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Reuse, rewrite, disappropriate

Published onApr 28, 2023
Reuse, rewrite, disappropriate
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Preface

by Gabriela Méndez Cota

From Mexico, where we live and work, we entrust you with a series of fragments, thoughts and stories hovering in the grey region between the singular, the academic, and the more-than-human aspects of reading and writing. Mediated by the teletechnological artifactuality of the COVID pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the fragments echo what Michael Marder and Anaïs Tondeur, inspired by Svetlana Alexievich’s Voices of Chernobyl, have in The Chernobyl Herbarium called an ‘exploded consciousness’. As committed readers of these two works, we set out to reuse, rewrite and disappropriate the second of them on the basis of a shared general question: what of the event named ‘Chernobyl’ remains to be witnessed in the material and imaginary space that we call ‘Mexico’? Both too much and too little, we thought. Too much, because the event of Chernobyl barely registered in the Mexican public sphere and still appears, in common sense, as unrelated to more familiar injuries of colonialism, authoritarianism, neoliberalism and narco-state violence. Too little, because the significance of Chernobyl is, indeed, in some sense unrelated to human subjectivity. It is perhaps Chernobyl’s very indifference to the fact that most people in Mexico, as elsewhere, live their lives without remembering that they, like all forms of human or non-human life, were exposed to radiation, that struck us the most while reading The Chernobyl Herbarium. If a fundamental rethinking of the meaning of ‘Chernobyl’ has yet to take place against the dual backdrop of nuclear disaster and climate chaos – both driven, at least in part, by human hubris – our wager in this small book has been to bear witness, in a way informed by deconstructive and psychoanalytic trajectories of thinking, to a failure of representation that has always been there, unsettling the frames and scales of both academic and testimonial writing.

COPIM’s call to reuse open access materials experimentally on the basis of a commitment to creativity, critique and justice, detonated a reflection about what ‘reuse’ would mean to those of us who usually think about our activities as professional knowledge production, and who live with an expectation to write specifically from what is called the ‘Global South’. Since COPIM did not establish in advance what ‘knowledge’ would mean in the context of this experiment, we initially set out to reuse and rewrite The Chernobyl Herbarium as a ‘situated’ response to that work’s treatment of existential questions. We soon realized, however, that given the project’s emphasis on the material and performative aspects of digitally mediated reading and writing, our task involved decisions that went beyond developing a ‘Mexican’ analysis of Chernobyl. Moreover, while the majority of us had a background in continental philosophy, we were already interested in exploring the channels of communication between disciplinary discourses and wider cultural practices in the context of an experimental research project entitled ‘Philosophy of Editorial Practice: Critical Perspectives on Open Access’ (Universidad Iberoamericana Ciudad de México, 2019-2021). This meant that we had to perform our rewriting of The Chernobyl Herbarium, not just in terms of reusing its self-contained content or its aesthetic form, but in terms of making a critical intervention in the academic institution, too. Yet rather than being pre-planned as a critical programme, our articulation of a situated reuse and rewriting of The Chernobyl Herbarium materialized gradually through the collaborative process of becoming experimental writers or ‘rewriters’. At the same time, while we may have decided not to apply any pre-given method or strategy of artistic disruption or critical appropriation to a work we had chosen because it invited us to attune affectively with the fundamental fragility of existence, we nevertheless tried to reuse and rewrite it in a way that conveyed our respect and appreciation for the work of the others involved.

In Los muertos indóciles. Necroescrituras y desapropiación, the Mexican author and historian Cristina Rivera Garza points out that, like the practice of community, rewriting is about working with time to render something unfinished. If writing is ‘the basis of all practice of community’, one must conclude that community is always in/with time, always unfinished, always yet to be done (Rivera Garza, 2019, 66). Furthermore, the practice of community would be non-appropriative or, rather, ‘disappropiating’, an idea that can also be traced to Jean-Luc Nancy’s notion of ‘literary communism’. Nancy refers to writing as ‘the act that interrupts, with a single stroke – by an incision and/or an inscription – the shaping of the scene of myth’ (Nancy, 1991, 72). The myth, in this case, is not merely that of individual genius or romantic authorship. It is the myth of identity as such, whether it takes a liberal or communitarian (or other) form. Beyond myth, something like ‘community’ would take place, but precisely ‘not in a work that would bring it to completion, even less in itself as work (family, people, church, nation, party, literature, philosophy), but in the unworking and as the unworking of all its works’ (Nancy, 1991, 72). What Rivera Garza and Nancy suggested to us, then, was that the reuse of open access materials did not need to be thought as appropriation or reappropriation of ‘knowledge’. Instead, it could be thought as a creative exercise in ‘unworking’ or ‘disappropriating’ which could creatively resonate-with (rather than conventionally represent) The Chernobyl Herbarium’s invitation to think through (vegetal) exposure and fragility.

It took us over a year, from mid-2020 until the end of 2021, to invent ourselves as a rewriting ‘community’. The process of doing so had several stages, from a reading group and a collective annotation of The Chernobyl Herbarium on hypothes.is, through discussing ways of generating new content by means of associations and intertextuality, to drafting and commenting on individually authored pieces that allowed each rewriter to elaborate a singular engagement with Marder and Tondeur’s book. Each of the rewriters interpreted and elaborated the classic feminist notion of ‘situated knowledges’ in a singular way, without any clear and stable guidelines concerning knowledge, evaluation criteria or academic goals. We focused instead on reflecting how our spontaneous desire to collaborate or perform as a collective of creative rewriters could be reflected at the formal level, given both our interest in the practical, creative critique of institutions (Adema, 2021) and our basic-level prior engagement with the technical dimensions of design and publishing processes and platforms. In sum, we decided that we would not be appropriating a book but would be letting our schooled selves be re-written, rendered unfinished in creative fragmentation and montage, as a way of reusing the Herbarium’s invitation to think. The drafts offered by each rewriter were in the end fragmented, edited and re-edited as the best way of translating a series of individually authored chapters – which read, in Spanish, as more or less academic essays ‘about’ The Chernobyl Herbarium – into a dynamic set of fragments that attempt to repeat, in the Kierkegaardian sense of remembering forward, the latter’s style of assembling personal memories and meditations. While the technical point of fragmentation would be to facilitate mixture and non-linear reading possibilities on a processual publishing platform to be chosen and tested in the context of the COPIM project, the more conceptual or creative aspect of fragmentation referred to the poetic complexity of the assemblage process and the wider possibilities it allowed us to think, in practice, collectivity or community itself. Crucially, the fragmentation would not be reduced, for us, to a technical or merely aesthetic exercise. Rather it would make itself count as a collective effort to creatively disappropriate our own habits of writing and thinking as early career researchers.

As Rivera Garza observes about the literary system, the problem with appropriative rewriting strategies such as sampling, re-mixing and plagiarising, is that they do not necessarily undermine conventional notions of liberal humanist authorship; more often they strengthen their hegemony. If at first the system reacts to them, over time it accommodates such appropriative strategies within the terms of the traditional conception of the individual author as genius: the Sampler, the Re-mixer, the Plagiarist as a gifted Artist. Instead of appropriating, or turning the alien into the proper, Rivera Garza invites us to ‘dis-appropriate’, to let the alien be. A poetics of disappropriation would seek to go beyond merely exhibiting the relational, time-based nature of writing as reading, and of reading as rewriting, however. It would also endeavour ‘to question the domain that makes a series of communal jobs appear as individual’ (Rivera Garza, 2019, 67). Such is the academic domain as we know it, in which conventions and styles of writing often require the erasure of subjectivity, singularity and multiplicity, in favour of a clear line of argument expressed through a detached voice whose analytical style is orientated to an establishment of authority (Canagarajah, 2002).

In certain contexts, academic conventions and impersonal writing styles can perform a critical function – with respect to the liberal humanist register of sentimental autobiography, for instance. In other contexts, though, a cultivation of testimonial writing can act critically as a form of resistance to ‘schooling the world out of existence’ (Illich, 1972, 47) by means of abstract voices that compete for individual authority in a given disciplinary hierarchy. Aware of the gendered history of such abstract voices, we focused on rethinking – and therefore rewriting – our own education, material contexts, life experiences and political concerns, while simultaneously trying to attune to the memory of the unthinkable that Chernobyl has come to stand for. As a practical reference point we took inspiration from an earlier, non-academic eco-artistic project around Mexican quelites or edible weeds (2016-2016), which was itself inspired by the Open Humanities Press series Living Books About Life (2011), and which is described in one of the fragments that follow. As a theoretical reference point, our work echoed the tradition of blurring the boundaries between testimonial and philosophical writing as it took shape in the long aftermath of Latin American debates over the politics and infrapolitics (or deconstruction) of testimonio (Gugelberger, 1996; Moreiras, 2001; Moreiras, 2020). A thinking of existence beyond political demand that unfolds in the medium of deconstructive testimonial writing or ‘autography’, the infrapolitical turn became a key referent for the kind of exploration that rewriting came to involve for us. Once again: if a fundamental rethinking of the meaning of ‘Chernobyl’ has yet to take place against the dual backdrop of nuclear disaster and climate chaos – both driven, at least in part, by humanism – our wager in this small book has been to bear witness, in a necessarily singular way that nevertheless invokes specific philosophical and literary legacies, to a failure of representation that has always been there, unsettling the frames and scales of both academic and testimonial writing.

Train Station

by Yareni Monteón

I walk along the train tracks. I do not know in advance how many kilometers tucked into the jungle are those material signs of the 19th-century Porfirian progress that waits to explode again like a nuclear bomb. Half of my heart vibrates with hope while the other half already presages the failure of our mission. Milo and I are with Eli and Beto in Hopelchén, Campeche, in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula. We are part of the caravan that accompanies Marichuy, the spokesperson for the National Indigenous Council, to the territories fighting for their autonomy. We are gathering the signatures of voters so that those among ‘us’ who never had it, finally have a voice that represents them in the public space. For those already in power have announced that if their political party wins, there will be no future for the jungle. They will rehabilitate the tracks to re-run a tourist train that will supposedly detonate the region’s economy. Such a fantasy of a new economic miracle is dubbed El Tren Maya (The Mayan Train). Thinking of an event that has not stopped happening for five hundred years but has gone unnoticed after a such a long while, Milo renames it El Tren Maña (The Vicius Train). Between the metal and the wood grow all kinds of plants whose names I do not know. I step on them like the despicable human being that I am but they don’t die; they resist. In the summer, people try to clear the land, but after a few weeks with the help of Chaac the trees and weeds rise again from the ashes. Life is not true or false, it simply is and the jungle always shows it to me.

Junkyard I

by Fernanda Rodríguez González

It was January 1984. The National Nuclear Safety and Safeguards Commission found an abandoned van in the border city of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, which emitted high levels of radiation. The vehicle in question had been used as transport to sell, as scrap metal, what had once been a radiotherapy unit purchased by the Specialist Medical Centre. Since there had been no trained personnel to operate it, the unit had been left to rot. Recovered only to be abandoned again (this time at the Phoenix junkyard), the medical unit, disassembled into different pieces, had mixed the cobalt-60 granules that one of its now perforated cylinders contained with the rest of the metals that, day after day, trucks, cranes and other machinery would be responsible for discarding, removing and collecting. The now radioactive scrap metals would become rebar and construction material, exported and transported by other vehicles to the United States and the interior of Mexico to build the foundations of numerous houses and buildings (Intervission staff, 2021). For a long time and without warning, radioactive energy would spread silently through Mexican and American territory, even more silently as would happen in the following years on the other side of the Atlantic after the Chernobyl accident, from where radiation would again spread to the most unsuspected corners of the world.

San Juanico

by Deni Garciamoreno Becerril

Laura and I had the following exchange several months after she first heard about the nuclear incident in Ciudad Juárez, México. The pandemic went on and we both tried to remain confident of the interiority of our homes versus the exteriority of the virus. Her immediate and spontaneous answers to my story and my questions resulted in various notes which I now regard as important topological coordinates of an invisible symptom. My dad died of cancer in 2000 and something must have triggered his illness before that. There is no way of knowing if it is directly linked to Ciudad Juárez but his house was built in those years. Cancer is a disease that does not appear all of a sudden. It progresses silently. I have also thought about other possibilities. For example, I seem to remember that in 1994 he was in Chiapas with Subcomandante Marcos. Over there, many people contracted Helicobacter pylori. A gastroenterologist said to me that it was common for people who had that bacterium to end up with cancer. My father had a test done and it came back positive. Although this sounds very far-fetched, I have also thought that contagion could have been on purpose, to infect the people who went to Chiapas. But he might have just as well gotten sick from chronic stress. He was an activist with the teachers and was involved in many confrontations with political groups. If they tell you ‘he had a heart attack because his body was unbalanced by stress’ you say ‘yes, well yes’ … . Imagine a testing of the radioactivity of the houses that were built with those rods. That would give you some certainty, but we don’t even know where those rods went. What we need to know is the whole story, which nobody followed up. People in power have to hide it because they can’t look bad; they do everything before they lose control. Even if it’s loss of life, loss of any kind, they do everything to stay in power. If they are subordinates, then they do it so that those at the top don’t lose their jobs. And that happens all over the world. … There have already been accidents in previous years … can you imagine what could happen with nuclear energy? San Juanico, that’s the place where it happened also in 1984. Just thinking that fast, we all know the danger of not disposing of alkaline batteries properly, so what? Most people still throw them in the trash can. After you told me about Ciudad Juárez, I remembered that there was a nuclear power plant in Veracruz, but I didn't know it was still operating, I only remembered its name: Laguna Verde.

Chernoverde

by Carolina Cuevas Parra

In the photograph, we can see a woman in a shawl. She faces the camera and holds a banner under one of the columns of the municipal palace in Xalapa, Veracruz. Long live life, long live love, we don’t want to live in fear. No to Laguna Verde! In 1968, Mexican President Díaz Ordaz signed the authorisation to construct the Laguna Verde nuclear power plant. The construction began in 1976 in the municipality of Alto Lucero, Veracruz, after a territorial reorganisation that included expropriation threats and the acquisition of land from the inhabitants of the region by the Federal Electricity Commission (Balzaretti Camacho, 2014). It was until the mid-1980s, however, that an organised anti-nuclear movement was formed in opposition to nuclear energy in Mexico. Between 1986 and 1988, there were blockades on the coastal highways of Veracruz, symbolic closures of the nuclear plant, a pilgrimage to the Basilica of Guadalupe, festivals, sit-ins, collection of signatures, concerted blackouts and ringing of bells, written interventions on electricity bills, and red ribbons on the doors of houses. The protests aimed to prevent the reactor from being loaded at Laguna Verde. To prevent the monster in the lagoon from waking up: There are Three Miles from Chernobyl to Laguna Verde; We don't want another San Juanico Verde; We don't want another Chernoverde; Better active today than radioactive tomorrow; Yes to life, no to death (Paya, 2018). The woman in the photograph is part of the incipient anti-nuclear movement in Mexico. A few metres away, a man walks under the city’s well known incessant chipichipi.

Thinking-feeling

by Xóchitl Arteaga Villamil

Sentipensar (thinking-feeling) emerges among actions, discourses and territories inhabited by multiple experiences. It is a proposal from the epistemologies of the South that creates and pays attention to experiences silenced by a univocal form of storytelling, namely Euroanglocentric academic norms. I do not claim that sentipensar merely inverts the hierarchical, universalist spirit, as well as the homogenizing eagerness of many academic ways of making sense of the world. I see it instead as an intermittent moment that summons us to mobilize from the multiple contributions that can add and coexist, with all their tensions, to the digestive issues that afflict us today:

I read trauma as synonym for mental indigestion. And, on more than one occasion, I have proposed that art and certain kinds of thinking may contribute toward our becoming unstuck,’ obviously without changing anything in the physico-atomic reality of the half-lives characteristic of various elements (Marder & Tondeur, 2016, 56)

The persistence of nuclear energy and the effects of radioactivity are a terrain that summons us and forces us to stay with the problem (Haraway, 2016), as well as to thicken the understanding of a damaged and ruined present (Tsing, 2015). Sentipensar is a dynamic action … a concept that interweaves co/reasons, minds with bodies, natures with cultures, materialities with discourses. The territory and inhabitants of Chernobyl are an active memory that is materialized and actualized through this concrete rewriting, given that we collectively attempt to think-feel an event of the past through the ways in which we are disturbed by its resonances. Sentipensar is about unraveling … through the practice of storytelling, by exchanging stories with the Herbarium … that radiate the different ways in which the nuclear event continues on the narrative plane. However, the event does not belong to us, but rather belongs to a materiality that we regard as provisionally hospitable to collaborative intervention. We think-feel re-writing as a collective incarnation in texts, and it is precisely this plural task that indicates its disappropriation.

Now that the creaking of the system is heard, we must continue to connect interstices, because the vital is in the links [...] The indispensable jobs of caring for and maintaining life, cleaning and sustaining, the circularity of life, the reproduction of the conditions for living: preparing the food; washing the dishes, cleaning the bathroom and all the spaces; nourishing the body as an integral unit of emotions, sensations and needs, corporealities always in relation, because caring is etymologically linked to thinking … (García Bravo, 2021, 77)

1996

by Carolina Cuevas Parra

There is a road. On the other side the cycads are resting. Yet it is not the cycads but the sleepy plants that appear to me first on the edge of that little path opening up between my grandparents’ house and the beach. Hidden among the low grasses that lead to the sea, the sleepy plants respond to the gentle call of my fingers. They are so close that I can talk to them with my touch. The cycads, on the other hand, live across the road, on the side of the bushes and the cows. Surrounded by footsteps and instruments that quantify their longevity and evaluate the possibility of their survival after a hypothetical forced transplant, the cycads, perhaps without realising it, continue their endothermic regulation and exude the fragrances that summon their pollinators. I play with the sleepyheads without noticing that a few kilometres to the south, a Canadian mining company starts the prospecting work to install an open-pit gold mine. Without noticing the steps, the instruments, the cycads, the pit, the tepetatera, the leaching yard, and without realising that the pool where I play with my cousins, off the shores of the ‘El Farallón’ lagoon, belongs to the housing camp of Laguna Verde, Mexico’s only nuclear power plant, I strive to remain in my childish reverie: the ungraspable image of a wild mountain. There is an event going on, but I can’t reach it. There is an unnoticed geographical triangle that at that moment is being drawn: the sleepyheads and I in Boca de Ovejas, the instruments and the cycads on Cerro La Paila, the glow of radioactivity in Laguna Verde. There are countless physical processes that I do not perceive. The sleepyheads fold when touched by my hands, the wind, the noise. The agility of their movement is an acephalous response to the environment in which they are embedded. The technician writes in his report that the cycad community will not be harmed when mining work begins.

