Bella Marrin




They are moving up through the grate over the drain, their long brown bodies pushing through the metal grill and up onto the red laminate floor, they leave glistening trails of mucus across the sanitised surface, aren’t they beautiful, says Bill. They have been feeding off the whey and scraps of curd of course, the high protein content has been incubating a colony of super gastropods in the sewer system beneath the dairy.


It starts with a plot of uncultivated land, the plotting of this land presents a translation of material into futurity; the production of a spatial arrangement of knowledge. Beneath this there is another kind of plotting taking place, within the microbial population of the soil and the multiplicity of agencies incorporated into it that progress by their own devious routes towards the boundary’s dissolution. And different arrangements too, for instance: the passaging of pathogenic material through the body of a ruminant, for instance a cow. Or, for instance: the passaging of the land through the body of a ruminant translated through milk into taste and nourishment, an intense concentrated expression of pastures and animals, of microbes and time … the way of all flesh. Different seasonal or climatic conditions affect the likelihood of anthrax infection in grazing cattle. Different organoleptic traits in dairy products reveal seasonal and qualitative changes in the land itself as the basic flavour of fresh milk is affected by the animals’ feed, lush pasturage provides raw material for sweet raspberry-like notes (derivatives of unsaturated long chain-fatty acids), as well as barnyardy indoles. As the milk is condensed into dairy products this causality is concentrated. Cooked hard-pressed cheeses, which are matured for up to two years, present hyper-concentrated objects containing a multiplicity of sites and plots. Genotyping of the anthrax bacteria B. anthracis reveals a specific history of migration and mutation, from the champs maudits to the sacrifice zones.


Each of the 13 churns holds 30 litres of milk. It is very important to us that the milk does not undergo the stress of being pumped and pressurised into a vat. The milk arrives still warm from the body of the cow. We take each churn through the reception room and pour it through the hatch into the copper vat, the material of the vat damages proteins in the milk creating molecules with exotic aromas of pineapple (esters) and coconut (lactones). The gas is lit beneath the vat and the electric paddle is bridged across the diameter stirring continuously to maintain an even temperature. The milk is heated to a certain temperature I don’t remember, at which point the paddle is removed and the rennet is added. Measure the rennet, add a quantity of water and shake the two together vigorously for an amount of time, the consistency reminds us of frothing saliva and we feel sick. Pour the rehydrated rennet and liquid into the vat and mix vigorously with a rennet mixer for one minute then using the pale blue plastic paddle stop the circulation of milk, lower the paddle along a diagonal softly into the liquid allowing it to fill before entirely submerging it and turning it so it follows the vertical of your arm, moving as slowly as possible trace a cross across the surface of the milk.

Field agents

We like to think of ourselves as aetiologists, as investigators of contact and contagion, field agents, pathologists. We might say for instance: there will be unknown consequences for organoleptic profile of the cheese, or the cause of ulceration remains unsure; or he left me without an explanation; or the lorry driver turned left without indicating. Where do we start an investigation? We begin in the field, in two places at the same time, in a plot of land and two crosswebbing arrangements of knowledge. We are talking about invisible agencies, when we speak of men, societies, culture, and objects, there are everywhere crowds of other agents that act, pursue aims unknown to us, and use us to prosper. We may inspect pure water, milk, hands curtains, sputum, the air we breathe, and see nothing suspect, but millions of other individuals are moving around that we cannot see. To begin, how can we think about what we cannot see? We imagine something like a multi-storey car park, where else would we find the microbe but deep down, on subterranean level, where strange noises occur as you walk towards your car, taking out your keys you turn to look over one shoulder and wham! This raises the question of how we might approach microbial ecosystems in a different way. . G -1 -2 -3 -4 -5 -6 -7 down, down, down. I am talking about deep-sea vents, black smokers and white smokers, prokaryote, eukaryotes, mesophiles, thermophiles, extremophiles, freaks, losers, waifs, strays and the earliest form of life. Down here in the blue ooze, we’re sunk in deep time, deep ecology. Instead of drowning in the deep end we might try to flagellate and swim with stimuli, force a deep-sea collision of the ontological with the ecological. He was floating in white shadow, like a lump of cream in a bowl of milk. And had he not been forced to rub his body with milk in order to penetrate to this depth?


