On Becoming-Molecular: Vaccines, Autoimmunity, and Negotiation | Chung-Hsiung Lai

by Critical Asia

by Chung-Hsiung Lai, June 2022】

Re-thinking “Becoming-Molecular” in a Post-pandemic Time

Living in a post-pandemic time means living in “the time out of joint”(to borrow the phrase from Shakespeare’s Hamlet). Never in the past have humans worldwide been locked down in their houses at the same time. Never in the past have humans worldwide developed a bunker mentality as a result of the same attack. Never in the past have humans worldwide lived in a time out of joint in fear of the same enemy. Doubtlessly, the coronavirus has dramatically changed the world in the form of a global crisis. All reflections, predictions and warnings in a post-pandemic time highlight an urgent call for a new normal to face an “out-of-joint” world. We have gradually realized that what cannot be cured in life must be endured. For instance, the policy of stopping the spread of viruses has gradually shifted to co-existing with viruses in Asia. I cannot help but re-think Deleuze and Guattari’s idea of “becoming-molecular,” not only for its philosophical meaning and ethico-political functions but also, more importantly, for its deconstructive aporia. In this article, after summarizing the three dimensions of becoming-molecular in the plane of immanence, I want to explore the aporia of becoming-molecular in the relation between humans and viruses. Then, I examine a deconstructive negotiation that urges us to engage this aporia regarding vaccination and autoimmunity.

Deleuze and Guattari remind us that “[w]e form a rhizome with our viruses, or rather our viruses cause us to form a rhizome with other animals” (A Thousand Plateaus 10). Being a “rhizomatic machine,” the human body owns a molecular-genetic structure and different operating systems. Nomadic viruses transfer genetic material to their host cells, and then they evolve differently in different species. Human beings, Karen Barad also points out, are always-already in the dynamic process of being “entangled” and “intra-acted” with all non-human beings or things. She thus argues that the whole world does not consist of individual “subjects” and “objects” but of “material-discursive phenomena” of “world’s becoming” (Meeting 91). From a new materialist view, germs, viruses, bacteria, and fungi have their modes of being, like that of human beings. Viruses have actively shaped human evolution. Accordingly, how could evolutionary movements of the eco-assemblages not be “entangled” between human and non-human beings and between host cells and viruses? If so, all living beings (the selves) are bound to “intra-acted” to their others whether they like it or not. In this eco-process of becoming-molecular, we must “[a]lways look for the molecular, or even submolecular, the particle with which we are allied. We evolve and die more from our polymorphous and rhizomatic flus than from hereditary diseases, or diseases that have their own line of descent” (A Thousand Plateaus 11).

In brief, “becoming-molecular” is a philosophical concept of immanence. As such, its scope is three-fold: politics, ethics, and vitality. First, the politics of becoming-molecular: Deleuze and Guattari make a distinction between “molar” (indicating hierarchy, stratification, and rigid subjectivity) and “molecular” (unstable, deterritorialized, and nomadic movement). Hence, “oedipalization” is constructed along molar lines, while “schizoanalysis” is constructed along molecular lines. The concepts of “molar” and “molecular” are often applied to political bodies: the former belongs to the state affiliated with a governing apparatus, while the latter belongs to micro-entities as the state’s counterparts. Molecularization thus signifies a powerful deterritorialized resistance to territorialized molarization concerning politics.

Second, the ethics of becoming-molecular: admittedly, “there is a deeply ethico-normative dimension to Deleuzo-Guattarain philosophy but it has tended to be ignored, overlooked, downplayed, and misunderstood” (Jun and Smith 2). We can say that becoming-other is a phenomenon of becoming-molecular, which is the fundamental mode of becoming. In What is Philosophy, Deleuze and Guattari explain that “becoming” is “the action by which something or someone continues to become other (while continuing to be what it is)” (177). Moreover, there are two intersecting dimensions of becoming as a phenomenon of double-becoming: one is “conceptual becoming,” which “is heterogeneity grasped in an absolute” (in “The Virtual Possible”), while the other is “sensory becoming,” which “is otherness caught in a matter of expression” (177) (from “The-Virtual-Real” to “The-Actual-Real” and from “The-Actual-Real” to “The-Actual-Possible”) in the plane of immanence (see Figure 1). Accordingly, these two thinkers introduce a whole series of well-known variations of “sensory becoming,” such as becoming-animal, becoming-children, becoming-minority, and becoming-women. Becoming-molecular thus signifies the continuous and dynamic process of becoming-other as a mode of being-with-others in the plane of immanence. The ethic of becoming-molecular with others lays a cornerstone of Deleuze and Guattari’s ethics of immanence.

