This essay aims to expand what constitutes processes of signification to include the recalcitrant, folded materialities of molecular interaction, suggesting that molecules may act as signs, in a biosemiotic sense, without spiriting away the embodiment of their situated, three-dimensional enfoldings. The essay develops the concept of molecular poetics in order to formulate how a materialist approach to poetics, configured within the recent theoretical turn toward the nonhuman in the humanities, can remain sensitive to the complex aesthetic dimensions of the irresolvably nondualist imbrications of matter and meaning. Poet Christian Bök’s biopoetic project The Xenotext Experiment—in which he inserts a poem into the DNA of bacteria, hoping that the bacteria will act as his “post-human collaborators” to produce a second protein poem based on the expressed sequence of the original DNA poem—provides an ideal case study for considering the biosemiotic properties of the entangled shapes and temporalities of biological molecules.
From Code to Shape: Material-Semiotic Imbrications in the “Particle Zoo” of Molecular Poetics
ada smailbegović is an assistant professor of English at Brown University. Her writing explores relations between poetics, nonhuman forms of materiality, histories of description, and the natural sciences. She is a cofounder of The Organism for Poetic Research. Her articles and poetic work have included The Forest / On Waiting (Doublecross Press, 2017), “Cloud Writing” (in Art in the Anthropocene, 2015), “Affective Ethologies” (in Angelaki, 2015), and “Of the Dense and Rare” (in Triple Canopy, 2013). She is currently at work on a critical monograph titled “Poetics of Liveliness: Soft Matter of Molecules, Liquids, Tissues, Clouds.”
Ada Smailbegović; From Code to Shape: Material-Semiotic Imbrications in the “Particle Zoo” of Molecular Poetics. differences 1 May 2018; 29 (1): 134–172. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10407391-6681682
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