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Cara Benson (ed.)
Anna Elena Eyre
ChainLinks, 2009 ISBN: 978–1-930068–45-2
We’re shocked static. Each headline outdoes the last. The more acts try to stand for the reasoning of headline, the more they are revealed to be bizarrely explicable because of inexplicable reasoning. The global economic and climate crisis present conditions that must be grappled with to secure a future that is not apocalyptic. Clearly there’s the possibility of a brink brought into focus wherein we must turn for the good, but how do we observe the unrecognizable or that which resists observation — the observer effect? What informed guesses could be made based on event remnants or present circumstances? Can we intuit an after before it is in affect or an effect? Who better to work with the malleability of a future than visionaries who creatively tinker current elusive material into potent realities? In Predictions, number four of the subversive ChainLinks series, poet Cara Benson gathers interdisciplinary thinkers whose works challenge the current worldview and agitate the acquiescent mind to manifest a future that is not catastrophic.
The impossibility of a scientific prediction of the future stems from our inability to construct mathematical models that reach into a limitless horizon of complicated volatility. In order for a course of action to remain predictable its variability must be narrowed. The fewer complexities a circumstance’s scope presents, the more certain its outcome will be. For Paul Ruskin and the thinkers of Tellus Institute it is for these reasons that global trajectories can be made evident with scenarios rather than models. These scenarios, or constructed long-range narratives, are convincing because they are based on scientific evidence as well as imaginative alternative potentialities. “Rather than prediction, the goal of scenarios is to support informed and rational action by providing insight into the scope of the possible.” To approach the impossibility of prediction we must visualize variant possibilities as actual and change our present action accordingly. Three classes of scenarios — “Conventional Worlds, Barbarization and Great Transitions” are further divided into two variants. These three classes of scenarios respectively represent a world that continues the course it’s on, a world in which crisis escalates conflict, and a world of interconnected transformation.
The most startling aspect of these investigations is that the “Conventional World” tactics of economic globalization are ultimately unstable and will more than likely pre-empt authoritarian response to institutional collapse and loss of social control — the conditions of “Barbarization.” While most of us have faith that the ideal “Conventional World” will boost well-being because of free market economic growth and climate accountability, the reality of its evident scenario is that this growth is limitable and accountability questionable.
Clearly technological development that promotes environmental sustainability, a commitment to universal human rights, and market constraints, or the conditions of “Great Transitions,” offers the most viable and valuable alternative. What this essay stresses is that in order for “Great Transitions” to be a world of the future, we must birth it now. The scenarios presented in “Where we are headed?” demand that we pay attention to the scientific data to envision futures that are extensions of present actions. Wall Street’s estimated bonus pool for 2009 was $140 billion, enough money to almost entirely meet the combined $142 billion budget deficit of all 50 states. Few definitive negotiations have been termed in the Copenhagen Accord. Certainly pollution and market constraints could benefit these scenarios. The question is, to what extreme must the fallibilities of “Conventional World” cause us to suffer before reform is enacted?
In The Human Condition, Hannah Arendt outlines a labor of “homo faber” — a humanity whose philosophy is unable to distinguish between the creation of materials for utility and meaningfulness. She warns, “utility established as meaning generates meaninglessness” . This meaninglessness causes homo faber to “judge every thing as though it belonged to the class of chremata, of use objects, so that, to follow Plato’s own example, the wind will no longer be understood in its own right as a natural force but will be considered exclusively in accordance with human needs for warmth or refreshment — which of course means that the wind is something objectively given that has been eliminated from human experience” . All technology created by homo faber is an extension of means that are determined to be ends only in that they are means for further ends. In other words, there is no end and no thing is without use value. Therefore everything, including the natural world, is experienced as a utility or means at our disposal.
Bart Bridger Woodstrup playfully encounters the delusion that climate or weather patterns are controllable and at our disposal in the disclosure of a “Climate Control Weather Damage Modification Program.” This program utilizes the WEAMOD CC2007, “a state of the art, ground based silver iodide generator and orgone energy transmitter designed for seeding orographic clouds.” Included is a preface to its claims, simulations, owner’s manual and field reports. WEAMOD CC2007 state of the art façade is reminiscent of a futuristic device of the fifties. It’s the kind of object that makes you cringe in horror and delight because of its utter absurdity. The jargon of its field reports in which observations are met by treatments reveal the distorted philosophy of homo faber. One can infer that the technology is distraught from such an observation as “Hotter than the temperature the mercury indicates, is nothing to protect the air from making it a furnace?” The machine asks why technology has not been created to protect rather than to treat. Its treatment of this observation affirms that if we were to become “acclimated to the warm, no treatment would be required.” Its philosophy is similar to that which created it, in that it believes a preventative solution is not needed if an after effect is adjusted. The solution to global warming offered by WEAMOD CC2007, to acclimate to warmth, negates the very utility of its object. Perhaps when technology resists its own utility we will realize a more meaningful creation and philosophy.
