It was hard not to notice the importance of Kevin Durant’s arms over OKC’s incredible comeback against the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA semis. The things were everywhere — intercepting passing lanes, flicking 3 pointers, leading the break. The 6’9 shooting guard reportedly has a 7’5 wingspan, which puts his extensions in rare company for a player at any position. It is for these reasons and the inviting fact of his last name that the multi-skilled scoring machine often goes by nickname alone: “Durantula.”

There are all sorts of great nicknames in the NBA, from the domestic “Hibachi” (Gilbert Arenas), to the goofy “Round Mound of Rebound” (Charles Barkley), to the supremely self-evident — “#23.” Even if we go by one category — say, ‘animate nicknames’, for the sake of this blog’s focus — the NBA offers much in the way of choice. Many fall in the ‘animal-hustle’ category: Jerome “Junkyard Dog” Williams; Dan “the Horse” Issel; Craig “Rhino” Smith; Ken “The Animal” Bannister.  Another broad category is ‘animal-predator’: While Trevor “Cobra” Ariza packs a poisonous punch for opposing defenses, far deadlier is the “Black Mamba,” aka Kobe Bryant (though we should also note his dialectical opposite, Brian “White Mamba” Scalabrine, is anything but). A third category is the animal-as-cartoon, like Damon “Mighty Mouse” Stoudamire, giving you way more than his 5’9 frame would suggest, or Toni “The Pink Panther” Kukoc who was smooth and Euro-effeminate, or Jim “Kangaroo Kid” Pollard’s name should need no explanation.  A fourth is not ‘animal’ but bio-mechanical: here we have LeBron “L-Train” James, Vince Carter (“half man half amazing”), Dwight Howard (“Superman”), and the grandaddy of the self-appointed NBA nickname, Shaquille “Shaq Diesel” O’Neal (aka “Shaq Fu”, “The Big Aristotle”, “Superman”, “The Big Maravich”, “The Big Felon”, “The Big Cactus”, “The Big Cordially”, and “The Big Shamrock”). By far the best grouping is ‘miscellaneous animal.’ My all time favorite belongs to the mysterious Bill Mlkvy, who played less than one season in 1982, and was called “The Owl without a Vowel” for what seem to be purely mnemonic reasons. The jury may still be out on the Loch Ness monster but it certainly ain’t about the game of John Brockman, aka “The Brockness Monster” (because he so rarely surfaced on the court during games). Streetball legend Earl “the Goat” Manigault was neither of the NBA nor the animal kingdom, but he was considered by some to be the Greatest of All Time (G.O.A.T).

Now the world of NBA nicknames is interesting enough, but it relates to something I find to be much more so: the world of NBA tattoos. Back to “Durantula” here. The OKC star was recently involved in something of a controversy over his secretive deployment of ink. His spider arms are clean, as the photo indicates, but his chest and back are all tattied up. In fact, there’s a fascinatingly weird world down there: a Wallgreens logo, a sort of ‘Little House of the Prairie’ with a pioneer home, trees, and a baby Durant; some scripture; Wanda mother’s name, a cross… there’s also a massive state of Maryland on his back. Durant isn’t alone in his choice of unsual torso tatts — Gilbert Arenas has the face of giant tiger across his chest (with black nipples for eyes); Monta Ellis recently inserted a Tree of Life rendering that extends across his arms; and in what is perhaps the ugliest of them all, Andrei “AK-47” Kirilenko has the World of Warcraft dragon emblazoned across his entire Russified backside.

The symbolic logic of Kevin Durant

Gilbert Arenas

Monta Ellis

So why would Durant hide his? They have been described by some as “business tattoos,” the insinuation being that one of the league’s biggest rising stars doesn’t want to jeopardize his marketability by marking up his lineaments.  Less than 15% NBA players had tattoos at the outset of the 1990s.  By 2002, the number spiked to 50%. Many of the NBA’s other highly marketable stars — Lebron, Wade, Kobe — are all filled with exposed tattoos, but Durant can have a squeaky clean image if he wants it. Its an interesting decision on his part — and one many of his best rivals — Blake Griffin, John Wall, and  Durant’s teammate, Russell Westbrook — have chosen to follow as well.

