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Living with toxicity

Disruptive temporalities in visual art and literature
PhD ceremony:dr. R.E. (Ruby) de Vos
When:May 23, 2022
Start:16:15
Supervisor:P. (Pablo) Valdivia Martin, Prof Dr
Co-supervisor:V. (Vera) Alexander, Dr
Where:Academy building RUG
Faculty:Arts
Living with toxicity

Today’s world is deeply toxic: both human bodies and their environments bear traces of all kinds of industrial toxicants. We are, essentially, living with toxicity. In considering this new status quo, research focuses usually on toxicity’s effects on human health. This dissertation proposes that we also need to take seriously the impact of toxicity on human relations to time, which shape contemporary life. It additionally argues that visual art and literature can play crucial roles in identifying and articulating these temporal pertubations as a form of toxic violence. 

Living with Toxicity establishes toxicity as a deeply temporal phenomenon. Toxic substances linger in the environment into the far future; a person’s body might carry the traces of chemicals outlawed 30 years ago; and the effects of exposure sometimes only become visible years later, creating a state of perpetual uncertainty. Consequently, understanding the temporal aspects of toxicity goes to the heart of understanding how living with toxicity takes shape. Visual art and literature shed light on the notoriously elusive phenomena of time and toxicity. What unites the studied works is that they all invite their audiences to consider how normative, established, and predictable ways of orienting oneself in time become increasingly less attainable in living with toxicity. Ultimately, this dissertation argues that the temporal disorientation, instability, and sense of impasse that living with toxicity engenders should be understood as forms of toxic harm in their own right.