One afternoon, while on assignment at the daily newspaper where I used to work, I received an invitation to visit a waste incinerator. The plant sat along a river, in the center of the town that was my “beat” at the paper. The aging facility had been there for decades, dark and solitary, pumping out transfigured refuse through a long, thin, smokestack. Local legend had it that, when the plant was first built (to replace the tax vacuum left by abandoned mill buildings), ashes fell like thick snow onto the windshields of cars. The incinerator was the nexus of a bitter political feud in the city. A group of residents were fighting to push it out of town. I’d been lured into the plant by the manager, who wanted to win me (the dutifully objective reporter) over to his side. He wanted to show me the magic of waste incineration. It was all very secret, the public wasn’t allowed inside.The receiving floor of the waste bunker was thick with a soft residue. My heels sank into it. The ceiling must have been four stories high. It was dark, save the dim lights of trucks that dumped, unceasingly, onto a conveyer belt. The sound of shattering glass rocked the space. The smell was some combination of rot and toxic shock. It’s one of those horrifying experiences that’s remained etched on my mind. What was most terrifying, to me, was the sheer girth. There was just so much trash.
When I think about the future, I think about garbage. We won’t burn all of the trash we’re making. We won’t be able to bury all of it. If we ever start making trash planets that orbit around the Earth like satellites, we can only make so many. Trash changes things. It makes the rats on the subway platform bolder and more enterprising. It brings us all closer together in the grimy cosmic enterprise of the daily commute. It’s already changing the things we bother to feel reverence for, the things we have pious feelings about. This was part of the speculative wager in my collaboration with Krista Dragomer, Kathy Dragomer, and Rashin Fahandej: when we arrive in a futurescape that has snuffed out the radical diversity of creaturely life with layer upon layer of lyrca, aluminum, and circuit boards, who (or what) will we be asking for salvation? Will we be looking back, with the melancholy of nostalgia, to the fragile remains of the creatures we left behind, as we once looked up to the gods?
Beatrice Marovich, a Proteus collaborator for the Future Migration exhibition, is a writer and academic who grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan. She’s now working toward her PhD in theology & philosophy and developing a speculative theory of the creaturely.