In a sports world full of canned promo and potted interviews, the highly regulated body of the NBAer is a fascinating site for the convergence of all sorts of cultural-economic forces — from health insurance to hip hop.  Tattoos reveal how iterative and self-reflexive the branding process really is — and how much more is at stake than simplistic accounts of self-commodification would suppose.  In a now decade-old piece for the Village Voice, David Shields notes that players of body-contact sports opt for tattoos far more than those in non-contact sports (eg. baseball, tennis).   There is no better example of this than the NBA. For many NBA players, tattoos describe maps of self-narrativization that speak in ways they never would. A wide array of tropes are written across the skins of any number of players: the grieving son, the grieving sibling, the family breadwinner, the state hero, the shoe rep, the former thug, the current thug, the rich man, the black man, the spiritual man. And once the ink dries to face the world, tattoos combine with the nicknames, the marketing of the nicknames through the shoes (like Durant’s Adidas Predator), the trademark spin-moves, the overly-speculated upon injuries, the Gatorade consumption —  to spiral outwards to the relatives, the fans, the hangers-on, the agents, the video-game designers, the executives, and so on. NBA bodies occupy a site within something largely understudied in the social sciences despite its centrality to American social life: the intersection of race, representation, and sport.

No one player was more responsible for the mainstreaming of the NBA tattoo than Allen Iverson (my personal G.O.A.T., for what its worth). Iverson, whose cat-like quickness made him unguardable, and at six feet 165 pounds has been called the “pound-for-pound most gifted and fearless guard to ever play pro basketball,” entered the league in 1996 with single marking on his right arm and a two-word inscription beneath it. The bulldog tattoo branded him as a Georgetown Hoya, and the “the Answer” became both his self-appointed nickname and best selling shoe.  He was product of a 15 year old mother and had two counts of gun-possession to his name before he turned 21. While many players’ would permit theirs some wackiness after they got rich, Iverson’s tattoos remained painfully self-revealing: “F.A.M.E” (Fuck all my Enemies); “RA Boogie”  (a childhood friend who was shot); “Only the Strong Survive”;“Loyality;” “Money Bagz.”

Allen Iverson

Over the course of his NBA career, Iverson’s body got many more tattoos and became involved in many more controversies — over skull-caps and cornrows, jewelry and rap skills, and somewhat hilariously — practice. His 2001 outburst upon hearing that the NBA’s Hoop Magazine had airbrushed his tattoos off a photograph of him for a magazine cover, was memorable and justified:  “That’s not right. Hey, I am who I am. You can’t change that. Who gives them the authority to remake me? Everybody knows who Allen Iverson is. That’s wild. That’s kind of crazy…. They don’t have the right to try to present me in another way to the public than the way I truly am without my permission. It’s an act of freedom and a form of self-expression.”

Iverson played fearlessly and wildly selfishly at times, winning scoring championships despite limited surrounding talent. He played through a tailbone contusion, a right shoulder dislocation, multiple broken fingers, and fractured left hand.  Like his tattoos, Inverson’s body was used to sell other products and to be consumed as one.  It will bear these decisions for the rest of its life cycle.  Now 38 and unable to secure another NBA contract despite a stated willingness to play anywhere, Iverson will have watch the Durantula & Co. finals as a spectator.  Though its widely speculated he really needs the money, its a shame no one signed him because you know he would have given his all regardless.  As much as I am awed at the physical abilities of these players, nothing replaces their story-lines.










