Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized — Graham Harman

Thursday, June 9, 2016

"Plastic Geologies" by Heather Davis (SonicActs Dark Ecology Day 1)

Rosa: We invited Heather to talk at the SonicActs academy on plastics. That was a very interesting panel that you can still see online. When you have these kinds of conversations and they are sent to an editor it's interesting...a male editor...the voice changes. It feels like it lost a part of its femininity, some parts get cut. You do have to trust your editor. During an answer on queer ethics, Davis talked about queer kinship. As a political stance: who our intimate partners may be. Do we need to conform to the notion of the couple, to the binary gender system? Who inherits property when we die? Who and what do we leave behind? Who are our ancestors and to whom are we related? What are we killing off and what are we becoming?

In the interview there is a special feeling of being female. Males also give progeny. There is a whole realm of thinking about kinship and progenies and non-filial relationships. This is an underlying theme, maybe Heather's island of baby thinking...

Heather is a postdoctoral fellow in arts and humanities at Penn State. She has published a few books, one is Art in the Anthropocene and the other is Desire, Change. 

Heather Davis:
I'm thrilled to be with you again. I shan't talk too much about queer kinship but instead focus on plastic geologies. Plastic is fascinating because we are very intimate with oil production through it.

Plastic age <> duration. Our age is the upper layer of many ages of the past. Bergsonian duration. They cannot be extracted from the flux of becoming.

I love this provocative and literal quotation. And also a strange tension around the question of becoming and duration. An idea that we are going to have this archive. But also this process that's built into that. That is a very interesting thing. Its processual nature connects it to questions of memory. Of the earth and of other animals.

Plastic is one of the indicators of the Anthropocene. Pertida Phillips, Plastic Meteorite 2013. The actual object is about the size of a very large egg. It really does look like a meteorite. She just found it on the beach. One of the crazy thing about plastic is that it's incredibly mobile. Ceramics took 1000s of years to achieve global distribution. Plastic is found everywhere including our own bodies.

Photograph of the plastic layer, of an anthrosole (a nearly completely human made soil). You can go across earth and the anthrosole will rise or fall depending on human activity in each area. Geography in terms of the depth of human marking not just borders and so on. This includes ceramics, chemical resides, agriculture (nitrogen and phosphorus).

This slide (next) is a palstiglomerate. Patricia Corcan and Charles Moore coined this term. (Moore discovered the great garbage patch in the Pacific). Kind of a rock, an endurated material (plastic fused with other materials on the beach).

Here plastic is literally becoming a rock.

Why is this important? Metabolic Rift concept. Metabolism is what does the processing. Metabolizing elements and compounds. Phosphorus, which requires production (eg by our bodies when we eat, but it's a lesser amount); we depend on mining processes for it. >> industrial agriculture. And because we're doing this we are setting ourselves up for a huge crash in agricultural practices. We are using so much of the stuff that it can't recirculate in a homeostatic way.

Plastic is designed to be biocidal. To be a protective barrier.

LA: the Silver Lake reservoir. Covered in layer of plastic to stop bromide production and algae formation. Millions of plastic balls. Was meant to be temporary but now it's permanent and will apply to the even larger LA Reservoir.

Plastic as the death of metabolism. Has a biological reality where it is incredibly resistant to metallization. The perfection of accumulation without metabolism. End point of petro capitalism. [Don't things need to be dissolved to make ore value]

Citarum River Indonesia--so so filled with plastic. So much plastic on surface that water has become anoxic.

Marx: human behavior and labor, uses metabolism. “Metabolism between himself and nature.”

Hannah Landecker, “The Metabolism of Philosophy”: how do organisms eat other orgniams and yet persist as themselves? They persist by converting the world into themselves.

[Then there is the problem of what is the self into which the world is being folded]

Smithsonian collection of different types of plastic. The problem of universality. Trying to figure out where they came from and what their chemical composition might be.

Plastic is designed to be very hard to discern. Easier to describe through design history. Very hard to break apart a polymer. And they are also protected by copyright. Plastic embodies universalism.

Plastic is just a surface all the way through--exactly the same, no difference between inside and outside. Nothing else is like this [crystals?]

It remains separated from the earth. It's a “geophobe” refusing relations to minerals and air
it can become anything [the “easy think substance”]

Tyvek. The endless proliferation of the same. No relation to a particular part of the Earth. It has no umwelt.


Decolonizing the Anthropocene

Logic of plastic has a much longer history than the material itself
First purely synthetic molecule is in first decade of twentieth century
Logic of defying place <> process of colonization
Settlers >> Australia insisted on agriculture, including mining of phosphorus to make it resemble England
moving and unearthing rocks and minerals, tied to project of erasure
Eyal Weizman on bedouin is also writing in a way about terraforming: climate change as the explicit goal of colonialism
delocalized version of being in a place
Tar Sands in Alberta
Kyle White
[is plastic the hamartia of capitalism? that has to revolutionize the means of production all the time]
knowing where you are is also a question of governance
disrupting a relation to place >> disrupting not only a particular relation to plant or animal but also processes of indigenous governance and gender systems

Lawrence Gross, Anishinaabe Ways of Knowing and Being: suffering is climate change = the end of (their) world
what happens to one after the apocalypse (after the end of the world)?
dealing with consequences of cultural destruction: now a question for all of us
[white us are now experiencing what they are experiencing]
there will be a rapid diminishment so important to ask those people and start engaging
how to develop strategies to live through end of world


Reasserting Relationality

an important category for colored thinkers etc
Madeline Tafoya (Santa Clara Pueblo), Pot with Bird Design (such objects usually appropriated without knowing who or where or what)
Duane Linklater, UMFA2003 10.20, 3D printed sculpture (deliberately rubbish), strange blobs
sense of humor, preserving where machine got stuck, glitches
a really amazing way to talk about colonial erasure
reformulating plastic to talk about abstraction and universalism
eg beige plastic version of Kwakwaka'wakw, Raven Mask
zombie doubles of original artifacts
comment on how UMFA holdings are composed of these diminished relics
how to rethink relationality in a more general sense too

how might our relation to plastic change?
instead of as this infinitely disposable material without relation to its location
can you repurpose and hack
you can domestically recycle plastic
to rethink the value of oil and the intimacy of oil
to render these things through glitches

I think this is all very interesting but the underlying problems of universality and the violence of extraction don't go away
space of critique not far from complicity


John T. Maher said...

Davis looks to be an exciting scholar. A bit of funk mixed with Jennifer Gabrys perhaps? Loved the binary evocation which is something mainstream old hat Marxists are unwilling to reject and come off all Trump-like in the offing. Was cheered by the Guardian pop sci piece yesterday concerning central bearded dragons swapping sex in an age of thermal warming. Wouldn't that upset the cart at Derrida 5? Watch out for the many free-range biosemitic scholars along the Russian/Norwegian border!

D. E.M. said...

Plastic & dark ecology -- reminds us of the rotting, rusting, oxygenated world on the other side of Tupperware

John T. Maher said...

I can not but consider the current trope in the new materialism that "there is no outside" of tupperware or anywhere else. Colleague at lunch talking about autoimmune differences on opposite sides of Finnish Russian border.