Hurst Talk: Mladen Dolar, What Is a Virus?

An internationally renowned philosopher and cultural critic, Professor Dolar will give a talk on April 14 (Hurst Lounge, 4:00) titled “What Is a Virus?” This will be an occasion for us to trace a genealogy of the term virus and reflect on its material and rhetorical uses, including during the COVID pandemic.

What Is a Virus? Thursday, April 14, 4:00, Hurst Lounge

It appears that the term virus, in the sense of an agent of infection, was first used in 1728, and the term materialism, in the sense of a philosophical position, was introduced in 1726, by a contingent coincidence, in the heyday of Enlightenment. Materialism was never just a cognitive problem; matter was traditionally most often seen as potentially infectious and virulent, something that has to be contained, so that the spirit appeared as an immunological problem. In this sense, virus may be seen as the invisible gist of matter, its problematic sting. At the same time, ideas have to rely on a viral capacity. When debating the Enlightenment in his Phenomenology of the Spirit, Hegel used the term infection, Ansteckung, in relation to the spread of enlightened reason, quoting Diderot and his reliance on the contagious powers of the ideas of truth, goodness and beauty. Virus could thus be the name of an invisible appendix of both matter and ideas, something that both derails them and drives them, something (almost nothing) that emerges at their interstice, having no consistence on its own and yet inhabiting their core. The talk thus raises the question not only of a “viral ontology,” but of a possible “politics of the virus.”

On Friday, April 15 (Hurst Lounge, 12:00), Professor Dolar will lead a seminar on one of his recent essays, “On Rumours, Gossip and Related Matters.” The essay offers a theory of rumor, including as literary narrative device. To order lunch and to request a copy of Professor Dolar’s essay for the Friday Seminar Event, please write to


Mladen Dolar is a preeminent scholar of philosophy and psychoanalysis, with a special interest in the intersection of literature and philosophy. He is a senior research fellow at University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, and a professor of philosophy at The European Graduate School. He is the author of numerous books and articles, best known among them A Voice and Nothing More (MIT Press, 2006). His current book project is The Riskiest Moment, forthcoming from Duke University Press.