Extinction: A Radical History (Book acquired, 3.28.2016)

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I’ve been looking forward to this one. Ashley Dawson’s Extinction: A Radical History is forthcoming from OR Books. Their blurb:

Some thousands of years ago, the world was home to an immense variety of large mammals. From wooly mammoths and saber-toothed tigers to giant ground sloths and armadillos the size of automobiles, these spectacular creatures roamed freely. Then human beings arrived. Devouring their way down the food chain as they spread across the planet, they began a process of voracious extinction that has continued to the present.

Headlines today are made by the existential threat confronting remaining large animals such as rhinos and pandas. But the devastation summoned by humans extends to humbler realms of creatures including beetles, bats and butterflies. Researchers generally agree that the current extinction rate is nothing short of catastrophic. Currently the earth is losing about a hundred species every day.

This relentless extinction, Ashley Dawson contends in a primer that combines vast scope with elegant precision, is the product of a global attack on the commons, the great trove of air, water, plants and creatures, as well as collectively created cultural forms such as language, that have been regarded traditionally as the inheritance of humanity as a whole.

This attack has its genesis in the need for capital to expand relentlessly into all spheres of life. Extinction, Dawson argues, cannot be understood in isolation from a critique of our economic system. To achieve this we need to transgress the boundaries between science, environmentalism and radical politics. Extinction: A Radical History performs this task with both brio and brilliance.

Comparison of Scalp Skin and Onion — Leonardo da Vinci

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“At Christmas a boy lame of a leg goes round the country summoning the devil’s followers, who are countless, to a general conclave . . . and the whole multitude become wolves.”

At Christmas a boy lame of a leg goes round the country summoning the devil’s followers, who are countless, to a general conclave. Whoever remains behind, or goes reluctantly, is scourged by another with an iron whip till the blood flows, and his traces are left in blood. The human form vanishes, and the whole multitude become wolves. Many thousands assemble. Foremost goes the leader armed with an iron whip, and the troop follow, “firmly convinced in their imaginations that they are transformed into wolves.” They fall upon herds of cattle and flocks of sheep, but they have no power to slay men. When they come to a river, the leader smites the water with his scourge, and it divides, leaving a dry path through the midst, by which the pack may go. The transformation lasts during twelve days, at the expiration of which period the wolf-skin vanishes, and the human form reappears. This superstition was expressly forbidden by the church. “Credidisti, quod quidam credere solent, ut illæ quæ a vulgo Parcæ vocantur, ipsæ, vel sint vel possint hoc facere quod creduntur, id est, dum aliquis homo nascitur, et tunc valeant illum designare ad hoc quod velint, ut quandocunque homo ille voluerit, in lupum transformari possit, quod vulgaris stultitia, werwolf vocat, aut in aliam aliquam figuram?”–Ap. Burchard. (d. 1024).

From Sabine Baring-Gould’s marvelous volume The Book of Were-Wolves (1865).

New Rachel Carson Biography (Book Acquired, 11.13.2012)

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On a Farther Shore is William Souder’s big, bold biography of Rachel Carson, whose long (and often poetic) essay Silent Spring changed the way many people thought about humanity’s changing relationship with the environment. Here’s publisher Crown/Random House’s blurb:

She loved the ocean and wrote three books about its mysteries, including the international bestseller The Sea Around Us. But it was with her fourth book, Silent Spring, that this unassuming biologist transformed our relationship with the natural world.

Rachel Carson began work on Silent Spring in the late 1950s, when a dizzying array of synthetic pesticides had come into use. Leading this chemical onslaught was the insecticide DDT, whose inventor had won a Nobel Prize for its discovery. Effective against crop pests as well as insects that transmitted human diseases such as typhus and malaria, DDT had at first appeared safe. But as its use expanded, alarming reports surfaced of collateral damage to fish, birds, and other wildlife. Silent Spring was a chilling indictment of DDT and its effects, which were lasting, widespread, and lethal.

