The ‘Introduction’ of *Waste: A Philosophy of Things* Available Here

June 7, 2014

WasteWith the official UK release of Waste: A Philosophy of Things on 22nd May 2014, Bloomsbury have supplied a preview to give you an idea of the book’s ambitions. You can read the Introduction here. Also, if you choose to purchase the book you can use this discount code – GLR D3D – to get 35% off the retail price.

***

About Why are people so interested in what they and others throw away? This book shows how this interest in what we discard is far from new — it is integral to how we make, build and describe our lived environment. As this wide-ranging new study reveals, waste has been a polarizing topic for millennia and has been treated as a rich resource by artists, writers, philosophers and architects. Drawing on the works of Giorgio Agamben, T.S. Eliot, Jacques Derrida, Martin Heidegger, James Joyce, Bruno Latour and many others, Waste: A Philosophy of Things investigates the complexities of waste in sculpture, literature and architecture. It traces a new philosophy of things from the ancient to the modern and will be of interest to those working in cultural and literary studies, archaeology, architecture and continental philosophy.

***

“This book will convince you that our most complex contemporary ideas about time are at work in the concept of waste. It draws its temporal concepts from many places, from art and literature, philosophy and cultural theory, narrative and the theory of narrative to think about the time of things – things we discard, things we used to use, things we collect, things that fall into ruin, and things that hold the future within them. It animates the theory of things and makes something beautiful out of waste.” –  Mark Currie, Professor of Contemporary Literature, School of English and Drama, Queen Mary, University of London, UK

“If the primary achievement of recent civilization is to produce unprecedented heaps of garbage, what does this tell us about that civilization? In his pleasantly lucid prose style, Will Viney answers this question by providing an ontology, a sociology, and even an art criticism of waste, with special attention to the writings of T.S. Eliot and James Joyce and the visual art of Cornelia Parker and Mark Dion.” –  Graham Harman, Distinguished University Professor, American University in Cairo

- See more at: http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/waste-9781472527578#sthash.FbBc2Y1X.dpuf“This book will convince you that our most complex contemporary ideas about time are at work in the concept of waste. It draws its temporal concepts from many places, from art and literature, philosophy and cultural theory, narrative and the theory of narrative to think about the time of things – things we discard, things we used to use, things we collect, things that fall into ruin, and things that hold the future within them. It animates the theory of things and makes something beautiful out of waste.” –  Mark Currie, Professor of Contemporary Literature, School of English and Drama, Queen Mary, University of London, UK

Reviews “This book will convince you that our most complex contemporary ideas about time are at work in the concept of waste. It draws its temporal concepts from many places, from art and literature, philosophy and cultural theory, narrative and the theory of narrative to think about the time of things – things we discard, things we used to use, things we collect, things that fall into ruin, and things that hold the future within them. It animates the theory of things and makes something beautiful out of waste.” –  Mark Currie, Professor of Contemporary Literature, School of English and Drama, Queen Mary, University of London, UK

“If the primary achievement of recent civilization is to produce unprecedented heaps of garbage, what does this tell us about that civilization? In his pleasantly lucid prose style, Will Viney answers this question by providing an ontology, a sociology, and even an art criticism of waste, with special attention to the writings of T.S. Eliot and James Joyce and the visual art of Cornelia Parker and Mark Dion.” –  Graham Harman, Distinguished University Professor, American University in Cairo

Why are people so interested in what they and others throw away? This book shows how this interest in what we discard is far from new — it is integral to how we make, build and describe our lived environment. As this wide-ranging new study reveals, waste has been a polarizing topic for millennia and has been treated as a rich resource by artists, writers, philosophers and architects. Drawing on the works of Giorgio Agamben, T.S. Eliot, Jacques Derrida, Martin Heidegger, James Joyce, Bruno Latour and many others, Waste: A Philosophy of Things investigates the complexities of waste in sculpture, literature and architecture. It traces a new philosophy of things from the ancient to the modern and will be of interest to those working in cultural and literary studies, archaeology, architecture and continental philosophy.

