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“the world is leaking”: a new temporality of disaster for a new decade

with 4 comments

True to his word, Giovanni Tiso has written an excellent post on the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Definitely go take a look…

I’m fascinated by the oil spill cam too, and like Giovanni said in my comments, there’s something mesmerizing about it, hypnotic. The Icelandic volcano seemed bent on introducing us to a new temporality of disaster for a new decade, replacing the shock and awe of telegenic terror attacks and rapidly escalating infection rates and (again telegenic) bombing raids, the tsunamis and earthquakes and hurricanes, that characterized the aughts with the awful banality of destructive persistence. But the gusher in the Gulf adjusts this new apocalyptic rhythm to the right physical scale.

Rather than the top of a mountain blowing off and then, surprisingly, causing real problems when it simply continues to smolder, we have a relatively small pipe at the bottom of the sea per-houring and per-minuting the Gulf toward total environmental collapse – and who knows what else.

I’m pretty immune to prophetic anthropomorphism, reading the palm lines of the image, and pathetic fallacy in general. I seriously mistrust Jamesonian acolytes for their tendency to just this sort of thing. (And that’s not the only faulty move I’m making in this post… Who gives a shit about “decades,” right?) There’s no Spielburgian divinity or Weltgeist storyboarding these things out to tell us something that we should already know… (Thankfully, really – we’ve got enough real problems to deal with without waking up to find a burning bush in the back garden etc) Being in England is only encouraging any I refute it thus-ism that was latently present in my makeup.

But on the other hand, it’s really, really hard not to read the whole world into and out of this one, hard not to take it as a sign of some sort that times have changed, and in particular not to anticipate lots more bad plumbing in the years to come….

(I should note – and not just here, but in an email to someone that I’m way overdue on – that Jonathan Lethem’s still newish Chronic City does a pretty good job of capturing this “new” temporality of disaster in narrative form…. I’ll try to say more about this when I’ve got more time, which has to happen sooner or later, right?)

Written by adswithoutproducts

June 1, 2010 at 12:49 am

4 Responses

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  1. What fascinates me is the degree in which we are captive to the spectacle. I wrote last year about how within two weeks of the H1N1 outbreak the virus had been been photographed, rendered in a 3D computer model, turned into street art and had its had amino acids sequence translated into a piece of ambient music. Now with the oil spill you can view it live on the web cam (also available as an iPhone application) or watch it from outer space, or – I’ve just been sent this – have it overlaid onto your place of residence (Zef Fugaz is responsible for this one). It’s not just a new temporality of disaster – it’s a new spatiality, too, and the underlying imperative it seems to me is not that you must act, but that you must look.


    June 1, 2010 at 5:31 am

  2. That “on the other hand” tells it all, ads.

    It’s becoming impossible to look away, even without gushercam.

    tom clark

    June 3, 2010 at 10:48 am

  3. Right, I know it does.

    (I actually think that the art of literary criticism / theoretical work on literature is defined by the art of negotiation that “on the other hand.” I’ll try to say more about that soon…)


    June 3, 2010 at 10:54 am

  4. Would love to hear your take on Lethem and “the new temporality of disaster.”


    June 8, 2010 at 5:10 pm

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