resisting both purity and progress

Anne Galloway on more-than-human design:

… I’m not a believer that technology under capitalism will be the planet’s salvation, and I tend to part ways with (commercial?) designers and technologists who aim to design more “precision” agriculture through “intelligent” machines, and I’m constantly watching for bad omens. The ethos of the More-Than-Human Lab draws on Donna Haraway’s “staying with the trouble” and tries to go beyond the design of human-nonhuman interactions to reimagine human-nonhuman relations. For me, this means not trying to “fix” the world, and resisting both purity and progress to live well together through uncertain and difficult circumstances.

The deep irony (?!) is that indigenous cultures all around the world and many non-Western religions have always understood that nature and culture aren’t separate, and that humans aren’t superior in our abilities or experiences. Western intellectual history and industrial capitalist societies have not allowed this kind of thinking to take hold except for amongst a fringe few, and I think this has played a pivotal role in the current climate crisis and the impoverished range of corrective measures on offer.

Amen.

charismatic megaprojects / Infrastructure fictions elsewhere

I recently republished the text and slides of my 2013 talk “An introduction to Infrastructure Fiction” here on VCTB (under the Essays heading, which isn’t entirely accurate, but better than nothing for now).

I was reminded of this (and thus prompted to remind you) by yesterday encountering a post at good ol’ Metafilter which mentioned a couple of what are definitely infrastructure fictions: one is a recent Dutch proposal to enclose the North Sea using two massive dams, one between Scotland and Norway, another between Cornwall and France; the other was an earlier proposal to raise an island out in Doggerland and populate it with wind turbines and so forth.

While the Doggerland notion may well have been at least in part serious — it bears some relation to similar projects I’ve seen doing the rounds on the continent in recent years — the Dutch proposal, from the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, is quite upfront about its rhetorical purpose. It’s trying to say “OK, look, we could take a gamble and spend all this money and effort and skill on a batshit engineering project like this in the hope of making things more environmentally stable over the next however-many years… or we could, like, reduce our carbon emissions, which is comparatively cheap and really bloody easy?”

I still think there’s a value and utility to the infrastructure fiction approach. But much like BoZo’s many bridges, the risk of proposals like this is they attract the excitement of people who want to have their concretised metaphor and eat it, so to speak. Charismatic megaprojects are an easy sell (and very science-fictional), whereas the sociotechnical project of reconfiguring consumptive practices, while arguably even bigger in true scale, lacks the glamour of building a big exciting thing, and worse still smacks of effort and/or privation on the part of the audience, rather than some imagined engineer.

Forestalling that misinterpretation, insofar as it’s even possible, is one of the challenges of the form — one that it has, of course, inherited from design fiction itself.

One last week

KJ familiarising with her new carrier

Time flies when you’ve a dozen dozen things to get done. I’m currently sat amidst the chaos of the early stages of packing my possessions up for the move to Sweden. This time next week, a bunch of removals people will turn up and load most of it into a large van, and take it away to be consolidated into a lorry-load destined for Scandinavia the following week.

Once that’s done, me and KJ and a suitcase will make our way to Hull, where we will board a ferry across the North Sea, to wake in Rotterdam the next morning. Then we’ll get in a taxi from Rotterdam ferryport to the train station (which is apparently a good 30 minutes away — Rotterdam is a biiiiig port, and there’s no public transport out that way), whencefrom we’ll get on a train to Amsterdam, there to board another one to Osnabruck, there to change to a third one to Hamburg, where we will stay overnight. (European hotels are, thankfully, fairly sensible about accommodating pets.)

On the Friday, we’ll have a much-needed slow morning before boarding the direct train from Hamburg to Copenhagen at lunchtime. From Copenhagen it’s a quick half-hour ride over the Øresund (the bridge made famous in Scandi-noir dramas) to Malmö, which will be my new home for at least the next five months, and quite possibly the next two to three years.

I’m typing this out here partly for the sake of reassuring myself that my meticulous (or, perhaps more fairly, obsessively paranoid) planning is complete. Travelling long distance by train gets easier with experience, but it can still be a daunting lump of logistics, and taking poor KJ — who I am utterly unwilling to subject to the ignominy of travelling as air cargo — has certainly added to the challenge. (Hence the ferry: no cats allowed on the Eurostar.)

But she’s got her passport and paperwork, and she’s pre-registered with Swedish customs… and as can be seen above, she’s got a comfy new carrier to ride in, which she seems to find agreeable enough to hang out in without prompting. I am not without qualms — she’s travelled moderately long distances in vans and trains in my previous moves, and always taken it in her stride, but she’s never done 48 hours of multimodal adventures. But I take some comfort from the fact that I have done such adventures before, and thus have a fairly good idea of what to expect at pretty much every stage. I very much doubt she’ll enjoy the trip, but I’m confident she’ll recover swiftly at the other end, as we settle into the compact 1940s-era apartment that I’m subletting through to July.

I sure hope she settles in, at any rate — because I have about a week and a half to await the arrival of my stuff on the lorry and sort the place out before I depart for a week of meetings and workshops in the Netherlands.

Congratulations and apologies, KJ; looks like you just became an obligatory member of #1000mphclub.

Science fiction, science fact, and all that's in between …