The Burning World

Now comes JG Ballard with a passage from a novel that was initially published in 1964 as The Burning World, then revised and expanded the following year into The Drought. We suspect that if Ballard were around this summer, he might consider reverting back to the first title.

The below excerpt, with images added by DP, might well have been written yesterday, given recent scientific research that confirms the relationship between an ocean saturated with plastic and the acceleration of greenhouse gas emissions.














Before and After

This week, as we continue our summer meditations on the splats and spasms of human supremacism, we simply relay information regarding a laudable exhibition assembled by curator Randy Jayne Rosenberg. Titled Ethics, Excess, Extinction, the exhibition took “meat space” within the El Paso Museum of Art until this past May, yet is still available for online perusal via Artworks For Change, for whom Ms. Rosenberg serves as executive director.

Rosenberg’s curatorial statement is excerpted below, with two pinged images from the contributions of Gale Hart.










Dreams of the Scourge

During a strange New England summer of extreme heat waves, monsoon rains and an unnerving paucity of flying insects and pollinators, it is difficult to avoid slipping into the dark selfie-swamp of radical dystopia, the one where we (homo sapiens) disappear from the universe; thus we turn to an illuminating excerpt from an essay by China Miéville, exploring the interplay between apocalypse and utopia.

The images are pinged from the studio of Ruth Ewan, selections from a series of nineteen woodblock prints titled Unrecorded Future, Tell Us What Broods There.







Miéville adds texture to the debris rotting beneath the Angel of History in an excellent interview that appeared earlier this year in the pages of the Boston Review:




And finally, from the hand of Paul Klee, and with a nod to Walter Benjamin:

Paul Klee: <i>Angelus Novus</i>, 1920




Let the Daydreams Grow

As much of the world continues to boil and burn in a La Niña heat wave, we stay with the theme of how literature responds to climate change. A DP correspondent steered us to Amy Brady’s consistently engaging Burning Worlds column in the Chicago Review of Books, and in particular to her interview with poet Megan Hunter regarding her first novel, The End We Start From.

Hunter’s replies to Brady are excerpted below, followed by a passage from Ernst Bloch and an image from the studio of Antii Laitinen.


On making dystopia personal:


On floods at the beginning and at the end:


On finding the scraps of hope:



From Ernst Bloch’s introduction to The Principle of Hope:


And finally, a drowned selfie:



Agency of the Nonhuman

Staying within the pages of the Los Angeles Review of Books, and within the theme of how art responds to the Sixth Extinction, consider the following thoughts from novelist Amitav Ghosh. Images are from the studio of Nathalie Miebach, with a project titled The Floods.











Nathalie Miebach writes:

My work focuses on the intersection of art and science and the visual articulation of scientific observations.  Using the methodologies and processes of both disciplines, I translate scientific data related to astronomy, ecology and meteorology woven sculptures. My method of translation is principally that of weaving – in particular basket weaving – as it provides me with a simple yet highly effective grid through which to interpret data in three-dimensional space. 

By staying true to the numbers, these woven pieces tread an uneasy divide between functioning both as sculptures in space as well as instruments that could be used in the actual environment from which the data originates.


Hold Still and See

Every now and then, we come across web-embedded voices that elicit audible shouts of affirmation throughout DP’s vast editorial complex. Such was our reaction upon reading a recent dialogue in the Los Angeles Review of Books between Everett Hamner and Richard Powers, roaming deep forests of ideas in the vicinity of Powers’ recently published novel, The Overstory.

We highly recommend consideration of the entire exchange; a few brief excerpts below. Images are from the studio of Lora Fosberg, whose work we also highly recommend.

Now comes Richard Powers, on the role of literature (and the moral responsibility of fiction writers) in the time of the Sixth Extinction:











On the actions of a “proudly suicidal” (!) administration:









Sanctity and Revenge

Slightly over a week ago, the White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, asked to justify the unconscionable separation of immigrant children from their mothers, stated that “it is Biblical to enforce the law.” With her words fresh in mind, we turn this week to philosopher Catherine Malabou, with excerpts from a recent essay titled Repetition, Revenge, Plasticity.

Images are from Gerhard Richter, three paintings completed in 1988, each one titled Tote (Dead).











Regarding the three Totes, we find the following explication on the Richter website:

The three paintings are based on photographs depicting the terrorist Ulrike Meinhof, a founding member of the Red Army Faction, that were taken after her suicide in prison in Stuttgart-Stammheim on 9th May 1976. The images were published in the magazine stern on 16th June 1976 and show close-ups of the head and upper body of a lying woman, whose eyes and mouth are partially open. Her dark hair is almost undistinguishable against the dark background whereas the bright clothes and pale skin of her face brightly stand out. Her somewhat overstretched neck reveals a dark deep line left by the noose.  

