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Lecture 06 - "My Vegetable Love Should Grow/ Vaster Than Empires"


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Sixth lecture for my students in English 165EW, "Life After the End of the World," winter 2013 at UC Santa Barbara.

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Lecture 06 - "My Vegetable Love Should Grow/ Vaster Than Empires"

  1. 1. Lecture 6: “My vegetable love should grow/ Vaster than empires”* English 165EW Winter 2013 28 January 2013“[A]round 1910 a certain space was shattered, […] [the]space of common sense, of knowledge [savoir], of socialpractice, of political power […] enshrined in everydaydiscourse, just as in abstract thought.” —Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space *Andrew Marvell, “To His Coy Mistress” (1678), ll. 10-11
  2. 2. “The atomic bomb thrust the United States into atotally new age, one full of promise and peril. Atomicenergy dramatically altered the way the governmentoperated, the military fought, the economyfunctioned, and ordinary people felt. Reacting to thisnew reality, people responded with new ways ofliving. They searched for ways to understand andlive in the Atomic Age and in so doing created a newculture.” (Hunner 33)“The Cold War conception of nuclear realityrepresented an attempt to think about theunthinkable, to conceptualize an unintelligible eventand rationalize a world that seemed to be irrational,by reducing the apparently unimaginableexperience of nuclear war to a set of routines.” (45)
  3. 3. “Faced for the first time with an atomicexplosion, some witnesses had to culturallycode switch to understand the event. When Dr.J. Robert Oppenheimer, the civilian director ofthe laboratory at Los Alamos, experienced thefirst atomic detonation at Trinity in July 1945, hethought Hindu scripture from the Baghavad-Gita: ‘I am become Death, the destroyer ofworlds.’” (34)“As early as August 12. 1945, journalist EdwardR. Murrow said on his radio program, ‘Seldom ifever has a war ended leaving the victors withsuch a sense of uncertainty and fear, with sucha realization that the future is obscure and thatsurvival is not assured.’” (38)
  4. 4. Practicality and “realism”“One might collect a small party and keep it alivesomehow for an uncertain length of time—but who was tobe taken and who left? No objectively right coursepresented itself however I tried to look at it.” (Wyndham49; ch. 4)Bill: “Our likes and dislikes as decisive factors have prettywell disappeared.” (85; ch. 6)Bill: “And an obstinate refusal to face facts isn’t going tobring anything back, or help us at all. I think we’ll have totry to see ourselves not as the robbers of all this but moreas—well, the unwilling heirs to it.” (66; ch. 5)Dr. Vorless: “The laws we knew have been abolished bycircumstances. It now falls to us to make laws suitable tothe conditions.” (101; ch. 7)
  5. 5. Social (re-)organizationMichael Beadley: “Self-pity and a sense of high tragedy aregoing to build nothing at all. So we had better throw them outat once, for it is builders that we must become.” (95; ch. 7)The Tynsham clergyman: “Let us all beseech Him that wemay survive the trials and tribulations that lie ahead in orderthat in His time and with His aid we may succeed in playingour part in the rebuilding of a better world to His greaterglory.” (140; ch. 10)Coker: “I’ve watched one lot fall to bits, and I can see thisone’s going to do the same—more slowly and, maybe, morenastily. It’s queer, isn’t it? Decent intentions seem to be themost dangerous things around just now.” (149; ch. 11)Ivan: “We aren’t out to reconstruct—we want to buildsomething new and better.” (215; ch. 16)
  6. 6. The re-production of knowledgeCoker: “in spite of all that’s happened this thing hasn’t gothome to these people yet. They don’t want to turn to—that’d be making it too final.” (150; ch. 11)Coker: “Later we’ll have to plow; still later we’ll have tolearn how to make plowshares; later than that we’ll have tolearn how to smelt the iron to make the shares. What weare on now is a road that will take us back and back untilwe can—if we can—make good all that we wear out.” (165;ch. 12)“[F]arming […] is not the kind of thing that is easily learnedfrom books. For one thing, it has never occurred to anywriter on the subject that any potential farmer could bestarting from absolute zero.” (191; ch. 15)
