Earth Day Event: Derek Gladwin on Irish Literature and the Environment


Irish Studies and Environmental Science and Studies will sponsor a talk by Derek Gladwin, an expert on Irish bogs and literature.

“Boglands: Ireland, Literature and the Environment”
Wednesday, April 22, 6-7:15 p.m.
Lincoln Park Campus, room tba

Keep an eye on our Calendar (at left) for further details and more events.
Also see the popular EC post Irish Bogs and Culture by our own James Fairhall here.

Derek Gladwin is SSHRC Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of British Columbia. His work primarily focuses on the environmental humanities in modern and contemporary literary, film, and visual cultures in Ireland, the UK, and the North Atlantic. He has co-edited two books: (with Rob Brazeau) Eco-Joyce: The Environmental Imagination of James Joyce (Cork UP, 2014) and (with Christine Cusick) Unfolding Irish Landscapes: Tim Robinson, Culture, and Environment (forthcoming, Manchester UP, 2015). Gladwin is currently co-editing (with Maureen O’Connor) a special issue on “Irish Environmental Criticism” for the Canadian Journal of Irish Studies, and will serve as a Moore Institute Visiting Research Fellow at the National University of Ireland, Galway, in June 2015.

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Shifting Ground

(photo by Randall Honold)

(text by Christine Skolnik)

low tide

At low tide

This shifting ground

shaped by water


astral and other bodies

calls and responds

reflects on our image

reflecting our days

marvels at the seeming source

of distinctions

What numberless

wondering worlds

are obscured

by this

bright orb?

What grounds them?

Image Source: Dylar Addict, low tide

Dylar Addict, Home


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After Biopolitics: Society for Literature Science and the Arts, Houston 2015

November 12-15, 2015

Please see below conference description and call for papers.  This is a very intelligent, thought-provoking, and congenial event frequented by friends of INC and EC.

(SLSA is particularly interested in recruiting more scientists, artists, and philosophers at this time.  However, contributions from all disciplines are welcome.)

“Over the past thirty years, no paradigm has become more central to understanding our own moment than the paradigm of biopolitics—a fact that has left hardly any discipline untouched, resulting in new formations such as bioart, bioethics, biotechnology, biomedia, biocapital, bioinformatics, biovalue, and biocomputing, among many others. The reasons for this are not far to seek: the engineering, canalization, domestication, and commodification of “life” in the era of “synthetic biology,” at a level scarcely thinkable fifty years ago; rapid depletion of the earth’s resources in the context of global warming in what used to be called the “first world”; seemingly endless debates over the political and economic complexities of healthcare, social security, lengthening retirement ages and dwindling personal savings rates in the developed West; confrontations over abortion and immigration in the United States, in which the concepts of “life” and “race” are never far from view; the unequal global distribution of access to medical care and medical technologies at the very moment when pharmaceutical industries have never been more deeply woven into daily life in the developed West (or more profitable); and the post-9/11 context of the “war on terror” and ongoing anxieties about security and borders resulting in the normalization of spaces and practices of juridical “exception” such as Guantanamo Bay, drone warfare, and electronic surveillance at a level heretofore unknown, all revolving around a logic whose biological underpinnings reach back to the very origins of the biopolitical in the concept of the “body politic.” Add to these an increasing awareness (in no small part under the pressure of global warming and the emergent paradigm of the “Anthropocene”) of the plight of non-human life (whether in discussions of animal rights, factory farming, and the bioengineering of non-human creatures, or in the increasingly undeniable fact of the sixth major extinction event in the history of the planet) and how deeply imbricated t is with the plight of the human and its technology, and you have ample grounds to understand why “life” (in the broadest sense) has become the central object of politics over the past few decades.

In the face of such developments, the conference theme, “After Biopolitics,” seeks to reexamine the theoretical, cultural, social, and political underpinnings of the biopolitical paradigm, and to explore conceptual resources (both within and outside of the biopolitical paradigm) for the possibility of thinking what has been called an “affirmative” biopolitics that views the intersection of “Life” and the political as a potential space of affinity, community, and creativity, rather than the “thanatopolitics” that has dominated the biopolitical paradigm thus far.”