Finally, the vitality of becoming-molecular: Deleuze and Guattari believe that individuals or groups are made of lines—lifelines. These lifelines are “lines of flesh,” including “the break line” (a molar line), “the crack line” (a molecular line), and “the rupture line” (a flight line). Individuals or groups can arise from the transformative assemblage of these different lifelines. Therefore, we must also see becoming-molecular as a vital and preserving force of living beings in natural evolution’s transformation or mutation, consisting of heterogenous, unknowable, and unpredictable events. We can say this vital force illustrates what Spinoza calls conatus because conatus is a philosophical concept to illustrate the striving of each living thing to persevere in its being in nature.

In brief, for Deleuze and Guattari, becoming-molecular as the basic mode of all “becomings” is virtual rather than actual in the plane of immanence. It is thus a continuous process of changing, unfolding, connecting, or flighting movements within a particular event of immanent nature (such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic). In Pure Immanence, Deleuze states that “[a] life contains only virtuals. It is made up of virtualities, events, singularities. What we call virtual is not something that lacks reality but something that is engaged in a process of actualization following the plane that gives it its particular reality” (31). Immanence, as the most crucial concept of Deleuze’s life-long works, is pure only when it is not a prior subject or object. The plane of immanence is only actualized in a living being to which it attributes itself. Accordingly, Deleuze believes that pureimmanence is “A LIFE,” and nothing else—“it is not immanence to life, but the immanence that is in nothing is itself a life” (27). Human or non-human life is a potential being in a purely immanent plane because immanence is always virtual. In this sense, immanence and a life always suppose one another. That is, when a life is actualized in “the actual real” in the particular life of someone or something, it is transcended in the mode of becoming-molecular as a product of immanence, including both humans and viruses. Deleuze’s idea of immanence thus calls for a triumph of affirmation in Nietzsche’s will to power. What is truly affirmed in the plane of immanence is a life in its affirmative conatus, multiplicity, and becoming.

However, the human mode of affirmative becoming-molecular has encountered its thorny aporias in a post-pandemic time. How can the human mode of becoming-other cope with the problem of vaccination as a mode of becoming-virus? Why does autoimmunity highlight the vicious economy of violence between humans and viruses? How can humans engage the non-negotiable in post-pandemic negotiation to solve the aporetic problems caused by the Anthropocene? Unlike the often-discussed political dimension in the plane of immanence, the ethical and vital-force dimensions of becoming-molecular offer us a better theoretical lens to examine the aporic relationships between humans and viruses regarding vaccination and autoimmunity.

Examining the Problems of Vaccination and Autoimmunity

Since the beginning of multi-celled organisms, the survival of all plants and animals has been challenged by bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Viruses are the most diverse type of biological entities and live in almost all ecosystems on the earth. As an infectious agent, a virus lacks any cell structure or metabolism, so it cannot live and replicate itself outside the living cells of its host organism. Viruses infect all life forms, from humans to microorganisms such as bacteria. When infected, a host cell is often forced to rapidly produce thousands of copies of the original virus, which causes a disease. Before modern medicine had yet been developed, humans could only rely on the immune system to protect their bodies. This defensive system can be compared to a large army consisting of two powerful fighting troops: the T-cell troop and B-cell troop.

