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“Dirt is essentially disorder [....] Dirt offends against order,” asserts Mary Douglas in her 1966 anthropological text on “purity and pollution.” Dirt disturbs order; hence dirt is that which is disorderly and “out of place.” Similarly, according to Greg Garrard’s Ecocriticism (2012) the term pollution describes a cultural norm denoting something out of place: pollution, he writes, “does not name a substance or class of substances, but rather represents an implicit normative claim that too much of something is present in the environment, usually in the wrong place.” This definition of pollution and dirt as “something out of place,” however, is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain since industrial particulates now cover the entire surface of the Earth in a geologically traceable layer of anthropogenic substances. Pollution has no place but rather is everyplace, and functions like a form of “dirty traffic,” flowing through both biotic and abiotic cycles alike and entering virtually every organic body and cycle occurring in the biosphere (water, carbon, nitrogen, energy, etc.). We now measure amounts of anthropogenically generated or distributed toxins in our body – and the earth’s surfaces – rather than their presence or absence, and so we name our era the “Anthropocene,” the age of human influence on the geological body, and the planetary infusion by dirty traffic.


Peter Lang

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