Lactic acid bacteria allow for the preservation of milk by fermenting the sugar lactose producing lactic acid and so inhibiting pathogenic bacteria or spoiling. The acidic conditions cause the bundled micelles of protein to separate and rebond into a meshwork creating a solid or curds which are pleasantly pointy and puckery. The lactobacillus forms a biofilm in both the vagina and the digestive tract, the relationship between the human body and these flora is mutualistic. There exist hundreds of different forms of fermented milks, most of them originated in western Asia, eastern Europe, and Scandanavia, and have been carried across the globe by countless emigrants, many of whom dipped a cloth in their family’s culture, dried it gently, and guarded it until they could moisten it in the milk of their new home. The spore diaspora of B.anthracis originated in the fertile soils of Asia Minor, now it is an ever-present environmental presence and its transformation from a zoonotic telluric disease into a cosmopolitan organism and bioweapon, describes a network that can be mapped over the historic migrations of animals and humans; the global sporulation of commodities, knowledge and weapons. B. anthracis is a hardy traveller, part of a mobile elite, a migrant well suited to the homologous age of the container unit. Once they entered the laboratory, their place-based identity slowly eroded, the laboratory is the apparatus for de-territorializing, an anti-terroir, the migrant body is absorbed and anonymised within a bureaucratic epistemic system. In the United States, the market for process cheese, a mixture of aged and fresh cheeses blended with emulsifiers and repasteurized, is now larger than the market for ‘natural cheese’… at the beginning of the 21st Century, most cheese is an industrial product, an expression not of diverse natural and human particulars, but of the monolithic imperatives of standardization and efficient mass production. A ‘natural’ cheese is a pastoral problematic, whose nature are we talking about here? Bill writes on the whiteboard ‘1. ANARCHY’, he explains ‘if we plant coconuts but grow pineapples then we have not achieved our goal’. At the dairy we are keen intestinal gardeners, we like to think of ourselves as promoting embodied knowledge: somatic mutation, hetero-culturing, xenobiosis, incorporating cultures of otherness, loners, losers, cloth-dippers.


Point your index finger curling the other fingers into your palm and lower it into the vat slowly so that it breaks the surface, stop when it is only just submerged and pull it slowly up and out again, in again, no, no, there is a moment when the liquid starts to flocculate, you can see the way your finger breaks the surface tension, the floc is forming. The floc is neither solid nor liquid but a loosely clumped mass of fine particles; a light loose precipitate; a clump of fibres or filaments; as in: they gather in flocculent masses; a forming of matter; having a loosely clumped texture; a small cloudy wisp on the surface of the sun; a tuft of wool; the floc in the waste water tank is preventing drainage; there is an amorphous mass suspended in the water of the swimming pool. Or an Old English flocc as in ‘a band or body of people’; a number of animals of one kind, feeding or travelling together; a murmuration; kept together; congregate or troop; compare with Old Norse flokkr, perhaps cognate with folk – Old English folc compare with German volk. We flock together, a group of animals is an interwork of filaments; a body of people form a loose precipitate. To be sure, drip a droplet of milk from your fingers into a test tube of water, if flocculation has occurred then the milk will fall through the water as tiny clumped masses rather than diluting into the water in twisting swirls. Note the time and then we no longer look at the clock for the real time as now we just calculate time based upon that unit of measure, the time taken to flocculate.


Time is taken for words to coagulate. Congealing and cognating. The inoculation of the milk, in the sense of graft a bud or shoot onto a different plant, from in- ‘into’ + oculus ‘eye, bud’. The inoculation of the milk or the engrafting of eyes or buds into alien stock. The inoculation of the milk at the farm with a starter culture containing massive quantities of lactic acid bacteria in comparison to the indigenous bacteria creates an imbalance of populations ensuring acidification. The laboratory favours the artificial inoculation of a healthy animal, believing the animal body to be an excellent apparatus for pure cultivation. The initial effects of inoculation are invisible, the activity of the massive quantity of alien eyes cannot be seen by our eyes. We do not know who are the agents who make up our world. We must begin with this uncertainty if we are to understand how, little by little, the agents defined one another, summoning other agents and attributing to them intentions and strategies. The agency of the microbe is occult as in it hides and keeps secret beyond the range of ordinary knowledge; it occludes, obscures, it closes up our holes and orifices; operates supernaturally; conceals, cuts off from view; the passing in front of a celestial body. The occult actor is obscure and accompanied by encrypted signs, as in ‘a careful palpation sometimes discloses occult spina bifida’, or ‘the rippling of the ceiling indicates an occult presence’.

Deep terroir

Who are these occult actors? It is sometimes surprising to learn of microbes that are found in cheesemaking environments, despite cleaning procedures, such as Marinolactobacillus psychrotolerans, previously identified in arctic seas. Marinolactobacillus psychrotolerans, coming in from the cold, gelid and boreal into the warmth of the cheeseroom, the hot vat. We welcome them in, we will not be Pasteurs of microbes! We are a nexus of post-Pasteurian desire and sub-pastoral anxiety here at the dairy, Bill is our anti-Pasteur, our pastor. Pasteurised-milk cheeses present fewer vegetal and animal aromas and more lactic aromas, but how to foment the taste of the whole farm? We want to go deep terroir, Bill suggests we collect wild cultures and harvest native ecosystems the way a bedside glass of water drunk in the morning distils the taste of the room. Cow-by-cow, a few chickens, the out-buildings, the small business bank loan, the forgotten time sheets, the brush of hands in the milking parlour, the neighbour’s dogs barking, the canteen food, angry words in the office, the mud, lots of mud, leaf mulch, water gulch, the long Januaries of silage and discontent, the sun falling on the wall of the barn.