  7. 7. The (social) production of space“in an environment reverting to savagery itseemed that one must be prepared to behavemore or less as a savage, or possibly cease tobehave at all, before long.” (127; ch. 9)“Before I went into the Russell Square garden Ilooked it over carefully. I had already begun tobecome suspicious of open spaces.” (129; ch. 9)Miss Durant: “This is a clean, decent communitywith standards—Christian standards—and weintend to uphold them. We have no place herefor people of loose views.” (141; ch. 10)
  8. 8. “There were signposts which pointed to ‘Exeter & TheWest,’ and other places, as if they still pursued theirhabitual lives.” (159; ch. 12)“As a rule they showed little wish to join up with otherparties and were inclined rather to lay hands on whatthey could, building themselves into refuges ascomfortably as possible while they waited for the arrivalor the Americans.” (163; ch. 12)Josella: “the world’s gone, and we’re left.” (188; ch. 14)Ivan: “They [triffids] make a dark border round anyinhabited place.” (212; ch. 16)Torrance: “But the state of society which gave sanctionto his [Dennis’s] ownership no longer exists. Titles toproperty have therefore ceased to be valid.” (220; ch.17)
  9. 9. Balance and precarity“It must be, I thought, one of the race’s mostpersistent and comforting hallucinations that ‘it can’thappen here’ – that one’s own little time and place isbeyond cataclysms.” (70; ch. 5)Alf: “Cor, blimy, oo’d ever’ve thought it could ’appenlike this!” (109; ch. 8)Elspeth Cary: “I’ve been in places where they[triffids] are out of hand. Quite nasty. But in England—well, it’s hard to imagine that here.” (92; ch. 6)Michael Beadley: “From August 6, 1945, the marginof survival has narrowed appallingly.” (95; ch. 7)
  10. 10. “Growing things seemed, indeed, to press outeverywhere, rooting in the crevices between the pavingstones, springing from cracks in concrete, findinglodgments even in the seats of the abandoned cars. Onall sides they were encroaching to repossess themselvesof the arid spaces that man had created.” (192; ch. 15) Bill: “I don’t think we can blame anyone too much forthe triffids. The extracts they give were very valuable inthe circumstances, Nobody can ever see what a majordiscovery is going to lead to—whether it is a new kind ofengine or a triffid—and we coped with them all right innormal conditions. We benefited quite a lot from them, aslong as the conditions were to their disadvantage.” Josella: “Well, it wasn’t our fault the conditionschanged. It was—just one of those things. Likeearthquakes or hurricanes—what an insurance companywould call an act of God.” (204; ch. 15)
  11. 11. The Triffids“I saw them now with a disgust that they had never rousedin me before. Horrible alien things which some of us hadsomehow created, and which the rest of us, in ourcareless greed, had cultured all over the world. One couldnot even blame nature for them. Somehow they had beenbred—just as we had bred for ourselves beautiful flowersor grotesque parodies of dogs. … I began to loathe themthem now on account of more than their carrion-eatinghabits—for they, more than anything else, seemed able toprofit and flourish on our disaster. …” (160; ch. 12)Dennis: “I tell you, there’s more to them than we think.How did they know? They started to break loose themoment there was no one to stop them.” (196; ch. 15)
  12. 12. What’s a life worth?Bill: “I got around to feeling that if the treatment [for thetriffid sting] had not been successful I’d rather end thewhole thing than go on that way.” (8; ch. 1) “‘It’s going to be a very queer sort of world— what’s left of it. I don’t think we’re going to like it a lot,’ she [Josella] said reflectively. “It seemed to me an odd view to take—rather as if one should protest that one did not like the idea of dying or being born.” (93; ch. 6)Coker: “God almighty, aren’t you people human?” (83;ch. 6)
  13. 13. “She did not reply for some seconds. Then shesaid unsteadily: “‘Life is very precious—even like this.’ Hercontrol almost cracked.” (124; ch. 9)“Let it [Parliament] shower its crumbling pinnaclesonto the terrace as it would—there would be nomore indignant members complaining of the risk totheir valuable lives.” (128; ch. 9)Josella: “If I were a child now, […] I think I shouldwant a reason for what happened. Unless I wasgiven it—that is, if I were allowed to think that I hadbeen born into a world which had been quitepointlessly destroyed—I should find living quitepointless too.” (203; ch. 15)