Ghost World: The Crude Consequences of Disturbing the Dead

Updated: Sep 23, 2018

By Siri Katinka Valdez.


As I am typing this, The Ramones' 1989 single "Pet Sematary" [sic] is playing in the background. It is almost an haunting feeling, listening to them again today, waking the ghost of my young adult self in her teenage bedroom, plastered with posters, waiting for the future to unfold. The Ramones, too, are being haunted by the past in the song - Spirits moaning among the tombstones, and the night, when the moon is bright, someone cries - something ain't right. The song, which was written for the Stephen King movie by the same title, is referring to an ancient Native-American myth, brought back to life by popular horror movies from the 80's and 90´s, saying that you must never (ever) build upon a sacred burial ground or dig into the earth and disturb the remains of the dead. If you do, you will be bringing the dead back to life, not as they once were, but as hollow creatures, half-living, half-dead zombies, wreaking havoc and mayhem on the living. The Neolithic chamber tombs, such as the Maeshowe chamber on the Orkney Islands in Scotland, were also built to keep the living at bay. Acoustic research done by archeologist Aaron Watson [1], shows that the chamber is constructed like giant Helmholtz resonator: an air-filled chamber that creates sound when wind from the outside blows into the opening of the cairn, the same principle that comes from blowing across the neck of a bottle. In the Neolithic versions, the sound frequency was constructed to be below what the human ear could hear, or below 20 Hz, creating a so-called infrasound. Very low sound-frequencies has in some studies shown to alter the mental and physical state of a human being, Nauseating the intruders, unsettling them or even making them feel as if they were haunted by ghosts. The message from our forefathers and mothers is clear: Do not disturb the dead [2].


Enter fossil fuels. The number 1 generator that powers the age of the Anthropocene, a term coined in the 2000’s for the man-made geological era we now have entered, unfolding beyond our capacity to control it. And with fossil fuels come crude oil and crude oils’ spawn, the half-breed plastic, a non-decomposing material causing a range of ecological problems, such as severely damaging the life in the oceans. Crude oil, or petroleum, is a dense liquid found in the deep layers of the Earth consisting of hydrocarbons, organic compounds and small amounts of metal. These organics compounds are remnants of previous life on this planet, such as the whales that once walked on land some 50 million years ago or the Woolly Mammoth grazing the North American tundra during the last Ice-Age, which Russian and South-Korean scientists are currently trying to bring back to life, at least according to reporters in The Daily Star [3].


The historical traces of fossil fuels are poetically written about in the book "Machine", by the Danish author Peder Adolphsen, a novel that tracks the origin of a drop of oil that combusted in a Ford Pinto engine in Austin, Texas, in 1975 - and how it started forming fifty-five million years ago, in the in the heart of a pre-historic mare. Or in the children's musical group Knudsen & Ludvigsen's song "Dinosauren og Månen" (“the Dinosaur and the Moon”), where a dinosaur transforms into oil and gets shot up towards the Moon, powering a rocket. But the real world consequence of shooting Dinosaurs at the Moon is much starker than the children's song. These fossil fuels, as we all know, has been extracted from the deep layers of the Earth and used as our number one fuel for modern life, shaping the way we exist as a species today – determining and controlling how we live our lives, grow our food, breathe our air, transport our bodies and live in our homes. If the whole world is a giant cemetery, then we have accomplished to dig up just about every square inch of it to power our lives. So what are the ramifications of disturbing the dead?


An Earth now damaged by 1500 billion tons of carbon dioxide [4], like a bad morning breath from an awoken zombie-creature, causing global warming, violent weather, and climate refugees. An ocean that by 2050 will contain more plastic than fish, according to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation Report [5]. While diverse species are dying on an accelerated rate, and the fossil fuels of our forefathers and foremothers keep being awoken from their burial place, our world and bodies are being taken over by Trans-Humanistic ideas of super-humans, Russian Cosmism (such as the notion of the abolition of death) and cloning. Robots are entering the workplace, plastic organ-parts are entering our bodies as a means to prolong life, and fixed air-conditioning and electrical light are replacing the very basis for our survival: natural oxygen and sunlight.


Let us now consider two of the many ways disturbing the dead has affected us, namely by taking a look at plastics and air-conditioning and the way in which they seem to behave as dead materials with a vengeance. For Roland Barthes, plastics was almost to be considered as a non-substance, a matter than could be shaped in to anything, deconstructing the hierarchy of matter, seeing that one product could be replaced by another, ad infinitum. The perfect material to accompany the capitalistic social structure of the western civilization, bringing with it endless possibilities and ultimate flexibility. Plastic, like capitalism, is increasingly spreading to the point where the whole world can become plasticized, as he writes “…even life itself since, we are told, they are beginning to make plastic aortas” [6].


