New Book in Preparation: The Art of Waste: Narrative, Trash, and Contemporary Culture

by Duane Nichols on May 6, 2018

How much plastic is in our garbage?

WVU English professor awarded prestigious Carnegie fellowship

From the Press Release, WVU Today, April 25, 2018

West Virginia University English professor Stephanie Foote has been named one of the 2018 Andrew Carnegie Fellows for her work related to cultural production in and around the Anthropocene, the geological epoch in which human activity has had a global effect on Earth’s climate and environment.

The Carnegie Corporation of New York awards the high-profile fellowship, known as the “brainy award.” Foote was chosen from among 270 nominees from across the country and is the first WVU professor to receive the prestigious recognition.

The fellowship recognizes “high-caliber scholarship that applies fresh perspectives to some of the most pressing issues of our times, shows potential for meaningful impact on a field of study and has the capacity for dissemination to a broad audience.”

Each member of the class of 31 scholars will receive up to $200,000 in order to devote time to significant research, writing and publishing in the humanities and social sciences.

“Stephanie Foote is the most recent example of how West Virginia University’s faculty are finding creative and exciting ways to address the challenges that face modern society,” said President E. Gordon Gee. “It is an example of the tremendous quality of our faculty research and a reminder of the power that higher education has to transform our state and the world.”

Provost Joyce McConnell called the Carnegie Fellowship “an exciting next step” for Foote, who has already been recognized as a fellow at the National Humanities Center in North Carolina, where she is in residence this year.

“Stephanie Foote’s work is both urgent and important to our region,” McConnell said. “More than that, it has tremendous potential to change the way we think about our place in the world.”

For Foote, Jackson and Nichols Professor of English in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, the fellowship will support her research in the emerging field of environmental humanities.

She will complete her third book, “The Art of Waste: Narrative, Trash, and Contemporary Culture,” which argues that garbage, perhaps the most ubiquitous feature of contemporary life, is the richest, most powerful text of our time.

By paying close attention to garbage, we can trace the histories of the global and local circulation and transformation of raw material, the human costs of making, using and discarding commodities and the intense anxiety about personal responsibility toward environmental toxicity embodied by trash.

Further, these stories allow us to grasp the ethical challenges driven not only by physical consequences on the world, but also by our investments in the material world.

Foote looks at social, medical, psychological, industrial, historical, literary and statistical evidence. For example, she analyzes a broad range of data from how garbage circulates globally, to records of how it is burned, buried, salvaged or resold, to psychological models about the intensity of our relationships to objects and how it expresses our cultural values.

“I use the stories garbage tells and the stories that we tell about garbage to explore a broad range of cultural narratives about human choices and environmental degradation,” Foote said. “If literary creation is the sign of human civilization, garbage is the visible sign of its costs.”

In addition to completing her book, Foote is planning to use the fellowship to fund the establishment of a public humanities website and the formation of a working group to where scholars can collaborate on issues related to the environmental humanities.

She will also organize a symposium in which scholars, activists and citizens from the Appalachian coal-producing region can exchange ideas about the global and local circulation of garbage.


{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Ben Conley May 6, 2018 at 2:40 pm

Trash piles up behind Morgantown Lock and Dam

Ben Conley, The Morgantown Dominion Post, May 4, 2018

MORGANTOWN — The flowing water of the Monongahela River brought all the trash accumulating behind the Morgantown Lock and Dam into the city, and according to the Pittsburgh District Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE), it’s going to have to take it out.

ACOE Spokesperson Jeff Hawk said the corps is not in a position to be able to address the never-ending accumulation of garbage, explaining, “Mother Nature is responsible for cleaning it up.”

“There’s an endless supply of debris that comes down the river and the navigation facilities are a collection point for some of this. The corps of engineers has no resources, no equipment, no funding, no personnel to devote to cleaning up the debris that collects there,” Hawk said. “So we rely on Mother Nature to provide high water to push the debris down the river.”

Hawk said this isn’t the solution the corps wants, but it’s the one it has.

“It’s an eyesore. We recognize that. If we put funds, personnel, equipment or could contract it out, then we really wouldn’t have the funds to provide the safe and reliable navigation that we’re obligated to provide,” Hawk said. “We know it’s an eyesore. We understand that. We all would like it to disappear, but that is the only avenue we have.”

Hawk said that if something is spotted in the trash that is particularly harmful — for example, a barrel with a hazard placard — the corps would try to work with local agencies or private firms to identify and remove it.

The already sizable job of keeping trash from accumulating behind navigation facilities is made more difficult by the fact that the corps is mandated to have environmental testing done on anything it pulls out of the water, be it soil on the bank or trash in the drink.

“It’s not even that the debris is necessarily hazardous; it’s just a requirement that we would have to follow,” Hawk said.

During negotiations with Republic Services, the city’s trash and recycling hauler, the city included transport of the river trash from the bank. It’s getting it collected on the bank that’s the trick.

City Manager Paul Brake has previously said that the uncertainty of what is actually in the water makes it too dangerous to allow volunteers in boats or wetsuits to tackle — which is exactly how the issue was addressed in the past.

Jenny Selin, the city’s 4th Ward councilor and regular contributor to the Morgantown Municipal Green Team, said a former city resident, Tim Terman, would assemble a flotilla of volunteers to snag trash from the river after the ACOE would open the floodgates.

The Green Team recently identified addressing the garbage patch as a priority in its strategic planning for 2018-’22.

Selin referenced the solution used in the Baltimore Harbor — known to locals as “Mr. Trash Wheel” — which uses flowing water and solar power to lift trash onto a platform. She said simply letting the trash float down the river ends with garbage deposited along the banks throughout Morgantown and every municipality down the line.

“I think we’re looking for partners to help get this figured out. There have been many, many people over the years who have worked on this. I think they’ll get close to a solution and realize it’s going to be really, really expensive,” Selin said, explaining that ultimately the city and any potential partners will have to find funds through grants, spend their own money or simply consider the garbage a fact of life.

“In Morgantown it’s very visible. We’re all working very hard, the private sector, the government groups, the university are all making more and more use of the waterfront,” Selin said. “It’s just time to take care of it.”


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: