Washed Away

by Gautam Pemmaraju

It is that time of year in Bombay when the city collectively awaits relief from the heat and humidity of the summer months. “The creature of grandeur and complexity that defies comparison with anything” (see here) is but round the corner, and if recent newspaper reports are to believed, relief from the sweltering heat aside, we are to expect a graver visitation – “the ghost of 2005”. It was on July 26th of that year that the city witnessed an event of unprecedented magnitude. Lashed by rains in excess of 944mm within 24 hours, the flooded city came to a standstill, hundreds died, and the loss of property was enormous. Of biblical nature, much like the hurricanes and tsunamis that have wreaked havoc across the globe in recent times, the flooding was truly, a deluge. A dangerous combination of high tidal movements and higher than normal rainfall are anticipated in June and July this year, according to the city's civic authority, and this indeed was a primary cause for the dramatic 2005 flooding. The colonial era hierarchical network of storm water drains was overwhelmed, and the rushing waters that would have otherwise been carried out to sea, were spat back upon the city, and effectively, in the words of a civic official I spoke to more than a year ago, “the roads became the storm water drains”.

Turner-delugeI was amongst the lucky that did not venture out early that day, but instead saw the onset of the storm from my balcony. The skies darkened rapidly shortly after noon as if in a time-lapse shot, and as it began to rain, the light progressively failed till it became almost pitch dark past two in the afternoon. The electricity went out. I could barely make out the large rubber tree right across from me, and as for the neighbouring building Immaculata, I could no longer discern its shape. It appeared as if I were staring at an opaque curtain, so densely composed of water, that it seemed to be of one seamless form, rather than of discrete water droplets. It seemed, as I sat out watching in bewilderment, that everything around me was, “enchafed”, and I could only but darkly imagine the condition of the sea, a short walk away from where I was.

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by Liam Heneghan

DESTRUCTION OF HOME: Destruction is woven into the tapestry of the universe. Entropy, omeleteer of structured things, wields its indefatigable spatula. This is Entropy’s world we are living in – a world where things fly apart. This is a world where a toppled vase disintegrates into shards upon a polished floor, and where carnage cannot be made whole. A world where neither the King’s horses nor his men, can reconstitute that incautious ovum, Humpty Dumpty; a world where tender reverential hearts break, where young flesh bruises, where desire detumesces in the embers of fulfillment, where love itself withers on the vine, where old age trellises the skin, where bright hopes atomize, and where the mortuary awaits us all, sepulchral door swinging wide – candles lit, lambent and serene, within.


HOME IN BORN IN MOTION: Leaving home is a violent act, because walking is a violent act. Walking violates a stationary calm and announces, “this place does not satisfy my needs anymore”, or, “having served its purpose once, this place now bores me”. Walking derives, anciently, phylogenetically, from motile carnivory. It is rooted in impatience – the primordial impatience with waiting for morsels to waft on by. Motility is an ancestral condition. Life was born on the move. Flagellated, ciliated – gliding, and lashing – permanently unsatisfied and desirous. Motility is the characteristic act of animality. In their evolutionary procession, animals squirmed, wriggled, pulsated, swam, slithered, and later, lurched, crawled, leapt, hopped, flapped, flew, swarmed, brachiated, knuckle-shuffled and then most recently arose and walked away. Not the chosen option: repose is abandoned. A singular spot is forsaken. Beasts leave home to prowl and stalk, to kill and dine. Pursuing other options, bathed in the sunlight, were animals enduring cousins in the kingdom of plants. Left behind also: sessile brothers, animals hedging their bets by fiercely equipping with lures and tackle and macerating jaws.

Animals depart with teeth set in hungry mouths and they nibble on the world as they encounter it. The engulfing stoma of the ambulator, first and center of its anatomical toolkit, is nestled among the cranial sense organs. The arms and legs that flail behind are mere propellers towards the cosmic dining table. The frenetic peristalsis of the torso squeezes out the ejecta in our wake and makes room for new cargo. Most movement is ecology, and most ecology is trophic ecology. Ingestion is a fundamental act.

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And Another ‘Thing’ : Sci-Fi Truths and Nature’s Errors

by Daniel Rourke

In my last 3quarksdaily article I considered the ability of science-fiction – and the impossible objects it contains – to highlight the gap between us and ‘The Thing Itself’ (the fundamental reality underlying all phenomena). In this follow-up I ask whether the way these fictional ‘Things’ determine their continued existence – by copying, cloning or imitation – can teach us about our conception of nature.

Seth Brundle: What’s there to take? The disease has just revealed its purpose. We don’t have to worry about contagion anymore… I know what the disease wants.

Ronnie: What does the disease want?

Seth Brundle: It wants to… turn me into something else. That’s not too terrible is it? Most people would give anything to be turned into something else.

Ronnie: Turned into what?

Seth Brundle: Whaddaya think? A fly. Am I becoming a hundred-and-eighty-five-pound fly? No, I’m becoming something that never existed before. I’m becoming… Brundlefly. Don’t you think that’s worth a Nobel Prize or two?

The Fly, 1986

In David Cronenberg’s movie The Fly (1986) we watch through slotted fingers as the body of Seth Brundle is horrifically transformed. Piece by piece Seth becomes Brundlefly: a genetic monster, fused together in a teleportation experiment gone awry. In one tele-pod steps Seth, accompanied by an unwelcome house-fly; from the other pod emerges a single Thing born of their two genetic identities. The computer algorithm designed to deconstruct and reconstruct biology as pure matter cannot distinguish between one entity and another. The parable, as Cronenberg draws it, is simple: if all the world is code then ‘all the world’ is all there is.

Vincent Price in 'The Fly', 1958Science fiction is full of liminal beings. Creatures caught in the phase between animal and human, between alien and Earthly, between the material and the spirit. Flowing directly from the patterns of myth Brundlefly is a modern day Minotaur: a manifestation of our deep yearning to coalesce with natural forces we can’t understand. The searing passions of the bull, its towering stature, are fused in the figure of the Minotaur with those of man. The resultant creature is too fearsome for this world, too Earthly to exist in the other, and so is forced to wander through a labyrinth hovering impossibly between the two. Perhaps Brundlefly’s labyrinth is the computer algorithm winding its path through his genetic code. As a liminal being, Brundlefly is capable of understanding both worlds from a sacred position, between realities. His goal is reached, but at a cost too great for an Earthly being to understand. Seth the scientist sacrifices himself and there is no Ariadne’s thread to lead him back.

In her book on monsters, aliens and Others Elaine L. Graham reminds us of the thresholds these ‘Things’ linger on:

“[H]uman imagination, by giving birth to fantastic, monstrous and alien figures, has… always eschewed the fiction of fixed species. Hybrids and monsters are the vehicles through which it is possible to understand the fabricated character of all things, by virtue of the boundaries they cross and the limits they unsettle.”

Elaine L. Graham, Representations of the Post/Human

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