The river

by Sandra Hernández Reyes

I still remember the moment of leaving the house: the organisation of the backpack, the hurrying and shouting at anyone who, for whatever reason, took longer than expected, and then going on a long walk besides the Cuautla river, where we met its characteristic fragrance of ‘clean and fresh water,’ as we used to say. It was a kind of ritual set among a great diversity of plants, small crustaceans and fish, aquatic insects, stones and water running under an intense sun and a clear blue sky. It continued until the idea grew, among schoolmates, that the river was an exclusive concern of children. Adolescent life required other spaces and practices to be recognized, so visits to the river became less frequent. We stopped visiting the river with its vital smell and the sensation of cold water and stones on our feet became sporadic. Then student life caught up with me in Mexico City. I was barely out of my teens when I had a room in a boarding school and university responsibilities in the cold areas west of the megacity. I returned home, in Cuautla, every so often and only for a couple of days. I had no time to visit the fragrant river, but after some time I noticed how, little by little, between visits, its flow, vegetation and fauna were becoming smaller and smaller, as if the march of the population growth of that small city resulted in its reduction and deterioration. The world where I was a child no longer exists, and although I frequently return to that place trying to capture, even for specific moments and spaces, that smell of clean water, plants, stones and local aquatic fauna, I cannot find it either by smell or sight.

Forgotten

by Fernanda Rodríguez González

The time to come remains imperceptible, hidden, flowing in the shadows of oblivion. In Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice (2008) the shadows that inhabit the underworld and make up the chorus of the play are actually living beings who plunged into the waters of the Lethes and turned into stones when they died. Since then, they feel neither sorry nor pity for anyone; they never laugh or sing. In fact, they feel nothing. Nor do they speak. They have forgotten all the things of the world. Their language is now the language of stones, the language of the dead, a silent language. Entering Chernobyl’s exclusion zone is like plunging into the Lethe. Pripyat, like the underworld, seems to be condemned, by its very nature, to human oblivion. However, compared with Orpheus, who descends into the underworld and makes the stones weep with his music, Marder and Tondeur’s work can be interpreted as the song that, rather than making the shadows weep, exposes their lament. Yet the deafening silence of Pripyat is not unique. We don’t know it, but there are many Chernobyls, just as every river, including the Lethe, has different courses which, without us realising it, often seep into the earth we walk on or evaporate into the air we breathe. How many Chernobyls, because they did not begin in a nuclear installation, have passed (or continue to pass) unnoticed, and remain forgotten? In how many walls built by contaminated rods do the waters of the Lethe not flow? The time of an event is interwoven from oblivion, and it only returns to show us in its ruins the passage of time.

Symptom

by Deni Garcíamoreno Becerril

The concept of a symptom was popularised by the psychoanalytic tradition and it was in the second half of the 20th century that it leapt into the field of philosophy to refer to aspects from its critical and not only clinical figure. Within a critical grammar the symptom entails a temporal and spatial rupture that manifests a remoteness or an apparent material impossibility. For instance, the images in the Chernobyl Herbarium capture the nuclear radiation responsible for the catastrophe that took place there. Marder insists that despite the fact that the photographed plant does not contain the same amount of radiation that some plant specimen may have had at the time of the nuclear catastrophe, the explosions of light that reach to us now generate an immediate relationship with the catastrophic and nuclear spectrum that envelops the territory of the herbarium. Such a breaking of the book’s frame establishes a very particular temporal and spatial (im)possibility. In fact, the perception of Tondeur’s images generates a symptom that touches both the explosive representations of nuclear radiation and the bodily effects related to the invisible calamity of the nuclear catastrophe. Is it possible to generate a non-visual symptom, which starts from the memory of a taste or an image not necessarily produced technically and by light? The already well-known proposal of involuntary memory tells us yes: from tastes and smells it is possible to generate an involuntary or non-involuntary symptom that could take us back to another time that defies time and narrative conventions. Beyond these sensory possibilities, what happens when the symptom is not visible? What happens when it has not yet been activated?

Explosions of sound

by Yareni Monteón

Milo is a true artist, one from the street. His poetic tool is not the image or light but sound; he is a musician. In his travels to the jungle he also learned to carve stone like the ancients. When I met him, he told me that someone revealed to him that the function of art for the Mayans had nothing to do with representation, but rather that the artist was ‘the bearer of time’. We liked going to the beach. We would swim out to sea until our feet did not touch the bottom. Then we would float on our backs and lose our eyes in the sky. One of those days we swam in a beach in which the oil residue, probably coming from the nearby wells, stuck to our skin. It was true, on this edge of history there was no virgin beauty; in every corner the kingdom of the non-living [evil] was already nesting. At dusk, with the feeling of witnessing the end of an era, with our palms and our voice we improvised some rhymes. We got a requiem. We did not know if it was for the inhabitants of that sea or for ourselves. It was the last time we swam together.

We flee towards

by Gabriela Méndez Cota

Why were they meeting in late August 2020 to read and rewrite The Chernobyl Herbarium? Tired of the institutional culture of sacrificial bureaucratisation, competitive individualism, ‘publish or perish’ and other toxic fumes that left her breathless, one of them proposed to guide the others toward a different climactic zone where none of the hopeless fantasies prevalent in The University were likely to flourish. That first meeting, like those that were to follow (on Zoom for two years, now and then in the city of PubPub, and at a later point in the West Midlands region of a former member of the European Union), was an escape mandated by angst and co-sponsored by the Community-led Open Publication Infrastructures for Monographs (COPIM) project. They would have to spend some time working with transplanted memory fragments on the outskirts of Global Knowledge Production, at the precise intersection between a massive forgetfulness and a large, attention-sucking technosphere. Fortunately, as Néstor Braunstein once assured her, attention could still be directed by more than the algorithm; it could also be summoned towards the word as an event that exceeds calculus (2012, 10-11). In a roundabout way, they would insert themselves into the world of language at the time of its expropriation by the forces of hyper-industrialisation and a dangerously naive mistrust of thinking itself, which was as prevalent in Mexico as it was elsewhere in the West. In sum, they sought to escape from the technological domination of language that would make life unlivable. But the impression that one can flee from the calamity that is our civilization is no less immature than the sunny ideology of Knowledge Production itself. Was Michael Marder a genuine Author, the true originator of ‘his’ memories? As rewriters of Marder, did they aspire to be anything other than passive repeaters who first and foremost listened in awe? Should they seek recognition as ‘more’ than receivers, modulators, transmitters, remixers of The Chernobyl Herbarium? If their rewriting came to be regarded as ‘piracy’, would they not be pirating Marder’s piracy of Svetlana Alexievich’s Voices of Chernobyl, and in the process returning to that earlier work a degree of recognition for its diversity and for its attunement to biographies other than the Author’s own? Shall they not also claim Authorship within this extended effort at developing their own singular voice? There are no escape valves. By setting out to formally Reuse Open Access Material, they were speeding toward another, still greater catastrophe, spawned by the same total system: not ‘liberal humanism’ but the pernicious ubiquity of an instrumental revealing of Being that undercuts existence and prevails both in capitalist and anti-capitalist imaginaries. Still, for a while unworking freely, unafflicted by schooled writing, they spent the rest of 2020, and a part of 2021, on the shores of hypothes.is and HedgeDoc where, unbeknownst to some, they would still be receiving dangerous amounts of Knowledge from The University’s fallout. Insert references, provide information, explain this or that clearly, have an argument or ... perish.

Oregano orejón

by Yareni Monteón

[Argument:] The state of exception is in fact the rule. At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, many political territories began to declare states of exception. Just to give an example, in September 2020 the Chilean State declared that it was renewing the State of Exception (“Renuevan en Chile estado de excepción por pandemia de Covid-19,” 2020). Mexico did not need to declare it; we have been at war against drug trafficking since 2006, and since 2014 with the Ayotzinapa case, we know that selective disappearance is completely normal. Years of existing like this have shown me that life does not need Rule of Law to continue striving to preserve itself and that the economic system does not need justice to continue accumulating profits. Everything has changed without the rigidity of consciences daring to notice it, however life assumes the change and continues to strive to exist. It was in this effort to continue resisting death that – in the midst of a pandemic – I managed to recover what was left of my bike and the oregano orejón, the plant that, by dint of pure adaptation, grew at my departure at Milo’s house. Oregano came home to live with me. No one planted it, no one expected or wished for its presence and yet, even among the toxic concrete of the urbanization that had tried to eliminate the forest, and despite the shadow of the train tracks that the current administration threatens to reactivate, it planted itself into existence. Its usefulness to humans does not exhaust its meaning, but it is also true that it found it useful to clone itself. Chalo, the first thief of my bike, cloned it for his garden, and then I cloned it from that garden. Now that being exists at least three times. Solidarity also passes through utility. Among human beings, nothing is more useful to our lives than another human being; it is possible to extend this to non-human beings. The oregano is useful to me and we were useful to the oregano: In lak ech yéetel hala ken as it would be expressed in Malixes language.  

The Rewriter

by Etelvina Bernal Méndez

Mum confessed to me: you know, I hate flowers and trees. She said that and was frightened by her own words, because she had grown up in the countryside and knew and loved all that. The grass, the flowers …. Everything ‘crackled’ (Alexievich, 2019, 92)

From Walter Benjamin’s The Storyteller (2010) one learns that some forms of human transmission are on their way to extinction. Oral narration and the very power of storytelling do not prevail in contemporary discursivity. It is, in fact, not only a matter of telling and recounting, but also and above all it is about listening. A listener pays attention. It may even be that he or she wants to keep the memory of the story and, in addition, unexpectedly or unconsciously receives the practical instruction to make knowledge known. If narration entails a tale, a story, a gesture of speech, this is so for the sake of the continuity of the life of others. Storytelling has an instructive purpose which is often coded. It implies a passage, a transmission. Yet the success of this transmission will be all the greater if its intention is not evident from the outset, but rather engages narration as the vehicle of mystery. This is quite different from data or information transmission, or from contemporary algorithmic classification. Generational transmission involves work with the story, including active listening and interpretation on the part of a receiver. It has a fragility and contingency that demands a work of relating and listening. Whenever I read Voices from Chernobyl I find that, instead, the text reads me. It mirrors me. It gives me the breath of life, shakes me and makes me uncomfortable. It takes away my tranquillity and my confidence in everyday life and in the apparent naturalness of my immediate surroundings, in the simplest and most unthought of my own actions, in their consequences. The chorus of voices, the stories, and Svetlana Alexievich’s way of listening and writing return to me a truth about myself and my own life: my finitude and at the same time my transcendence in the traces that my passage through the world will leave. Could one ignore the legacy of those voices, overlook their testimonies? How does one receive them? They shake my being in the world, both through what they say and what they cannot say. They stir up that which resists words and representation and all understanding. It becomes necessary for me to resist reading, to pause. I can only read from within a tension between not being able to continue and not being able not to. Following Benjamin and Alexievich, I would have liked to write a story about testifying to the reception and rewriting of The Chernobyl Herbarium, a life story that was not written for meaning, science, belief or as a purely aesthetic dissertation. A story that spoke to life about life. A text that quickly found its resonance in the one who receives and opens a letter. But I wasn’t able to.

Ruin Collectors

by Fernanda Rodríguez González

The Chernobyl Herbarium proposes to ‘fight against nihilistic indifference’ ‘through a concerted effort of selecting, arranging, and displaying traces … as a commemoration and a warning’. Only in this way, by collecting and curating the ruins of the catastrophe, working from them and with their oblivion, will we be able to recognise the testimony of its history as well as its decay (or, in other words, to tell a story from its oblivion). Decades earlier, María Zambrano said that ruins were the object par excellence for thinking about history. For her, what is historical is not the facts summoned in the purity or integrity of their past; what is properly historical is ‘the vision of the facts in their survival, ... what has remained of them: their ruins. The ruins are the most living part of history, for only that which has survived its destruction lives historically’. If this is so, if ruins are those remains that survive the past, after the radioactive events of Chernobyl, México, Brazil and so many others, how can we think of all those bodies that resisted their own destruction? The (im)perishable state of the fallen trees in the Red Forest is proof of a life that survived its own cataclysm. However, it is clear that this fact is not yet sufficient to be able to fully affirm its ruinous character.

Exposure

by Yareni Monteón

Milo was never my boyfriend but our friendship was very close. In the time we lived together, he told me that he was orphaned at a very young age. His mother fell ill with a cancer that they could never treat because the health system of our city did not have the resources for it, and any other episteme that recognized in the vegetables of our region as capable of providing some care for such ills was dismissed by the dominant medical institution. Not only radioactivity causes cancer, but also glyphosate, one of Monsanto’s signature herbicides with which it has invaded the market for agricultural production. Not long ago, I still saw this poison for sale in a store without any restrictions. Could it have been the glyphosate that always goes unnoticed in our food that caused her cancer, or perhaps it was the radioactive milk that then President Salinas de Gortary bought from Chernobyl and sold to the poorest sectors of the population through CONASUPO (Cara, 2022)? Maybe nothing, maybe just the democracy of disease and death. What I do know for sure is that Milo lost his mother, and a year later his cirrhotic father committed suicide by drinking all he could from the canteens that his parents had managed for generations in Campeche, a port of pirates, santeras and sailors, leaving Milo and his sister vulnerable, passive and defenseless in a world where love does not exist and abuse of the strongest is everything. Children and weeds are somewhat alike: they don’t matter much in the adult-centered world.

1928

By Deni Garciamoreno Becerril

I can’t help thinking that I have never once seen offline the women writers with whom I have shared a great deal of text on different platforms and whom I have seen as living portraits constrained to a homologated format in our video-meetings. Rewriting, at least in my experience, went from being notes on loose sheets of paper, lines interspersed in jumbled notebooks and concepts jotted down on coloured grids glued to books to images saved in folders also jumble in at least two devices, text files that have been saved, deleted, rescued from the rubbish bin also framed on a screen and ideas saved in apps. At this moment, for the fourth time, I am trying to recover one of the images that the constant references to possible herbaria returned to me. Somehow I went back to look for the specific frame on a museum page, duplicated the image again in another file, only to realise that the computer recognises the image and reproaches me that I have saved it on at least four different dates: 19/11/20, 21/12/20, 12/04/21, 16/06/21. Although it is likely that this code has left many more traces on the half-screen. In any case, the image, a small digital symptom, is itself part of a herbarium and a collection of animals in movement. It is one of the most important stills from Fordlandia (Smith, 2014), the video that Melanie Smith made in 2014 about the colony that Henry Ford tried to found in 1928 on the banks of the Tapajos River in the Amazon.

Melanie Smith, Fordlandia, (México/Brasil, 2014). Video 30min – HD – color – quadraphonic (4.0). https://felixblume.com/fordlandia/ Min. 10:40.

Henry Ford in Brazil, an industrial colony in the Amazon, complete with golf courses? Of course, to anyone who does not have the full context of this Fordist utopia, the very idea will seem completely absurd. And they would not be wrong. There are many newspaper articles that tell of the process in which Henry Ford struck a deal with the Brazilian government to allow him to establish a small colony around a large rubber factory that carried with it the promise of industrialisation and economic stability for the region. At the same time, the project promised a throwback to the origins of the American countryside, where true American values were anchored in pre-industrial farms. In any case, Ford's intended temporal and spatial remount to escape the industrialisation he himself had sponsored was only sustained (and by fits and starts) for 17 years. At what point did Ford think it could work? Most likely at the time he made the decision he was clear-headed and informed by the economic estimate on which all his industrial and financial decisions were based. Surely the variable he cared most about controlling, because it could threaten Fordlandia to a large extent, was that of the human capital that would be pouring into the factory. In fact, there were several uprisings by the factory workers, but it was not until an infestation of the rubber trees generated by the vegetation itself that underpinned the abandonment and total failure of the project.

Oaxaca is not green

by Nidia Rosales Moreno

In a recent Instagram post from a popular bed & breakfast located in the historic centre of the city of Oaxaca de Juárez, in Southern Mexico (where I was born and currently live) the phrase ‘Oaxaca is green’ appears below a series of photographs depicting green objects: some earthenware vessels, the city’s cantera streets and walls, the tiles in the bathrooms, the fountain in its courtyard, a very chic decorative installation of nopales with Grana cochinilla, and plants and trees decorating the hotel’s colonial architecture. The post has some comments describing the beauty of the quarry that was used to build the hotel, formerly known as Verde Antequera and which has become one of the city’s most prominent tourist attractions in photographs and advertisements, the beauty of the plants and their characteristic glow. The green in these images is a desire, a fantasy constructed from scraps distributed at the speed of the Instagram algorithm. Oaxaca is not green, at least not in the sense that tourist fantasies suggest. In Mexico, water supply problems are mainly due to the failure of pipelines, which are obsolete, leaky and ageing, causing losses of up to 60% of the liquid. Oaxaca is no exception; it has gone from being the most biodiverse state in the country to seeing its natural resources diminished. Five years ago, water shortages occurred during the summer, when the heat wave painted the hills a deep golden colour. Nowadays, drought occurs every high holiday season, in the months of April, July, August, November and December. According to Los Servicios de Agua Potable y Alcantarillado de Oaxaca (SAPAO), in 2021 the metropolitan zone of Oaxaca suffered the greatest water shortage crisis in its history. The water, which comes almost entirely from wells and a spring in municipalities bordering the city, has even stopped supplying some areas. Having always lived in the historic centre, I am accustomed to storing water from time to time: a privileged situation compared to that in the peripheries and marginalised areas. With the commodification of everything, violent imaginaries appear about their bodies and trajectories. These become entangled with the environmental crises we are going through, the lack of green areas, the lack of water and pedestrian infrastructure, the lack of a territory that can be inhabited in more communal ways, more committed to life and space in common. … I don’t quite know what will happen in this city, and to tell you the truth it scares me a little to think that it will have similar problems to other cultural capitals in the world, or that it’s going to become just an Instagram stage. Maybe that is why I turn to people who approach environmental crises as dynamics connected to forms of community life. Perhaps there we can find something that allow us to re-imagine the links we establish with the plant world, as well as the distances we have built between us. 

