Friday, September 9, 2011

The Symbiont

The teaspoon of Ephemerata Gardens soil I mailed to the lab tested positive for the Toxoplasma tinkerans brain parasite. I haven’t tested myself, but I’m sure I’m infected. The team of soil ecologists that discovered T. tinkerans last year hypothesize that the endosymbiont alters its host’s behavior by stimulating an obsessive collecting and arranging of objects, generating a landscape patch cluttered with rusty metals. Like the bacteria in early biobattery experiments, T. tinkerans eats iron oxide in soil solutions by prying off oxygen and metabolizing the freed up protons, giving the ground a mild electrical charge. The parasite reproduces solely in human temporal lobes. Hoarders, scrap metal collectors, and people with art yards simultaneously cultivate and are cultivated by the symbiont.

Inside each yardist’s brain is another small garden where the yardist symbiont dwells. Like its close relative Toxoplasma gondii, a transpececific brain parasite that co-evolved with cats, T. tinkerans makes its hosts do things and behave certain ways. Most notably, yardists begin to feel unsettled and uncomfortable anywhere but their yard. They must constantly tinker, becoming part of a living machine. They grow curiously affectionate towards certain kinds of trash, attracting it to them as if by arcane magnetism. The yardist symbiont cultivates secret powers in its hosts that range from an attunement to particular objects in roadside junk, to a dreamy state of awareness or sense of timelessness in which garbage gleams with promises of what it might become. Hosts become overly sensitive to a space's aesthetic saturation, in particular an atmosphere's maintenance needs and patterns of decomposition. Perhaps the oddest and most dangerous symptom is a nascent sense that money isn't everything which, untreated, can grow over the years into an acute dislike of accumulating capital in favor of blatently wasting time. Affection for the valueless eclipses the desire to amass set forms of value -- as if currency, not trash, was dirty and polluted.

How does the yardist symbiont spread? At first I imagined a mycelial matt camouflaged as ordinary sewer pipes and fiber-optic cables creeping out from the Cathderal of Junk beneath the rest of Austin. Working in the garden one day, the yardist-to-be extracts a small twist of wire from the soil and contracts the symbiont. More realistically, the vectors are not underground, but the environments themselves. Just setting foot there you run the risk of contracting the symbiont. It even seems to transmit over TV -- an invisible microbe that infects through visual media. Perhaps it spreads through tainted gifts, like the doll arm, head on a stick, and mullein pups Scott Stevens trasnplanted from Smut Putt Heaven to live in Ephemerata Gardens. Before you know it, an art environment takes over your yard and life. Over the course of a decade, structures like the East/West Gate to the Garden of Eden at Further Farms coagulate from a multitude of rusty taproots emerging directly from the yard. You start eyeing roadside junk piles, compulsively collecting body parts for the yardist symbiont to assimilate into its ever-creeping form.

T. tinkerans' discovery not only lets us better understand the psychobiogeophysical entities that have stimulated the growth of the City of Living Garbage. More importantly, we can propagate the City by inoculating human populations with the T. tinkerans endosymbiont. 


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