the inhuman ecstasy of toxic waste  

refuse: (v)(n)(–)   ✕

by Ralph Dorey
refuse: (v)(n)(–) contains many high-res image + video works and should be experienced on larger screens.

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There is accident during shipping. This is how it always happens. The package, the merchandise, the agent, is encased in a protective cell, and moving on a vector between unimportant departures and arrivals, when something goes horribly wrong. An accident occurs, and the contents of that cell, that steel barrel, animal corpse, or text is interrupted while all hell breaks loose.

At the despatch office, or the depot, or the government ministry, everything was in order. The world existed as trajectories along space and time which account for quantities and probabilities. Loss is a possibility, there is of course insurance which takes the form of different trajectories of less optimal efficiency so loss becomes manageable, deceleration rather than a complete stop.

However, on another plane, in another dimension outside of the despatch office, or the laboratory, or the control tower, something has been waiting for that accident. The results of this interrupted vector are a singularity, and something new is created in that process. Well at least for some observers it is new. It will feel new when its effects become so catastrophic as to overwhelm those in the ministry, or court, or university, but for some these effects are very, very old.

However, to return to the accident, this specific accident. It’s mid afternoon in a suburb that could be in California, or equally near Vancouver depending on budget while the year of the event stretches from the early 1980s to around 1992, with echos in either direction.

A large transport vehicle appears, the driver is most likely white, working class not only by relation to capital but by outward expression. He might be in military uniform, or in a mesh cap and a half shirt, there might be pornography stuck to the walls of the cab, there’s probably music playing and it’s probably country or rock, he could have a friend in the cab that he’s talking to and if so it will be an animated conversation and there might be drinking.

We look away from the vehicle and look at the street again, lazy low summer light, idyllic family life.

Back to the vehicle but away from driver we see the load it is carrying as Waylon Jennings sings “Ladies Love Outlaws”. The package, merchandise, or agent is contained within steel drums improperly secured and ambiguously labeled beyond a starkly framed “biohazard” sticker. We cut and one container is compromised! Pink gloop foams out from an improperly handled, unmaintained and recklessly unsupervised seal! The gloop rumbles with internal pressure barely contained by the sounds of slide guitar and amphetamine use.

Back on the perfect residential street of North America where large haulage of toxic waste has no legal or moral right to be. A young person appears, oblivious of their impending meeting with destiny, cut back to the cab and something happens, cut to the load and it can barely contain itself, cut to the child, shielded face, screeching tyres, Waylon Jennings is screaming “Ladies love outlaws like babies love stray dogs”, the shocked face of the driver, muzzled in white powder and hauling the steering wheel, eyes wide framed with pornography desperate, another cut and the vehicle is within the event of crisis, another cut and the shielded face and then it is hit with the pink foaming gloop, the translucent effervescence of proteins, and bacteria and isotopes which think nothing of the sovereignty of skin let alone shielding palms.

That was the event, the singularity. The toxic sludge coming to pollute eden by the loutish irresponsibility of the working class who are to be blamed regardless of whether the outcome of this event is entirely negative or otherwise and even so they almost certainly died in the collision or at the very least are now throwing their mesh cap to the floor and pulling at their hair and thinking of what lie they can tell their supervisor to mitigate the punishment so clearly owed by their own wretchedness.

However, the main actor here is not the driver, or the child, or the socioeconomic structures which brought them together but the actor which is a magical, fractal multiplicity that is, the Toxic Waste.

In The Notion of Expenditure Georges Bataille argues that while “there is nothing that permits one to define what is useful” to humanity,”on the whole, any general judgement of social activity implies the principle that all individual effort, in order to be valid, must be reducible to the fundamental necessities of production and conservation”. Although published in January 1933, a month before the Reichstag fire and certainly prior to the far more complex meshing of use, waste, sacrifice and reanimation which construe current time, The Notion of Expenditure remains useful for understanding our toxic waste.

