Memes and Viruses as Territorial Refrains

Author: Gytis Dovydaitis

Memetic organization of strata

A successful memetic replication involves a slight modification of the original message, yet still having some essential molecules intact. With time, certain molecules transform, evolve, mutate, and once deterritorialized from the origins of the meme, can get reterritorialized to communicate certain agendas thus establishing certain territories. Pepe the frog is a particularly good example of internet meme which got its molecules altered heavily, and now, at the time of writing, it is communicating absolutely whatever the communicator intends. Here we see an example of reterritorialization of the molecules in order to territorialize - create certain ideological spaces which enable communication of certain concepts, possibly even indoctrinating the readers (as in alt-right). A meme spreads as a parasitic rhizome using other bodies for its spread. Bodies of human beings to be precise. Infected bodies start constituting semiotic spaces via gestures, rituals, verbal expressions, imagery, or entire aesthetical styles. Bodies are responding to other bodies in a mirror-like fashion (the act of “mirroring” is a great example), thus establishing spaces around them which are reflections of a wider social fabric. The contents of the space at hand is composed out of memes: certain types of columns, ceiling heights, urban or architectural logic, etc.


We can be more specific and see how memes are acting as door keys as well: a certain space (your bedroom for example) can be entered smoothly only if the molecules of the visitor are shaped so that they correspond to the ones which are active in a given social context. In other words, a person can enter the room only if the boundaries of his physiopsychological multiplicity (aesthetic preferences, level of friendship, ability to physically access the room) are fluid in just the right spots. Put extremely simply, I can get to your bedroom only if we are friends, or I am a cop looking for drugs. Here we see how the participants get themselves into a kind of a semantic dance mediated by memetic molecules, the result of which is a process of production of space (me entering your bedroom creates, or at least modifies the social space of your bedroom). This way an enclave could also be created: for example when a couple of anticapitalistic artists meet each other in a corporate party. Here memes become extremely vivid – they are exactly the molecules which get corresponded, which stick together, join, start to wiggle, resonate, express themselves in various movements (anticapitalistic sentiments, habit of shaking hands in a certain way, particular apparel, etc.). Zooming out, the meme creates a territorial refrain out of the people who get their molecules altered. People themselves become molecules of the meme multiplicity.


Does a meme has its own agency? It has its own requirements for interaction, which once met, become opening points for a meme to enter the host body. Memes are genes, but this analogy usually emphasize the spread only, thus not being able to show the full picture. However, genes (a material stratum - an inanimate agglomeration of chemical compounds) are also organizing a biological stratum (create a living being). Memes have the same feature as well: by organizing a psychic stratum of an infected human, they also organize the spatial stratum surrounding the host of the meme. The most striking example of such memetic organization of space is a global climate crisis, where the psychic meme of burning fossil fuels for energy shaped the earth. Genetic evolution is the material stratum organizing the life stratum, while memes are alloplastic (cultural) stratum organizing the human society, which in turn is responsible for the creation of new strata, such as technological – a most prominent one.

Despotic viral repetition

Viruses do establish a certain kind of territory as well (they are certain types of refrain after all), but it is defined by rigidness, authorities, striation, direct repetition, while memetic molecular replication is defined by creative interpretation. One of the central catalyzers allowing the virus to spread successfully is a seemingly serendipitous share by a though leader (YouTube blogger) who initiates the viral chain of copy-paste events (his fans sharing the content as well). This leader is nothing else but an authority figure, a faciality machine organizing space and organs around him. Leader gathers up the crowd and has a claim to establish a war machine (a nomadic opposition to massification of society created by classical media), but all he does is striate, striate, striate (for example the crowd/mass into big data expressions, such as YouTube video analytics which are later used to tailor the content in one or another direction). The parasocial relationship of YouTube influencer and his followers exemplify the despotic one-way communication. In most cases, the fan (or any spectator) is expected to act virally - to copy and paste objects expressed in the leader’s content (funny videos or pictures, certain gestures or linguistic shapes, sometimes even daily habits or even a worldview). That’s how the virus gets replanted, deterritorialized and reterritorialized in the follower’s space. Then the follower becomes responsible for extending the longevity of the inanimate virus by sharing the virus-molecule with his peers. And then the chain continues: molecule replicates further.


