Ablation, from a Latin root meaning to carry away, signifies amputation or excision of a body part or tissue. It also means the erosion of a glacier’s mass, or the use of a melting heat shield to temper the effects of friction between a rocket and Earth’s atmosphere.
We are living-dying in a time of radical subtraction: of shock and awe and galloping glacier melt, extraordinary rendition, barbaric amputations of critical habitat: the chipping, hacking, blasting, and torturing away of safety nets both social and biological. History stands revealed as a ghastly demolition derby.
In my novel The Company of Cannibals, a secular prophet named Paula Schweike refers to our planet as the Beloved Patient. Paula may be slightly cracked, but she’s right about one thing: no one can assure us that the invalid will recover. When did we attain to this unprecedented state of future-deprivation?
Like the work of justice-seekers, all serious art looks forward. Both images and deeds are tough threads spun out of our brief bodies in hopes of mooring our impermanence to Earth’s unlimited hereafter. That link is the immortality we cannot do without, we who are offended by the very idea of the privatized soul, the Me-First Paradise that blandly countenances the damnation of others. And so the peril of our species and our biosphere—a jeopardy no less hideous for being optional, in the sense that we have caused it with our weapons and our greed—places harsh stresses on novelists and poets.
What role should we assign to beauty, humor, and play on the edge of a precipice? What formal innovations are required to address the Big Picture—a many-pronged emergency in relationship to which the biblical figure of Apocalypse, with its neat narrative arc, seems offensively schematic? How do we fend off the received political wisdom that treats the imagination as either a mere frill or a convenient tool of ideology?
Questions like these connect my writing in several genres. I would love to hear your comments. You can e-mail me directly or post reactions on A.Blog, which offers snapshots of a vigil at the Beloved Patient’s bedside.