On the Matters of Alterstories

Begin: 1998

Ruth Ozeki writes about the unexpected use of turtlenecks:

Hanford was one of three atomic cities hastily constructed in 1943 to produce plutonium for the Manhattan Project. Over the next twenty-five years, massive clouds of radioactive iodine, ruthenium, caesium, and other materials were routinely released over people, animals, food, and water for hundreds of miles. In the 1950s, it was discovered that the radioactive iodine had contaminated local dairy cattle, their milk, and all the children who drank it. As the incidence of thyroid cancer grew, the farmers in the surrounding areas—‘downwinders,’ they’re called—began to wear turtlenecks to hide their scars. It was the fashion, the waitress told me.[1]

Determined questions of toxic times: 2018

How is it that stories, artworks, can take account of complex, multi-layered inheritances such as these? How can they face the incalculable, the hidden and open violences, the madness and the chronic enactment of myriad kinds of entangled supremacies that compose these times?

Nuclear times. Carnist times. Survivalist times. Brutal times.

They are times in which the bones of industrially bred chickens act as key fossil evidence[2] for what might be called both the Carnocene and the Fleischgeist. The Fleischgeist refers to a cultural phenomenon through which tensions between the instrumental use of animals and the ethical accountability for their lives and deaths can be seen playing out on billboards, on social media, in fridges, in supermarkets and restaurants, between governments, corporations and citizens, lovers, families, friends and strangers, in homes, in protests and at the table. Carnocene is a term that might join the many proposed names for our contemporary geological era, which, for the time being, include Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Plantationocene, Planthropocene and Chthulucene.[3]

Carn ‘flesh’ + cene, denoting a geological period.
Cene, also, from Latinised form of Greek kainos meaning ‘new’.

Carnocene refers to the fact that sedimentised fossil remnants of what is now almost a century’s worth of industrial-scale slaughter has been compressed into the earth’s very being.


[1] Ruth Ozeki, My Year of Meats, Text Publishing, Melbourne, 1998, p. 246.

[2] Damian Carrington, ‘How the Domestic Chicken Rose to Define the Anthropocene’, The Guardian, 31 August 2016, theguardian.com/environment/2016/aug/31/domestic chicken-anthropocene-humanity-influenced-epoch;accessed 2 June 2018.

[3] Donna Haraway, ‘Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene’, Art in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Aesthetics, Politics, Environments and Epistemologies, Martha Kenney (ed.), Open Humanities Press, London, 2015.


Image: Qui Zhijie, Map of Technological Ethics, 2018. Site specific mural, APT9 QAGOMA Brisbane. Courtesy the artist and Queensland Art Gallery, Gallery of Modern Art. Photograph: Chloe Callistemon. 


This is a preview of 'On the Matters pf Alterstories'. The full article can be found in Art + Australia Issue Five.

Hayley Singer is a writer whose practice engages with the fields of creative writing, critical ecological feminism and animal studies. She is a regular ecologies columnist for The Lifted Brow. Her first book, The Fleischgeist: A Haunting, will be published in 2019.