This essay theorizes the potential uses and limitations of describing a text as “viral.” Literary texts are often described as viral when they serve as tools of self-expression for those who reproduce them: viral texts must therefore delete or suppress qualities that mark them as alien, and emphasize qualities that identify them with those who might repeat them. As they circulate, viruses span and connect social and intellectual lineages through rhizomatic motion, as described by Deleuze and Guattari. These concepts provide an occasion for a rereading of the contemporary circulation of the poetry of Gu Cheng 顾城, whose verse and biography have circulated widely and been intensively transformed in the past thirty years. The partial and mutated versions of his life and verse that circulate via film, television, print, calligraphy, and especially the Internet produce a shared fantasy of a “free” poet whose genius excludes him from social constraint, and who deserves and enjoys the limitless adoration of women. This fantasy is made circulable in part by suppressing the experience of his wife, Xie Ye 谢烨, whom he killed in 1993, a deletion whose marks are clearly visible in a historicized analysis of popular treatments of their story. On the strength of Deleuze and Guat-tari’s argument that the rhizome cannot be encompassed but instead only extended through rupture, the essay then reads Xie Ye’s prose compositions “Games” and “Your Name Is Little Mu’er,” finding them to contain stories that can travel and concepts whose circulation may contribute to antipatri-archal goals. The piece concludes by arguing that the metaphor of the virus reveals the position of the scholar who reproduces texts for study, and that thinking through the virus implicates scholars in the ethics and pragmatics of spreading texts.

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