One thing is worth noting: the brain is not the only part of the body with memory function. The immune system is fully capable of remembering all of the microbes that have infected the body, including those that did not cause diseases in the past and those that still live inside the body now. Antibodies are essential parts of this immunological memory of the molecular self and the molecular non-self (the other). Specifically, once the immune system encounters a recognized antigen (the other), B cells (the self) produce a subset called memory B cells. Then memory B cells will inform B cells to use the antibody’s Y-shaped binding mechanism to tag an infected cell. At the same time, B cells produce antibodies to block a part of a virus that is essential for its invasion or recruit T cells to destroy the foreign invaders directly. In short, the immunity system in our genetic mode of becoming-other can execute a 3R mission: recognition, reaction, and recovery. Although the human immune system has evolved (becoming-other) with more powerful equipment, more intelligent warriors, and more sophisticated combat strategies than other animals, it is still vulnerable to the known and unknown others in the eco-world. Millions of people worldwide having died of COVID-19 in the past two years is an evident example. The human immune army is certainly no match for this new virus-other. We must ask: Is vaccination a solution to the coronavirus epidemic?

A vaccine generates acquired immunity to a specific infectious other. Hence, vaccination can be seen as a genetic mode of becoming-molecular in immune assemblages to train the “memory” of the immune system in order to recognize and fight a specific pathogen. That is, vaccination is indeed a protective mode of becoming-other for humans. There are numerous types of vaccines at present. Most viral vaccines are made of a weakened or inactivated form of a virus or a harmless part of the virus (mRNA or viral vector) containing instructions for the human cells to produce an antigen protein that cannot cause disease. The vaccinated immune system is thus able to recognize and fight the remembered antigen. Specifically, COVID-19 vaccinated immunity can activate the right immune B and T cells to kill coronaviruses in the body. Nevertheless, the premise of vaccination is that only through the re-exposure to the recognized other in the future can immunity fight the harmful other. So, we must ask: How can we limit our vulnerability to the dangerous others in the vaccination process of becoming-other? Or, how much exposure of the becoming-other in vaccination do humans dare to keep?

Obviously, the answer is complicated and uncertain. In reality, viruses are also part of our genome. After a long becoming-other process of evolution, only 10% of our body cells are human, and the rest are microbes, including viruses and bacteria. That is, human DNA, bacteria DNA, and virus DNA dwell together in our bodies nowadays. In the evolutionary process of becoming-molecular, it is thus essential to regulate one’s exposure to the other both inside and outside the body since an opening to the other means the exposure of one’s vulnerability to the other. That is, the act of becoming-other is both natural and dangerous. It reveals an aporic tension between the conceptual becoming-other and the sensory becoming-other in general and between viruses and humans in particular in all ecosystems. Ironically, vaccination intensifies this aporic tension. Vaccines aim to provide immunity to the human body by integrating viruses (or some parts of viruses) into the human body in advance. In Deleuze and Guattari’s view, vaccination can thus be regarded as the human mode of becoming-virus to fight against viruses by domesticating the otherness of the virus in the immunity. Hence, the aporia of vaccination is that humans are caught between the risk of opening up the body and the risk of closing the body to becoming-virus in the pandemic (for example, the long-term side effects of COVID-19 vaccination are still unknown so far). In vaccination, one must bear the unbearable risk in the process of becoming-virus.

To elaborate on the aporia of becoming-other and the aporia of vaccination, let us examine the phenomena of “autoimmunization” dwelling within these two aporias. In truth, the immune system develops its operating authority to produce antibodies to defend the human body against “invaders” day and night. However, we are particularly interested in the “autoimmunity” in the immune system during the pandemic. The autoimmunity phenomenon is a living organism’s counter-defense against its own immune system. In some cases, to protect living organisms, this system automatically kills the immune system that aims to defend against foreign invasion in the human body. In other words, this autoimmunity mechanism is an irrational and self-destructive defense mechanism, not unlike what Freud calls the Thanatos (self-destructive) Drive in the unconscious.

From a medical angle, viral and bacterial infections are two of the main causes of self-destructive autoimmunity. Based on the most updated medical research on COVID-19-mediated autoimmunity, researchers, in general, believe that it is evident now “to think of autoimmunity as a serious complication of COVID-19” (Yazdanpanah and Rezael 58). For example, in “COVID-19 and autoimmune diseases,” the authors state that “autoimmune diseases are characterized by the existence of autoantibodies and perpetuated inflammatory reactions due to the loss of the immune system, leading to target organ damage and malfunction” (Liu et al. 156). It is not difficult to find similarities in immune responses between COVID-19 infection and autoimmune diseases. In the event of COVID-19, we may assume that the phenomenon of self-destructive autoimmunity results when the immune system over-reacts to an unknown invasion while facing the aporic situation of being caught between the risk of opening up the body and the risk of closing the body to becoming-virus in the pandemic.