The three works show an almost identical image segment with only the angle and the proportions varied slightly in each painting. Besides their format, the three images also vary in their painterly execution. While the facial features of Ulrike Meinhof are relatively clear in the first version of Dead, they are blurred almost unrecognizably in the last painting, with bright and dark shades merging, contrasts paling and the overall black background fading to a uniform dark grey. Moreover, the position of the head seems to be slightly altered in each version. While the first painting is guided clearly by the original photograph, the second version shows the head with a slightly raised chin and the eyes almost completely closed which is carried forward even further in the third work. Because of the increasing blurring and the changing position of the head, Ulrike Meinhof seems to be removed further and further from reality with every painting, her mouth and eyes seem to close slowly. In death, she is withdrawn from the gaze of the public, the terrorist is given back a part of her human dignity that was taken from her by exhibiting her dead body in mass media. At the same time the dramatic effect is increased by the multiplication of the subject and the increasing blurring of details that seem like a cinematic fading out. The dead body seems to sink into the surrounding, impenetrable grey.

The three likenesses appear like a search for an appropriate way of representation, carefully and gradually approaching death. The distinct close-ups set the paintings apart from other depictions of dead RAF members in the cycle and create a certain intimacy that affiliates the work with Youth Portrait [CR: 672-1][7]. Furthermore, Meinhof’s apparent isolation and loneliness are underlined by focusing solely on her face and upper body. In regard to iconography, the body lying parallel to the image plane is evocative of representations on predellas and hence creates a connection to a traditional European iconography of death. This prevents the paintings from being seen as ideological images or to turn into icons of martyrs. Instead, the works pose the question as to the why of the events. As no other painting in the cycle the painting speaks of sadness, and “[…] sorrow, […] sorrow for the people who died so young and so crazy, for nothing.”


America Embodied

An article in The Intercept directed our attention to an extraordinary series of documentary photographs by artist-attorney Debi Cornwall, published in a book titled Welcome To Camp America. Among her images, we visit the “stage sets” of Guantanamo Bay within the vast security theatre of the surveillance state.

The images are freely viewable here, documenting a lounge chair in a room wired for visual media, rewards for compliant detainees; a prayer rug, with an arrow on the floor indicating the direction of Mecca; a sales display stocked with cigarettes, titled “Military Privileges (Kools)”; and a plastic toy floating in an empty swimming pool.

The projected play of normal life obfuscates the severely damaged or destroyed biographies at the heart of the state of exception, a fictionalized distortion that psychologist Robert Jay Lifton has characterized as “malignant normality”.

Towards the end of an interview published elsewhere, Ms. Cornwall  poses the question:

For the six and one half years of DP, we have proposed the latter.


Elsewhere in the semiotic swamp of malignant normality, for those who have not yet viewed the bizarre “trailer” for the Trump/Kim “Summit Movie”, we urge consideration here:




Carbon Ideologies

Now comes the remarkable writer William T. Vollman with an excerpt from No Immediate Danger, the first volume in a series that will explore the many delusional stories we conjure to justify our unwillingness to change behavior — except in the most trivial ways — while in the midst of the anthropogenic sixth extinction. His title refers to the narrative superimposed by Japanese government and corporate reality spinners in the aftermath of Fukishima.

Images are from the studio of artist and ocean advocate Courtney Mattison.









Sometimes Lies Are Prettier

A few weeks ago, a report by the Pelagos Cetacean Research Institute in Athens was released, with the conclusion that most of the endangered sperm whales that have been found dead in the eastern Mediterranean since 2001 have experienced slow and painful deaths as a result of their stomachs becoming clotted by indigestible globs of plastic, often in the shape of bags.

Yesterday, the Guardian reported that a pilot whale died in southern Thailand after ingesting eighty plastic bags. A marine biologist who assisted in the autopsy commented: “If you have 80 plastic bags in your stomach, you die.” The sentence would also be true with the pronoun “we”.

Now comes Timothy Morton, with a few paragraphs from his Being Ecological. Images are from Tavares Strachan, whose work is included in an exhibition at Storm King, and from whom we also borrow our title.











Longtime DP readers are familiar with the name Gunther Anders, and his concept of inverted utopia, where we are able to imagine endless technologies that, in the end, suggest a world without us. We offer our slight amendment: the world will be without an abundance of other sentient creatures as well, those that we will have erased along the path of ecocidal utopian inversion.