‘Beating the Bounds’

Canal Walk

“Beating the bounds’ of a parish is a custom dating back to medieval times. The people of the parish walked the length of the parish boundaries, beating or stopping at the boundary stones or other significant markers. The purpose was to ensure that parishioners were familiar with the parish boundaries.’

 

My local parish/walking route in my home town is a walk that follows The Grand Union canal and circles back round through fields which are part of the Boxmoor National Trust. The route begins anywhere along the canal, west of point A. However, I usual begin after passing the church, which is signified by point A. I follow the canal route passing various features, such as a cricket club (point B), go underneath a bridge which has a pub on top (point C) and begin to circle back once I see the railway line (point D). Point E signifies another small bridge that crosses over the River Bulbourne.

Beating the Bounds

Along the walk I could hear sounds of traffic from the nearby road, birdsong and the flow of water from the canal. There were quite a few birds (which I did not identify), geese, ducks, the occasional swan and my personal favourite of dogs being walked. Sometimes you can hear the noise of trains passing by which disrupts the peace momentarily.

Although that I have walked along this route many times throughout my life, doing this exercise really brought my attention to the specifics of the area and its sense of flow and direction. Afterwards I researched The Grand Union Canal itself and discovered that it was built in 1929, running from London to Birmingham in over 137 miles. This knowledge broadened my sense of place greatly as it created a notion of connection to other cities outside of my local area, just as it would have allowed new accessible routes when it was built. Purposely looking for details along this walk has made me realise that some things, such as your surrounding areas, become so familiar that you tend to not notice them in a way that you would when entering a new space. In the future I will try to view areas as if I was experiencing them for the first time, as to fully get a sense of place.

 

Pollution Solution: Beat the Bounds in your local parish or area and do a litter pick on the way!

 

Sources

Bath Record Office, Archives and Local Studies. [Online] https://www.batharchives.co.uk/beating-bounds-bathwick

The Ocean Dumping Dilemma

Upon reflecting on our blogs and the texts that we have studied, we each took a topic to present to the class. These included Ecofeminism, Ocean Plastics, Oil Narratives and Animals Agriculture and Climate Change. A recurring theme throughout all of these presentations was the idea of transference, and a slow build-up leading to disastrous effects.

Within my Ocean Plastics presentation, I looked at the consequences of continued and increasing plastic pollution within the ocean. The biggest concern and reality is the process of plastic slowly degrading into micro-plastic. This tiny substance is then ingested by ocean animals, meaning that it will enter our food chain and be nearly impossible to remove. As a form of slow violence, the increase of plastic waste  in the ocean will both cause and mirror the build-up and sedimentation of plastic in the body.

The build-up and sedimentation of plastic in the ocean is discussed in an article called ‘The Ocean Dumping Dilemma’, by Stuart Weinsten-Bascal. He states that “our planet cannot indefinitely absorb the insults of man-made change” and any forthcoming damage may be irreversible.’ His powerful use of the word ‘insults’ explicitly describes the destruction we are causing to the Earth. We have been given all the resources we need to live and thrive, yet we are abusing these resources and taking advantage of what we have. He is also suggesting that the ocean as a solution to not dealing with our waste, will no longer be an option, with devastating affects to follow.

The ocean is typically seen as a cleansing substance, which may suggest why people feel that waste in the ocean will ‘disappear’ or sort itself out, due to the fact we cannot see it. This matter of what is hidden and what is seen is a huge problem in the way we treat pollution and how it can be solved. Emmi Itäranta touches on this in her novel Memory of Water, through the depiction of ‘plastic graves’ in the village that Noria lives in. Describing the plastic as a ‘grave’ suggests that it should be underground, however, they are found on land in an accessible place, becoming part of the landscape. By putting the waste of those from the Twilight Century in sight, it comments on the way society today conceals its waste from the public. When things are hidden, the scale and enormity of the problem is lessened because no one is able to physically see the impact we are making on the planet.

Pollution and masses of waste exist everywhere, even if we’re unable to see it. And not being able to see the problems that we are creating, does not mean we can’t act in order to change them.

 

Pollution Solution: Help out at any beach or area clean-ups locally to you. If you ever see rubbish on the floor outside, put it in a bin or take it home to recycle.

