Animation: Annihilation, Utopia, and Climate Change

Video by The Atlantic

JV Animation

 

“I’m not a fan of fiction that’s totally hopeless,” says Jeff VanderMeer, author of Annihilation, in an interview with The Atlantic, animated in the video above. “You find ways of documenting the world as it is, [with its] beauty, and you wind up redefining utopia and dystopia.” VanderMeer goes on to explain how, in writing fiction about climate change and environmental crises, he hopes to “push us out of our complacency.”

“We can’t live the way we live now,” he says, “but there are ways in which we can live in a useful and interesting and comforting and satisfying way within what’s happening.”

Author: Caitlin Cadieux

See video here.

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Beasts at Bedtime in Chicago Review of Books

‘Beasts at Bedtime’ Explores Environmental Themes in Children’s Lit

Liam Heneghan’s Beasts at Bedtime: Revealing the Environmental Wisdom in Children’s Literature conjures a world of natural magic and wonder. Animals are more than animals, trees are more than trees, the moon and the stars draw close, and they are all mysteriously intertwined.

This marvelous book is an introduction to environmental themes in children’s literature as well as a model of literary criticism accessible to a broad audience—because it must be. Such work must be accessible, because environmental issues are so critical and the need for increased environmental literacy so urgent. The genius of the work, however, is Heneghan’s ability to speak from a wide variety of experiences and perspectives with one exceptionally lively, congenial, and coherent voice. On the surface we encounter a scientist, teacher, and father; but in the depths we see flashes of a child, animal, and sprite.

Read more here.

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Scott Pruitt: Unfathomable Transgressions

Reporter On New Email Dump That Reveals Secret Inner Workings Of The EPA

May 9, 20182:05 PM ET
Heard on Fresh Air


New York Times
reporter Eric Lipton says the response to a recent FOIA request shows that Scott Pruitt and his staff have gone to great lengths to keep the public and the news media at a distance.

[Selected quotes]

ERIC LIPTON: One after another, Scott Pruitt has gone after the Obama-era regulations intended to clean the nation’s air and water and to limit the pace of climate change, and he’s been eliminating them – at least, attempting to. And so for Trump, you know, it’s hard to think about getting rid of a guy who is really executing on your strategy perhaps more effectively than any other member of the Cabinet.

[ . . . ]

LIPTON: Well, for example, he was going in August to Nevada, Iowa, to meet with a cattle rancher and to talk about his intention to roll back a Obama-era program that’s supposed to protect drinking water supplies. It’s called Waters of the U.S. And so Pruitt is in the process of repealing that regulation, and farmers did not like it because it was going to restrict their ability to work some of their land, potentially. So he went to this place where the cattle ranches worked. And it was supposed to be what they call invite-only press, which means you pick certain reporters who you know are friendly, you invite them and you don’t tell anyone else.

[ . . . ]

LIPTON: I actually have in front of me here a copy of his agenda from that trip, which was June 8 through June 10 of 2017. And we just got this full agenda last week through the Freedom of Information Act. And so what it shows you when you look at it is that while he spent just on the airfare alone $16,000 – and The Washington Post has added up numbers. I haven’t actually done this myself – to say that they think that the trip costs about $100,000. But what the agenda shows you is that most of the time that he was in Italy on the ground, he was actually sightseeing. He visited the Vatican Library. He visited the palace for a whole afternoon. Another part of the – he went to an underground area in the Vatican, which is very hard to get a tour of. He had dinner at La Terrazza – at a restaurant at the Hotel Eden, which is one of the most expensive restaurants in Rome. He had dinner at another restaurant called Al Ceppo.

He had that dinner with Leonard Leo who is the head of the Federalist Society, which is a group that’s working with other anti-regulatory groups to try to get reductions in Obama-era regulations and get judges appointed to federal courts. He had dinner there at Al Ceppo with Leonard Leo, and Leonard Leo paid for that dinner. And only after The New York Times asked about whether or not Leonard Leo paid for that dinner – because we’d heard that he had – did the agency tell us that Pruitt had reimbursed Leonard Leo for that dinner. And so, I mean, again, what the agenda tells us from that trip is that most of the time, he was sightseeing. And then among the meetings he actually had – as I literally sit here and page through it – was one meeting that he had is – he met with a bunch of executives from major United States chemical companies, like Chemours and DuPont and 3M. But these are the Italian executives of their affiliates in Italy. He had a roundtable with business leaders on environmental innovation at the Embassy of the United States in Rome. And then he also met with the charge d’affaires at the Embassy of the United States, and he met with some officials from the Vatican. But for the most part, he was sightseeing.

[ . . . ]

LIPTON: I was writing about state attorneys general and what I perceived as their conflicts of interest as they were taking millions of dollars in contributions from companies that they were investigating – pharmaceutical companies, auto companies and, you know, across the board, food companies. And as I began to investigate the state attorneys general – because at the time, I was writing about lobbying out of Washington – and I saw that the – that corporations were beginning to lobby attorneys general more. I saw that there were a great number of energy companies that were contributing a lot of money as well. And when I began to investigate which attorneys general they were most focused on, I found Scott Pruitt. And it was just a matter of me sort of saying, well, who’s the guy who they go to the most to challenge the Obama regulatory rule?