Life m/eats death in a flesh-eating beetle colony

While visiting the University of Wisconsin – Madison, two days ago

UW’s Zoological Museum curator handed me a large box and disappeared behind a hobbit-like door leading into the side of a grassy hill leading up to one of the campus’s buildings. I peered into the box: a mangle of delicate swan bones covered in dried pinky-red flesh. I might have dropped it if it wasn’t so feather-light. We – a group of grad students, artists, poets, and professors gathered for the Taking Animals Apart conference – had just spent an hour checking out the museum’s collection of specimens: articulated and disarticulated skeletons, shelves lined with jars of preserved animals, and taxidermied mounts and full animal bodies. Noteworthy specimens: a giant beaver skull (like below) found just a few miles from the university campus in a peat bog, and a drawer full of stuffed passenger pigeons lying tidily side by side on a large pillow.

How long do you think before Harper makes this "old" beaver Canada's new amped up national symbol?


When the curator returned we followed her into the dimly lit, narrow, low ceilinged corridor. The air became increasingly steamy and hot, the walls dripping with condensation, as we snaked out way underground. With a flourish the curator opened a second door and we entered a small cavern thick with steam: the university’s private dermestid beetle colony. Or, flesh-eating beetles.

Cutaway view of the "Old Met Lab" from 1877 – home to the flesh eating beetle colony since 1950

Spotting two hefty scurrying bugs I exclaimed: “they’ve escaped!” Thankfully only the nearest person to me heard, and corrected me: “uh, those are cockroaches”. Oops (thanks, rural upbringing!). The beetles are much smaller than cockroaches, and filled several raised stainless steel tanks the size of large trunks. Lifting the lid, the curator placed the swan bones in one container and misted the container with water. Within a few days, she explained, the bones would be picked spotlessly clean by the beetles so that only minor prep is needed before the bones can be catalogued into the museum’s research collections.

Ring-tailed lemur being prepared at the Museum of Natural History in Vienna

Dermestid colonies are still used extensively by museum like the UW’s (and by taxidermists). It was hard to reconcile the clinical, sterile, and meticulously organized collection of unblemished, labeled organisms in the museum’s collection with the dank, feral world of the underground flesh-eating beetle colony. A lot of work goes into maintaining the beetles as a living colony that transforms messy remains of death into bones stripped clean and ready to be placed into taxonomically categorized drawers. Both of these worlds – the underground beetle colony and the floors of cabinets full of specimens – gave whole new meaning to Roland Barthes’s comment that “all classifications are oppressive.” I was reminded also of how “taking animals apart” often occurs in a largely hidden space using messy practices, like butchering meat or milking dairy cows. The end product is clean, largely divested of the blood, feces, sweat and bugs that formed it. Our general collective ignorance of these processes is in some ways a classic form of commodity fetishism, wherein the commodity is treated like “it has a life of its own” (as Marx famously remarked) rather than as a social product created through multiple  (and usually highly unequal) relations and processes. But animals that are taken apart do or did have lives of their own, bringing a whole new set of ethical and political questions to the fore, and reminding us that life, too, can be doubly erased by the end product of taking animals apart.


Real Aliens

I can’t wait to see Prometheus, the fifth installment of the epic Aliens movies. I’ve spent chunks of the previous two evenings re-watching parts one and two, pouring over H.R. Giger’s creepy sketches online, and fantasizing about the “face-hugger mask” I could to design and wear to the theatre on June 8th.

It struck me how much the pronounced vertebrae and pointed tails of the alien resemble those of the brine shrimp adorning Artemia’s front page. Further research led to an interesting discovery: both aliens and brine shrimp have an amazing ability to produce eggs that can be left dormant for long periods and “hatched on demand.”  Both species are hyper-resilient, and able to subsist in various atmospheric conditions. In their different worlds, both species are profoundly involved in what Bruno Latour has called “laboratory life”  — places where the production of life, value and scientific knowledge are actualized. I’m going out on a bit of a limb here, but the point is straightforward enough: I don’t think any of these connections is coincidental. American pop culture knows very little about the world of brine shrimp (“artemia”), but it has an idealargely informed by good sci-fi — of what it should think of all the shadow activity transpiring upon  them and similar life forms. I’m suggesting the Alien movies cast moral-epsitemological light upon the varied practices (bioprospecting, bioassays etc.) shaping contemporary incursions into the production of life and value. Consider this my sketch for the world Prometheus.

