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Apocalyptic Ecology? (Karl McKimpson)

October 31, 2009

A little bit of stream-of-consciousness:

 I am particularly attracted to fantastic apocalyptic fiction. For whatever reason, apocalyptic fiction seems to meander through labyrinthine plots and locations, conveying a cerebral density that I enjoy letting unfold. Our200px-Neuromancer_(Book) class’s juxtaposition of two such apocalyptic works, Neuromancer and Oryx and Crake, got me to thinking about how we use the term “ecology.” After all, a lot of harder science fiction apocalypse have little of what we might consider the environment in them, Neuromancer being no exception.  Instead, they tend towards urban locations or traverse the failing of urbanity, such as is seen in the decayed sprawl of Snow Crash or the prison-like feel of Dhalgren’s Bellona.

 In looking at “ecology,” how are we to understand this term? Is the i200px-Snowcrashnformation interchange and requisite dependence on information in Neuromancer an ecology? The novel does prioritize information as the lifeblood for survival. It is obviously an economy. But, is it an ecology?

 In Dhalgren, there does not seem to be any particular200px-Dhalgren-bantam-cover currency for survival, at turns fame, infamy, sex, food, and fear all serve as mediums of exchange. In the absence of a stable economy, the barter system exists in a tri-role, trading material, skills, and symbolic ideas equally. This is in addition to scavenging.

Apocalyptic fiction is filled to the brim with scavenging. Snowman must scavenge to survive, even with fish brought once-a-week. Case is essentially a scavenger at the beginning of Neuromancer.

Some of the more obscure apocalypses take an even stranger approach to “living.” Vogt’s Silkie worries about 1299-1the final state of the universe after almost all energy has been lost to entropy. John C.200px-OryxAndCrake Wright, who admits significant influence from Vogt’s work, has similar themes, where entities wrestle in the present to prevent galactic formations millions of billions of years in the future. Asimov’s Foundation novels seek to shorten the interim between galactic empires now that the current one is dying.   

In each the dominant concern is for life to endure in some sort of relationship with other living things. Yet, every time I try to condense the Foundation_gnomediscussion to ecology I find myself modeling some other system of potentially symbiotic exchange, be it economics, peace, raw survival, socialism, or even simply food, (Chicken Little in Pohl’s Space Merchants). I’m not sure that the term “ecology” has much weight when dealing with200px-Spacemerch humans, beings capable of adjusting and at times completely abandoning, the rules of any system of exchange, niches or otherwise.

Rather, I’m starting to find that “ecology” is a term suited for the natural world, but does not seem to fit into studies of human beings without becoming a clever sort of byword, a jargon that does not clearly differentiate its object so much as the position of the speaker. If the term is taken literally to mean “the study of life” I think it becomes to generalized to be much use.

Just what are we looking at with “ecology.” How is it unique? In investigating “ecology” do we privilege ourselves over the subject in some way?

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 2, 2009 9:33 pm

    Raymond Williams’ essay “Ideas of Nature” (1980) would be of interest to this discussion. He argues that the economic (or more broadly human organizations of survival and culture, consumption and technology) is intimately connected to ecology (to the biological and ecosystemic organization of species, environments, etc.). The other problem you mention — of anthropocentrism –– remains a difficult one for almost all philosophers and thinkers when it comes to questions of animals, ecosystems, etc.

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