Journal of Environmental Studies University of Oregon
on the cover: “pack of wild dogs” by Sam Moore
about the ecotone The Ecotone is the journal of the Environmental Studies
Program and is created by graduate students at the University of Oregon. The journal provides a venue for communication and exchange within and beyond the Environmental Studies Program among undergraduate students, graduate students, faculty, staff, and alumni, and facilitates cross-campus dialogue between disciplines and departments. It serves as a venue for sharing professional interests, discussing environmental concerns, and facilitating creative expression. The Ecotone is published annually and includes journal articles, nonfiction, fiction, poetry, art, and other creative submissions. If you have questions or comments, would like to submit work, or want to be placed on the mailing list, please contact:
The Ecotone Environmental Studies Program 5223 University of Oregon Eugene, OR 97403 firstname.lastname@example.org
photo by: Aylie Baker
table of contents Sam Moore \ “Hendricks”
ABout the Ecotone 1 Editor’s Note 4 About the contributors 6
text A moment with time 10
Reimagining the future 18
the vine 26
“is survival sufficient?” 28
Shane Donnelly Hall
Kampala Street Eats 36
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Macro Worlds 42
Rematerializing Justice 44
herbicides & Health 56
ELephants Sans FrontiĂ¨res 64
beyond objects/art 68
photography LOkyee Au Aylie Baker Tim Chen Nick Dreher Rowan Hardenbrook Lauren Hendricks Sam Moore
4, 54 1, 21 9, 13, 40, 76 7, 47, 80 52 15, 17, 27, 35, 50, 59, 78 2, 24, 30, 37, 39, 62, 67, cover
editor’s note I often joke about Environmental Studies’ ironic ability to attract the most optimists and graduate the most pessimists. While this is certainly a long shot from the truth, it cannot be denied that an education focused on understanding impacts on our surrounding environments can be both daunting and depressing. In Lisa Garforth’s article “Green Utopias: Beyond Apocalypse, Progress, and Pastoral,” she observes: “Through the lens of environmentalism the future can seem an unthinkable or utterly miserable prospect” (397). To navigate these murky waters, I inevitably turn to my personal hero among 20th century environmentalists: J.R.R. Tolkien. In the second volume of Tolkien’s classic, The Lord of the Rings, King Théoden of Rohan remarks to the Wizard Gandalf over the beauty and wonder of those beings that live “beyond the borders of our land” (or “the life of Men”) and our folly at forgetting them so carelessly. This exchange follows: “You should be glad, Théoden King, “ said Gandalf. “For not only the little life of Men is now endangered, but the life also of those things which you have deemed the matter of legend. You are not without allies, even if you know them not.” “Yet also I should be sad,” said Théoden. “For however the fortune of war shall go, may it not so end that much that was fair and wonderful shall pass for ever out of Middle-earth?” “It may,” said Gandalf. “The evil of Sauron cannot be wholly cured nor made as if it had not been. But to such days we are doomed. Let us now go on with the journey we have begun!” 536-537 Gandalf, in all his wisdom, seems to lay his gnarled old finger on the key to constructive environmentalism: it does no good to dwell on what might have
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Lokyee au \ “Polypodium glycyrrhiza” been, but rather to live constructively in the present—always looking to the task at hand to build toward a future better than the one currently looming on the horizon. And, most importantly, this journey is one that we must not make alone, but together. In the fall of 2014 I took Environmental Studies Core Faculty Dr. Kari Norgaard’s course, “The Sociology of Climate Change,” one that seems to “take the cake” for layering on what I like to call the many “Ds” of environmentalism: depression, despair, disillusionment, discouragement, etc. We spent several class sessions discussing these responses to environmental issues: how do you get people to invest themselves in a solution, when merely contemplating the problem is so overwhelmingly painful? Many students remarked that, despite the dour topic, courses of this type provided the kind of community and solidarity that made this contemplation bearable. It is this message of community and solidarity in the face of destruction in which the Environmental Studies Program truly excels. I am proud to present this year’s edition of The Ecotone, a material embodiment of this remarkable community—a physical sample of our journey. In its pages you will find a panoply of ruminations on facing the nearly impossible obstacles of environmental issues and, I hope, none too few more constructive “Ds” (e.g. determination, dedication, devotion). ~Katrina Maggiulli May, 2015 Works Cited Garforth, Lisa. “Green Utopias: Beyond Apocalypse, Progress, and Pastoral.” Utopian Studies 16.3 (2005): 393-427. JSTOR. Web. 1 March 2015. Tolkien, J.R.R. The Two Towers. 1954. Reprint. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001. Print.
contributor bios April Anson is a PhD student in Literature and Environment at the University of Oregon who studies indigenous, environmental, and biopolitical politics in 19th Century American literature. Her work has appeared in Sustainable Cities, The Evil Body, the Journal for the Study of Religion, and her analysis of Thoreau in the tiny house movement will be included in Cambridge University Press’s 2016 Literature in Context series.
Lokyee Au is a third year concurrent master’s student in environmental studies and community and regional planning. Her interests include singing, dancing the night away, photographing things easily overlooked, and baking chocolate chip cookies. J. Bacon is part of the Environmental Sciences, Studies, and Policy program, and is currently researching the relationship between the environmental movement and indigenous peoples in the US and Canada.
Aylie Baker is a second year master’s student exploring the ways community storytelling can affect environmental justice movements. In quiet moments, she dreams of lobsters, spruce needles, and Co-op university. Tim Chen is a second year master’s student who is studying social and environmental justice. Tim enjoys spending all his spare time writing his thesis. Tim’s least favorite thing is not having brunch.
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Nick Dreher \ “War Relic in Wimereux”
Nick Dreher is an Environmental Studies master’s student who spent his
summers growing up reading the Redwall series and fantasizing about all the delicious things there were to eat. Nowadays, he’ll eat just about anything. Except mayonnaise.
Shane Donnelly Hall is a doctoral candidate in the University of Oregon’s Environmental Sciences, Studies, and Policy program. He studies the links between armed conflict, environmental change, and social justice. As a graduate teaching fellow, Shane works with the University of Oregon’s Teaching Effectiveness Program, and teaches courses in both the Environmental Studies Program and the English Department.
Rowan Hardenbrook will be graduating this spring with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology and a minor in Environmental Studies, and this coming fall she will be pursuing her law degree in Vermont. She enjoys going on hikes and taking way too many pictures of trees.
about the contributors
Lauren Hendricks is a first year master’s student studying how climate change might affect populations of wildflowers native to prairies in the Pacific Northwest. She enjoys spending time outside through hiking, biking, skiing, playing ultimate frisbee, and probably anything else you can think of.
Katrina Maggiulli is a master’s student in Environmental Studies
studying human-animal hybrids in literature and film. She spends her spare time reading copious amounts of genre fiction and frolicking with her Australian kelpie Žižek (although not necessarily at the same time).
Taylor McHolm is a PhD candidate in the Environmental Sciences, Studies, and Policy program with a focal department in English. His work focuses on the ways in which experimental form in contemporary literature and cultural production makes visible the intersections of race and environment. Sam Moore is a biological entity before he is a graduate student or an omelette eater or anything else. He enjoys photography, medium-length bike rides to drinking establishments, and a world grounded in ecosystems and people. Wenhui Qiu is a master’s student working on an environmental education
curriculum for an organization in China. He likes nature photography, biking for photography, and hiking for photography.
Lauren Rapp is an Environmental Studies major at the University of Oregon, with hopes to continue collaborating with communities seeking environmental justice though policy changes and community empowerment.
Christopher Torres is a master’s student in the Environmental Studies Program and the Philosophy Department. When he was your age, he enjoyed pushing a wooden hoop with a stick down a dirt road. During his spare time, he is a squirrel.
Gayla WardWell is Graduate Programs Coordinator for UO’s Environ-
mental Studies Program. She is a vegan forest-dweller who has been compelled to write poetry her entire life.
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a moment with time
by christopher torres
“While a hundred years is a long time in the United States, a hundred miles is a long way in Europe.” It is a saying that hopes to shed light on the notion of wide open spaces in the American imaginary compared to deeply weighted places in the European mind. A European visiting the States may have some trouble seeing that it is not a good idea, or even possible, to visit Hollywood, the Grand Canyon, and San Francisco in the same day. An American may have a difficult time processing that almost any street they walk on in France is older than the U.S. Constitution; that Roman legions marched through there 1800 years before the American Revolution was anything more than an idea whispered into the candle-lit smoke of a tavern. There is more to it, though, than just making sense of navigating a new space. If you entertain the thought a little longer, it is a way of thinking that reaches far beyond you and today. It is a way of sharing a moment with places that bear the weight of their time. Let us share a moment together.
)( It is 2:45 on a spring afternoon as you walk by cafes, bakeries, and shops on the Quai Montebello; cups, plates, and glasses chime while the scent of Bretagne sage and cigarette smoke drifts lazily. The River Seine flows to your right; boat engines drone while a dozen languages bustle. Across the river is Notre Dame de Paris. For a closer look, you cross the Pont au Double; a four hundred year old name rebuilt three times in two centuries. You stop on Point Zéro at the heart of the city on the Île-de-la-Cité; France begins in every direction. Before you now is the Notre Dame. She reaches two hundred feet into the sky, her façade lit by the Parisian sun at your shoulder. Her face is carved with stories of angels and demons, saints and
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sinners, genesis and revelation. The portal doors humble you; twenty feet tall on centuries-old hinges. They creak open so you can enter the nave. Your eyes adjust to the soft light entering through medieval stained glass. It is a place far more astonishing from within; her volume teases you to keep looking further up and away than you felt and thought it possible in an indoor space. You lean against a column as you wait for the silent masses to make their away around the arcade. Your hand feels the grain of the stone; a pattern of rectangular divots, uniform, all around the column. As you join the procession of silence ambuling around the cathedral, you touch each stone; you find the same pattern. “What is this?” you ask yourself. “What did this?” you ask the stone. The stone answers: it is not a “what” that did this, but a “who.” The patterns are chisel marks; the work of masons. Long before you touched these stones, long before you were a memory in someone’s mind or a hope in someone’s future, many worked this stone, many stood where you are standing, many touched what you are touching. Over eight hundred years ago, they began to build this place, this space, this name. For two hundred medieval years, generations labored – hammer, chisel, and stone; iron, glass, and marble; birth, life, and death – before the cathedral was proclaimed complete. And for eight hundred years full of weddings, wars, plagues, parades, destruction and reconstruction, kings and queens, revolutions and constitutions, this place has stood for you to now stand in it; you are now a part of her story. You spent your first few moments asking the stone questions, demanding that she tell you her secrets. In the silence of the Rose Window light, she had been talking to you the whole time, telling you her story, inviting you to listen to a time whose weight, breadth, and depth resists you even as it beckons. For a brief moment, you are extended into a time that reaches far beyond what you believe to be you and your memories. Notre Dame has asked you to share with her a moment in time. And she will always do so if you but listen.
)( Eight-hundred-year-old cathedrals, however, are often difficult to find on our side of the pond. Fortunately, we do not need centuries-old human places to experience this fourth-dimensional extension. All you need to do is listen.