The Alien economy of reproduction.

The key, of course, is the egg, the ultimate symbol of life’s value and the ultimate symbol of life’s brutality in the Alien movies.  The egg internalizes the alien economy of reproduction, one which is exploitative, parasitic, and unflinchingly cruel: find a host, invade, use its life, unleash the beast within, repeat. And if there is one word which I think helps understand why this process is so scary in the films, its this one: ‘metabolism.’ Metabolism can refer to the set of chemical reactions that happen in the cells of living organisms in order to sustain life. For Marx, metabolism can be used in a social sense, to describe the “material interchange” or “exchange of matter” that takes places between humans and nature. The alien egg describes the fascinating interconnections between both.

Eggs in general tells us a lot about the ways contemporary economies work: producing life and squeezing productivity out of life, processes resulting in phase shifts in our worldly epistemologies and bodily constitutions — see Kaushik Rajan’s recent talk for more on this.  For Marx, the whole point of talking about metabolism was to describe the problems of capitalism — its characteristic feature of a “metabolic rift.” Capitalism “produces conditions that provoke an irreparable rift in the interdependent process of social metabolism,” he writes. Its certainly possible to read Alien as a horror of male pregnancy — of man going into labor — but I’m suggesting its the other way around as well: its labor, alien labor, going into man, man who suddenly becomes the material substrate for the alien’s “form giving fire.” What could better combine Marx’s “metabolic rift” with the terrifying implications of capitalism’s growing interest in the body as its new site of value production than the blood-spattered, chest-popping emergence of the alien life-form from the value-depleted human corpus?

Alien meets crew: "my compliments to the chef"

Alien (1979) gets the anxiety going at high boil.  We begin in a world we are actually pretty familiar with: recall that the people responding to the distress signal are the agents of industrial capital: the working- class miners of the Nostromo. Their journey into the silent planetary underworld describes a society’s general entree into a new bio-economy. This is rendered quite stunningly as the Cain descends into the depths of the “alienated” ship. The dark endoskeletized stuff growing across all the infrastructure anticipates the way human bodies will get metabolized by alien bio-power.  And frankly, its these interior shots that made the first watching of Alien (me, age 8) so damn scary — the movie seems to have drawn more from the sweaty underbelly of feminist Minimalism — say, Eva Hesse or Louise Bourgeois — than the masculine geometry of other sci-fi movies: Star Trek, 2001 etc. It works with a whole new cultural logic of bodily anxiety, one which has had a huge effect on all the sci-fi horror lexicon since – Tremors (1990), Species (1994), Mimic (1997) etc.

It wasn’t until the late 19th century that Western science came to believe that parasites were separate creatures rather than manifestations of moral malaise generated within the body.  Alien puts us back in that earlier more doubtful period. It does this by asking us to consider the ambivalence of man’s metabolizing mission (miners, after all). Turns out they dig too deep.  And because of what happens, we are able to see how humans sociality really is, at its base, pretty nasty. Time and time again ‘the company’ will screw over the crew  — via the Android, Ash (Ian Holm), in Alien; or Burke (Paul Reiser), the executive, in Aliens; or the creepy doctor Gediman (Brad Dourif), in Resurrection. The morality of capitalism is always called into question via a company spokesperson. “Is this going to be another bug hunt?” Hudson (Bill Paxson) asks imperialistically in Aliens (1986). Successful parasites are ones that go unnoticed by the host body. For all his hubris, Hudson becomes the first one to crack, the first Marine to question the parasitic social relation he serves — disavowing the mission in memorable fashion (“Game over man, game over!”).

Hudson is overwhelmed. Again.