Let’s zoom out to a more general context: perhaps the viral molecules replicated along multiplicities (identities, bodies) are the molecules at the very boarder of the multiplicity, ones which do not have any definitive characteristics of the multiplicity and are only there for decoration (cool pick up lines to impress the girls). It could be the case, that viruses are able to construct rigid membranes, walls even, by metrically (at exactly defined, repetitive distances) replicating certain materials. This circles a space which is extremely difficult to enter, the one which has its multiplicities tied together so much that it starts looking like a tree (with despotic face at the root). Viral media circles out the castle of ideology, the empire of capitalism, predetermining possible lines of movement through the space in advance. The multiplicity of capitalism is safely guarded by virally connected leaders at the gate, and is populated by masses, communicating parasocially with the leaders. An exact repetition of the required molecules (habits, verbal expressions, aesthetics, etc.) is required from the one who wishes to have a smooth entrance to the space (capitalist society) and function there successfully. Wages and awards are being issued for ones who are best at reproduction. This establishes a certain kind of state, or maybe a state generally. Is the wall of the State is composed out of viruses?

Walls and patchwork

Viruses are defined by direct repetition. They spread by swapping certain molecules of the infected with their own. This turns the follower into becoming-virus, or more correctly - becoming-state or becoming-capitalism perhaps. Memes, however, are defined by creative imitation or remix. While viruses are very useful for constructing rigid membranes, that is not evident about memes. While viruses tend not to have a despotic leader figure at the center, memes appear organically and spread organically, through a smooth space, allowing establishment of lines of flight. Memes act as refrains, but not metric ones: they are like cacophonous jazz, which changes the tempo of the rhythm and melodic motifs as it progresses. Memes are defined by improvisation, while viruses are defined by repetition (rehearsal). Every iteration of a meme has its own unique flavor which comes from the author of a given iteration, or more specifically - the arrangement of his molecules. Memes enter the multiplicity in a similar way as viruses do - they tend to stick to various boarder molecules which are open for change, but the key difference from the virus is that memes do not expect to be implanted into the multiplicity simply as they are. Memes expect to be morphed according to the characteristics of entered multiplicity. Meme molecule assemblage is very fluid and open for change itself, it enters the multiplicity only when it detects a line of flight.

(Or maybe we could speak about “general communication objects”, which enter the spectator multiplicities and become defined as being viruses or memes only after the interaction with the spectator has finished (or at least initiated)? Maybe viruses and memes are not defined by the contents of their own assemblages, but by the way the spectator interacts with them? Perhaps any virus has a gradient of potential to become a meme, and any meme has a gradient of potential to become a virus.)

Virus walls off the territory, meme establishes the territory without walls. Construction of a wall is a segmentation act which makes sense only in metrically defined striated space, where it is possible to actually find objects which can be contained within the walls. Smooth space is a patchwork - absolutely heterogeneous, freely flowing in all directions. Memes are like patches on a patchwork - having certain similar features, but changing ever so slightly with each iteration. At first they might have a very specific message, but with time it morphs, changes its shapes, gains new meanings, and ends up turning into a highly fluid, disorganized body, where no static, stable inside can be found. Memetic spread is accountant for structuring certain refrains of the social fabric, while viral spread initiates metric rhythms - static, predetermined, fixed as beings. Memes create lines of flight tapping on the plane of immanence, while viruses segment the space.

Through the Stack


Internet allows a free formation of memetic and viral refrains, completely ageographical, non-temporal. By simply using the internet (especially social media) the User gets his multiplicity unraveled and massaged (”medium is the massage”, as in McLuhan). Flows flow through the internet - flows of capital, labor, communication, or in other words - various molecules from various multiplicities. On the one hand, internet is not creating anything new (memes or capitalism predate the internet to a large extent), on the other - a global computational megastructure (the Stack) is an outcome of the internet, and it is new. A completely new space gets produced here since the mode of production is different now. This space is defined by multiple layers and possibilities to escape the rigid Euclidean constrains (being in a number of places at the same time, experiencing different timelines at the same place). Although the interface of this space exhibits certain dimensionality (usually 2D screen and hyperlinks as depth), it has hidden dimensions (various layers of the Stack: Earth, Cloud, City, etc.). Both memes and viruses flow through the Stack. Obviously they reach us most directly via Interface, but they influence the whole structure. Cloud corporations shape the Earth layer memetically by constructing their data centers according to general fashion; Cities have viral-membranes for the User to enter and function in various parts of the geographical territory; each new Address is formed virally (according to presupposed, rigid standards) and is assigned memetically (to any kind of object); Interfaces exhibit both memetic and viral semiotic contents, and are themselves formed according to both fashions and standards; Users express memes through their own actions, and replicate viruses in order to enter certain territories. Memes and viruses define various territorial membranes, and internet is the tool which allows a rapid spread of them. Actually, a most powerful tool which had ever existed.