)( Your desk rattles; your phone vibrates. It is a text message from a friend. A radio wave from their phone traveled at the speed of light – 180,000 miles a second – through the atmosphere, into space, to commune with a satellite. After a moment with time
a nano-second delay, as the message circuits through boards and algorithms, it is returned to Earth; a 1000 mile roundtrip. The message reads, “hungry?” Your heart races: finally a chance to share what has been on your mind for months, a chance to tell them that they mean more to you than you are sometimes willing to admit to yourself. You pick up your phone; fingers tap on the screen. As you hit send, inviting your friend to dinner, your phone invites you to listen. Your phone, an amalgam of plastic and metal, wants to tell you a story. The plastic is oil, black crude that was once living and breathing sunshine from three hundred million years ago, extracted from deep in the Earth, processed in a petrochemical plant releasing compounds you cannot pronounce into the atmosphere, releasing gases that sting lungs, burn eyes, irritate skin, change the world. The metal, rare-earth, is mined from a mountain, a landscape, most likely in Africa, where wars are being waged, blood spilled, to decide who owns the elements originally forged four and a half billion years ago in the flash of an exploding sun. The phone is assembled, most likely in China, under conditions most have never worked in and would never want to work in, assembled by people you have never met and will most likely never meet. Just like the eight hundred year old cathedral, your phone invites you to listen to not just its story, its history, but to the story and history of the world. From an incomprehensibly massive collapse and rebound of matter, from the dance between nuclear fusion and gravity, four and a half thousand million years ago, came the elements that create(d) our world. It is a world where the gold that sheens bright in the ring on your finger comes from the very same place and time that the iron that runs red in your blood does. Your phone, like everything and everyone else in the world, bears a weight, the weight, of its existence; the entire history of the universe in your pocket. All of this just so that you, in an hour or so, can have dinner with a friend, a person out of more than seven thousand million you wish to make happy more so than anyone else. Stemming from the weight of a supernova and the primordial tectonics of the Earth and the emergence of life and the advent of humans and technology – four and a half billion years of time – is this seemingly isolated exchange between two people.
)( You are an inheritor of a chain of organic and elemental relationships, of memories, that are not your own. They are memories of a world, a past, beyond you. It is a deep past, an elemental past, a cosmic past; it is our past. It is the time of mountains, of stars, of the slowly sculpting push of water, ice, and wind. It is a history that remembers the flash of the first galaxies just as well as the smile in your friend’s eyes as they see you walking towards them for dinner. It is a past, our past, that was never a present for any one of us. It is an intimately unknown
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part of us; impossibly coincidental. Yet, it is a necessary part of us. Because, for a brief moment, when we listen, when we accept the invitation to be a part of the story, we are not just sharing a moment with time: we are embodying the fact that we are a moment of time; we become part of our own history. We are the present reality of the entirety of that deep and heavy past; conduits through which that organic, elemental, and cosmic story is projected into a future. As Carl Sagan noted, from our humble beginning as star stuff, we are a way for the universe to know itself. So, as our pale blue dot wanders through space, as we get to know ourselves and others and what it took to be here with them, we begin to learn a more complete story of the world. Just like the stone in the cathedral, our humble stone in space we call home is inviting us to share a moment. All we have to do is listen. ( photo by: Tim Chen
a moment with time
economies/ economease troubling life in a tiny house
by april anson
Every day I spend in the small spaces of my tiny home, I confront the costs of my impatience. Because the building was so rushed, I didn’t spend time envisioning the tiny house as living space. From closet doors that open the wrong way to not having a corner to toss my stiff or tired self down when I walk in the door, I am paying the costs of many rushed decisions. This is forcing me to adjust some habits, which I knew would inevitably be the case living in this tiny space. But I have realized my impatience is a luxury. I didn’t have to take into account these costs because I am unaccustomed to recognizing the price of process. My mother was recently speaking about her garden – she planted a lot the year before, tended and pruned, but nothing really grew. She was frustrated. This last year, thinking that the lot may just be too stubborn, she left it fallow. But, for the last two weeks of October gorgeous strawberries sprang up from the untilled soil; red bursts of fruit still creeping outward as the cold began to creep in. Without water. Without her hand. But possibly because it had time (and compost). Her reflections on her garden reminded me of my tiny house. We both “built” them thinking that was all we had to do, thinking they would then offer us produce: in the case of the garden, literal produce and in the case of the tiny house, the freedom that simplicity of space would offer. Because that’s what they are supposed to do. But we both took the process for granted. You can’t just plant a garden and expect harvest. You can’t just build a tiny house and expect simplicity. We can’t expect these things without preparing for and confronting the costs. There are always pests. They invade a garden that doesn’t rely on nasty chemicals. They require tending. The tiny house, similarly, requires work. I am pestered by things I didn’t take time to consider. I long for more communal space. I long for
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Lauren Hendricks \ “Public drinking fountain, Ljubljana, Slovenia” an overstuffed armchair to toss my clothes or body on and forget about fatigue; because I am accustomed to forgetting. Often, we are wooed by the aesthetics of sustainable living – the Ball jar carrying our free trade coffee or juiced breakfast, the organic label masking the fuel costs that brought the tomato to our wintered table, the “my other car is a bike” sticker that complements our carbon-stained bumpers. These aesthetics, too, have their costs. They participate in an economy which banks on self-satisfaction sold like an over-the-counter detox while the true costs of our waste get flushed away before we turn to pull our pants up. We are fortunate – we have the luxury of denial. My mother can choose to buy her food instead of grow it. I can choose to build a tiny house, choose to buy products that fashion my identity as an environmentally-conscious citizen. But what does it mean to take the time to honor the process that brings these things to us? What does it mean to participate in that economy, or to pay the price of opting out – dirtying the same hands that craft our identities, the same hands that so unconsciously flush our waste away? What does it mean to be a part of those economies of ease that we have luxuriously forgotten? What do we do with the knowledge that we are always in the midst of them, inevitably indulging in the luxury of ignoring this fact? And, what does it mean to admit the discomfort that inexorably comes with the inconsistencies of trying? Why does such discomfort not signal the complex real-
ities in which we live and move? Why do I feel that in articulating the difficulties of tiny living, I am betraying the spirit that birthed it – the desire to ethically, responsibly, better our being? Why do we pull the term “sustainable” down like a seat cover, sanitizing the digestive process of our products/consumption/waste? Because we can. Because identity is easier to buy than to build, and easier to build than to contemplate. Surely, easier said than done because it is never, ever done. And those strawberries, while tasty, were a reminder of what a little more dirty work would have produced. The tiny house is a reminder of process, and privilege – the privilege afforded me by the society I have been cultivated in; the privilege to forget, complain, and at the same time expect freedom. After almost three years in the tiny house, its small spaces continue to expand, enlarging my understanding of the scope of both my privilege and my resulting responsibility. The space’s sharp corners cultivate a type of critical self-reflection that unsettles the ease of a tidy, consumption-driven environmentalism while they also demand I treat what may feel like that unsettling’s consequential bruises as signposts signaling the places where I need to be discomforted, instead of healed. This is a beautiful honor, and home, that I hope I work to earn every single day. (
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lauren hendricks \ Blue Ridge Mountains from summit of Old Rag, VA
reimagining the future
climate fiction and the sociological imagination
by katrina maggiulli
Discourses of a Warming World Widely considered to be the single most important problem of our time, cli-
mate change is becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. With a continual stream of media coverage drawing attention to rising temperatures, abnormal weather patterns, and climate protests, as well as a looming presence of attempted climate and energy policies in the political sphere, it is no wonder climate change is also finding a niche for itself in the literary world. Climate fiction, or cli-fi for short, is a term coined in 2007 by blogger and climate activist Dan Bloom to capture this new literary phenomena. While the term is fairly new, the roots of this genre date back to long before “climate change” became a household term. Many critics chart these themes back to post-apocalyptic disaster fiction, a subgenre of science fiction, and, more specifically, establish J.G. Ballard’s 1962 novel The Drowned World as its first major example. The Drowned World explores a post-apocalyptic world that has been completely submerged due to a solar-storm-induced depletion of the Earth’s ionosphere, which resulted in rapidly rising temperatures and worldwide flooding due to melting polar ice sheets. What is important to note in this example is that anthropogenic influence was not the cause of Ballard’s global warming scenario. Critics attribute this thematic decision to his general antipathy towards science and as a way to avoid mythopoetic reproductions (such as Noah’s ark). In Jim Clarke’s (2013) analysis of Ballard’s novel, he notes that the text “insist[s] that since
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environment and climate are fundamentally experienced sensually, science is impotent in investigating what human response climate change may demand from any particular individual” (p.12). Ballard’s resistance to science and technology as solutions, then, was atypical of the science fiction genre at the time, but instead seemed to foreshadow the cli-fi that would emerge in the next half-century. From these “disaster fiction” roots, cli-fi would continue to build its presence within the science fiction genre through post-apocalyptic dystopias such as Arthur Herzog’s Heat (1977); sci-fi thrillers like Norman Spinrad’s Greenhouse Summer (1999); and innovative engagements with climate change’s influence beyond “other-worldly setting[s]” and into “social, cultural and political phenomenon” such as Kim Stanley Robinson’s “Science in the Capital” trilogy (2004, 2005, 2007) (Johns-Putra & Trexler 2011). The boundaries of the sci-fi genre, however, would not hold climate change discourse back, and the theme would spread into thrillers, such as Michael Crichton’s contrarian novel State of Fear (2004), and in huge numbers of young adult fiction, such as Saci Lloyd’s The Carbon Diaries, 2015 (2008) and The Carbon Diaries, 2017 (2009) which engage in the political and social implications of carbon rationing in the United Kingdom. Despite their solid presence in genre fiction, it would not be until the late 90s that literary authors would begin seriously engaging with climate change topics, though the massive outpouring of literature in the past decade has begun to make up for this lack. Some well-known authors in this group include Margaret Atwood, Cormac McCarthy, Ian McEwan, and Barbara Kingsolver. Now that we know what climate fiction is, we can then ask, why does it matter? Why is it important for literary and genre authors to engage in the topic? What purposes can these discourses serve with a problem so heavily rooted in science? In order to engage with these questions, we will explore the concept of the sociological imagination and then apply it to recent developments in the climate fiction world.
Climate Change and the Sociological Imagination In C. Wright Mills’ 1959 book, The Sociological Imagination, he explores the
complex social world of the modern Western human. He observes that “the [contemporary] individual can understand his own experience and gauge his own fate only by locating himself within his period” but that the expansion of society, the development and implementation of new social structures and institutions, and the mere pace of life have accelerated at such a rate that humans can no longer adequately frame and understand our experiences and lives (p.5). Though written in the late 1950s, many of Mills’ observations are still directly relevant to the predicament we find ourselves in today. He writes,
reimagining the future
The very shaping of history now outpaces the ability of men to orient themselves in accordance with cherished values. And which values? Even when they do not panic, men often sense that older ways of feeling and thinking have collapsed and that newer beginnings are ambiguous to the point of moral stasis. Is it any wonder that ordinary men feel they cannot cope with the larger worlds with which they are so suddenly confronted? … That—in defense of selfhood—they become morally insensible, trying to remain altogether private men? (p.4-5) As the implications of climate change on the current American lifestyle become clearer, the threat to one’s ontological security is made apparent, and the idea of adapting becomes increasingly frightening and incomprehensible. Mills asserts that in order to avoid this fear and retreat, one must employ what he calls the “sociological imagination.” The sociological imagination combines examinations of a society’s structure and components (including what features promote its continuance), its place in human history and “the mechanics by which it is changing,” and the type of human nature that is encouraged and promoted (p.7). Thus, by grasping all of these societal elements, individuals can more easily situate themselves within history and the current social structures. However, this sociological imagination framework would fail to achieve its aims when applied to humankind’s mental adaptation to climate change because it fails to account for situations that demand such radical social change. Climate change, then, poses a unique threat to the modern human because, in order for western civilization to survive it, we must radically reimagine how society should be structured and implement these changes at an unprecedented speed. What I propose is, in addition to the three elements of sociological imagination that Mills describes, we add the concept of sociological reimagining. All the pieces of Mills’ theory are vitally important in understanding the society in which we live, but I would also argue that they are essential when it comes to reimagining society, or in other words, in imagining the possibilities for change. Thus, where sociological imagination asks the question of what kind of society we live in, sociological reimagining would ask what kind of society should we live in? In this way one could engage in a sociological thought experiment—by utilizing all of the elements of the sociological imagination and applying them to an imagined society, one could effectively “test” new ways of structuring social systems and values in a risk-free and constructive manner. This, I argue, is the technique used in the most successful of climate fiction, as these discourses recognize the inability of our current society to perpetuate itself, and thus they respond by developing new societies through utopias and, most importantly, critical dystopias. In the introduction to Contemporary Dystopian Fiction For Young Adults: Brave New Teenagers (2013), editors Balaka Basu,
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photo by: Aylie Baker Katherine R. Broad, and Carrie Hintz stress that in contemporary dystopian fiction, particularly within the young adult genre, “the dystopian worlds are bleak not because they are meant to stand as mere cautionary tales, but because they are designed to display—in sharp relief—the possibility of utopian change even in the darkest of circumstances” (p.3). This reflects the social need for more than just a dooms-day tale, but also for the “glimmer of hope” (p.3). Clearly, in the case of climate change predictions, warnings of the catastrophes to come are not enough to induce the desire to act—these warnings too overtly threaten an individual’s ontological security, resulting in both an inability to cope with this reality and a retreat from action. A narrative, then, that pursues a sociological reimagining of the world, could utilize what Alexa Weik Von Mossner calls the “critical eco-dystopia.” Von Mossner references Rafaella Baccolini’s explanation of critical dystopias as “marked by ‘an opening for utopian elements in … dystopian science fiction,’ and this blending of the two genres, combined with a critical focus and seriousness of intent,” Von Mossner says, “can have strong effects on readers’ understanding of their current life worlds” (p.70). Critical eco-dystopias could then serve to restructure an individual’s perception of radical change and thus offer the possibility of a better world. In reference to Kim Stanley Robinson’s “Science in the Capital Trilogy,” F. Jameson asserts that this brand of “utopia as a form is not the representation of radical alternatives; it is rather simply the imperative to imagine them” (qtd. in Johns-Putra & Trexler 2011).
reimagining the future
The next section will explore the role of sociological reimagining and the critical dystopia in climate fiction, and the potential cli-fi has to serve society as we attempt to cope with the enormity of climate change. To do this we will investigate a recent addition to the climate fiction canon, The Collapse of Western Civilization: A view from the future (2014) by science historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, focusing particularly on their unique choices of format and perspective and the opportunities they provide for imaginative engagement.