Recall all those laboratory scenes throughout the Alien movies; clearly scientists are fascinated by the thing.  As with artemia, the real value of the aliens is not in the beauty of their biological feat-of-life. Rather its in their industrial use-value –in the aliens’ case, as biological weaponry.  “At least they don’t fuck each other for a goddamn percentage,” an exasperated Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) tells us at one point.  To cope with all the exploitation, Ripley, our moral compass, has to go from outrage at the humans to a severely compromised one herself. Her metabolic transformations can be read as a purposeful alienation from comprised human sociality. This builds slowly, in the first movie it is revealed through her special compassion with another non-human – Jones the cat. In Aliens (1986), Ripley shows her willingness to adjust her humanity by going cyborg — donning a giant robot-like cargo-loader unit, and eventually beating an Alien Queen with it.  In Alien 3 (1992), she participates directly in the metabolic exchange. In its final scene, she accepts the destruction of her humanity, thrusting herself religiously into a pit of fire.  But escape from capitalism’s metabolic relation isn’t easy: in Resurrection greedy scientists on the space station Auriga cloned her back to life to crossbreeding tests on other humans. And because Ripley had the alien inside her, the new Ripley is transformed:  super-strong, acid-veined, needlessly tempermental.

"Think you know how much Reality Bites, bitch?"

The alienation of Ripley is essential for her survival in society, but so is humanization of the alien. By the time of Resurrection (1997), the alien metabolism has been transformed in turn — the Alien queen now possesses a womb: it can give birth to live offspring without the need for eggs and human hosts. From this new metabolism emerges a new being — the Alien Queen/Ripley spawn.  Appropriately, its humanization contributes to its heightened terror: traditionally, parasites are not out to get humans; for many of them we are irrelevant or inadvertent objects to metabolize with. This is the impression we are left with in Alien (1979) and Aliens (1986) even to a certain extent up to Alien 3 (1992) — where the suffering of the innocent dog has us a little less convinced. But Alien Queen/Ripley-spawn in Resurrection (1997) seems to enjoy popping heads and observing the bloody remains. Ripley’s compassion for her offspring’s death — sucked, as always out of the airlock — has us feeling even more unsettled.

Its possible to read the awesome Alien movies in so many ways: as anxieties over motherhood and pregnancy, as warnings of scientific triumphalism, mediations on the new art of war, explorations into the sociologies of deep space discovery. I’m suggesting that we can also trace in them shifting anxieties over the metabolisms of life and the economies covering the bodies of brine shrimp and humans with sticky, slimy, and salivating forms of labor. The arc that I trace in the Alien movies suggests that this gradual merging of industrial capital and life sciences upholds not so much aliens, but the process of alienation — the external undoing of an internal self-recognition applicable to all species — as the truly freaky proposition.





Give the Whale Some?

What sort of songwriting credit did the whale get? It’s a legit question for a good hundred or so albums released in the 1970s. Ceta-voices feature centrally in the classical composer Alan Hovhaness’ “And God Created Great Whales” (1970); they duet in Paul Horn’s smooth jazz classic Paul Horn and Haida (1974); they playfully intersperse throughout Fifth Beatle George Martin’s nature rich Icarus (1972). Ceta-sounds describe a whole sampling blitzkrieg for pop singers (Joan Collins), hard rockers (Jethro Tull); classical composers (Toru Takamitsu), and jazzmen (Paul Winter).  The Seventies was the decade of ceta-song, and its motherlode was Songs of the Humpback Whale (1970) the instructively titled album of recordings that got nominated for a Grammy 1970 and remains the highest selling nature album ever made. Spectrographic analysis had led the recording team of Roger Payne and Scott McVay to conclude that the patterns of squeaks and mumbles had a songlike structure.  While some reviewers were clearly confused by the deep groans and plaintive squeaks —  “music that might have come from the throat of a 40 ton canary to the rumble of a stupendous Model T with a crack muffler” said one — good ol’ Rolling Stone got it nailed: “This is a good record, dig?… Its especially good for late at night and peaceful, together moments. It stretches your mind to encompass alien art forms.”