 

Sources

Itäranta, Emmi, Memory of Water, (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2015)

Weinstein-Bascal, Stuart, ‘The Ocean Dumping Dilemma’ Lawyer of Americans, Vol. 10, No. 3 (1978) pp. 873-876.

The end of the Anthropocene?

Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, Oryx and Crake, is set at the end of the Anthropocene, shaped by exploitation and experimentation, looking at what it means to be human. The novel is centred around the protagonist Jimmy, (now known as Snowman), switching between flashbacks of his past, being brought up in a sheltered immoral world, and the post-human present in which he has the responsibility to look after the Children of Crake.

The dystopian features of the text are shown to arise from instances in which humans try to play ‘God’, or change what is seen as natural. Atwood exaggerates our current positioning of animals as a product of consumption, twisting the way in which we view animals as a resource. She portrays this through the various mutations and experiments of animals, in particular the ‘ChickieNob’. Sounding almost like chicken nuggets, this new creation is an animal designed for the sole reason of growing chicken breasts. When Jimmy comments on the fact that the animal doesn’t have a head, one of the scientists replies saying, “There’s a mouth opening at the top, they dump the nutrients in there. No eyes or beak or anything, they don’t need those.” (Atwood, 2013:238) This is highly ironic because a chicken obviously needs eyes and a beak to function independently as a ‘natural’ animal; it is the human who has no need for a chicken to have anything other than meat. By portraying the commoditisation of animals in this extreme sense, it highlights the extent to which an anthropocentric way of thinking can result in treating other species as lesser, having no moral, ethical or humane obligations to anything else.

Extending on the experimentation and creation of new animals, the novel looks into the ideals of synthetic creation and the prolonging of life. Passing into Post-Humanism, the events that lead to the almost extinction of humans progress into the creation of the Crakes, a post-human subspecies. By moving beyond the human, Crake, who doesn’t believe in nature ‘with a capital N’, (Atwood, 2013:242) selects his desired features of humans, such as green eyes and a lack of desire, emotion or religion, in order to make a ‘peak’ version of a human. When removing the ‘human’ elements out of the Crakes to create perfect functioning bodies, a division is made between biology and emotion, which Atwood hints to be a dangerous beginning of unbalance in society.

Ursula Heise also comments on the imbalance between natural and synthetic creation in society, suggesting that ‘nature in the sense of a domain apart from human intention and agency no longer exists’. She believes that ‘we have deprived nature of its independence’, (Heise, 2017:7) in consequence of our actions, changing the atmosphere, the weather, and therefore every place on earth can be seen as man-made. In this sense she is not talking about Nature with a capital N, but everything that exists on earth without our aid, and harmoniously if we would allow it.

Alongside these unnatural creations, come different scales of morality and responsibility. For the most part of the novel Jimmy is ignorant to the monstrosities around him, and benefits from these systems without realising he’s contributing to them. However, this is partly because he has only been raised in this anthropocentric state of world, having no other references to other forms of consumption, making him a product of society. Although Jimmy tries to separate himself from things that he deems as immoral, the concept of unconscious responsibility lends itself to his life when he becomes directly linked to ‘immoral things’. Jimmy experiences feelings of culpability, in which he believes to be responsible for the well-being of the Crakes, yet also resents this responsibility at the same time. This also leads to questions of duty and care of the Crakes, are they animals or humans? Do they need to be looked after? Or should they be free to learn, adapt and survive without any conditioning from Jimmy?

Ultimately, in the light of a Post- Humanism, Atwood suggests that the end of the Anthropocene is not the end of the world, but the end of the world as we know it. Early in the novel Crake states that ‘Homo sapiens doesn’t seem able to cut himself off at the supply end. He’s one of the few species that doesn’t limit reproduction in the face of dwindling resources.’ (Atwood, 2013:139) Not only does this hint at Crake’s desire to create a new human subspecies, but it also comments on the state of our current society, in which supplies are hitting ‘peak’ levels, yet nothing seems to be slowing down. The development of new technology shield’s us from fearing ‘dwindling resources’, as there is no immediate impact on us, even if the Earth is screaming for help.

 

Animal Cruelty Solution: As we are nearing Christmas time (also the time of new pets), try to adopt a dog/cat from a rescue shelter, rather than buying one. They are often cheaper and include the prices of vaccinations, micro chipping and neutering.  Don’t support unauthorised breeders or puppy mills and save a life instead.