The Collapse of Western Civilization (2014): A Case Study Though I consider The Collapse of Western Civilization (from here on re-
ferred to as CWC) an addition to the cli-fi canon, it is far from the typical genrebased or literary engagements that make up the bulk of the category. CWC is unique in that it is essentially an account written by a historian from the Second People’s Republic of China on the 300th anniversary of “The Great Collapse.” The historian charts what he calls “The Penumbral Period” (1988-2093), or, the years leading up to the Great Collapse and Mass Migration of 2073-2093, brought on by the lack of response to the threats of climate change and CO2 emissions, and the whole-hearted faith in market fundamentalism (“even at the time, some recognized this system as a quasi-religious faith, hence the label market fundamentalism” emphasis original, p.37). The short piece (62 pages including the “lexicon of archaic terms”) is followed by an interview with the authors, Oreskes and Conway, discussing why they chose to approach the topic in this way. Both authors are science historians and had recently collaborated on Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming (2010) and interviewer Patrick Fitzgerald wanted to know how the project of CWC began. Oreskes explained that after an invitation to write on social scientific approaches to climate change (“the specific invitation was to write on why we (collectively) were failing to respond adequately [to climate change]”), as a historian she felt uncomfortable addressing “such a present-tense question,” but “then the thought came to [her]: what will future historians say about us? How will they answer this question?” (p.64). A term can be found in their “Lexicon of Archaic Terms” which seems to sum up this view: “synthetic-failure paleoanalysis [:] The discipline of understanding past failure, specifically by understanding the interactions (or synthesis) of social, physical, and biological systems” (emphasis original p.62). In the introduction to CWC, Oreskes and Conway explain their approach: Science fiction writers construct an imaginary future; historians attempt to reconstruct the past. Ultimately, both are seeking to understand the present. In this essay, we blend the two genres to imagine a future his-
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torian looking back on a past that is our present and (possible) future. (emphasis original, p.ix) In essence, Oreskes and Conway are exercising their sociological imagination by developing this “reimagining” of our potential future, and they approach the matter through an arguably “critical eco-dystopian” lens. Oreskes asserts in the interview that she sees CWC as “hopeful” since, despite the threat of climate change and societal upheaval, “there will be a future for humanity, even if [it is] one no longer dominated by Western Culture” (p.65)—a change she sees as positive. So what are some ways that they critically engage with the dystopian narrative and provide the necessary “glimmer of hope”? Since the narrative is written by a future historian, it is thus written for a future audience. Because of this audience, the historian often inserts parenthetical explanations for some of the more “archaic” practices of the Penumbral Period, many of which allude to the traditions that have replaced them in this future society. For example, when the historian addresses the work of the Penumbral “physical scientists” s/he adds that they are “named as such due to the archaic Western convention of studying the physical world in isolation from social systems” (p.2). And later s/he goes on to explain the structure of the scientific traditions and practices, saying it “was organized both intellectually and institutionally around ‘disciplines’ in which specialists developed a high level of expertise in a small area of inquiry,” implying, with some distaste, that the “discipline” practice is remarkably outdated. Oreskes’ and Conway’s narrative then implies that the future “post-apocalyptic utopia” in which the narrating historian lives, is a world where research is not restricted by disciplines—mirroring some of the gradual shifts in institutions today towards interdisciplinary programs. When discussing the Penumbral economic system, the historian says “at the time, most countries still used the archaic concept of a gross domestic product, a measure of consumption, rather than the Bhutanian concept of gross domestic happiness to evaluate well-being in a state” (p.8). This refers directly to the “gross national happiness index,” a practice that is currently utilized in Bhutan. In this way, Oreskes and Conway are subtly suggesting ways in which Western Civilization can approach (and potentially some nations already are approaching) a utopian ideal, and how we can hopefully avoid some of the catastrophic mistakes made by the governments of the Penumbral Period. So, what does this mean for readers? I argue that this sprinkling of allusions to a better society are Oreskes and Conway’s way of proposing new cultural and social norms that might be able to help us avoid the worst of our potential mistakes. These moments serve as blatant social commentary by drawing out specific elements of the Penumbral Period to label as “archaic” (a term that is repeated often throughout the text) and imply that these elements are perhaps part of the climate problem. What makes this type of commentary different than
reimagining the future
many post-apocalyptic narratives is that these “archaic” practices are framed, quite literally, as history, and they are almost always paired with the contrasting “current” state-of-affairs that operate well, which imply a stable and better future for humanity. Climate fiction of this kind, then, can serve as both a shocking and horrific warning for what is to come, and also as a sociological reimagining of where Western Civilization should try to go instead.
“A New Type of Novel” While critics argue that climate fiction will merely “reinforce existing
views” that climate change is just “a fiction, exaggerated for dramatic effect” or that the stories will “be biased toward [scenarios] that allow a good story to be told,” many of them also agree that much of the new climate fiction is not focusing merely on a catastrophic event, but on “how humanity chooses to organize and cope in the post-apocalyptic world” (Marshall 2014, Heigeartaigh 2014, Chameides 2013). In any genre or category of fiction there are a wide range of approaches to the topic—not all of them successful—but the ones that are most influential are the ones that are fully engaged with the sociological imagination and are able to tap into the contemporary human experience directly. In climate fiction, this engagement requires the development of sociological reimaginings, or narratives that are fully grounded in awareness of social structures and experiences in the past and present, and that can chart potential trajectories for the future. These reimaginings can then serve as a way to “test” new ideas and to fuel the public imagination with new possibilities. Poet and writer Sheree Renée Thomas spoke to this narrative power in a climate fiction debate in the New York
Sam Moore \ “relict”
Times in July 2014. “There is power in fantasy,” she says, “especially in stories that urge us to face the impossible or find ways to survive. … The best stories take us inside of storytelling so seamlessly, that when we emerge, the impossible is easier to imagine. This fiction creates a space in our minds to consider other perspectives and adopt new solutions.” This is the kind of fiction that I argue is needed for the contemporary person to fully understand and come to grips with their place in history, and for them to begin imagining where they want that history to go. Or, as Nathaniel Rich, author of cli-fi novel Odds Against Tomorrow (2013), says: “we’re headed toward something terrifying and large and transformative,” therefore “we need a new type of novel to address [this] new type of reality” (qtd. in Evancie 2013). Climate fiction, when it employs sociological reimagining, will provide this needed engagement that might enable humankind to restructure, and to reimagine, our lives. (
Works Cited Basu, B., Broad, K.R., & Hintz, C. (2013). Contemporary Dystopian Fiction For Young Adults: Brave New Teenagers. New York: Routledge. Chameides, B. (2013, December 12). The Rise of Climate Fiction: Is this new genre the real deal or just a flight of fancy?. Conservation Magazine. Retrieved from http://conservationmagazine.org Clarke, J. (2013). Reading Climate Change in J.G. Ballard. Critical Survey. 25(2), 7-21. Conway, E.M., & Oreskes, N. (2014). The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View From The Future. New York: Columbia University Press. Evancie, A. (2013, April 20). So Hot Right Now: Has Climate Change Created A New Literary Genre?. National Public Radio. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org Heigesrtaigh S.Ó. (2014, August 4). Hollywood Global Warming Dramas Can Be Misleading. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com Johns-Putra, A., & Trexler, A. (2011). Climate change in literature and literary criticism. WIREs Climate Change. 2. 185-200. Marshall, G. (2014, July 29). Climate Fiction Will Reinforce Existing Views. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com Mills, C.W. (1959). The Sociological Imagination. New York: Oxford University Press. Thomas, S.R. (2014, July 29). Imagination Will Help Find Solutions to Climate Change. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com Von Mossner, A.W. (2013). Hope in Dark Times: Climate Change and the World Risk Society in Saci Lloyd’s The Carbon Diaries 2015 and 2017. In Basu, B., Broad, K.R., & Hintz, C. (Eds.), Contemporary Dystopian Fiction For Young Adults: Brave New Teenagers (pp.69-83). New York: Routledge.
reimagining the future
by gayla wardwell
strangling the ficus with its insidious strength, The Vine fights me as I tear at it with the sharp teeth of a sickle, poor foe against its tenacity. it has taken over the evergreen, a cool umbrella for green needles, shading it from noonday heat and sucking life from it in the name of good. I struggle with the vine in my garden as I struggle with it in my life, believing it to be good and bad, needed and superfluous all at the same time. as I, an uneasy murderer, hack at the winding strands, freeing the boughs of the outdoor Christmas tree from its death clutches, I admire its persistence,
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Lauren Hendricks \ â€œMushroom, Duluth, MNâ€?
its grace and beauty, its pure insistence on life. I can be like the vine, I think, if only I depend on this moment for strength, cut my teeth on harder rocks, and be willing to give my life for what I know to be true. it is a war in which we shall engage again, The Vine and me, yielding short shrift for those who fail to recognize the honor at stake.
“is survival sufficient?” book review for the environmental studies community: station eleven by emily st john mandel by shane donnelly hall In September 2015, some 5,000 new undergraduates will arrive to campus sharing something perhaps unexpected in common: every new Duck will have read a novel about a band of Shakespearian actors wandering—armed to the teeth—through the post-apocalyptic wilderness of a near-future America. The 2015-2016 academic year marks the sixth year of the University of Oregon’s “Common Reading,” a program that gives every incoming first year student a common book to help jumpstart collegiate discussion and reflection. The book for 2015-2016 is Emily St. John Mandel’s nationally bestselling novel, Station Eleven (Knopf, 2015). I thought, since about 20% of our enrolled UO community is going to read this, I might lend a review and reflection of the book with the hopes of encouraging others in the ENVS community to read the novel and join the discussions the Common Reading aims to provoke. If you teach or in some way interact with undergraduate students, chances are that over the next four years you’ll have a chance to discuss this book with someone. And that’s a great thing for environmental studies, as this book is relevant for anyone interested in the art of survival in a damaged world. Admittedly, I am quick to recommend this book due to my own biases. As a doctoral student who studies environmental literature, and as an GTF instructor who has taught a course on “Imagining Environmental Futures: Apocalypse, Dystopia, and Utopia in Environmental Thought,” I am predisposed to fall head over heels
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for a book that juxtaposes super-flu pandemics, the collapse of civilization, and Much Ado About Nothing. In environmental studies, students spend a lot of time contemplating the slippery, ambiguous meanings of “nature” and “culture;” which happens also to be a fixation of the characters in King Lear, the Shakespeare play that helps set the stage for Station Eleven. The book begins with Arthur Leander, one of the main characters, collapsing of a heart attack while performing as Lear. Three weeks later, most of humanity is dead or dying. In the pages that follow the reader zooms back and forth in time to see how different characters associated with the actor who dies on stage came to and struggled through the collapse of western civilization. There’s the man who tries to save Arthur as he collapses, a child actor who was on stage, Arthur’s first wife, his oldest friend, and a sinister self-proclaimed prophet. The Shakespearian troupe, who call themselves the Travelling Symphony, wanders and performs twenty years after the flu dissolved the world as we know it. Their motto: “survival is insufficient.” This line, couched within its post-apocalyptic setting, and ripped straight from Star Trek Voyager, resonated with me as a student of environmental studies. So many of efforts commonly associated with environmental studies or environmentalism are framed as “life or death” struggles: Can the spotted owl be saved? Will run-away climate change or nuclear pollution wipe out life as we know it? Are plastic microbeads contaminating our sushi? Yet while we often focus on the continuity or extermination of biotic life, this novel forces its readers to question how any human artifact—a story, a play, a poem,—can long last in a fragile world, and how much we need these objects. Like Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” this novel throws aspirations to fame and lasting glory into serious jeopardy while also affirming the tenacious endurance of art and ideas through the trials of time. Station Eleven, switching back and forth from before and after the dissolution of civilization, serves at times as a gripping thriller and at other moments as a solemn meditation of the ephemeral nature of fame, memory, and value of art to surviving harsh people in a harsh world. (
“is survival sufficient?”
