Reflections On The Anatomy Of A Dying West Yorkshire Green Hairstreak From Ovenden Moor, 2008.
The Microscope: eye of the age. Total surveillance or pathway to liberation? The CCTV of the infinitesimal in which we are all potentially guilty and in danger of being found out, as in a CSI police drama? Or recognition that the little things that run the world require a new bio perception of the small, smaller and still smaller and that together add up to the biggest reproach yet to the monetary economy? If insects and invertebrates could speak as one voice they would be telling us the biosphere can't take much more predation and capitalism.
Three years ago to my astonishment I found by an intuitive use of macro lenses and digital zoom that I could get close, very close, to insect anatomy in the wild. A fraction of a millimetre this way or that and the image appearing in the eye piece was thrown out of focus. It was an exacting operation and only possible, at least as far as butterflies were concerned, in dull weather. The macro lens became the portal to a new world and I was glad to shed the skin of this world. I became lost to myself in a good way and when I recounted this experience I was surprised how compelling listeners, especially women, found it. It seemed they too wished to be transported and make their escape into this inverse of the galactic voyage and which also is a journey to emancipation in this world and the opposite therefore of a flight from the crushing problems facing humanity today. Ultimately this voyage is one of facts not fictions and does not deal in narratives and therefore the polar opposite of sci-fi.
After days looking through a macro lens, or microscope, these enlarged images of the small began to play havoc with my sense of proportion, both morally and physically. A butterfly egg lingered on as a giant football and what hatched from it a colossal, accusatory insect anaconda that demanded it be feed on its appropriate food plant, once it had polished off its first, high protein, meal of egg shell. My guilt over small things just grew and grew into an awful size and I would hold myself to account at the end of each day, wondering how many insects and invertebrates I had unknowingly, and involuntarily, crushed beneath my feet. I became inconsolable when I accidentally lost a Green Hairstreak egg. Daring to voice what was on my mind, the reprimands were not long in coming: "pity you don't have more important things to worry about", I was told - which temporarily eased my selective, and secular, bio Buddhism, for I would rather have rather aborted a million foetuses than lost this one butterfly egg from carelessness.
Three years later and I still berate myself and at the same time am sick in the stomach when asked to honour our glorious dead on Remembrance Day, victims of an appalling inter-Imperialist war, part of the valorisation/devalorisation , gut-wrenching cycle of capitalist production. Sorrow over this lost egg and its caterpillar that emerged into a barren world only to promptly die of lack of nourishment, does not diminish my outrage at the needless loss of human life. On the contrary it grows because of it, for this is not an either/or situation but both: the butterfly egg is human kind. And a person can be like this whilst vigorously rejecting the hapless moralizing of nature behind which hides nostalgia for irretrievably lost transcendental origins. However in the failing niches of rural and urban landscape where nature is still allowed to run free, we do have a hint of another kind of a transcendence, that of the transcendence of capitalism. It is the reason brownfield sites and sites of industrial dereliction are so abjured. Though good for nature, they also evoke a past of struggle and hope that must be extinguished at all costs. The pit spoil heaps were not even allowed to naturally evolve into harmless, picturesque features, their bare presence judged an incitement to revolt that simply could not be tolerated in the de-industrialised, chocolate box landscapes of finance capitalism. Aesthetic considerations aside, something else of major interest to science was also lost. The pit spoil heaps had something in common with the primary soils of 10,000 years ago left behind by the retreating icecap. It takes thousands of years to develop a mature soil profile and here was a unique chance to record the changes as they actually happened, not just in terms of the successive waves of vegetation but also the animal life the spoil heaps were beginning to play a remarkable host to. In the late 1970s the British State had defined derelict land as incapable of beneficial use without further treatment and so was already drastically tipping the scales in favour of spoil heap makeovers. Then the aim was to return them to agricultural use but come the millennia this original intention had been buried beneath the scorched earth of the direst environmentalism in full cahoots with conservationist bodies such as Butterfly Conservation.
The mills, mines, quarries, forges and smelting ovens at the very beginnings of the industrial revolution in the late 18th century were often given a curious romantic treatment in the topographical representations of the day, as if already subject to decay and about to topple into a ruin. Though these prints were fashionable and the appearance of hands-off mismanagement contrived, they were a prelude to revolt because they were against the excessive ordering of nature. These early representations of industry could be seen as advocating a wilder nature that was not only opening up the bowels of the earth but also championing the rights of weeds and unsightly rubble. As industry developed, breaking landscapes in two and rearranging mountains, so the notion of the dark sublime shifted to include cavernous railway cuttings, tunnels like the entrance to hell and blast furnaces from which flamed Satan's fires. They also stoked massive resistance from those that worked in them and come the 1980s they began to be relocated elsewhere, leaving behind oxidising memorials of metal and gigantic heaps of spoil that continued to stir up highly charged emotions that had to be dampened down. And so they were by a sanitizing greenery that buried the past under a blanket of pseudo ecology, including the nature that had begun to make its home there. This act of pathological erasure doesn't bear thinking about and that was indeed the aim behind it, for what was at stake here was the extermination of the thought of history.
Film and text by David and Stuart Wise: 2008/9