  • The concept of “Life”
  • Immunitary and autoimmunitary paradigms of biopolitics
  • Race, species, and biopolitics
  • States of exception: theoretical and historical dimensions
  • Bioengineering life
  • Biomedia and bioart
  • Biopolitics and the Anthropocene
  • The politics of medicalization and the Medical Humanities
  • The biopolitics of foodways
  • “Letting die”: the biopolitics of extinction
  • Biopolitics and the ecological paradigm
  • Biopolitics and genocide
  • “Making live”: biopolitics, health, and hygiene
  • Neoliberalism and biopolitics
  • The concept of sovereignty in biopolitical thought
  • Biopolitical histories of race, gender, and sexuality
  • Genetics, epigenetics, and biopolitics
  • “Flesh”: concepts of the body and embodiment in biopoltics
  • Imagining affirmative biopolitical futures
  • These and other topics related to the theme will be welcome. As always, the conference of the Society for Literature, Society, and the Arts is open to wide range of related topics drawn from a broad array of scholarly and creative disciplines and practices that are relevant to the mission of the organization.


For individual paper contributions, submit a 250-word abstract with title. Pre-organized panel submissions, which might include three or four papers per panel, should include an additional paragraph describing the rubric and proposed title of the panel. Roundtables, alternative format panels, and the like are encouraged.

Submit all proposals to

Paper/Panel Proposal Due Date: April 1, 2015

Notification of Acceptance: June 1, 2015

Click here to download the full CFP

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Ethics, Aesthetics, Ecologies: Part I


In November of last year the DePaul Department of Philosophy Department hosted Ted Toadvine, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Environmental Studies at the University of Oregon, who spoke about the politics of biodiversity (“Biodiversity and the Diacritics of Life”). Toadvine argued that the concept of biodiversity is poorly understood by experts as well as the general public; nevertheless, it is consistently wielded as an argument against commercial development, for example. Some of us in the audience were wary of the neoliberal implications of this argument. If biodiversity, like climate change, is considered a hard concept to grasp, does this give the public license to ignore the environmental impacts of unbridled development?

I was personally more interested in Toadvine’s argument that maximum biodiversity is neither ecological desirable or aesthetically pleasing. Invasive species for example contribute to diversity, but are not ecologically desirable. Aesthetically we appreciate diversity, but in a context of harmony and balance. Toadvine offered a clever and memorable example of a table setting; we wouldn’t want every single piece of china and silverware to be different. He also pointed out that biodiversity is linked to our concepts of “nature,” and often stands in for a vague idea of an aesthetically pleasing landscape.

Toadvine also discussed biodiversity in relationship to identity politics. He reminded us that the concept of biodiversity arose with a focus on diversity in socio-cultural contexts, and argued that the value of social diversity undergirds arguments for biodiversity. While I agree that “diversity” as a social concept is doing rhetorical work in this context, I’m more interested in the broader genealogy of diversity as a value. Toadvine mentioned Darwin, for example, but I’m also reminded of Linnaeus and Enlightenment fascination with biological variation.

Toward the end of the talk, Toadvine adopted a sublime mode, making references to the relationship of human beings to much larger scale phenomena, up to and including the cosmos. I noted, then, that I was emotionally swept along, and subsequently reflected on the relationship between affect and aesthetics in this context. In the Q & A, I commented that the aesthetic may warrant greater attention, in environmental philosophy, because of its relationship to affect, and the arguments from neuroscience that affect underlies judgment. In other words, if our ethical decisions are influenced by our (emotional) attitudes, and our emotions are closely tied to our aesthetic responses, then ethics and aesthetics may be lost cousins—contiguous rather than opposing concepts. I assume that they are opposing concepts in some quarters for two reasons: the tendency in our culture to oppose surface qualities (the aesthetic) to deep truths (ethical), and the academy’s devotion to ethics at the seeming expense of aesthetics.

In the mid eighteenth century Edmund Burke articulated a popular set of assumptions that connected aesthetic response with feeling. The sublime was connected with pain, and the beautiful with pleasure. Burke’s A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful built on the psychological theories of his time and particularly the association theories of John Locke. Burke’s work reminds us that aesthetics has occupied philosophers for millennia, and his major arguments “consummate” the relationship between psychology and aesthetics. Though Burke’s argument was not overtly ethical, his interlocutor, Mary Wollstonecraft made the connection between ethics and aesthetics clear. In A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, for example, Wollstonecraft performatively modulated the masculine sublime to her own feminine rights discourse. In the same work Wollstonecraft denounced superficial, feminine beauty and championed intellectual beauty in women. Indeed she redefined beauty in this context.[1]


Circling back to the idea of biodiversity as a proxy for picturesque landscapes, I wonder about the nature of our attachment to the picturesque in nature? Does love follow beauty, or does a judgment of beauty follow attachment to place? Can radically inclusive, neighborly love makes us see landscapes differently and appreciate biodiversity beyond our current, iterated aesthetic conventions? And if our experience of love/beauty became radically inclusive, how would this modulate given aesthetic principles? More in the next installment.

Image Sources:


BBC Radio 4 In Our Time

[1] Skolnik, Christine M. “Wollstonecraft’s Dislocation of the Masculine Sublime: A Vindication.” Rhetorica 21.4 (2003): 205-223. Print.


Filed under Affect and Ecology, Art, economicss, Environmental Ethics, Humanities and Ecology

Notes From the Banks of the Two Yamunas

By Randall Honold

I had the pleasure of spending the first two weeks of December in India, co-directing a study abroad trip with John Shanahan and Michele Morano of our Department of English. We took 13 undergraduates to Delhi and Mumbai, plus the obligatory day trip to Agra to see the Taj Mahal.

It was John’s and Michele’s first visit to the country; my sixth and third with students. Our aim was to plunk students down into places undergoing rapid ecological (in the expansive sense) change and practice paying attention to what’s happening there. It wasn’t about “understanding” India as much as being among some of its dimensions and letting them press upon us. Every place has a fractal quality, inexhaustible with complexity and the ability to overwhelm, but megacities make this truth obvious. We were overstimulated almost every day and it’s an understatement to say we were tired when we got home!

While being bored in India would take some effort, I nevertheless do something brand new every time I’m there. Wangling reasonably compliant co-travelers adds to the adventure. So, given the environmental interests of many in our crew, we arranged to get an up-close look at the Yamuna River, which flows from the lower Himalayas, bisects Delhi, and comprises the main tributary of the Ganges. The Yamuna plays important roles in Indian mythology, literature, religion, history, and now in the political ecology of the region. Overwhelmed and underfunded, sewage processing facilities fail to keep up with the output of 20 million (give or take a Chicago) human bodies, resulting in the continual flow of untreated or insufficiently treated effluent into the river via ten sources. A small contribution to the pollution stems from human cremation. The Nigambodh Ghat, where Hindus have been ritually burning their dead for 3000 years, has gas-powered crematoria, but devout (and affluent) families prefer a sandalwood pyre, the remains of which are placed into the waters. We spent some time in solemn observation of the preparation of one pyre and politely declined the offer of a boatsman to take us on an excursion. Here the river has an inky blue sheen and a complex aroma with top notes of rot, ash, and shit. What parts of the shore that aren’t cemented over are muddy with a few scrubby plants along the barriers. The only nonhuman life in sight are scavenging gulls. The Yamuna, here, is by any definition, not a river. It has no oxygen. It supports no life.


What a contrast we found only a few kilometers north, on the other side of the dam at Wazirabad! There the river was still just that – glistening and rippling and sustaining a robust marsh ecosystem. In our brief time at this spot we saw multiple species of shore birds, fishers in the distance evidently having some luck, and a family setting out a picnic spread.

yamuna north

Efforts to clean up the Yamuna are ongoing. The tales we heard of impediments to river conservation were familiar: not enough funding, politicians breaking promises, increasing shoreline development, volatile chemical dumping, and general public ignorance. While we didn’t head back to our lodgings at the end of the day overly optimistic about the future of the Yamuna, we nevertheless shared a kind of grim realism that the scale of work it will take to bring back and sustain the health of this focal place and so many more like it is necessary and possible. May the two Yamunas become one again.

