The Edge Effects editorial board brings you a handful of recommendations based on the most interesting stuff that’s come across our desks, screens, and speakers over the last month (or so). From books and articles, to podcasts, music, and film, we’ll keep you on the edge.
This month, we also say a couple farewells. Adam Mandelman will be stepping down from his role as managing editor for Edge Effects as he completes his dissertation. Rafi Arefin, who has served on the editorial board since our launch in October, will be heading off to Egypt in the next few weeks for a year of fieldwork. Nathan Jandl, also a founding editor, will take over as managing editor in the second week of May.
Mohammed Rafi Arefin
How does waste from Italy and Taiwan transform into energy in Austria? In a post on the Discard Studies blog, geographer Ingrid Behrsin takes us on an impromptu tour of one of Austria’s waste-to-energy facilities to explore how they are both technically and socially maintained.
The Wisconsin Film Festival recently screened Alina Rudnitskaya’s Blood alongside CHE Faculty Associate Gregg Mitman’s film In the Shadow of Ebola. Blood follows a group of Russian nurses working in a mobile blood bank that draws from the mostly unemployed inhabitants of Russia’s post-industrial landscape. Here, donation is an important source of income. As viewers, we become as inured to punctured flesh and brimming bags as the women whose lives we are invited to follow. And while the nurses deal brusquely with the desperation of the bank’s donors, the literal draining of blood from the Russian poor becomes a stark metaphor for a drained economy. Yet, Blood never takes itself too seriously—dancing, laughter, and vodka all punctuate the main characters’ lives in delightfully and painfully humanizing ways.
O, ye yearning Romantics, ye Whitman-esque celebrants of self, ye Frostian lovers of good fences…! The time has come for some real talk—and that talk comes to us from absurdist poet and Twitter fiend Patricia Lockwood. Start with her “Is It Work?” essay, a three-minute read that manages, in one fell swoop, to jettison and venerate at least one giant of environmental literature. “I’m the one who put up that wall,” she imagines Robert Frost’s good-fence neighbor complaining, “and I did it because I hated him. Sometimes he just stood motionless for hours in the yard, repeating the words ‘New England’ under his breath.” Lockwood is weird, unexpected, feisty, gender-bending, and explicit; let her writing leave you, as it left me, helpless with head-scratching laughter.
As part of my growing interest in contemporary eco art, I was excited to discover Alejandro Durán’s gorgeous and disturbing project, Washed Up: Transforming a Trashed Landscape. Durán makes richly colored assemblages of the plastic trash that washes up on the shore of Sian Ka’an (a UNESCO World Heritage site in Mexico), channeling elements of Andy Goldsworthy’s work with color and form and Chris Jordan’s photographs of global consumerism. Despite these artistic resonances, Washed Up feels unique—an authentic and necessary contribution to this crucial movement in art.
Since I’m stepping down from my role as managing editor at Edge Effects, my recommendation this month is—sort of—in the territory of goodbyes. Stewart Brand has written an important, provocative piece for Aeon questioning our current preoccupation with extinction. This quote should whet your appetite:
The headlines are not just inaccurate. As they accumulate, they frame our whole relationship with nature as one of unremitting tragedy. The core of tragedy is that it cannot be fixed, and that is a formula for hopelessness and inaction. Lazy romanticism about impending doom becomes the default view.
Late this month, a powerful earthquake struck Nepal, and while recovery efforts continue, the death toll has risen to nearly 5,000. Responders have new kinds of satellite-based technology to help them assess the quake’s effects. InSAR is a radar-based remote sensing device that detects millimeter scale changes in landscape shapes. With it, researchers are now able to produce in near real-time vivid images—like the one below—that visualize how ground surfaces change after seismic events. These images can help responders determine what kind of damage to expect and where people might still be at risk. An important question remains, though: new technologies may aid in relief efforts, but it’s clear people are made vulnerable to disasters. What kinds of technologies and investments can limit exposure to “natural” disasters in the first place?