Here, I want to use the vital dimension of becoming-molecular to explain how immunity operates a self-destructive overreaction regarding “molecular mimicry” in the mutual process of becoming-other between humans and viruses. Humans and viruses, as we know, are integral parts of nature and, thus, all own Spinoza’s conatus—a vital force that strives to persevere in their becoming-molecular existences. Molecular mimicry is a phenomenon in which an immune response to infectious or chemical agents induces autoimmune attacks. That is, molecular mimicry usually occurs when the molecular sequence of foreign peptides, similar to that of self-peptides, enters the immune system. The immune system then triggers autoreactive B or T cells to attack human organs (such as the heart, kidneys, lungs, or pancreas) or systems (such as the hematological, digestive, and neurological systems).

The medical evidence of molecular mimicry indicates that antigenic mimicry between viral and human proteins results in immunity failing to recognize the self-antigen as “the self” and launching autoimmune attacks on the misrecognized self (Liu et al. 157). In the COVID-19 case, “there are similarities in the immune response in both disease conditions, and organ damage in COVID-19 appears to be largely immune-mediated, similar to autoimmune diseases. The SARS-CoV-2 virus can disturb the self-tolerance of host antigens at least in part through molecular mimicry” (160). In other words, SARS-CoV-2 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2) may trigger self-destructive autoimmune responses through “molecular mimicry” (see Figure 2). The molecular mimicry event shows that autoimmunity can be seen as an overreaction of self-destructive lifelines. This irrational phenomenon manifests an aporia of immunity caused by the virus’s non-stop mutation, which always consists of the heterogenous, unknowable, and unpredictable events such as eco-responses to human’s vaccines and medicine. Ironically, vaccination uses the molecular mimicry of becoming-virus to respond to the virus’s attacks, while viruses use the molecular mimicry of becoming-immunity to respond to human attacks in the aporic evolution.

Figure 2. Similar immune reactions in SARS-CoV-2 infection and autoimmune diseases. Both COVID-19 and autoimmune diseases present with various clinical symptoms involving different organs and systems, such as the haematological system, cardiovascular system, digestive system, kidneys, lungs, neurological system, and pancreas. Organ damage is caused by uncontrolled immune response characterized by excessive production of cytokines and overactivation of immune cells, and the break of immune tolerance leading to the production of autoantibodies. SARS-CoV-2 infection can trigger cross-reactivity through molecular mimicry, leading to autoimmunity in patients with COVID-19. Source: Liu, Yu et al. “COVID-19 and autoimmune diseases.” 

In an interview with his friend Giovanna Borradori after the 9/11 attacks, Derrida also uses this phenomenon of autoimmunity discussed in zoology, biology, and genetics to construct a deconstructing concept examining the nature of this terrorism: “logic of autoimmunization.” Derrida argues that the horror of such a destructive system in the mode of becoming-other is that it is not an “external” attack (like a virus’s invasion from outside) but an attack that cannot be managed internally by the immune system itself. Therefore, “[t]he worst, most effective ‘terrorism,’ even if it seems external and ‘international,’ is the one that installs or recalls an interior threat, at home” (188). The invisible threat of violence in one’s home (or the “inexplicable” semi-suicidal logic of autoimmunization) is highlighted by the 9/11 event in the past and by the COVID-19 event in the present. Both events have one thing in common: their worst effect of autoimmunity logic occurs in a vicious circle that produces what Derrida calls an “economy of violence”— violence against violence, light against light, or resistance to violence with greater violence.

That is, “[i]f light is the element of violence, one must combat light with a certain other light, in order to avoid the worst violence” (117). It is this endless cycling of violence that makes the economy of violence irreducible. Although being a remainder of the lowest form of life, a coronavirus is a powerful “war-machine” (to use Deleuze and Guattari’s term), indeed. It owns becoming-other annihilation through its powerful duplication and multiplication in the host cells. Moreover, it mutates into a new mode of becoming-other from time to time to defend against human medicines and vaccines. A coronavirus does not have a brain to think, a mouth to speak, or a hand to kill. Still, it is a horrible “war machine” to humans in the irreducible human-virus economic of violence for centuries.

