconscious. The virus afflicts Syd's mind with Baroque dreams and hallucinations, one of which sees his body merging symbiotically with his machine. From a close-up on a virus face graphic, we transition into Syd's unconscious, departing from objectivity after a cut to his dilated pupil, which occupies nearly the whole frame, his eye literally swallowing us up, from eye-screen to brain-screen. We are immediately transported into his machinic unconscious: the smoothly rotating cogs of the Readyface slow down and a series of disorienting images unfold, accompanied by a distorted and ominous soundscape. The flesh of his back undulates, expanding and contracting with the breathing of the machine, cables plugged into his arms, puckering the flesh, suspend him in the air, and his mouth is replaced by a latticed machine part, through which blood begins to slaver. The abruptness and irrationality of the cuts is offset by the liquescent flows of the body-machine within the frame: arms and crenulated cabling float weightlessly from left to right, up and down, folding into one another. When the camera withdraws from these mesmerisingly slow, always flowing images, we see Syd, still dreaming, coupled to his machine but suspended in a tiny illuminated room amidst an entirely black, spaceless void. Of Deleuze and Guattari's desiring, molecular unconscious, Bardini writes, 'here is [their] new mot d'ordre. But it is a dangerous mot d'ordre, especially if you equate the "molecular" with the "genic," DNA with the genome' (143). And this dream-image in Antiviral tells us how we should understand these fourthorder molecular machines: everyone is connected to their schizomachine, both corporeally and unconsciously, but ultimately circumscribed by a paranoid void. Such images, affective in and of themselves, juxtapose the immanent qualities of affect with intense physical and psychological isolation.

Syd returns from his delirium to find that the virus he injected into himself and attempted to crack has destroyed his machine, and from this point the film takes a decidedly Baudrillardian turn, rather than continuing to flicker between the perspectives of Deleuze and Baudrillard: the value and exchangeability of viral forms and the virus itself takes precedence. When Hannah Geist returns from an overseas trip, stricken with a virus, Syd visits her as an employee of the Lucas Clinic to take a sample of her newly acquired virus. Syd was earlier bested by another virus thief who cracked a flu virus and sold it to the unlicensed Arvid. With the virus already 'public', Syd's efforts go unrewarded. For what initially seems to be this reason, Syd injects the raw virus into his body. After waking, Syd learns that Geist has died from the virus he now carries. As we have seen, it is Deleuze's affirmative, de-pathologised virus that Baudrillard criticises - the very same depathologised, copyprotected virus that the Lucas Clinic sells. But this virus is different: it destroys the machine that would analyse it, and it is contagious. This orients the film away from its treatment of virus-as-affect, towards virus-as-value and, subsequently, the kind of viral 'politics' Baudrillard points to when he writes that 'Once, revolts were political; there were groups or individuals oppressed in their desire, their energy or their intelligence. Today these hardly ever break out. In our quaternary period, revolt has become genetic' (Fatal 53). Or, as he later says, it is viral by lack of definition among the organic, the digital and the virtual (Screened 1).

The virus begins to overcome Syd, his body becoming more and more decrepit, a paranoid body without organs, and there is a public frenzy over Geist's death: people, including a hysterical Porris, line up to buy celebrity steaks, and the Lucas Clinic is filled with customers eager for a 'Hannah Geist variety pack' of viruses - here, too, glamorous images of Geist have multiplied, infecting all the walls of the waiting room. Meanwhile, as a result of the virus, newly cultivated Hannah Geist meat rots overnight in high-end restaurants, to the ire of their owners. Syd is imperilled not only by his own paranoid body but also by Arvid, who suspects Syd harbours the lethal virus: while deadly pathogens are illegal to buy and sell, demand for the virus, lethal or not, is high. Through Arvid, Syd seeks the parts to repair his machine, leading him to Levine (James Cade), leader of a virus piracy group who steals and cracks viruses from the major corporations. As nomads, they assemble their own schizoReadyfaces, modifying to their own ends the models stolen from licensed vendors who control the virus market. But, as venture capitalists, they betray Syd, beat him and take samples of the virus he carries, gouge skin out of his arm and dump his unconscious body on the street. Too weak to resist, Syd is then captured and escorted by two men to a remote location outside of the city. 'Don't worry', one of them tells him, 'you're a commodity', or, rather, a transient interstice for the much-desired virus.

