ASH, NOTHING, OIL (Stuck engines, sexiness, and extinction in the holes of the year)

[note: this was a piece, loosely about 2010's infamous holes in the earth, that I wrote end of last summer for a Swedish online journal/project.  It's now uncertain if that project will end up appearing.  So now, several months after and into a new year, is this time capsule, marked by being written while the Gulf was still gushing.)


The threat was not the hole, and it was not what came from it.

It wasn't burning cattle or houses. It wasn't hungry, but it did hack and cough and then the planes stopped.

I’m very happy to live here in Iceland even though we’re broke.

At first, Eyjafjallajökull was effusive.

[Every hole in the earth must be anthropomorphized, insofar as that means doing something that humans do at the moment when they seem least human: spitting, swallowing, gurgling, roaring, weeping. Made as if human to be made barely human, to try and register the shock, the frenzy of verbs outdo each other through the frothy news. Like a mass murderer in the cottage next door. We thought Eyja was quiet, good company, a bit strange, but kept to itself. I mean, you never know, but who could have seen this coming, this explosion, this exhaling, this monstrous outburst?

Because a hole itself is neutral, dumb: just a certain area in which the surface is suddenly not at the same level as it was before. There's nothing to think about it, nothing to say, but then things pass through it, one way or another, drop or spew, and other things get wrecked because of it, and what can we say about it? Only that it's just like us, insofar as that means it can do things that stand for the end of us all.]

It was effusive and buoyant and eager. Gibbets of lava, built up behind the restricted hole, harder chunks of matter. Tephra spume, darker, but first, a time of light and flame.

It provided the occasion for a dirty thunderstorm, which is at once the single greatest meteorological phenomena of all time, and the single greatest name for a meteorological phenomena. When all the ash and rock and ice in the volcanic plume rub together and produce a static charge and lighting strikes during an eruption. It belongs less to an incident that upset the movements of capital and more to a black, neon airbrushed hair metal shirt. Of a band called Dirty Thunderstorm.

But for all its flash, the countryside wasn't bathed in flame, shepherds didn't fall into a hot maw of the earth. It spat up, booted high.

Fresh eruptions thrust new torrents of molten rock through the shattered ice sheets in the mountain crater, spewing a towering wall of ash, dust and steam high into the air.

Fresh thrusting, it spews towering. Like all disasters, we have to borrow the modifiers of bad erotica to get at it. And what they did that night was a dirty thunderstorm, indeed.

But what was really bad, real naughty, wasn't the coming out but the hanging around, the shit hitting the Gulf Stream fan and floating. It was born up like ash feathers. 

That damage was a swarm of waiting. It was passive, a siege engine that bides its time, lets you come to it, harmless until you approach in a machine that consumes air to throw itself forward and up.

And so we did not come to it, because the mere thought of it was too much.

(And so it was the highest disturbance of airline traffic since WWII, that last instance of the pesky interruption of the flight paths of the rich and busy.)

Like the black crystals of Lem's The Invincibles, but with no internal cohesion, no silent buzzing nanoworkings. Just that it had been beneath glacial ice, and as the hole became a scourge-hole and tossed up to heaven, that heat melted its ancient ice, which vaporized and changed the composition of the silicate ash, making nasty glassy ash, the kind that scratches corneas, that grinds motion to a halt.

And a wind of rustling glass, a dust like bees

But it has no shape, it requires an engine to take shape, and the only shape that it will take is the breaking apart of that engine.

That was too much for us. Better the engines sit and pace the airstrip while plans to see family or make money or get laid or look at buildings in another country all get mired at the airport, in that hellish slush of frustration, made all the worse by the rarest exception, when the ineptitude of the airline can't be blamed.

 All for the thought:

One by one, each of the engines on the jumbo jet shut down, and the plane began to dive toward the ground

And so it took no shape, remained a cloud, and it did no harm. A forbidding sabotage.

For the danger was just the danger that's already there, hoisting massive heaps of metal and flesh up into the air. The silicate ash just made flying what it already is, a leap of faith supported by combustion and the willfully forgotten fact that sure, it rarely goes bad, but when it does, it goes all the way down.