 

Sources

Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake (London: Virago Press , 2013)

Ursula K. Heise, Imagining Extinction: The Cultural Meanings of Endangered Species  (Chicago Scholarship Online, 2017)

The Lives of Animals

J.M Coetzee’s novella, The Lives of Animals, is an animal studies based text, looking into the relationships between humans and animals and how we position ourselves in relation to them. Coetzee frames the text as a fictionalised lecture series, created in the image of his alter ego, novelist and animal activist, Elizabeth Costello. By fictionalising this scenario, Coetzee is able to engage with the points discussed within the novel and lecture, whilst separating himself from them, making it unclear whether his ideals align with his Elizabeth’s.

Within literature and everyday life, animals are portrayed with a sense of otherness in relation to humans. This separation has created a hierarchical type platform in which humans view animals as lesser beings, morally and intellectually. Coetzee explores this concept through the interaction of Elizabeth and Wunderlich, who believes that animals are unclean and that ‘we don’t mix with them. We keep the clean apart from the unclean.’ Elizabeth contradicts this, stating, ‘We do mix with them. We ingest them. We turn their flesh into ours.’ (Coetzee, 1999:40)  This draws attention to the way in which we also separate the idea of meat and animals, either out of ignorance or culpability. There is disassociation of meat coming from animals through the way it is widely accessible and packaged, looking like ‘meat’ when purchased and not a living breathing ‘animal’. What Elizabeth says also emphasises the treatment of animals as a resource, something that we can eat, but not as an equal living entity.

Similarly to Wunderlich calling animals ‘unclean’, with human ideals of hygiene and sanitation in mind, this tweet comments on the way we label and denote animals with qualities based on our own values.

 

In her lecture, Elizabeth explains the simple reasoning behind her views upon the equality of animals and humans. She states, ‘To be alive is to be a living soul. An animal – and we are all animals – is an embodied soul.’ Taking an ecocentric way of thinking, she believes that all living things should be treated equally, as we all existing on this planet in the same way. Alternatively, others use this idea of a ‘soul’ to justify the way of thinking that humans are a higher species than animals. Descartes, who is mentioned by her in the lecture, believes that ‘an animal lives… as a machine lives. An animal is no more than the mechanism that constitutes it; if it has a soul, it has one in the same way that a machine has a battery, to give it the spark that gets it going’. (Coetzee, 1999:33) This illustrates how Descartes’ idea of the separation of the body and mind, translates into the belief that animals do not have the capacity to think outside of their own body and consciousness. He says that ‘the animal is not an embodied soul, the quality of its being is not joy’, suggesting that animals only think with their body for survival, rather than for anything emotive. This then lends itself to say that humans are a superior species intellectually, creating a hierarchy; when in reality, what position does Descartes have to take away these qualities from animals?

Coetzee’s work leaves the reader to think about their own relationship with animals, and of they agree with the equality of humans and animals. Also posing questions, whether animals should have the same rights as us if we are all deemed equal? Do we have duties towards the care and treatment of animals regardless if they have rights?

 

Animal Cruelty Solution: When buying toiletries and makeup, make sure you read the label to check if the product is cruelty free or vegan, to make sure no animals were harmed or commoditised in the making of the product.

 

Sources

J. M. Coetzee, The Lives of Animals (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1999)

Neil deGrasse Tyson (@neiltyson), February 10th 2017 [Twitter]

 

Lost Species Day – The Golden Frog

In time for lost species day, November 30th, we have moved on to look at animal studies and animal criticism. We are currently living in the sixth period of mass extinction, with 50% of the combined population of animals being lost in the last 40 years. The world’s anthropocentric way of thinking positions animals as a product for consumption. Animals are not a resource.  We are at a tipping point of crisis, and it is time to change the way to view and treat animals.

Elizabeth Kolbert’s novel, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, looks into the consequences of extinction, exposing us to the devastating effects that humans have caused to other species and the planet itself. This period of mass extinction is predicted to be even more catastrophic than the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs, however, this time the cause is unnatural. Dissimilar to a natural disaster, we are aware of the impact we are causing, leaving a disastrous legacy behind us, unlike any other species before.

This extract of Kolbert’s novel focuses on the extinction of the Golden Frog, declared extinct in 1989 by the ICUN.