Table Of Contents

Acknowledgements
List of Illustrations
1. Introduction
Part I: Collecting Waste
2. Narrating the Event of Waste
3. Archaeologies of Waste
Part II: Reading Waste
4. The Poetic Economies of T. S. Eliot
5. Reading Joycean Disjecta
Part III: Building Ruins
6. Ruins Past
7. Ruins of the Future
8. Conclusion
Notes
Bibliography
Index

Reviews

“This book will convince you that our most complex contemporary ideas about time are at work in the concept of waste. It draws its temporal concepts from many places, from art and literature, philosophy and cultural theory, narrative and the theory of narrative to think about the time of things – things we discard, things we used to use, things we collect, things that fall into ruin, and things that hold the future within them. It animates the theory of things and makes something beautiful out of waste.” –  Mark Currie, Professor of Contemporary Literature, School of English and Drama, Queen Mary, University of London, UK“If the primary achievement of recent civilization is to produce unprecedented heaps of garbage, what does this tell us about that civilization? In his pleasantly lucid prose style, Will Viney answers this question by providing an ontology, a sociology, and even an art criticism of waste, with special attention to the writings of T.S. Eliot and James Joyce and the visual art of Cornelia Parker and Mark Dion.” –  Graham Harman, Distinguished University Professor, American University in Cairo

- See more at: http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/waste-9781472527578#sthash.Sndli2r2.dpuf


Please Show You’re Working

June 12, 2014

This is an unedited version of my review for The Times Literary Supplement. The typos are, for that reason, entirely my own.

Cover: The Work of Revision, from Harvard University Press

James Joyce would often write to his patron and unofficial archivist Harriet Shaw Weaver, adding “a little waste paper to get it out of the way.” He was sending her preparatory material, work in progress, which would later become part of the British Library collection. Of the estimated 25,000 pages of drafts and sketches, less than half of these words would be printed in his ‘final’ text, Finnegans Wake. Clearly, the presence of discarded drafts and proofs, and the economies they support, provide a range of opportunities for authors, literary executors, archivists, libraries and scholars. For the latter, establishing points of provenance, compositional order, and textual transmission of these wasted notebook drafts, ‘scripts, and page proofs, along with demonstrating a technical competence necessary to marshal difficult material, can bring professional esteem, employment, promotion, publication, and many an air-conditioned holiday to an archive or research library. Studying discarded and unpublished versions creates ‘grey canons’, altered or alternative bibliographies, ever more responsive to the individuals, communities and institutions that invest in the collection, conservation, dissemination and analysis of their contents. ‘Genetic criticism’, developed by French scholars in the 1970s, has been particularly influential in the attempt to critically assess these abandoned pages, or avant-textes, for the special kind of compositional afterglow that they offer a published work and the process of its creation. And it is this effort to “make texts speak” that makes the spirit and practise of genetic criticism so intriguing – it takes muted documents to describe and thus draw us closer to the thinking that accompanied their making.

The idea of readers peering behind the curtain to gawp at textual detritus gives some authors cause for anxiety. Basil Bunting, for example, preferred that his drafts pipe down and enjoy “the damp dustbins among the peel / tobacco-ash and ends spittoon lickings” instead of the “printed ignominy” offered by their preservation. In The Work of Revision, Hannah Sullivan shows herself to be a critic who is, so to speak, willing to go through the bins. In exploring the processes of composition and decomposition, as well as providing an excellent introduction to the practical and conceptual ideas integral to comparative textual genetics, she shows how the “fossilized historical intentions” and the “traces of the action” can emerge between revised texts. Fated experiments, she argues, produce invaluable castoffs. Readers glimpse an author’s wider ambitions and, significantly, the changing shape of a work as it moves from shop floor to shop window.

What is attractive about The Work of Revision is the way Sullivan’s precise and carefully organised case histories unsettle the simple, unidirectional, and ideal passage from draft to bound copy. In her descriptions of “post-compositional revision” in particular, she reminds us of the laborious transformations that can occur prior to and after the publication of a volume. Revised texts, she argues, elicit a different kind of review, and the work, to quote Michel Contat, Denis Hollier, and Jacques Neefs, “now stands out against a background, and a series, of potentialities. Genetic criticism is contemporaneous with an esthetic of the possible.” It is with an expanded sense of possibility that Sullivan traces the labour of writing. From the failure of Henry James’s New York Edition to the posthumous publication of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land typescripts (“years of waste time, exacerbating to its author”, according to Ezra Pound), this book reflects the mixed fortunes of those that choose to revise and revise again.

The Work of Revision is organised around writings by Henry James, Pound, Hemingway, Eliot, Joyce and Woolf, along with some others. Across these case studies swirl a wider set of historical, sociological, and economic ideas, particularly about the influence that writing technologies and print histories have had in forming specific, aesthetic effects (such as ambiguity, parataxis, or autobiographical closure). Contrary, perhaps, to the intuitive idea that ‘bad’ witting needs more revision than ‘good’ writing, Sullivan argues that the history of “revising is influenced by writing technology and medium more than initial composition”. Though some writers of the early-twentieth century entertained a minimalist, Imagist aesthetic, others took to a kind of textual maximalism, exemplified by Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu and the accretive method by which Joyce developed later episodes of Ulysses. Both literary minimalism and maximalism, suggests Sullivan, are best understood in terms of the technologies that permitted experiments in revision.

The typewriter brought home the clarity of blacks on blanks and, since many of Sullivan’s modernist revisionaries wrote first in freehand and then employed a typist to produce their typescripts, they benefited from an important transition between the provisional nature of manuscript and the fixity of type (“Much as I loathe the typewriter”, wrote Auden, “I must admit that it is a help in self-criticism”). Another innovation that made the period between 1890 and 1940 something of a golden era for Sullivan, were advances in automatic typesetting. In the 1880s print became faster and cheaper, publishers could afford to send their authors proofs and, in doing so, they created another opportunity to make changes to the text. The proliferation of little magazines in this period gave authors yet another opportunity to test their work against a reading public before revising for subsequent publication. Form, as well as content, emerges from these relaying acts of modification: the Pound-Eliot co-editorship of The Waste Land created a paper trail that reveals poem and “a poem that merely could have been”; Joyce’s proof-stage additions to Ulysses thicken the interior depth of his characters. More than through some totalising set of ideals that were universally shared, the significance of the period’s experimentalism returns us to the economies of print, the systems of patronage, and the matter and materialities of composition.

A revisionary history of revision, based on the distribution of writing technologies, is an important contribution to the scholarship of twentieth-century literature, and it follows a wealth of other recent studies that have focused on the historical circumstances that encouraged artistic experiment in this period. It has been presented in a book that keeps the hand busy in the margin, to mark and then return to its frequent moments of insight but also in order to take a second look at the arguments once composed and then set aside. Sullivan says Keats, Shelley, Browning and other Romantic writers did not tend to revise and could not afford to, and they scorned attempts to reignite the fading coals of the imagination and turn back time on a creative act whose authenticity was held to be unilinear in nature. Wordsworth’s Preludes marks a telling exception. The moderns had a remorseless passion for revision that reached a “perverse” state – a “fetish” for some – as they became possessed by a “psychological compulsion” to transform their texts. Wordsworth, despite conducting a project of revision that lasted decades, is described as a “penitent” reviser and is therefore categorically pre-modernist. One wonders whether Sullivan’s desire to use the history of revision to solidify rather than complicate the relations between literary epochs – Romantic, modern, postmodern, or whatever we might call them – means that these moral and quasi-medical judgements about the practise of revision must appear like the tips to some unseen mass, untethered to her arguments about writing technologies and unsupported beyond a few familiar quotes from the works of Sigmund Freud.

Encompassing statements that seem to decry the “wasteful textual attitudes” of modernist writers and their “aesthetic of textual recklessness” are contrasted to our digital present. Sullivan shows how M.F.A. programmes, which make literary revision an important and explicit part of their curricula, are as familiar as authors at literary festivals discussing the ways that they turn and return to a phrase. So long as “revising a lot turns out to be something that famous authors do” the craftiness of writing will remain the pedagogical and performative norm. But the means by which we can document textual change, and therefore the kinds of individual text histories that Sullivan creates, has radically changed in the last two decades. Accelerating the pace of publication with the almost ubiquitous use of word processing software, many writers have lost the passage from manuscript to typescript that was so influential to previous generations: electronic documents are written and edited on screen, saving over previous versions; typescript changes are approved on screen; proofs are sent by email. This makes genetic criticism, especially object-orientated, archived, and institutionalised criticism, rather more difficult to undertake. In contrast to the modernist period, Sullivan declares that revision is now “effectively free”; “there is no real danger of a work becoming fixed in a single, imperfect form.” It is a shame that these claims of digital freedom are not supported with the same kind of rigorous detail provided elsewhere. Indeed, when Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom was published in the UK using first-pass galley proofs – Franzen discovered the mistake while recording a reading for the BBC’s The Review Show and a subsequent public reading commenced with the author urging his audience not to but buy the book – the costs and dangers of electronic transfer resurfaced with particular force.

