Fresh Kills Landfill and the visibility of garbage

Don DeLillo’s 1997 Underworld defies the conventions of usual landfill novels by demanding the visibility of waste rather than its invisibility. The psychological storybook that surrounds waste disposal in the twentieth and twenty-first century, I would argue, is increasingly one of blame, guilt and embarrassment. The waste we create on a daily, monthly, yearly basis is unacceptable and dramatically impacting our environment. It is no surprise that the main method of waste disposal involves digging a whole, burying our waste and covering it up with soil in the cleverly named ‘Sanitary Landfills’. We have a desire to see our waste disappear, whether we are watching the garbage man carry away our trash bags, or flushing our waste down the toilet (DeFina, 1991).

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Trump: a real life Johnny Gentle?

Little did David Foster Wallace know that when he wrote Infinite Jest (the widely dramatised image of dystopian American society in the twenty-first century), that Johnny Gentle’s doppelganger would be entering the White House shortly.

Is it a coincidence that the same week I close the last page of Wallace’s 1079 page novel, President-elect Donald Trump wins the November 2016 election? When I started the reading the novel, I had never even heard of Trump. Now I can’t seem to separate the two.

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*Disclaimer: As far as I am aware, David Foster Wallace did not predict the future, and I am not suggesting it here.

HOWEVER…

It is strange that the majority of the action takes place between 3rd-20th November in the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment? Many scholars and readers have pinpointed this to 2009, but it could easily be any year in the 21st century, which is probably one of the reasons Wallace does not specify.

The character I am interested in here is President Johnny Gentle, but it is useful to give a brief (if that is possible) account of the novel.

Infinite Jest, published 20 years ago, is an American dystopian novel. It is set in a newly formed America, the O.N.A.N (the organisation of North American Nations), and Canada is represented by a waste disposal facility called the Great Concavity or Convexity, depending on whether you are from the North or South. The novel has many themes and many narrative trajectories, including the attempts of the U.S.O.U.S trying to retrieve the master copy of a fatal film called ‘Infinite Jest’, which is rumoured to be so entertaining that it kills its viewers; the life of the Incandenza family, particularly their genius son, Hal, who is a star tennis player at the Enfield Tennis Academy; the accounts of the various drug and alcohol abusers at the Ennet Recovery House.

Enter Johnny Gentle. In a world full of deadly DVDs and intelligent junkies, President Johnny Gentle is not the most unbelievable aspect of Infinite Jest, although he no doubt provides a lot of the humour. In short, he is the non-political candidate, an actor, who defies all odds to become the President of the newly formed United States. Remind you of anyone?? What’s more, is the crazy ideals and policies that the political parody holds. Gentle is founder of the U.S. Clean Party that’s big plan to solve the waste crisis is ‘Let’s Shoot Our Wastes Into Space’ programme. When that fails, instead he proposes the Reconfiguration of the States. The idea behind this is the creation of the Great Concavity/Convexity, which is basically a massive landfill which serves two functions: 1) it holds all the waste that the postmodern America is producing, and 2) it segregates the north and south.

Perhaps you are seeing the similarities with Donald Trump, the man who is famous now for declaring that there is no such thing as Global warming, and who wants to build a wall between North America and Mexico to force total segregation. All this to reveal that the two social-political problems that Wallace identifies, hierarchy and the environment, are two issues that are still at the heart of the American identity. Johnny Gentle’s role as president is to make invisible the unclean and the unaesthetic, and leave a reformed but totally fabricated America. Wallace, through representing both the macrocosm of politics and the microcosm of everyday life, shows that this is not possible, and that sometimes, like a tumour, the ugliness comes from within.

Johnny Gentle’s promises to ‘clean up government and trim fat and sweep our waste and hose down our chemically troubled streets and to sleep darn little until he’s fashioned a way to rid the American psychosphere of the unpleasent debris of a throw-away past, to restore the majestic ambers and purple fruits of a culture he now promises to rid of the toxic effluvia choking our highways….’ in short – to restore America to its former glory – to make America (dare I say it) great again…

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Layla Hendow

PhD researcher at University of Hull

 

 

How many books?!

I’m one year into my PhD. Did I think I would be reading book after book, blissfully unaware of time passing me by? Perhaps.

How many books have I read? 3.

PhD reading is not the relaxing, find-a-comfy-window-seat type of reading I have become accustomed to. I’ve quickly learnt that if you don’t want to waste an entire month of potential chapter writing… reading becomes about interrogation.

When I pick up a book – I immediately go to the back cover- “Don’t judge a book by its cover!” I hear you cry. I’m afraid it’s a must. Not only this, but vigorous google searching takes place. I MUST know this book is going to be useful before delving into it. I have learnt this the hard way. Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi, was brilliantly entertaining. Will it end up in the bibliography? No it won’t. A month I’ll never get back.

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Tips on preparing for an academic conference (English Literature)

I’ve been to a few conferences, and I wanted to share some of my tips to help things go smoothly. As a PhD student, it can be an intimidating and nerve-wracking experience. Here’s my step-by-step guide, from writing an abstract to actually delivering your paper!