‘As recently as a decade ago, golden frogs were easy to spot in the hills around El Valle. The frogs are toxic—it’s been calculated that the poison contained in the skin of just one animal could kill a thousand average-sized mice—hence the vivid color, which makes them stand out against the forest floor. One creek not far from El Valle was nicknamed Thousand Frog Stream. A person walking along it would see so many golden frogs sunning themselves on the banks that, as one herpetologist who made the trip many times put it to me, “it was insane—absolutely insane.”
Then the frogs around El Valle started to disappear. The problem—it was not yet perceived as a crisis—was first noticed to the west, near Panama’s border with Costa Rica. An American graduate student happened to be studying frogs in the rainforest there. She went back to the States for a while to write her dissertation, and when she returned, she couldn’t find any frogs or, for that matter, amphibians of any kind. She had no idea what was going on, but since she needed frogs for her research, she set up a new study site, farther east. At first the frogs at the new site seemed healthy; then the same thing happened: the amphibians vanished. The blight spread through the rainforest until, in 2002, the frogs in the hills and streams around the town of Santa Fe, about fifty miles west of El Valle, were effectively wiped out. In 2004, little corpses began showing up even closer to El Valle, around the town of El Copé. By this point, a group of biologists, some from Panama, others from the United States, had concluded that the golden frog was in grave danger. They decided to try to preserve a remnant population by removing a few dozen of each sex from the forest and raising them indoors. But whatever was killing the frogs was moving even faster than the biologists had feared. Before they could act on their plan, the wave hit.’

The most striking part of this extract is not the sudden deaths of the species, but the way in which the decline was only noticed at the point when a human needed the frogs for their own purpose. Although the research did not involve harming the frogs, they were still viewed as a resource to be used, their disappearance being an inconvenience to the human.  The frogs were relocated to a new site at this point, not because their safety was in jeopardy, but as a device for the girl who ‘needed frogs for her research.’

When thinking about our duty of care over animals, and how they are monitored, it appears that we act from a level of hierarchy. We have to bestow capacities of emotion, intelligence and endangerment upon animals for them to be recognised. This process of recognition is portrayed throughout the text, beginning with the disappearance of the golden frogs which was ‘not yet perceived as a crisis’, to then later be ‘concluded’ that ‘the golden frog was in grave danger’. At this point it was evidently too late, resulting in their extinction, however, it makes us question why do we only act purposefully when things hit a point a crisis?

This extract from Kolbert’s novel forces us to think about the ways in which we treat endangered animals, as well as exposing us to the truths of our existence causing these extinctions. Why are we focusing so heavily on the solutions to mass extinction, rather than looking into preventive methods? Are we past the point of crisis? Or are we just unable to take responsibility for our actions and change our way of living?

 

Sources

Kolbert, Elizabeth, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2014) Online: http://lithub.com/the-sixth-extinction-an-unnatural-history/

 

Pollution Solution: If you’re not already a vegetarian or vegan, try cutting out beef out of your diet, even if it’s just for a ‘meat free Monday’. Not only is the slaughtering of cows a dreadful action, but the production of beef is also one of the biggest polluting processes in the world. So if you don’t act from a point of animal activism, act from an environmental one.

Energy and the Invisibility Cloak

When looking at energy in terms of visibility, we are never able to physically see the entirety of harm that energy causes when being produced. With the use of centralised energy sources, we have become detached to the reality of where our energy comes from. The immediacy and accessibility of electricity being a flick of a switch away, allows us to be complacent to the source, location and production of the energy we use.

Most centralised energy sources, such as nuclear power plants, coal mining and oil extraction sites are controlled and built away from populated areas. As well as not being hidden from the production process, the waste products of these processes are also concealed from us. Take nuclear power plants for example, nuclear and toxic waste is produced in masses throughout the creation of electricity. Nuclear waste stored in specialised containers and buried underground until it is no longer radioactive, (which is predicted to take thousands of years), creating anxieties of safety, additionally being unsustainable and inadequate for the long term. The only time we hear about nuclear waste is when it is not disposed of safely and affects humans or human activity.

Energy can also be attached to the micro or the macro, being dependant on whether the energy source is centralised or decentralised. Decentralised energy lends itself to an individualised or community based ownership of energy, such as having solar panels on your own roofs, which is then used to power your own house. In comparison, coal mining as a type of centralised energy, links to the macro through its vast usage around the world. Coal mining has also resulted in bringing communities together through economic purposes, particularly seen in the Industrial evolution in the 18th century.

