Edward Burtynsky’s work is profound and poetic (“Extraction,” July/August) but still fails to address the connection between the ramifications of extraction made visible in his photographs and the more sinister underpinning of our global-technical society—an obsession with “technique.”
More and more, technical problem solving is brought to bear on all human pursuits. From mining to child rearing, agriculture to education, technique offers the most efficient means of getting the job done. But while it “works,” it also creates unforeseen consequences, which demand more technical solutions with more consequences, and so on. The result is that we are increasingly beholden to a network of techniques that shape our lives in ways that are out of our control.
I work in the field of design, where technique has displaced both craft and personal expression. We hate to admit it, but today’s designer is a specialized technician who supports a much larger machine. This was evident in Bruce Mau’s traveling road show, Massive Change, in which designer technicians save the world.
Burtynsky’s images do cut through some of our blindness, showing the fault-lines developing in landscapes and cultures around the world as well as in the collective human psyche. And while his article seems to claim neutrality, his concern (thankfully) shows through. We need more of this. More of Burtynsky’s visual poetry and more voices raised against relentless and addictive efficiency.
But until we see the broader connection between rationalism, materialism, and technique, we are bound to misplace our activism. Today, we should be just as concerned about more insidious forms of extraction—the erosion of culture and human relationships by technological processes and devices—as we are about extraction from the natural world.
We need to see ourselves as beings with purpose beyond progress or survival and return to each other and the earth with more than just questions that demand technical answers.
New York, New York
I thoroughly enjoyed Marni Jackson’s “Bob Dylan Goes Tubing” (July/August). It captures the soft dreamy feeling of being up North and away from the demands of daily life. Jackson also evokes the music that stirred us so deeply. A lovely start to the summer. I fantasize that Dylan might find his way to the article when he’s playing at Casino Rama in July and be inspired to explore…maybe drop in somewhere in Muskoka.
Many thanks to Marni Jackson for “Bob Dylan Goes Tubing.” It’s always a great day when one of Jackson’s pieces is published, as she remains one of this country’s greatest satirists, if not the only one worth reading. Her subtle yet subversive humour, her humanity and kindness, her way of evoking a sort of Canadian magic realism, her ability to toss of good lines while seemingly filing her nails—well. It’s enough to make one want to pack up the pens and paper. I’m done.
Vancouver, British Columbia
Follow the Money
As a recovering Marxist, Bruce Livesey’s analysis in “Moneybags” (July/August) was just the sort of thing to fire up my latent class imaginings. But while the piece is generally well-executed, I was given pause when, in raking poor Lord Black and Ms Amiel over the coals, Livesey directs his snide outrage at the enormous incomes of the Blacks’ maids, chefs, chauffeurs, and so on. Is this not an example of the income redistribution we non-Marxist Marxists seek?
I suspect Livesey’s problem is with the arbitrariness of who gets to be a $130,000-a-year butler and who gets $8.00 an hour to clean the rooms at a five-star hotel. Fair enough. But if we are to break out of history, a little realpolitik—considering the take-home pay of the proletariat—couldn’t hurt. Perhaps the Blacks’ outrageous fees represent the radical response from “the moneyed classes” Livesey is calling for. If Black were still in a position to, he could have cajoled and shamed his mates into paying their staff as handsomely as well as demanding that the hotels they frequented raise their wages. A sort of Bill Gates philanthropy challenge, targeted at the working poor.
In The Walrus’s online exclusive, “The Very Strange Case of Hussein Ali Sumaida” (July/August), Andrew Mitrovica and Roxana Olivera report on a very strange case indeed. At first glance, it appears double agent Hussein Ali Sumaida has more lives than the proverbial cat. However, the bizarre circumstances surrounding his arrival in this country suggest that he has not heard the last from the Canadian government.
As compassionate as Canadian immigration law may be, it is difficult to imagine Sumaida integrating himself into normal, everyday Canadian life. Not for lack of skills, for surely there is a growing demand in this country for individuals who know their way around the intimate leather apparel industry. However, Sumaida’s spy profile has almost certainly earned him a prominent place on Canada’s latest aberration: the “no-fly” list. And should Sumaida manage to avoid being officially blacklisted, I could see Air Canada or WestJet customers heading for the nearest emergency exits if they saw him on a plane. Not a comforting prospect for Sumaida or for traveling Canadians.