Parasites, Viruses, and Baisetioles: Poetry as Viral Language


Austin’s (in)famous characterization of poetry as parasitical has been subject to many interpretations, from Derrida’s considering it a limit of and a central problem in Austin’s theory to Cavell’s attempt to reintegrate poetic uses of language within the framework of Ordinary Language Philosophy. In this essay, I argue that poetry, rather than being excluded from the realm of the performative, can be considered as a performative dispositif that acts upon ordinary language and, through it, upon our forms of life. To reevaluate poetry, I suggest moving from the ‘parasite’ metaphor (poetry is passively feeding on ordinary uses of language) to a ‘virus’ metaphor (poetry is actively disrupting ordinary uses of language). By building on works of French theorists and poets Christophe Hanna, Franck Leibovici, and Manuel Joseph among others, I explore how poetry reveals the virality of language.