Sam Moore \ “Wenhui at the coast”
by aylie baker My first week of college, a letter arrived from my grandfather in Scotland to my dorm room in Vermont. I don’t remember reading it.
He wants to know if you’re writing, my mother told me over the phone when she called that week. Writing what? I answered. I had only just arrived, I told her. I don’t remember reading the letter. But five years later, when I was helping my parents move, I found it. It was tucked away in an orientation pamphlet in a box in my closet. I now refer to it often. Dear Aylie, it reads. What a wonderful time you must be having. New friends, new lecturers, and new subjects. He reported that he and my Granny had recently moved from the hillside where they had always lived one mile east into the village of Letham. Of the new house he wrote: Granny and I have fitted into our 1851 cottage like a pair of hermit crabs. I have the largest room for my books and bones, not forgetting my Elephant skull. While unpacking his books, he found, in the depths of a local history, a reference to their old home — the Lownie of Dunnichen: The place Lownie (our old house) was occupied by a man called Auchter Lownie between 1226 - 1239. This is terribly old, about 250 years before the discovery of America. What does Lownie mean? There are at least seven adjectives derived from Lown. As you read the following adjectives, cast your mind back to what you remember of the old homestead. Here goes: -
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Lown adj. 1. Calm and severe. 2. Tranquil, unagitated. 3. Sheltered. 4. Silent. 5. Quiet. 6. Soft, gentle, low. 7. Secret In the old house we were sheltered from the north, and the house faced south. The letter ends rather abruptly after that, with a new address and a reminder to refer to the cover notes of the dictionary enclosed. Why, in a moment of new direction and possibility did my grandfather choose to write to me about the coordinates of a past place? Why all of this orientation? And the first definition – calm and severe, or was it calm and serene? I can’t quite decipher his loopy script. Yet each time I read severe I remember my grandfather’s painting in the kitchen of the old house. Battle of Dunnichen, 639 A.D. is the title. In it, the Picts charge down the lown side of Dunnichen Hill. Their blue-painted bodies are poised to slaughter the Northumbrians wading unaware through the swamp — the swamp where the neighboring cattle farm now stands. Serene. I read it and remember how, after this battle, the Northumbrians retreated, and Scotland remained independent for a few hundred more years. I remember that my grandfather, born an Englishman, was also a passionate member of the Scottish Nationalist Party. Silent. About a mile from the swamp, in the middle of a roundabout beside the village church, a large stone stands several feet tall. A serpent winds its way across the topmost edge. Someone spent hours carving a mirror, several circles and a few letters into the surface. Locals call it the Aberlemno stone, though no one knows what it says, as the markings are in a language no longer spoken or understood. Secret. Once I went with my grandfather to make a rubbing of the stone. He told me he’d read that the Z carved across the center denotes the angle between the moon in its farthest point of orbit and the earth. Sheltered. Each winter, thousands of pink-footed geese gather in the reservoir at the foot of Dunnichen Hill. The same lake where the Northumbrians were slaughtered, or beaten back, or brought to justice. The same lake I circled as a child visiting my mother’s home. As they migrate south, these geese orient themselves to the cardinal points, but they also rely on familiar landmarks to guide their way. Tranquil. When my grandfather died in 2009, he was buried in a cemetery not far from the lake. If you go to visit, the silhouette of Dunnichen hill is carved above his nameplate. Running round the edge are the names of the people who shaped his life.
Each time I read my grandfatherâ€™s letter, I am reminded of the incredible power and responsibility I have as a writer. On the page, I am not bound by coastlines, by bodies, by lifetimes. And yet, as inspiration gusts through me, I often forget that my voice is bound up in the lives and the landscapes of others. When I begin something new, I want to strive to remember the lown side of the hill. To remember that I carry the blood of an Englishman whose invention revolutionized coalmining in Sheffield. A machine that scarred mountaintops but also shaped the lives of my family in Appalachia. A family who brought in, or coerced, a Cherokee woman from her forced march on the Trail of Tears. My muse travels through these places and people into this moment, onto this page. Through their violence, their oppression, their persistence. All that is calm, all that is severe, all that is serene. ( .
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Lauren Hendricks \ “Pine Tree Arch, Arches National Park”
kampala street eats
by nick dreher
As you pass the cart where a woman sits selling freshly sliced pineapple, your stomach echoes the distant sound of thunder with a long low groan. You are hungry, but a few slices of pineapple won’t satisfy you. Another twenty paces along the unpaved, dusty road, and you spot the welcome sign of charcoal smoke rising from a small stove and the smell of freshly-made chapattis – round flat bread somewhere between tortilla and naan. Your senses and stomach guide you in that direction. As you approach, you automatically break into Luganda – Oli otya, ssebo. The gentleman beside the stove replies – Gyendi. You revert to English for your simple request – one rolex. You’ve become so familiar with the local meaning of this word that you’ve all but forgotten its association with a brand of famously expensive timepieces. Instead, you briefly contemplate the local evolution of this word from its English origin – roll eggs. Besides, what you are about to enjoy is infinitely more desirable than an overpriced watch. The chef stirs the coals of his stove, a well-worn, blackened cylinder of metal, propped up on three legs. The coals start to glow, and he shifts his attention to the wooden table beside him, as do you. Like the work of a sushi chef, the process of making a rolex has a certain appeal – you watch as intently this time as any before. First, the chef prepares the vegetables. He selects a half tomato and slices it thinly.
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Sam Moore \ “Weary Traveller“ This isn’t the beefsteak tomato that dominates American grocery stores. You’re unsure of the exact variety, but its size and shape remind you of a small Roma tomato. Next, he grabs a small purple onion, cuts off a quarter, and dices it. From your own experience, you know these onions are incredibly potent, but the chef doesn’t seem to mind. You are in luck – in addition to the staple vegetables, the chef has a little garlic on hand. He dices a small clove and adds it to the mound of prepared vegetables on his table. Now, he turns his attention to the tray of eggs. From the tray, he grabs two. One egg in hand, he picks up a small plastic cup. He does not break the egg on the edge of the cup, as you would. Instead, he picks up his knife – he has and needs only one knife – and cracks it with a flick of the blade. The eggshell disappears into a cardboard box below, and the next egg is dispatched in the same manner. Then, the chef adds the vegetables and a pinch of salt to the cup. With a fork, he gives the contents a few quick stirs. Ingredients prepared, he turns back to his skillet. He feels the air above the skillet to test its temperature, then pours some cooking oil. This measurement is precise – oil is expensive and he cannot afford to waste a drop. Now, the plastic cup is tipped, and its contents hiss a greeting as they meet the hot skillet. You watch the eggs expand across the skillet. When you ordered your first rolex, you were surprised by the dull, grey color of the yolks. Now, you know how a chicken’s diet influences their color.
kampala street eats
As the eggs cook, the chef turns to his friend sitting on the shop steps behind his stand. As you wait there, your mind begins to crunch the numbers. This rolex will cost you 1000 shillings, an inconsequential amount even on your limited budget. Eggs cost 300 shillings apiece, so two eggs comes to 600 shillings. Then there is the cost of vegetables, flour for the chapatti, cooking oil, and charcoal. Your calculation doesn’t even begin to factor the cost of the stove and the heavy cast iron skillet. You look to the chef and see a man making barely enough to cover the cost of his own expenses. But then you look at his friend, sitting on the steps wearing a faded Manchester United jersey. You imagine he probably spends his day on those steps, passing the time and hoping to hear of any odd job where he can earn a few shillings. By comparison, this chef ’s livelihood almost seems secure. You return your attention to the skillet. The chef deftly slides his knife under the cooking omelet and flips it in one fluid motion. He has no need for a spatula. What was a handful of raw ingredients minutes ago is becoming a meal. As you look at the omelet, your stomach rumbles again, this time in approval. The omelet is quickly covered as the chef grabs a chapatti and tosses it over the omelet. Making chapattis is typically how a rolex chef starts his day, so you know this one is fresh. Another thirty seconds pass, and the chef again slides his knife beneath the soonto-be rolex and transfers it to his work table, omelet facing the darkening sky. He rolls chapatti and omelet into one – a rolex. His work finished, the chef bags his creation in plastic and looks up to you, as if just remembering its recipient. One thou’ – he says. You hand him a bill and receive your rolex in exchange. It is hot to the touch and steam pours out of the bag as you peek inside, but your rumbling stomach rejects caution, so you take a bite. It is hot, very hot in fact, but you still take time to savor it. As you take your second bite, you try to put words to this eating experience. It reminds you of … well, it reminds you of eating a rolex. (
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Above: Sam Moore \ “foothill yellow-legged frog” Below: Sam Moore \ “flashlight pizza”
by wenhui qiu I
I wonder, looking out of the window of a running bus and counting the home lights fleeting across the window, how many worlds exist in the seemingly empty darkness that stretches far and wide. A world where a family is gathering at a dining table. A world where a couple are quarreling, a world where a grandma is telling a story to a child. A world where an illustrator is holding a pencil, lost in thought. As steam rises and dances with light over the family dining table. As guilty thoughts flashing across the quarreling minds while they still decide to be stubborn. As the child smells the scent of incense when the story opens. As the illustrator lands thoughts on the paperâ€™s texture that is accentuated by rough pencil lines. The warm glow produced by the steam and light casts a halo around the head of a family member across the table. The speed of blood rushing in the head abates when silence finally prevails. The child eventually finds that the smell grandma carries with her from the prayers in front of her incense burner every morning is part of the story she tells. Deep thoughts draw in the illustratorâ€™s attention and energy from the eyes to power imagination as highlights and shadows emerge to sculpt an initial draft. photos by: wenhui qiu
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Sometime later on, when the steam and light dance together again, when
the blood rushes through the head, when the smell of incense arises, when the touch of the paper texture is felt, there awakens the attached senses, the anchored feelings and the perched memories. I wonder, when the sudden and mysterious familiarity of a moment arrives, whether it is the so-called déjà vu, in front of which even the most mundane of us feel the strike of mystery and awe.
I wonder, when pondering these embedded macro worlds, whether our own worlds roam like bubbles, colliding with and becoming attached to the worlds of others. Those bubbles that persist neither crushed and destroyed other bubbles nor absorbed others to expand their own spheres. When a bubble does finally dissipate, the vibration travels along the network of attachment, pulling the strings of the compassionate hearts that dwell in other bubbles.
