Of Petrochemical Origin


10 • Reflections

Volume 10, Issue 02
April 8, 2024

Plastic never disappears, not completely — it just gets smaller and smaller until we can’t see it anymore. Tens, hundreds, thousands of years, and its traces will continue to haunt and animate the living and non-living and somewhat-living pieces of the world. Plastic is the figure of political, economic, and cultural profundity it is because it can so easily be molded — shaped into whatever new market problem a requisite solution can be demanded of, and hardened into that, a literal and metaphorical vehicle of individualization.

noun 1
any of numerous organic synthetic or processed materials that are mostly
thermoplastic or thermosetting polymers of high molecular weight that
can be made into objects, films, or filaments
any one of a group of materials made chemically and shaped into
different forms for different uses

Transformation, the necropolitics of the undead, prehistoric bones and leaves dredged up and rendered energetic. Fossil fuels refined, scorched, and recombined into polymerized assemblages: petrochemicals, plastic. Chains of chemicals, spliced and reconstituted, furling and unfurling into an unimaginably malleable substrate: plastic.

capable of being molded or modeled
capable of being adapted to varying conditions
capable of being deformed continuously and permanently in any
direction without rupture
relating to, characterized by, or exhibiting neural plasticity
soft enough to be changed into a new shape

The object of plastic, in turn, molds — markets, societies, endocrine systems, dreams. It is both visible and invisible, present as macroscopic chunks and infinitesimal clusters of hormone-mimicking compounds; object and subject, imbued with an agency that it never asked for but whose cascading consequences are undeniably responsible for intoxicating the land and its bodies; poison and healer, disrupting bodies and encasing medicines and technologies that many people rely on to stay alive, and that they must be able to access should we have a just future.

adjective combining form
developing : forming
of or relating to (something designated by a term ending in -plasm,
-plast, -plasty, or -plasy)

Transfixing and subverting and combining and assuming and igniting form(s). Plastic, soft or rigid, if you want that — cheap to make or so expensive that the costs of its infinite longevity cannot be comprehended, depending on how you look at it — formed by us or for us, depending on the us in question — lifeblood or blood-poison, depending on which angle you take. Personally, it keeps me alive in real time and leaches into me in slower but maybe not artificial time — dermal absorption, epoxy resin + skin = portal, I imagine or maybe feel my neural pathways shrink and tweak and soften and sharpen.

Aspiring towards non-toxic futures does nothing for the resins and fragments that will linger, embodied, probably forever. Becoming plastic [noun] is human, and becoming human, maybe, is plastic [adjective]. To exist amongst and because of the objects and bodies in and around one’s own is a loneliness, and a perpetual state of multitude.

malleable moldable shapable waxy pliable ductile workable adaptable

  1. Definitions of “plastic” in this piece are from Meriam Webster and Cambridge Dictionary ↩︎

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