In the present day, coal is a dying industry in the UK, as it is recognised as an energy source nearing depletion. As a result of this, literature and art involving coal is declining, and being replaced with ‘newer’ energy forms such as solar power. However, just because coal within literature and art is dying art form in the UK, it may continue in other places across the world where it is still a prominent energy resource. This concept relates to the ways in which different models of society are attached to different types of energy consumption. A variation of energy sources are emerging at different time periods within different cultures, due to development rates and technological advances. Within this in mind,’Western’ countries should be heavily invested in renewable energy, departing from fossil fuels.

The concept of transition is very significant at the moment, in terms of switching from ‘dirty energy’, e.g fossil fuels and nuclear, to ‘clean’, renewable energy. However, at this point in time, renewable energy isn’t completely renewable, because we are using plastic and metal and oil to construct solar panels and wind turbines, which are then transported across the country. This causes a ‘payback’ time for energy sources, such as wind turbines, causing debate over their effectiveness.  In my opinion, when we can create renewable energy with renewable energy, our planet will truly be sustainable, (and hopefully saved).

 

Pollution Solution: Solar panels are your friend, not only are you actively helping the environment, you also save money on your bills and can be paid to generate electricity.

Have you ever seen an oil rig hatch?

Short stories are an extremely accessible type of Ecocriticism, due to their wide audience range and availability, for example, China Miéville’s short story Covehithe was posted on the Guardian website in 2011. Miéville uses Covehithe to play on our conceptions of what we class as ‘natural’, bringing oil rigs to life whilst commenting on the militarisation of oil. As a type of speculative fiction, his writing can also be classified within the genre of the new weird.

When looking at this text through the five components of energy conscious criticism, (Depletion, Variety, Inequality, Production and Invisibility), we are able to understand that the text may have been written this in opposition of oil spills being labelled as ‘natural disasters’, as there is nothing natural about the extraction of oil.

Instead of focusing on oil depletion, Miéville looks at the depletion of the environment, at the hands of oil extraction and human invention. When approaching the oil rig site the narrator states that ‘the smell should have been sappy and muddy and of the sea’, suggesting that the overpowering smell of oil has infected the natural landscape. However, there are references made to the natural world reclaiming its landscape, such as cliff erosion causing roads to fall into the ocean, in the sense that ‘the sea’s taking it all back’. They walk past ‘tarmac so old it was becoming landscape’, which is a juxtaposing phrase. In the present day tarmac is a prevalent part of our landscapes, although, in this sense Miéville is using landscape as a way to describe and define aspects that are wholly natural, in other word, not man-made and an original part of the environment, blurring the line between the two slightly.

Miéville recreates the birthing of the oil rigs in a way which mirrors turtles hatching. The rigs move in to land to lay their eggs and then once hatched, people ‘usher the rest safely to the water, where the baby rigs has been tagged and released to scuttle below the waves’. Relating to his genre of writing, by making the familiar weird in this situation, it forces the reader to think about the idea of what is classed as natural, and what isn’t. This strange situation is also spoken about ironically in the text. Dughan’s daughter says, ‘they laid eggs, so many people said, they must have sex. There was no logic there. They were oil rigs.’ By highlighting the idea that there is no logic in oil rigs having sex to create babies, whilst juxtaposing the normality of oil rigs laying eggs, is completely absurd. This demonstrates how illogical it is that we classify oil spills as natural disaster, because for it to be natural, oil rigs have to be alive.

Conclusively, for an oil spill to be a natural disaster, oil extraction must be a natural process. By bringing the oil rigs to life in a completely nonsensical way, it brings awareness to the fact that man-made errors being labelled as natural disasters should be viewed, just as strangely as baby oil rigs hatching on a beach. This is something that needs to end, so that we can begin to take responsibility for our actions in polluting the earth. Just because oil extraction is viewed as an essential aspect of living, it doesn’t make it necessary, or indeed natural.

 

Pollution Solution: As a natural solution to oil spills, the Canadian company Encore3 has starting manufacturing oil clean-up kits using the milkweed fibres. The fibres can absorb more than four times the amount of oil that the polypropylene materials currently used in oil clean up can.

 

Sources

Miéville, China. ‘Covehithe’, 2011.

