Life and Death in the Plastisphere
Plastic is often thought of as a malleable material, its metaphorical connotation, plasticity, implying movement and shape shifting. However, with a projected lifespan of 100,000 years, plastic is actually one of the most durable compounds on earth. By existing outside of the time frame of biological life, plastic brings with it a kind of undead quality that exists in opposition to the biological binary of life and death, and spreading this reign throughout all the ecosystems it interacts with. Most of the plastic produced ends up in the ocean, offering itself as a food source to from everything from plankton to whales, slowing sealing off the exchange of nutrients, starving animals though its abundance.
For humans, the many chemical plasticizers, such as Bisphenol A (or BPA), mimic natural hormones, rendering us less and less fertile. Plastic, and its associated plasticizers, are among the many anthropogenic compounds that are heralding in an increasingly infertile future, or future filled with strange new life forms. Plastic is also becoming the anthropogenic substrate of a whole new ecology of viruses and bacteria, termed the plastisphere. While this situation is certainly horrific, what might be learned from queer theory, disability studies, and theoretical approaches to the notion of toxicity? In other words, if instead of running from these toxic and infertile futures, as Mel Chen, Claire Colebrook and others suggest, what might we learn if we began to embrace the nonfilial progeny that plastic, and the plastisphere, might produce? How might we organize a politics around nonreproduction, a politics that moves beyond the cyclic processes of life and death to correspond and prepare us more adequately for the plastic future?
Heather Davis is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute of the Arts and Humanities at Pennsylvania State University, where she works on the ethology of plastic. She is the editor of Art in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Politics, Aesthetics, Environment, and Epistemology (Ann Arbor: MPublishing/Open Humanities Press, forthcoming 2014).
Please note that there is some sound interference (rattling glasses) at the beginning of this presentation, but this stops at 01:35.