IV I wonder, the bubbles to which our own are attached, are they only nestled
by those of our same kind? After all, why should we reject the possibility of such worlds existent: A world where moss lamps stand. A world where a spider silk bridge hangs high and sturdy mid-air. A world where a fly crawls out of an oxalis petal jar with a drunk face. A world where a butterfly looks down from a grass stalk. As the lamps are brimming with morning dew, waiting to be lit up by the first ray of the rising sun. As the bridge stretches across a gap between two moss jungles with each end holding onto the tip of a moss pod. As the sunset glow casts a nostalgic coating on the fly’s drunk face, only to be brushed away together with somnolence by the forelegs. As the butterfly’s countenance is registered with a slightly raised, proud head and the tilted, content eyes. Sunlight balls begin flickering in the air over moss prairies and log abysses. A web structure expands with widening tiers, redefining the navigation pattern over the jungle gap. Evening autumn breeze strolls by, leaving in the air a soft and smooth current that the fly decides to board. The stiff and rugged wings enrich the butterfly’s content face with determination and traces of life’s hardship. (
rematerializing justice the conditions of (in)justice in american history past and present by christopher torres
In the Beginning there was Injustice There is a â€œthrownnessâ€? to our being in the world. Heidegger used this
term in his magnum opus Being and Time. It is the idea that we, as individuals, have had no say in how we are, or even that we are, in the world. His original use of it is quite specific, used to convey the notion of always already finding ourselves in the midst of experience and time. For our purposes, however, it speaks to how we find ourselves thrown into a certain position in history and society. We had no say in what day and age we would live, no say which gender or sex we would embody, no say in which ethnic group we would be born and raised, no say in which nation-state we would or would not be a part. We had no say in even being here in the first place. For all intents and purposes, we are given a history. That being said, regardless of our individual thrownness, no matter how much time has passed between us and what happened in the past, we are the inheritors of that chain of events and relations, an explanation of where and why we are in the world in time. Where and how we have been thrown is no accident; it did not just happen. These chains of events that happened, and that are still happening, create and reinforce a structure built in the favor of the few at the price of the many. While this claim is in no way mapped out as fully as it can, and should be, this, in the broadest of definitions, is Injustice. More to the point, Injustice is not just a concept or a subjective feeling; it is materially real in the world. This paper
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is an attempt to briefly investigate in what sense Injustice is real in the context of North American and U.S. (environmental) history. Moreover, this paper will explore what it will take to make its counterpart, Justice, just as real.
Methods John Rawls spoke of an ideal theory of Justice. His concern was with get-
ting the concepts right in order to address the “pressing and urgent matters…we are faced with in everyday life” (Rawls 1990, 8). Getting the ideas right, however, will not likely sway the hearts of the few, or even the many, from one day to the next. It is the “pressing and urgent matters” that must be addressed first; that will be Justice. Given that Rawls begins with justice, we shall begin with injustice. The thesis is simple: Injustice is real in that it is the degradation, oppression, exploitation, and/or eradication of ways and means of life through the fragmenting, attacking, killing, and appropriating of the material conditions of said ways and means of life in order to simultaneously create and reinforce an oppressive way and means of life at the expense of the other. This is environmental injustice,1 the first Injustice, the disparity upon which all others are built; it is the disparity, the “pressing and urgent matters” that must be addressed first. This claim is not new, however; the Roman Empire, the Greek city-states, medieval European kingdoms, the ancient Eastern kingdoms, and kingdoms of the pre-contact Americas were all built upon injustice(s). While there have been many forms and modes of injustice, the mode that has expressed and embodied Western Modern and Enlightenment thought for the past five centuries has been the inherent/necessary (Environmental) Injustice in the Colonial/Imperial project. Andrea Smith’s Conquest frames the project of Settler-Colonialism that took place, and is taking place, on the North American continent as the operation of violence on the indigenous body/land; (Environmental) Injustice. Section One will be a brief overview of Smith’s claim in Conquest of the system of Settler-Colonialist (Environmental) Injustice. What this paper’s iteration of the claim aims to do is not only agree and support Smith’s claim but to push it further, to frame it as the real basis for Injustice that has delivered us to the present Neoliberal Capitalist-fed Climate Change state of affairs we are in now. That is the first move of this paper. Moreover, with the support of other indigenous work and literature of Winona LaDuke and Linda Tuhiwai Smith, the second move will be made: avenues and ways to proceed that seek to make Justice real (i.e. Environmental Justice).
One: of the Land Smith’s Conquest expands on the work of Fanon and Said on the structure and organizing framework of Settler-Colonialism (Smith 2005). Her expansion and
focus in Conquest is to investigate the operation of this Settler-Colonialist project on the North American continent primarily through violence inflicted upon the female Native American body and land. Throughout the course of the book, four main claims are put forth of how the Settler-Colonialist project took place on the North American continent. First, the explicit military campaign against native peoples. Second, the conquest of the native body through “saving” native women from their “savage” and “unenlightened” ways of life or, more recently in history, forced/uninformed sterilization. Third, the fragmentation, degradation, and attempted eradication of native culture through various forms of forced assimilation into the colonizing culture (e.g. boarding houses, anti-Indian laws and acts, appropriation of native cultures, etc.). Lastly, the claim which I believe to be the main driver, is the conquest of the land from native peoples into the property of the settling colonists (Smith 2005). This last claim is at the crux of this paper’s argument in two ways. First, the main objective of Settler-Colonialism is to take new land in order to feed and construct the project. Given this, the other three claims she makes are operating arms of the means by which this is accomplished. The second point, more importantly, is how native place-thought philosophy and the objective of the Settler-Colonialist Project interact. Native place-thought is a system of thought in which the relations between participants (“participants” read as all entities, non-human and non-living included) in a place is what constitutes ethical and epistemological reality. It starts with a place created through relations of being and obligation that is constantly being renegotiated between the human and non-human participants (Watts 2013). This sits in sharp, if not direct, contrast to Western Modern and Enlightenment thought which begins with an epistemology (i.e. rationality and all the other Enlightenment virtues) and predicates from it how the world is and how it should be. It starts with a way of thinking which both creates and assumes discrete subjects and objects in the world in which the subjects can assert their agency over objects. The results of the latter way of thinking have been investigated thoroughly and presented in seminal literature such as Bill McKibben’s The End of Nature and Carolyn Merchant’s The Death of Nature as a mapping of how it has led to the present state of environmental and social affairs. What Smith highlights, and what this paper seeks to push further, are the material underpinnings of how all of this happened and is still happening. More to the point, the project in the North American continent is built upon, necessitates even, (Environmental) Injustice. Now, several centuries after the project began, the Western Modern and Enlightenment fed Settler-Colonialism in North America is beginning to perceive the effects of its enterprise; the lag time is starting to catch up. The latter half of this paper aims to provide avenues by which to address the Injustice through making
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Nick Dreher \ â€œOtis & Moeâ€?
sense of an irony driving the Settler-Colonialist plot: it must now turn to the very people and ways and means of life it sought to eradicate in order to survive. The irony is double in that in doing so, it would not and cannot preserve the Project in its original objective. If it is Injustice that led to this, only real Justice, environmental justice, can address it. Tuhiwai Smith and LaDuke present reasons for doing this and possible ways of doing so.
Two: The Needed Voice LaDuke and Smith push for a historical debunking of Western Exceptional-
ism. It is a debunking move in that it aims to highlight that the world is not accidently this way, it was made this way, purposively constructed and manufactured through very specific means for very specific reasons for very specific ends. As LaDuke states, speaking on behalf of the native peoples of North America, “our greatest problem with all of this in America is that there has been no recognition of the cultural extinction, no owning up to it, no atonement for what happened, and no education about it … Nobody admits that [this] holocaust took place (LaDuke 2004, 250).” As highlighted by what has been framed as Smith’s third claim, part of the Settler-Colonialist project demands, necessitates, that the history that led to the present be fragmented and forgotten; it must be made into myth and legend, a part of an origins story where the ends justify the means. LaDuke is quick to clarify that “it is not appropriate for me to say that my holocaust was worse than someone else’s.” It is, however, “absolutely correct for me to demand that my holocaust be recognized (LaDuke 2004, 250).” Until that happens, though, she says that her people will continue to do what they have always done for thousands of years: protect the land and the community that stems and draws from it. This is, in fact, what she recommends industrial society needs to do to get itself out of the cavernous holes it has made for itself in the land. In short, what the Project needs is the very way of relating to the land they tried to eradicate in the first place (LaDuke 2004, 254). The enterprise of the people of her reservation has been to get back the land taken from their protection (not from them; they never owned it). It is not a trust that aims to own the land but a trust that aims to safeguard the peoples and communities that depend upon it. This is LaDuke’s suggestion for (Environmental) Justice: the reintegration of place-based thought to the land. More to the point, she says that this “is something [she does not] know how to tell you to do, but something you’re going to need to do” (with the “you” and “you’re” meaning Western Modern Industrial society (LaDuke 2004, 254)). Moreover, “the reasons we have remained sustainable for all these centuries is that we are cohesive communities (LaDuke 2004, 254).” (Environmental) Justice, then, begins and radiates from a community grounded in and on a relation to place (as compared to being grounded in and on a relation to objects).
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Three: Decolonizing Thought Tuhiwai Smith resounds with LaDuke’s harmony with Smith by providing
an intellectual framework that makes sense of (Environmental) Justice. First, she is quick to point out the ways in which academic and intellectual analysis, usually looked to in order to provide critical investigation and insight, can and does itself become an operating arm of the Settler-Colonialist project. Justice must also grapple with how the Settler-Colonialist project is expressed, embodied, and reinforced through the language it wields in institutions of power and repute. The main thrust of her book is the idea that academia, as a repository of culture and knowledge, if laden with Western Imperialist thought with only a few fragments of native thought left as crumbs, can only serve to advance the project (Smith 2012, 15). An example she uses is the use of the prefix “post.” It implies that not only has something happened, whatever happened is now over. As she puts it, “post-colonialism? When did they leave?! (Smith 2012, 25).” Justice, to be real, must be environmental justice (i.e. justice in relation to the material conditions of ways and means of health, life, and livelihood). “Post-colonialism is [ a] convenient invention of Western intellectuals which reinscribes their power to define the world” (Smith 2012, 14). Using the term “post-colonialism” feeds the legend and myth narrative of what (had to) happen(ed) long ago. It masks the fact that Settler-Colonialism is still ongoing, that the Injustice it necessitates happened versus is happening. Tuhiwai Smith’s resonance with Smith and the push of this paper is extended through her echo of LaDuke’s reasons for how and why native peoples survive: I believe that our survival as people has come from our knowledge of our contexts, our environment, not from some active beneficence of our Mother Earth. We had to know to survive. We had to work out ways of knowing, we had to predict, to learn and reflect, we had to preserve and protect, we had to defend and attack, we had to be mobile, we had to have social systems which enabled us to do these things. We still have to do these things (Tuhiwai Smith 2012, 13). Just as LaDuke demands that her holocaust be recognized, Tuhiwai Smith demands that native thought be more than a novelty or specialty within Western intellectual thought. From this stems her suggestion of “decolonizing” intellectual thought. The implications of the term “Decolonization” are quite heavy, though, namely, ‘settlers go away; go back where you came from; settlers go home.’ It is too late for that, however. Ending the occupation of North America, or any
occupied land, will not and cannot address Injustice; pulling the knife out of a wound does not make the wound go away. Tuhiwai Smith’s notion of Decolonization , although explicitly addressing the realm of theory and academia, still speaks to how to make Justice real. For both LaDuke and Tuhiwai Smith, native peoples find their physical, intellectual, and psychological resilience in and on the land and environment to which they are related. LaDuke reckons that non-native people will have to return to this way and means of living in order to survive the consequences of their own project. Tuhiwai Smith agrees that this is the only way to survive and that part of the Decolonization/Justice project is to make sense of, and chip away at, the intellectual framework that has supported and reinforced the material conditions of (Environmental) Injustice.