To resist the lethal violence of coronaviruses, governments worldwide have successively claimed “states of emergency” to lock down cities, adopt quarantines, and deprive citizens of their civil rights. Accordingly, Giorgio Agamben questions: “Where are we now?” As a witness to the transformation of Western democracies under the pandemic crisis, he claims that people are in “a state of exception” now confronting “the end of all social relations and political activity” presented as the exemplary form of civic participation (60). In a panic, people blindly believe that turning into a “bare life” can realize “biosecurity” during the pandemic. Civil freedoms, social relationships, economic activities, and living conditions are unprecedentedly limited and deprived. Slavoj Žižek also points out that “[t]he ongoing spread of the coronavirus epidemic has also triggered a vast epidemic of ideological viruses which were lying dormant in our societies: fake news, paranoiac conspiracy theories, explosions of racism” (33). Besides, contemporary international media and discourses have worsened the symptoms of autoimmunity logic disorder at both social and medical levels. Agamben’s and Žižek’s timely warnings clearly illustrate “the vicious cycle of violence” resulting from Derridean “logic of autoimmunity” in a time of the COVID pandemic.

Negotiating the Un-negotiables in the Pandemic Aporia

There is negotiation when there are two incompatible imperatives that appear to be incompatible but are equally imperative. (Derrida, Negotiations 13)

The analysis of “autoimmunity logic” allows us to understand that terrorism resulting from self-protection in immunity is a kind of “automatic,” “internal,” “spectral,” and “traumatic” mechanism within the “self.” From the medical perspective, although vaccines offer us a temporary means of protection against coronaviruses, they cannot cure diseases, and different vaccines bring about different levels of protection—none of them is perfect. COVID-19 vaccines as a mode of becoming-virus or becoming-other in the human body will cause known and unknown side effects. It is a given that vaccinated immunity treats coronaviruses as violent others to the human body. Yet, as we have discussed, viruses have their modes of conatus and becoming-other, like that of humans or other beings. Therefore, contemporary thinkers such as Donna Haraway, Dipesh Chakrabarty, and Bruno Latour have argued that these viral invasions of human bodies are the consequences of human invasions of non-human worlds—a backfire effect of the Anthropocene.

Such a critique of the Anthropocene attempts to remind us that humans have done significant damage to other life forms in the ecosystems in the past. From this perspective, vaccination becomes not only a medical matter of (auto-)immunity at the biological level but also a modern form of biopower at the ethico-political level. In reality, coronaviruses duplicating themselves have no hostile “intention” to harm or kill humans simply because they do not have a “brain” to do so. They just constantly evolve with their modes of conatus and becoming-other to survive. Admittedly, they have their own right to stay in their evolution on the planet. As an adaptation of coronavirus’s emergence for human benefits, current vaccinations must also be situated and understood in the context of the anthropogenic interventions in past centuries. In this regard, vaccination is surely not a total solution to the pandemic but an urgent negotiation between viruses and humans regarding the-self-and-other relations on the earth.

Accordingly, Derrida’s idea of “negotiation” and its relation with the idea of “aporia” are helpful for us to face the thorny double-desire problem in the evolutionary process of becoming-other. He states that “the aporia can never simply be endured as such. The ultimate aporia is the impossibility of the aporia as such. The reservoir of this statement seems to me incalculable” (Aporias 78). That is why Richard Beardsworth soundly writes that “an aporia demands decision, one cannot remain within it; at the same time, its essential irreducibility to the cut of a decision makes the decision which one makes contingent, to be made again. The promise of the future (that there is a future) is located. In this contingency of time resides the possibility of justice” (5). The aporia of justice signifies both the impossibility of the deconstructive experience and “the promise of the future,” which is always there—a messianism without Messiah.