The disaster was waiting to happen, it is called flying, and turbulence is the staved-off rule, not exception.

It defied passage through it, it chewed up engines in speculation. It had no solid surface, you can't have a hole in it, but still, it was thick. It seized us all up, and we drew pictures of it as it spread, pictures of black laid over maps, a swelling yawp from this single point, this hole which gave expression to something meaningless and old.

But it meant other things, because when those pictures were drawn, the planet had to be tipped, remapping needed, the new center of the tilted globe was Iceland and the nearer bald spot of the Arctic.

In October 2008, all three major banks in Iceland collapsed, relatively scaled the largest financial meltdown ever. And then the government folded as well.

Treason due to recklessness is still treason

Though Europe took little attention. Iceland was not Greece, and its yogurt was more polite, not a fire that burned banks.

Then this unpronounceable thing, forcing itself into the mouths of its commentators, slashing the wings of its tourists. As focal point of important things that happen, Europe can no longer compete with its minor brethen who hold it hostage, a new hierarchy of what landmass has what hole. This petulant sulky child, gorging itself on glass candy and chalky ash, who makes itself sick just to spoil the party.

The wretching is a cutting miasma and in the gasps, the thought that this scattered glass is a crystal ball of what's to come, a prediction whose very saying – that particulate yell – makes it nearly the case.

However, as Science Fair noted previously, the Eyjafjallajokull volcano isn't necessarily the main problem. It's Katla, Iceland's noisier neighbor, that's the concern. If lava flowing from Eyjafjallajokull melts the glaciers that hold down the top of Katla, then Katla could blow its top, pumping gigantic amounts of ash into the atmosphere.
The potential eruption of Iceland's volcano Katla could send the world, including the USA, into an extended deep freeze.

Like a GDP drop of 5.5% in six months.

A hole can't be frozen, but it can let loose what, in freezing and halting, stands things still that otherwise can never be seen while moving, like the spoked blades of a engine, like a history.

Iceland was ready, knew that this hot freezing was a snapshot mailed back in time.

On 20 April 2010 Icelandic President Ólafur Grímsson said that, "the time for Katla to erupt is coming close ... we [Iceland] have prepared ... it is high time for European governments and airline authorities all over the world to start planning for the eventual Katla eruption.”

But Europe wouldn't recognize, and the Katla eruption never came, but still, the air is thick and it cuts.

It promised a drop in global warming, and the glacial steam would cool to dew at least. Planes couldn't fly, gasoline sat nervously in its non-burned state, idling, with the darkening of the sky, smirched with ash, while the sun was still there. 

And if it continued:

Sheep will die, but they won't be burned.

There will be less sunlight, and someone will break through the security checkpoint, refusing to think that the skies are dangerous, fumble the plane into take off, and it will rise feeble and surge back down, taking out a terminal full of permanently delayed families and fewer and fewer will bother coming to the airport after that.

And more and more will grasp the sneering grind between what aims to make the world circulate and what circulates against that, on upper winds, settling lower, on the containers and barges, in hair and on shoulder blades, what looks like snow but which does not think.

At this new tilted center, the bubbling lava

just looked like a pretty little candle twinkling in the distance, said Mr Eiriksson

It's just surreal to sit here and watch the plumes of ash up there

Engines of planes that carry people and things, it sits like glass in their hot spinning mouths and causes engines to sob.


A blindhole we call one where there is a bottom that could be seen, not the hole that doesn't see or where sight reaches nothing, clear through. But this was a blindhole.

The hole continues to grow, say officials.

In respect to total income in 2010, the balance of the national debt will be of 219.6%.

And a whale looks a lot like a fish, but calling it one would be very misleading.

In Guatemala City, the ground fell in and a house and factory and a possibly a human too.

It got called a sinkhole, but nothing sank, you must sink through a substance. It collapsed inward around a hollow, it made of a volume an unhealing yawn.

Everyone talked about how perfectly round it was, and that roundness meant that it had to be a fake. Because nature is supposed to be ragged. This was a rifle shot from the moon, down, a pavement crop circle, a scalding sphere.