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It’s the Indifferent Universe That Brings Us Together

by Rick Elmore


There is a deep affinity between what is called Speculative Realism (SR) and pessimism, insofar as both of these philosophical approaches understand the universe as, on a fundamental level, indifferent to human existence. This affinity is most clearly marked in the work of Ray Brassier, for whom the realist commitment to a world independent of human thought leads necessarily to the nihilist conviction that the world is “indifferent to our existence and oblivious to the ‘values’ and ‘meanings’ which we would drape over it in order to make it more hospitable” (Brassier 2007, xi). From this perspective, realism undermines all that might make humans feel at home in the universe. This basic undermining of the human is, of course, an essential tenet of pessimism. As Eugene Thacker writes, echoing Brassier, pessimism “is the difficult thought of the world as absolutely unhuman, and indifferent to the hopes, desires, and struggles of human individuals and groups” (Thacker 2011, 17). From Schopenhauer to Ligotti, pessimism rests on the assertion that “while there may be some order to the self and the cosmos […] it is an order that is absolutely indifferent to our [human] existence” (Thacker 2011, 18). Hence, there is a basic sense in which realism and pessimism agree that, for humans, the universe is not all smiles and noodle salad. We may need the universe, but it certainly does not need us, and this non-reciprocal relation challenges the privilege we’ve so often accorded ourselves. This basic commitment to an indifferent universe is not, however, merely a tenet of pessimism or Brassier’s realist nihilism, but is an implicit assertion of all anti-correlationist realisms, I think.

There have been a number of posts on this site illustrating the way in which SR encompasses an array of philosophical realisms and materialisms (and it is a term that, for various reasons, I think we should move away from). However, what all these positions generally have in common is a resistance to what Quentin Meillassoux calls correlationism: the belief that the human-world correlate forms the central element of philosophical investigation (Bryant, Srnicek, Harman 2011, 3). For thinkers such as these (and here I am thinking of Graham Harman, Levi Bryant, Timothy Morton, Iain Hamilton Grant, Jane Bennett, but also, as Katerina Kolozova shows in her recent article, “Thinking the Political By Way of ‘Radical Concepts’,” Quentin Meillassoux and François Laruelle, among others) any serious realism rejects the assumed importance of human thought to the constitution of the universe. In their own way, each of these thinkers asserts an indifference of the universe to human existence, that is, they assert a basic pessimism. Now obviously there is much to argue for here, as one would need to show that “indifference” is the fundamental basis of pessimism, and that each of these thinkers, in their quite different philosophical systems, articulates a basic indifference. However, it seems right to me that there is a parallel between the realist assertion of a world independent of the human mind and the pessimist contention of a fundamentally indifferent universe, and that this parallel suggests that realism (understood as an anti-correlationism) necessarily entails a certain pessimism. I think this connection between pessimism and realism helps to clarify the growing interest among realists in the question of horror and the work of H.P. Lovecraft, in particular. However, it also suggests a connection between realism, pessimism, and environmental philosophy, insofar as the critique of anthropocentrism entails a significant displacement of the importance of the human as well.

The critique of anthropocentrism is a commonplace of environmental thought. From Aldo Leopold and Rachel Carson to Val Plumwood and Warwick Fox, there has been a recognition that the overprivileging of the human or of certain human capacities contributes to the instrumental, exploitative, and destructive relationship between modern culture and the natural world. From this perspective, it is difficult to imagine a serious environmental philosophy that would not question the place of the human. Yet despite this thoroughgoing critique of anthropocentrism, few environmental thinkers go as far as arguing that the universe is fundamentally indifferent to human existence. (I’m indebted to my friend and one of my favorite environmental philosophers, Keith Peterson for this insight. He’s good stuff, and you should all be reading his work). There are naturally exceptions to this rule, mostly in the tradition of deep ecology. For example, the Australian philosopher, William Grey articulates what he calls a “cosmic anthropocentrism,” the belief that “[t]he intellectual history of the past few centuries can be characterized as pedestal bashing: a succession of successful demolitions of comforting myths through which we have sought to locate ourselves in the world” (Grey 1993, 463). For Grey, modern scientific and social scientific thought develops through a continuous challenge to the place and importance of the human, from the Copernican undermining of the centrality of humans in the universe and the Darwinian displacement of humanity’s biological privilege to Freud’s contestation of the human as uniquely rational, Grey sees the intellectual history of the West, much like Brassier, as an unseating of the supposed importance of the human. It is this unseating that marks an affinity between realism, pessimism, and environmental thought. What I find interesting about this affinity is that it raises the question of whether a thoroughgoing critique of anthropocentrism requires that we accept the ontological and metaphysical claim that the universe is indifferent to human existence?   Put differently, is a certain pessimism requisite of environmental thought or requisite for any robust critique of anthropocentrism? And if it is, how might this connection suggest a realism in environmental thought that goes deeper than the dominant, scientific realism? (This is a question already at play in Tim Morton’s work). In short, I wonder how deep our critique of the human needs to go in environmental philosophy, and in what way realism and pessimism help us to think this critique? And, conversely, are realism and pessimism forms of environmental thinking, forms that could be assisted by a more explicit “ecological” focus?