Ideas never escape from the networks that make them ‘a bacillus is present only as long as a set of gestures that guarantee its purity, just as a telephone message is maintained only along a line. A sealed letter is sent but not opened, a wife buys her husband a microscope for his birthday, a drought is followed by a flood. The idea never escapes from the network that makes it but the passage of the idea through the network forces an alteration of its nature, an evolving aetiology, its branches remain confluent but ever more widely divergent. For instance: we drink too much and stay up arguing, the vomiting lasted for several days, the rash meant she was inhibited with new partners, authorities enforced the expulsion of refugees from the areas bordering the city, increased seasonal warming of the permafrost will lead to the exposure of virulent spores released from frozen carcasses. We must be aware that the networks through which we move the milk present a web of possible points of contamination the consequences of which will concentrate in the final artefact. Who was the milker? What was the weather? Is it possible to imagine anything beyond the network? Muddy or wet conditions increase the likelihood of contamination, error or incompetency on the part of the milker can lead to the introduction of foreign elements into the milk either in the milking parlour, in the passage through the pipe to the exterior or in the churns themselves. But it’s more likely to be an inside job.

Inside job

The hermetic seal of the making room is more an idea than an actuality and so might be easily permeated by unknown agents, the drains and entry hatches are both vulnerable points and the passage of human bodies into the space might inadvertently introduce unwelcome elements. Bill has watched video footage of our drains and says they are ‘fine’ but he found the experience disturbing, endless inexplicable flows of liquids and rodents, ‘it must be so claustrophobic down there!’ When the drains were first built there was no valve system to prevent the surfacing of hypogeal matter above ground, Bill came in one morning to find the making room occupied by rats. After this he realised he couldn’t welcome everybody in and installed a grill to an attempt to control limit the flow of things to one direction only. It is an effective solution to the rats but it does not inhibit the idea that movement is always mutual, what goes one way comes the other way also. Handling the cheeses requires by HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) the regular washing of hands (at least once every twenty minutes), but sometimes I don’t want to wash my hands or it is inconvenient, when people visit the dairy who Bill wants to impress he does not ask them to change their shoes.

Cutting the curd

You must prepare the apparatus to cut the curds, curd is coagulated substance perhaps Old English crowds, you sterilise the harp. We are waiting for a clean break, which is something to do with the way the floc behaves when you slowly take a scoop with the paddle, something about the density holding together those flocculent masses. You scoop the paddle upwards and the gel splits cleanly, a fissure running along the surface a bit like the displacement of ground during a seismic wave or in a disaster movie, but quietly and cleanly. Oldhand cheese makers get a ‘grip’ for the curd, Bill says he can hear it. But you must note the time, the multiple of time taken to flocculate. Moving round the vat with the harp cutting across crowds of curds releasing the whey, the smaller the curds the more liquid drains out, the firmer the cheese, go small! says Bill. After cutting a grid, move the harp through the curds in a figure of eight getting faster and faster, check curds for elasticity, the pieces should stick to the palm of a downturned hand. Now scald and stir then pull the curds holding a pliable length of steel from one end with the other dipping into the vat then take the coarsely woven cheesecloth rinsed in whey and pull the edge around the strip, then twist the metal to secure the cloth. Holding the two detached corners between your teeth bend into a semi-circle and push down into the bottom of the vat, pull towards your body and underneath, pulling up out of the whey a dense warm foetal mass bound in cloth. Push this into the mould and press.


The salt-lick is a place where animals collect to lick the earth, a halophile is a lover of salt. If we are salted we become hardened, proofed against diseases incident to climate but remember do not cook at home with nitrate salt! It will cure you from the inside out like a leg of ham. To eat is always to … incorporate oneself into the realm of anonymous … processes. To incorporate, to bring into the forming of a body as subject, object and anonymous materialdigestion is never complete. I really like to do this, take handfuls of salt and rub it into the surface and sides of the cheese, I really like it when the cheese is still warm when it come out the press and the salt brines our skins together. Da da da dah da da da daw, let’s talk about contact, as in: all efforts are made to persuade possible contacts of patients with either disease to attend for investigation; when they moved on and met other people they lost contact; I moved to a different city where I had no contacts; please get in contact; with a thud my head made contact with the car bonnet. And I am afraid that as the years go by that I may forget, I may begin to lose my memories of the mountains and the woods and that's what really worries me, that I might lose those memories, and lose that sense of contact with wild nature in general. Blue floor-contact, red food-contact, white maturing room shoes, red maturing brushes, brown general not-sure, yellow marketplace, dark blue farm work, royal blue cheese-contact. Is this floor-contact, asks Bill, I don’t know. Is a gloved hand cleaner than a bare hand? What do I do if I drop a cheese on the floor? Should I alco-wipe it, what is the hazard analysis of this scenario!? ‘me-this’ it is an interdependence such that we cannot define things independently of each other; to do so would indicate a lack of preciseness … In the Fifth Symphony you have the ‘da da da dah’ and then ‘da da da daw’. You can separate these and view them as different wholes, but together they make the piece. There are wholes within the wholes.


