Quake: author of the sublime
I've had a month or so to think over the earthquake and tsunami in Japan 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
When natural disasters occur; events of sudden off-the-scale destruction. They set off in those happening not to be in their immediate path, a chain of associations. I had no thoughts of Voltaire (or Rousseau) and their writings on the Lisbon Earthquake as I did after the 2006 Indonesian tsunami. Which was a devastation of life of such unimaginable scale that it begged for the narcolepsy of divine explanation or release of reasons order. Their mocking of the prevailing attitudes of nature as signifier seemed covered. I didn't think of the special depravations of disaster in a land of poverty, and the unfulfilled history of promise, as I did after the Haitian earthquake.
I thought of a town called Rabaul on the island of New Britain Rabaul - Wikipedia. The closest thing to a city for a thousand miles, well known in its own way. In 1994 a volcano, co-located with the city, erupted and took out most of the urban area and the airport. In the end Papua New Guinea in its assessment of the damage choose not to rebuild Rabaul, there was too little left and the volcano was still there, but to build a new provincial capital entirely 20 kilometers away. This was the sense of evacuation and finality suggested by the troubles at the Fukushima dai-ichi power plant Understanding Japan's nuclear crisis .
I thought also of David Lindsay's proto science fiction novel Voyage to Arcturus. The novel's protagonist Maskull travels through several parts of a distant world. One is a land of savage nature. A place of constant earthquakes; of mountains that thrust upward a thousand feet in an instant crushing those who live on them, or that crumble away with no warning hurling them into oblivion. Lindsay's novel is a bewildering series of metaphoric set pieces on the ways man lives on this world and how that shapes people's outlook and conception of God and nature. These thoughts recalled a particularly Japanese notion of mans relation to nature. One called mono no aware. A term that refers to feelings evoked by the impermanence of nature, a sensitivity to the sadness of things. A sensitivity to beauty acknowledging the passing nature or transience of things Mono no aware - Wikipedia. Historically Japanese literary critics have stressed Mono no Aware as central concept for Japanese literature. Along with related concepts such as Musubi: the mysterious power of all nature and growth). This set of disasters was of such a degree of mortality and hardship. And Japan today a culture of such industry and immediacy, that aesthetic ruminations seem have no place. A newer and more mundane way forward to be fashioned. In the end there will be no avoiding it a culture must define itself and it must find a place to seat nature in its shaping and the ethical dualism of events.
The Sendai earthquake exemplified a dichotomy; of man's best against nature's worst. The permanence and prosperity of a society are intertwined with its general knowledge base. With building codes, with standards in the material world. The difference is stark. Without them you are forever starting over again. Always rebuilding what just was, what has fallen down. Its not necessarily the particular codes, although it was particular codes that kept the skyscrapers of Tokyo standing. Bending swaying, but standing on their teflon foundations against the violent earth. It is the idea of codes and standards; the testing, research and investment into solutions. In the comprehension of the advantage of adhering to codes when it would seem often simpler and cheaper to ignore them as an unnecessary added cost. When with a wink and a nod petty fortunes could be pried out of forsaking them. This is the story read in the buildings of Tokyo. The danger proved, the means available. Extra and enormously expensive layers of earthquake resistant measures added to the built environment. It is the same story read in verso of Port au Prince where a city of soft concrete shattered and crumbled onto itself. Even of Christ Church New Zealand where much had been built to ordinary standards, but not to the increased vigor of an earthquake zone. Of course there is no building code that can protect from volcanos or tidal waves, or of being in the direct path of certain sizes of hurricane, tornado, or even floods. Against these there is only standards of best practice, rules about building on coasts, mountain-sides, and flood plains. Data and probabilities. There is a built-in fragility of density that makes these environments break more catastrophically and makes them more resistant to repair
In nuclear power there is a tremendous density of destructive energy. Something that if damaged or not run wisely can become an unnatural disaster. Compensating for the difficulty of comprehending radiations special way of harm, consider a giant and poorly maintained dam that broke and loosed a great destructive flood. Despite the great and never-ending push for nuclear power from its advocates, it remains a energy source with problems as great as any that push tons of diffused carbon into the air Nuclear as Usual: Why Fukushima Will Change Less Than You Think - Jesse Jenkins, Ted Nordhaus & Michael Shellenberger - Technology - The Atlantic. It wasn't that Yucca mountain solutions weren't envisioned, the ingenuity of engineers in the U.S. provided the scenario of a stable mine a mile beneath an ancient mountain. A place which was the nearest there was to a place that was no-ones back yard. The problem with that was transportation, in order for nuclear remnants to get there it had to travel from the nuclear plants scattered across the US roads and highways that passed through everyone's back yard. that seemed dangerous so they didn't allow it. This only led to in-situ non-solutions: Dry cask storage on a concrete pallet next to the reactor. This is how they do it at Pilgrim station in Manamet Massachusetts a plant they were building a mile down the road from the elementary school I attended f We Built a Safer Nuclear Reactor, How Would We Know? - Zeynep Tufekci - Technology - The Atlantic. At Fukashima a critical problem was compounded by the design practice of having spent rods in a cooling tank built directly on top of the reactor it solved some handling problem, but also assured that one problem would always be two Fukushima I nuclear accidents - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Without Yucca Mountain they have no solution, but to to ignore problem. So they do.
