Atropos: A Topology of Disaster

Atropos: one of the three Greek goddesses of fate and destiny, the eldest of the sisters, the one known as both inflexible and inevitable. It was Atropos who determined the end of life for each mortal by cutting their thread with a pair of shears. Mortality: one is alive and spinning a fibre at one moment, only to receive an untimely severance the next.

But this is not to gender the forthcoming disaster. Rather, we are interested in exploring the potential of the cut itself: its tempo, decisiveness, beauty and trauma — in short, its gesture. We approach disaster as a woven and folded tapestry of relations rather than as an accumulation of solitary threads, complicating the idea of a single fateful cut in the process. We suggest that while some cuts are more surgical and others more ragged, affirmative potentials may be found within each context.

Finally, we understand that the disaster is not some unknown future to come. It is already here — not forthcoming, but instead coming forth: the spectre of Atropos writ large over planetary destiny as an increasingly forceful precondition of the everyday. Collective imagination as gravitational force.

How does the artist or thinker respond as the blades slowly close?


A Tentative Chor(a)eo/graphy

1. Introducing oneself (from 2D to 3D).
2. Opening comments.
3. Left-eye/right-eye.
4. Blind reading.
5. Structures and flows.
6. Two storytimes.
7. Confessionals.
8. Two storytellings.
9. Opening discussion.
10. Blind reading.
11. Structures and flows (affinity variation).
12. Toward technics of trauma.
13. Movement machines (with M. Alaoui).
14. Conclusion.

Morning Reading

Brian Massumi, “The half-life of disaster”, The Guardian, 15 April 2011.


An asteroid is on a trajectory to collide with planet Earth.

The world has approximately three years before the ATROPOS-8 annihilation event occurs, though in many ways it already has arrived. Everyone is on alert.

ATROPOS-8 has startled scientists both with its tremendous speed and the distance it appears to have traveled to get this far — not to mention the certitude of its path. Spectroscopic analysis suggests the asteroid contains large quantities of a mineral not currently found on Earth, which may account for the difficulties that have been involved in its visual identification and confirmation.

The asteroid was first located two years ago by a post-doc on the night shift pattern-sorting data sent down from the Hubble Space Telescope. (Though it is rumoured a hacker collective discovered it two months earlier using repurposed graphic rendering engines and parallel superprocessing from a distributed array of Playstation Ultras.) A transmission glitch sending the original archival data back to Earth and a subsequent inability to definitively relocate and verify the post-doc’s results led the story to be buried in obscure chatrooms and gamer forums — it was another ten months before the asteroid was found again, and another month after that to conclusively link the new find with the much earlier data.

The speed of the asteroid has caused a variety of problems in gaining a consensus within the scientific community, particularly given the gravity of the conclusions it proposes. Eight months ago scientists in Brazil were finally able to aggregate a variety of data types to confirm a discrete object trajectory and precisely how fast the object is travelling. Even still, a concerted effort by governments around the world bought four more months of suppressed results, plausible deniability and modulated spectacle. Finally, two months ago, an official announcement: a worldwide television simulcast would air 60 days from now — last night, in fact — in which the existence of the asteroid would be confirmed. The show was titled, simply, ATROPOS-8. It was the most watched television event in history, more than doubling the prior record.

* * *

Speculations: How did the story of the asteroid stay buried for so long? What effects are suggested by this unique mineral composition? How did the global telecast unfold? What happens in the next three years? How has the extreme speed of the asteroid challenged normative understandings and protocols? What other questions would you ask in order to flesh out this speculative lifeworld? Finally, what traumas exist here?


L. atroposyium rara
A virus is set to wipe out almost everyone on planet Earth.

The world has approximately three years before the L. atroposyium rara catastrophe arrives on a global scale, though in many ways it already has arrived. Everyone is on alert.

The virus is known colloquially as LARA — both as acronym and in a nod to the infamous tomb raider Lara Croft for the intelligence and stealth of her incursions. For the unique quality about L. atroposyium rara is that it is a slow virus: transmission between humans does not appear to be immediate, gestation is estimated to be between 57-59 weeks, and biological failures generally occur 4-5 years after maturity. Medical and military authorities have been flummoxed: cause of death has been variable, yet certain.

LARA is known as the first true Six Sigma biological threat — lethality for the world’s population calculated at 99.99966%. There is no cure.

The only sign that one is infected with LARA is a pattern of three raised dots which appear on the body in a fairly tight linear formation. They resemble moderately-raised moles save being formed from brightly coloured scar tissue. These markers have been located primarily on the webbings between thumb and forefinger, shoulder blades, buttocks, neck and collarbone, or tops of feet — though they may be found anywhere on the body. The first set appears at virus maturity; for most who have died so far a second set appears to signal a slightly accelerated decline in condition, though cases of three and four sets of dots have been reported in the still-living. Intrauterine transfer is not indicated, as newborn babies from those with the dotted pattern do not have the mark themselves — it only appears later.

Almost everyone around the world is marked with this three-dot pattern by now, and many are marked twice.

* * *

Speculations: How was LARA discovered? What properties describe the virus? How did news of its existence spread around the world? How are knowledge, power and authority articulated in these contexts? How has the tempo of the virus complicated or aggravated normative understandings and protocols? What other questions would you ask in order to flesh out this speculative lifeworld? Finally, what traumas exist here?


Do It Backwards (by Berit Soli-Holt)

1. With conclusions.
2. Machinic movements.
3. Through trauma to technic.
4. Affinity variances between structures & flows.
5. Read blinding.
6. Discuss openings.
7. A story with two tellings.
8. Pure lies.
9. One story two times.
10. Flows that are structured, when structures flow (break something).
11. Deaf listening.
12. TLC time, don’t chase waterfalls.
13. Comment upon the opening.
14. Introduce other people.


This event was graciously hosted by Dr. Stephanie Springgay, who studies contemporary art and pedagogy in the Curriculum, Teaching and Learning program at OISE. Thank you.