  1. Abstracts
  2. Writing your paper
  3. The week/day before
  4. On the day

1. Abstracts

Finding call for papers is easy using the upenn site. I often take an hour or so every month to scan through it to see if there are any relevant to me.

When I find one, I make note of the deadline date and the place the conference is being held in. These are important to know in terms of how long I have to prepare and to apply for funding if necessary.

When writing the abstract:

  • Read the spec very carefully and try to incorporate some of its terminology into your abstract.
  • Make sure you make it concise and specific. What is your argument? Why is it relevant? What evidence are you using?
  • Stick to the word count and make sure you include any extra info such as a bio, either in the same document or separate.
  • Don’t attempt to do too much: you can’t deliver an entire essay in a normal presentation of 20 minutes.

2. Writing your paper

When you are planning what information to include in your paper, consider these points:

  • make it as easy to follow as possible
  • signpost your structure and what you’re going to talk about at the very beginning
  • map our your argument at the start, then again all the way through

There are many ways to prepare a paper for a conference, depending on your style, your public speaking skills and your confidence. For my first conference, I choose to write my paper so I could have it with me. Then I planned the powerpoint presentation around my paper.

a 20 minute presentation is approximately a 2,500 word paper

After I had done a couple of conferences, I began altering my approach. I chose to design my powerpoint and then print it off, and plan what I am going to say around that. I think this approach is better – based more on the visuals rather than having them in the background. People respond better to visuals.

Remember – always put your contact details on the first and last slide – in case people want to contact you and network!

3.The week/day before

Important things to consider:

  • Find out where the conference is and take into account travel
  • If the conference is more than one day – do you have suitable accommodation? Check if the university can offer accommodation.
  • Can you get funding for attending? You may have to fill the forms in before, not after – so take that into consideration so you aren’t caught out.
  • Time your presentation and rehearse it (on your own is fine but might be helpful to rehearse in front of others too if it’s your first)
  • Make sure you have sent your presentation, have it on a memory stick, or have it emailed to yourself etc. I’ve known people who have been caught out with this.
  • Plan the journey and plan what is appropriate to wear – is it a graduate conference (casual) or a large, international conference that you might want to go more formal? If in doubt, I would always go somewhere in the middle instead of extremes – you want to feel comfortable.
  • Print your notes in a large font and mark where you are going to change slide (if that’s the technique you’re using).

4.On the day

Delivering your paper can be nerve-wracking! Make sure you’ve seen the agenda and you know where and when you will be speaking. If you have time – get your presentation downloaded before your talk, so it is there on the desktop.

S P E A K  S L O W L Y . . .

Look at your audience.

And good luck!

by  Layla Hendow, PhD researcher at University of Hull

Positive Violence and Recycling Waste

Positive Violence and Recycling Waste in late 20th Century American Literature. This is the provisional title of my PhD thesis, studied at the university of Hull under Jennie Chapman.

I want to speak a little bit about this title, and breaking down these terms.

Firstly, some definitions:

Waste: noun

  1. an act or instance of using or expending something carelessly, extravagantly, or to no purpose.
  2. unwanted or unusable materials, substances, or by-products

 

Recycle: verb

  1. to convert (waste) into reusable material
  2. to return to a previous stage in a cyclic process

The reasons that these definitions are important is as follows. Waste and recycling have an intrinsic correlation: increased accumulation of waste is the catalyst for increased recycling. Put differently, where recycling is a consequence of waste, waste is also a fuel for recycling. It is this dynamic that I argue produces something called “positive violence”.

I propose there is a new relationship occuring between waste and recycling in 20th century literature, due, in part, to the capitalist world that overrules it. This new relationship overturns the traditional hierarchy between material, waste, and recycling. When waste becomes seen as essential rather than useless, it causes the desire for unnatural and untimely production of waste.

I refer to this phenomenon as ‘positive violence’ – deliberating creating waste in the anticipation of recycling. This violence, in my definition, occurs both on the level of material waste and bodily waste.

This is the essence of my PhD thesis. The inspiration came from reading a quote by Tony Tanner in Scenes of Nature, where he identifies that the problem of waste has been long addressed in American literature. He argues that ‘from Scott Fitzgerald to Thomas Pynchon to Don DeLillo, you can hear the doomed sense of America transforming its God-given plenitude to a heap of waste, which can neither be recycled nor disposed of’(9). In my thesis, I will argue that in these late 20th century novels, the bond between plenitude and waste does not follow Tanner’s model. By this time, it is impossible to see the ‘God-given plenitude’ Tanner pines for. And, what’s more, recycling becomes a clear reality; a way to solve the growing waste problem in America. This even extends to bodily waste, with the introduction of the University of Tennessee Medical Center in 1971 – the ‘body farm’ where ‘people lie on their backs or in the sun, or sometimes in the shade, depending on where the researchers put them’ (Roach 61).

In our society, recycling is a necessity and is encouraged as something positive. But could the novels of the twentieth century reveal that some recycling could be somewhat dangerous, leading to a cyclical trap where waste itself becomes the only fuel for new material?

Food for thought.