Four: The Past of our Future Now to what was promised: making sense of an irony. Part of it has to
do with how this paper opened: we are thrown into a history, given an inheritance we never asked for, an inheritance we may have never wanted. For some the inheritance is privilege either in the form of positive advantage giving them a leg-up in the system or the neutral advantage of not being actively oppressed. For many others, it is the disadvantage of being actively oppressed or of not being the default. The upshot, however, as has been hopefully demonstrated, is that this history, this inheritance, is manufactured. Being manufactured does not mean that it is not any less real – it is lived and bequeathed on a daily basis. What it
Lauren Hendricks \ “Lighthouse off of Pag Island, Croatia”
does mean is that it can be restructured. The most blaring irony in all of this, as stated by LaDuke, is that the very Industrial Imperialist project that made all this happen needs the aid, even if it is not seeking it, of those it sought to fragment and eradicate. Justice, if it is going to be any good to anyone anywhere, cannot be a general concept or an abstraction; it must be something that happens, is happening, in a specific place by specific people for a specific reason (in the very manner Injustice was made real). Moreover, as Smith, LaDuke, and Tuhiwai Smith have voiced, it must be a project that addresses a community’s relation to their context, their environment. It is also more than a restoration project or a reconnecting, a re-relating, of people and place; it must be both restorative and fostering (i.e. it builds, not just rebuilds). And what it is building is the strength to survive change in both the community and the environment from which and in which it stems. Or at least that is what it would have to be to succeed in being a counterpart to Injustice (for Injustice has been, and is, the inverse of all of these). Justice, if it is going to be any good to anyone anywhere, has to be real. Justice, if it is going to be any good to anyone anywhere, has to be as real as the world. Making the Settler-Colonial system fair is not Justice; it cannot be fair just by definition. Changing the laws help, but the laws need a plan and a goal. Real Justice must address the very way people live their lives in relation to their place and position in the world. Environmental Justice is that real. Environmental Justice is real in that it seeks to make sense of how the context of our life, our community, is the environment, be it at the foot of a mountain or in the inner city. It seeks to make sense of not just what happened (and is happening) but also why it happened and how it happened. It seeks to stop poisonous gas from being breathed in next to factories. It seeks to stop unpronounceable chemicals from being consumed by the human body. It seeks to stop the eradication and fragmentation of ways and means of life alternative to the Settler-Colonialist project. Justice, if it is going to be any good to anyone anywhere, has to be this: Environmental Justice. (
Note 1) While the term was coined in the 1980’s through the work of Dr. Robert Bullard and the United Church of Christ, and later adopted by the U.S. Federal Government through the EPA and EO 12898, this paper seeks not only to expand the term but to add more depth and gravity to it. The use of “(Environment)” prior to “Justice” and “Injustice” is meant to express the recurring theme that environmental injustice is (In)Justice in a real/practical/pragmatic sense.
Works Cited LaDuke, W., 2004. Voices from White Earth. In S. Armstrong & R. Botzler, eds. Environmental Ethics: Divergence and Convergence. McGraw Hill, pp. 247â€“254. Rawls, J., 1990. A Theory of Justice Revised Ed., Harvard University Press. Smith, A., 2005. Conquest, South End Press.
Smith, L.T., 2012. Introduction. In Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. Zed Books, pp. 1â€“19. Watts, V., 2013. Indigenous Place-Thought and Agency Amongst Humans and Non Humans (First Woman and Sky Woman Go On a European World Tour!). Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, 2(1), pp.20â€“34.
photo by: rowan hardenbrook
by sam moore
All the toilet paper on Mount Everest All the toilet paper on Mount Everest! All the toilet paper on Mount Everest...
Lokyee au \ “Fungal home”
herbicides & health 2015 environmental studies convocation with tyrone hayes by taylor mcholm
Over the weekend of October 24th-25th, 2014, undergraduates, graduate students, professors, local activists and community members gathered to consider the impacts of aerial herbicide spray application on community and ecosystem health. The “Herbicides and Health” symposium and Environmental Studies program’s convocation was grounded by the visit of Professor Tyrone Hayes, a professor of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley. Hayes’s work has focused primarily on the impacts of the herbicide atrazine on the reproductive capacities and sexual development of frogs. Hayes’s research has shown that the widely-used chemical has the capacity to cause hermaphroditism in frogs, frequently causing ovum to develop within the testes of frogs that are genetically marked as male. The findings have caused many to question the safety of the chemical, which has been banned in Europe, where the makers of the chemical compound, Syngenta, are located. This, of course, raises a number of questions, both obvious and less immediate. Together with Aylie Baker and Shane Hall, graduate students in the Environmental Studies program, and Lisa Arkin, Executive Director of Beyond Toxics, I had the good fortune to take part in the events as both a participant and organizer in order to contemplate some of these questions. Hayes’s work and the potential health impacts on humans have been well documented, as a result of numerous articles published in both academic and popular publications. Despite the documented impacts, atrazine use is not restricted in the United States, and Oregon in
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particular has some of the most lax laws for preventing harmful exposure. Such impacts have been experienced first-hand throughout Oregon, where private timber operations are not required to establish buffer zones between their lots and the surrounding land, water and communities. The rural community of Triangle Lake, for example, has been involved in the debate for years, as local timber farmers depend on the use of the herbicide to manage their farms. Many residents have reported debilitating illness and concern for students at the local elementary school, which backs up to a timber lot that is often logged and sprayed to reduce competition for the newly planted saplings in the freshly cut lots. Like many environmental issues concerning the health of ecosystems and communities, the debate around the issue of chemical spraying has typically relied upon the insight and knowledge produced by biologists like Hayes and other members of the scientific community using water samples and human urine and tissue analysis to determine both the levels of atrazine exposure and its impacts. As we began to plan the event, we wanted to expand the understanding of the problem and utilize the interdisciplinary nature of the Environmental Studies program and its strong focus on environmental justice and the humanities in addition to the hard sciences. Thus, we planned a series of events aimed at both academics and the larger community, particularly those invested in all sides of the issue. One of the less immediate issues, and one that has not been widely discussed in either academia or beyond, are the sexual and gender politics involved in the use of the term “intersex” and “hermaphrodite” as categories of the unnatural. Hayes’s work suggests that the problem of exposure to atrazine can produce the deleterious formation of both sexual organs in a single individual, and thereby threaten the reproductive capacities – and ultimately the species as a whole – of exposed frogs. In the first of our three events, Professor Elizabeth Reis, Department Head of Women and Gender Studies, brought this issue to our attention and demonstrated the ways that hermaphroditism and intersexuality in humans has historically been met with fear, as they are viewed as unnatural aberrations. What, then, are the potential consequences of relying upon solid gender categories to make claims about ecosystem health? Is a stable binary of sex and gender reified by the scientific language, which requires such stability vis-à-vis variable and control groups? Personally, as a result of the questions raised by Professor Reis and the lively discussion that ensued, I find that the use of these “objective” scientific signifiers naturalize social categories. Professor Hayes noted that these are simply the terms available to him as a scientist, and that his use of them for frogs is not loaded with the kinds of social problems that accompany the terms when referring to people. What we must consider are the ways in which objectivity in science is socially produced, meaning that an aperspectival “view from nowhere”
herbicides & health
is not possible. As humans our frames for understanding are socially produced, and conversely our scientific understanding produces social views. It is precisely the work of the interdisciplinary scholarship in environmental studies to suss out these intersections and consider the social elements of the sciences and the scientific elements of the social. The discussion between Professor Reis and Professor Hayes began precisely this project, and it is clear that far more work needs to be done in this specific arena. Following Professor Hayes’s keynote address, about 100 students, community members and professors gathered at the Triangle Lake grange for a “Witness to Action” assembly. The goal of the event was to allow community members to share their stories and experiences of exposure – and use – of atrazine in a decentered environment in which the focus was conversation, not monologic lecturing and passive listening. Community members who have experienced (and continue to experience) health problems related to exposure were able to meet, raising consciousness. They also established a broader community with residents of Gold Beach who were able to meet and talk with those of Triangle Lake to share their best-practices for effecting change and developing a community-based movement. Also in attendance, and leading one of the many small group presentations and workshops throughout the day, were local timber farmers who use the chemical to manage their forests and in many ways depend on its use for their own livelihood. To me, the most important and impactful moment of the weekend happened here, and it was the result of a fortuitous delay. Because the bus bringing students and community members from Eugene out to Triangle Lake was late, residents of Triangle Lake – both timber farmers and residents who oppose the aerial spraying – were alone together at the grange with nothing to do but talk to one another. Of course, the conversation was tense and emotional and passionate, yet numerous people came up to me throughout the day to tell me that in all of the years of town hall meetings, scientific testing and public debate that has largely divided the community, this was the first time that they had an opportunity to actually sit down and talk to one another about their concerns and motivations. While many of them recognized each other and knew the names of everyone in the room, they had never actually met one another. Being able to sit and talk gave them all a new perspective on an issue. Other presentations and workshops focused on such things as citizen science, the basic tenets of the environmental justice movement in the United States, and a space to learn how to write effective letters to media and government to effect change. Attendants learned about how they can take air and water samples to document the presence of herbicides and pesticides. Others went on a short hike to view the local watershed and the history of its restoration. They also had the ability to sit side-by-side with Professor Hayes as participants, rather than
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audience members. In all, the three days of Professor Hayesâ€™s visit and the Herbicide and Community Health symposium demonstrated the possibilities for truly interdisciplinary work. The sciences, social sciences, arts and humanities were all present and made essential and meaningful contributions to a more complete understanding of a complicated and contentious issue. ( Lauren Hendricks \ â€œYucatan Flowersâ€?
herbicides & health
candlepower by aylie baker
They say you can judge the intrinsic brightness of things With wicks instead of watts â€” candlepower â€” A metric of vigils, birthdays, and firework streams. On Bikini Atoll, there are one hundred flickering candles in a lighthouse beam. In a wave of phosphorescence, Twelve waxy tapers bob in the surf. To judge intensity they say you must not look Directly at the source. Luminosity is measured Not by how orange something burns But by observing the light it lends a surface. On Bikini Atoll, one nuclear blast Ignites several billion candles illuminating A thousand wilted palm trees, Coral skeletons, miscarriages, $550 severance checks, A shattered homeland, Splintered horizons.
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Image courtesy of United States Department of Defense ‘the “Baker’ explosion, Operation Crossroads”
They say you must not look directly at the source — I couldn’t help myself. I grasped the glowing wick And singed my fingers. I looked so long The flame ignited my retinas so that even now In the inky darkness I can make out Strange writings on the walls. Blinking, I begin to hear Embers detonating in the distance.
