- Junk Culture and the Post-Genomic Age
In the spring of 1953, James Watson and Francis Crick published a series of papers in Nature that led them to claim that DNA is "the molecular basis of the template needed for genetic replication" (qtd. in Watson 246). The papers paved the way for Watson and Crick to receive the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology, in turn validating what Crick had famously termed the "Central Dogma": the view that information, in the form of biochemical blueprints, flows one-way from DNA to RNA to proteins. This causal process continues to inform the paradigm in molecular biology according to which DNA is "the most important component of the cell, its 'master plan'" (Strasser 493). What the Central Dogma has struggled to accommodate, however, is so-called junk DNA: those DNA bases that do not code for protein (some 98.5% in the human genome) and hence appear to be excessive, or to have no genetic function (Bardini 20, 29-30).
Thierry Bardini's Junkware, a recent title from Minnesota's Posthumanities series, interrogates this very paradigm by considering the biological fact and cultural significance of junk DNA. For Bardini, junk DNA is both master trope and fringe element of an era in which human beings are becoming "junkware": "a new kind of slave[,] enslaved in our code itself" and subject to a "disposable and recyclable" society of workers, consumers, and spectators (7, 9). Bardini defines junk as "the quintessential rhizomatous genus" of Homo nexus, an emergent subjectivity at once individuated and networked (13). To develop this argument, Part One of Junkware ("Biomolecular Junk") traces the cybernetic view of biological life through its "blind spot" of junk DNA. In Part Two ("Molar Junk: Hyperviral Culture"), Bardini shifts from the social study of modern genetics to offer a cultural theory of junk more widely construed. Throughout, his method is one of accumulation, aggregation, and critique. Junkware sifts through an array of materials that includes science fiction, online wikis, Google search results, epistemology, cybernetics, critical theory, and mass media coverage of everything from the Human Genome Project to gene therapy. A cross-disciplinary scholar, Bardini's voice in Junkware ranges from that of the high theorist to that of the pop culture critic to that of the social scientist.
Bardini's project makes two interventions: one in the discourse of biopolitics and one in the history of genetics. As for the former, Bardini sees the ultimate horizons of capitalism as the "invention of genetic capital" and the systematization of "living money" in the form not only of animal and human bodies but also of tissues, organs, and genes (11). Here, we can situate Junkware within recent work on what sociologist Nikolas Rose and others term "life itself." The thesis of Junkware resonates most clearly with Nicole Shukin's contention in Animal Capital that late capitalism has literalized commodity fetishism by turning biological life into currency, while the free market system has simultaneously become vulnerable to "novel diseases erupting out of the closed loop" of biocapital (16-19). In Tactical Media, Rita Raley suggests that late capitalism and critical theory participate in a feedback loop, whereby the material procedures of late capital both determine and are determined by the theoretical terms of biopolitical critique. Raley observes, for example, that capitalist ideologies of mutation and adaptation cross-pollinate with postmodern theory, as in Fredric Jameson's argument that late capitalism operates like a biological virus (129).
In Junkware's historiography of genetics, Bardini engages the work of both Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze to claim that twenty-first century society morphs beyond both the disciplinary societies of the industrial era and the control societies of the post-industrial era. In "Postscript on the Societies of Control," Deleuze argues that the third stage of capitalist society hinges on "floating rates of exchange" and "a continuous network" in which the individual and the collective "orbit" one another. Seeing a fourth stage of capitalism on the horizon, Bardini writes, "the latest episode in the modern civilization . . . is the cybernetic decoding and organizing of the flows of...