Edgy Stuff: March 2015 Recommendations
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.
Mohammed Rafi Arefin
This month, I would like to recommend a recent interview with environmental historian, Alan Mikhail. Mikhail’s work on the environment and animals in the Ottoman Empire has contributed to the deeply under-researched field of environmental studies and histories of the Middle East. In this interview—of interest to anyone working in the Middle East or concerned with conceptual issues in environmental history—Mikhail discusses the historiography of the Ottoman Empire, animals in Middle Eastern history, and potential sites of cross disciplinary work between Middle Eastern studies and environmental history.
Work: it’s what we do. As a generation of labor-attentive environmental scholars have reminded us, it’s how we shape the world around us. I’ve listened with delight this month to the “Working” podcast, a 25-minute interview-based show offered in the tradition of oral historian Studs Terkel and updated for a 21st-century job market by Slate columnist David Plotz. If conversations with a bail bondsman, a farmer, a porn star, and the political satirist Stephen Colbert don’t pique your interest, start with hospice nurse Kathy Kuencer’s interview: her reflections on aging and the necessity of hospice humor will leave you thinking differently about our human-animal bodies.
Can art help us to inhabit our planet more equitably, ethically, and sustainably? To Life!: Eco Art in the Pursuit of a Sustainable Planet is the recent and fascinating product of Linda Weintraub, an author, artist, curator, and educator whose mission is to make “vanguard art accessible to [a] broad audience.” The book features compact, well-illustrated, articulate essays on 47 artists who are either “pioneers” or “explorers” of the eco art movement—a movement that most decisively began with the Land Artists of the 1960s and which has evolved since to encompass a whole range of ecologically engaged art practices. More than a scholarly overview of eco art, To Life! also has its own creative components, such as the intriguing visual schematics that show connections between all 47 artists and their various interests.
This month, the open-source mapping platform Mapbox launched their Landsat-live service. Like Google Earth, Landsat-live offers on-demand satellite imagery of the planet’s surface. But unlike Google Earth, Mapbox’s new service gives users up-to-date imagery from NASA’s Landsat 8 satellite in as close to real-time as is currently possible. The downside is you might be confronted by a huge swathe of cloud over your chosen geography. But the upside? Well, you can watch the life of the planet unfold. Read more about the launch here and here.
In Hari Kunzru’s novel, Gods Without Men (2012), we encounter a motley of characters spread across deep history but drawn to one unique place, a mysterious rock formation in the Mojave Desert called the Pinnacles. The plot centers on a Wall Street quant (pre-2008 crash) and his wife as they cope with losing their autistic son, who has gone missing at the Pinnacles. Kunzru deftly incorporates the perspectives of everyone from an eighteenth-century Spanish missionary to cult worshippers of aliens in the 1950s as they too are compelled, disappointed, and enthralled by the Pinnacles. What drives the stories, according to Kunzru, is the question of “how people handle not just the unknown, but the unknowable.” Gods Without Men inspires us to think about the connections between place, nature, and spirituality over time.