Another Architecture

by Mitch McEwen

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    A Short Piece of Fiction on the Aesthetics of Nuclear Fallout

    Mitch McEwen
    Feb 5, '17 9:05 PM EST

    [I wrote this at the end of the summer, as I was mulling over certain relationships between aesthetics and warfare and image-making.  At the time I was thinking of it as a sort of historical line of research I wanted to do....   Now it feels related to many weird and horrifying things, including this wonderful article in the New Yorker on the atomic origins of climate science.  You can sense in the fight for continued nuclear arms, the struggle to suppress science, a passion that is more than greed or pragmatics.]  


    The footage of the cloud became known as a mushroom.  It was from watching the cloud puff itself up in the sky and burst over and over again in the tones of gray on the film, watching this gave it the name.  Mushroom cloud. Before this footage it didn't have a name.  


    Only select, highly classified, mission-critical men got to attend the testings.  To see the test live - its billowing and recursive fluffiness, its breaking open of the sky, turning the world inside out in light and white and gray and light again -- there could be no name.  It was beyond any form.  It was the sky breaking open and something more real than heaven falling out.


    Bob stood there.  He held a clipboard in his hand to record observations and measurements.  These immeasurable visions could be measured, after-all -- in Hydrogen and fission, Plutonium and fusion.  This was his second test supervision.  It wasn't clear that this performance would be any different from the last.  Navy craft and helicopters had been chartered to bring the scientists to this place, undetected.  This place that was most significant for being almost nowhere.  The furthest distance from one someplace and another someplace, calculated across latitude and longitude of the planet and skewed toward American military alliances -- the calculations inevitably arrived at this point. A watery nowhere in the Pacific, dotted with tiny islands that may or may not have been inhabited by tiny people who lived off fish and didn't speak English.


    Bob didn't supervise any reconnaissance for location, maneuvers to avoid inhabitants, or do the coordinating to bring in men and supplies undetected.  He only supervised the detonation and performance.  The bomb, itself.  That explosion across layers and layers of clouds pouring out of the sky.


    The first supervision, he hadn't realized until he stepped toward the shadow of the Officer deck that the sheet on his clipboard was blank. Blank after the explosion.  The same sheet it was when he took it from headquarters on the ship.  Blank, as if nothing had happened. As if the sky hadn't just poured itself out of an earthquake through every cloud in the horizon.  He knew then that the next test would be filmed.


    No one asked if there would be a next test.  It was obvious to every man there. Perhaps it had already been scheduled.  Steve had been about 6 feet away from Bob when the countdown hit zero.  It was difficult to coordinate simultaneity across such distances, with so few points of reference, in this calculated nowhere.  Distance simultaneity was Steve's expertise.


    Before the first test countdown, standing there 6 feet away from Steve, Bob had an image of what those 8 minutes would look like and feel like.  He would congratulate Steve with a nod, not to disturb any audio measurements.  Then he would record observations on the paper on his clipboard.  

    When the explosion reached a stable retreat, he would take a step toward Steve with his hand out for a handshake.

    None of that happened. Instead, when the countdown reached zero, he experienced a life-time-place-world of something he had no experience or words to measure against, the most beautiful event becoming image becoming event, again. It couldn't be called an image-- it was too gigantic and physical, distant but felt in the bones.  An image can't do that.  It can't be felt in your bones.  

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Posts are sporadic. Topics span architecture, urban design, planning, and tangents from these. I sometimes include excerpts of academic articles.

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