From here, the homology between the affective contagion of the virus and flows of capital results not in deterritorialisation, nor in Bardini's synthetic account, but, as Baudrillard suggests, in metastasis, as Syd's body, the media and the public all enter hypertrophic states. Geist, it is revealed, is alive, but the virus that she shares with Syd is slowly killing her too, despite the care of her private doctor, Abendroth (Malcom McDowell). They suspected Geist's infection was an assassination attempt and announced her death to prevent further attempts and to buy time to find a cure. The virus is a modified version of one Geist had previously sold to the Lucas Clinic, stolen and redesigned to prevent analysis - hence, Syd's destroyed Readyface - by a previous Lucas Clinic employee in the service of rival virus company, Vole and Tesser. Syd and Abendroth discover that Vole and Tesser have patented the modified virus, the pathogenicity of which was merely a genetic oversight during its construction. Rather than assassination, Vole and Tesser sought to circumvent Geist's exclusive contract with the Lucas Clinic by exploiting the virus' common affect. By infecting, and then planning to recover the virus from Geist without her knowledge, they would then be able to sell it as their own, patented line: the virus would be their property, even though it passes through her body. The affective, biopolitically common flow of the virus simply makes it all the more virtual, simultaneously biocommodity-as-affect and impersonal flow of capital.

Syd's first encounter with the actual Hannah Geist, when he takes the virus sample, is anticipated by one of his virus-inspired dreams that occurs early in the film, so that when he encounters Geist in the flesh it is more a fantasy (Geist) brought to life: they share the same Baroque mise en scène and, as in his dream, she lies in bed and neither speaks nor acknowledges his presence, not so much passive as entirely indifferent (indeed, her face is obscured by a sleep mask), even as he withdraws a blood sample. That Syd's contact with Geist should almost exactly realise his florid dreams (the visual tell is that, unlike the solid-coloured petals that Syd caresses in his dream, the flowers beside the actual Geist's bed are patterned and, thus, like Geist, afflicted by a virus). These sequences' images of bodily penetration and fluid exchange and the cold, seductive, intensity of the interaction clearly gives them an aestheticised, rapacious and possessive motivation, which explains why Syd, socially isolated despite his profession, ultimately declines to share the virus, wanting it for himself alone. That Geist infects Syd makes for a fitting reversal of this power relation. But, as a discourse on the objectification of women, Antiviral is ambivalent: female celebrities are the most ubiquitous, but male and female customers are seen to buy viruses of both male and female celebrities: consumers don't want to look like celebrities, they desire to be affected: the ambivalence here is that this is achieved by indirect means (injections), which emphasises its impersonal qualities, yet it is penetrative and affective nevertheless. The film fetishises biological contagion and desire, rather than glamour, even in their grotesque forms (the deformed body, the viral face).10 The unreality of these scenes, the copresence of fantasy and the actual, suggests that this is not the 'actual' Geist but, rather, how Syd envisions her (but still as material production - Deleuze's desire-as-reality - rather than psychoanalytic projection or displacement) after working so intimately with virtual and genetic abstractions, her digital images, her viruses, making the virus the conductive and infectious agent that mediates between the real and simulacra, between the unconscious and the external world, alternately Geist and Geist.