In Uruk

by Sandra Loyola Guízar

The Poem of Gilgamesh was carved on tablets, in cuneiform script, about five thousand years ago. It now seems like a technology of eternal life, since it is writing that inaugurates human history as a quest for immortality. It is also no coincidence that it arose in Uruk, the first city in urban history. The poem recounts a journey in which King Gilgamesh loses the only plant that could give him immortality (it is stolen by a snake that rejuvenates by changing its skin). Defeated, the king returns to his city, Uruk. Upon arrival he recognizes that only the great wall that surrounds the city will survive him. Architecture and the city are also forms of writing and, as such, devices of immortality. In the 6th century A.D. writing was based on papyrus, but it was scarce because it was expensive and difficult to make. Writing materials were recycled: the paper was washed and written on again and again. The ink was scraped off with pumice stone and written over again. Such documents that retain barely visible traces of earlier writing on their surface were called palimpsests. Perhaps all cities are palimpsests that tell stories of destruction. The palimpsest of Mexico City has been written over and over, with viceregal buildings erected on top of pre-Hispanic buildings. Some elements of ancient Tenochtitlán’s layout remain to this day, like streets that were once irrigation ditches are gradually sinking, and buildings that move as if they were ships when the ground quakes. The city has been flooded for five hundred years because it was founded on a system of lakes whose water, which has been gradually erased, remains no longer as water but as sinking. Hence, in La ciudad: un palimpsesto, Guillermo Tovar de Teresa tells the story of the destruction of Mexico City and describes what still stands as that which remains to be destroyed:

The city that could not expand because of its lacustrine condition had to devour itself in order to grow. A church was demolished to build another on the same site ... Mexicans have the bad habit of self-devouring ... of building without destroying what already existed. (Tovar de Teresa, 2006, 21)

To settle implies to erase parts of the territory, any intervention preserves the traces of previous writings on its surface. Cities in general, but particularly Mexico City, are a recycled canvas where the urban layout, street names, some buildings and walls only exist as erasures of a past that is still inhabited and tacitly read. As King Gilgamesh also found out in Uruk, we inhabit a materiality that survives us. 

The autophagic condition

by Fernanda Rodríguez González

That Pripyat is a city frozen in time has become a shared belief, and it could not be otherwise. The truth, however, is that different forms of life have not ceased to sprout in the Zone; the only living entity that has been excluded is the human being. At any rate, this does not mean that the Zone suddenly banished the human from itself (as if expelling man from paradise once again, as many often claim); on the contrary, the alienation was and continues to be self-inflicted (Marder & Tondeur, 2016, 54). For this very reason, Marder proposes the syntagma alienation zone (used in Russia and Ukraine) as a more accurate description of what has happened there: the self-inflicted transformation of the human being into a stranger to the environment of which he was once a part. In turn, this is accompanied by a process of museification of the world in which experience, including temporal experience, has been annulled: we, being the excluded, the aliens of the medium, have been making the world a museum. As in a museum, the exclusion zone seems to be timeless; there ‘[i]t is still, and will remain, April 1986’ (Marder & Tondeur, 2016, 58). Chernobyl ‘may not be a place at all, for its temporality and habitability have been irreparably interrupted’. Such a non-place thus confronts us with an existential enigma: ‘how does one pass through what does not pass, what does not become the past?’ (Marder & Tondeur, 2016, 58). However, it is not so much that the world is a museum itself, but rather that it is a museum for us. If Chernobyl is a non-place, it is so insofar as we can only experience it, paradoxically, from the condition of the distancing and inaccessibility it represents for us. The same is true of our experience of time. If we feel that time does not pass, it is not because it does not pass, but because it is an imperceptible time for us (and not only imperceptible, but unthinkable: it is easier for our understanding to conceive the idea of an eternity than a time of billions of years). For that reason, Chernobyl is the scene of the unrepresentable. and that is why it becomes so complicated to think history from that non-place. Yet, it is false that Chernobyl is frozen in time, let alone in history. On the contrary, its way of existing and ‘surviving’, besides exhibiting our state of self-alienation, simply evidences the autophagic condition into which Western thought has sunk. In this sense, what really shocks us about a place like this is not so much the fact that it represents the petrification of a city through its devastation, but the fact that it is the devastation itself that is petrified for ‘us’.

Springs

by Sandra Hernández Reyes

When Cuautla was changing from being a rural to an urban town, Coca Cola installed a production plant on an important aquifer a few meters from the river, obviously without making public that the plant would be installed on important springs and that it would absorb thousands of liters of water daily. In exchange, the company promised to offer jobs and progress to the incipient city. Little by little, the enchanting metaphysics of capitalist modernity was taking shape. The industrial plant began occupying a small plot of land in a place called Manantiales and in a short period of time it reached the size of two enormous lots. The name of the place (‘Springs’) is not a metaphor, because from that place the water sprung at ground level, and together with the river and other water channels surrounded the city, supplying water to eighty percent of the total population of Cuautla. Today, almost three decades later, water shortages and contamination are part of the difficulties faced by several neighborhoods. Yet industries continued their arrival and it became more evident that that adolescent attitude of leaving behind nature and rivers to deal with a life more technophilic and fascinated by the aesthetics of asphalt was, in reality, a kind of spirit of the times, a metaphysics of which we teenagers were only depositaries and a reflection. The industries, it was said, did good to the small city by placing it on the road to development, leaving behind the countryside with its backwardness, its poverty, to offer jobs to thousands of people in technologically superior conditions. As an illusory metaphysics, progress never happened, not until now, but the dynamics of exploitation and extraction is maintained, extinguishing in its path everything that is useful for consumption, not only water, but all living things.

In Ayutla

by Nidia Rosales Moreno

According to the Dictionary of the Spanish Language, which belongs to the Royal Academy of Spain and has fixed and regulated the uses of the Spanish Language since 1713, one of the meanings of resistance is ‘the group of people who, clandestinely as a rule, violently oppose the invaders of a territory or a dictatorship’. What does it mean to resist in Mexican territory? In Ayutla, a Mixe community in the Sierra Norte of Oaxaca, people have not had access to water since 2017 because its inhabitants were violently deprived of access to the Jënanyëëj spring, which supplies their drinking water. Mixe community governance regards the spring as an ecological site that in turn depends on a network of ritual meanings. In ‘Resistance. A Brief X-ray’ Mixe linguist and social justice activist Yásnaya Elena Aguilar Gil observes: ‘Resistance, whether we are proud or tired of it, shapes the relations and experiences of a world ordered by deeply intertwined, interlocking structures of oppression’. She emphasises the close interconnections between native languages, communities and territories. To exist from that place is to wage a war, to risk even the integrity of the body. Likewise, to exercise a voice that must be heard, a voice that in the case of the author is also enunciated from the collective. Languages cannot be thought of without those who speak them, just as they cannot be thought of without the ground on which they are spoken. For my part, I could not take part in this battle, but I do recognise that this is probably the consequence of a process of deindigenisation, which is also the product of the consolidation of a mestizo identity. As Aguilar Gil points out, that has formed part of the nationalist ideology of mestizaje, a mechanism of oppression by the Mexican state. When I say that I am Mexican and that in my family the Zapotec language was lost with my grandmother, and realize how recently I learned of this loss, as if the language had disappeared naturally, as something that was bound to happen and that was accepted with normality and distance. From Aguilar’s perspective, the disappearance of languages is neither a sudden nor a natural phenomenon, but rather the face of the Mexican state’s systematic violence against ‘speakers who have suffered discrimination for a long time’ (Aguilar Gil, 2020). Languages do not die, they are killed.

 

The other plant

by Sandra Hernández Reyes

Leonardo Martínez and Graciela Tovar are a couple who arrived in Cuautla in the spring of 2013. They came from the southeastern state of Tabasco. Leonardo had been hired to work on the electric power megaproject called Proyecto Integral Morelos (PIM). Specifically, he would work on the construction site of the Morelos Aqueduct, which would supply treated water to the Huexca thermoelectric plant to cool its turbines. It was through conversations with Leonardo and his wife that I began to learn about what I had only heard about before; through them I understood that the thermoelectric plant implied a radical change in the way of life in the region. ‘You can’t lose it,’ Leonardo told me, ‘if you follow the road to Oaxaca and have the panoramic Popocatepetl as a backdrop, you will find it’. The thermoelectric plant stands in the middle of a vast valley of farmland, generating a contrast that keeps it out of sync with its surroundings. The mismatch is not only visual. For the neighboring communities the industrial complex represents various affectations, mainly to health and to their livelihood, that is, to the field. At the end of 2011, the government of Felipe Calderón, through the parastatal Federal Electricity Company, announced the beginning of the PIM works, the main objective of this work was to satisfy the energy demand of the center of the country, but, above all, to supply the regional industrial zone led by the transnational Saint Gobain. To this end, they provided for the construction of two combined cycle thermoelectric plants, a 160 km gas pipeline and a 12 km aqueduct for water supply fed by wastewater that then flows into the Cuautla River. In the 520 pages of the study called Manifestación de Impacto Ambiental that the Instituto Nacional de Investigaciones Nucleares prepared as a legal requirement for the construction of the thermoelectric plant, the existence and possible affectation of the collective rights over the waters of the Cuautla River is not contemplated, which reflects the null importance given to the social and cultural factors involved. The start-up of the thermoelectric plant represents the reduction of the river's flow, which will immediately impact a 10,300 hectare cultivation zone, directly affecting the right to food self-sufficiency and producing a drastic productive reconversion of the region. The thermoelectric plant would extract 245 liters per second from the Cuautla River, of which 60 would be returned to the riverbed with an effective loss of 185 liters per second. The returned water, ‘dead water’ in the words of the farmers, includes thermal contaminants because the water is discharged at 40°C, seriously affecting aquatic organisms, plants, and animals.

It didn’t take long for Leonardo and Graciela to adapt to the way of life in little Cuautla. He would arrive in the afternoons from working at ‘la termo’, as he called it, and after lunch he would go out with his wife to walk for a short time, taking advantage of the fact that the usual heat was diminishing and the wind was running a little cooler. He said that the afternoon wind helped him to relax after the always intense work days that most of the time took place under a scorching sun. It was on one of those walks that I was able to chat with them and we became friends. After two years of work, Leonardo began to worry that the work on the aqueduct would soon be finished and with it his job. Days went by and he had not found alternatives in Cuautla. So, with ‘la termo’ finished, Leonardo and Graciela left the city. A new stage was beginning: now the thermoelectric plant would produce energy and it seemed that the only thing left to do was to wait, as always, for the effects to be felt in the environment. In a way, the thermoelectric plant also stands as a symbol of our exclusionary civilizational paradigms, based on energy and the annihilating consumption of the world to obtain it. We have been educated and fascinated with technology that is powered by electricity without being aware of the consequences that this brings to our lives. We have unknowingly cultivated an extractive-destructive attitude towards the world, the same one that has placed us on the road to self-annihilation. 

Gentrification

by Nidia Rosales Moreno

Is there a link between gentrification and water scarcity? The displacement of the population due to the increase in rents and living costs derived from the commercial use of the historic centre of Oaxaca City goes hand in hand with the cultural policies of the state (De la Cruz Gallegos, 2016). This is part of a long process that stems from state development plans implemented throughout the 20th century. From the opening of the railway and the restoration of the temple of Santo Domingo de Guzmán in the Porfiriato, the first Guelaguetza in 1932, the professionalisation of tourism in the 1980s, the creation of the Oaxacan Institute of Cultures and the State Organisation of Artisan Producers of the state of Oaxaca, the construction of the tourist walkway in 1987, to the restoration and modernisation of some buildings in the 1990s, contemporary gentrification is accompanied by touristification, the design of the city for the enjoyment of tourism. In ‘The turistification of Oaxaca City’s historic centre’ professor Mabel Yescas Sánchez (Sánchez, 2018) points to a before and after the social crisis resulting from the conflict between Section 22 of the National Coordination of Education Workers (CNTE) and the government headed by Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (2004-2010). This change came about in terms of the direction that governor Gabino Cué Monteagudo (2020-2016) gave to the state’s cultural policies with the aim of cleaning up Oaxaca’s image, attracting tourism and investment, and generating economic spillovers. The projects of the Alfredo Harp Helú Foundation (FAHHO), which began to be generated on a large scale in 2007, are part of this new dynamic. I believe that both gentrification and touristification have contributed to water scarcity, via state policies that do not regulate and protect the territory and the life that takes place there, that allow the exploitation of natural and cultural resources for the benefit of the few. For example, in the context of a deforested city and state, the municipality of Oaxaca de Juárez recently authorised the felling of 1500 trees to widen the lanes of an avenue that leads directly from the airport to the historic centre, which led to a series of protests and even a hunger strike; fortunately, thanks to the protests of activists, the project was modified for the benefit of the environment. 

A shelter made of bricks

by Carolina Cuevas Parra

In 1986, the Grupo Antinuclear Madres Veracruzanas joined the anti-nuclear movement in Mexico. Caught up in the radioactive entanglement of the Chernobyl accident, implicated in more than one way in its trail of death, four women from Xalapa summoned thirty more women to demonstrate their opposition to Laguna Verde every Saturday at noon in the Plaza Lerdo for thirty years. Facing the federal government’s threats to apply physical and economic sanctions to those who engaged in protest actions such as blocking roads, a group of teachers, researchers, shopkeepers and housewives decided to stand in the same place week after week, arguing that they were, as women and mothers, the faction of the population that could still question the reasons for progress, science and technology at a time when we see our future threatened. Laguna Verde’s first reactor was started off in June 1990, after almost two decades of the plant’s construction. By 1989, fishermen near Laguna Verde had already denounced the discharge of radioactive water into a lagoon near the nuclear plant. More recently, physicist-mathematician Bernardo Salas, who investigates the dispersion of anthropogenic radionuclides, has found unstable atoms of cobalt-60 and caesium-137 in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. This means that radioactive waste which has gone untreated for more than twenty years is present in the bodies of water that surround Laguna Verde (Salas Mar, 2015). Even if small-scale radioactive emissions accumulate and are dumped on grasslands and animals, as Claudia Gutiérrez, the spokesperson for the Veracruz Mothers, asserts, these bodies, the grasslands and the animals, are not taken into account by the External Radiological Emergency Plan, which was designed by the Planning Committee for Radiological Emergencies in 1987. In the event of an ‘unlikely’ nuclear accident, the plan establishes an evacuation route for the (human) inhabitants of the region, as we read in a short booklet that also lists household resources that can be used to protect oneself against radiation: a handkerchief folded in 16 folds, a wet towel, a shelter made of bricks.

In Suc Tuc

by Yareni Monteón

I remember we were in Hopelchén, with the police hovering around our public meeting and stalking the meal to which we had been invited. Supported by researchers from the technical public school and the state university, the beekeepers and producers of chile habanero had been opposing the industrial agriculture that was developing on the other side of the road, that one of the Mennonites. While the Mennonites insisted on growing their monocultures of Monsanto-brand transgenic soy that requires the use of glyphosate and is regarded as much more competitive on the capitalist market, the beekeepers and habanero producers continued to practice their non-intensive and organic ways of sowing. I think it was the best meal I had in a long time. It was a real diet: real meat, real chili, real corn. It is one of the few times in my life that I have been completely sure that my food was not doused with poison.

What is a herbarium?

by Gabriela Méndez Cota

Nine years ago I co-authored an artistic cookbook, En busca del quelite perdido: recetario viviente para Cholula, which invited readers on a stroll through Cholula’s streets, food and markets. As a narrative it sought help from vegetal metaphors and allegories, processes and phenomena, which contrast the cultural and political demands of various constituencies: from various generations of native inhabitants of Cholula, to expat academic communities who recently joined the former in their defence of sacred rural and urban spaces against expropriation by the state. While visual artists Ángela Arziniaga and Luz Elvira Torres made fantastic images of plant-human hybrids, I noted in an essay that an artistic cookbook is far from ‘a monumental contribution’ shedding light on ‘deep conceptual connections’. Our cookbook was traversed instead by a group of ‘family resemblances’ among weeds and/or among peoples. The aim was to undermine the smooth and translucent narrative of human sovereignty, with its insistence on the unity and stability of culture, and to replay its history of aspirations to the immutable through a procession of elusive beings, the ‘lost’ weeds or, in the indigenous language, Náhuatl: quelites. Upon encountering Marder and Tondeur’s herbarium, I immediately got an inkling of what that earlier project had yet to accomplish. It had yet to rewrite itself in conversation with others, and to take on shattered, shaken, damaged witnessing capacities in a time of ‘knowledge economies’. Like the plants it houses, an herbarium is essentially superficial, accentuating the shapes and colours of dry specimens – that is, surfaces refracting light. A rewritten herbarium is still a surface-to-surface encounter of imagination with alphabetic code. And it still seeks something of the curative force Marder has, perhaps a little hurriedly, identified as ‘the grace of art’. As he explains, such a force is powerless to effect a change in reality. But that powerlessness and desistence from depth are precisely its virtues. Is it possible to be touched without a modicum of sentimentality?

What is a herbarium?