Order, enrichment, health, but the greatest of these is health. Whole hale and hearty, he is a healthy, robust and vigorous old man Old English hal, whole. My whole health is good, my health is good on the whole, he says, a clean Bill of health. And how do we understand wholes within hales? Hast thou not poured me out as milk and curdled me like cheese? Skins within skins. Skins that contain and constitute, form a whole. The cheese rind is an open system interconnected with the paste (the interior, a closed system from early on in the process). This makes me think about Holly’s body. Skin as skinn that is flayed and peeled. Cutaneous manifestations of anthrax include a blackened skin lesions, dark coloured skin pustule, malignant pustule, charcoal or carbuncle, malignant boils, black bane. Bill tells me that after the lorry ran her over her feet were partially severed from her legs, but strangely there was no blood. To repair the damage during surgery they took skin from her upper thighs and cut a length of vein from her arm with they attached from her foot to her ankle. She talks often about her ‘flaps’ which we find disturbing. Her feet are reattached but at one point they were not quite properly attached so she was not whole but a hybrid, an open system. Do her feet remember that at one point they were not her feet? Holly herself cannot forget the horror of being un-whole. But we are all hybrids, I say to her, not whole humans at all, if we were to keep all our human cells in one place they wouldn’t come above the knee of one leg. Everybody tells me that, she says.

Intimacy issues

Accidental and deliberate deployments of B. anthracis have created new and more deadly anthrax districts–environments not safe for humans or their animals to inhabit. We have invited in an organism that is one of our predators into ever more intimate contact with us. The Internet says: There are 10 silent signs you might have intimacy issues. It says: Fear of intimacy? Get in contact! How can we make contact across scales? What do we mean when we say life-sized, what size fits the criteria for life? We have overseen the development of anthrax spores that are so tiny they float miraculously out of envelopes and can travel deep within the respiratory system of an organism where the lung tissue is thinnest, the contact is most intimate. When I think of a microbe it is not shape of a microbe but the shape of my thought as I am thinking it which is not a shape at all but an idea, it is a means of connection somewhere between con-and-tact. When I think of intestinal flora I think of flowers. There are some tiny flowers—beautiful, tiny flowers—high in the mountains where I have my hut. I feel like I am together with these flowers—they are more beautiful than me, but we are together as one entity. This is very striking, because I couldn’t feel that way with flowers anywhere else. The conditions there are so extreme, and the identification is so deep, that we are one. They are so tiny, he says, so tiny, but they are not so small, I can see them in the youTube clip, I can see him bend and touch them with a leathery fingertip, I cannot reach into my gut to touch the symbiotic bacteria but we are in constant con-tact. What kind of idea allows for identification with intestinal flora as well as wild flowers?


The new species of optics is endoscopic, there’s nowhere left to go but downwards and in, an inside job, of course, it always is. Medicine as a technique of health is much more concerned with what is going on in the body than in the soil. If a bacterium can find its way into the smallest bronchial passages then we must chase it through these passages with new ways of seeing. Have you ever watched footage of a bronchoscopy?  Pink wet walls rippling and pushing in, it must be so claustrophobic down there. Some kind of horrific slippery vulvic valve dilates welcoming us in, and in we go like dupes in a horror film, why always so willingly? Don’t panic! The procedure can cause discomfort but is important the subject remains calm. Two choices present themselves, two deep mauve ribbed tunnels pulsating, take either, neither, some kind of liquid squirts over the camera in iridescent bubbles, then more choices, endless choices, more shiny bubbles and tubes everywhere, identical pathways, we’re never getting out of here! Three branches, four, just follow your nose, a kind of taught pulsation of the walls urges you on, the membrane bridging between each choice is stretched and raw. Where does this end? With a simple idea: a foreign body, the object of our enquiry. The introduction of an unknown agency into the body compromises the integrity of the body, it becomes implicated in anonymous processes but the optics are equally important here whether it’s a drone or a bronchoscope, they implicate us in xenophobic process of controlled corpo-ration, a prescriptive somatic structuring. Do we perhaps see each body only insofar as it sees itself and insofar as we see ourselves? Our ways of seeing have become weaponized, we use the microscope like a cudgel. What makes a good weapon? infectivity, casualty effectiveness; availability; resistence; means of transmission; specific immunisation; therapy; detection; and retroactivity.’