It must have been made on Photoshop, they said, but there was the fact that the photos came from the government and this quieted that. Because governments do not have Photoshop.

It is a savage puncture without origin, because it is round. A punctuation mark, a single period, and soon E's and F's and O's and G's and one K will become be written in the city that falls away. Crumbling sentences, and the edge is nearly clean, blocks and dogs and groceries plummet a hundred feet below, and finally we whose planes have unstuck engines can read what the city meant all along.


But no, just a period

Turns out it wasn't a sinkhole, though that's what was written everywhere. Sinkhole implies “natural” and this is “not natural”, because there are pipes that snake beneath the city and they burst and there is an underground flood, cleaning, eroding, supping from below and carrying somewhere else.

Instead, Bonis prefers the term "piping feature" -- a decidedly less sexy label for the 100-foot deep, 66-foot wide circular chasm.
(Elsewhere, it was called a piping pseudokarst)
Because it was sexy, of course, even with learning the mood-killing details of a lack of fresh water and the desperate and shoddy attempts to remedy this that lie behind the floor-dropping out beneath us and we're dizzy and breathless. A perfect hole, untouched by man! All natural!

But even that petty bureaucrat's technical name couldn't ruin it, because the hole wasn't the fact of a falling, and with it, the weight above.

No -

gobbling several buildings and nearly an entire intersection

Residents of Guatemala City may be thinking the world is trying to swallow them after the mother of all sinkholes appeared in a city street

A gobbling, swallowing mother of holes

And they still couldn't believe it, because where did this swallowing go, how did a hole become a hole? Where did it all go to make the ground a hole into which all could be gobbled, a throat that falls away darkly? And they wanted it to be bottomless, a real problem solver to consume without trace, crumb, or wracked steel bones, to have the staring meet nothing.

But they peered and saw, in the blind spot far below, the banal pile of broken.

So it is a hole that swallows but does not chew. And those chunks of money and time up above, factory and house and flesh just sit there, fall and sit mixed with pumice, to be slowly eaten away by the water that made the hole happen, the water that was supposed to flow elsewhere to pass through bodies and to flush away waste. It chews with the same substance that made it swallow. A dissolving throat that doesn't need.

It was not a yell of ash that pollutes, but a flipped dream of urban management gone wrong, a cleaning from below, the pipes that act of their own accord, gnawing with wet tongues at the outmoded and eroded, until the city falls in circles down.

That falls in circles anywhere

"Our recommendation was that this could happen again," he recalled. "When you have water flowing from storm water runoff, a sewage pipe, or any kind of strong flow, it eats away at the loose material.”

The event horizon is just the sidewalk. It is the whole city, below which the unsexy piping features, the bent joint and blackwater. The undrinkable whispers lapping and the unfillable listens. Elsewhere in the city, the pavement creaks a bit, they're bending down, tapping with knuckles, and the same echo is made constant across these vacant shells that are not yet a hole.

We don't know how long it has to go on before it collapses

A hole that grows, negation that increases, in porous fits and starts. Erosion starts and the figure itself spreads until thinking teeters and there's a total equivalency of hole.

"I think the whole media is a sinkhole," she quips.

The metaphor that eats all, these multiplying nothings that up from a failure in circulation, which eddies and washes, the undercurrent that scours it all like lace

But once it starts collapsing


the structural situation cannot heal itself. It will continue to erode and flow out more oil and eventually the inevitable collapse which cannot be stopped will happen. It is only a simple matter of who can "get there first" or the well.

Of course, there is no us or the well, we are nothing if not that shoved-in shunt, that screwing the pooch 5,000 feet deep, that shallow breath, that frantic attempt to murder what is already dead.

Of these 3 holes:

The volcano was something that kept happening, it had a beginning, but its force was not the punctual nature of how it started. And it could have spread, and only Iceland was ready for the ashen horde.

“We” - that is, us, not the well didn't have any hand in it. We were just scared to fly through it. It is one hole, beneath which a quantity of stuff seethes, it is barely a hole, just a shaping of what comes.

The eroded blindhole happened, in degrees, but it happened as a punctuated thing. The ground fell. And happened because of the designed flows of water beneath a city, the well seeps quietly out, but the disaster is not the leakage. It could repeat again and again, it will, but without direct incidence: it does not fall at the precise point where a cut was made. A factory does not fall into a hole in a pipe.

