As I explained in my last post, one of the biggest debates currently engrossing the geoscientific community concerns the concept of the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene is a proposed new geological epoch in which the environmental effects of human activity can be detected in the Earth’s strata and in the atmosphere on a global scale. The epoch has yet to be officially recognized as an epoch by the International Commission on Stratigraphy (the group who has the last word on such matters, at least among geologists), but many scientists have moved beyond questions of whether the Anthropocene exists, and are now interested in trying to determine when the epoch first began.
“It seems easier for us today to imagine the thoroughgoing deterioration of the earth and of nature than the breakdown of late capitalism…” – Fredric Jameson, The Seeds of Time.
|The editorial that accompanied John Hersey’s “Hiroshima” when it appeared in a 1946 issue of The New Yorker.|
This coming August will mark the seventieth anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The way we choose to memorialize particular historical events is of course a fraught and complex process (case in point: the recent debates over the meaning and message of the World Trade Center Memorial). Come August, I’m certain there will be a profusion of thoughtful commemorative events both both in the US and abroad, but I’d like to propose a more humble way to memorialize the bombings: read (or re-read, as the case may be) John Hersey’s Hiroshima. Hiroshima first appeared as an article in the August 31, 1946 issue of the New Yorker. At the time, the editors felt so strongly about the story’s narrative power and political import that they devoted the entire issue to it.Later that year Knopf published it as a book. Hiroshima follows six survivors from the moments immediately preceding the bomb’s detonation to one year after. We meet Toshiko Sasaki, a local factory worker, Kiyoshi Tanimoto, a pastor at the Hiroshima Methodist Church, Willhelm Kleinsorge, a German Jesuit priest, Masakazu Fujii, a family doctor, Hatsuyo Nakamura, a widower seamstress, and Terufumi Sasaki, a hospital physician, as they navigate the confusion wrought by a city that had been suddenly obliterated in a matter of seconds. Most immediately striking about Hiroshima is its level of detail. Hersey’s interlocutors recall scenes of human carnage and horror with remarkable clarity. Hersey’s lucid prose style amplifies the immediacy of the narrative; it is as though the survivors are recounting their stories directly to us, with Hersey merely acting as the medium of transmission.