The room is constructed out of scuffed grey plastic sheeting, across one wall a cooling element zigzags across the horizontal in a sculptural kind of way. The air is cool and moist. The smell might remind you of autumnal woodland walks, a thick mulch of wet leaves, but it reminds me of old houses with damp walls. Periodically trains pass by overhead with a low vibration, in-between there is a kind of silence. Emissions at low frequency, a frequency that falls below the waveband of the audible there is continuous activity, a sort of thrumming. You can’t hear it but it finds an echo in the now audible sonic material of your own body, the low thump of your heart, the slow pulsation of blood, that sickening whirring whine between your ears. The cheeses are stored on wooden planks balanced on three-tiered scaffolding structure which takes up most of the available space. Take one of the oldest cheeses, take one with a skin that is a flushed pink, that means it is still alive. Cradling it in one arm with the other cup handfuls of water from the bucket and gently wash one side of the wheel allowing the water to run back into the bucket. Now pull out the planks of the youngest cheeses bracing them on the scaffolding pole on the other side of the room, take each wheel and turn and wash these in the same water. Leave the bucket in there, says Bill, I want it really active.

The full life of a fishing celebrity

The maturing or ripening involves the collaboration or coercion of different bodies, the expending of multiple life-cycles, the plotting and passaging of various agencies. Veterans of the US Army Biological Warfare Laboratories allege samples were taken from the bodies or blood of workers at Fort Detrick who were accidentally infected with the bacteria. The anthrax strain used to make weapons was replaced at least once, and possibly three times, with more potent anthrax that had grown in the workers' bodies … ‘Anthrax gets stronger as it goes through a human host,’ said Bill Walter, now retired in Florida. These bodies provided the bacillus with an upgrade. It makes you think twice about upgrading! What is actually required for the improve efficiency of a product? William A. Boyles, a 46-year-old microbiologist, inhaled anthrax spores on the job in 1951 and died a few days later. Seven years after that, Joel E. Willard, 53, an electrician who worked in the ‘hot’ areas where animals were dosed with deadly germs, died of the same inhalational form of the disease. The third anthrax victim, Bernard V. ‘Lefty’ Kreh, was a plant operator who spent night shifts in a biohazard suit, breathing air from a tube on the wall, using a kitchen spatula to scrape the anthrax ‘mud’ off the inside of a centrifuge. One day in the late '50s or early '60s, his finger swelled to the size of a sausage. So Bill Boyles became the “highly virulent” Vollum 1-B, B for Bill, the specifics of Joel Willard’s strain remain obscure whilst Lefty Kreh became BVK-1 or just LK, he lives now Cockeysville, living the full life of a fishing celebrity, writing magazine articles, taking VIPs on fly-fishing expeditions and endorsing products. When told of his second life in a flask he is surprised. ‘You're kidding,’ says Lefty, ‘I'll have to tell my wife.’

A pure and loving relationship

A cheese maker controls the conditions of production but there are occult agencies beyond his control. We need to talk about the October cheeses says Bill, he is discouraged by the increasing variability of quality in production, I thought I was invincible, he says.  It is important to recognise that cheese is not a collection of species which we simply need to identify in order to subsequently reconstitute a community capable of optimally performing all its functions. We are systematically non-taxonomic at the dairy. Bill collects employees with a purity of mind, what he calls ‘a beginner’s mind’, an ability to expect a multiplicity of consequences to any action, perhaps not to expect anything at all from any action but to be always beginning. We inhabit the post-Pasteurian dream of complex consequentiality. Pasteur promised us a purity of social relations: after we have sterilized milk by spreading throughout all farms methods of pasteurization, then we will be able to feed our infant in a pure loving relationship. Instead he entangles us between two actors, both the microbe and the laboratory must be integrated into every loving relationship. In the umbilical cord of future mothers living on a farm and consuming farm-made butter they observed a greater quantity of mediator compounds of an immune response favouring a subsequent protection of the child against atopic allergies. Wherever the microbe is present the laboratory must intervene as an interlocutor. Where is the laboratory? It is having dinner with your wife, it is texting your girlfriend, it is emailing late at night do you love me?