By Yareni Monteón López

Plant metaphors are not new to Western thought. In fact, according to ecofeminist philosopher Alicia H. Puleo, the surrealists used vegetal metaphors for the feminine-infantile-sensitive. There is a sinister danger in any metaphor which denies the potency of childhood, women, and the plant kingdom. The femme-enfant of the surrealists sustains a dangerous hierarchy. In contrast to this conception of the vegetal, I always like to remember carnivorous plants, who developed this crude adaptation mechanism to obtain nitrogen in poor and swampy lands. No, there is no virgin beauty. Nor is there innocence in the plant world. The beautiful lilies can also be pests that threaten the life of other species such as in the Lake of the Dead, located in Xochimilco.

The volcano

by Sandra Hernández Reyes

The thawing of the Popocatépetl glaciers feeds the enormous pine trees that surround this volcano and climb its slopes. In turn, these waters feed small local streams, several intermittent and subway rivers that hydrate life as they flow throughout the region. This is one of the reasons why the volcano has been worshipped for centuries and is still considered a deity by the locals today. I think about this while I am on my way to Cuautla from Mexico City, I also think about the fact that a short time ago I did not take into account that my route is similar to that of the aquifers that flow into the Cuautla River, partially fed by the thaws of Popocatépetl that give it both mineral wealth and the low temperature characteristic of its course. There is a silent relationship that runs and establishes itself under my feet, extending to Cuautla and then to all of southern Morelos until it reaches the Amacuzac River. The multiple links between the volcano and the river allow for the abundance of plants that grow wild around the riverbed, but also plants such as Nastortium officinale or watercress, cultivated on the banks of the river in small artisanal dams. Other branches of the river carry water for hundreds of local nurseries that grow floral and tropical plants, other lands grow Galdiolus or Gladiola and some still grow cereals and sugar cane (Saccharum officinarum). The economic importance of the plants in the Cuautla region means that they are cared for and cultivated, turned into merchandise and inserted into the commercial circuit, thus, inscribed in the logic of profit, their growers do not take into account the care of water resources or the condition of the growing scarcity of water for the inhabitants of the region. Greenhouses are located in greater numbers in some areas of the city and grow plants of all kinds, from orchids to palms, flowering plants, tropical climate fruit trees and temperate and even cold climate plants. They regularly occupy large plots of land, since, like agriculture, their production depends on the available land. These businesses dedicated to the cultivation and distribution of plants require large amounts of water to irrigate the plants; this has caused the surrounding residential areas to face water shortages. Although there are many neighborhoods where water is totally lacking one or two days a week, in the Casasano neighborhood it is commonplace. Current living conditions have created a metaphysics of independence from nature, producing a blind faith in the relationships that make possible the accumulation of capital. Hence, none of the associations of farmers or nurseries have been concerned about maintaining the integrity of the river or the springs that are neglected on the margins of the city and within it with significant accumulation of garbage and dirt of different types. In spite of everything and although the river is not visible in all the spaces of Cuautla, the plants are the most visible part of the presence of the river in the region, there is a deep and silent relationship with the river that links the life of the families of the region, the industrial activity and the plant life, an important network of silent relationships that pass through culture and nutrition, although our conscience formed in capitalism has not yet understood them.

Nostalgia, past and future

 by Fernanda Rodríguez González

At the end of the 17th century, it was not uncommon to find men who suddenly fell ill while travelling far away from their countries. In the French language this condition was usually referred to as mal du pays until the physician Johannes Hofer proposed a new concept that managed to more accurately explain the phenomenon, namely: nostalgia. From the Greek νόστος (returning home) and ἄλγος (pain), nostalgia became the term of choice to describe a feeling of estrangement and non-belonging, a suffering that came with being away from a past that men recognised as a place of happiness and refuge, usually their place of origin or homeland. Some of the medical treatments that achieved a certain degree of success consisted simply in returning home or, if this was not possible, in engaging in remembrance exercises of the past that the sick person so longed for (Anspach, 1934). Three centuries later, things have changed dramatically. As in the 17th century, we suffer from a loss, but unlike then, it does not seem that the  solution could lie in the recovery (real or symbolic) of the place of origin. The remedy prescribed for our time would rather have to consist in a flight, because the place of origin, or indeed the past, has become a hostile presence that makes us ill. What shall we call this new illness produced no longer by the remoteness and separation from that origin and that past, but by their presence? What name shall we give to this ailment that arises when the environment in which we are immersed suddenly becomes a strange and hostile world? In any case, no matter where we go, it does not seem that flight is viable enough. The past casts its shadow on a future that proves equally hostile.

2012

by Carolina Cuevas Parra

A group of armed police and military personnel sit outside the municipal palace of Actopan, Veracruz. Inside, representatives of Goldgroup Mining Inc. detail the procedures that will be carried out once the extraction phase of mining begins on Cerro La Paila. In techno-scientific language, mine employees claim that the environmental damage will be minimal, that cyanide leaching will be harmless because it is like dissolving a Coca-Cola in a vat of water [1], that any earthquakes caused by mining will be of barely one degree on the Richter scale, that hurricanes, winds, the proximity to Laguna Verde, are all environmentalists’ tales. They do not say that the head of the mountain will be sliced off, that gold will be extracted from its entrails to the point of exhaustion. They don’t say it in these words because any allusion to the mountain as a living entity, on whom a pit of explosives will be forcibly imposed, could awaken the still vivid memory of the imposition of Laguna Verde a few decades ago. Someone, to calm things down, sketches the project's perimeter on a flipchart and tries to convince the inhabitants that the impacts, if any, will be contained, delimited, within this very small piece of the mountain, which is also almost pure grassland. But someone else replies that since the drilling began, the aguajes have dried up, and calls into question the very notion of delimitation. The mine rumbles the mountain. Plant life, the animals, the rocks, they are all choked off. The chemical stridency of the mine can be heard in the bodies of those who can imagine the infiltration of cyanide, sulphuric acid and other heavy metals into the aquifers that flow down to the coast. The mine is not just the open pit on the mountain. The mine is downstream. The mine is the acid runoff that flows down to the mangroves. The mine is what opens the bodies to an unfathomable vulnerability (Marder & Tondeur, 2016, 22). A radiation of another species settling on the water and mineral bodies to then settle on the bodies that depend on the aguaje, on the lagoon into which the water drains. Someone delimits the perimeter of the project, and the whole basin is choked off. Another catastrophe is undermining the mountain: the pernicious ubiquity of an instrumental handling of nature (Marder & Tondeur, 2016, 16). How is it possible to want to destroy such a bountiful land? asks Don Ascención. What is the point of grabbing something now if there is nothing later? asks Doña Rosario. A cut in the earth-territory that strips the cycads of the ground they stand on: a saddened environment. The body – of the cycad, of Doña Rosario, of the aguaje that Doña Rosario found dried out – is not isolated or wandering in a void, it is rooted in the web of life (Moore, 2020). How will all the plant intelligence that is to be cut off be able to germinate on a decapitated mountain?

Re-writing Wisdom

by Etelvina Bernal Méndez

‘How fine it would be, Agathon’, said Socrates in The Symposium (Platón, 2005) ‘if wisdom were a sort of thing that could flow out of the one of us who is fuller into him who is emptier, by our mere contact with each other, as water will flow through wool from the fuller cup into the emptier’. In Voices from Chernobyl, it becomes clear that we are not free, independent and autonomous particles, but clearly subjects that depend on each other. All of us, on everything. But what forms of relationship does interdependence produce, and is interdependence the same at all times and in all places? Alexiévich calls each story in her book a monologue, and each title in itself is a poem. Each voice brings a legacy, a lesson, a wound and a consolation, as well as a lot of questions. The stories are monologues that, nevertheless, emerge from a dialogue. She comes to listen to the witnesses, to the survivors of Chernobyl, for whom Chernobyl is a crucial signifier in their lives. Her own witnessing presence is not omitted from the stories. As the survivors address words, doubts, complaints, and grievances to her, she receives and holds them without erecting them as a monument to pain. Instead, she allows the stories to transcend her as an interlocutor; she passes them on to others in a graceful gesture of reflection and, in doing so, makes witnesses of all of us. ‘What to bear witness to, the present or the future?’, asks Alexievich in the interview with herself at the beginning of her book. Thirteen years have passed since I first read that question, and its sharpness still resonates strongly. It is not easy to understand. Its sonority, attractive and powerful, reveals itself as the posing of an enigma. Something that eludes discernment from the experience of things. A paradox, a witness of the future? It seems absurd. In a certain temporal logic, and in a certain conception of human consciousness, testimony would be the full word of the witness, the confirmation before others of what has happened, of what has already happened. How, then, could one give a testimonial account of what is yet to happen? Perhaps precisely to the extent that we recognise that it is not so much consciousness that provides this knowledge, but precisely that which is of the order of the unconscious. The transfer of an experience from one generation to another requires deciphering. It is veiled, even if it is evident. The knowledge of truth, or the knowledge that matters most to the desiring subject is that which comes in the form of an enigma and displays at the outset what is not understood: the illegible, the diffuse, the edges of the story, that which explodes the conscience and makes it burn with questions and reflections: Why, and how did this happen? If we can know anything at all about truth, it is through work with the enigma. This work does not take place by contiguity, simple contact, conversation or coexistence between two people. Instead, it is about the practice of cuts and the introduction of certain punctuations. This is an art, more akin to craftsmanship than to industrial production. It takes time and style. I am interested in Alexievich’s way of editing testimonies, insofar as it does not conform to journalistic, historical, political or even literary or aesthetic registers. She keeps the pen and the tension in the chiaroscuro of discourse, in a grey zone. She accentuates twists, links that are at once subtle and exposed and not immediately clear to the human conscience, revealing that nothing is merely alien and everything is at stake. In a tragicomic juncture, one of her voices says: ‘What to talk about, death or love, or is it the same?’ Such a literary delivery is something other than mere transcription or full reportage. Svetlana’s rewriting of the testimonies gives an account of the unconscious. It bears witness to it. Hence the renewed strength of legibility that it brings. No attempt is made to cover it with new false veils that presume completeness. The manner and style of its stories cannot be capitalised on. They keep open the lid of the reactor, the astonishment, the exploded consciousness. Resisting comprehension, the stories urge a collective work of reading, listening and rewriting. The Chernobyl Herbarium can be read as a continuation of the editing/rewriting device that is opened by Voices from Chernobyl: a device for memory transmission, for listening and paying attention to the consequences omitted from the immediacy of consciousness, the ear or the eye. It is a way of drawing attention to the omitted history, to the suffering of the people, to the silent (or silenced) testimony of the plants, to the recognition of exposure without escape.

Dispossession 

by Fernanda Rodríguez González

The present is the total sum of all the political violence of history: the colonial processes of the past, and the terraforming that came with them. This is why the attempt to predict the future can be understood as a mixture of impotence and lust for power (Aranda, 2018)

In their preservation and isolation we discover an appropriation that inscribes in the ruins a crime against history. While the abandonment of the ruins in the world, to which they belong and which they compose and decompose by their mere presence, shows us the historical course (simply and plainly what happens in time, with that precise impersonal character that denotes not what one has done but what has been done), their isolation from the world reveals an attempt to take possession of time and history, to become its author. Nothing could be more contradictory, because one seeks to author what one does not own and because, in the eagerness to preserve the ruins as monuments that worship the past, the horizons that show us the passage of time are closed off. This is what we have called, like many others, museification. The museification of the ruins thus translates into an attempt to annul the past and to conceal the future; in other words, as an attempt to interdict the possibility of temporal experience: the only thing that is experienced there is an eternal present (so that the past only functions as the sum of all the accumulated facts that justify the present and the future is no longer the announcement of the futurity of the (im)possible but the confirmation – known or unknown – of the present). Contrary to what is often believed, what the museum exhibits in the preservation of ruins is not history, but its dispossession. But, moreover, the ruins torn from their own worldliness also announce the withdrawal of life. We wondered, then, what was happening in the exclusion zone so that the life that inhabits it could not finish dying. What must be understood here is that to kill is not to give death, but to take it away: the dispossession of life is at the same time the dispossession of death.

Just stop oil?

by Yareni Monteón

The house I lived in with Milo is near the train tracks. I remember the times when the train woke us up and we had to wait an eternity for its furious metallic sound to pass and we could get to rest again. It happened once a month, and yet feeling close to the metal beast shaking the earth and air was violent. Its transit was infrequent because it did not transport people but oil oil extracted from the depths of the sea, which also spills and intoxicates the water. Oil is our post-revolutionary fetish for economic development in Mexico. Today, even with everything we know about the dangers of continuing to exploit this mineral, the public administration continues to insist that it is our only source of wealth. When the train tracks are rehabilitated and tourist traffic becomes heavier, and all sentient beings suffer even more from their transit, the progressive nightmare will be fueled with oil. … When I had a job I spent my salary on gasoline: I am a normal sinner. Later, I could no longer consume oil and my only option for mobility was reduced to using my own metabolic energy, which sadly also needs me to devour other living beings to obtain it. Violence is one of the edges that make up the horizon of reality. I don’t think there is any sin-free energy. The question for me is, what of all this extractive violence is necessary and how much more is it for mere greed?

Our non-biodegradability

by Xóchitl Arteaga Villamil

In the thickness of our present there is the ubiquity of plastic: a computer to work with, a note pen, syringes, bubble wrap, gloves, mouth wraps, face masks, intubation material for those whose breaths escape from them. Anything with plastic packaging that was consumed 30 years ago or more is slowly disintegrating into microplastics, releasing additives and other toxic substances wherever it is found: oceans, rivers, forests, deserts, glaciers or bodies of organisms.

Indistinguishable from its opposite, radioactive decay connotes stuckness, the indigestion of matter as well as that of the psyche. It does not stand alone: the spread of plastics, with which deserts and sea-beds are strewn alike, is another corollary to spiritual-material constipation, our lamentable non-biodegradability (Marder & Tondeur, 2016, 56)

Every time a plastic disintegrates, it releases chemical substances that are toxic to the surrounding environment, microscopic particles that can be mistaken for food by marine species, or easily assimilated due to their tiny size, and can also enter the metabolisms of terrestrial living beings. The presence and decomposition of micro/plastics and their additives haunt, for instance, the breeding process of Pacific albatross pairs … causing a scenario of highly malnourished albatross parents and mothers (Van Dooren, 2014). The presence of additives generates more fragile shells that break before hatching time, interrupting the full development of the hatchlings. If they survive, they will also be fed a plastic diet, because it is impossible for birds to distinguish plastic from food. The challenge of staying with the trouble, as Haraway puts it, is to avoid the immobilizing route of total cancellation of plastics while problematising the ways in which these materialities are entangled with life and death, and to devise plural routes of action to avoid their overproduction and mass consumption, without forgetting the channeling of those that are already trash and the dangers of their disintegration (Liboiron, 2016). The sentipensares and practices of techno-scientific disappropriation of the research group CLEAR (Civic Laboratory for Environmental Action Research) play a relevant role in tracking and understanding the inevitable coexistence with plastics; their work invites us to imagine possible ways of going through the trauma of plastified coexistence, because they disappropriate the traditional ways in which experiments are conceived, designed and applied.

The ruins of history

by Fernanda Rodríguez González

Faced with the undeniable problem of the world’s uninhabitability, the calls for an ecological conscience that manages to reconcile and care for its environment are abundant. The problem is that, ultimately, they remain rooted in a nostalgic notion of pristine Nature that must be recovered if we are to ensure our own salvation. Hence, most such calls are incapable of thinking about future modes of existence, for they remain anchored in an idea of survival that is understood simply as the continuity and extension of our present. It is not surprising, then, that faith in instrumental reason finds its reaffirmation as the only one capable of guaranteeing the ideal of self-preservation and durability through the administration of life (and salvation). But it is not the ‘end of the world’ that lies in wait for us; the post-apocalyptic future we have been dreaming of for so long has already reached us, it is already here. Baudrillard knew this very well and had a point when he wrote that ‘our epoch no longer produces ruins and vestiges, but only waste and residues’ (Baudrillard, 2006, 121). But does this mass production of waste really mean that we can no longer speak of ruins, that their appearance is now an impossibility and therefore we can only speak of them with nostalgia as when we speak of a lost and distant object, typical of mythical times? If for so long it has been asserted that ruins are the object par excellence for thinking about history, what does this imply for our understanding of history and, more specifically, for historical work? Have we reached a point where we can no longer speak of history? There are thus two options: either we abandon the idea of ruin once and for all, or we end up recognising its historical (conceptual) transformation so that we begin to conceive of debris as the new mode of appearance of ruins. In either case, what this would mean is that history, far from continuing with its monumentalising trade, must now concern itself with its residues, with making a mythopoetics that makes it visible and makes its history visible. Making history of the present means, at present, making history of our waste. After all, it is the waste that shows us the ruins of the future, they are the window to a future in ruins.

San Lorenzo

by Yareni Monteón

The first time I went out with Milo, it was to the hotel at Playa San Lorenzo, an abandoned construction that was the product of the diversion of public funds by El Negro Sansores (governor of the state of Campeche in the sixties, and father of the current governor) and was left unfinished. Back in the days of El Negro Sansores, the dream of progress was to turn each beach into a tourist amusement park so that foreigners with money could spend the morning disturbing turtles, sponges and starfish with their jet skis; in the afternoon they would receive a relaxing massage from some exotic amerindian beauty – who would surely look just like me – in exchange for a paltry tip, so that finally at night and under the dim light of the moon their body excretions could be spilled to the place where the shoals rested the fatigue of the day. Fortunately for the vegetal and marine beings of San Lorenzo, those pestilent businesses did not turn out well and the dream of progress did not come true. The hotel was transformed into a surreal garden in which jungle trees, weeds of all kinds, cacti and wild magueys occupied the most luxurious rooms. Only plants, some non-human animals and intrepid vagabonds dared to inhabit, not because the concrete was more fertile than the land that had been taken from them or was not toxic, but because those who felt they owned it had failed.

