Science  Write  Now

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Capitalism and science make interesting bedfellows. Sometimes they are passionately aligned; at other times they cling to opposite edges of the mattress. In this edition, a range of writers explore the relationship between capitalism and science in creative ways. Aptly, Amanda interviews evolutionary biologist Rob Brooks, about the way capitalism is changing sex and intimacy.

We are reaching, and in some areas have exceeded, our planetary limits, but on the same day the International Energy Agency released a report calling for “nothing less than a complete transformation of how we produce, transport and consume energy” so as to decarbonise in three decades, the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, announced that he would spend $600 million dollars on a gas plant. A number of writers explore the tension between capitalism and the ecosystems that keep us — and other species — alive. Liana Christensen’s ‘Landscape Manifest’ is a beautiful meditation on the relationship between the rarel karrak — the Forest Red-tailed Black Cockatoo — and the Cape lilac, and on her own relationship with death. Vivienne Glance’s gorgeous poem ‘There is a Shape to Trees’ dwells on arboreal death and life; Lesley Porter’s ‘Folding and Tilting’ elegantly melds earth and words; Shey Marque’s ‘Repurposing a Bleed’ watches blood soak into soil. Meanwhile, Richard Flanagan’s The Living Sea of Waking Dreams attempts to illuminate the climate crisis engendered by anthropocentrism, with, as I outline in a review of the novel, uneven results. In dwelling for so much of the novel on the prolonged death of an elderly mother, he reaffirms the centrality of humans, rather than posing desperately-needed alternatives. 

Sometimes you need humour to deal with all this. In ‘(Life)Grants Writer’, P.P Donati pithily evokes the frustration and sometimes pointlessness of the annual scramble for funding to support scientific research. Jake Dean’s ‘Stromlo-1’ illuminates the disjunction between politics, activism and Hollywood following an oil spill in the Great Australian Bight. Craig Cormick’s short story, ‘A Moment of Light in the Einstein Café’, is a witty nod to the unpaid labour of the women who support geniuses. Einstein gets another outing in Mark O’Flynn’s ‘Einstein’s Brain’, in which his grey matter lasts long after death. At other times, beauty helps, and Meredi Ortega’s ‘Dark Cloud Constellation’ is a lovely tribute to the dark skies.

What happens to our hearts under capitalism? Meryl Broughton, who brings an autopsy to life with careful, detailed prose, closes ‘Matters of the Heart’ with the question, ‘what are we going to do to stop more hearts from breaking?’. It doesn’t help that her profession is ‘heading for extinction’ with declining numbers of general practitioners with skills in anatomical pathology in rural and regional areas.

Hers is not the only profession that is dying out. It is sobering to read Ashley Hay’s ‘Adaptation’ some seven years after it was first published in Griffith Review. Hay chronicles the increasing precariousness of some occupations, such as academia and journalism, and meditates on our ability — and inability — to adapt. It is beyond depressing to think how little the conversations about extinction – both ours and other species’ — have shifted in seven years. Hay surmises that we might be able to do without storytellers, but we can’t do without science. She draws on the words of Ian Lowe: ‘Scientific knowledge is not just critical to understanding the problems we face; it is crucial to solving them. Even accepting the limitations of scientific knowledge and the human failings of individual scientists, science still gives us our best chance of a desirable future – just as it has given us a much more desirable present.’ 

I think the last seven years have shown us is that many audiences, for whatever reason, are not persuaded by science alone, and that the role of the storyteller is now critical. This is one of the reasons that we are so grateful to the Australia Council for the Arts for awarding us funding for another year through their Re-Imagine Sector Recovery Stream. As Australia begins to gather itself from the disaster and disruption of Covid-19, the role of science will be more important than ever.  

So we hope you enjoy exploring this issue! Stay tuned for an interview between Jess and Rebecca Giggs, the author of Fathoms, that will shortly be up on our ‘Conversations’ page, and for our calls for writing for our next issues. You can follow us on social media, or subscribe to our newsletter – look for the ‘Subscribe’ button at the bottom of our website.

Feature image via Te Papa Collections