Sam Moore \ â€œsouthern alligator lizardâ€œ
elephants sans frontières
by sam moore
On January 20th, 1967, 18 young African elephants clambered off the SS Eugene Lykes onto a wharf in New Orleans. The pachyderms had lost weight, despite having eaten more than 40,000 pounds of alfalfa on their voyage—a voyage that took them from easternmost South Africa by rail to Mozambique and then by freighter to the Gulf Coast. The fate of these enormous animals, and many others like them, is a small part of the sometimes absurd and always provocative relationship between African wildlife and the boom and bustle of transnational conservation. I came across this odd consignment of megafauna during my own visit to South Africa, working on my thesis in Kruger National Park. When I was working in the park’s disheveled archives, a newspaper clipping from New Orleans, where I used to live, fell out of a box of reports and into my lap. Other such odds and ends pointed me elsewhere as often as they told me about where I was staying. Reading 100 years’ worth of fragmented correspondence, I zigzagged between South Africa, America, England, Japan, Pakistan, Canada, Uganda, Kenya, and the Netherlands. Evidence from so many interested parties, each hinting at some element of business, science, or camaraderie in regard to elephants and their habitat, made me a little dizzy. When scientists in Kruger developed the means to tranquilize and relocate large animals, a new kind of wildlife transaction became possible, and the news spread quickly. By the end of the 1960s, requests to buy the park’s exotic fauna were coming in from all over the world. It just so happened that park authorities
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had recently decided to cap the allowable populations of the area’s most prevalent species—among them elephant, buffalo, hippo, wildebeest, zebra, lion, and hyena. Operating according to rangeland theories, scientists labored to prevent ‘overstocking’ in order to enforce an ecosystem equilibrium. Surplus animals, if they could not be relocated or sold, were killed. The newly expatriated elephants from the newspaper clipping found themselves in Louisiana because of a patron—millionaire Arthur Jones, who personally oversaw their capture. An experienced pilot, entrepreneur, hunter and mercenary, Jones was behind countless schemes to capture and import exotic animals. He dealt with creatures from Mexican tarantulas to Indian cobras, and produced a syndicated television show called ‘Wild Cargo’. On a visit to Kruger to film wildlife, he arranged with the director of South Africa’s National Parks Board and park biologists to acquire a few of the elephants slated for death. And so, in 1966, the Louisiana businessman bought 18 elephants for 10,000 South African Rand (nearly $100,000 today), and initiated their long journey. Jones is often labeled as eccentric—but that word seems a little congenial. He fondly described himself as “about 64,000 miles to the right of Attila the Hun.” He was also a shark in the business world (if you happen to read this after leaving a gym, you should thank him for filling it with weight lifting machinery). Never complacent with his fortune, he lived by a code. “There are only three things worth pursuing,” he often said: “younger women, faster airplanes, and bigger crocodiles.” Refracted in his exploits are the shadows of other colonial marauders—after his World War II stint as a navy pilot, he flew to ‘untouched’ African ecosystems to shoot animals with both guns and movie cameras. A widely quoted sentiment— that he had shot 600 elephants and 73 men, but felt worse about the elephants— brings to mind the Victorian ‘penitent butchers’ in Africa who ruthlessly mixed warfare with big game hunting. When he flew 63 baby elephants out of Zimbabwe in a Boeing 707, ABC news reported, “to the local people, it was the best show to hit town since Dr. Livingston passed this way thumping his bible a century ago.” Jones shared with his predecessors an apocalyptic vision of the future of African wildlife, predicting “that the African elephant will be extinct on the African continent before the end of this century.” His conservation strategy didn’t involve much more than shipping them back to his Florida ranch. “We’re picking up elephants which would otherwise be shot, and we’re gonna give ‘em an opportunity to survive,” Jones said. Asked by an ABC correspondent why these elephants needed Arthur Jones from Florida to save them, he replied, “Don’t hold your breath ‘til any government helps anything. Governments by the very nature of governments are good at wasting money, at destroying resources, at creating problems...it’s my money...I made it, and I’ll spend it any way I
elephants sans frontières
choose.” Despite the iconoclasm, and his defamation suits against broadcasters, Jones was applauded in many news outlets for his daring rescues. Later, however, the real fate of his large herd of swamp-dwelling African elephants (almost a hundred) became clear—an unscrupulous and haphazard dispersal to wildlife parks, zoos, circuses and private owners. Arthur Jones in his Boeing filled with pachyderms, gargantuan as it must have seemed, was not, as they say, even remotely the half of it. In fact, African elephants found themselves in America much earlier, and Jones was only one in a long line of noteworthy patrons. For instance, when Kruger’s first full-time biologist examined elephants in the 1950s that had been shot for raiding farms, he compared their measurements to the remains of ‘Khartoum’—the New York Zoo’s famous house elephant, who died in 1931. In a further entanglement, I found out that Khartoum’s patron, the legendary zoologist William T. Hornaday, donated $1000 dollars at Kruger’s outset to help get the park off the ground. Even Khartoum, the world’s second largest tusker, is jostled aside in history by a larger character. Jumbo, the first African elephant known to survive its journey abroad, made his American debut at Madison Square Garden in 1882. The enormous, wrinkly superstar predated Jones’ herd by almost a century, and like them met his fate in bizarre (and for an elephant probably unimaginable) circumstances, in a rail yard in Ontario, Canada. Jumbo’s kindred animals, the small, young elephants that picked their way through the southern swamps in 1967, were only some of many to wind up, bemusedly, far from home. (
the ecotone / 2015
Sam Moore \ “cheetah in the burn“
beyond objects/art inter-subjectivity, decolonial praxis, and the role of relatedness in rebecca belmore’s representations
by j. bacon
he Artist Born in 1960, Anishinaabe artist Rebecca Belmore1 currently lives and works in Vancouver, British Columbia. Belmore was raised in Ontario, studied at the Ontario College of Art and Design, and began working professionally as a performance and installation artist in 1987 (“Bio”). Since her earliest performances, Belmore’s work explores themes of violence against both human and non-human beings, while responding to both immediate and historic injustices. Inextricably bound in these explorations are persistent questions concerning the discursive constructions of place and identity which, for indigenous people especially, constitute distinctive relationships. Often political, Belmore also describes her work as “deeply personal.” In a 2007 lecture given as part of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art Forum, Belmore states, “[p]erformance is personal because it’s me, it’s my body, and with my body I can address history, I can address the immediate, I can address political issues. So for me, performance is deeply personal because it’s my way of speaking out” (“Global Feminisms: Rebecca Belmore” 7:00). This embodiment of the political as personal is not unique to indigenous artists, yet in the case of indigenous artists the tendency may be representative of a more pervasive epistemological divide between highly interconnected indigenous worldviews and
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the more compartmentalized thinking of the so-called dominant culture. This epistemological difference shapes indigenous relationships to land, non-human beings, and creative production.
Coloniality and Epistemological Difference Though contextualized in myriad ways, Charlotte Townsend-Gault’s treatment of Belmore’s work may provide a significant jumping-off point for a brief analysis of coloniality and epistemological difference. Townsend-Gault’s analysis focuses on what the author calls “ritualizing ritual’s rituals,” and emerges from an analysis of contemporary First Nations politics mingled with post-modern and anthropological theories. As such, Townsend-Gault’s work is something of a translation, worked across the settler-indigene hyphen2, providing a western vision of indigenous relationships to ritual, politics, nature and art. That being said, Townsend- Gault’s observation that the work of Belmore and her fellows is “unusually difficult to separate from their other commitments” and that this entanglement indicates “that they want to speak to, and for, a constituency that reaches far beyond the world of art” aptly provides a point from which to best consider the role of relationships in determining how discussions of art, nature, and Belmore might best proceed (“Ritualizing” 51). First, it will be important to describe the character and causes of epistemological differences between indigenous cultures and the dominant culture. More specifically, it could be wise to consider particular cultural and historical differences that distinguish Anishinabaae peoples. While this could take volumes to adequately express, this essay will attempt to touch upon some basic concepts. The first, and arguably most important idea in numerous indigenous cultures is the centrality of relationship. While western cultures develop from traditions that tend to reduce human/non-human interactions to either hierarchical or commercial terms, indigenous societies tend to maintain subject-subject relationships with an extended family circle inclusive of all life and many natural phenomena considered “non-living” by western science (for example, in the case of the Anishinabaae, there are some rocks who are decidedly persons deserving of respect and capable of agency). This subject-subject relationship predisposes Anishinabaae artists to operate from a position that engages humans not as exceptions to “nature” but as part of a larger all-encompassing creation. This worldview also contributes to the tendency Townsend-Gault observes. Logically, if individual artists see themselves as part of mutually dependent relationships requiring certain courses of responsible interaction, then they will tend to create art that is not specifically “art” unencumbered by extra “commitments”. To create such “unencumbered art” would not be merely undesirable, but unthinkable.3 This is due, in no small part, to the fact that indigenous worldviews often embrace a radical totality, which acknowledges “the legitimacy, i.e. the desirability, of
the diverse character of the components of all reality” (177). As such, indigenous thinking tends to be pluralistic and interconnected. For those who have been enmeshed in the dominant culture however, such a discursive construction of identity often seems a complicated concept. This is due to the fact that dominant cultural systems erase the production of identity by naturalizing their own subject position without acknowledging that position as one shaped by relationships. This epistemological perspective emerges from what Aníbal Quijano calls coloniality, a system that, according to Quijano, “is still the most general form of domination in the world today” (170). Coloniality is not merely the political usurpation of nations and redistribution of global wealth into the coffers of Europe, but also encompasses contemporary western imperialism and hegemonic social relations, which privilege, to the point of naturalizing, European discourses and ideologies. Of particular importance in the case of Belmore’s work is the Eurocentric dismissal of inter-subjectivity. While even coloniality itself emerges from the fundamental reality of inter-subjectivity, the logic of coloniality defines subjects as “isolated individuals” who constitute themselves for themselves after the Cartesian model. The object then, is “a category referring to an entity not only different from the ‘subject’ individual, but external to the latter by its nature” (172). For Quijano, this set of relationships elides the discursive construction of identity, a concept central to indigenous thinking. Since coloniality shapes systems of power, knowledge, and culture, it is impossible to separate artistic expression of either settler or indigenous person from the repercussions of coloniality. An additional outflow of coloniality is the generally accepted concept of modernity, in which modernity loses its relationship to people and colonialism through a naturalizing rhetoric of technology, temporality, and progress. Quijano (2007) describes this common perception: “as an evolutionary continuum from the primitive to the civilized; from the traditional to the modern; from the savage to the rational; from pre-capitalism [sic] to capitalism” (176). As a result, European colonial capitalism and “universal paradigms of knowledge” shape and elaborate each other (172). Coloniality then is not merely the initial act of colonization, but a whole system that assumes “Eurocentric colonial domination to be ‘objective’ [and] ‘scientific’” (168). By contrast, decolonizing is the process of undoing the systems of coloniality that persist in the world. Quijano asserts that the “liberation of intercultural relations from the prison of coloniality” is essential for change (178). He claims that such liberation “also implies the freedom of all people to choose between various cultural orientations, and, above all, the freedom to produce, criticize, change, and exchange culture and society” (178). Furthermore, Quijano contends that this “liberation is part of social liberation from all power organized as inequality, discrimination, exploitation, and as domination” (178). Unlike indigenous
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thinkers who see their actions as part of an interconnected cosmos requiring transformation, most westerners emerge from traditions that reduce multiplicities and worlds to “simple objects or resources” (Osco 31). Nevertheless, decolonial expressions exist throughout the indigenous world and are often clearly visible in the epistemologies of indigenous resistance which pursue or at least allow for “many truths” (31). Belmore’s work can be firmly included in the realm of decolonial expression because it defies the hegemonic authority of subject-object relations, questions the objectivity of science, and situates human expression beyond the commercial reduction of creativity to object, placing it instead within a larger universe of historical, political, social, and environmental relationships that defy dualistic conceptions.
Ayumee-aawach Oomama-mowan: Speaking to Their Mother (1991) The early 1990’s were a pivotal period in First Nations history shaped largely by what is now known as the Oka Crisis. This 78-day standoff between Kanien’kehaka4 and Canadian Military/Police forces typifies the kind of coloniality Quijano describes. The events emerged out of a pervasive hegemonic attempt to exert control over land and an ideology which privileged the development of a golf course over the preservation of native territory, and at the same time legalistically criminalized and popularly vilified indigenous resistance to the developer’s breach of treaty title. The standoff at Oka sparked a wave of indigenous power and resistance throughout Canada and inspired indigenous peoples worldwide (Alfred 46). For Rebecca Belmore, Oka inspired a series of small-scale performance works as well as the construction of Ayumee-aawach Oomama-mowan, an art piece and performance that has traveled extensively through Canada. Belmore writes: During the summer of 1990, many protests were mounted in support of the Mohawk Nation of Kanesatake in their struggle to maintain their territory. This object (Ayumee-aawach Oomama-mowan) was taken into many First Nations communities - reservation, rural, and urban. I was particularly interested in locating the Aboriginal voice on the land. Asking people to address the land directly was an attempt to hear political protest as poetic action (“Speaking to Their Mother”). The initial installation of Ayumee-aawach Oomama-mowan developed in 1991 at the Banff Center. Materially consisting of a seven-foot long wooden megaphone six-feet wide at the mouth, the first performance took place in Banff Meadow. The megaphone, “reminiscent of birch bark cones used for moose calling in northern Ontario,”5 served as a beginning point of protest and storytelling (Rick-
Lauren Rapp ard 6). Belmore begins by addressing her words to the earth: My heart is beating like a small drum, and I hope that you mother earth can feel it. Someday I will speak to you in my language. I have watched my grandmother live very close to you, my mother the same. I have watched my grandmother show respect for all you have given her …. Although I went away and left a certain kind of closeness to you, I have gone in a kind of circle. I think I am coming back to understand where I am from (Sirmans 39). Following her speech, others gathered to speak with the earth, many expressing their thoughts in their native languages. Both the material design and performativity of the work call upon tradition, locating the creativity of human beings as a method of communicating with the land, and creating a site for the recognition of the historical erasure of aboriginal voices” (Rickard 10). This erasure, which Belmore addresses, is much more than symbolic. In her own speech, Belmore tacitly acknowledges the painful history of language loss, which she shares with so many indigenous peoples. In her talk on Global Feminisms, Belmore more fully expresses the extent to which language loss pervades her works, especially those from the early 1990’s. One work performed in Quebec City involved strangling herself with a scarf while singing “Oh Canada” first in English and then in French. Belmore describes: in Canada of course we have two official languages, the founding nations the French and the English… In 1990 there was a political situa-
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tion in Canada where the Mohawk Nation, south of the city of Montreal took up arms… to protect their land… so I sang that song [Oh Canada] as a protest piece in 1990 as my own personal way of addressing that situation (4:45). Of course, what she is also addressing is her inability to speak Anishinabaae. She states: my mother wanted us to learn English and speak English only because when my older brother first went to residential school…they were forbidden to speak their language, they were punished for speaking their language, so basically between… Christianity and the Canadian government there was a very strong attempt to destroy our languages, to destroy us, and to assimilate us (3:49). Control of language and control of land have gone hand-in-hand throughout the colonial process, and in efforts to decolonize, countless indigenous peoples have taken the first step by revitalizing languages. Languages contain the relationships between people and place. The practice of speaking to the land establishes and reaffirms good relationships with a particular spot (Sirmans 38). Ayumee-aawach Oomama-mowan “empowered aboriginal people to speak to ‘all of [their] relations’ as well as the living cosmos” while also substantially demonstrating the living will of the people to decolonize their thoughts, voices, and stories; acts which in the end are indigene-epistemologically self-reinforcing.