The motherlode: "Songs of the Humpback Whale" (1970)

As Jon Carroll’s words suggest, much of this whale-sampled music is best understood under the trope of New Age, as part of a ferment that included Joan Ocean’s Dolphins into the Future, with its Hawaiian ‘pod’ sociology and its theory of “sound holography” (cetacean communication); Joan McIntyre’s anthology Mind in the Waters, with its voluptuous descriptions of interspecies encounters; and John Lilly’s The Mind of the Dolphin, which sought to develop the insights of dolphin research for extra-terrestrial communication. I’ve been going through the music archive as part of a larger research project about whales and the BC coast. Not such much the big name stuff, but the cottage industry that followed it: the cassettes and blank CDRs that still fill meditation room closets. Subliminal messages, echoes, trance chords, synths, voices from the deep – its all in the grammar of New Age whale music.

Vibe man Dane Spotts released "Ultra Mediation IV: Cetacean Mind Link" in 1984.

My early conclusion from listening? Truly, its about the vibes. Grasping the “vibe” is almost like doing everything but listen for the signal. Grasping the “vibe” is about becoming conscious of the conditioning exchanges between self and environment given through the vibratory media. “Vibes” collapse subject-object distinctions, they render consciousness infrastructural to an entire social sensorium.  This is what makes them great for socializing behaviors: ceta-sounds enable your Downward Dog to happen, they let those minutes fly off the waiting room clock and get you to let go and enjoy that rub. Sometimes the whale calls are just too wild, too interesting — they make you pay attention–  but most of the time the drones and the compressed synths just get you easy. My current favorite is Dane Spott’s 1984 tape Ultra Mediation IV- Cetacean Mind Link. “Words can hardly describe the experience, it was like taking a two-week vacation in 28 minutes!” Words from Dane Spotts himself, a man who clearly got the vibe he was transmitting.

Yes! From the music video "Don't Kill the Whales" (1978)

New Age whale music was more than a few bottled mating calls, it was a whole freaky style. The painful lyrics of the terrible Yes! music video are worth the price of admission alone, but substitute the splashy slo-mo breach of a humpback’s fluke with a pair of boobs and the “cetaesthetic” suddenly describes another cultural logic.  A sizable chunk of New Age suggests close cousinhood with the equally-ocean obsessed “bikini-core” industry that flourished on the West Coast in the early 80s.  In both cases, good feelings, energy, and the mythos of the body grace drive hedonistic, cosmetic, and objectifying impulses to feel real goodRebecca Solnit has found parallel logics in the waterfalls of great American landscape photographers and the centerfolds of Playboy magazines. The ‘whale porn’ stretch isn’t a hard one to make… “There goes a narwhal Here comes a bikini whale!” sang the B-52s in 1979.

New Age’s DIY capitalism would be subsumed within the mainstream music industry by the late 1980s, but the pre-botox, post-modern sounds of its Seventies heyday are still very much alive. Meditation products combining whale song and mantras are easily found online.  “Children’s whale music” promising better behavior and quicker to-bed times get reviewed in Science Journals. Meanwhile, as Simon Reynolds notes in his 2011 book, Retromania, a whole ‘New New Age’ of experimental musicians have begun to champion the cosmic loops and melodies of the 80s-processesed whale voices. James Ferraro, White Rainbow, Onenhetrix Point Never, Stellar Om Source, Emeralds, Ossining, and Grouper are just a few of the more prominent names. No doubt in parallel reaction to the digitization of the musical commodity, this movement covets the informal exchange of mix tapes, with their warm analogue hiss and decay; the earnest mantras about mindfulness. The semi-undergroundedness of the scene is easily observed online, in the rich blogger culture that combines the new stuff with the ‘Old New Age’ iconography of rainbows, dream vessels, mandalas, and cetaceans.