It is many holes to come, over which there is no quantity.

The Deepwater oil gusher is our hole, species-being in drilled form, right where we lanced it, and it could not stop happening.

I read this morning that there are 27,000 abandoned oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico.

It is one amongst a scarred series, the one that happened to take, not because the odds of this are 1 in 27,000 but because 27,000 times is more than enough to get the needle stuck not in a vein but in a black gold ocean beneath a grey one. They plugged it up now, but that changes nothing. Like covering your mouth after you sneeze.

It is the unmanaging end of the Atlantic
There are brown waves that roll in, they cannot mix, so the wave is spotted with surface like the plague and it will not fold.

Those same waves made the unused fishing boats slippery.

They said it could not really have happened, but the thought of a hurricane on fire did happen in our heads, which is more than can be said for the 4.1 million barrels, which happened somewhere but not in our heads.

If you framed it correctly in a viewfinder, the ocean was split in half: the ocean as it used to be, and the ocean where there was another ocean on top it, a thin viscous one.

And a flowering plenitude of killing (because it kept being killed and kept not dying), pages and twists and turns about how and where it would be killed, with what, where.

(Static, top, bottom, over.)

The language used to describe it alternated between the diary of a sex murderer

The gusher will be choked to death by a "top kill," in which heavy mud and cement will be shoved down the throat of the blown-out well.

And a blow-out blockbuster, the plot of Armageddon but starring robots and the ocean, which is to say, better

Drill a hole, drop a nuke in and seal up the well.”

All this was necessary, to make it alternately into the pornographic fact it already was, albeit one that constantly slipped between gender and figures of what was happening and who was inserting what into where and what was spraying into whom, and into an action film with an eye for the particularities of civil disaster engineering ramped up to nuclear. Because we could see everything and could not make out what we saw.

That constant web feed, a slow resolution toxic gush, but too close up, whose spray hit no object, just out of the frame, and then elsewhere there were maps that showed the spread, continents and forms we recognize now squaring a different mass – the plume, the preferred word when talking about pollutants this year – that is neither land mass nor body of water, that is neither mass nor body.

But through all this, a strange lack of talk about it. Of course the news were all over it, but for how nasty it was, for the fact that it was and is the death by poison of the second largest ocean on the planet that had potential to not stop at all, there was little. Which is to say, Americans talked about things other than this during this period, they got used to it.

Which is to say, the fact that BP stations weren't torched by a mob, in a guttering echo of the sea. This indexes two things.

  1. A subterranean awareness that despite all the blabber about mismanagement, there was nothing exceptional about what they did. It was business as usual, as conducted always: rushed, shoddy, scrambling, hungry. A value hole – a whooshing of negative space, that is the vacuum of potential profit, of what could be capitalized – that attaches itself to every teat, cut, and leak it can find. The relative degree of leaving BP be, beyond a fangless boycott, is first a sign for hope, that then immediately binds to a matter of despair – we get right that it isn't a special case, they can't be called bad guys until we're willing to tar anyone who conducts business at all, but we're not getting what to do otherwise, to that total tarring. The bad pounds over us like a brown wave and we're slick reeking and do not want to sleep.
  2. That for all the talk elsewhere – we're looking at you, philosophy – about the “unthinkable,” this is as close as we come on a mass scale. Not a petty transgression or speculative absolute we already understand damn well. No, a black, mindless excess that seeps and pours and does not scab, and made worse by the knowledge that it is not “indifferent” to us, it is hostile, and we know very well that in this case, it does not happen to us like the tail of a cold universe brushing us away like flies or like symptoms routed far away from their cause. This is at once the perfect figure of direct cause and what drowns the thought of cause because there is no distinction betweenwhat might have been value and generation and profit and what could be the deathknell of all that.

And all the worse because it was not the end

The spread widened to $22.73 a barrel today as the December 2018 contract jumped $1.39, or 1.5 percent, to settle at $94.17 a barrel on the Nymex. July crude dropped 7 cents to $71.44.