Bataille divides human consumption “into two distinct parts. The first [...] is represented by the use of the minimum necessary for the conservation of life and the continuation of the individuals’ productive activity in a given society”. The second part is “represented by so-called unproductive expenditures: luxury, mourning, war, cults, the construction of sumptuary monuments, games, spectacles, arts, [and] perverse [non reproductive] sexual activity”

Bataille then goes into further detail discussing examples of such expenditure, where “an accent is placed on loss”. These examples are Jewels, Cults, competitive games and art. It is jewels which will help us understand our toxic waste because “in a dream a diamond signifies excrement”. “Jewels, like excrement, are cursed matter that flows from a wound, they are part of oneself destined for open sacrifice”. The word sacrifice, with its etymological roots meaning to “make sacred” returns us to the singularity of unleashed biohazard and its meeting with nice society.

The pink foam spills out of its container, completely enveloping the young person. In our case it causes no pain but in others the meeting is far more traumatic.

For example.


A young person, sexually shamed by their social superiors and dressed as a ballerina attempts to kill themselves by jumping through an upper window of the gym where they are the janitor. rather than death, they finds the open wound of a barrel of toxic waste. This barrel sits directly beneath the window, on the back of the delivery vehicles whose drivers are now white nosed and wide eyed, having made an unsanctioned stop in a nice residential area in order to take drugs.

The adolescent's skull begins to melt as the beautiful members of society surround in disgust, blaming them for not being able to take a joke or for faking the monstrous bubbling of muscle beneath a charred tutu as the chemicals begin their transformation on a damaged body. A grotesque exaggerated release of testosterone then occurs, huge and irregular muscle growth that distorts the head into a kind of lumpy probe and deepening of the voice to a suave caramel rumble. An unasked for gift is still a gift if we abstain from a moralising overcoding of the event itself.

Its fitting that this particular accident takes place outside a gym, that the tormentors that dress and drive the sacrifice, do so on a break from their own physical transformation. The jocks eject the nerd for not even registering on their scale of productivity, but their meeting with the non-human chemical agent results in a parody that goes beyond simply working out or doping, to biohacking and becoming excess, becoming waste. The young mutant goes to live in the city dump and carries a mop, occasionally leaving to despatch violent justice on those in which there is a scent of evil.

A short while after this event, Paul Preciado would undertake an exploration of the effects of testosterone on their body over the course of a year of self medication through T and theory. At the culmination of the book which traces this year, Preciado describes the process as the “lucid intentional practice of auto decapitation”. The chemical removal of a head programmed by gender, as a means to dissecting structures on all sides of that cutting action.

Cutting back to the nerd wrapped in slime and muscle and charisma, now living on condemned land surrounded by leaking canisters and rotting timber. The auto decapitation is less intentional, and results are more of loss of face than a loss of head. No longer having the face which would mark them to be human, a fit, green grey and lumpy body, and lumpy green grey absence on the top, almost featureless.

We track down from above the landfill, over divans and medical waste, over car parts and entire coral reefs of plastics and look at that green grey body as it goes through an isometric workout routine. Tracking closer and closer, closing in on that head-lump, looking at straining lines and mucosal pockets, closer still and skin now looks like landscape. Silt and shit, bubbles and folds. As we close in past the surface and under the layer of dirt and fat, suddenly everything is active. An endless field of nuclei fill the frame, and under our gaze these all divide, in synchronisation.

An increment of time passes and the same thing happens, another doubling. This slow pulse continues at a calming predictable rate. It’s hard to tell any more if we are moving as all visual reference or landmark has been lost in a pulsing sea. Other rhythms are discernible, lumps of decaying matter drift across the periphery like dust motes. Tendrils wrap around them, and we see chemical signals oscillate down their length to translate this data into curves and contractions.

Wet text drifts into focus:

“Physarum Polycephalum, each slime mould is made up of many tiny pieces of slime mould, each oscillating at a frequency determined partly by the local environment, partly by interactions with adjacent oscillators such that each oscillator can entrain those close to it”

We pull out.