The plot is a line drawn point to point, and that this relates to the anticipation of future events is persistent, granting the various fields it touches on an unexpected continuity. The plot is a concept that functions as a point of transit between disparate fields. We can plot a line from Pasteur’s laboratory on Rue D’Ulm to Building 470 in Fort Detrick where Lefty spent his late nights with a spatula. These disparate fields are connected by the same agent and the same apparatus, the bacillus and the laboratory. We might follow B. anthracis all the way back to the fertile crescent of Asia Minor 10 000 years before the Holocene period but our plot begins at the moment is when the bacillus meets the laboratory on Rue D’Ulm behind the Pantheon in Paris, a special relationship begins, one of history’s great intimacies. The plot must begin on unstable ground, with deception and with the familiar device of a sealed letter, it must finish as it starts, without resolution. This tells us we have a perfect crime on our hands. Lines fan out connecting other operatives of the plot, the aqueous humor from a cow’s eye, mass graves in Manchuria, Lefty’s kitchen spatula, Bruce Ivins’ flask RMR-1029, a bloodstained mohair fleece, David Henderson’s ‘piccolo’ cloud chamber, poisoned chocolates, poisoned cattle cakes. The sites of interest are numerous: Granite Peak at Dugway Proving Ground, Gruinard Island, Porton Down, Building 470, Pouilly Le Fort, Unit 731 in Ping Fan, Vozrozhadeniye, Compound 19, the fertile crescent of Asia Minor, the mills of Bradford, the Tribal Trust Lands of Zimbabwe, and of course, the champs maudits ‘the cursed fields’.

Tertium quid

Standing before you, I ingest you. There is nothing fanciful about this. I am ingesting your exhaled air, your sloughed skin, and the skin of the tables, chairs, and carpet in this room. I’ve noticed the skin of my hands changing, becoming rough and painful, a dark pink rash is spreading up from my wrists. Bill tells me it is the mites, they run from the cheese onto our skin when we are handling the wheels in the maturing rooms, you cannot see them with bare eyes, they do not bite or sting but our skin reacts to the contact with them, a tertium quid, they feed off the fungi on the cheeses. My skin is the same flushed pink as the cheese. Bill tells me mites are one of the most successful species on the planet, arthropods of the group Chelicerata, akari a large order of small arachnids, they are distinguished by an apparent lack of body divisions. They have become adapted for a terrestrial life. I watch grainy youTube videos of swarming crowds, aggressively colonising, a feeding frenzy in a world of craggy monochrome, the formation of mountains and valleys.

Silent strata

The detective must walk backwards into events looking forwards, a difficult trick. Especially as some events rearrange themselves chronologically, as any geologist will tell you rocks do not = time, there are gaps which are silent or strata that have been pushed and folded allowing patterns to repeat themselves, for instance: the disease from thawing human and animal remains can get into groundwater that people then drink. Events continue to assert themselves, for instance: there was the letter sent by Toussaint to the Académie des Sciences in Paris in 1880 with his formulation for a vaccine for animal anthrax which would subsequently be plagiarised by Pasteur, the letter was dated and sealed not to be opened without permission, but despite these narrative constraints this letter reasserts itself in 2001 emerging on the desk of Bob Stevens the editor of American Media in his office in Florida. The content of the letter is different from Toussaint’s, in this instance it contains a threatening note and a beige powder but it is the same letter, again it is the same operative, we find the same agent and apparatus at work in both. And people too persist in this plot, the Pasteurians of course prevail, and there is a meshwork of Bills, Bill C. Patrick III a USAMIRIID retiree who had served as plant manager of Anthrax Tower and was one of the few left in 2001 who could remember how to sporulate the bacilli, whose car and house were unsuccessfully searched by the FBI; Bill Cawthra the foreman woolsorter from Bradford whose death was followed by agitation across the mill towns as workers organised themselves against the owners to demand safe working conditions and an end to the importation of contaminated or cut price fleeces; and poor old Bill Boyles of Building 470 fondly remembered as Vollum 1-B, then there’s our Bill, a benign strain we hope.


Close to the dairy I notice a sign at the side of the road. THIS IS A DNA PROTECTED NEIGHBOURHOOD. I must remember to talk to Bill about this, he dislikes language used in this way, like a cudgel. There is something going on here, some kind of violence. Is the neighbourhood protected by DNA, in the sense of guard dogs or water cannon? Or is the DNA of the neighbourhood protected, like a protected species or like the European Union’s designation of PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) to certain foodstuffs whose connection to its place of origin is integral to its manufacture and the protection of quality. I cannot imagine the quality at the dairy reaching a point of consistency that had to be protected, at one point the smaller lactic cheeses turned a shade of yellow that glowed in the dark, there was something in the tap water according to Bill, apparently biofilms are ubiquitous in all distribution systems, regardless of water quality characteristics and pipe materials. How can they disperse the DNA across the neighbourhood but keep it contained within its confines? Supposedly neighbouring neighbourhoods are not DNA protected otherwise there would be no need for a sign, the sign must indicate a changing of territory, a movement across an invisible line into a zone that is plotted as protected, but movement is always mutual. I watch a video online, with a backdrop of a swirling pink and gold double helix the slogan appears: security through science, it’s in our DNA! And then the message: DNA has been the ‘gold standard’ in forensic science for the past 30 years. Until recently however, DNA, could only be used to help solve crimes after the fact. A man with a shaved head in lab coat pipettes something into a test tube, a cotton bud swabs something indistinct and blue and a pair of latex gloved hands holds a yellow tray containing small gold and pink objects. Now the power of DNA has been harnessed to help prevent crimes before they occur. A disembodied hand uses a cotton bud to swab a large gold door knob which glows pink. Criminals can now be tagged with irrefutable DNA evidence. A pair of (possibly criminal) purple hands upturned to show glowing pink traces. A 100% conviction success rate in over 100 cases. An iPhone is held out and the double helix swirls over it. All with the crime-fighting power of DNA! The website promotes a product called the ‘SmokeCloak® DNA’ which produces a fog of ‘a proprietary and patented form of DNA’ tagging the criminals. We find this such a beautiful idea, a confetti cloud of swirling pink and gold helixes, tiny crimefighters attaching themselves to criminals like burrs caught on clothing.