The true Geist, as it were, appears only later in the film, where she is frail, suffers hallucinations and expels blood from her mouth as the virus overcomes her. This significantly alters the Geist/Geist relation. The materialisation of the double by genetic means, for Baudrillard, signifies the end of psychoanalytic representation and sexuality, but at the expense of the double's imaginary power in relation to the psychic and physical integrity and boundaries of the subject. The 'charm' (Simulacra 101) of the individual (its psychic resonance and physical being) is, for Baudrillard, its singularity (Simulacra 97-8). The viral Geist/Geist forms can be viewed not as a process of doubling but as fractals: the same images, the same viruses, repeated and extended indefinitely by genetic and digital means. Like the computer virus, which thrives in standardised technological environments (Thacker and Galloway 84), the low level of diversity and high level of proximity, physical and virtual, enables the virus to communicate more effectively. Coupled to this, the relation Baudrillard poses between subject and double is one of inverse proportionality: as the double materialises, the subject disintegrates both mentally and physically. And this is the case here, too, in the fractal relationship between Geist and Geist. When Geist is thought dead, there is a plague of Geist viruses and images: the increase in the latter's pathogenicity negatively affects the integrity of the former's psychic and physical boundaries. And it is this Geist that haunts Syd later in the film. Recaptured by Levine, now in the service of Vole and Tesser, Syd wakes in an observation room, flanked by oversized glamour images of Geist. Vole and Tesser intend to capture Syd's body on video as the virus kills him, in order to 'complete' Geist's life in the minds of the public. As he monitors, films and photographs Syd, Levine explains,

This is an honest room. You can share any thoughts or feelings you might be having. In fact, you are encouraged to share. ... Right now we are attempting to capitalise on a unique opportunity. Since her passing, many of Hannah's admirers have experienced what could be described as an uncomfortable narrative gap between her life and funeral. How did she die really? What did the final hours of her life look like? History may have denied them these moments but, through you, we have a window into the past. By documenting your deterioration, we can ease the suffering of millions who have, through no fault of their own, been left in the dark. How do you feel, right now?

Syd refuses to answer these questions verbally but furthers the connection between the viral body and the viral image. Somewhat 'completing' the narrative, wracked with pain and fever, Syd, like Geist, begins to expel blood from his mouth and, in a scene that merges subjective delirium with objective reality, he, like Bacon, disfigures the face, smearing the oversized Geist images with blood, while also approximating the real Geist's condition. Meanwhile, Geist sleeps, in and out of focus, around the edges of the room. The final sequence of the film begins with a digital simulation of Geist addressing the camera: 'Welcome, everyone, to my afterlife, exclusively from Vole and Tesser.' Syd escapes Levine by stabbing him in the mouth with a syringe, repels and wards off others with his contagious body and persuades Mira Tesser (Mary Crewson) to cure Geist. Unlike Syd, Geist is too far-gone to be cured, the appearance of Geist in Syd's delirium signalling the passing of the fleshly Geist into the viral. Simulated death here proves not to be a premonition but the subsumption of the real by the viral.

Syd, rid of the lethal virus, but still obsessed with Geist, becomes a technician for Vole and Tesser, whose latest venture is Geist's genetic legacy, cultivated in a new type of bioreactor, an Afterlife Capsule:11 an organ machine that houses tissues, sheets of stretched skin and pumping organs. Tesser explains to the onlooking investors that,

From the perspective of the virus, the human being is irrelevant. What matters is the system that allows it to function: skin cells, nerve cells, the right home for the right disease. Within our afterlife capsule, the system that is Hannah Geist's body has been perpetuated, even expanded beyond what existed during her life time. Make no mistake, however: this is not some glorified cell steak. Everything inside this housing is either part of the original body or has been grown directly from it, as a result of our patented cell-garden technology.