So what Devon Energy, for example – which was an Oklahoma City-based oil and gas company – was doing, it was turning to Scott Pruitt to try to challenge Obama’s rules. And they would hand Scott Pruitt drafts of letters that they wanted him to send to Lisa Jackson at the EPA or to the Department of Interior or even to President Obama. And Scott Pruitt took those letters and essentially put them on the Oklahoma attorney general stationery, signed them and sent them in.

And he was – had become, you know, essentially a lobbyist on behalf of the oil and gas companies in Oklahoma at the same time as he was the top law enforcement official. And he was the head of the Republican Attorneys General Association and collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars from these same companies to help get other Republicans elected as attorneys general. So that was a story that I wrote in 2014, and that’s when I first met Scott Pruitt.

Superb reporting, thanks to Eric Lipton of The New York Times and the Sierra Club.  Read transcript of interview here.

 

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This World is Full of Monsters

This World copy

Cover image by Armando Veve

Jeff VanderMeer’s corpus renders the conceit “science fiction that rises to the level of literature” obsolete if not absurd.  His work is obviously literary.  His vision is original and far-ranging, and his writing, masterful and perennially astonishing.  However, one really must read a varied selection of his stories and novels to understand the sheer force of his imagination.  Though I’ve been reading and following his work only since he published the Southern Reach Trilogy, I’ve also been immensely rewarded by delving backward into his beautiful, utterly convincing, and hypnotic Ambergris trilogy.  And still, I am stunned by the imaginative range of work that VanderMeer publishes in one calendar year.

Last year, for example, VanderMeer published This World is Full of Monsters, a long and elaborate story or “novelette” about alien invasion and planetary transformation.  The story is a kind of successor to Area X, as well as a new kind of Area X in its generic and stylistic transgressions.  Much more than an extension of previous work, This World is a kind of Fibonacci series of iterations, as if every turn in VanderMeer’s imagination was followed by another, which occurred on a higher level because his psyche was somehow expanding in an organic though not quite natural manner.  I begin with a pedantic summary, but only because I think it might be of use to future readers and commentators.

At the beginning of This World, a creature disguised as a story enters the home of the narrator.  It cuddles up to him but then invades his body and psyche.  In the first part of his transformation the narrator becomes a plant creature, part human and part tree.  The story-creature plants him in the earth, and the narrator falls asleep for a hundred years.  He wakes to a transformed and utterly ruined landscape, finds his way back to his old street, and lives in the exposed, flood-damaged foundation of his former home.  There he meets his doppelgänger and learns that the “other” had taken his place and lived with his family while the narrator was asleep.  His “brother” is a monster, from which the narrator cannot extricate himself, but he eventually withers away so that the narrator can live.

Lonely, and utterly disoriented in an unrecognizable, hostile landscape, the narrator wanders aimlessly trying to decide, in an existentialist mode, when and how to end his life.  He then enters a slightly more coherent environment.  It’s wildly surrealistic and troublesome but somehow aesthetically whole.  Eventually, the hero realizes he is inside a kind of leviathan, or giant worm, where he is being schooled against his will.  What initially appears as a landscape through which the narrator moves and suffers, is actually the interior of a giant beast, sampling and digesting him in a sense.  He manages to escape, but is nearly drowned when the beast, pursuing him, falls into a lake and creates a great wave.  The narrator holds onto a single-celled creature as a life raft, but kills the creature when they reach the shore, as it becomes apparent the cell is trying to consume him.

Exit Eden

Exit Eden No. 14 by Doug Fogelson

At what seems like a turning point in the narrative, the hero settles into a kind of temporary home, the dead shell of a turtle-like creature, and crosses the lake, very slowly because of a “glacial” current, resolved to die when he reaches the other side.  However, Dead-Shell grows a mouth and begins to speak, once again transforming the narrator.   His interior flows up and out of him and hardens into a golden “honeycomb” exoskeleton.  Now, part insect, part marine creature with fins, and part astronaut with a large glassy eye like the helmet of a space suit, he begins to accept his transformation.  (I won’t say what happens at the very end.)

Though I would not dare to assert the purpose or meaning of the story, partly because I believe it has no conventional purpose or meaning, I will mention some obvious thematic threads.  This is clearly a story about an invasion, though like the Southern Reach Trilogy invasion may be a response to gross human transgressions.  If Annihilation was prompted by the Deepwater Horizon disaster, as VanderMeer has suggested, the ocean expelling humans in This World would seem to follow suit.

The narrative is also obviously about radical transformation.  By radical I mean not only that humans and other creatures are transformed, as organisms, but that there is a violation of almost every biological category.  Humans become plants, rocks become beasts, landscapes  and bodies of water are sentient creatures, and everything merges, or attempts to merge with everything else.  VanderMeer has mentioned that the story is influenced by weird biology.  This World seems not only an expression of natural weirdness, but the inability of human beings to understand and appreciate what already exists on the planet, including radical and pervasive symbiosis, because of the limitations of our analytic schemes.