‘Admittedly, the becoming-molecular function of vaccines always-already implies the aporic problem between the self and the other in general and between humans and viruses in particular. I contend, however, that there is always a political, ethical, and vital space for deconstructive negotiation between two incompatible imperatives. According to Derrida, “[o]ne does not negotiate between exchangeable and negotiable things. Rather one negotiates by engaging the non-negotiable in negotiation” (Negotiations 13). In truth, there is constantly negotiating blood pulsing in any deconstructive vein: the deconstructive question, giving no grounds for any doctrinal epistemology, ontology, or virology, recognizes no fixed boundaries. As Dan Bulley succinctly puts it, 

the great advantage of deconstructive negotiation is that it does not give up on the aporetic, impassable ethical problems. Rather than simply denying or effacing the contradictions inherent in concepts such as hospitality, it seeks to move beyond these contradictions, while retaining them as necessary to prevent the enclosure of the concept. (660-1)

To move beyond contradictions, the aporic relation between humans (the self) and viruses or non-humans (the other) actually guarantees an irreducible hiatus as a potential space of negotiation in the evolutionary process of becoming-other. This irreducibility of the hiatus between the self and the other also highlights the horizon of différance as a hitherto unexplored possibility. This hiatus also highlights the anxiety between an arrival and a to-come, between presence and absence, and between human and non-human species. However, this space, interval, or hiatus is not a decisive break. Instead, it is a simultaneous double-desire of the human subject per se—the fear of being a totality (the end of becoming-other) transformed into a desire for separation as the infinite rupture (the function of vaccination), while at the same time, in separation, being a desire for the very possibility of relationship (the evolutionary being-with other). Such a dynamic hiatus between humans and viruses or non-humans always involves a matter of becoming-molecular, a matter of becoming-other, and even a matter of becoming-becoming. Practically speaking, forever lacking a secured self in ecosystems on the earth, humans suffer from such a simultaneous double-desire forever as an existential aporia. In such an existential condition, a deconstructive negotiation generated within the irreducible hiatus becomes a must for humans.

That is, deconstructing the aporic relation between humans and viruses is thus an act of negotiation to go beyond—suggesting that we must start from a critical investigation of a given idea. We can go beyond its given border to discover something else. However, a deconstructive negotiation as such is never easy. Derrida reminds us that negotiating action always leads us to the situation of “un-leisure”: the impossibility of stopping and settling in a position. He further elaborates: “when I think negotiation, I think of this fatigue, of this without-rest, this enervating mobility preventing one from ever stopping. . . this means: no thesis, no position, no theme, no station, no substance, no stability, a perpetual suspension, a suspension without rest” (Negotiations 13). To engage the non-negotiable in an ethico-political negotiation in the aporic relation between humans and viruses is always a without-rest and no-stopping mission—the situation of “un-leisure” between the ethics as “absolute responsibility” (in The Virtual Possible) and politics as “general responsibility” (in The Actual Real).

Derrida points out the paradoxical nature of absolute responsibility: it usually means accountability to the other, but the singular nature of the infinite responsibility makes it secret and solitary. Thus, we note responsibility as an aporia: on the one hand, it signifies the accountability to ethical generality, which implies a possibility of substitution; on the other, it also represents an absolute singularity, secrecy, and non-substitution. Hence, there is an insoluble paradox between absolute and general where responsibility is concerned. If this is so, “[a]bsolute responsibility is not a responsibility” (Gift 61). The paradoxical nature of responsibility lies in its superlative, which must be an impossibility for all situated and general responsibilities in order to maintain itself as absolute responsibility. That is, the current critique of the Anthropocene as a timely self-reflection can only be seen as a general responsibility to respond to a call of absolute responsibility as an impossibility in the post-pandemic time. Besides, if vaccination is to legitimize its radical politics of using violence against violence to stop the spread of coronaviruses, it must prioritize immediate responsiveness and constant responsibility to the eco-friendly and multispecies world lest vaccination falls into the vicious economy of violence.

If viruses cause a violent invasion and assimilation of human existence, humans must fight against this violence with a certain other violence. That is, all organic life or living things never escape the economy of violence, such as the one between humans and viruses in ecosystems. The absolute peace of the non-Anthropocene only exists in the domain of pure non-violence or in an unreachable promised land. However, humans always have chances to avoid falling into the “vicious economy of violence.” A “virtuous economy of violence” is the answer. That is, the becoming-molecular of the pandemic ethico-political policy must “choose the lesser violence within an economy of violence” (Derrida, Writing 313). This virtuous economy of violence in double-becoming (the conceptual and the sensory becomings) requires double responsibility (the absolute and general responsibilities) in a deconstructive negotiation. On the one hand, it aims at the impossibility of escaping from the Anthropocene assimilation in ecosystems and, on the other hand, the necessity of such a line of flight arising from the impossibility of remaining totally within the Anthropocene violence. Deleuze and Guattari’s becoming-molecular and Derrida’s deconstructive negotiation allow the two ethico-political impossibilities of becoming-other to interlace, thus suspending the critical moment of deciding between the two in double-becoming with double responsibility.

