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On Garbage

On Garbage
John Scalan
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A beautifully written mediation on waste and how it interrelates and even defines our world, our society and ourselves. Essayist John Scalan dissects the makings and meanings of garbage from the literal (plastic bottles, shit) to the figurative (sloth, inefficiency) and reveals the basis’ and philosophies behind relegating garbage to one of the most reviled words in our dictionary.

Somewhere or other it usually happens in the morning. Perhaps even the middle of the night. In an interminable but barely noticed struggle an equally anonymous legion of combatants face their enemy. It is neither human, nor really foreign, foe. This persistant, spectral threat has no face. No violent words or overt threats accompany it—but it just keeps coming. Like the tides this is a force of nature that never disappears for long. It is our garbage.

Scalan uses his knowledge of the arts and philosophy to show that garbage is all around us, yet invisible or unseen by us- in a word, uncanny. Litter, waste, idleness are all a part of our lives we don’t much think about or seldom acknowledge.

As humans we cannot escape the garbage we create, nor can we ever hope to stop creating it. Garbage is how we define ourselves, by casting out that which we no longer want or that which no longer belongs. But Scalan steers clear from the current societal morality arguments on material consumer waste choosing instead to view how artists (Rauschenberg, Hillard) and writers (DeLillo, Klima) interpret that which we create, inherit, glean and throw away. Garbage, like sex, evokes strong human emotions, emotions that needn’t be shunned because we may be revolted by the subject or its contents.

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