In a simple sense, publishing and the process of literary composition, like other aspects of craft and commerce, are not yet fully paperless. Contemporary writers also use notebooks, send hardcopy of their unrevised typescripts (some agents and presses only accept paper submissions), and uncorrected proofs are put in circulation for book fairs; the paper evidence has not entirely disappeared. Which brings us back to decisions of individuals and collectives, back to a wider set of positions – political, social, economic, ecological, and technological – that affect compositional practise. For instance, technological obsolescence may well prevent textual geneticists from accessing the working drafts of some contemporary writers, yet the primary issue, as it was with Joyce when he dispersed “waste paper” around Europe, is whether or not avant-textes, in whatever format, are kept, stored, backed up or emailed in the first place. So, while Joyce sent his working drafts to Weaver and agonised about the notebooks that he lost during his movements across Europe, Eliot was glad to see the back of his early notebook: “I cannot feel altogether sorry that this [typescript] and the notebook have disappeared” (it was hidden in a drawer and later published in 1996 as Inventions of a March Hare). As Hannah Sullivan so skilfully shows, textual waste does have a habit of returning to texts that once required its absence, but the rate of return is not yet so rapid as to be non-existent or untraceable. The Work of Revision reflects a variety of writerly attitudes to revision as well as the decisions left open to readers regarding the value of lines crossed-out and stanza redecorated. Provocative and direct, it goes to great lengths to show just how difficult it can be to elucidate the social life of texts whose use and meaning remain a work in progress.

– 1807


Nothing Beside Remains

June 10, 2014

A version of this paper was read aboard a coach, while returning from a municipal landfill site in Dunbar. Global Shadow, Local Mist was organized by Laura Yiule and funded by Collective Gallery, Edinburgh. Thanks to them, to the other speakers, and to all those that made the journey.

I have been asked to say a few words on the idea of waste to pose some questions rather than provide some neat answers. Which is just as well, since I’d like to suggest to you that one of the peculiar characteristics of things that we call ‘waste’ is their strange suggestibility, their enigmatic power to pose questions whose attending answers, in the end, feel rather excessive, superfluous, or insufficient. Before I say how and why I think waste has that power, a poem:

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said – ‘Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert … near them on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings,
Look on my Works ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away’.– [1]

Starting a talk by reading Shelley’s ‘Ozymandias’ while returning from a municipal landfill might seem to you perversely and retroactively Romantic, a bit like your Uncle Fred bellowing out an operatic aria at a warehouse party; cranky, maybe a bit deluded, certainly out of touch with the expectations of these ‘modern’ times. Isn’t the imagined antique land described in Shelley’s poem and the ruinous fragments that emerge from its textual sands, just so far removed from the putridly modern reality of Dunbar’s wastes, that we can learn nothing from their comparison? Since, isn’t this literary romanticism exactly the opposite to the engaged, responsible, and sober critique that is inculcated by enlightened travellers in more contemporary lands, who urge us to face the wastes that usher in The Anthropocene and spell the immanence of our curious End Times? These rhetorical questions lead to and imply other injunctions –forget the waste of the past because we need to speak more urgently about the waste of the present – forget Ozymandias and his mighty works, what about the creative destruction of neoliberal capitalism and its ‘ruins of modernity’? Forget literary art and its ‘traditions’, we need to speak about the current wastes of melting polar ice caps, nuclear fall out, the Great Pacific garbage patch, and the many other toxic vortices of waste production and environmental depletion.

This obligation and desire to think about the ‘now’ of waste fascinates me. It fascinates me because it imagines that humans – and lets be specific, especially the kind of humans who ride about on buses on a Sunday afternoon, thinking about the meaning of waste – can gift time and, with it, meaning to the things that are abandoned, cast out, redundant, or without use, making waste the evidence of a much wider social, environmental, and historical ‘moment’. By this circular logic, it’s up to us – whoever we take ourselves to be – to decide how waste matters, what it signifies, and what it means for us. This, I think, is an ethics that habours an anthropocentric, overdetermined, and therefore deeply problematic understanding of how objects are felt and described – where ‘we’ must decide how ‘they’, non-human things, come to ‘mean’, and how ‘they’ relate to pasts, presents, and futures.

So, even as objects of waste suggest temporal end times and thus the immanent intractability of our interests and designs, the urgency to attend to waste as being especially present, modern, or contemporary, begs the question – present, modern, and contemporary to what and for whom? I want to probe how waste comes to be resonant with significance, where a cigarette end on the street can conjure thoughts of lips and lungs and the precarious employment contracts of road-sweepers, the fabled powers of the PR industry, your schoolyard smoking spot and the late-night pleasures of other events, fantasies, memories, in ways that a yet-to-be smoked cigarette cannot.

