Plastic Abyss


Or the mythical confronts us climbing out of the sea.



To continue with my views of the contemporary world through a mythic lens (a bit delayed this time by a peak work mundane month)….



A recent study done by Newcastle University has found that animals living in the very deepest waters of the Pacific have bodies bearing plastics that would have originated from packaging, plastic bottles and synthetic clothing materials. We’re talking about creatures living 11 kilometers (about 5 miles) down. Dr. Alan Jamieson states that no ecosystems remain uncontaminated by plastics, which ultimately were created from the dead of primeval times, as it is often (conveniently) forgotten that plastics are made from petroleum. It’s estimated that 5 trillion pieces of plastic currently sit on the ocean’s surface. Something like 8 million tons enters the oceans each year.


Besides being plastic—malleable—plastic resists decay, resists being reabsorbed into the flux of nature, perhaps part of its appeal to the consumer psyche. Often shiny, alluring, and yet lodging in the gut of the real, indigestible, causing choking as in the countless birds that succumb to it on roosting islands like Midway, another garage collection point about 1500 miles northwest of Hawai’i island. Midway Island, as its name suggests lies nearly midway between North America and Japan; it also receives a huge wash of garbage from the North Pacific gyre, and according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service getting at least a hundred pounds of plastic every week (Wiki). A horrid assault upon the rookeries of albatross that nest on the island. Scientific studies have found that they almost all have plastic in their guts, and around a third of the chicks die therefrom. Like for many other oceanic creatures the bright pieces of plastic appear to be food, squid, small fish, etc. to the birds.


Geologist Patricia Corcoran of the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada, and Charles Moore, captain of the oceanographic research vessel Alguita, stumbled upon a completely new type of rock on a beach on the Big Island of Hawai’i. A fusion of sand, coral, shell debris, lava rock bits and melted plastic form a new material labeled plastiglomerates. Beach campfires probably melted the plastic, though lava flows and wildfires can do so too. Kamilo beach, a very remote beach on the island of Hawai’i, was discovered some years ago to have an extraordinary amount of ocean-deposited trash, being the terminal point for currents and trade winds bearing ocean borne debris, much floating in from the Pacific Great Garbage Patch/Pacific Trash Vortex (better described as a soup of mostly tiny plastic particles). In the old days (pre-European) Hawaiian canoe makers scoured the beach for large logs from conifers that had drifted from the Pacific Northwest coast of North America (over two and half thousand miles). Before cleanup projects the plastic was up to 10 feet deep on this storm beach. The majority of it is from the global fishing industry, including nets, debris from oyster farms, crates, and pellets. In November 2007, 4 million pieces of plastic were removed from the beach by volunteers (Wiki).


If there are geologists in the far future, this new material of plastiglomerate will be a legacy of this age. A disturbing material, one that blurs nature/culture categories. It seems like the opposite of the alchemical philosophers stone, the turning of base material into gold, but the perversion of such alchemical processes; something that will resist the erosion of wave and sea. Or a terrible vomiting of the poisons of this current world. A terrible hacking coughing, something that tears and ruins, like that of the lives of the innumerable seabirds, turtles and other creatures who choke to death on the plastic consumer civilization unloads into the seas, the seas that have always been considered beyond human violation, so limitless in our collective imagination.



How to approach such monstrous materia? One method is art which is what Canadian artist Kelly Jazvac does. According to Hyperallegenic, “She asks us to think about human life on Earth in terms of a network of complex relationships that include gender, race, colonization, geography, power, and capital.” She sees her artworks made from the plastiglomerate she gathered at Kawilo beach as doing that. Pictures can be found at



I think we have to go further, staring at the abyss and questioning it (even if we may become it). It is only titanic powers that can make sense of such unconscious processes of civilization. Powers of dead. What great powers rise out of the growing flood, able to swallow, to regurgitate this waste back into circulation? What monsters of the Lovecraftian abyss? What returns in the repressed shadow of civilization and rampages and rages in our dreams? The plastic like a fetish containing hidden relations of its origins in ancient life, compressed by gravity under the earth, drilled out, at great cost—in pillage and profits, manufactured in environmental injustice among oppressed communities, briefly shining in the world in wrappers and Christmas toys, medical paraphernalia, and long lines, bottles and sporks and straws—lining endless shelves in container like stores, much of it to be tossed after a brief use, and congregating in the seas of our origins, but now thrown up by the ocean that doesn’t want them. But also containing those monstrous dead latent with revenge.


If we find the courage we can walk out on the rocks, onto the sea roads, dangerous as they may be, that lead to the deeps, the source wells that spring from Underworld and heed the voices of Fomorian and Annuvian beings (and other Underworld ones) if we are to begin to heal the seismic disturbances that have led to this point. We must break the codes of the talisman of plastiglomerate and its ilk before it traps us like flies in amber.



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