The plastic is at the heart of the matter when it comes to life in the oceans. While walls are being built by the Mexican border to keep refugees and immigrants at bay, the Eastern Pacific Garbage Patch in the Pacific Ocean outside of California, a conglomerate of plastics, debris and chemical sludge now twice the size as the state of Texas, is silently being constructed as if it was a new homeland for the Queen of the dead herself, plotting the ultimate zombie take-over, one plastic bag at a time. In the essay “Views from the Plastisphere: A Pre-face to Post-Rock Architecture” Meredith Miller explores the new material Plastiglomerate, a hybrid rock formed by the intermingling between debris, plastics, sand and stone – formed by the currents of the oceans, as a tangible example of how the age of the Anthropocene is unfolding beyond our capacities to control. This new half-breed material is relatable to scholar Donna Haraways’ term Natureculture – when natural forces and human forces becomes so intertwined that it no longer can be separated from each other, forcing us to rethink how we understand nature, technology and ourselves.


Another consequence of awakening the dead is the chilling and detrimental effect of air-conditioning, an invention originally developed to chill the printing and meat processing industry, now used extensively in our work cubicles, at home, in our cars, our airport, at shopping malls or at the cinema, while watching, let’s say, Stephen Kings’ 1989 classic “Pet Semetary”. In Singapore, more than half of all electricity is now consumed by air-cooling systems [7]. Dutch researches estimate that energy demand for air-conditioning will increase with 72 percent during this century [8]. The philosopher Peter Sloterdijk names air-conditioning as the very essence of how we understand ourselves in our time [9]. In his work Foams he pinpoints the exact date and time when the 20th century started - Friday 2.april 1915, during WW1 when 168 tons of chlorine gas was released by German troops creating a 6 km long, yellowish cloud, killing British soldiers by the very same act that gave them their life: by breathing. But ghosts and zombies, as we all know – do not need air to breathe. All they need to come to life is a human being – trespassing where it does not belong.


Notes

  1. http://www.aaronwatson.co.uk/stones-of-stenness-1

  2. https://asa.scitation.org/doi/abs/10.1121/1.389513 (The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America)

  3. https://www.dailystar.co.uk/news/weird-news/702553/real-life-jurassic-park-mammoth-science-yak-siberia-pleistocene-park-elephant-dna

  4. Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz, “Preface”, The Shock of the Anthropocene. The Earth, History and Us (London/New York: Verso Books, 2016).

  5. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/jan/19/more-plastic-than-fish-in-the-sea-by-2050-warns-ellen-macarthur

  6. Roland Barthes, Mythologies, 111

  7. Eva Horn. "Air-Conditioning: Taming the Climate as a Dream of Civilization," in Climates: Architecture and the Planetary Imagination, 234.

  8. Ibid., 236.

  9. http://www.kunstkritikk.no/artikler/air-condition-er-var-tids-eksistensielle-betingelse/?d=no

References


Barthes, Roland. "Mythologies". New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1972.


Christophe Bonneuil and Jean-Baptiste Fressoz, The Shock of the Anthropocene. The Earth, History and Us (London/New York: Verso Books, 2016).


Horn, Eva. “Air-Conditioning: Taming the Climate as a Dream of Civilization,” in Climates: Architecture and the Planetary Imagination, ed. by James Graham et al. (New York: Lars Müller Publishing, 2016): 233-241.


Miller, Meredith. “Views from the Plastisphere: A Preface to Post-Rock Architecture,” in Climates: Architecture and the Planetary Imagination, ed. by James Graham et al. 68-78. (New York: Lars Müller Publishing, 2016.)


Internet sources


Aaron Watson: http://www.aaronwatson.co.uk/stones-of-stenness-1

The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America: https://asa.scitation.org/doi/abs/10.1121/1.389513 The Daily Star: https://www.dailystar.co.uk/news/weird-news/702553/real-life-jurassic-park-mammoth-science-yak-siberia-pleistocene-park-elephant-dna

The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/jan/19/more-plastic-than-fish-in-the-sea-by-2050-warns-ellen-macarthur

Kunstkritikk: http://www.kunstkritikk.no/artikler/air-condition-er-var-tids-eksistensielle-betingelse/?d=no

OSLO FORM LAB 2018