A Symposium on Exposure, Entanglement, and Endurance

Toxic: A Symposium on Exposure, Entanglement and Endurance at Yale March 3-4, 2016.

Excerpt from Videoteca Fin del Mundo, a short story

Ava Tomasula y Garcia

H. Moon // Flickr, Creative Commons

H. Moon // Flickr, Creative Commons

…What I’m trying to say is that yo estaba viviendo bien until I realized I wasn’t. My hot water, my clean air, my right of free movement, my microwave, my strawberry jam on bread this morning. This is how I am alive, or, better, how I am not. —I don’t mean anything supernatural, but just that it is possible to die in an everyday kind of way. Life transfigured into something else just as an ordinary course of events. I feel smudged out, not really dead but some state that makes you ask if this is life, after all. Like a title that stays on the screen for so long that when you close your eyes you can still see it, vibrating on the underside of your lids. I walk around earth, taking in the end that won’t end. Just watch:

Here is the Pájaro Valley, home to three million acres of strawberry fields and fourteen million pounds of pesticides a year. People who are sin papeles spray the crops with chloropicrin, a gas used to kill people during World War I. There is Ajena Verdeja, too, emerging out of a poisonous cloud with a bandana over her mouth and nose, like in the movies when the aliens touch down and the UFO opens up with a tsssssssssssssssssss and a high-powered fog machine. Euro settlers hundreds of years ago, moving in clouds of smoke, burning down the crops already there and replacing them so they could eat their own bread and see their own animals. Their own little paraíso. When I go to the grocery store I see rows and rows of stacked berries in bright plastic packages printed with a picture of a red barn and a rising sun and maybe even photos of the blonde Evan Family—Strawberry Farmers for Three Generations—with grins ear to ear. All the particulars are stripped away, replaced by the same great big smile. This is how meaning is made; this is how you abstract value into existence. Rattle it off like a drug ad: may cause neurological deterioration, reproductive health problems, developmental disabilities, cancer, metabolic disorders, sexual assault on job site, wage theft, deportation. Money and markets scrape away most of it. Now you can say things like “product” and “equivalent.” Pronounced universality and occluded relationality that allows “fair labor” to suddenly emerge out of nowhere and strawberries to taste so good. Ajena goes back inside her cloud, invisible.

These are facts you live with and learn to fade to background, if you can….