The Computer and the Necropastoral

With my snout up against the fact of the Anthropocene, with my bill snared in fishing line and the blood pooling in my industrially overdeveloped chest and my meager thighs locked and a bolt in my bovine brain, I find myself reeling through an Anthropocenic zone I call the Necropastoral.

Joyelle McSweeney “What is the Necropastoral?”

the back cover of Joyelle McSweeney’s chapbook The Necropastoral

In reading Sterne’s “Out With the Trash,” I immediately began weaving in my understanding of the Necropastoral into his discussion of the obsolescence of technology. The Necropastoral is a poetic movement that moves away from the unified beauty of Naturalism and towards a more catastrophic, decayed understanding of the industrialized, globalized world we live in. It is a middle space halfway between “newness” and obsolescence, a junkyard of decay.

Sterne writes,

This is one of the important subtleties that other kinds of studies of waste often leave aside. The usual argument is that when an object loses its value, it becomes trash. But in the world of computing equipment, there is an important continuum between that kind of progression and a more insidious gap between obsolescence and trash. There is often a significant gap in time between the reclassification of a computer as obsolete and its fall into disuse…Computers exist in a marginal category–between “useful” and “garbage”…Computers are too valuable, so we eventually throw them out and buy new ones. (25)

In other words, computers are occupying a Necropastoral space, and later when Sterne discusses the physical disposal of hardware, how it “can release hazardous materials and heavy metals into the environment,” we can see how the decaying of the computer reflects back on us. This, after all, is what it means to be in the Anthropocene.

Though Sterne’s article predates Joyelle McSweeney’s definition of the Necropastoral featured on the Poetry Foundation’s blog, it does not predate artists and new media theorists working in a Necropastoral tradition – taking apart decaying computers and repurposing them, “junk art” using chips and wires pulled from junked PCs, or even just simply using them for spare parts. I think one of the things that the Necropastoral shows us is that while things go from new to obsolete rather quickly in the new age, the never really truly reach obsolescence. They may approach it, but it is the artist’s job to bring those junked pieces back into existence and make them new again.

Italian artist Leonardo Ulian creates mandala structures out of computer parts

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