Treacy, Megan, Treehugger, 2014. Online: https://www.treehugger.com/clean-technology/milkweed-could-be-natures-answer-oil-spills.html

Slow Violence

Moving on from blue ecology, we have now adopted an energy-centred approach when analysing texts, looking at how our use and abuse of energy has impacted the Earth and focusing on the culture that comes with extraction.

Energy is attached to speed, efficiency and access. As a society we want immediacy and the fastest possible way to travel or obtain things, relating to the way in which we still chose to mine coal and extract oil as opposed to using renewable energy sources. This sense of speed is juxtaposed with its long term consequences, also known as slow violence. Rob Nixon, who coined the term, describes it as ‘a violence that occurs gradually and out of sight, a violence of delayed destruction that is dispersed across time and space, an attritional violence that is typically not viewed as violence at all.’ Slow violence accumulates over time, its invisible to us until it reaches a point of crisis. A perfect example of this would be climate change and the consequences of this.

Oil on Water by Helon Habila can be analysed with the concept of slow violence by looking at his continuous discussion of petroculture. Petrol is surrounded by many types of temporal violence within the text, affecting individuals, small villages and Nigeria as a whole. Oil as a substance can also be described as temporal due to immediacy in which we can access and extract it, opposed to its actual composition. Many people can forget that the oil we use was formed millions of years ago, through an extremely slow process.

Petrol is used as a fast source of violence within the text, demonstrated when Major pours petrol over the captive men he deems as criminals. However, the main part of this punishment is the suspense of waiting to see if he will light a match and throw it at them or not, portraying petrol as more of a threat of violence, rather than a cause. While watching them suffer he says, ‘What, you can’t stand the smell of oil? Isn’t it what you fight for, kill for? Go on, enjoy. By the time I’m through with you, you’ll hate the smell of it, you won’t take money that comes from oil, you won’t get in a car because it runs on petrol. You’ll hate the very name petrol.’ (Habila, 2011:55) Here Major is alluding to the long term affects created by one instant act of violence. This can also link to the slow violence that the culture of oil extraction brings to societies, causing inner turmoil within countries, but also thinking about how worldly conflict can arise through the politicisation of oil.

The novel also looks at links between health and landscapes, relating to the concept of slow violence. Zaq becomes ill as a result of drinking the toxic water that surrounds the village, affecting him instantaneously. A doctor names his condition as ‘dengue fever… a haemorrhagic fever, very dangerous. It kills very quickly if not treated immediately.’ (Habila, 2011:89) This instant effect is a result of underlying slow violence, shown to be the actions made that have caused the water to become toxic, cultivating diseases over time. At one point the doctor solemnly states, ‘Bugs and the water, you know, and if that combination doesn’t kill you, the violence does.’ (Habila, 2011:90) Even here the diseases cultivated in the water are not explicitly named as violence, suggesting that these unseen types of violence are only noticed or taken seriously when the human body is greatly affected.

Ecocriticism and energy narratives, such as this text are purposely created to draw out these invisible effects which are gradually taking place, and explicitly referencing them. By relating all types of violence around the human, it brings awareness to us that our energy usage has consequences, hopefully bringing a sense of change and activism, even if it is out of self-preservation.

 

Pollution Solution: Install a smart meter in your home to monitor your energy usage and take public transport or car share whenever possible.

 

Sources

Habila, Helon, Oil on Water. (London: Penguin Books, 2011)

Nixon, Rob, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011) p. 2

Watery thoughts on watery things.

About 71% of the Earth’s surface is covered in water, our bodies are roughly 60% water; yet due to my economic state, I only ever really thought about water when I had no access to it (which happens very rarely). So far this module has made me consciously think about water and the way I affect it, rather than how it affects me. Ecocriticm and blue texts are purposely written to draw attention to the impact that humans have on bodies of water, as well as exploring ‘the economic and symbolic logic that pushed us into this tragedy.’ (Yaegar, 2010:53)

Whilst we are linked to water in terms of its increasing pollution, there is also a deep interconnection between water and life. Chen, Mcleond and Neimanis state that ‘Water is a matter of relation and connection’, suggesting that there is a significance between the links that water creates with us and the environment. Emmi Itäranta’s Memory of Water looks closely to the relationship that water has with life and death. Chapter Seventeen opens with the philosophical voice of an unnamed narrator, as opposed to Noria, looking at the interconnection and circularity of life and water.