I take this resonant potential to appear not in what ‘exists’ – in the here and now of my encounters with the cigarette end – but in what is conspicuously absent. This, I believe, is not something I necessarily create or construct, but is an emergent property of the time made and taken from waste things. The way this thing that gets called ‘waste’ gains a rather magic, telling and evidential status, this power to both denote and connote a multitude of interpretations about the world, is not simply gained because it has entered into a municipal waste-management system, but because it has entered a peculiar form of time, one that emerges out of its status as a ‘has-been’, taken as a remainder or trace of action whose relation to the past is suspended in its presence, making its presence, its actual being or ‘reality’, shot through with an absence that animates it as a thing that has come to be by having been. Asking what waste is for me is, therefore, to ask how its relation to ‘someone’ has been done and undone over time.

If this sounds like nothing more than an entertaining riddle it may be because I want to wrestle the experience of making and encountering waste away from those who would make facts through things as if our relations with the material world was a mere matter of accurate description or methodological technique. And I want to come to terms with the unstable vitality of things which work upon, with and against our bodies, a universe of matter that swirls in and through us – composed as we are of molecular things and influenced by the microbial communities in our guts; co-dependent as we are on the wheels of this bus going round and round upon the road’s asphalt surface, the automatic traffic lights turning from red to green… ; hence, the many different objects collected and stored in a landfill site are, in my view, a fantastic assemblage of things where the projective time of human action has been placed in weird abeyance.

This is why it seems slightly ridiculous to me to speak of ‘modern’ or ‘contemporary’ wastes as a privileged place to think about ‘who we are’, since this seems to me to follow a logic that is somehow cut adrift not only from the material constitution of how that ‘we’ is composed, but also cut adrift from the combined and convolved tenses that constitute how an experience with waste necessarily implies what a thing did and was and is and does. This rather more complicated conception of waste skews and queers how we experience the world of things. Robert Smithson expressed this well when he wrote that “buildings don’t fall into ruin after they are built but rather rise into ruin before they are built. This anti-romantic mise-en-scene suggests the discredited idea of time and many other ‘out of date’ things”[2] Of course, Smithson is right that this is an anti-romantic mise-en-scene, it sees the temporal end of a relationship with the building before the first kiss of construction; but he is wrong in the suggestion that his concept of ruins-in-reverse is anti-Romantic, since the notion of waste acting across times and places and tenses is precisely how it reaches us as such, as waste, and especially in works typically associated with literary Romanticism like… ‘Ozymandias’.

And so we return to Shelley’s transcript and to ‘Ozymandias’ as a poem of distinct utility. It describes how objects of ruin and waste make strange monuments. Does the ruinous state of the Ozymandias statue remain a testimony to the king’s “Works” or a refutation of them? Do these ‘Works’ contain their destruction as ruins in reverse? Answers to these questions are not hard to come by. So much depends upon how we read the word “remains”. As both substantive and verb we can understand “remains” to describe the “lone and level sands” and the statue itself. Such duplicity is not really ‘understanding’ in the fixed and eternal sense of the term, but a speculation that produces other questions; what remains beside the remains? Does nothing, sheer absence, ‘exist’ next to the shattered, material remainders of Ozymandias? Does what remains of the statue represent an outpost of last resistance against the corrosive demands of time, or do the sands show the eroded future of those stones? This indicates to me some of the temporal enigmas of waste – a time of false endings that renders waste both a monument to consummation and transience, a utopic trace that demonstrates the transference of information across centuries, and the dystopic dissolution of all things into the condition of dust, sand, and other inchoate particles that tell of nothing, an absolute void.

If we find things in the landfill that ‘speak’ or ‘tell’ of the work of others, whether the sculpture’s art or the despot’s rule, then I’d only like to encourage you to use the opportunity to answer back to things with a set of questions: what kind of time is made and taken from things that are discarded? Do you feel novel or new? Does this thing emerge from the black hole of the past into the luminous clarity of the contemporary? Or are we witnessing something neither present nor absent, original nor ancient, but something that hovers in-between a set of questions and the many answers that can be made through things.

Further Reading

Chapman, John. “‘Rubbish Dumps’ or ‘Places of Deposition’? Neolithic and Copper Age Settlements in Central and Eastern Europe.” In Neolithic Orkney in its European Context. Edited by Anna Richie, 347–362. Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, 2000.

Hell, Julia., and Andreas Schönle, ed. Ruins of Modernity. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2010.