Architecture For A Colonial Landscape/Fountain (2006) The multimedia instillation Architecture for a Colonial Landscape, located in Winnipeg, Manitoba, features two video works, Fountain (first presented at the 51st Venice Biennial) and Architecture For A Colonial Landscape. These works “reference historic and current cycles of oppression, greed and theft − theft of land, theft of language, theft of identity and theft of human rights” (“Architecture”). Fountain, the more readily available video, opens with footage of a seemingly abandoned beach. The shoreline littered with wood suddenly bursts into flames. With a dissolve from fire, to sky, to water, the image of Belmore in the waves comes into view. Fully clothed in blue grey, she struggles through water of a similar shade. Her shorn hair plays with the construction of gender identity while simultaneously recalling the shorn locks of boarding school children. As Belmore struggles, the viewer notices a red bucket in her hands. Finally she is able to fill the bucket with water and move up the shoreline. Perhaps she is trying to extinguish the blaze, but no. She walks up the beach in the very center of the screen
stopping just a few steps away she hurls the water at the viewer. As she does so, the water becomes blood and coats the screen. This film contains significant expressions of relational epistemology and embodiment. The video is also fascinating to consider in the context of its initial production and display. Belmore, the first indigenous woman to represent Canada at the prestigious Venice Biennale, presented Fountain, a work that questions the project of coloniality and its murderous relationship with the planet. Early reviews of the work described the piece as “quintessential Belmore” given the work’s focus on “history, and place, memory and absence” (Martin 2). Furthermore, elements of Belmore’s confrontational style are retained through debuting the work in Venice, where Belmore forces viewers to confront legacies of colonialism while themselves participating in the legacy of material exploitation and the practices of coloniality, as the Biennale itself emerged from the “the era of great world fairs … and international expositions … symbolic extravaganzas of industrial and colonial expansion” (3). The discursive relationship between colonizer and colonized, old and new worlds is represented through the visual dialogue of Vancouver B.C. and Venice. Both cities “linked in the self-perpetuating cycle of global commerce” are merged together through the filmic display (3). The overlaying of Fountain on an actual screen of Venetian water brings the two port cities into an almost-physical proximity, illustrating the connectedness of experience wrought through colonialism, globalization, and through the very materiality and person6 of water. Filmed on Iona Beach, an area south of Vancouver , polluted by sewage and industrial waste, Fountain brings home to Europe the legacy of colonial violence against earth and people. While the Catholic tradition glorifies the transubstantiation of water to wine and from wine to blood, Belmore’s hurling of polluted water/blood at the camera seems to indict the viewer. As the blood rolls down Belmore stands resolutely looking at the viewer. Yet she too is implicated, stained by the toxic relationship with polluted water. Lee-Ann Martin, Curator of Contemporary Aboriginal Art at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, contends that this work “honors the memory of people whose lives have been lost to hostile and violent intentions” and “launches new ideas of nature and history into European cultural and intellectual space”(6). These claims warrant considerable unpacking. While it does seem fair to say that Belmore’s work is launching new ideas into European cultural and intellectual space –she did debut in Venice after all—I am left uncertain of her “new ideas” about nature and history. Certainly, remembrance of the dead –if that is in fact the purpose of this work—is nothing new. It seems that the “new idea” is not so
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much the commemoration of human suffering, but the extent to which human and planetary suffering are coupled through coloniality. Again in this work Belmore defies hegemonic reason to assert the living relationships between past and present, human and non-human beings. The water of Fountain is not a resource, not a commodity. It is a vital living substance. It is our very blood and we must confront the ongoing violence if we are to emerge from the waters anew, if we are to transform in a decolonial sense.
The Named and the Unnamed (2006) This multi-media installation housed at the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery in Vancouver, British Columbia features sculpture, video, and photography. The central video work is based on the street performance “Vigil”, which took place on the corner of Gore St. and Cordova St. in Vancouver, B.C June 23, 2002. The performance was “a heart-wrenching commemoration of the number of women who had gone missing in downtown east Vancouver, many of them victims of … serial killer Robert Pickton” and most of them indigenous (Evans). In the course of this performance Belmore employs her own body as the memorial canvas for the murdered women. On a street where many of the women went missing, Belmore emerges in simple jeans and tank top. Her arms are scrawled with the names of the murdered women. On her hands and knees she washes the street where she will perform; that done, she lights candles for the victims, reads their names aloud, and for each of them tears the flower from a rose with her mouth. This literal embodiment of murdered First Nations women connects Belmore to them, and compels the audience to consider the names as living people, to imagine them breathing and moving as Belmore breathes, moves, and struggles right before their eyes. Transgressing the boundaries between individual identities, Belmore evokes the communal identity of indigenous people through her own presence and through her location. Furthermore, this work not only memorializes the lost women and calls attention to epidemic violence against First Nations people, but it also connects the colonized urban environment to the continuation of such violence. In comparison, or perhaps serving as part of a continuum of violence, the sculpture Blood on the Snow illustrates an early instance of colonial brutality. This large white quilt with a central blood-tipped chair commemorates the massacre at Wounded Knee where in 1890 the US Calvary massacred approximately 300 Lakota, most of them women and children. The ruthless treatment of the Lakota was directly motivated by a desire to mine gold from their sacred Paha Sapa
(Black Hills). In visually linking the deaths of First Nations women killed by Pickton (the named) and the Lakota murdered at Wounded Knee (the unnamed) Belmore calls into question any narrative of progress and explicitly connects domination of the land with the violent destruction of people.
Conclusion: The Undivided World of Being In summary, we are all related. There can be no indigenous conversation about nature versus manmade because the two cannot be seen as mutually exclusive or dualistic. There can however be extensive conversation about human creativity and its relationship to non-human relatives and places. In the case of Belmore, the expression of identity is an expression of this relationship. It operates politically and personally, artistically and ritually, as a form of human expression that is in dialogue with relatives of every kind. (
Photo by: Tim Chen
Notes 1) I acknowledge the struggles all artists of color must endure in order to be seen as artists rather than being pigeon-holed into restrictive categories perpetually marked by difference. That being said, I feel that the epistemologies of indigenous artists warrant consideration, and Belmore’s work deals so directly with identity that to ignore this element of her work would be a grave injustice. 2) The concept of “working the hyphen” comes from the work of Jones and Jenkins who assert that focus on the hyphen reveals a shared past in which our identities discursively produce each other. In analyzing their own collaborative relationship, Jones (Pakeha) and Jenkins (Maori) explore how this discursive relationship holds not only “ethnic and historical difference and interchange; it also marks a relationship of power and inequality that continues to shape differential patterns of cultural dominance and social privilege” (473). The authors critique the way collaborative inquiry has often “softened, denied, consumed, expanded, homogenized, and romanticized” the hyphen (473). They also note the power of shared understandings to promote social equality. I do not contend that Townsend-Gault is actively “working the hyphen” but rather that analysis of her work must contend with this divide. 3) Provoked by the continual blurring of binaries and the boundaries of art/science, human/machine, some western scholars have attempted to meet indigenous representations of interrelations, with their own theories. Scholar Joy James for example, asserts that artists have made a “shift away from representation into what can best be described as the activation of an aesthetic of immanence” (1). The western concept of immanence, asserts the manifestation of the divine in the material world. 4) People of the Flint, Mohawk 5) For traditional Anishinaabe, the moose is a major food source. Moose also figure into the names of four major totems (or clans) of the Anishinaabe. As a clan, the Moose is strongly associated with certain members of the tribe. The link is considered a direct kinship tie. Calling the moose is a vital skill and would be considered part of a sacred relationship of communication between human beings and moose through the medium of human creativity. 6) I use the word “person” here to remind the reader that water is a living being (perhaps several beings) but certainly the water of Venice and the water of Vancouver are relatives.
Works Cited Alfred, Taiaiake. Wasáse: Indigenous Pathways of Action and Freedom. Toronto: UT Press, 2009. Print. “Biography.” Rebecca Belmore. Web. 08 June 2012. Evans, Lara. “Rebecca Belmore: The Named and The Unnamed.” Not Artomatic. 8 May 2010. Web. 11 June 2012. “Global Feminisms: Rebecca Belmore.” YouTube, 28 Apr. 2010. Web. 08 June 2012. James, Joy. “Mind the Gap.” Leonardo Electronic Almanac 16.4-5 (2009): 1-7. Print. “Kamloops Indian Residential School Infront of School Students Fallenfeatherproductions.com.” Kamloops Indian Residential School Infront of School Students Fallenfeatherproductions.com. Web. 11 June 2012. Martin, Lee-Ann. “The Waters of Venice.” Rebecca Belmore. Web. 11 June 2012. Merewether, Charles. Zones of Contact: 2006 Biennale of Sydney. Woolloomooloo, N.S.W.: Biennale of Sydney, 2006. Print.
Newlands, Anne. Canadian Art: From Its Beginnings to 2000. Buffalo: Firefly, 2000. Print. Pearlstone, Zena, Allan J. Ryan, and Joanna Woods-Marsden. About Face: Self-portraits by Native American, First Nations, and Inuit Artists. Santa Fe, NM: Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, 2006. Print. Pezzi, Kevin.” Is the United States Government Legitimate? Web. 11 June 2012. Quijano, Aníbal. “Coloniality And Modernity/Rationality.” Cultural Studies 21.2 (2007): 168-78. Print. Russell, Karen Kramer, Janet Catherine. Berlo, and Kathleen E. Ash-Milby. Shapeshifting: Transformations in Native American Art. Salem, MA: Peabody Essex Museum, 2012. Print. Sirmans, Franklin, and Jen Budney. NeoHooDoo: Art for a Forgotten Faith. Houston, TX: Menil Collection, 2008. Print. “Speaking to Their Mother.” Rebecca Belmore | Speaking to Their Mother. Web. 08 June 2012
Springgay, Stephanie. “An Ethics of Embodiment, Civic Engagement and A/R/Tography: Ways of Becoming Nomadic In Art, Research and Teaching.” Penn State University. Web. “Storytelling.” Storytelling. Web. 08 June 2012. Townsend-Gault, Charlotte. “Rebecca Belmore And James Luna On Location At Venice: The Allegorical Indian Redux.” Art History 29.4 (2006): 721-55. Print. Townsend-Gault, Charlotte. “Ritualizing Ritual’s Rituals.” Art Journal 51.3 (1992): 51-58. Print.
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