Lack of body divisions

Is it the detective or the criminal that yearns for that sense of contact with wild nature in general? Which nature is this anyway? Are we talking about The Nectaren, and curious Peach/Into my hands themselves do reach;/Stumbling on Melons, as I pass,/Insnar’d with flowers, I fall on grass or are we talking about an infinitely flexible suite of products based on the natural raw material? Or are they two sides of the same coin and how can we distinguish between the curious Peach and suite of products if we treat them both the same? Unnatural in the sense that they represent conditions never encountered in the course of human evolution … [No] mammalian species [has had] to face the impact of a pathogenic microorganism that had not evolved by natural processes. Might every unnatural process be reduced to this essential, the old and young blended with emulsifiers and repasteurized? The result is smooth and spreadable. When we buy yogurt from the supermarket we find the tiny velvety fat globules make our mouths think we are eating mayonnaise. How do we distinguish a ‘natural’ cheese from a ‘process’ cheese? By the absence of an apparatus. And only anarchic nature is anonymous, the second order is on its way to the table.


The point is that there is a hidden message, not what it is, because there is only ever one plot: things are not what they seem. A state that indicates that our knowledge about the world is incomplete … suddenly the scene before us provides evidence that the structures that underlay our anticipation are more tenuous than we had assumed, and some kind of enigmatic mechanism appears to be in motion. Is the beginner’s mind the same as a suspicious mind?  How to solve a crime before it has been committed? This requires a mirror image of the plot. The detective and the criminal must exchange roles, the corpse is alive, the cashier’s till is unviolated, the lines of the yarnwork rather than tracing backwards in time are pointing forwards to crime that does not happen. There is no crime scene just wild nature in general, a criminal who fancies himself an amateur sleuth and a detective displaying sociopathic tendencies, The weapon is not a knife, a knife is just a knife, a gun, a gun, a piece of lead piping, lead piping, attenuated, benign, bleach-bathed.

Dog bite

Weaponization was entirely dependent on prior domestication of the bacillus to the laboratory, the standard procedures for cultivating it, the existence of standardized strains, and the ease with which strains could be swapped between laboratories. The microbiological institutes and discoveries of the nineteenth century were prerequisites to creating a weaponized form of B. anthracis. The idea of ‘weaponzing’ B. anthracis is confusing. If used in an attack the bacillus cannot be connected to the plotter like any other weapon, unlike a knife, a gun or a piece of lead piping, fingerprints cannot be lifted from its surface with talcum powder and cellotape or scanned with blue light. B. anthracis is the perfect undercover agent, providing the possibility of plausible deniability. The perfect weapon destroys life and not property resulting in the desirable scenario in which you can walk into conquered territories following some kind decontamination programme and find everything in place from its buildings and infrastructure, down to cars, household appliances and the products on the shop shelves. Late night TV shows me that in cases of attacks in which the weapon is another organism, for instance a pit bull terrier who chases his victim across green undulating parkland before savaging him, it is extremely difficult to link the forensic evidence of intent to kill to a human perpetrator. Let me reiterate: No matter how good the microbial forensics may be, they can only, at best, link the anthrax to a particular strain and lab. They cannot link it to any individual. We need better eyes. We need a ‘translational zone that could unite the genomic and criminal procedural ways of knowing”. A translational zone; a trans-somatic intra-zonal way of knowing.


