I was inspired in this by a beautiful piece of writing by Donovan Hohn, which has stayed with me ever since I read it in Harper’s magazine in 2007. I think it was the thing that first got me thinking about plastic. (Hohn has written his own striking book on this topic, Moby Duck, where this passage also appears):
“I’ve begun to notice currents everywhere, a universe of eddies and gyres. Phytoplankton ride the same ocean currents that carried the Floatees to Sitka. Zooplankton follow the phytoplankton. Fish follow the zooplankton. Sea lions, whales, and people follow the fish. When, at the end of their upriver journey, salmon spawn and die en masse, their carcasses — distributed by bears, eagles, and other scavengers — fertilize the forests that make the fog, which falls as rain, which changes the ocean’s salinity. All deep water travels along what oceanographers call the “conveyor belt,” which begins with warm water from the Gulf Stream draining into the North Atlantic, where evaporation increases the salinity and makes it sink to the ocean floor, where it creeps south into the Antarctic circumpolar stream. After a thousand years — a millenium! — the conveyor belt ends here, in the North Pacific, where the ancient water wells up, carrying nutrients with it. I’m becoming a devout driftologist. The only essential difference between rock, water, air, life, galaxies, economies, civilizations, plastics … is the rate of flow.”
plastic I collect on my daily walk
GREEN SEEDLESS TABLE GRAPES RAISINS VERTS DE TABLE SAN PÉPINS with rows of round holes for the grapes to breathe through
G SERIES THIRST QUENCHER FIERCE® GRAPE NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR Water, sucrose, dextrose, citric acid, natural and artificial flavor, salt, sodium citrate, monopotassium phosphate, modified food starch, glycerol ester of rosin, blue 1, red 40.
foam eyeball bloodshot with bright yellow iris, kind of crackling like flame or lightning
little pale green foam peanut packing thing (LPGFPPT)
white foam packing fragment
shards of Peet’s glass with sea blue vaguely Mycenaean pattern
fake alligator strap
BIMBO® Donas Sugared Donuts cartoon of white bear wearing apron and puffy chef’s hat with red B on the front seeming squeezed, almost knocked off balance between two giant donuts. Eyebrows raised and blue eyes with thick eyelashes opened wide, mouth agape, pink tongue and row of white teeth. The bear is bringing a donut bit the size of its head toward its open mouth.
Kathy Kaye™ POPCORN BALL scary moon and trees cartoon with jack o’ lanterns
tiny lychee candy wrapper
New research demonstrates that the lowly lugworm (Arenicola marina) absorbs toxic concentrations of pollutants from microplastic in sand. Here is this piece from October in which I imagine being inside the gut of a lugworm. We all are inside the gut of a lugworm, of course, because that is the base of the food chain. Thanks to Susan Freinkel for pointing out this research.
Hand-Scooped Ice Cream Shakes & Malts™ cup, disembodied hand with scoop of ice cream emerging from sunburst, somewhat threatening, yellow star smiling outlined in red® ©2011 CXE Restaurants, Inc.
Tootsie Roll® POP ARTIFICIAL CHERRY red wrapper cartoon of kid with fishing pole, boy playing with model airplane, ice skating girl, two surfers, boy and girl, boy swimming, kid tossing a football, back to us, two girls roller skating, a boy and girl grasping a flag and kind of bowing, boy cut off at the neck with headdress aiming an arrow at a star TOOTSIE ROLL INDUSTRIES, INC. CHICAGO, ILLINOIS MADE IN U.S.
LEAVE WORRY BEHIND jiffy lube® sticker 150568 MILES 12/2/2013 OR-491GQF PENZ 530
smashed ORGANIC BABY SPINACH 5 0z. box INGREDIENTS: organic baby spinach leaves. Distributed by the Kroger Co. Cincinnati, Ohio 45202 http://www.simpletruth.com PET recycling symbol
all the plastic I collect on my daily walk
single-armed angel with white bow and a Chekhov quote on her skirt
some kind of space gun, grey, badly scraped
three clear lids found in a clump on the sidewalk
green soda bottle lid and top
purplish blue cap
wrapper for QUIESCENTLY FROZEN PREMIUM ICE CREAM BAR PALETA DE CREMA ALL NATURAL FRESA STRAWBERRY HELADOS MEXICO
HARIBO® KIDS AND GROWN-UPS LOVE IT SO, THE HAPPY WORLD OF HARIBO wrapper yellow cartoon bear with red bow saying ORIGINAL in speech bubble, fruit and flying (falling?) gummi bears at its feet GOLD-BEARS® GUMMI CANDY LESS THAN 1/2 OZ.
Another in the ongoing saga of the car part. Isn’t it like a bridge, or a wing? This post is in tribute to Dominique Browning, who has the genius (and courage) to reduce the solution to its simplest, most powerful component: Love.