Latour, Bruno. We Have Never Been Modern. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1993.

Rathje, William. “The Archaeology of Us.” In Encyclopaedia Britannica’s Yearbook of Science and the Future: 1997. Edited by Charles Ciegelski, 158–177. New York: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1996.

—., and Cullen Murphy. Rubbish! The Archaeology of Garbage. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.

Shelley, Percy Bysshe. The Poems of Shelley Volume 2: 1817–19, ed. Kelvin Everest and Geoffrey Matthews. Harlow: Pearson, 2000.

Smithson, Robert. Complete Writings of Robert Smithson. Edited by Jack Flam. Berkeley: California UP, 1996.

 

[1] Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Ozymandias,” in The Poems of Shelley Volume 2: 1817–19, ed. Kelvin Everest and Geoffrey Matthews (Harlow: Pearson, 2000), 2:310–311.

[2] Robert Smithson, ‘A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey’, in Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings, p. 72


Advance Praise for Waste: A Philosophy of Things

April 23, 2014

I’m honoured to have some extremely generous endorsements for my book, Waste: A Philosophy of Things, from two scholars whose work has been an inspiration to me:

“If the primary achievement of recent civilization is to produce unprecedented heaps of garbage, what does this tell us about that civilization? In his pleasantly lucid prose style, Will Viney answers this question by providing an ontology, a sociology, and even an art criticism of waste, with special attention to the writings of T.S. Eliot and James Joyce and the visual art of Cornelia Parker and Mark Dion.” – Graham Harman, Distinguished University Professor, American University in Cairo

“This book will convince you that our most complex contemporary ideas about time are at work in the concept of waste. It draws its temporal concepts from many places, from art and literature, philosophy and cultural theory, narrative and the theory of narrative to think about the time of things – things we discard, things we used to use, things we collect, things that fall into ruin, and things that hold the future within them. It animates the theory of things and makes something beautiful out of waste.” – Mark Currie, Professor of Contemporary Literature, School of English and Drama, Queen Mary, University of London, UK

Graham Harman’s work on object-oriented philosophy and speculative realism led me to the subject of things, to Heidegger’s analysis of the broken tool, and to Latour; all became influential as I got through the book. Mark Currie is a leading narratologist and has written some fantastic books on the relationship between time, storytelling, and fiction.

Parts of the book can now be seen using Amazon’s ‘Look Inside’ function. And there may be something available on Google Books after the book is published on 22nd May.

 


Big Ruins: The Aesthetics and Politics of Supersized Decay – Manchester, Wednesday, 14 May 2014

March 3, 2014

I’m excited to be involved in the ‘Big Ruins’ conference, to be held in Manchester later this year. Conference organiser, Paul Dobraszczyk, describes the event: “As global capitalism intensifies its hold on the planet, so its ruins are scaling up in size: from vast junkyards of jumbo-jets in Nevada to entire empty cities in China waiting to be inhabited. Meanwhile the urban ruins of the Cold War era continue to resist appropriation, whether because of their toxicity, ideological misplacedness, or as a consequence of intractable ethnic conflicts. Coupled with a recent plethora of (post)apocalyptic visions of ruined cities in cinema and computer games, the links between real and imagined ruination are becoming increasingly blurred. If we are to imagine large-scales sites of decay, how might their possible ruin be represented in a way that helps us adequately respond to that very possibility?

This conference will address that question by focusing on the wider significance of big ruins in an age of global capitalism. Drawing from a wide range of sites – both real and imagined – this conference aims to create a dialogue between big ruins and the culturally-prescient theme of the imagination of disaster and to open up an emancipatory space that, following Slavoj Žižek, accepts the universal inevitability of ruin in order to break its ideological grasp and thus to suggest liberating alternatives.”

The event is free and you can register here.

Confirmed speakers and paper titles are:

Keynote

Tim Edensor: ‘Ruins are everywhere’

• Formations

Luke Bennett: ‘The ruins of ruins’

Michael Crang: ‘Mired but alive': the aesthetic taming of toxicity

• Ideologies

Anca Pusca: ‘Postcommunist ruins: the fine line between decay vs. rebuilding’

Mark Sanderson: ‘Derelict utopias’

Matthew Philpotts: ‘Rocket-fuelled ruin: Re-territorialising the traces of German dictatorship’

• Explorations

Emma Fraser: ‘Reading the ruins of Detroit: poetic, dialectical and phenomenological approaches’

