Reading Climate Change Through the Cloud: Toxi*City

Activity: Talk or presentationLecture and oral contribution

See relations at Aarhus University

Søren Bro Pold - Lecturer

Christian Ulrik Andersen - Lecturer

Climate change is still largely an abstract problem calculated through cloud-based, global computing networks. Epistemologically speaking, the climate crisis introduces the situation that the perception of even immediate surroundings is now influenced and mediated by complex visualizations, statistics and carbon quotas. In other words, an imaginary interface of climate change lurks in the blue sky of the current weather. Similarly, the cloud is an abstraction and generalisation of computing. We increasingly don’t know where neither our data nor the software is located, it becomes increasingly opaque what it is doing, and interfaces become abstracted as either closed devices or ubiquitous services. Tung-Hui Hu characterises the cloud as an example of virtualization and layered abstraction, “a way of turning millions of computers and networks into a single, extremely abstract idea: ‘the cloud’.” (Hu 2015, XXVI) This has also effect on the perception of the interface. As J. W. Morris writes, quoting Kassabian, cloud based services such as music “comes from everywhere and nowhere” and is “posing” as a quality of the environment.” (Morris 2011) Consequently, there are parallels in the way that climate change and cloud computing is constructed and perceived as abstraction, alienation, virtualisation and globalisation. If cloud computing is globalisation in our pockets, climate change is globalisation in our environment. This paper will discuss how this is experienced, interpreted and narrated through a reading of Roderick Coover and Scott Rettberg’s Toxi*City (Coover and Rettberg 2014, 2016), which is a recombinatory narrative film that portrays people living in the post-industrial Delaware River Estuary in a near future after the climate crisis has struck with repeated storms and floods. It runs for approximately 40 minutes through a scripted, generated narrative. Its protagonists are suffering from the ecological catastrophes combined with a lack of perspective on their own situation and the general crisis, and the story is filled with deaths and dying. Furthermore, the poetics of the recombinatory data base narrative emphasises the lack of order and interpretational understanding. However, this is portrayed through beautiful, panoramic cinematography of the post-industrial and post-catastrophic river landscape. The paper will discuss how to understand this paradox between seeing and not-seeing, narrative and database, despair and panorama in order to discuss in which ways Toxi*City points to contemporary questions of understanding and reading climate change through the cloud? How does it reflect the current technological, societal and ecological situation? References Coover, R. and S. Rettberg (2014, 2016). Toxi*City: A Climate Change Narrative, CR-Change Production. Hu, T.-H. (2015). A prehistory of the cloud. Cambridge, Massachusetts & London, England, The MIT Press. Morris, J. (2011). "Sounds in the cloud: Cloud computing and the digital music commodity." First Monday 16(5).
21 Jul 2017


TitleElectronic Literature Organisation
Abbreviated titleELO 17
LocationUniversity Fernando Pessoa
Degree of recognitionInternational event

ID: 115638190