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Environment –> Movement + Direction (Karl McKimpson)

October 15, 2009

In “Discomforting Creatures,” Stacey Alaimo reduces several issues into binaries, most notably the reduction of Dalton’s conflict in The Beast to masculinity and the environment so that when Dalton chooses masculinity he must reject the environment. Alaimo’s tendency got me thinking about how much of what we have read similarly separates the environmental into “nature” and “human,” assuming them to be two separate spaces that cannot be occupied at the same time. For Alaimo, this disjunction produces borders that melt in popular film and produce horror. But, I also see this separation as working against environmental historian William Cronon’s call for a recognition that “nature” is a human conception in “The Trouble with Wilderness.” By separating “nature” and “human” into distinct entities, semantically they are unable to bleed into each other. Nature, therefore, can never be human and vice versa.  The disjunction directs our thinking.

Upon watching Todd Hayne’s film Safe I was struck by the treatment of “nature” and “human” as vectors rather than spaces. As a vector, the environment is not so much a localized space that can be achieved as it is a movement in the direction of the natural. The reactions of the characters in the film are based not so much on achieving or realizing a natural space, as they are a reaction to the perception of movement in themselves and others towardsthe  natural or the human.

Examining Carol’s journey as an attempt to move her person towards nature and to bring nature towards the human, begs speculation into where these two vectors will meet, and I believe highlights that what is being examined in the film as the “environment” is an ambiguous middle ground conception, looking for a space that allows both the “human” and the “natural.” She tries to reject all chemicals to become more “pure” in her own environment, but is unable to prevent aspects of civilization that seem to intercede in the form of economic disparity in the Wrenwood director, the highway, Carol’s dependence on an oxygen tank (and not “natural” air), not to mention the ever-present bruise on her head that seems to hint that her sickness is ingrained. Our conception of environment, like Carol’s, rests in the perception of how we are moving towards natural and how the natural is moving towards becoming humanized.

Carol’s panic attacks—assuming they are panic attacks—become ironic. Hyperventilation causes oxygen levels in the blood to rise too high.  Solving the problem requires reducing oxygen and increasing carbon dioxide to allow the body to recognize the “breathe” signal from the lungs. To solve her anxiety, she must in actuality poison herself, representing her inability to retreat fully from the human space.

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