From genetic and digital simulation, to the optimisation and integration of viral production, the protraction of biological existence beyond death, the indefinite extension of the body, new viruses are injected into the system of organs and tissues through a fleshy port, infecting the body, and then sold. Schizophrenia for all:

No longer any face, any gaze, any human countenance or body in all of this - organs without bodies, flows, molecules, the fractal. The relation ... is of the order of contamination, of contagion: you hook up to it, absorb or immerse yourself in it, exactly as in flows and networks. (Baudrillard Intelligence 108)

The film's final image focuses on what remains of Geist's Baconesque face, her eyes closed as they were when Syd first encountered her, seen through a window into the machine. Syd, alone with Geist's new paranoid body without organs, suckles virus-infected blood from an incision in the fleshy interface of the machine. 'The insistence of the smile beyond the face and beneath the face. The insistence of a scream that survives the mouth, the insistence of a body that survives the organism, the insistence of transitory organs that survive the qualified organs' (Deleuze Bacon 36). What new kind of hysteria are we speaking of here? Antiviral abandons us on this fourth-order peripeteia, where the virus of paranoia ruptures the schizophrenic bacterium, releasing a plague of indeterminate viruses. Such cinematic visions, according to Deleuze, pay the price of madness. With no face to confront, what now is the value of schizophrenia?


1. As Shaviro does with David Cronenberg's Videodome (Canada 1983), rejecting Baudrillard's fatalism for Deleuze and Guattari's vibrancy (141-2).

2. I want to retain as a conceptual backdrop Deleuze's speculative observations that 'if the world has become a bad cinema, in which we no longer believe, surely a true cinema can contribute to giving us back reasons to believe in the world and in vanished bodies? The price to be paid, in cinema as elsewhere, was always a confrontation with madness' (Cinema 2 193). While making no claims to a 'new' type of cinema, Antiviral does make for a contrast to prominent theorisations of biopolitics and biocapital, such as Rose's: 'At one level, no doubt, most people - even those living within the remit of advanced technological biomedicine - still imagine their bodies at the "molar" level, at the scale of limbs, organs, tissues, flows of blood, hormones, and so forth. This is the visible, tangible body, as pictured in the cinema or on the TV screen, in advertisements for health and beauty products, and the like. ... Today, however, biomedicine visualises life at another level - the molecular level. The clinical gaze has been supplemented, if not supplanted, by this molecular gaze, which is enmeshed in a "molecular" style of thought about life itself ' (11-12).

3. Bardini is building on Deleuze's famous 'Postscript on the Societies of Control', itself an expansion on Foucault's theorisation of the transition from pre-industrial societies of sovereignty to industrial disciplinary societies. For Deleuze, in this third phase, the society of control, the discipline once affected by panopticonism is generalised in the gaseous form of 'free-floating [economic and societal] control' (4). Baudrillard had already diagnosed this in 1976 in Symbolic Exchange and Death with his homologous three orders of simulacra. When placed together, we can observe a series: sovereign - first-order pre-industrial simulacra; disciplinary - second-order industrial simulacra; and control - third-order post-industrial simulacra (simulation). Control-simulation resembles what both Jameson (Postmodernism) and Zizek identify as a third stage in capitalism, late capitalism for the former and, for the latter, capitalism with the spirit of 'non-hierarchic and anti-institutional creativity' as exemplified by the promissory capitalistic ventures into DNA technologies and synthetic biology (Zizek End Times 238).

4. Bardini credits sf author David Gerrold for first using the term 'virus' in relation to computers in his 1972 novel, When HARLIE Was One. The viral trope appears in relation to the sf of Burroughs and David Cronenberg in Bukatman and in Hansen. The virus, which is my primary focus here, contains either DNA or RNA, and Bardini does indeed speak of 'the viral ontology of the capitalism of the fourth kind' (182). So, what Bardini calls genetic capitalism, I call viral capitalism - a rhetorical shift that nevertheless imposes the missing Baudrillardian context. Baudrillard's viral, post-simulation order is important because it is easy to forget that simulation was first proposed in the pre-digital-technology era, so this fourth phase frequently concerns itself with digital and genetic technologies and virtual reality. See Pawlett (Baudrillard 107-32; 'Integral Reality' 108-10). Baudrillard's hyperbolic rhetoric names and describes a cultural and economic phenomenon that resembles what others have rendered in less mystifying terms, especially Jameson ('Culture and Finance') and Thacker and Galloway (101), all of whom draw on Deleuze. See also Biel (155-6). Baudrillard's primary focus is on value, and Thacker has elaborated the concept of biomaterial labour (Global 36-47).