There is no earth as such, to save or ruin or conserve or squander. There are just competing piles of ex-motion, heated and cooled to various degrees, sometimes thrown high into the air, other times humidly coming apart, other times a building in which you chew and swallow and wait.

Midway through the Deepwater time, when the “situation wasn't improving, and hence might be structural,” the thought came out: what if it was broken below, if the problem wasn't the corkless spray from the top, but a lower break, chthonic deep below, and that BP knew this, they didn't want to topkill it, just to catch and release (in the form of burning) that oil, because if it were plugged up high, the pressure would build below, at the actual break, a break held tenuous at bay by the rock surrounding it And the real hole would show itself, the hole that isn't a single puncture and siphoning but a loss of structure, a break in division, and the divisions collapsing. The spill cannot be plugged it has no hole, just holes, because it seeps up through sand, through those smaller gaps, the blasted pores swelling. Nothing bleeds anymore, it sweats the infection out in tiny beads.

For it couldn't but look like a shunt stuck in, to drain it out, only to find that something was sicker than it could have been thought, that this was a rageful old sore to be left alone, that had no reason, and that will not leave us be now.

But this shunt hole is also a tunnel, a point of connection and passage, a relinkage between this world of future speculation on dead living labor to come and the this far past world, of dead life given an unseen future, made valuable only in how it rots and how it will be burned.

For just what comes from this hole?

There were certain warm nutrient-rich environments such as the Gulf of Mexico and the ancient Tethys Sea where the large amounts of organic material falling to the ocean floor exceeded the rate at which it could decompose. This resulted in large masses of organic material being buried under subsequent deposits such as shale formed from mud. This massive organic deposit later became heated and transformed under pressure into oil.

That is to say: 

Oil is the revenge of what was not allowed to decay

The once alive buried and compressed so that it could never become dead and gone.

The rage and horror of this zooplankton and algae, pressed into a permanent unrotting. The hatred of simpler life for the complicated forms that follow and opened it up, suck it out, and then the joyous burning, the final consumption in fire of what oxygen alone wasn't allowed to do.

It is the return of the formless undead, piled and coiled. Our entire enterprise, our failed management of holes and ceaseless digging of new ones, of debt that makes us ants sliding back down the eroding walls of a sand trap, of scoured-out value, of mines and miners who can't get out, of planes that won't leap and pipes that won't hold, of the breathless, tired hauling about of things made from other things dug up by people who hauled themselves into a building to make them: it all runs on the hot light of the smaller dead we keep with us to burn.

But what they made continued into our present, their burial and decay is our present.

The poison of the spill, then, is just a stored-up, welled-up,and cut-loose death, a death that was supposed to drive forward, but now clogs and thickens, the coming back of the little ones who never had their day and who never had tongues but who will bring this whole thing down, who will get sick in the ocean and cloud the air until things get hotter and wetter.
But we try otherwise and when they let loose, gurgling and gibbering, we drag them up to the top of the ocean, we siphon them onto boats that run on the combustion of their refined cousin, boats paid for by a system of credit dependent upon the future extraction and refinement of this dumb prehistoric anger. We pull them up and we burn them there, in the purest potlatch. The massive energy it takes, the workers fed and transported, the machines running on gas to pull up oil, the flare of heat echoing over the cold gray water, to burn what would have become that gas, to burn it in a corpseless pyre straight through the night.

The Atlantic splashes and rolls above the sludge of buried rot. In this collection of moments frozen and unstuck, of holes given and made, the Atlantic is on fire yet that fire leaves untouched all that should be charred beyond recognition.

It is clear that the negative impacts go far beyond the physical presence of oil. Thus far, the impact on housing markets has been measurable in sharp decreases in volume from the previous year.

This slicked-flame burning is another sun and it eats all light



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Dresden Scott said...

Rioting against a BP station was a choice we avoided for PR reasons. Imagine the black-clad environmentalists, "liberating" oil in fire and smoke. Our own plumes illuminated by fire against a backdrop of night. We trembled with a desire for violence but hesitated to be or feel like or - worse - be portrayed - as hypocrites.

We still feel at the mercy of their narrative.

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