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Coexistence with the Virus: Between Domesticated and Wild


Sun,  Mengmeng
Department Artifacts, Action, Knowledge, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Max Planck Society;

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Sun, M. (2020). Coexistence with the Virus: Between Domesticated and Wild. Teach311 + COVID-19.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-0008-3603-8
“Coexistence with the Virus: Between Domesticated and Wild” by Mengmeng Sun invites students to consider the porous borders between human bodies and microbes. By reframing the militant language often used to discuss the eradication of disease agents, “coexistence” introduced by Dr. Sun tests the working assumptions of the binaries that define human actions. Following this lecture, students may explore questions such as whether there is, in fact, a boundary between human beings and the natural world, and what sort of social choices and political decisions, whether national security, global health, or climate change, may be possible if humans are considered part and parcel of nature.


The keyword of this brief talk is “coexistence.” In the discourse of the history of epidemics, “coexistence” seems like a compromise between human and virus after a long, drawn out war. However, viruses cannot be killed in the same way as a human army. “Coexistence,” as a delicate balance, actually marks the boundary between human and nature. We have encountered the same situation in predicting the motion of the atmosphere: “climate is a beast” refers to the truth that we cannot really control and tame “the wild.” It would be prudent for us to take an attitude that admits the “in-between,” and pay attention to what happens in the indistinguishable zone of nature and man.