Image Source: Biospheric Communionism <;


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Does Carbon + Humans x (Progress)10 = Suicide Narcissus?


by Jeff Tangel

(A version of this article was previously published on the author’s website The Tecumseh Project.)

There’s been a raft of news stories and reports about climate change lately, re-sounding alarms once silenced. Maybe the emerging cacophony will be enough to get us to cut carbon emissions and begin building rafts that will float us over the onrushing wave of consequences we’ve so long denied. I’m not optimistic.

My best argument for anthropogenic climate change has always been a simple observation: in what amounts to a geologic eye-blink in time, humans have reshuffled the nature-deck by transferring billions of tons of carbon from beneath the earth’s surface to the rest of the ecosphere. I would explain to naysayers that this switch-about is tantamount to tearing the carpet off your floor and putting it on the ceiling and claiming the room is no different—even that it looks great.  Or worse: that it’s supposed to be that way. Try making that work on popular remodeling show “Love It or List It.” Well, this usually gets people to think, but I’m unaware that such a cogent analogy has created any new climate activists.

It may be a problem of epistemology, compounded by a particular notion of progress, both held so dear by most of us in the so-called developed world. That is, our most fundamental understanding of the world revolves almost solely around ourselves, with that self-absorption informing all our actions. Thus, whatever we humans do well is generally considered a good—and in the main what we do is aim at “progress” through wealth creation and consumption. Even though most of that wealth goes to the very few, nearly all of us believe the progress paradigm is natural; for the most part we can’t imagine anything else. And Nature itself is little more than a resource for accumulating wealth, or providing a temporary recuperative respite from the exhausting pursuit of that progress.   Such myopic hubris is fraught with problems, as any parent of a teenager can tell you.

The story of Narcissus is an apt description of our collective behavior.[i] If this has put you off, please hold your fire. I don’t think most of us want to behave this way, and would behave quite differently if we could. Narcissism is a pejorative term because it violates our values.

I’ve recently re-read the Seattle Times article, Sea Change: The Pacific’s Perilous Turn (Sep. 11, 2013) [ii], an investigation of the increasing acidification of the ocean (spoiler alert: it’s worse than we think). The article highlights the work of two scientists at James Cook University in Australia who conducted an experiment with those cute little clown fish you may have seen (darting here and there, in and out of reef flora) on any number of aquatic nature shows.  They’re naturally shy little critters, inclined to hide from predators, and this helps keep them alive.

In order to examine the effects of a more carbonized ocean, the researchers increased the amount of carbon in a tank and watched for any change in these darling little creatures’ behavior.  And boy did they find a big one.  These normally reclusive cuties became disoriented, and swam about insouciantly, right at predators. It’s as if they had smoked a joint in a foxhole and wandered onto a battlefield waving cheerfully, “Dude, what’s up?” (True story, from my neighbor, Vietnam, ca 1969:  stoned while on guard duty in a perimeter foxhole, and struck by the beauty of reconnaissance flares, he stood up to get a better look and got shot in the buttocks—Purple Heart and home).

