A Cyborg Garden

We’re hoping to put in  a small garden this year, a couple of tomato plants, zucchini, basil, parley, some lettuce.  It’s been I think 3 years since our last one.  A lot has been going on and it’s been difficult to get organized for a project like that.  So we’ll see. It’s probably already too late to start our own tomato plants.  Garden centers now do carry a wider selection of  plant varieties than years ago, so maybe we’ll be able to find the Carmelos or Brandywines we favor. Meanwhile supplementing the seed catalog surfing, I remember a particular garden themed blog post that’s become something of a ritual for me this time of year.

110420_atomic_01[1]It’s an interview with Paige Johnson by the blog Pruned.  Ms Johnson also has her own garden blog. Garden History Girl  definitely worth checking out.

Pruned: So basically what are atomic gardens?

Paige Johnson: After WWII, there was a concerted effort to find ‘peaceful’ uses for atomic energy. One of the ideas was to bombard plants with radiation and produce lots of mutations, some of which, it was hoped, would lead to plants that bore more heavily or were disease or cold-resistant or just had unusual colors. The experiments were mostly conducted in giant gamma gardens on the grounds of national laboratories in the US but also in Europe and countries of the former USSR.

These efforts ultimately reached far into the world outside the laboratory grounds in several ways: in plant varieties based on mutated stocks that were—and still are—grown commercially, in irradiated seeds that were sold to the public by atomic entrepreneur C.J. Speas during the 50s and 60s and through the Atomic Gardening Society, started in England by Muriel Howorth to promote the mutated varieties.

It’s easy to look back at it all as some crazy, or conspiratorial, plot. But the atomic gardens weren’t a secret. They’ve just been forgotten. And it’s clear from reading the primary sources that most people involved were deeply sincere. They really thought their efforts would eradicate hunger, end famine, prevent another war.

My parents never had a vegetable garden while my brother and I were growing up.  I first encountered a kitchen garden as a part of my daily life in college.  The August before my junior year I moved in with friends Bob and Teddy living their version of the back to the land life.

The house was a small cinder block thing in the hills behind the University.  It’s street address was “The Little White House on Brown Road”.  Anyway, Bob and Teddy had, carved out a garden in a hay-field across the road,  I’m guessing with the help of the inhabitants of “The Green House on Brown Road”. I arrived just at its peak.

The onions were notable because the soil was rich in sulphur, the element that creates onionness.  Cutting into one made everyone in the house cry.  (The house had well water so taking a shower was an olafactory adventure.)

I could imagine Donna Haraway living in our little community, maybe in The Red House.  They always scared me a little bit. Even in the context of Brown Road, they seemed unpredictable, and given to sudden movements of body, speech and mind.  (Oddly one of them became mayor of Binghamton).

The cyborg is resolutely committed to partiality, irony, intimacy, and perversity. It is oppositional, utopian, and completely without innocence. No longer structured by the polarity of public and private, the cyborg defines a technological pollis based partly on a revolution of social relations in the oikos, the household.. .. Unlike the hopes of Frankenstein’s monster, the cyborg does not expect its father to save it through a restoration of the garden… The cyborg would not recognize the Garden of Eden; it is not made of mud and cannot dream of returning to dust. Perhaps that is why I want to see if cyborgs can subvert the apocalypse of returning to nuclear dust in the manic compulsion to name the Enemy.   Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto

We didn’t take photos on Brown Road.  Teddy went out west right after graduation and pretty immediately disappeared.  When Bob died a couple of years ago, several of his friends of that era tried to find Teddy, they all said the same thing, “Teddy went off the grid.”

I wasn’t close with any of the other Brown Roaders.  Karen is the only person I know who was there.  I find it hard to imagine that this level of “imperfection, loss and error” would be acceptable to most people if built into the code of their devices as Kitchin and Dodge suggest.  But if it was, maybe it’s true, our human/space would be more human.

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Copies Without Originals

But these excursions into communications sciences and biology have been at a rarefied level; there is a mundane, largely economic reality to support my claim that these sciences and technologies indicate fundamental transformations in the structure of the world for us. Communications technologies depend on electronics. Modern states, multinational corporations, military power, welfare state apparatuses, satellite systems, political processes, fabrication of our imaginations, labour-control systems, medical constructions of our bodies, commercial pornography, the international division of labour, and religious evangelism depend intimately upon electronics. Micro-electronics is the technical basis of simulacra; that is, of copies without originals.

Donna Haraway “A Cyborg Manifesto

That phrase “copies without originals” has wound in and out of  my thoughts for months, counterpoint to an increasing awareness of “authenticity” as a pervasive anxiety of our culture,  digital culture, that is not just on-line, but the whole apparatus of constructed social architecture that now presents itself as given.

The digital is now part not only of human culture, transforming it into cyborg culture, but also a part of the ecology of the earth, just as the movement of air in wind, or water in currents is.  The movement of digital information is as well, transforming the earth’s ecology into a cyborg ecology, the earth era of the Cyborgocene.

So “copies without originals”, the digitized wind, the digitized ocean currents, the digitized geologic flow of rock, the digitized cyborg experience, the same as the undigitized, but not the same, because the cyborg’s measurement of the thatness of say a tree produces a simulacra of interiority residing not only in firing neurons, but also in microelectronics, the two together in an awareness, dependent on each other, but unaware of each, like the conscious and sub-conscious, except for those moments, surreal and uncanny, that leave us gasping for something we can label as reality.