Perhaps the most pertinent theme the recent stuff makes clear (if only cynically)  is how much New Age really encourages its instrumentalities to shine through: the very spirit of the genre, Douglas McGowan has observed, lies in entrepreneurialism. Alongside their sounds, many of the early New Age practitioners were selling a whole spiritual home-brew: personal messages, suggested postures, breathing programs, massage products etc. A big problem with the employment animal-sounds and all their supposed renderings of Gaia-conscious guilt, then, is how eagerly they exploit a general economy of stress.  New Age sounds and whale-song tapes sooth the city-dweller with a dose of ersatz tranquility. Meanwhile, the rise in boat traffic brought upon increasingly cute-ified, discovery tour-watched, hydrophone mic’ed ocean mammals has introduced a new problematic of ambient noise into their already precarious environments. The resultant stress has become a big problem.

Some of the early recorders clearly had loftier ambitions in mind when they advocated that ‘society’ take seriously the song of the whales. “We have learned,” Roger Payne said upon the release of Songs of the Humpback Whales, “that all men are created equal, but the whales remind us that all species are created equal—that every organism on earth, whether large or small, has an inalienable right to life.” But the welfare of the animal singers is totally unquestioned throughout the vast majority of the New Age hullabaloo (old or new). Sure, there’s environmentalized-concern, there’s good vibes, but what about “Who was that I was listening to? Are they still in captivity today?” “Did they benefit in the slightest from this sharing of their voice?” Not so much.  The US Marine Mammal Protection Act (1973) and Greenpeace (1975) may have slowed the whaling, but the sonic thievery has continued unabated.

Thoreau: “Can he who has discovered only the values of the whale bone and whale oil be said to have discovered the true use of the whale?” Fortunately for Thoreau’s unoiled skin and brittle bones, it would be another 100 years before they got going on spiritual massage.

“Rendering is recycling”

As the weather warms I’m reminded of one of the defining olfactory features of parts of summertime Vancouver. My first whiff of it was after moving into an apartment in Hastings-Sunrise, on a new bus route. It was July, in the thick of a stretch of unusually hot summer weather that descended on Vancouver like a heavy thermal blanket. The first couple rank bus rides I assumed garbage had been left out, eaten by a raccoon, and then rejected onto the pavement half-digested to rot in the sun. Visually, my new bus route showcased some of Vancouver’s busiest industrial zones, strung along the Burrard inlet, but around Commercial Drive and Powell Street bus riders’ faces disappeared behind sleeves, or in t-shirts. The smell was unbearable.

Google knew what it was: boiled animal by-products.

West Coast Reduction is one of North America’s largest animal rendering facilities.

I had moved in 100 meters from one of North America’s largest animal rendering facilities. Across Canada, renderers recycle approximately two hundred and fifty thousand tonnes of animal by-products each year. Each week, West Coast Reduction renders more than 10,000 tonnes of beef, pork, poultry and fish by-products, the volume of which is enough to fill 1,000 trucks each week. Their protein meals are shipped worldwide. Fats and oils produced at West Coast Reduction’s other plants arrive via insulated rail tankers at its bulk storage terminal in Vancouver, where they are pumped through underground lines to designated storage tanks before loading and shipping. West Coast Reduction also operates a commercial tank farm with a storage capacity of over 83,000 metric tonnes.

I don’t know what a protein meal is but it sure sounds delicious.

On the very bus rides through air laden with rogue particles of boiled animal remains, I was reading a book called Animal Capital, in which Nicole Shukin mobilises the double-entendre of ‘rendering’: to copy, mimic, or create a representation; and to boil down animal remains. She finds that rendering’s two meanings are an apt lens through which to approach historical and contemporary complicity between what she calls “the arts” and “industry”, the literal and the figurative, meaning and matter, culture and economy, and discourses and technology, in the realm of animal capital. The economic and the symbolic capital of animals, she writes, can no longer be approached as distinct. Even more critically, the material violence of rendering – both meme and matter – is born most heavily by animal lives.

I stayed a year in the apartment. When the wind was just right, the warm, rendered air would waft in through the patio doors and open windows and fill the apartment with its sweet necro-economic stench. Kick back with a beer, put another protein meal on the stove, and you’ve got yourself a pretty nice little Friday evening.