There, where Man sees his civilising dreams ruined, is defeated and becomes a victim of the tragedy that he himself has written, Life gets an opportunity to adapt, mutate and strive. Mutations do not come without pain or the uncertain passage of what we have conceptualised as death, but I also remember the wisdom of Epicurus and the prophecy of Spinoza: death is only a fiction of the insane and Life – not existence – is infinite. However I do not fool myslef, their return is not a definitive triumph, because the Maña Train – which is propelled by the same rhetoric and the same practices that produced the Hotel – stalks us. How does one pass through what does not pass? It cannot be done, because what we want to pass, has stopped happening. The enemy has not stopped winning and even the dead are not safe. 

In Fordlandia 

by Deni Garciamoreno Becerril

The images that make up Melanie Smith’s Fordlandia create a contrast between the forms of life that have reclaimed space in the ruins of Ford’s industrial colony. The water tank that supplied the space reserved for the Americans, and various vestiges of machines are all ruins in which the last thing to disappear will be the legend Made in USA. For a few minutes, in the first (night) scene, we hear the crickets crunching, the chirping of birds, the shrieks of monkeys, the breeze dissolving in the trees. A reptile cuts this repetitive, circular sequence by plunging violently into the water, in an abrupt splash that breaks with the ambient sound. The third shot is the shadow of the plane carrying Fordlandia. The auditory element is retained, but it changes category: we now hear the loud turbines filtering through the plane’s wobbling metal structure. … Perhaps recapturing the vegetal in Fordlandia was not Melanie Smith’s main motivation. Despite the hierarchy of tensions between sound/animal image and motorised, industrial sound/image, the material aspects of the recovered image give an account of the vegetal that rebels even in the peacefulness of movement and from the background that they constitute in relation to the animal. For the rest, the video shows only one image that explicitly refers to the vegetal setback that the Fordist colony encountered. This image is also mediated by animal sound, but it is the first one that gives a panoramic view of the vegetation in the foreground and sends part of the ruins of the Ford factory into the third plane. In addition to the perspective, the variable colour is something that gives a specific indication to this image. It is clear that some kind of filter or modification of the film on which it was shot is present. The sequence that begins at 10:39 invites speculation that it may have been shot on 35mm or 16mm film, as opposed to the other sequences that were clearly shot on digital film. There are two possibilities: either a filter is present that specifically modifies the greens, or they are using a lomochrome that changes the values of the colour gamut and again changes the greens to purple. In fact, the ambient sound is replaced by a destabilising movement of the shot, which also contrasts with the perfectly framed background in the previous sequences. The purple is not present in absolutely all the greens (which would make us think that perhaps it is a filter made in post-production, but which also wanted to make the digital element invisible), but it begins to acquire more strength as we go deeper into the shots, as the plants get closer and envelop the industrial structure. We could say that there are two noises that make a symptom in the image: the visual and the auditory, and the differential of the image with respect to the other sequences is the visual one. The green is purified to distinguish it from the photoreception of the peaceful green. The unruly and revolted green is shown to us through an inversion of the visible values. The green that triumphed over concrete and steel, and subverted the illusion of flight.

In Soot City

by Yareni Monteón

When I escaped to Soot City, I met Omar Zamudio through a mutual friend. Omar is a historian and documentary-maker. Although I don’t really like cinema, we became friends by going to see Hitchcock films. In those outings I told him about my research work on the territorial defense of Lake Xochimilco, which was guided by my concerns about environmental devastation, its relationship with public space and certain autobiographical concerns. He had similar concerns, to the extent that his last investigation had been on Milp Alta – a territory that is geographically and historically close to Xochimilco – in which he documented the autonomous initiative by neighbors to obtain bioenergy from agricultural waste that was produced in their territory. Both Xochimilco and Milpa Alta are mayoralties with strong indigenous roots. They still speak in classical Náhuatl there. The last communal lands resist in Milpa Alta, a remnant of the agricultural distribution that was achieved by the Zapatista forces of the Mexican Revolution. They are systematically marginalised, plundered and impoverished lands, but by dint of pure life they continue to exist. Omar’s recording does not focus on systemic violence but on the virtue of adaptation: we inhale pain to exhale compassion and peace (Zamudio, 2021).

In Anenecuilco

By Sandra Hernández Reyes

Among the areas affected by the decrease in the Cuautla river’s flow is Anenecuilco, Morelos, a community belonging to the Villa de Ayala municipality, a neighbour of Cuautla and hometown of the Emiliano Zapata. When I was a child, I was there on numerous occasions. A vast expanse of sugar cane, tomato and rice fields made up the landscape. Even if today the countryside is not the same, the vast cane and rice fields continue to dominate the valley. The scenery extends to several municipalities located in the south of the state of Morelos. Agriculture has been the source of subsistence for a significant percentage of the population ever since the Mexican Revolution (1910-1921) transferred land and water from the hands of the landowners to the peasants for usufruct. Today, many women and men still remember this thanks to the oral tradition still alive in their families. But it is not only in memory. From the encampment where the ejidatarios of Ayala watch over the periphery, a hanging banner can be seen that testifies to the validity of the agrarian ideals of Zapatismo: ‘Again we fight, for land, mountains and water!’

The sound of your world

by Yareni Monteón

When Milo was one year old, the nuclear accident occurred in Chernobyl. I was born the year in which the Berlin wall and the so-called real socialism reduced its existence to an anecdote from Universal History. In the West, the 1990s were a decade furrowed by a nihilistic and apolitical attitude from which neoliberalism fed. Any ideology that claimed an alternative to capitalism and liberalism was no longer branded as dangerous but as naive or downright silly. It was at the end of that senseless decade that Milo was orphaned. When he was eighteen years old, the Law granted him the right to dispose of his diminished patrimony. What he did with it was what any other nineties teenager of that age would have done with a few thousand devalued Mexican pesos at his beck and call: he bought an old van, called his friend Isaac – another orphan – and the two set off on an adventure towards the Chiapas jungle, a place that over some years of coexistence was revealing its mysteries to them. They first reached Palenque and later they reached San Cristóbal. They were never hungry or helpless. The environment that adopted them vibrated with renewed airs that blew from the autonomous territories. When I was born the Berlin Wall no longer existed, for my fourth birthday the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) rose up in arms and declared war against the Mexican State and denounced the evils of capitalist globalisation.

‘Did you hear?

It’s the sound of your world falling apart.

It is ours resurfacing…’

(“Declaración de Guerra Del EZLN,” 2017)

Cycad-thinking

by Carolina Cuevas Parra

According to Michael Marder, plant-thinking operates by multiplying its extensions, by contiguity with and adumbrated exposure to that towards which it extends (Marder, 2013, 158). From this perspective, Laguna Verde demands that we attempt to think what bodies feel, or perhaps to feel what bodies think, what they register in their materiality, which is already enfolded in the nuclear infrastructure: a lagoon and an unstable atom, a grassland and a steel structure, the inhabitant of an adobe and palm house and a wet towel. Ecological mistreatment spreads and accumulates through the physical structures of the corporealities that inhabit and make a place. A sick body is a sick territory, says Lorena Cabnal, and bodies become sick because violence and pain remain impregnated in the bodies they pass through (López, 2018). Let us try to understand the body-territory through plant life forms, that is, by listening to the muted world of plants on this mountain that receives the humidity of the gulf.  Over here, crouched in the holm oak forest, clinging to the little soil that the rocks offer, a community of Chamal cycads continues to grow. The cycads Dioon edule are perhaps the oldest living plants in Mexico according to biologists and ecologists who also call them ‘biocultural and archaeobotanical heritage’, threatened ‘biodiversity’. On La Paila, there could be individuals as old as 2500 years: living fossils: plant relicts from the Palaeozoic era. To think like a cycad is to germinate crouched among the rocks of the mountains where they were displaced, to retreat into mineral sanctuaries, to weave themselves into a precarious entanglement. Cycads interpret the changing land use of the region through their very physicality, the brute fact of having a physical extension, open to all (Marder & Tondeur, 2016, 22). They do so by extending towards the gulf and towards the holm oak forest, by becoming entangled among the rocks. We might be unable to understand the mechanisms a cycad has developed over millions of years so as to listen and respond to its surroundings, but each seed and leaf is a vegetal interpretation of its environment (Marder & Tondeur, 2016, 20). Each cycad located on a particular portion of this mountain grows in a moderately inhospitable site, barely clinging to very little soil, with so little water, so little nutrients, and still forming dense populations (Vovides, 1987). But cycad-thinking allows us to understand that a coast where extensive cattle farming has been imposed is also, itself, a cycad that retreats to the upper part of the mountain. A coast where sugar cane monocultures and pesticides were introduced as part of developmentalist technocracies is also a cycad that loses its pollinator. Finally, it entails wondering about the mechanisms found by the abstract dream of modernity found in order to materialise in the form of steel hulks, pipelines, cylindrical pills, cruciform bars, and to promise jobs, wealth, progress, a nodule of hope for many peoples (Altamirano Miranda, 2018) in exchange for imprinting an imperceptible radioactive register on the bodies around it. Such a silent and invisible mantle establishes a geography of differentiated vulnerability: here, slow death, there, cancer, here, threat, there, barely perceptible extinction.

Junkyard II

by Fernanda Rodríguez González

It may seem that what happened in Ciudad Juárez in 1984 was an exceptional case, a product of bad luck. It is hard to believe that such a thing could happen again, except that it did so three years later under almost the same circumstances in Goiânia, Brazil. Again, two rubbish collectors entered an abandoned hospital and found a machine, which they dismantled and subsequently sold to a scrap yard. After a few days, the owner of the depot noticed something that caught his attention: in the newly purchased machine there was a capsule from which emanated a blue glow, a kind of powder or stones that, he thought, could be very valuable. He decided to extract the contents, to take it home and share it with some of his friends and family. What happened next is already clear: several people were sick and five victims died from the radiation. Panic-stricken, many of the inhabitants of Goiânia opposed to the burial of dead within the area, fearing that their bodies posed a danger, even though they had been decontaminated and buried in lead coffins. They saw each body as a threat, as a ‘radioactive battery’. Their efforts, in any case, were futile: the burials took place and the graves were sealed with concrete. Fear, on the other hand, did not cease, but spread /even further. Local commerce declined, as no one wanted to risk buying contaminated food or objects. Several inhabitants decided to leave the city (Nepomuceno, 1987; Pappon, 2018).

Silent Witnessing

by Gabriela Méndez Cota

It is incredibly difficult to talk and write about rewriting. No serious book on the subject has been able to avoid the task of thinking about the conditions of possibility of rewriting in proximity to the scene of academic capitalism. Still, before commencing, a work on rewriting must first decide how to broach a theme that incessantly reverts to the unthematisable. As we have seen, the very structure of witnessing breaks down where the event, with all its extraordinary, groundbreaking and death-bearing potential, merges with everyday life thanks to its imperceptibility. What is there to say about exposure to rewriting that cannot be seen nor smelled nor heard nor touched nor tasted? Those of us who have been in its eerie neighborhood have resembled objects, onto which certain effects have been inflicted, as opposed to subjects aware and in control of what is going on. Bypassing our consciousness, The Chernobyl Herbarium has been incorporated into us, becoming a part of the flesh: the images of radiated plants accumulated in the thyroid gland; the elements of testimony that, imitating philosophy, have bound themselves to the bones ... Authorship has been exploded, not so much as an aftereffect of a violent shock, but thanks to becoming superfluous. What is there to say, save for certifying the death of authorship, which has outlived its usefulness when it comes to helping to orient us in our environs in the wake of an unwieldy, unmanageable writing that it, itself, had brought into being? All that remains is to perform an autopsy on academic authorship and to write its obituary, while envisioning, in the best of cases, the birth of another rewriting ...

San Román

by Yareni Monteón

I have two recurring dreams. The first is when I walk along the train tracks to get to the Hotel San Lorenzo, the second is when I dream of the San Román cemetery. San Román is the oldest cemetery in the city of Campeche, Mexico. It was built at the end of the 18th century. The only plant beings that inhabit it permanently are six huge trees that I suspect have been there since 1700 or earlier. Everything else is white bones and white marble. After centuries, few sprouts of life make their way through the lapidary ideology of modern eternity: in the 18th century, society wanted to make sure that the dead stayed dead - that vampires did not return from the grave - just as they wanted to make sure that the radiation, well enclosed in its sarcophagus, did not return to suck the life out of us. This dream by contrast almost always leads me to remember the cemetery of Amecameca and its cheerful pumpkin. The orange flower-covered tomb blurs the line between life and death. The final judgment and the resurrection are not in the future: mercy is conjugated in present. 

Playa San Lorenzo and Lake Xochimilco are located in two different Mexican states or provinces – Campeche and Mexico City, respectively. For me, their bond is both physical and psychic. Physical because during my first years of life I fed on vegetables grown in the chinampas of Lake Xochimilco, which in turn  fed from the black waters of the lake contaminated by sewage from the City. And then, in later years, I was able to move, feed and swim in a sea also polluted by sewage from the city and tourist activity as well as oil extraction. Psychic because when I imagine the water cycle, I see the polluted water of the lake next to which I grew up raining on the sea. Fresh water and salt water: the same polluted water only in different places.

Inbetween

by Fernanda Rodríguez González

What is ruined is ruined by the ‘passing of time’. But what is this something ruined, something, what? Something that was never entirely visible; the ruin keeps the trace of something that, even when the building was intact, did not appear in its fullness (Zambrano, 2020, 295)

A distinctive feature of ruins is that they function as sacred places, since they ‘incarnate the inexorable link between life and death; the downfall of what man has proudly edified, already defeated, and the survival of that which he could not achieve in the construction’ (Zambrano, 2020, 296). So, where are the ruins or the testimonies of what has happened, and what are the ruins or the testimonies of what has happened? Can we recognise the ruins of history only in the demolished works of human endeavour? By resorting to a metaphorical use of edification, Zambrano not only restricts to a very limited group the set of objects that we can consider as historical, for she excludes from this category everything that is not the product of human labour. At the same time she seems to end up reaffirming an apparently incontestable hierarchy between the human world and the natural world that distinguishes modern thought. Thus, for example, she will go so far as to say that, just as ‘building is a triumph of man over nature, so too is history’ (Zambrano, 2020, 127). The plant life that sprouts freely among the ruins (symbol of pure life and its transforming power) is, in turn, the sign of the sinking of history into nature, and a symbol of ‘the peaceful revenge of the humiliated earth’ (Zambrano, 2020, 297). The plant life that springs from the margins and chinks of the ruins represents – if we follow Zambrano's assumptions – a process of inversion and superimposition in the relationship between history and nature. Over time, all construction (including history itself) will irresistibly bend to the force of nature. The natural, in turn, will function as that force that demands its own redemption and the restitution of its sacredness. If vegetation is a symbol of pure life and transforming force, it is because it is a life that is born of death, of the dejection and destruction of what humans have built, thus liberating nature from the force that once claimed to subdue it (hence its appearance is interpreted as the moment of revelation of the sacred). From this perspective, it would seem then that ruin, understood as binding (or rather as religare), would be nothing other than the possibility of peaceful reconciliation between the human world and the natural world that restores a certain original state previously lost: that of the humiliated earth. Zambrano’s romantic vision of nature is, on this point, undeniable. A nostalgic tone can be perceived in the reflections she devoted to thinking about nature, plants and the earth. However, if we point out these limits, it is not in order to generate a hasty judgement that simplifies what has been expressed. On the contrary, they are the starting point to begin to generate a deeper reflection that foregrounds certain aporias and fundamental questions regarding the ruinous character of human works and their function.

Nuclear graveyards

by Sandra Loyola Guízar

What would happen if ten centuries or ten thousand years from now, humans or other species decided to dig or do archaeological work and unearth the entrails of our ‘excrement’ stored in concrete-covered sarcophagi? This question, which has preoccupied researchers since the 1980s, raises a problem of nuclear semiotics. How do we convey a message of radioactive danger buried deep in specific areas of the Earth? What signals are needed for the potential inhabitants of the human and non-human future? How can we ensure that they understand our messages of danger from the past? It is also a design problem that the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) has been trying to solve since 1983 for the geologic nuclear repository of tunnels and caverns, built more than 600 meters deep in the Yucca Mountain Desert, New Mexico, where the U.S. military’s most hazardous nuclear waste is located. This is one of the first geological repositories of nuclear waste, which will be filled in a couple of decades and sealed with concrete. A monumental ‘Do Not Enter’ sign will be installed and another one buried at 20 feet. The WIPP has involved linguists, archaeologists, anthropologists, engineers, psychologists and science fiction writers to try to determine an alarm system capable of being understood in the future. More or less naive or absurd pictograms, iconograms, architecture for current storage facilities with specific typologies, among other ideas, more or less naive or absurd. New warehouses of this type are planned for the coming decades. In Mexico, some waste is managed through the Patrader Radioactive Waste Treatment Plant, located at the Nabor Carrillo Flores Nuclear Center in the State of Mexico. There are other centers: the Radioactive Waste Storage Center (Cader), the Radioactive Waste Laboratory, La Piedrera, which stores rod contaminated with Co-60 and the Peña Blanca area, where uranium tailings produced at the Villa Aldama uranium plant were transferred. These ‘nuclear graveyards’ exist in many countries for substances whose hazardousness will begin to decline in 300 years or so. Yet the figures on this subject have such large margins of error that it is almost absurd to bother to think about them. Since the experience with this type of energy is not more than a century old, all projections are illogical and worryingly approximate. In recent news, the piling up of untreated polluting waste at the Laguna Verde nuclear power plant was denounced. Compacted in black drums and yellow bags, piled up, sometimes carried from one place to another, and buried in warehouses, something comes and goes that will not degrade but continues to accumulate.