Published in 1962, Silent Spring shocked the public and forced the government to take action-despite a withering attack on Carson from the chemicals industry. The book awakened the world to the heedless contamination of the environment and eventually led to the establishment of the EPA and to the banning of DDT and a host of related pesticides. By drawing frightening parallels between dangerous chemicals and the then-pervasive fallout from nuclear testing, Carson opened a fault line between the gentle ideal of conservation and the more urgent new concept of environmentalism.

Elegantly written and meticulously researched, On a Farther Shore reveals a shy yet passionate woman more at home in the natural world than in the literary one that embraced her. William Souder also writes sensitively of Carson’s romantic friendship with Dorothy Freeman, and of her death from cancer in 1964. This extraordinary new biography captures the essence of one of the great reformers of the twentieth century.

Elizabeth Royte gave Shore a good review in The New York Times; excerpt:

Souder is at his best when he places Carson’s intellectual development in context with the nascent environmental movement. The storm over “Silent Spring,” he notes, was a “cleaving point” in history when the “gentle, optimistic proposition called ‘conservation’ began its transformation into the bitterly divisive idea that would come to be known as ‘environmentalism.’” (Souder isn’t shy about expressing his own disappointment with what he views as a permanent wall between partisans, with nature and science pitted against an “unbreakable coalition of government and industry, the massed might of the establishment.”)

I’ll let Lucy have the last word:

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Untitled List from the Fall of 1949 — Susan Sontag

 

From Susan Sontag’s notebooks, collected in Reborn

effete

noctambulus

perfervid

detumescence

disheveled

so alluring, so cerebral

sodden

intriguing

corrupt dignity

lotophagous

elegiac

Meleager

disponibility

pardine

demotic

Harriette Wilson

garbure

satura

succulent

competent intellectual vulgarity of Aldous Huxley

Yellow Book preciousness

secretive

sturdy

pedantry + lechery

spleen

ribaldry

ilex

Klaxon

 

“I don’t believe in a future life,” said Raskolnikov

“I don’t believe in a future life,” said Raskolnikov.

Svidrigaïlov sat lost in thought.

“And what if there are only spiders there, or something of that sort,” he said suddenly.

“He is a madman,” thought Raskolnikov.

“We always imagine eternity as something beyond our conception, something vast, vast! But why must it be vast? Instead of all that, what if it’s one little room, like a bath house in the country, black and grimy and spiders in every corner, and that’s all eternity is? I sometimes fancy it like that.”

“Can it be you can imagine nothing juster and more comforting than that?” Raskolnikov cried, with a feeling of anguish.

“Juster? And how can we tell, perhaps that is just, and do you know it’s what I would certainly have made it,” answered Svidrigaïlov, with a vague smile.

This horrible answer sent a cold chill through Raskolnikov.

From Chapter I of Part IV of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment.

“At Christmas a boy lame of a leg goes round the country summoning the devil’s followers, who are countless, to a general conclave . . . and the whole multitude become wolves.”

At Christmas a boy lame of a leg goes round the country summoning the devil’s followers, who are countless, to a general conclave. Whoever remains behind, or goes reluctantly, is scourged by another with an iron whip till the blood flows, and his traces are left in blood. The human form vanishes, and the whole multitude become wolves. Many thousands assemble. Foremost goes the leader armed with an iron whip, and the troop follow, “firmly convinced in their imaginations that they are transformed into wolves.” They fall upon herds of cattle and flocks of sheep, but they have no power to slay men. When they come to a river, the leader smites the water with his scourge, and it divides, leaving a dry path through the midst, by which the pack may go. The transformation lasts during twelve days, at the expiration of which period the wolf-skin vanishes, and the human form reappears. This superstition was expressly forbidden by the church. “Credidisti, quod quidam credere solent, ut illæ quæ a vulgo Parcæ vocantur, ipsæ, vel sint vel possint hoc facere quod creduntur, id est, dum aliquis homo nascitur, et tunc valeant illum designare ad hoc quod velint, ut quandocunque homo ille voluerit, in lupum transformari possit, quod vulgaris stultitia, werwolf vocat, aut in aliam aliquam figuram?”–Ap. Burchard. (d. 1024).

From Sabine Baring-Gould’s marvelous volume The Book of Were-Wolves (1865).

Trochilidae — Ernst Haeckel

Chiroptera — Ernst Haeckel