5. Baudrillard's formulation of the viral has an economic determinant that resembles Jameson's suggestion that capital, in its 'financial or speculative stage', becomes 'free-floating' when it circulates via communications technologies that erase distinctions between time, space and location ('Culture and Finance' 251-2): 'the system is better seen as a kind of virus ... and its development is something like an epidemic (better still, a rash of epidemics, an epidemic of epidemics). The system has its own logic, which powerfully undermines and destroys the logic of more traditional ... economies' (249).

6. The Deleuzian rhetoric of affect is not a coincidence - Cooper draws on Deleuze's The Fold.

7. Brian Massumi: 'Microperception is not smaller perception; it is perception of a qualitatively different kind. It's something that is felt without registering consciously. It registers only in its effects' (4). See further Deleuze, Fold (85-99). Here we can draw together the virus, Bacon and Deleuze's work on cinema, particularly his classification of the cinematic affection-image: 'there is no close-up of the face, the face is in itself close-up, the close-up is by itself face and both are affect, affection-image' (Cinema 1 90). He gives the close-up/face a particular significance because of its capacity for affect and, as with Bacon, it registers impersonally not as a point of intersubjectivity (individualising, socialising, communicating) but of desire. That the face is described as an 'organcarrying plate of nerves ... which gathers or expresses in a free way all kinds of tiny local movements which the rest of the body usually keeps hidden' (Cinema 1 90) makes it a microperceptive organ.

8. Powell examines Richard Linklater's sf film, A Scanner Darkly (2006), saying that 'sci-fi and horror, with their thematic interest in human mutation, offer special modes of faciality' (125).

9. As Pisters notes, schizoresistances are 'an immanent form of resistance, which means that the system against which such forms of struggle functions according to the same schizophrenic logic' (5). The Deleuzian wager is that to evade reterritorialisation (the reimposition and maintenance of capital's internal limit) one must multiply forms of resistance, deterritorialising more and more. But what if multiplication (rhizomatics) was no longer an effective political model of organisation nor even deterritorialisation proper? It would be the case that, as Baudrillard essays, 'Deterritorialisation is no longer exile at all, and it is no more a metaphoric figure, it is a figure of metastasis: a deprivation of meaning and territory, a lobotomy of the body resulting from the turmoil of the circuits. Electrocuted, lobotomised, the soul has become but a cerebral convolution' (Ecstasy 46).

10. Levine speaks to Deleuze's virus of a thousand tiny sexes, explaining that 'sexual politics are involved also by the penetration by the virus. The original host takes on the role of the male and the newly infected is the female. And then the infected changes gender to infect others, sort of the way the reef fish changes gender. Probably says something about your customers.' The perfectibility of the female body and its subjugation to patriarchal control is, of course, not specific to sf. When it does appear, it is often achieved by mechanical means, as in Villiers de l'Isle-Adam's Tomorrow's Eve (1886), Metropolis (Lang Germany 1927) and Ira Levin's The Stepford Wives (1972). The difference here is that (perceived) female aberrance which, in these texts, is the object of expurgation, once molecularised, as in Antiviral, becomes profitable and subject to new forms of abstraction and control.

11. The film thereby extrapolates the real-life story of Henrietta Lacks, whom Arvid gestures to earlier in the film. Lacks's cancer cells, cultured after her death, were extraordinary in that, unlike most cells, they did not die, but continued to grow. The cells have since been put to extraordinary use by medical science, and it was years after Lacks's death before her family became aware of this. See Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (2010).


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[Author Affiliation]

Sean McQueen is a PhD candidate in the School of Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies at Monash University, Australia. He has been published in Science Fiction Film and Television, International Journal of Baudrillard Studies, Science Fiction Studies and Key Words: A Journal of Cultural Materialism.

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