Clare O’Dowd: ‘Gregor Schneider and the ghost towns’

Paul Dobraszczyk: ‘40 years later: ruin gazing in Varosha’

Camilla Røstvik: ‘Like sleeping dragons: an exploration of the ruins of CERN’

• Futures

Carl Lavery & Lee Hassall: ‘Return to Battleship Island: Future of Ruins’

William Viney: ‘Futures in ruin’

Andrew Hardman: ‘Where is my apocalypse? Living in a ruined future’


‘Future Ruins’, Published in a New Collection, Edited by John Scanlan and J.F.M. Clark

January 13, 2014

9781443849128I have had the piece ‘Future Ruins’ published in the collection Aesthetic Fatigue: Modernity and the Language of Waste, ed. John Scanlan and J. F.M. Clark (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars, 2013), pp. 138–158. Other contributors include Steven Connor, Timothy Cooper, and Harvie Ferguson, among many others. My contribution to this eclectic collection of writings expands upon a post available on this website. It works over the temporalities at stake when we project ruins into the future, revealing, I think, how we depend upon times of use and waste to call upon different kinds of future. Rereading some of this, especially in light of Mel Chen’s  work on the concept of ‘animacy’,  has led me rethink some of the ways we make our futures active or inactive, according to the objects we use to populate yet unrealised environments. In the end, there are some simple ideas contained here – on how waste carries and animates time; how waste is not simply a thing of retrospective contemplation (i.e. the nostalgic has-beens of a time past) but a concept which enlivens how we conceive our potential; and that thinking on the possibilities of wasted futures requires a mode of narrative thinking, one that is as much about the here and now as it is about the future.


Robin Nagle’s TED talk: What I Discovered in New York City Trash

November 6, 2013

Very interesting, morally and ethically-charged presentation by Robin Nagle. She has been the anthropologist-in-residence at the Department of Sanitation in New York City since 2006, and she is the author of Picking Up: On the Streets and Behind the Trucks with the Sanitation Workers of New York City, published in 2013 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.


Waste: A Philosophy of Things, Now Available on Amazon

October 16, 2013

Though it won’t be available for some months – provisionally scheduled for release in May 2014 – my first book, Waste: A Philosophy of Things, is now listed on Amazon for pre-order. The book will be published by Bloomsbury Academic at a price that will put it beyond the reach of most individuals but with the Waste-A Philosophy of Thingshope that institutions may buy enough copies for a paperback edition to be financially viable. Having worked in academic publishing, helping others to get their work published, I am delighted that I’ll be putting out something of my own. And, though my attention is now directed to other projects, my work on waste is still a source of interest to me and, I hope, not yet redundant by all that has been written and published on the subject since I concluded my research.

Things are changing in publishing and, though I am interested in open culture and, to an extent, the open source publishing models pioneered online, I am still convinced that traditional, hardcopy formats (alongside digital formats), established on flexible but globally structured editorial, publicity and marketing relations, along with the modest kinds of innovation that Bloomsbury are strong on, is a better option for me, at this stage, and for this particular project. If that sounds like I have ethical issues with the academic publishing industry as a whole, well, I do, but this is a book that requires all the support of an established and well-run press of which Bloomsbury is certainly an example.

The cover image is taken sometime in 1888, I think, during the Tower’s construction. I am particularly interested in monuments as waste or as immanent objects of waste, and the temporality of this is explored in the book’s final chapters. It is not the case that all monuments ruin in the same way nor do they always resemble ruins in their construction, but the sight and site of a building being made makes use as well as future ruin possible. It is the relationship between use and waste, use as waste, use making waste, that has captivated me and made this book project so unexpectedly relevant to my current research into the use of twins in contemporary science. More on that elsewhere, for now, I’m looking to topping off the almost-not-quite-yetness of Waste, with the index and final proofs not yet ready.


Hearing the Voice at Durham Book Festival, October 2013

September 26, 2013

Review: Catherine Alexander and Joshua Reno (eds), Economies of Recycling, Zed Books, 2012.