Entangled

Entangled, by Joshua Mason

There is also a strong theme, throughout, of stories having autonomous existence.  The “story” line is, perhaps, the most provocative and important creative and philosophical thread.  The topic is so pervasive and the story so insistent on the ontological status of stories, it seems the reader is being provoked to consider the concept at face value.  It is generally known that VanderMeer has been thinking about story telling in the Anthropocene.  And while Humanities and Social Science scholars constantly assert that culture influences nature, they are less likely to consider stories as nature—that stories are not only tools but creatures, with some kind of unique ontological status.

VanderMeer has also suggested the post human as a descriptor for This World, and while the story certainly resonates with Borne and the Borne story, Strange Bird, VanderMeer’s work here is even more radical than that critically-acclaimed biotech fantasy.  While biotech as we imagine it might be regulated and contained, at least for a time, the biotech of story-telling in an age of information warfare and renewed American culture of lies is far more of a threat.  Genetically engineered insects and self-aware robots may become another downfall, but the world is already under siege if not defeated by malignant stories.

Echoing Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhhood’s End, VanderMeer’s surrealistic, apocalyptic narrative plays with biblical themes and ends in ecstatic release.  The ending may be poetic justice for a race ill equipped to survive on a planet demanding certain types of restraint, or a conclusion so mythic it must be followed by a new beginning.  In either case, this is a narrative about beginnings and ends capable of transforming our existing stories about beginnings and ends.

As an experimental work of fiction, This World of Monsters is a resounding success.  It’s wildly imaginative, philosophical provocative, and plays authoritatively and productively with literary themes, forms, styles, and voices throughout.  Though I consider it a significant literary work, I’m not certain that it must be read as literature.  I imagine it can be appreciated by those who understand science fiction as a categorically experimental genre.  It may be that This World is less likely to be appreciated by readers who bring preconceptions about VanderMeer’s work, what counts as a story, or even what counts as literature, to this remarkable oeuvre.  This is a story about stories, and about the transformative power of stories, that strives to transform everything we know about them.  And to the extent that it suggests the world is full of monsters posing as stories, it may strive to transform everything we know about the world.

Circling back to literature, This World is Full of Monsters is teeming with allusions to epic poetry, scripture, and surrealism in various media and historical moments.  Ultimately, VanderMeer’s genius here reminds me of Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights.  It cannot be accounted for by the artist’s time, place, or culture.  It’s a kind of weird, living organism we didn’t know existed.  A work this audacious and ambitious is more than a story, or story about stories.  It’s a new world colliding with the old.

Hieronymus_Bosch_-_The_Garden_of_Earthly_Delights_-_The_exterior_(shutters)

The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch. Exterior (shutters).

 

Read This World is Full of Monsters at Tor.com.

Image Sources:
Armando Veve, Doug Fogelson, Joshua Mason, Bosch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Create/Engage, Inspire/Provoke, Think/Change

 

 

The DePaul University Institute for Nature and Culture is excited to invite you to a panel discussion with four activists/artists/ecologists who are engaged in crucial struggles for our planetary future and provide models of hope in these arduous times.

Tuesday May 15th 2018, 7 – 9 pm
DePaul University, McGowan South,
1110 W Belden Ave, Chicago, IL 60614 (Room TBA)

 

Taylor Brorby is an essayist, poet, and memoirist whose work centers on hydraulic fracking and climate change in western North Dakota.

Lucas Foglia’s photographs challenge the concept that humans and nature operate in opposition, while simultaneously highlighting the relentlessly uneasy, absurdly comedic integrations of our technologies in the natural world.*

Shannon Heffernan is a reporter with WBEZ. She has covered environmental news and criminal justice issues. She also reports on poverty, labor, and climate change.

Nat Mengist cultivates equitable, land-conscious partnerships through training in garden education, nonprofit leadership, and post-humanities scholarship.

Sponsored by the DePaul Institute for Nature and Culture.

Contact: rhonold@depaul.edu

*Foglia’s third book, Human Nature, was just published by Nazraeli Press. His next solo exhibition opens July 19 at the Museum of Contemporary Photography in Chicago. (Images beneath title by Lucas Foglia.)

 

 

 

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by | May 3, 2018 · 14:07

Entangled

By Joshua Mason at Fieldwork Studios and Not So Solid Earth

 

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Filed under Animals, Art, Jeff VanderMeer, photography

How cities are driving animal evolution

Reposted from WHYY

 

Guest: Menno Schilthuizen

Our fast-paced crowded cities aren’t just impacting our lives, they are shaping animal evolution, even accelerating it. To survive the noise, smog, traffic, light and heat of our urban jungles, wildlife has had to quickly adapt. In his new book, Darwin Comes to Town, evolutionary biologist MENNO SCHILTHUIZEN explains how cities are driving natural selection in animals all around the world, including in mosquitoes in London, spiders in Vienna, and mice in New York.

Thanks again and always to Dirk Felleman at Synthetic Zero

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Filed under Animals, Urban Ecology