The only remnant

by Fernanda Rodríguez González

We live in an age whose production processes have accelerated so much that there is little point in talking about the duration of things, because things simply no longer last, or last less and less. Duration has become a concept with little or no meaning. Paradoxically, the times of the most accelerated production and innovation are, at the same time, the times of the longest lasting waste. For example, the ‘half-life’ of cobalt-60 (i.e. the time it takes for its radioactivity to halve and transform into another element) is 5.27 years, caesium-137 is 30 years, and uranium-238 is 4.5 billion years. The biggest problem is that the current repositories for nuclear waste serve only as temporary storage facilities, since, in addition to the fact that their capacity is not infinite, they cannot be considered as places that can guarantee a totally safe safeguard to contain the risks posed by such waste (Godoy, 2021).1 When we think about the junk and waste that is gradually taking over the world, it becomes very difficult not to be attracted by Baudrillard’s statement that ‘our age no longer produces ruins and vestiges, only waste and residues’ (Baudrillard, 2006, 121). How can we even speak of the ‘ruins of history’ when all there is is debris (which only announces and confirms the gradual emptying of historical experience)? One must note, however, that Baudrillard’s words conceal an important bias, which resonates with Goethe. Goethe once wrote: ‘America, you are better off than our Continent, the Old. You possess neither ruined castles nor basalts. Neither sterile remembrance nor useless strife disturbs your inner life today’ (Waldheim, 1950). For Goethe, America could not have ruins, for it had no history. Baudrillard starts from a similar assumption: the absence of ruins is the absence of history. The difference between the two thinkers lies in the fact that, for Goethe, the absence of ruins translated into the hope for a second beginning and a new edifying project: that of a ‘New World’. For Baudrillard, on the other hand, the absence of ruins is rather the symptom of a hopeless epoch that is built on voids incapable of evoking its history, and instead only exposes the current banal state in which human edification finds itself. Despite their difference, are not both perspectives underwitten by a same monumentalised and monumentalising vision? It seems that ruins can gonly be conceived of as the representation of what was once a monument, while the debris is merely the waste left over from man’s edifying work. Indeed, Baudrillard situates ‘ruins’ as ontologically opposed to waste and debris. Lacking in historical value, scrap is the abject, the ugly, that which exposes our misery, that which is not worth looking at, and, for that very reason, that which is best hidden. And yet we must not lose sight of the fact that a ruin, after all, is only a ruin in retrospect, that is, it is never a ruin in our present, but will be a ruin with the passage of time (it will be when it has passed). In this sense, debris is the only remnant, the only one that resists and rebels against the obligatory demand for acceleration of our times.

A (pandemic) time capsule

by Xóchitl Arteaga Villamil

As if the events inherited from Chernobyl were not enough, we perform these rewritings in convulsive times, mainly but not exclusively for humanity, a year and a half into confinement: a privileged and preventive measure in the face of a viral pandemic. Viruses are strange beings and ancient inhabitants of the Earth. Strange because they have surprising capacities to intertwine with all forms of life, to infect them, and yet it cannot be said that they are living beings. Rather they are remnants, fragments that deceive and sneak into the interior of micro/organisms, causing a diversity of alterations in them. The immensity and flexibility of viruses make them the most replicative and abundant entities on the planet, the vast majority of which swim in oceanic waters, making up 94% of all DNA contained in the seas. In turn, some 1031 virions, i.e. the morphologically active and infectious particles that bind to and invade all living beings, dance around the world. These millions of reactive virions are made up of fragments of some nucleic acid, plus layers of protective lipid molecules and some (glyco)proteins that are the lure to invade host cells. Each virion particle shares this biomolecular morphological pattern; if the fragment is DNA it will be an adenovirus, such as human papillomavirus (HPV), and if it is RNA it will be a retrovirus, such as tobacco mosaic virus, SARS-CoV-2 or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). We are talking about minute particles that collectively dance in and around micro/organisms, as well as in a variety of ecosystems; beings that are reactive elements and ancestral terrestrial inhabitants that have millenary experience of adaptation to a myriad of circumstances.

The [rewritings] do not betray the trauma, the stuckness of the drive that prompts us to freeze the instant and be scorched in its eternal present, the never-ending high noon of unregistered experience. But neither do they revel in the traumatic stoppage, deepened or prolonged. If you attend to them with care, with a gaze which is not that of a visual tourist, they might give you a clue to a difficult, existential riddle: ‘How does one pass through what does not pass, does not become a past?’ (Marder & Tondeur, 2016, 58)

Chernobyl is not in the past because the processes of decomposition of matter were disrupted and with it the trophic networks that have been lying next to radioactive waste since April 26, 1986. Without the diversity of bugs and disintegrating creatures (archaea, bacteria, nematodes, annelids, fungal mycelia, etc.), the soil’s nutrient supply is gradually depleted. In addition, under the radioactive influx, the communities of micro/organisms that are part of and form the soil, i.e. the creatures that carry out the flows of matter and energy in any ecosystem, are unable to reincorporate organic plant matter, e.g. tree trunks, causing them to undergo a certain process of temporary suspension, an encapsulation that slows down or makes impossible the continuity of their life and death processes. Communities of microorganisms made up of viruses, archaea, bacteria, fungi and other small eukaryotes thrive in many ecosystem patches. Particular microbiomes emerge, for example, from the diverse communities of creatures that inhabit our skin, eyelashes or intestines. Within this diversity, the virome is the viral portion of the microbiome, where most viruses infect bacteria (aka bacteriophages) (García-López, Pérez-Brocal, & Moya, 2019). Despite the fact that viruses are composed of particular biomolecules, fragments of DNA or RNA sheltered in (glyco)protein capsids that can bind to the cells of our bodies, we say that they are enigmatic companies because they share material bases with all life forms, but are not regarded as something living. Viruses are an enigmatic company because their genetic information comes to stay once they have infected us. … Between radiation and a virus is the eternal lurking of the invisible.

We will be, as always, lost

by Etelvina Bernal Méndez

‘Who can imagine for even a second what it would have been like if the three remaining reactors had exploded? The firefighters of that night saved life itself. The time of life. Living time’, Alexievich wrote. Here I would like to quote Jacques Lacan, who responds to an interview in 1974 for Panorama Magazine:

What is the relationship between science and psychoanalysis today? For me, the only true, serious science to follow is science fiction. The other, official science, which raises its altars in laboratories, advances blindly, without a goal. And it begins to fear even its own shadow. It seems that scientists are reaching the moment of anguish. In their aseptic laboratories, in their starched lab coats, these older children playing with unknown things, making ever more complicated apparatus and inventing ever more abstruse formulas, begin to wonder about the future, about where this ever new research will lead. And what if, I say, it is finally too late? Biologists are asking this question now, or physicists, chemists. To me, they are crazy.

Only now, just as they are about to tear the universe apart, does it occur to them to wonder if by chance that might be dangerous. What if the bacteria so lovingly cultivated in the white laboratories were to turn into deadly enemies? What if the world were swept away by a horde of such bacteria, with all the stupidity that inhabits it, starting with the scientists in the laboratories?

To Freud's three impossible positions - governing, educating, psychoanalysing - I would add a fourth: that of science. Except that scientists do not know that their position is untenable.

A rather pessimistic definition of what is called progress.

 No, nothing like that. I am not a pessimist. Nothing will happen. For the simple reason that man is useless, even incapable of destroying himself. Personally I would find it wonderful if man were to produce a total calamity. It would be proof that he has finally managed to do something with his hands, with his head, without divine intervention, natural or otherwise.

All those beautiful bacteria overfed for entertainment, spread around the world like biblical locusts, would mean the triumph of man. But that will never happen. Science is happily going through its crisis of responsibility, everything will come back into the order of things, as they say. I have announced it: the real will take the lead, as always. And we will be, as always, lost (Lacan, 1974).

Inside (outside)

by Fernanda Rodríguez González

Existing repositories for nuclear waste serve only as temporary storage facilities, because, in addition to the fact that their capacity is not infinite, they cannot guarantee to contain the risks posed by such waste. That is why, for some years now, the construction of ‘deep geological repositories’ has been undertaken in order to remove these wastes from the unstable Earth’s surface by burying and enclosing them in the geological depths for thousands of years in order to minimise the danger they pose. These constructions, if successful, would be a feat, as they would finally realise the dream of erecting a building capable of withstanding and even defeating the passage of time. However, the realisation of this dream is nothing more than a utopia that only reveals the biases of the times. One of the greatest challenges would be to ensure that these constructions remained undisturbed and impervious to all outside contact and events. How would it be possible to keep a building – even an underground one – unalterable, as if whatever happened around it did not affect it, as if it were not part of the world of which it is in fact a part of? The Sarcophagus, the steel and concrete structure that was built to cover the Chernobyl nuclear reactor, was supposed to shelter and confine the dangerous radioactive material inside, so that everything on the outside could feel safe. However, its construction proved to be more of a desperate (and failed) attempt to maintain a clear distinction between inside and outside (and, in turn, to make it possible to control and manage the space). What the Sarcophagus does is not actually neutralise the effects of radiation, but simply hides them. Its construction is a staging of the inside-outside that seeks to provide a (false) sense of security to the viewer from the ‘outside’. But the truth is that there is no outside: we inhabit these residues, we are part of the Sarcophagus (Marder & Tondeur, 2016, 60). The confinement and concealment of our waste does not mean its disappearance. We can neither see them nor remember them, and yet they are there.

Earthlings for a while

by Etelvina Bernal Méndez

I find a gesture of genuine transmission, if I may put it that way, in the voices that Svetlana Alexievich brings us through her listening, writing and editing. I also find an urgency of transmission about Chernobyl and its consequences in The Chernobyl Herbarium by Michel Marder and Anaïs Tondeur. In both cases, there is a refusal to serve as a document for Science or for History. Yet, for whom are the prayers, the voices, the reflective fragments, the chronicles of the future, the samples of the invisible mark of radiation addressed? Are those books ... for us, for our children? For consciousness? For the soul? For human life? Are they a nod to the missing subject, to the divided selves? For me, The Chernobyl Herbarium is the effect of a received transmission that at the same time is relaunched, dispersed, and blown to others. Not only the contaminating radionuclides are dispersed, displaced, but also the voices, the plants, the reflective fragments of Chernobyl, the words and the suspense reach us. How should we look at them, receive them, and realise that something of unthinkable proportions, has indeed happened? Neither as a witness nor as a victim, but as a mere earthling passing through this world, I was a distant recipient of Chernobyl at the age of six. I remember asking my father around that time if he thought we would ever be so many people in the world that we wouldn’t have more than a square metre of space for each other. He said yes, maybe, but he would probably be three metres below the earth by then. Thus he informed me of two things: that someday he would die, and that someday things on the planet might turn topsy-turvy. He stated very clearly that there were tragedies and misfortunes, that he would not witness them all and that he would not be there to protect us in the future. My dad died 20 years and one day after the Chernobyl explosion, on 27 April 2006, just before a wave of severe flooding in Tabasco (Bernal, 2021), and long before the COVID-19 pandemic. But I am no stranger to any of these events, because I grew up with the awareness that something serious could happen collectively at any moment. At any rate my dad seemed to know that dying was necessary. What, in fact, could he care about Life? He was surprised that his own father, at the age of 80-something, still cared enough to go to the dentist. 89 years old at the time, he was a very old man still concerned about the future of the world: he worried, for example, that there would be a revolution in the wake of the contested 2006 presidential election. At the same time, he believed that it was fine to bury rubbish, because that fertilised the soil. He didn’t foresee the current excess of plastics and packaging. I can see that the difficulty of speaking led Marder to give voice to the plants, and Svetlana to the survivors, and me to intervene in their words by degrading, decomposing, dislocating and blurring the centre in order to perhaps approach the truth as Bracha Ettinger does with the photographs, to be able to work with them by blurring the images. To use another register than that of erudition, but to give something to read, yes. To look, to feel, to think. To dream.

An atomic priesthood

by Sandra Loyola Guízar

The way energy is produced today confronts us with the questions of how to design urban-architectural projects at the temporal and spatial scales of planetary catastrophe, how to isolate them from the curiosity of humans or species that do not yet exist or how to convey the message of danger. In 1982 the journal Zeitschrift für Semiotik issued a survey that posed the following question: ‘How would it be possible to inform our descendants over the next 10,000 years about the storage locations and dangers of radioactive waste?’ Linguist Thomas Sebeok proposed the creation of an atomic priesthood, thinking that the Church and its belief system has been successfully handed down for almost two thousand years. This priesthood would be dedicated to preserving knowledge about the location and dangers of radioactive waste through rituals and myths, and would indicate forbidden areas and consequences for disobedience. Another proposal was made by Françoise Bastille and Paulo Fabri, who proposed genetically intervening cats to significantly change color when near radioactive material. They called this The Ray Cat Solution.  Another idea was that of Vilmos Voigt: install warning signs in many languages and, from time to time, add new signs with translations, without removing the previous ones. The sign we use to indicate the presence of nuclear radiation, the black clover, or rather, the circle with three blades representing the three types of radiation: alpha, beta and gamma, is more or less recent. It was invented in 1946 at the Radiation Department of the University of Berkeley. At the beginning it had light blue and violet colors, then it was modified because they considered that these were not associated with the danger they wished to communicate. Then it became the current combination of yellow with black, although in the emoticons of some of our cell phones it is orange with white. This symbol may be familiar to us, but according to surveys it seems that only 6% of the world’s population knows what it means. Efforts have been made to design a clearer symbol to transmit the danger, even to settle them in the waste deposits projected for this century. Currently, the shamrock has been taken up again and a skull and a human silhouette running in a red triangle have been added. However, there are discussions about the cultural variables of the typology of the skull because there are countries that relate it to themes unrelated to danger or to other ways of understanding death, such as the repeated use in Mexico of skulls that are celebrated and have their own festivity. The effects of nuclear energy and its waste are universal, but the message that needs to be communicated faces cultural heterogeneity and a planetary communication problem that, in addition to the anthropocentric intention of designing a signal, excludes the problem of animals and plants that also suffer the consequences of radiation and who should be warned of the imminent danger. Storing nuclear waste confronts us with the present and future human otherness, but also, and absolutely not disputed, with non-human otherness, because so far it is not evident how vital it is to be able to communicate in the present (and in the future) between species.

Acociles

by Sandra Hernández Reyes

I walk downstream until I come upon the huge amate trees that have guarded La Mora (a waterspring) for thousands of years. I choose this place to take some pictures because I love the green carpet made of creepers, fig trees, and countless plants. The union of the waterspring with the river provides enough nutrients for the exponential growth of vegetal life. This includes the watercress, an aquatic plant that was cultivated in Cuautla for the first time just 75 years ago, and then taken to various sections of the Cuautla river where artisanal dams were built. The watercress became food for the aquatic fauna, especially for the acociles (Cambarellus montezumae), an endemic type of crustacean, usually small and gray in color. Decades ago, when its population was still visible in the waters of the river, acociles prevented the watercress from becoming a pest that could cover dozens of meters in just weeks. At that time there was a large number of birds, eagles, herons, some owls, and small birds of various types and colors that made the vegetation on the banks of the habitat, feeding largely on the acociles that were then enough food to promote an ecosystem. Some watercress growers harvest the mature plant and make packages immediately to distribute them commercially; others are responsible for taking care of the growth of young plants. For this they pour various chemical components between the dams, and spray as many on the foliage of the plant. The purpose, they explain, is to kill the pests that threaten their growth. They say that, from the first shoots, some organisms such as insects and crustaceans, among them acociles, threaten their existence and their ideal (commercial) size. Their efforts to eliminate the crustaceans has led to their de facto extinction. In addition the chemicals dumped in the river have also other aquatic species, drastically reducing the bird population in the region. Without acociles the river has been left without natural regulation to the growth of watercress, which has now become a kind of weed accumulated in large quantities that even reduce the flow of the river, affecting the irrigation of hundreds of hectares of the lower zone of Cuautla. For this reason, the Asociación de Usuarios del Río Cuautla, Manantiales y Corrientes, Tributarias General Eufemio Zapata Salazar A.C. (ASURCO) has proposed for several years to destroy watercress plantations. From the near extinction of the acociles among many other species, to the social conflicts over water, we only gather that Man satisfies his needs and desires by destroying whatever He assumes to be his environment. A destructive-extractive behavior that is, in the end, symptomatic of ‘the (male) reduction of the world’ to a sense of ownership, the world reduced to a ‘for us’.

Hopelchén, the place and the flood

by Yareni Monteón

Hopelchén means ‘five wells’. In the Yucatán Peninsula almost all fresh water is underground. For people there, poisoning the earth necessarily means poisoning the water. 2020, in addition to being going through the Covid-19 pandemic, my territory suffered other ravages of climate change: it was a summer of violent rains that caused floods that affected Hopelchén above all. My Maya teacher is originally from that municipality, so when I found out about the incident I contacted her to ask about her family. She told me that her town did not have such a bad time, because being a valley in which the geography has not been modified for intensive cultivation, it still has natural drains. Those who did not do so well were Mennonite neighbors who till the land with Monsanto-brand industrial products. Its vast farmlands were flooded. Countless mutant plant beings were drowned and much of their agricultural machinery was also irreparably damaged due to the fury of Yuntziloob Ixchel.