Thus, it is the nature of the deconstructive decision in a pandemic negotiation: any deconstructive act in negotiation (which chooses lesser violence) in the virtuous economy of violence is always-already subject to other deconstructive acts of negotiation to come. In other words, one may state that the refusal to meet the eco-other (viruses) in a deconstructive relation actually results from the refusal or inability of the self (humans) to see and examine its own blindness (such as the Anthropocenic mentality), which makes the greater violence possible. Only when the virtuous negotiating passage (through the original structure of eco-violence in the evolutionary process of becoming-other) is guaranteed can the virtuous experience of the economy of violence enable judgments of lesser violence to be made. In practice, we need to inject vaccines with awareness of their aporia and risks for the time being. At the same time, we also need to ethico-politically mend the eco-unfriendly situations of the Anthropocene for the long run. By doing that, we will not be trapped in the aporic anxiety between Anthropocene and anti-Anthropocene and the vicious economy of violence in the ethico-political mode of becoming-molecular.


The difference is that contagion, epidemic, involves terms that are entirely heterogeneous; for example, a human being, an animal, and a bacterium, a virus, a molecule, a microorganism. Or in the case of the truffle, a tree, a fly, and a pig. These combinations are neither genetic nor structural; they are interkingdoms, unnatural participations. That is the only way Nature operates—against itself. (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus 242)

Admittedly, the COVID-19 pandemic aporias have testified to the necessity and the possibility of a new ethico-political philosophy for a new normal. For Deleuze and Guattari, to become-molecular for the self is to open, connect, assemble, and create in the process of becoming-other in the plane of immanence. In contrast to the political dimension of Deleuze and Guattari’s becoming-molecular, the ethical and vital dimensions of becoming-molecular are more potent to explore not only the aporia of becoming-other in the human-and-virus relation but also a deconstructive negotiation engaged in this aporia regarding vaccination and autoimmunity. In the heterogeneous ecosystems, the aporic anxieties of becoming-other and autoimmunity to all living beings are something must be accepted and endured because this is “the only way Nature operates—against itself” (242). From the perspective of building a friendly symbiosis in ecosystems, I contend that vaccination cannot be treated as a total solution to the pandemic but as an urgent negotiation between viruses and humans regarding the-self-and-other relations. In the pandemic aporia, we must respond to the calls of the other and make a decision of justice immediately, especially correcting the wrongs of past Anthropocene events.

In brief, living in a time out of joint means living a time of becoming-molecular. Yet, becoming-molecular is paradoxically affirmative and dangerous for any form of organic life and living things, including humans and viruses. The current post-pandemic time is undoubtedly a time out of joint. It is disjointed, something that has gone wrong in the normal world and linear time. My analysis of a pandemic time that is out-of-joint in terms of becoming-molecular, aporia, vaccination, autoimmunity, and negotiation, also inscribing apromise, and a demand that eco-affairs must be put right. Doubtlessly, the world is dramatically “worlding” (to use Heidegger’s term), and people are globally “peopling” (to use Deleuze and Guattari’s term) in a time of becoming-molecular. The former is inevitably entangled and intra-acted with the latter now and forever as long as the human species still exists.

What must be endured in reality is: the coronavirus is here to stay and spread. The future after the pandemic will depend heavily on the ongoing deconstructive negotiation between humans and viruses—how the human immunity develops through infection and vaccination and how the coronavirus mutates and evolves. None of them is certain. One thing is sure—the negotiation-oriented becoming of both is surely un-leisure. It will lead us to a new normal, for better in “a virtuous cycling of violence” or worse in “a vicious cycling of violence.”

Chung-Hsiung Lai, National Cheng Kung University, Taiwan


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