Wednesday, 19 May 2010

An incidental apocalypse? The typical apocalyptic narrative either focuses on the grand events that brought about the end of civilization—nuclear war, global pandemic, sentient machines—or describes life after the shock of those events. The number of narratives in which the global social body declines into the incorporeal slowly, almost without notice, are few and far between. Rarely do you encounter narratives in which, for example, a volcano on an isolated island erupts, deposits a thin layer of ash at 35,000 feet and reminds humanity that evolution didn't intend him to fly. Eyjafjallajökull killed no one—it merely disrupted air travel over a continent for a few weeks. As potentially apocalyptic events go, that barely even registers. But pair it with another narrative rarely encountered in apocalyptic literature, for example, a broken pipe, and it becomes possible—frighteningly possible—to imagine the ash in the air and the oil in the ocean collaborating to form an apocalyptic accumulation, if you will, with the power to unmake society in the same manner that Manuel DeLanda describes its invention in A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History. I only mention the notion that civilization will come undone by a series of non-apocalyptic incidents because: Some oil from the Gulf of Mexico spill is "increasingly likely" to be dragged into a strong current that hugs Florida's coasts, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) officials said today. But other experts say that the oil is already there—satellite images show oil caught up in one of the eddies, or powerful whorls, attached to the Loop Current, a high-speed stream that pulses north into the Gulf of Mexico and travels in a clockwise pattern toward Florida. Once in the Loop Current, oil can travel south and enter the Gulf Stream, a powerful ocean conveyor belt that carries warm water up the eastern seaboard. In which case, the oil that will be "flowing robustly" into the Gulf of Mexico for years will be carried approximately here: One need not share the dyspeptic cynicism of Eliot's hollow men to think that the world might, in truth, end not with a bang but a whimper.

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