The tongues of water

by Nidia Rosales Moreno

2019 was the year designated by the UN as the International Year of Indigenous Languages. Yásnaya Aguilar Gil gave a speech in her native tongue Ayuujk/Mixe on that year to the Mexican Chamber of Deputies that was titled ‘Mexico. Water and the word. Mexico and its many hidden names’. She started by asking the question: why are languages dying? Why will half of the world's linguistic diversity disappear within 100 years Aguilar Gil, 2019, 83)? One of her answers is that the disappearance of languages does not happen naturally, as a consequence of a historical process or of changes that occur by themselves, but is due to the violence of the Mexican state, and of states in general, which have exercised their power to erase linguistic diversity. Where might we look to get out of this mess and the environmental catastrophe that is looming or is already here and we have not fully recognised it? I am interested in the possibility of caring for biodiversity through language, because to put an end to languages is to put an end to other senses of the world that unfold from there. In Mexico, we are taught at school from an early age that water is a resource, something we can use, waste, consume, because it is our absolute right. This thinking has implications in an ontological sense; it designates a particular perspective that understands the environment as a series of replaceable and paradoxically infinite objects. If this is somehow reflected in languages, I wonder if some of the ideas I grew up with and which belong to a Zapotec heritage according to which hills, lightning and water are animated or have agency, offer a slightly more holistic view among the beings we coexist with. The reality is that I don’t know, and I am not interested in participating in a perspective that turns native experiences into folklore or exoticism. Could we, however, recognise that other ways of thinking about plants, about life, have been here for a long time? Could we learn from those experiences? What I can say is that there would be a change of outlook if, as has happened in Australia, Canada and New Zealand, animals, plants, mountains and bodies of water were given legal personality. Or as if, in Ayutla, before the 2017 conflict, water was protected by a series of community practices that establish different degrees of responsibility and reciprocity towards resources and life.

Cycad-worlds

by Carolina Cuevas Parra

What does it mean to care for a mountain in the light of the deterioration of the health of the people who live there, of the loss of plant worlds due to anthropogenic activities, of the slow death of the water bodies of a whole region? What does it mean to think about water-body-territory in relation to the environmental racism that structures the processes of death and life in the region? (Zaragocin, 2018) Can we even imagine a non-appropriative relationship with our environment? The rewriting of the herbarium attempts to be the inscription of being-in-common (Rivera Garza, 2021); a form, even if unfinished, with which we explore the extension of writing, that is to say, its material involvements, that is to say, to explore with which organisms writing is always already intertwined. When we meet to rewrite the herbarium, someone says that plants were denied their souls so that they could be mistreated. I write it down in my notebook next to the list of plant species of the region: willows, fig trees, guácimas, guanacastes, cycads, palms, ferns, holm oaks. All these forms of plant life make up this mountain in whose entrails the most elemental ecological reality germinates: relations are what makes life possible. Marder suggests that these plants have a world (or perhaps worlds) of their own, only if in this ‘having’ we can discern the nuances of a non-appropriative relationship with the environment in which, with which, plant beings grow (Marder, 2013). We recognise that the plant worlds, the nuclear catastrophe, the ecocide exceed our powers of representation, and yet, knowing that plants extend between the folds of the mountain, that leaf litter regenerates the soil and that sunlight rearranges and transforms the plant tissues, we still think about care of the plant worlds that inhabit and make these territories. Vegetal intelligence spreads without leaving the place wherein their existence is embedded (Marder & Tondeur, 2016, 48). Vegetal care, in this diseased environment, is learning from the amphibious life of plants: to attend to the changes in the living conditions of the earth and to deploy adaptive mechanisms to prolong an embedded existence.

A community response

by Nidia Rosales Moreno

Jaime Martínez Luna, an anthropologist from Guelatao de Juárez, together with Floriberto Díaz has developed the term ‘communality’ from the Sierra Norte de Oaxaca. According to Elena Nava Morales, communality ‘points to the importance of the daily practices and actions of the inhabitants of the Sierra Norte of Oaxaca, making it a category in movement, a vivid category in constant transformation’ (Nava Morales, 2020, 2). Likewise, in this indigenous form of organisation the assembly is essential, as is the tequio, a common practice in schools, institutions, neighbourhoods and even in the streets, which extends to other regions of the state. The fiesta is one of the aims of community organisation; it brings together work, reciprocity, common action that leads to moments of enjoyment; it is in some way the product of the time invested in work: ‘The festival is an integral result, both of the creativity that emerges from work, from movement, from production, and of nature that provides the necessary materials, and the organisation that strengthens the results, which are embodied in the enjoyment of all kinds of society’ (Martínez Luna, 2017, 15). Resistance can be a battle, as it is for those who, from different fronts, risk their bodies and lives to protect their territories from mining companies, logging industries, transnationals that dry up their aquifers, the illegal sale of communal lands and the depredation of animals in general, as in the case of a large number of indigenous communities and individuals who have even been murdered. It is also for intellectuals and activists such as Yásnaya Aguilar Gil or the linguists who are members of COLMIX, who work to continue speaking their language and stand, as in the case of Yásnaya, in front of the Congress of the Union, demanding it in the language of their grandmothers. However, resistance also takes place in community moments such as fiestas, both in disagreements and in the moments when we can assume ourselves as a collective and where, paradoxically, our voice becomes plural.

Ecomimesis

by Fernanda Rodríguez González

In the age of the Anthropocene, history can no longer ignore the intimate relationship between history and nature, let alone continue to defend their opposition. The hierarchical division between the natural world and the historical world has become untenable. The very structure of testimony has been transmuted precisely because of those events that finally challenged the imaginary line between the two worlds, to the point of breaking it down. In this sense, Marder argues that plants pose a challenge to metaphysics in Pripyat, for they are quintessentially changing beings that transform the places in which they grow (Marder & Tondeur, 2016, 58). The encounter between historical time and natural time has not been so evident until now - the ruins, together with the vegetation growing in their crevices, bearing witness to this encounter. Neither history nor testimony are any longer figures that belong exclusively to subjects with the consciousness and control to say what happened. The ‘natural world’ has also become a historical testimony. Overcoming and even surpassing the capacities of consciousness itself, the encounter between plant time and historical time exposes a type of testimony that, rather than telling (in the sense of λóγος – logos – which, since Aristotle, had been reserved only for the human species and, specifically, for free men), shows and evidences an ecomimetic relationship and movement between geology and history. History is no longer exclusively human, or at least it can no longer appear to be so (for perhaps it never was); history has geological marks. Human or not, bodies are the product and effects that reflect and bear witness to this encounter.

Roots

by Carolina Cuevas Parra

Exposed to a weakened vital substrate, cycads still extend their bodies slowly and steadily, just a few millimetres each year, and from that calm growth, from their apparent immobility, they reach up to 2000 years of life. The question of the ecophysiological aspects that have favoured the survival of Dioon edule cycads on steep slopes and rocky environments with scarce water and nutrients is also the question of the material record of what a living being has endured in its lifetime (Marder, 2013, 156). Cycads survive, and remember how they have done it, there, where their acephalous sensitivity seems to offer a solution to the enigma of survival. We wonder where the imprint, the mark of such bodily learning, remains after living embedded in an environment that barely sustains them. To write that a plant organism has a memory is to say that it has a past – of grievances and hostility, for example – which it bears witness to through its physical extension. The cycads’ memory of survival, another form of accumulated temporality, is harboured and extended, above all, through their roots. There, in that moist, fibrous region, the links that make their longevity possible are woven: a deep root that anchors them to the nourishment of the soil and a coral-like root system that grows upwards along the surface. These coralloid roots are the physical site of symbiotic processes between blue-green algae, mycorrhizal fungi, and the cycads. The roots of the cycads become the vital territory of algae, which obtain carbohydrates in exchange for fixing nitrogen for the cycads, and of fungi that facilitate the absorption of water and nutrients from the soil. A wealth of symbiotic memory: the record of an intimate association that makes it possible for life to cling to just a fistful of land. Within the coraloid roots an ancestral pact between soil, plant, water, fungi, algae, and sun is recorded. A root structure that is a pact between entities that organised themselves to survive in times of catastrophe, of scarcity, of threatened sustenance. But also, in the community of cycads that lives on this mountain in Veracruz, we are witnessing a rupture.

Becoming strange

by Fernanda Rodríguez González

The world is becoming stranger and stranger, or is it ‘us’ who keep getting stranger in and to the world? By the time we hear of an event, it has already happened, and we can only watch it from a distance, following the trail it left in its wake. In Ciudad Juárez, no one was aware of what was happening, of how, along with the van, the radiation was spreading imperceptibly through the city and had even crossed state and national borders. It remained that way for at least a month until the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico detected and warned about a moving radioactive source nearby. By that time, the radioactive material had already been converted into building material and was being distributed. Despite efforts by the Mexican and US governments to collect it, an estimated 1,000 tonnes of radioactive rods were never recovered. Fortunately, it was easier to locate the van that originally transported the medical unit to the scrap yard. Parked in the middle of a public road, in a residential area, where people were passing by or gathering and children were playing, the van was giving off high doses of radioactivity. In fact, the few cobalt-60 granules that remained after the vehicle had been driven through several areas of the city were found on the bed of the vehicle. All the contaminated objects, including the van, were taken to a radioactive cemetery (Blakeslee, 1984; Brooks, 2020). The question remains, however: where did the rest of the radioactive material and waste end up? What happened to those tiny but potent pellets of cobalt-60 that were scattered across Ciudad Juárez and all of México? What houses or buildings were erected with the tons of rods that could not be found? Although it was too late for panic to break out among the Mexican population as it did in Brazil, the fate of all this nuclear waste (and even the waste that continues to be produced) continues to arouse an uncanny mood to this day.

Apocalypse, the scene and the word

by Sandra Hernández Reyes

Apocalypse has long been televised and commercialised by Hollywood as a synonym of spectacular destruction. Almost always destruction appears within an epic narrative of war, as the result of a struggle of good against evil (Terminator, 1984; Mad Max, 1979; 12 Monkeys, 1995). Some films present civil war as an outcome of the fall of the State in its function as guarantor of security, as happens in the imaginary Zombies (I am Legend, 2007), and thereby exalt the need to enter a state of exception, where some sovereign can rule with an iron fist to preserve order. Others present a natural disaster as the only thing capable of stopping and, paradoxically, destroying the logic of annihilation that capitalism has become. In its destructive version, nature appears as the only possibility of a new beginning (Earthquake, 1974; The Day After Tomorrow, 2004; Geostorm, 2017; Don't Look Up, 2021). Last but not least, some others frame the debacle of humanity through rapidly spreading incurable diseases, which seemed to turn real with the pandemic caused by COVID-19 (The Andromeda Menace, 1971; Children of Men, 2006; The Crazies, 2010; Contagion, 2011). … We need to remember, however, that Apocalypse in itself is not just a scene of great destruction. In Biblical texts it works as a genre that seeks to transmit the word of what is to come and urges to make a responsible decision. It is, undoubtedly, a genre marked by the search for justice, rather than by the mere pleasure of viewing catastrophic spectacles. At any rate, we know that at present it is more plausible to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism … the problem of the permanent crisis, distended towards a telos in linear time, where everything that exists must be placed at the service of the human. This is precisely the problem that Hollywood’s apocalyptic imaginary does not solve and that, by contrast, Biblical apocalypse can help us to think in an alternative way. The image presented by Hollywood must be set aside in order to give way to a broader understanding of what destruction might mean. … In the apocalyptic tradition, as found in the New Testament and in other ancient non-biblical texts, is the announcement that a longstanding way of thinking and understanding has come to an end, has ceased to make sense. An apocalypse can, in turn, rescue that which had been despised and place it in a new chain of relationships, in a new reality organised by different constraints. The characteristic of the apocalyptic is that it introduces the possibility of rupture, in the creative sense of a new reality constructed from elements that existed but were reduced to their minimum expression. Many worlds ended when technical development was used for exploitation, and many worlds end when the logic of exploitation loses its capacity to persuade, paving the way to the emergence of a new relationship with the world in general and with the former waste of humanity: rivers and plants.

Vegetal life, or the future that never was

by Fernanda Rodríguez González

What is ruined is ruined by the ‘passing of time’. But what is this something ruined, something, what? Something that was never entirely visible; the ruin keeps the trace of something that, even when the building was intact, did not appear in its fullness (Zambrano, 2020, 295)

On a closer reading of Zambrano, we can see that, while ruins imply the division of worlds, they are at the same time evidence of their indiscernibility. The ruins, insofar as they represent the encounter between life-death and dejection-edification, become the ontological site par excellence that questions and deconstructs the separation between the human and natural worlds. In them, the boundaries are blurred and confused. It is no longer clear where each of the realms begins and ends. It is no coincidence that Zambrano points to the vegetal as a necessary condition of the ruins. Faced with the question are ruins a natural product or, rather, a product of human activity? her answer is that they are neither, and instead, that there is no ruin without plant life. But what does this mean in historical terms? It is perhaps simpler to pose the question in reverse: what would ruins be if they were thought of in isolation from plant life? Zambrano goes so far as to warn that ‘[t]he neatly preserved ruin, isolated from life, acquires a monstrous character; it has lost all its significance and only shows neglect or worse’ (Zambrano, 2020, 296). If she had previously identified ruins as the object par excellence for thinking about history, it is precisely because she recognised in them the traces of something that was and that was defeated by time but that, at the same time, survived time as that which did not come to be. In other words, the ruins would be that privileged object for history because it is through them that ‘the perspective of time appears before us’ (Zambrano, 2020, 293). In the ruins, a series of temporalities is articulated that is not restricted only to the linear triad of past-present-future, but also gives form and substance to time itself (the past that never ceases to pass, the future that never was, the present that is a promise, but also a memory, and yet another series of conjugations that remain to be thought of). In short, the ruins are the opening of temporal horizons, for what they reveal is not only the passage of time but time itself. What is monstrous, in this sense, is the alienation of the ruin from the world from which, in the first place, it emerged as an expression of the life that inhabits it, and which, ultimately, constitutes it. Its isolation and its preservation would therefore mean the closure of its horizons and its vital suspension.

Agony

by Carolina Cuevas Parra

In the aftermath of Hurricane Ernesto, a sturdy community of chamal cycads in El Farallón collapsed as the sand softened of the dunes where they stood. Uprooted and decimated, some organisms were displaced to the gardens of the Laguna Verde Nuclear Power Plant. Thereafter, researchers from the National Institute of Ecology observed a deterioration in the community health of the plants: barely a few adults survived, no young plants, no seeds, no cones, no pollinators. The network of interactions had been broken (González-Astorga, n.d.). In April this year, the Farallón lagoon, the closest body of water to the Laguna Verde nuclear power plant in Veracruz, saw its water level drop from as much as 13 metres to just 15 centimetres deep. In some areas, the disappearance of water has left behind dry, broken pieces of land. Fishermen in the area speak of climate change, overexploitation by cattle ranches, and water extraction for mining exploration. We are living a catastrophe, some say. Our mountains are wounded. Very wounded. Springs that never dried up in El Porvenir are dry. Hopelessly dry. ... The Farallón lagoon is running dry, in agony, say others. There is a mountain where prospecting work for a mine began thirty years ago, and there is, in the same region, a few kilometres away from a nuclear power plant, a dying lagoon, a pelican stuck in between the cracks, a community of fishermen digging, looks for water for their mojarras.

AZ-5

by Fernanda Rodríguez González

In recent times, the Pripyat area has become a landmark for ‘nuclear tourism’. There, one can find everything from spectators seeking to satiate their curiosity with a front-row view of a post-apocalyptic scenario to sobering tours instructing us about the scope and the risks of nuclear technology. While surfing the internet, it is not uncommon to come across those who promote the now iconic frozen Ferris wheel as a favourite place to take a souvenir photo, as well as those who offer the possibility of renting a dosimeter that ‘will become another organ of your senses’ so that you do not miss the opportunity to perceive the invisible radioactive landscape. Now that Chernobyl has been declared an ‘official tourist attraction’, permission has even been given to visit some areas of reactor 4 (Véase Guy, 2019). Knowing this, some companies offer the opportunity to press the AZ-5 button in the control room (the button that, it seems, triggered the 1986 explosion). The museification of the world, perhaps best represented in Chernobyl (though not only), thus achieves its victory over history, which it conquers by overriding it, creating a knot in time (which is, at the same time, a knot between life and death). What the tour companies exhibit is not only the attitude of those who fetishise disaster, but they are the very proof of a reifying vision of history (inseparable, by the way, from the humanist figure of the author). Undoubtedly, this has become an exemplary scenario for understanding how the paradigm of nuclear science and technology provided the necessary conditions for the human being to be considered not only as the craftsman of the products he manufactured, but also as a being capable of initiating processes in the world (both natural and historical). Beyond the instrumental relationship that the human has long maintained with his environment, he has discovered himself to be sufficiently powerful to exert an influence on his own milieu and, to that extent, to be able to direct and administer it. In this sense, the sobering speeches accompanying and adorning the guided tours, which focus on raising awareness and preventing the catastrophe from happening again (which, moreover, have been shown to be ineffective) actually conceal a much more conceited meaning than it appears. ‘Man made this’ is the accusation that always echoes in the background of nuclear tourism offers. But it is not clear whether this accusation does indeed point to the perpetrator of the crimes or, rather, seeks to name the author of history; it is no longer clear whether what is presented here is a denunciation of the crime or an ode to the criminal.

2021

by Carolina Cuevas Parra

We drive back along the coastal road. In April last year, on this same road that leads to La Mancha, Adán Vélez Lira, a defender of this land and opponent of the mine, was murdered. When I was a child, getting to my grandparents' house in Boca de Ovejas meant skirting the hills and lagoons on a narrow road that went all the way to Poza Rica. Now, in its place, there is a highway all the way to Laguna Verde. We stop to look at the dried-up lagoon and the highway which seems to float above a kind of desert. Not far away, we can see the mountains where the mine is located. I try to imagine the perimeters that delimit the extent of the impacts of these projects. Like the radioactive fallout, the concrete, the toxic runoff, the water extraction, the murder of environmental defenders, invalidate our preconceived notions of causality and responsibility. I try to imagine, like a drift of suddenly visible radioactive particles, the drift of extractivism along a spatio-temporal line that is impossible for me to trace: moving through the phreatic surface, dispersing between streams and waterholes, tearing muscles and tissues, swirling in ever-longer periods of low water. The exact source, the origin, is never clear. Nor are the trajectories of the spread: it brushes and fractures our skin, the earth and its layers, the plants, their roots and leaves (Marder & Tondeur, 2016, 44). Marder asks what we are capable of understanding after the explosion of consciousness that is Chernobyl (Marder & Tondeur, 2016, 42). The dispersion of radioactive fallout in Chernobyl affected the earth and its ecology, people, their health, institutions, moral precepts, culture (Marder & Tondeur, 2016, 44). By posing the same question in the coastal region of Veracruz, where the nuclear catastrophe remains a threat and the mine unleashes a gradual explosion, its terms are reconfigured: What worlds, even if muted, are we able to hear? Who notices, who perceives, in whom can we find life? At a protest against the mine in Xalapa, I can barely distinguish the cardboard carried by two girls holding hands: Yes to life, no to the mine! And underneath, there is the drawing of a fish swimming between the cracks of a dried river. On the shore, a tree, a plant world of unfathomable vulnerability looks saddened.

