Slow Tectonic Shifts

While tectonic is a delicious seismic adjective mostly used to refer to the shifting of Earth plates and quakes in the wake, I’ve been taken with it for how aptly it’s a metaphor for current phase of life and research. Before I write up my indulgent blog post, I do think tectonic should have its own re-definition in the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows (you’re welcome) where we can adequately attend to its Greek roots (meaning ‘building’ but hence also infrastructure?) to reflect upon life’s infrastructure. I don’t just mean material infrastructures but it could well extend to kinship networks, databases (“how does software make space?”), the dying and wilting of life, of loved ones ageing, worse, an ageing cause worth fighting for. Why tectonic then? To elaborate, I had my parents visit me in the US recently and was curious how they might see the country that has a special place in Indian imagination (as “having arrived”). Unsurprisingly we spent a fair bit of time reflecting on our good fortune at never having had trouble getting a US visa. There’s no exaggeration in saying that entire lives have been shaped by that one decision. Then of course, as civil engineers and mildly proud Indian parents, they had a lot to say about US food, coffee, transport and why people smile (a lot, all the time). 🙂

My point is, I had like two weeks of purposeful estrangement, alienation from Orange County’s peculiar life-building and much like the small but constant shifts in the ground we walk on, it was difficult to go back to regular business without pausing to feel small little shifts, perhaps some renewed concerns that tend to fall by as we stop noticing the smell of the air. Again no exaggeration, when I did not live in the US, memories of visits were distinctly marked by a uniform smell that can go on for miles. I vividly remember breathing deep in Boston as way to fix where I was. My point being there has to be an infrastructure/earthly metaphor for when movement of (back/under)ground(s) reproduce and transform us as agents.

The concluding thought of this short blog post after long is also about picking at anthropocentric discourse as (solely based on anecdotal tweeter evidence) we (humans) talk in the same breath about environmental responsibility (because it directly affects our ability to live) and dream up our possible escapes in tin machines to inhabitable planets while also simultaneously obsessing about neo-eugenicist techno-fantasies (healthiest, fastest, purest, strongest humans). Of course we can hold these parallel thoughts collectively but what got me thinking was this annual frenzy around inhabitable exoplanets (there might be life!) that predictably ends in (not life but so much knowledge!). That and the amount of energy devoted to a very expensive “smart” Silicon Valley juice machine whose pitch attempted to convince us that we deserved the purest and freshest orange juice (and they were committed to bringing it). Obviously it was funny (and cruel) but it also reminded me of eco-feminist critiques of such anthropomorphic visions that simultaneously cast the Earth as maternal, dying, resourceful and “object”. I wrote a little bit about when air pollution in Delhi was a class equalizer (we all die with our Earth). I still feel like an important yet simple adjustment to school curriculum might be to replace anthropocentric mythologies of human survival and planet consumption with two tales of living, of both in motion, of shifts beneath as the story’s hero. Some writing (Marison de la Cadena: Uncommoning Nature) I was recommended in this direction.

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