Between that disgust and this

Berekeley plastic 3

Angela Hume posted this Jacket 2 commentary on discussions of trash at the recent Ecopoetics Conference at Berkeley. She mentions my 500 Year Ecopoetics Conference Codex, pictured above. I spent an hour before the conference started gathering plastic I found in and around Wheeler Hall on the Berkeley campus where the conference was held.

Berkeley caps

I was thinking about Lucretius, the Roman poet and philosopher who wrote On the Nature of Things two thousand years ago. It was a radical text then — and still, in some ways. The poem popularized the Epicurean philosophy that all that exists is atoms and void. Humans are not special, distinct kind of matter. Squirrels, plastic bottle caps, babies — everything that exists is a swirl of the same stuff, born with the mortal universe.

Berkeley peanuts

I find Epicurean philosophy useful when I’m walking around performing the often disgusting task of picking up and cataloging plastic. It helps me overcome the various kinds of repulsion I experience and pay some caring attention to this bit of detritus, miraculous in its existence — its molecules the residue of plant and animals bodies from an extinct ocean buried deep under earth, its composition largely carbon and hydrogen like my own body, but unlike my molecules its laboratory-forged carbon bonds confound bacterial decomposers so it will last, zombie-like, forever, not decomposing, just breaking into smaller and smaller bits, often in the ocean, eaten by fish, eaten by us.


So we can sing with Walt a new song: My tongue, every atom of my blood, form’d from this soil, this air, and polymers.

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