The horror of Newtown Creek

Every time I visit Newtown Creek, I always go through an affective journey where I feel various types of affects depending on different areas of the Creek. Ever since Newtown Creek became a Superfund site, there have been great improvements in creating the waterways little bit cleaner, such as the Newtown Creek Nature Walk which is a short walkway along the waterway built by New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection. The walkway with an abundance of greeneries and the absence of loud noise from industrial factories feels peaceful and simply nice.

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Newtown Creek Nature Walk

In Posthuman Glossary, Heather Houser explains in “Affective Turn” that “though affects are not recognized cognitively, they are still ‘irreducibly bodily and autonomic’” (15). This explains how I experience the affects of the Nature Walk when I’m there — it’s not because I’m recognizing many plants and flowers are at the walkway or forming ideas about the place, but it’s because of my immediate impressions formed by the energy of the place causing me to feel the tranquility.

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Piles of trash collected from the bottom of the water

However, when I look over to the opposite end of the blue, seemingly clean water, I spot a mountain of trash constantly being collected from the very bottom of the Creek. The giant pile of garbage, a visual presentation of Newtown Creek’s precarity, quickly switches the affect of the ecology with uneasy and alarming affects. I sense the similar stream of affects when I’m walking along Dutch Kills tributary or Pulaski Bridge of Newtown Creek where the sites are surrounded mostly by factories. The paucity of greeneries, oil spills in the water, disturbing sound of capitalism and manufacturing altogether switches up the affects of the Creek, very different from what I had received at the Nature Walk. These different dynamics of affects at Newtown Creek influence the layers of my perceptions and reactions towards the Creek because of what House explains as “transcorporeality,” the permeability of the membranes between humans and those others with which it is enmeshed” (16).

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Oil spill in the water

The permeability of affect contributes to the concept of “ecohorror,” which Christy Tidwell explains as “a genre that deals with our fears and anxieties about the environment” (115). We fear certain things about our environment because we are influenced by affects of our surroundings and they make us feel and do things. Tidewell notes that media productions of the ecohorror genre are “analyses of texts in which horrific texts and tropes are used to promote ecological awareness, represent ecological crises, or blur human/ non-human distinctions more broadly” (116). Newtown Creek’s precarity, the polluted water that’s harmful to the health of the surrounding neighborhoods, could be a subject of ecohorror. Newtown Creek’s water is perceived as threatening and harmful that many of them do not go near the water because it’s unsafe and inaccessible.

However, Tidewell emphasizes that “human and non-human are not separate…it is crucial to also consider ecohorror narratives that examine the connections between the two” (116). My horror when looking at the oil spills and trash is not solely coming from those non-human matters, but also from witnessing and comprehending the consequences of human’s ability to pollute and endanger the environment that eventually becomes a threat to ourselves. Within the affect of ecohorror, there’s the blurring connection between the polluted water and our irresponsible acts of creating such threat that eventually comes back to us.

Sumin Choi

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~ by suminchoi2015 on October 14, 2018.

One Response to “The horror of Newtown Creek”

  1. Under the weather – I had trouble understanding the examples you used from PostHuman glossary and how those examples connected to your affect. For example, when you introduced Houser’s concept of “Affective Turn,” it could have been helpful if you followed up with your interpretation of the quote before going straight to tying it with your experience. You mention that her concept of affective turn makes sense with how you experience the affects of the nature walk, but I had trouble understanding how exactly your interpretation of Houser’s concept fit into that.

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