Technology that resists its own utility is most evident in works of art. The “Landscape Sustainment Collages” created by Julie Sadler provide images of worlds wherein the human body, the living organism of trees as well as fish, musical instruments and technological nuts and bolts are loosely framed by Victorian embellishments. The series of images is exquisitely reproduced and acknowledge conditions of meaningless utility with such titles as, “Harmonic Human Intervention Unit” and “Forced Hydro Infiltration System.” Made from materials found in vintage catalogues, wrappers, brochures, medical books and more, the collages invite one’s mind to dream within open parameters of technologies and conceive meaningful relations that are not solely of use between symbols and signifiers. The connectivity that joins their disparate parts enjoins our minds to worlds we may know more of than just the way their “predictable” elements influence our “instruments.” The unpredictability of the use of these inventions requires an engagement that stretches the limits of expectations to find meaning in the non-utilitarian.
In order to invite a consciousness wherein scientific utility is taken into account equally with artistic meaning, the language of both must be brought into conversation with one another. Indeed, poetic and scientific methods share in common the desire to accurately transcribe the observable/unobservable into language. The question of accuracy is tantamount to the differentials present in such endeavors. Biologist David Zuzga and poet Jason Zuzga’s collaboration, “Open Pharynx: A Fantasia on the Development of Human Gills” brings the language of these seemingly distinct accuracies into full contact with one another.
What occurs is a lexical dexterity wherein a breakdown between the lines of accuracy reveals the human inability to transcribe a mastery of either poetic vision or scientific invention in language. Human gills could proffer “Property losses. On the other hand: Overpopulation solution. Third world sterilization vs. third world amphibianization.” This solution would be enacted via “distribution of nanoparticle intercourse foam and nonverbal instructions.” Such nonverbal instructions imbibe a more animate physical response to the environment. Were we to grow gills, live underwater where the demarcation of property lines is nonexistent, wear clothes as second skin, speak and hear another using an underwater language, would we become more animal ourselves? Where would we draw the line between human and the radical alterity of animal? Perhaps then “to turn into a water-baby / we could live as a we” because the Other would no longer be misunderstood as something fundamentally distinct and incapable of response.
The final piece of the collection, Monica De La Torre’s “Mariposa Negra” written in memory of Aura Estrada, engages with the alterity of language via an encounter with death. Every name is a presence that connotes an absence. How do we speak of the absence without negating it as presence? She notes, “If predictions are utterances acquiring meaning in due time, then all writing is prediction.” When all human experience is transcribed through vocalized and non-vocalized language into consciousness reciprocity between the user and the language conspires.
Writing inscribes the aural/oral to a semi-static mode, yet no word is a universal term or scientific law. Language is not so self-assured nor are we as in control of it as we may think we are. The written word lacks its aural utterance until said. Writing as prediction necessitates a consciousness that concedes silence — death — the unobservable the ability to respond and reciprocally signify self.
Torre writes, “You will try to put your finger on something absent and in doing so will smudge it.” When we try to pin the elusive, fix a word or name, the entity blurs indistinct. When we recognize a word as absolute or an omen that portends a projection without the realization that “Unless you tear it to pieces, this page will remain here,” we are ignorant and irresponsible of its content. Torre continues, “But what exactly is it that it contains. An omen read backward. Nemo means no one. Nothing.” It is here we find “A battle between two mirror figures — one live, one evil — is the basis of the plot.” Mirrored or reciprocal alterity allows for a construction of self that is able to address — to ad (Latin ‘to near’) or a (Greek ‘without/not’) dress (direct, solidify). Naked in the eyes of the other, we are potential trajectories because we recognize self as other only in an-other’s gaze. The potential trajectory predicts a more expansive and mirrored horizon of self-construction.
In the act of composing memory we propose a presence that as an absence will become a continuous moment. “A text endlessly makes itself as different narratives try to grasp the intangible.” Yet, “Another fraud: how grasp absence when there’s nothing there to grip.” We must practice a writing of prediction that reciprocates and vacillates awareness between the potentialities of what is said and what is silent as adroitly as Monica De La Torre.
If our worldview permitted a perception of the future not as ahead but rather behind, our steps backward into the unknown would allow full purview of what has existed before. To move back into the future without full embrace of a moment’s extensions is to ignore the sway and pull of its trajectory. In order to change what has transpired we must conceive our perception of it differently. This can be achieved with an awareness brought to the reciprocity of language and technology. Cara Benson’s curatorial presents a digest that is a positive prescription for an actualization of sentient prediction.
 Arendt, Hannah. The Human Condition. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1958. 154–8.
 Arendt, 157.
Anna Elena Eyre received an MFA from the California College of Arts and Crafts in 2005 and is currently a PhD candidate in twentieth and twenty-first century poetics and poetry at SUNY-Albany. Her chapbook Metaplasmic is published by effing press.