Friday, January 07, 2011

Significant Moments: Colonialism as a Metaphor for the Retrovirus

Albert Rothenberg, M.D. first described or discovered a process he termed "homospatial thinking," which consists of actively conceiving two or more discrete entities occupying the same space, a conception leading to the articulation of new identities. Homospatial thinking has a salient role in the creative process in the following wide variety of fields: literature, the visual arts, music, science, and mathematics. This cognitive factor, along with "Janusian thinking," clarifies the nature of creative thinking as a highly adaptive and primarily nonregressive form of functioning.

There is a section of my book Significant Moments whose manifest content describes retroviruses.  A retrovirus is an RNA virus that is replicated in a host cell via the enzyme reverse transcriptase to produce DNA from its RNA genome. The DNA is then incorporated into the host's genome by an integrase enzyme. The virus thereafter replicates as part of the host cell's DNA. Retroviruses are enveloped viruses that belong to the viral family Retroviridae.  In simple terms the retrovirus transforms it's RNA into DNA (autoplasty) and goes on to alter the genetic makeup of the host it invades (alloplasty).  The retrovirus can be pathogenic (causing AIDS, cancers, and other diseases); but it's unique ability to alter a host cell's genome permits scientists to use it to insert beneficial genes into an organism's DNA that will be inherited over the generations.

Superimposed on the text about retroviruses is the metaphor of colonialism.  Colonialism is the establishment, maintenance, acquisition and expansion of colonies in one territory by people from another territory. Colonialism is a process whereby sovereignty over the colony is claimed by the metropole and the social structure, government, and economics of the colony are changed by colonists -- people from the metropole. Colonialism is a set of unequal relationships: between the metropole and the colony; between the colonists and the indigenous population.

The use of the metaphor of colonialism links up with another section of the book that discusses the Vietnam War (a continuation of the French colonial war in Indochina), as well as President Nixon and Dr. Daniel Ellsberg, a vocal critic of the Vietnam War.  One could say that the theme of colonialism is a metaphor for the retrovirus, which, in turn, serves as a metaphor for social activism.  Colonialism is a metaphor for a metaphor!  

The metaphor of the retrovirus has subsidiary meanings as it relates to (1) the traditional Jewish concept of "repairing the world,"  (2) the anti-Semitic stereotype of Jews as troublemakers who are out to upset the existing order, and (3) the theme of the scientific genius whose discoveries alter our perceptions of the world (Sigmund Freud).

The book Significant Moments takes anti-Semitic doctrine -- the view that Jews are a pathogenic virus -- and turns it on its head. Jews are a virus; a virus that transforms society in a beneficial way.

The struggle against Jews was, for the Nazis, an existential one in the most basic sense of the word, the conflict of two irreconcilable world views, one culture-creating, the other life-destroying. Hitler said to Himmler in 1942: "the discovery of the Jewish virus is one of the greatest revolutions that has taken place in the world. The battle in which we are engaged today is of the same sort as the battle waged, during the last century, by Pasteur and Koch. How many diseases have their origin in the Jewish virus! . . . We shall regain our health only by eliminating the Jew." Quoted in Burleigh and Wippermann, Racial State, 107.

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Retroviruses are so-called because they possess a unique cellular enzyme, reverse transcriptase, which uses the viral RNA as a template to make a DNA copy.
Frank Ryan, Virus X: Tracking the New Killer Plagues — Out of the Present and into the Future.
The DNA copy of the virus then slices open a host chromosome, inserts itself, . . .
Yvonne Baskin, The Gene Doctors: Medical Genetics at the Frontier.
. . . and in . . .
Charles Darwin, Origin of Species.
. . . a kind of inner colonialization, . . .
In Search of Common Ground: Conversations with Erik H. Erikson and Huey P. Newton.
. . . becomes for all intents and purposes one of the cell's own genes. When the cell begins transcribing this viral DNA sequence into RNA—as it must to get a working copy of any gene for use in protein production—the result is more copies of the RNA virus and the orders for materials needed to make the virus capsules.
Yvonne Baskin, The Gene Doctors: Medical Genetics at the Frontier.
To paraphrase Shakespeare, retroviruses are such stuff as nightmares are made of. But they are also the stuff of wonder.
Frank Ryan, Virus X: Tracking the New Killer Plagues — Out of the Present and into the Future.
That's most certain.
William Shakespeare, The Tempest.
Now part of the cell's chromosome, the virus—that is, all that's left of it, its genes—is in the catbird seat.
Peter Radetsky, The Invisible Invaders: The Story of the Emerging Age of Viruses.
To take an analogy from history: invading conquerors . . .
Sigmund Freud, An Outline of Psychoanalysis.
. . . let us use . . .
William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar.
. . . the French colonialists in Indochina . . .
David Straus, Vietnam Veterans and American Conceptions.
. . . as an example, . . .
Aldous Huxley, Brave New World.
. . . set out to govern . . .
Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote. 
. . . a conquered country, not according to the judicial system which they find in force there, but according to their own.
Sigmund Freud, An Outline of Psychoanalysis.
Like any good DNA, . . .
Peter Radetsky, The Invisible Invaders: The Story of the Emerging Age of Viruses.
. . . the viral genes . . .
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language.
. . . may transcribe messenger RNA, which travels back into the cytoplasm, some of it directing the cells' ribosomes to manufacture new viral proteins, some of it becoming enveloped by the emerging viruses to form their new cores of RNA. Or the integrated viral DNA may exert its influence upon the cellular genome and cause the cell to reproduce aberrantly, erratically, uncontrollably, thereby transforming it into a . . .
Peter Radetsky, The Invisible Invaders: The Story of the Emerging Age of Viruses.
. . . malignant . . .
William Shakespeare, The Tempest.
. . . cell. Or the viral genes may do nothing at all, may simply lie low—for years, perhaps—safe and undetected within the heart of the cell, until prompted once again to become active and produce more viruses, or a transformed cell, or both. What causes the activation isn't always entirely clear. There are many retroviral mysteries to be unraveled.
Peter Radetsky, The Invisible Invaders: The Story of the Emerging Age of Viruses.

4 comments:

Gary Freedman said...

"He just strung quotes together. Big deal!"

WRONG!! I strung metaphors together, metaphors that are metaphors for metaphors!

Gary Freedman said...

Antibiotics are troublemakers. They're simply out to make life difficult for bacteria.

You need to read Nietzsche.

"There are no moral phenomena. There are only moral interpretations of phenomena." -- Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil.

Gary Freedman said...

The FBI are troublemakers. They're simply out to make life difficult for racketeers!

Gary Freedman said...

USMS: "You were lying low for years. What caused you to become active in the fall of 2009?"