Mortal: what hangs in the halo of its own blank, of course. Birth and death. In between—world. What exists. Stuff. Matter and form. Here it is. Kick it.
Heidegger, though, goes further. He says it is things that bring the world into presence. By thing he means all, even animals. He makes a list: jug and bench, footbridge and plow. Tree and pond, brook and hill. Heron and deer, horse and bull. Mirror, clasp, picture, book.
No thing just sits there, inert. The thing things, says Heidegger. It gathers, enfolding earth and sky, divinities and mortals.[i]
This rang in me with a lovely clarity. Yes I thought.
Then I read that scholars find the claim obscure, or they dismiss it as a poetic indulgence, as “gibberish.”[ii]
Gibberish implies sound with no meaning, nonsense. Nonsense suggests being lost, from “to find one’s way.” I wander for months, through the turn of a year in fact, winding inside the nested potentials of Heidegger’s strange language, the painstaking labor to shape into English forms his transmuted nouns and verbs, the odd creations that result, intricate thought structures crowding up.
the thing things.
It calls out, the car part — curled now for months on the floor of my bedroom, the flat clap when I trip over it in the dark as I do almost every night. The thing become joke, a thought, root, a prop.
No, that’s not right.
We are the be-thinged, says Heidegger. I think “bejeweled,” which means covered in rhinestones applied with a hot gun, and also a videogame that requires lining up rows of matching gems, which people have downloaded more than 150 million times.[iii]
Then I think betrothed.
In “A Year in Music,” Dana Ward writes “Voldemort deposited the pieces of his soul in several objects to resurrect his wretched body later. I’m typing this up on a Horcrux now … Unlike the Dark Lord, the people lost inside each thing & thought this room contains will not get back the bodies or the time they have lost. Nor will you.”[iv]
Nor will I. Thus loss
out of stuff. Loss,
loss claims every relation
to matter since Plato
All images are after.
That’s Joan Retallack.[v] The instant of encounter involves a swerve, something changes. Lucretius, the first century philosopher, called it the clinamen, from clinare “to bend.” He imagined atoms cascading through space, but if they never swerved to interact, nothing could come into being. “The change invents what it changes” — Catherine Malabou.[vi]
But still this desire lingers to stop, to know a thing to its depths, to fix it in understanding. And isn’t that the whole impetus for this? For spending like this these hours of a life that will not be got back?
Be-thinged. Betrothed. Bedingt. The common meaning of the German word is limited, qualified, conditional.
Heidegger: “In the strict sense of the German word bedingt, we are the be-thinged, the conditioned ones. We have left behind us the presumption of all unconditionedness.”
The English word condition comes from Latin com, together, plus dicere, to speak. As in to negotiate, make a pact, set terms — dwindled over time to mean the terms themselves. The conditions to which one agrees. One is limited, partial, so one must address oneself to others, one must pledge oneself to each other as essential. As also a part. Not only people but all things, made and unmade, that form the world. This is it. There is no outside — no “over there” — to flee to. Therefore, one is thoroughly pledged, that is, betrothed.
Betrothed leads to love? The word appears once in Heidegger’s lecture, and it is not his. He is talking about the tendency in Western metaphysics to use the word “thing” to refer to anything at all. He quotes Meister Eckhart quoting Dionysius the Areopagite: love is of such a nature that it changes man into the thing he loves.
What if we shed all this and turned to things as ourselves, with love. Not as ourselves, but as they, the things, as us. What if we loved the thing as life itself, lives lost, bodies and time. We could not get back what’s lost, but maybe, betrothing ourselves, we could stop the loss to come. If we loved enough.
Not we. Me. Let’s say me. Let’s say I did this. I turned toward this piece of plastic. And thought to betroth myself to it, to the lives in it, against future loss. As a stop to the loss to come.
For what —
a sign. For an albatross to wake from my chest and take flight.
But it remains just me. Me alone in a room with a car part, its dirty carapace curled around me. Me and my desire, which is boundless, sidereal. It glues its glittering look onto every surface.
[i] Martin Heidegger, “The Thing” in Poetry, Language, Thought trans. Albert Hofstadter (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), 178
[ii] Graham Harman, Tool-Being: Heidegger and the Metaphysics of Objects (Chicago and La Salle, IL: Open Court, 2002), 190
Graham Harman, Heidegger Explained: From Phenomenon to Thing (Peru, IL: arus Publishing Company, 2007), 129
Graham Harman, “Dwelling with the Fourfold,” Space and Culture 2009 12: 292 originally published online 8 July 2009, 297.
On the fourfold also see Graham Harman, “Time, Space, Essence, and Eidos:
A New Theory of Causation,” Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, vol. 6, no. 1, 2010.
[v] Joan Retallack, The Poethical Wager (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 10.
[vi] Catherine Malabou, The Heidegger Change: On the Fantastic in Philosophy (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2011), 63