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This article is taken from PN Review 256, Volume 47 Number 2, November - December 2020.

Has Chance a Choice?
On Novel Coronavirus, Poetry, and the Pastmodern
David Rosenberg
Perhaps we can now call evolution a poem. Most often it has been portrayed as a meta-narrative, the Tree of Life story. Darwin had left it open and latecomers until recently have attempted to close – that is, shape – the tree as it overgrows itself, visually unwieldy.

Poets, however, have thought for some time that evolution is more of a rhizome. In Christian Bok’s review of Darren Wershler-Henry’s Nicholodeon (London, Ont.: Open Letter, 1998) he describes that book as ‘performing a radical autopsy upon the corpus of bpNichol, dissecting the ganglia of his influence, “the rhizome of an author-function in mourning”’. Nichol himself was reading Deleuze and Guattari, ‘for whom the rhizome was a metaphor of the complexity of the world in general’.

Of course, this was not long after the death of authorship’s heyday, if not the death of history’s. We have since learned somewhat more: the rhizome of evolution carries human history along with the literary version. There is no building on Chaucer and the Bible, as if they were lower branches. And now we are reminded there is no leaving the viruses behind:

Viruses are actually the most abundant biological entities on the planet. There are at least one and probably two orders of magnitude more virile particles on Earth than there are any kinds of cells. Further, at least half of our human DNA genomes consists of sequences derived from virus-like elements. Actually, the entire history of life is a history of virus-host interactions.

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