The genomes of the spores in the flask read as a record of human activity: thirteen runs of production at Dugway Proving Ground and twenty-two spore preparations made at Fort Detrick had all left their imprint on the RMR-1029 B. anthracis. The mother culture in the RMR-1029 flask contained highly processed and highly concentrated spores that had been through several different culturing procedures. They were a mixture of substrains and could almost be guaranteed to produce many mutants. The pit bull is a model mutant, forcibly bred in order to increase its strength and aggression as a participant in public bull-baiting, bear-baiting displays, and dog-on-dog fights. Some research suggests that pit bull bites are particularly serious because they tend to bite deeply and grind their molars into tissue. However its reputation outstrips its casualty effectiveness, in fact breed is a poor predictor of bites. Wolf hybrids, genetically mosaic individuals, and dogs with phenotypic similarity to wolves like Siberian huskies are also likely to be involved in fatal attacks, it depends on the cultivation of the animal. Rabid wolf attacks were witnessed by Pasteur who, at all times starring in his own biopic, spent his childhood in the Jura where the treatment for bites was amputation and cauterization with a red-hot poker by the village blacksmith. Here’s a cinematic montage scene: young Louis Pasteur, the prodigy and paradigm, lies in bed listening with boyish curiosity to the bloodcurdling screams, the scorching disfiguration of flesh, the violation of the boundaries of the body, then a wind whispers through the dark woods of the Jura, a somatic sensibility awakens! The idea of the heat-attenuation of the microbe is born.


Geological investigations can only scratch the skin of the apple, the scum of the earth. The Internet tells me phenomena displayed in rocks may be entirely accounted for by geologic processes that continue to operate. People say I am unduly anthropomorphic, ‘humanizing’ the stone. But in another way I am also ‘stoning’ the human. The movement is mutual; it goes the other way also. Searching in 2001 for a criminal, a psychopath, a terrorist, a loner, a loser, detectives instead found a confusing network of crime scenes, Granite Peak at Dugway Proving Ground, Gruinard Island, Porton Down, Pouilly Le Fort, Unit 731 in Ping Fan, Vozrozhadeniye, Compound 19, the champs maudits, the fertile crescent of Asia Minor, the mills of Bradford, the Tribal Trust Lands of Zimbabwe, and of course Building 470, the ‘anthrax tower’. And a confusing combination of clues, the aqueous humor from a cow’s eye, mass graves in Manchuria, Lefty’s kitchen spatula, a bloodstained mohair fleece, David Henderson’s ‘piccolo’ cloud chamber, a stash of poisoned chocolates, poisoned envelopes, poisoned cattle cakes, etc. In fact Bruce Ivins’ flask RMR-1029 which found itself at the centre of all this, was perhaps the least important clue of all, it was not something unusual, indeed there was no evidence the flask had ever moved out of its allocated place at all, traces of it could not be found in Bruce’s car or house, its consistent presence in the lab was ‘something quite right’ as opposed to ‘something not quite right’, something not where and when it should be. And Bruce was the least interesting ‘person of interest’ to be involved in the plot, an amateur sleuth, a keen gardener, a dummy, a simulant, a cat’s paw, a straw man, a stalking horse, ‘showing signs of serious strain’, a ‘god’, a loser, a loner, ‘not a killer at heart’, a heartless killer, dead in the water, dead as mutton, burnt at the stake, a dead log, a loggerhead. Bruce was not a true insider but an inside-outsider, and this was an inside job that goes as deep inside as you can get, you’ll need a camera on a flex to find it.

The whey of all flesh

Disposing of by-products poses a challenge for us at the dairy, it is expensive to dispose of whey through the proper channels, so where and when we can we run a pipe from the vat down the drain which Bill tells me is technically an environmental crime. In 1988 a huge quantity of anthrax spores which had been produced in huge fermenting vats and tenderly nurtured in Compound 19 in Sverdlovsk were mixed with bleach and transported the port town of Aralsk, on the shores of the Aral Sea … where they were loaded onto barges and transported to Vozrozhdeniya. Some 100 to 200 tonnes of anthrax slurry was hastily dumped in pits and forgotten.  Vozrozhdeniya, home to the vibrant fishing village Kantubek fringed by turquoise lagoons in the Aral Sea, the fourth largest in the world and abundant with fish. Tripadvisor post, Re: Vozrozhdeniya island, User: Operation Dark Harvest, 07:49: Hi, I and two other friends are planning are also planning a trip to Vozrozhdeniya island. Do you mind if we exchange information? When planning a trip it’s important to remember to follow a course of antibiotics before leaving and to wear gas masks, thick rubber boots and biohazard suits whilst on the island, on leaving the island take nasal swabs from each member of the party to check for spores. Do we need to worry about disease? The picturesque island underwent a £4.6m regeneration programme in 2002, the anthrax pits have been cleared and bleached however human and animal burial sites remain a problem. How’s the water? It’s lovely! Come on in. The draining of the Aral Sea as its waters have been diverted for agricultural purposes has allowed for a land bridge to emerge in recent years between the mainland and the island so there is an increased risk for contamination to spread across the region as animals and human scavengers cross the sea bed more frequently into the abandoned territory. Vozrozhdeniya, the most toxic place on the planet, dusty and desolated, surrounded by an arid sea bed saturated in carcinogenic pesticides, takes us back to where we started from the original champs maudits to the sacrifice zones; the plot of land and the multiplicity of agencies incorporated into it that progress by their own devious routes towards the boundary’s dissolution, a fine set-up!