I recently read an article entitled “Endless Economic Growth is Fundamentally Unsustainable.” I am admittedly baffled by global economics, but the phenomenon of unbridled and spiralling consumption, and its effect on both humanity and the natural world, is frankly horrifying. Technology undeniably makes our lives better- at least in certain societies- and we can have almost anything we desire nearly instantaneously. But the cost of convenience is often destruction and devastation. The final sentence of this article is profoundly poignant:
“We seem unable to face the fact that our utopia is also our dystopia; that production appears to be indistinguishable from destruction.”
As the article points out, we are simultaneously admonished to reduce consumption and waste for the good of the planet and encouraged to increase our consumption for the good of the economy; herein lies irreconcilable conflict. Our demand for fuel, convenience and immediate access to- well, everything- accelerates the exploitation of both resources and people. This exploitation and destruction is (ironically) beautifully and hauntingly illustrated in the 2006 documentary Manufactured Landscapes. The film shows human-created “glorious wastelands” and “beautiful devastation” (edwardburtynsky.com).
As we create, we destroy, and recreate our landscapes. We creatures, capable of great beauty and acts of humanity are equally capable of great horror and destruction. Through the simultaneity of creation and destruction, we have made our world a hybrid beast, both beautiful and hideous, living and dying, sublime and grotesque.
Edmund Burke stated, “Succession and uniformity of parts are what constitute the artificial infinite” (2.9.150). He was referring to the sublime, but in this photo, the same surely applies to the grotesque. One oil filter is simply an oil filter; a profusion of oil filters is infinitely grotesque.
Human exploitation and manipulation of one another and the world is certainly not new. Our species is typified by desire, and to sate desire we must consume. But to consume is to destroy, by its very definition. Most of us are so removed from the sources of the products we consume, whether food, clothing or gadgetry, that we see only our need, but not the ruin left behind.
Perhaps we must be forced to find beauty and sublimity in the grotesque in our world, just as Ginsberg detected the sublime in a dirt-smeared sunflower.