So I thought: Might we all be in a tank with excess carbon—stoned as it were, on CO2?  We have been breathing the odorless and colorless gas for some time now—increasingly so, exponentially so, since the onset of the Industrial Revolution. How could we know?  As the saying goes, you can’t ask a fish about water. Maybe carbon anesthetizes us—or maybe it anesthetizes us and makes us want more carbon.  One way to look at “progress” is that ever since the Industrial Revolution we can’t seem to get enough of the stuff—we need and want more and more.  That’s what economic growth is. Hmmm . . . if we are marching headlong to a precipice, then maybe it’s because this carbon has gone to our heads.  It’s a positive feedback loop, just like the melting polar ice caps and thawing tundra!  Our consumption relies on carbon, either directly, or imbedded in products that we buy constantly and dispose of, constantly, to buy some more.  In a way we’re carbon junkies. And more: perhaps our progress paradigm is not a reasoned path with innate merit, but instead a form of disabling intoxication. Maybe we’re addicted to admiring ourselves in the mirror because we have become cognitively impaired.

In the same way we can’t ask a fish about water, we can’t ask Narcissus about his brother, sister, the fish in the pond, the birds in the trees and so on.  We certainly can’t ask him what’s on the other side of the pond—or about tomorrow.  He’s stoned, and not just a little.  (Like, totally, man.)  He’s glued to the program and takes no notice.  He’ll do the hokey-pokey and the chicken-dance all around the foxhole if need be, just as long as he can keep watching himself, the star of the show. Pass the Doritos. [iii]

A cursory review of the science suggests an interesting hypothesis. CO2 acidifies the blood, just like the oceans, a condition called acidosis, which is a poisoning marked by rapid breathing, cardiac arrhythmia and impaired consciousness or confusion, all of which sound to me like an agitated state of inebriation.   At high levels CO2 is an asphyxiant, ultimately leading to shock, which is the body shutting itself down. And interestingly, this is a life-threatening problem because there is a positive feedback mechanism. When shock sets in it increases in severity—towards death—unless treated. [iv]

Holy tomatoes.  Doesn’t everyone feel like their heart is racing a bit, our breathing more rapid as we try to make our way nowadays?  Life has become so complicated. This is progress? And aren’t most of us in a mild state of shock, a bit dizzy, unable to come to grips with war, poverty, inequality, joblessness, ecological demise, and any number of other stressors that we come in contact with everyday?

Are we so carbon poisoned, figuratively and perhaps literally, that we can’t see what we’re doing?  Are we now in a stew-pot of our own making such that we can’t reason, feel, or respond sensibly, and so swim like anesthetized clown fish towards our own demise? [v] Could this be why the issues of climate change and ecological collapse can’t gain any real traction? Are we so drunk on carbon that we will follow this notion of progress anywhere—especially if it feeds the obsessions of the wealthy and leaves us all heart racing and anxious?

Recent research by Paul Piff and others at UC Berkeley[vi] concluded that the wealthy are generally more narcissistic than people of lesser means. So maybe they are just more susceptible to the effects of carbon—that is, more inclined towards addiction—than normal people. Aren’t we all emulating them to some degree, though? And aren’t there other, better progress paradigms? Most of us, and Nature, surely deserve something better. Why don’t we talk about that?

In the meantime, maybe, we should get scientists on the neuro-carbon-case, toute de suite.  Most of us don’t want to be like Narcissus and these positive feedback loops are a wicked problem.  Carbon—the exhaust from progress and wealth creation—may be the wind beneath our Icarus wings.

[i] The term “Suicide Narcissus” (in the title) comes from an art show at The Renaissance Society, Hyde Park Chicago held in 2013.

[ii] Sea Change: The Pacific’s Perilous Turn: <> (Well worth reading.)

[iii] (I’m really being unfair to marijuana smokers here—some of whom are my friends—and for the record, they stay away from most chemistry projects by Frito Lay, et al.  And they don’t watch much TV.  Their herb-use often enables a certain perspicacity not frequently found in common culture.  And, well, that’s the point, man.  So here I offer a second hypothesis: add to the litany of medical marijuana uses that it may well be an antidote to CO2).

[iv] See: National Center for Biotechnology Information, part of NIH <> and
Medline Plus, Nat Library of Medicine, NIH. <>

[v] Thanks Bill Jordan for “anesthetized clownfish,” very funny…

[vi] See:!press/c1n0f for links to writings. And this PBS Newshour segment: (9 min.)

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