September 2, 2013

This review originally appeared in The British Journal of Sociology Volume 64, Issue 3, pp. 548–549, September 2013. The book can be bought directly from the publisher, Zed Books

The territorial etymologies of the word ‘waste’ – from vastus and its Latin root of ‘vast’, a time and space that is void, immense or enormous – absorbs its vacant neighbours, vanus and vaccus, and includes the verb vasto, “to make empty or vacant, to leave unattended or uninhabited, to desert” (Lewis and Short, ed., A Latin Dictionary). The earliest uses of the word ‘waste’ in the English language invariably denoted an enormous and empty sense of a depopulated landscape, “uninhabited (or sparsely inhabited) and uncultivated country; a wild and desolate region, a desert, wilderness” (OED, s.v. ‘waste’). Economies of Recycling: The Global Transformation of Materials, Values and Social Relations intellectually inhabits these spatial and temporal fields of study, uncultivated by traditional approaches the study of commodities and their chains of manufacture, and seeks to challenge the absolute qualities of desolation and emptiness associated with discarded matter. It provides a welcome and necessary contribution to our thinking about waste, a book that acknowledges the intricate relationship between worldmaking and waste making.

ImageAs a catalyst into wider anthropological and cultural geographic enquiries – into the influence that waste objects have on labour relations (chapters by Norris, Crang et al, Fredericks, Faulk), local responses to resource scarcity or excess (Tong and Wang, Halverson) and the uneven legal frameworks for waste’s national and international governance (Gracier, Reno) – this volume is unusually aware of the acts of use and recovery necessary to the practice of storytelling that underpins the multiple versions of ‘recycling’ that are traded on an increasingly complex and global scale. By being materially and semantically expansive in movement and meaning, waste can have transformative effects on how we understand the traffic and trade of materials across temporally and spatially distinct locations. Many chapters succeed in offering important insights into the globalised and globalising webs of use, reuse and disposal. The territorial nature of human-nonhuman entanglements that the authors trace illustrates the shadowy relations that can challenge “familiar economic relationships and understandings of how the global economy works” (ER 4). Both the practice of and critical engagement with recycling, the editors claim, “offers new ways of imagining and engaging with the world” (ER 15).

From the rag trade in India to the e-waste industries of China the chapters in Economies of Recycling engage us in the longstanding issue of scale, perspective and description that objects of waste seem to thrust upon us. The analysis of an object of waste, whether or not we choose to unravel its complex journey through time and space in full, must reckon with the suspension of use or its impossibility, a time or location in which the time of use ends. The collective response to this challenge, lucidly introduced and clearly organised into three sections, stresses that the complex entanglement of things, places and people means that the absolute suspension or eradication of use is rarely complete and the time of things is difficult to organise into discrete units. The more sophisticated accounts presented here, which are themselves conditioned by the sense of temporal excess that things of waste provide us, reflect upon the capacity for acts of description to accurately observe and participate in the cultivation and harvest of waste things. Interestingly, this is often best illustrated in chapters where economies of recycling appear to break down, go awry or produce ‘externalities’ of their own, not through a disparity between supply and demand but through the failure of the imagined ‘cycles’, ‘chains’ and ‘flows’ that things are thought to pass through. Romain Gracier’s fascinating analysis of how nuclear material and its movement through differing legal interpretations of ‘nuclearity’ shows how material can fall from the closed and idealised ‘nuclear fuel cycle’. Another example comes from Lucy Norris’s careful description of the ragtrade in the north Indian town of Panipat which is studded by processes which discard objects while selecting others for reuse and repurposing. Halverson’s chapter on medical aid describes the theology behind an international recycling project and exposes how some objects are repeatedly discarded because the of peculiarities of the an aid project’s aims and its asymmetric donor-recipient relations. The mantra ‘No Junk for Jesus’ motivates volunteers but also produces a rationale for recycling some objects and discarding others.

In their introduction Catherine Alexander and Joshua Reno argue that the book’s chapters “unpack the global flows of materials” to reveal the increased “fluidity of people and things” (p. 2, 9). One of the problems of using such lamina language to describe the dynamic movement, acts of narrative and negotiation with time, is that ‘flowing’ suggests continuity, predictability and uniformity for a set of circumstances and relationships that the book reveals to be so diverse, often contradictory and certainly unpredictable. The latent connection between the ideals of a closed cycle and the naturalised vocabularies of flows and streams, which so often supports these systems-led ideas of global recycling, is an interesting tension left unresolved by this collection. Nevertheless, waste is, as these ethnographically informed chapters repeatedly attest, a condition of things that arises from our storytelling traditions (academic or otherwise) and this work breaks new ground in representing the scale and diversity of our narrative responses. It is warmly recommended to undergraduates, postgraduates and researchers working across the social sciences and humanities.

This review originally appeared in The British Journal of Sociology Volume 64, Issue 3, pp. 548–549, September 2013. The book can be bought directly from the publisher, Zed Books


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 550 other followers