Still flexing and sweating the body continues to work out. The body is a bag for other things, filling and emptying. The musculature ripples beneath the tutu, a population of cells in tune with those in their proximity, and to external conditions whether experienced directly or through a flow of chemical whispers. We thought this body had no head, but that’s not right, Polycephalum means “many headed” it’s nothing but heads, sheathed in a permeable gloss of grease and dirt and stuffed into the clothes of a ballerina in order to fight crime.

Still exerting, straining, maybe the nerd is in there somewhere in spirit, in a state of ecstasy, that is, “experiencing the inhuman in a qualitative way.”

On cue, the body twitches, a synthesiser begins a taut arpeggio, the body pulls up, tiny mucosa can be seen pouring like ribbons or flukes from the skin, barely thick enough to slow light. Density decreases in some directions, increases in others, always pulsing, the quorum senses a threshold has been passed and again the body tightens but now it is running, shit and rotten food and polystyrene flies as it kicks up a spray of trash, accelerating on a vector out of the dump towards human evil.

We watch the form of the running slime disappear out of the sight, shifting focus to the treeline at the edge of the dump. Centre on a huge baobab tree, fat and rooty like a mandrake, barely any leaves, scarred and sore looking. A low sound that must have been playing the whole time now gets loud enough to draw notice as some kind of combination felling and timber cutting vehicle grinds into view flattening the land with caterpillar tracks mucky with undergrowth and small rodents.

Cut and we are inside the vehicle, blue collar workers leer and spit, the windscreen all but opaque with parking tickets, football stickers and coffee sneezes. Mechanical arms extend and claws grip the Baobab’s swollen purple trunk, while a chainsaw extends from the front of the vehicle, tongue like.

Now inside the machine we see the tree being digested, cut into lengths and sawn into planks which as they are stacked into a storage bay ooze a grey-pink-purple slime.

We stay watching a while, the rumble of the machine almost musical. The slime pools together, oblivious to gravity and out of it forms a rising human hand and then it is the mouth of a dog and then a cracked human skull and then this skull somehow smiles and laughs and begins to sing and this is the point that we are most happy that this unleashed demon of pollution has the voice of Tim Curry as this voice is singing a raunchy show tune about the sexual qualities of crude oil and the love known only to those creatures that live in diesel fuel.

The slime monster covers everything, taking control of the automatic felling and wood processing vehicle, tearing up landscape in a haze of blue smoke.

Sentient waste god Tim Curry quotes Michel Serres in a belch of obscene fungicide skywriting “Love is a chimera, the leftovers of the split up parts”.

In a camp aside directly to us the monster cites Patricia MacCormack “desire is neither good nor evil, pleasurable nor painful; it is the constant recombining of expressions and affects that comingle entities”

Voices multiply, myriad Tim Cury’s rant about Reza Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia while other’s dissect the black oil plot arc in The X-Files.

A Cury choir sings of the visions young people can receive by inhaling a burning wheelie bin.

Bins on Fire.

A sobre history of the drains which allowed the body of christ to flow into crypts is briefly discernable but hardly coherent before being shouted down by two voices arguing whether the film’s Come and See or Hard to be a God have the best depiction of filth.

An endless monotone lists fictional depictions of urine in the making of gunpowder, Riddley Walker, Blood Meridian, the Tom Hardy television show Taboo.

Whispered descriptions of the snot drip in The Blair Witch Project mix with advice on building a robust 3000 point Chaos army in Warhammer 40,000 under which a barely passable impersonation of William Burroughs’ drawl repeats.

“Hedorah killed Tasha Yarr, Hedorah Killed Tasha Yarr” over and over until the screen goes black with oil.

Uma Breakdown is a researcher and practitioner concerned with the ways in which horror, waste and abjection allows a playspace for queer becomings. Their current research interests include Nemesis the Warlock, political refusal, and dog-technology.