‘Death is water’s close companion, and neither of them can be separated from us, for we are made of the versatility of water and the closeness of death. Water doesn’t belong to us, but we belong to water: when it has passed through our fingers and pores and bodies, nothing separates us from earth .’(Itäranta, 2014:221)

Itäranta looks at the duality of our bodily relationship to water, in the way that water giving us life, yet and an absence would mean death. This applies to us as readers, as well as the narrative within the text, emphasised by the change in narrators.

Within literature, the act of writing can be become water-like. Various metaphors describing writing with links to water, for example, ‘well of knowledge’, a ‘stream of consciousness’ and ‘fluid’ sentences. Within Memory of Water, Itäranta looks at the relationship of water, writing and culture. In one of the last scenes of the book, Noria writes down her past experiences in one of her father’s tea master books that have been passed down through her family. This passing of knowledge is both cultural and water-like in the way that it is circular and never ending. When her words ‘finally burst to the surface, bright and bold, I caught what I could and let them pour out of me.’ (Itäranta, 2014:254) Even here, Noria describes the way she writes with connotations to water, suggesting that the acts are interlinked through a deep connection of knowledge, culture and water.

Itäranta’s novel as an ecocritical text looks at the politics of water, bringing to light how both in the novel and present day, water is politicised, controlled and commoditised. The use of the Twilight Century highlights the anthropocentric thinking that our society has, bringing awareness to the long term effects of our doings. What isn’t addressed in the text to a great extent, is how we can shift this way of thinking and create communities through water, rather than boundaries.

This section of the module has dramatically changed my way of thinking about water, exposing me to the larger scale aspects of water politics and pollution. Water is so much more than just a source of life; it holds culture, tradition, knowledge and relationships.

 

Pollution Solution: your toilet is not a bin, do not put anything else down it except from toilet paper.

 

Sources

Cecilia Chen, Janine McLeod, and Astrida Neimanis eds. Thinking With Water (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2013) p. 12

Itäranta, Emmi, Memory of Water, (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2015)

Yaegar, Patricia, ‘Sea Trash, Dark Pools, and the Tragedy of the Commons’ PMLA, 125.3 (2010) p. 53

The Wave.

This week my seminar class gathered to watch The Wave, also known as Bølgen, which is a Norwegian disaster movie, directed by Roar Uthaug in 2015. The film is based in a Norwegian tourist town, Geiranger, centred on the family of geologist, Kristian Eikjord. The main plot revolves around the discovery and monitoring of a crevasse in the mountains that is contracting, resulting in landslide which creates an 80 meter tsunami, wiping out the town in 10 minutes. This is portrayed with an impressive use of special effects, focusing on the aftermath of the destruction.

The main points of discussion afterwards were about how we found humour in parts where people just stared at the tsunami in awe, rather than running away. However, it struck me that something of that magnitude would be unimaginable and unrecognisable to see, causing the body to go into a state of shock. Within the film, members of the town were depicted to be unsure if the tsunami alarm was real or a practice, suggesting that the people who live in Gerianger never believed that the disaster would happen in their time, otherwise stricter evacuation plans would be in place. This was also emphasised by the hesitancy of the geologists to sound the warning siren, as a result of not wanted to panic people if it was a false alarm, or cutting the tourist season short. This was highly ironic because they would be no tourist season at all if the town was wiped out.

Natural disasters are portrayed in these epic movies with amazing soundscapes and drama of families being reunited at the end. But in reality, many families will not have a happy ending when experiencing a natural disaster. In just under 10 years, from 1994 to 2003, M-DAT recorded 6,873 natural disasters worldwide, claiming approximately 1.35 million lives. As a result of the planet’s unpredictable behaviour, it’s the sort of thing you see on the news and believe that it will never happen to you, yet takes lives in every corner of the world.

Although disaster movies of this sort do not focus on the consequences of human actions, but rather natural disastrous events, the human still has to be at the centre of the film in order for us to understand how they impact our lives. Natural disasters wouldn’t be called disasters if nothing man-made was affected by it. In this instance, the film as an environmental script makes people aware of their physically environment, but does not give solutions or preventative information on how to help the effects.

 

Pollution solution:  Look for locally based charities, rather than big organisations, when donating money in aid of natural disasters

 

Sources

Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters and UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, ‘The human cost of natural disasters 2015: a global perspective’ (2015)  Online: https://reliefweb.int/report/world/human-cost-natural-disasters-2015-global-perspective