Greenwood Encyclopedia of African American Literature

Monday, November 3, 2008

New Diggers

I almost feel as if a Kantian categorical imperative obliges me to say something about tomorrow's election, which is obviously crucial in many ways but also surrounded by hyperbole. It certainly is a distinctive new moment in American and African American history, but the meaning of the moment is of course yet to unfold, let alone be interpreted.

I've been teaching at the same college for over two decades, and the students are obviously more tuned into, informed about, engaged with, and anxious concerning this election--by far--than any election previously. Many of them, of course, are voting in a presidential election for the first time, and they certainly are voting in interesting times.

The disinterested political scientist whom I trust the most predicts that Obama/Biden will "win" 310 electoral votes.

I don't think this poem has much if anything to do with the election, and that is just as well.

New Diggers
In the near future, people will mine dumps
and landfills for sustenance if not profit. That
stuff we've been tossing out for centuries
gets more valuable every day. Burrowers
will try to borrow it back from the past
we thought we were throwing it into.
Places of refuse live in the future like
bank-vaults. Toward the end of this
profligate era, we'll want to accept much
of what we refused in the way of pulp,
plastic, and metal. Every civilization
needs its diggers. Our civilization
has dumped and buried useful stuff
maniacally and so will soon employ
exhumers to resurrect what once was
waste from out of tombs.

Copyright 2008 Hans Ostrom

Of course, in almost every nation, in different degrees, people already pick through "garbage" to find valuable or edible things, and a "dust-heap" is central to Dickens' immense, marvelous novel, Our Mutual Friend, which in some ways prefigures our ultra-profligate era. But I have to imagine that some landfills in the U.S. and elsewhere will begin to look like wealth-laden mines at some point, although I'm most willing to be corrected on this most wild guess.
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