Insistence or ... we need new books

by Etelvina Bernal Méndez

‘We need new books more than ever, because all around us a new life is being born’ says a rural teacher’s voice. The images by Anaïs Tondeur in The Chernobyl Herbarium reveal an unknown existence. They show the insistence of life, in spite of everything. Consciousness, on the other hand, does not always persist. The will to know may even get in the way. A lot of knowledge sometimes reveals nothing. The silent concert of plants reveals to us the beauty and monstrosity of an inheritance, the legacy to which we wake up as if surprised to recognise ourselves in the photograph of someone who does not see us with his eyes. A negative development. On the path of vital development, more than in the lights of consciousness, the unconscious operates as a factory of fine fabrics: an incessant producing machine of compositions, editions, mixtures … . A multiplicity of possibilities. Hodgepodge. Not arbitrary. Above and below, on the surface and in the depths, there is nothing seemingly unrelated and without consequences in space-time. The testimony of the stills graciously indicates that wisdom, at least that of plants, even in a zone of devastation, is not known, it is simply lived. Where does the search, the insistence of life in plants go? How do they behave, interpreting their environment in order to grow and live? The interpretation of the plants is testimony to their relationship with the other, the environment, the milieu, the habitat, their home. Their relationship with their environment, their necessary link, never suspended. They react to what is there, they relate to it, and not to something else, not to a hereafter. They simply respond to it, to what is there: be it fertiliser or poison, be it propitious or the opposite. They live or die, they adapt, fork, twist, change, modify their path, seek the necessary moisture, seek to insist, to overcome. They do not take death for granted in the face of catastrophe, nor do they so easily concede their return to the land from which they have always departed towards the sun in search of warmth. We need each other in our mutual differences. Our human life depends on them, our differences and similarities between plants, other animals, the earth, the water, the sun, the air ... all these differences are truths so clear, so evident, so certain, that perversion has only been able to take place in the invisibility of this interdependence, in its denial. There is a knowledge of the continuity between one and the other that is necessarily produced in the experience of the encounter with the world. World and life. We need each other, we depend on each other, we are subjects. Not only to nature, but also to representation, and to the signifier and to what, in spite of everything, cannot be said, the truth. We are finite but we are born indebted to a past and we must give way, pass and tribute to the future. We are beings of passage.

Re-writing the Herbarium from Oaxaca

by Nidia Rosales Moreno

In the process of re-writing, many voices intervene. Re-writing aims to dilute individual authorship as a whole, to question the notion that what we say, write or do has arisen only as a consequence of a solitary process. In Los muertos indóciles: necroescrituras y desapropiación, the writer Cristina Rivera Garza describes some mechanisms to make it evident that the notion of authorship has other possibilities of being, and that in writing, we are writing with many hands.I think the way in which the Herbarium is articulated relates different layers of the same reality, even different temporalities, materialities and imaginations. Memory is something similar. Re-writing this text from Oaxaca means thinking about it in a specific context, in a territory that has particular problems but also offers a series of responses that in this case are stated from a community perspective. When I began to think about how I could write a Herbarium in Oaxaca, and following Gabriela Méndez Cota’s proposal, I made a list of the quelites that were part of my diet and that are in the traditional dishes of that region. Thinking about these dishes made me remember my grandmothers, remembering the recipes and the moments I shared with them, made me imagine how these small plants grow intertwined in the crops, dependent on them, on the sun, the rain and the lightning, and at the same time autonomous. Language and food are maternal transmissions; it is women who communicate in different ways what they know and feel about the world. In ‘Mujeres indígenas, fiesta y participación política,’ Yásnaya Aguilar highlights the role of women in the community organisation of Ayutla, from the kitchen to the management of the fiesta and public posts. For her, the hearth is an affective centre for the transmission of knowledge, participation and social amalgamation. It is in this fire, through foods such as quelites and plants in general, that the network that we inhabit becomes evident, the set of elements that make us belong to the land, live off it, accompany us and enjoy time as a community of plants (Aguilar Gil, 2019).

Cycads show the way (Marder & Tondeur, 2016, 48)

by Carolina Cuevas Parra

I see the world around me with different eyes. A small ant crawls on the ground and is now closer to me. A bird soars in the sky and is closer to me. The distance between me and them has shrunk. There is no longer an abyss between us. Everything is life (Alexievich, 2019, 42)

From the road we can see a portion of the mine and Laguna Verde through its territorial impacts on the system of mountains and sister lagoons along the coast. We can imagine that rain falls over the dunes and mangroves and infiltrates the surface until it is incorporated into each water-body-territory. We can distinguish a glow in each organism and piece of land affected by the drift of extractivism: the uncontainable gleam of the nuclear plant: the uncontainable explosion of the mine. But the way of thinking that separates organism and environment, that sees, here, an isolated cycad, even a disposable one, does not fully understand its extent. The cycads bear witness to the difficulty of containing a gradual outburst from their mountainous enclosure. Muted up there, the oldest organisms have been entangled for more than 2000 years to a mountain which in turn is entangled to the lagoons downstream: their intelligence consists entwining themselves to that which shelters them. What, then, is there of the plant in us, in the aguaje, in the lagoon, in Doña Rosario, in Adán? Can we become a plant in order to extend an intelligence that knows how to entwine itself to its environment after centuries of deploying our intelligence as domination? Our rewriting of Marder and Tondeur’s herbarium attempts to be the non-appropiative inscription of being-in-common (Rivera Garza, 2021): a form, even if unfinished, with which we explore the extension of writing, that is to say, its material involvements, that is to say, to explore with which organisms writing is always already intertwined. We intend that the rewriting of these fragments will help us to think, through the body of the plants, of a catastrophe which, in its etymological sense, is an irruption (Marder & Tondeur, 2016, 73). On this coast, the history of a catastrophe which, we know, precedes Laguna Verde by centuries, has been inscribed as a kind of geology of irruptions. In Voices from Chernobyl, Svetlana Alexievich recounts the story of a beekeeper who hears the absence of bees as the sign of an event in progress, of a monster that is about to overtake him: The bees had noticed it, but we hadn't. Now, if I notice something strange, I will pay attention to them. In them we can find life (Alexievich, 2019, 42). I think of the community of cycads as the plant testimony of the conditions of possibility for life to germinate or to decay, that is, as a witness to a catastrophe that is difficult to name, requires sitting down to listen to what the environment, the very physicality of the world, registers: a communal task: writing among/for the dead: writing among/for the living: a matter of being-with-others (Rivera Garza, 2021, 268).

Recovering our senses and a sense… of extinction

by Sandra Hernández Reyes

The apocalyptic model can also be used to think about what happened in the Cuautla River, which the inhabitants, enchanted by the dream of progress, assume to be an inexhaustible source of water, one that does not need to be cared for. … We can see that Chernobyl and the Cuautla River are both mediated by an epistemology of exploitation that reveals the world in the same devastating ways. … Unlike Hollywood, the river shows us that there is no growth without decadence and there is no such thing as infinite growth. They do not suppress or repress decadence and, instead, they help us to think otherwise about our own decay. Could we ask ourselves about life beyond human life, beyond the concern for salvation? Following Claire Colebrook, should we be asking ourselves whether human survival would also ‘save the mechanisms that have brought the human species and its environment to the brink of destruction?’ (Colebrook, 2019, 79). If, in trying to save ourselves from extinction, we are merely reproducing the biopolitics that destroys our freedom, is it the same to establish a new vegetal parameter that functions to justify a partition with an originary character between life that is worth living (Bios) and that which is sacrificial and disposable (Zoe).2 Perhaps, in the concern for the exemplary life of plants, we may give rise to a regula vitae that does not destroy the logic of the dominant capitalism of accumulation and consumption, because it would simply be making it up, transferring it to an external law with which we fantasise about being able to extend our existence. In this way we would have achieved voluntary servitude to that regula vitae, still fascinated with the dream of eternal youth and the inexhaustible reproduction of vegetable life, as the most sustainable version of the disposable and infinite consumption. This is the question in which we find ourselves, where we are placed before the vertigo generated by the possibility of our extinction.

The inside of the inside

by Fernanda Rodríguez González

If architecture and history maintained a close relationship for María Zambrano, it is because both shared the same task: building, whose main purpose was to cover the need of human beings to construct a milieu that was habitable for them and that would protect them (thus compensating for their deficiency as the only maladapted being in the world). But, in addition to fulfilling this utilitarian function, architecture and history were also –according to the philosopher – the means by which human beings ultimately expressed their longing to find an interior that would not only shelter them, but also remove them from the exterior and give birth to their dreams (thus freeing them from the imposing weight of reality) (Zambrano, 2007, 126). However, it is experience itself that has ended up refuting Zambrano’s thesis. If anything is clear, it is that, nowadays, inhabiting is irremediably accompanied by the experience of estrangement and a generalised sensation of imminent danger that warns of the continuous presence of different threats – visible or invisible – that lie in wait (or how else could we describe the experiences lived after the various nuclear disasters, the depletion and struggle for natural resources, global warming, the environmental crisis and, we might even add, the current pandemic of COVID-19? ). The Mexican case is, in this sense, a scenario that represents it in a radical way. What do these radioactive houses tell us about this interior and this need and longing to build that architecture and history share? In ‘Política sin oxígeno’, the third part of Julieta Aranda's trilogy Rescatando mi propio cadáver, there is an image with which the artist forces us to a provocative reflection on the interior and on life. It is about a snail that in its interior harbours a parasite that is consuming it, bringing it to the brink of its death. The image is accompanied by the following lines: ‘What is inside an animal that is controlled by another animal? Life’ (Aranda, 2018, 06:55 min). When we think of radioactive houses, it is inevitable that the answer to the question posed by Aranda takes on more ominous dimensions. It is no longer a question of one life inhabiting another, but the opposite: a life inhabiting the interior of its death. Today, history and architecture (one as a reflection of the other) have built a subjectivity that harbours within itself the sum of violence from which its constructions are now erected and from which the conditions of its own self-destruction originate. To refer once again to the work of the Mexican artist Julieta Aranda, it is curious to realise that the era of nuclear science and the yearning to find the Higgs boson (the particle that, according to the Standard Model of particles, would serve to finally explain the origin of mass and, therefore, of matter) is, at the same time, the era that intentionally generates its own emptiness: We burned corpses to keep the world turning. And it actually worked very well. The corpse energy made everything go faster. Life went faster, the problem is that death also became faster. We were digging holes all over the place, digging up corpses and leaving them empty. Digging up corpses was good business ... But in the process, we too became corpses … Meanwhile, under the surface … We want to know what’s inside. Inside what? Inside the holes, before we made them. What's left in the space the corpse used to occupy? And so we keep digging, to look for the inside of the inside, constantly getting lost along the way.

Impossible answer to a letter from the future

by Etelvina Bernal Méndez

Dad, do you think that one day there will be so many people on the planet that we won't have more than a square metre of space for each other?

Yes, but by then I'll be ten feet under ...

Dad, do you think the end of the world is too terrible?

The end of the world is when one dies … On the other hand, I do not agree that sinners who repented at the last moment should be redeemed. It does not seem fair to me.

Dad, what is death?

... is the continuity of life. It is a cycle. We have to die to fertilise the soil that will grow the new plants that will sustain the livestock that will feed future generations, who will also die so that others may live.

The dedication

by Xóchitl Arteaga Villamil

Sadness and grief are not emotions exclusive to humankind. The personnel watching the exclusion Zone at Chernobyl did not expect to encounter a mysterious companion, namely the offspring of dogs abandoned at the time of evacuation, with whom they have woven a daily bond of care that includes food, shelter, medicine and incineration at the time of death. Without underestimating the effects that radiation may have on them, coupled with the low quality of life of species that become feral after domestication, the presence of the dogs invites us to imagine another set of stories. The dogs are the living memory of those pets that were not killed by a military shot, and they represent a group of non-human refugees that link company and affection during the working days of the guards.

The unquenchable fire

by Fernanda Rodríguez González

Radioactive fire seems to be the final victory of Promethean fire. Marder imagines it as that moment when nuclear energy has finally realised the Western fantasies of an inextinguishable biblical fire, the metaphysical dream of the immobile engine that moves everything, but which, despite its character of creative and originating principles, has also implied the annihilation of the created in its quest for the affirmation of pure form. Thus, what was initially understood as a definitive triumph was soon discovered to be an absolute defeat. Towards the end of her piece, Julieta Aranda poses a question that leaves no room for indifference: ‘[w]hen we reached maximum speed, slowness became a luxury. Are we moving faster, or has the world shrunk?’ (Aranda, 2018, 06:09 min). The question undoubtedly exposes a denunciation: the gradual loss of the world that this technical-scientific paradigm has brought with it. But there is still more to add. It is not only that slowness has become a luxury (for a small privileged group that does not have to deal with the speed of these processes, or for the corpses produced by this same system), but it has also become a problem, as in the case of radioactive waste. As a result, the construction of deep geological repositories is the last attempt to find a place where we can bury the waste produced by this radioactive fire, to remove it from the surface and to offer us the hope of its complete oblivion (that it will take charge of disappearing that which we have not managed to get rid of, despite the fact that we are the ones who have produced it). But what the hope for oblivion ignores is that, even if we pretend that there is nothing there, that we pretend it never existed, oblivion can never erase the marks and traces of what happened, but that it always returns in one way or another to our present, because in reality it has never ceased to be. When Plato wrote the Allegory of the Cave, he never imagined that the day would come when the philosopher, the one who left the cave in search of truth, would not only no longer wish to return, but also would not be satisfied with his departure. His greatest desire now is to lock up that inextinguishable fire, bury it in the deepest bowels of the earth and seal the cavern in absolute oblivion.

The dedication

by Gabriela Méndez Cota

This rewriting of The Chernobyl Herbarium is dedicated to all those beings that have suffered as a result of the catastrophe of thinking that links ‘Chernobyl’ to so many material and symbolic places far away from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. Within this, it is dedicated especially to the cycads of Laguna Verde, Veracruz, to the devastated rivers, volcanoes and crustaceans of Morelos and elsewhere in Mexico’s central valley, to the many languages that resist in Oaxaca and the world, to the weeds lining the train tracks and development projects in the Yucatan peninsula and the Amazon, to the mothers, friends and relatives from Veracruz, and from all over Mexico and Latin America, who keep searching for their disappeared while defending their territories and their own human rights. However, this rewriting also seeks to dislocate or open up the national, liberal humanist ways in which we perceive and narrate the socioenvironmental devastation that is occuring in Mexico. Marder writes that ‘[i]f the plants of Chernobyl are an afterlife of radiation, then Tondeur’s photograms are the afterlife of that afterlife, a variation on the theme “the copy of a copy” that, since Plato, has determined the outlines of the aesthetic domain’ (Marder & Tondeur, 2016, 38). As an afterlife of Voices of Chernobyl, The Chernobyl Herbarium would seem to re-enact the demise of an onto-epistemology that includes liberal humanist authorship. Like oil-based sovereignty, liberal humanist authorship appears to linger and merge with the latest market discourse, as if its removal threatened to shatter the more fundamental illusion of Knowledge that has always sustained the borders of educational institutions and nation-states. While it is great to have ‘us’, non-Anglo people, students, early career researchers, queer, neuroatypical and differently-abled people communicating from their specific locations, whatever those locations may be and however they may be understood, it is also crucial that ‘we’ do so in ways that are more than simply iterations of the globalised bourgeois liberal humanism and its many assumptions regarding Knowledge (Hall, 2021, 100). Janneke Adema writes that ‘we need to enable a form of knowledge, a critique that remains open to question but that can at the same time be reconfigured, that can be cut and (temporally) fixed at some points to establish meaning and signify knowing. It is a knowing that, in this case goes beyond an internal subjectivity and includes the external lifeworld’ (Adema, 2021, 183). She also references Samuel Weber piracy of Kierkegaard’s understanding of ‘experimenting’ as an articulation of the singular, in order to further characterise what she has in mind as the introduction of ‘uncertainty, unpredictability, and ambivalence into our modern conception of experimentation, one that seems to go directly against the neoliberal rhetoric of planned outcomes, risk analysis, and contingency plans, all of which are designed to filter out the uncertain and the unpredictable’ (Adema, 2021, 184). This is what allows for difference in repetition, in repeating that we should all be communists, if only we can think a little outside the frame of technical calculations and property considerations. With Adema, we wish ‘a scholarly poetics to be a form of doing scholarship that pays specific attention to the relation between context and content, ethics and aesthetics in our research; between the methods and theories informing our scholarship and the media formats and graphic spaces we communicate with’ (Adema, 2021, 196). Here, we endeavoure to repeat repetition itself and thereby create something new; something beyond self-referential modernist novelty or modernist narcissistic disruption. In lieu of a critical analysis of Marder’s philosophy, or of a disruptive aesthetic intervention into ‘his’ or ‘their’ inscriptions, we offer our own meditations and witnessing; in lieu of artistic photograms, we offer vernacular images grown in the soil of Latin America’s ‘lost decade’ as it is remembered in several Mexican cities. Since the Chernobyl event is indeed unthinkable and unrepresentable, what we insist on is the need to rewrite, reinterpret, over-interpret, or disappropriate its countless afterlives. The fragments we offer could be described as the infinite afterlives of a herbarium. Such is our way of taking stock of the fragmentary event of subjectivity, as the condition of possibility of another, more environmentally attuned, way of living.

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