The Orgy Against Identity (Life Superlives: On the Origins of Sex, Part 2)

18 Mar

This is the second in a short series of essays about the origins of sex, inspired by my mentor, the biologist and geoscientist Lynn Margulis,  one of my favorite philosophers, Michel Serres.

Part 1 was about the first stirrings of sex, with the Sun as a sexual partner. Part 2 is about the constant orgy of life.

“Life superlives.”

– Michel Serres

HB

Life Superlives: On the Origins of Sex, Part 2

The Orgy Against Identity

Life threads through the world, not just living, but superliving, creating more life and more possibilities for what life can be. Every individual has within itself the potential to change, utterly, all potentials.

First, bacteria and the Sun embraced over vast distances, and created sex. After sex was created, different forms of sex were possible.

Bacterial sex can take the form of gene-swapping on a “lateral” level. In other words, genes flow freely from bacterium to bacterium, breaking from an initial host and finding their way into another.

If this happened in humans, “…a man with red hair and freckles might wake up, after a swim with a brunette and her dog, with brown hair and floppy ears.”

Because of their freely exchanged genes, bacteria are engaged in the largest and most continuous orgy of all time.

Or maybe it’s microscopic self-love. It depends on how you define bacterial species:

“(Since) all strains of bacteria can potentially share all bacterial genes, then  strictly speaking, there are no true species in the bacterial world. All bacteria are one  organism,one entity capable of genetic engineering on a planetary or global scale.”

Look closely at the world, and you will see that life defies scale: Are the tiniest organisms really just the largest organism alive, spreading across the planet and into its pores, a giant body with infinite organs? Life superlives.

In another form of bacterial sex, conjugation, a “donor” bacterium transfers genetic material into a “recipient.” The ordinary terms are biological sex — “male” and “female” — are useless in the underlying current of life: hen the donor transfers its genetic material to the recipient, it loses its donor characteristics, and the recipient receives them. Bacteria fuck their identities into each other.

Look closely, again, at the world. You will see the slippage of identity.

pool

Next up: Sex and hypersex.

Sources

Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan. Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Microbial Evolution. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan. Origins of Sex: Three Billion Years of Genetic Recombination. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990.

Margulis, Lynn and Dorion Sagan. What Is Sex? New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998.

Serres, Michel. Variations on the Body. Minneapolis: Univocal, 2012.

 

3 Responses to “The Orgy Against Identity (Life Superlives: On the Origins of Sex, Part 2)”

  1. davidmaulsby March 21, 2016 at 6:51 pm #

    Hi Conner! Thank-you for these pithy essays, filling a gap in the story of evolution that I’d never even considered before. I love the concepts of bacteria as a distributed super-organism, and fucking one’s identity into another.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Life Superlives: On the Origins of Sex, Part 1 (or, Sex in the Gaze of the Sun) | Connerhabib's Blog - March 18, 2016

    […] Next: The orgy that exposes identity. […]

  2. Carnal Incarnations (Life Superlives: On the Origins of Sex, Part 3) | Connerhabib's Blog - March 28, 2016

    […] Part 2 was about the orgy of early life and how it reveals a counterpulse to identity. Part 3 is about the ultimate sexual merger: Symbiosis. […]

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