While ostensively holding bona fides as a British leftist this article by Frank Furedi Japanese people need our solidarity, not a blame game | Frank Furedi | spiked at times comes quite close to being the sort of apologist exercise for irresponsible greed that passes for classical liberalism these days. Furedi does reference the Lisbon earthquake and the divergence of opinion it produced among leading enlightenment thinkers, perhaps overstating and declarifying it. The Lisbon Moment was a breaking away from the notion that all natural phenomenon, natural disasters occurred to reinforce the notion that we are all sinners in the hands of an angry god. The crystalizing view held that there was no moral agency to disasters, but that these were forces following immutable physical laws, predictable when understood. Being rational required attending only to engineering matters and excepting human or corporate agency. Its unproductive and outside of that ever after the fact. Even when lack of due diligence, criminal negligence was of a nature so that one event has become a different more costly and deadly event through countless sins of omission. The conclusion it takes effort to evade is that it is not just failed states that fail their people, but that with advanced societies, you get a share of advanced exploitation. A segment of any nations elite will trend toward kleptocracy. Bouyed by ideologies that divide people into Atlases and their supposed burden, players and spectators. Implying that we are served well enough by the spectacle.
A few days after the Earthquake Joel Achenbach wrote an article in the Washington Post using the term Black Swan disasters Japan's black swan: Scientists ponder the unparalleled dangers of unlikely disasters - The Washington Post:. These are disasters that overwhelm planning and preparation. Disasters that are outliers on the curve of statistical likelihood, and so are not adequately contained by risk assessment that directs resource outlay towards more reasonably probable events. Black Swan events are those that overwhelm imagination and overwhelm our ability to mediate their effect and affect recovery.
Another way of looking at this is to invoke the sublime, to return to the frisson of enlightenment and romantic ways of apprehending things. With natural disasters of this magnitude we encounter the sublime. One particular meaning of sublime is that which can destroy us, rather that which cannot help but destroy us. Something so surpassing our abilities and means of controlling our environment, nature, something that over tops our sense of mortal scale that it cannot be truly understood by us and can only invoke a sense of awe. There are levels of the sublime. Beauty, a sense reflecting reflecting its role as an analytic of aesthetics. It moves through weaker feelings of the sublime, to a notion of the sublime represented by turbulent nature, through to the full feeling of the sublime overpowering turbulent nature. Nature as immanent mortal dissolution. Furedi's piece was strongest when holding out reason against unproductive awe of terrible nature, weaker when that shades into a dismissal of human agency as equally unproductive and inconsequential.
Another aspect of the Sendai earthquake was the concurrence of destruction, in a nod to popular culture call it the 2012 effect. We had a triple catastrophe: co-geospatial but separately mediated. Japan came through the 9.1 earthquake fairly well, but this was followed by the tidal wave. A Tidal Wave is special destroyer. Water is a peculiar if ubiquitous substance, it expands to 1,600 times its area as steam, but its a dense and inelastic liquid. Water moving slowly will inundate, water moving fast will bulldoze and rip away anything that can move. In many ways the nuclear power plant was a separate disaster all together. It had its own timeline of slow failure and now recoveryJapan may have lost race to save nuclear reactor | World news | guardian.co.uk. Its own societal and economic disturbances as it plays out. It will require its own unique set of techniques and experts to remediate [this MetaFilter thread has been out nearly a month and is open Japan's Nuclear Crisis Keeps Going | MetaFilter.]
On the heels of the devastating earthquake in Haiti only a year previous. One in Sichuan China two years before that, Kashmir Pakistan in 2005 (with massively destructive floods following last year, and the great Indonesian earthquake and tsunami of 2004. All this going back only just over half a decade. Discounting for the moment hurricanes and typhoons, volcanos and famines. It seems reasonable to inquire into the rate of large scale disasters, ones that require international relief efforts and outlay. It isn't that these phenomenon are occurring more frequently, more so that we increasing are unable not to be where they are occurring. Cyclonic storms make landfall to some continent several times a season. Or reach down and touch the red clay lands in storm season every spring. Earthquakes measuring 6-7 on open-ended Richter scale, as new and more intensive measurement makes clear, occur somewhere on nearly a monthly basis. The mechanics of techtonics is becoming clearer even if predicting events still eludes us Japan Quake Location A Surprise - Science News . If we grow and build into every corner and acre of indifferent nature. What is the rate of injury we can handle, the cost we can bear? What happens when international search and rescue teams are already deployed to one part of the global when the need arises elsewhere. Are we in the presence of the full feeling of the Sublime yet?
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