Eben Kirksey is a permanent faculty member in Environmental Humanities at UNSW Australia and a Visiting Research Scholar at The Graduate Center, City University of New York. He is the editor of The Multispecies Salon and the author of Freedom in Entangled Worlds: West Papua and the Architecture of Global Power, both also published by Duke University Press.
Hope in the Reverted Zone
Multispecies communities are flourishing in zones of abandon near the City of Knowledge, an abandoned U.S. military installation in Panama. Former bombing ranges have become habitat for a multitude of endangered animals: spider monkeys (Ateles geoffroyi), Baird’s tapirs (Tapirus bairdii), and cotton-top tamarins (Saguinus oedipus). Unexploded bombs and chemical weapons, rivets fastening an emergent ecosystem in place, have the indeterminate properties of the pharmakon. Classically, the pharmakon is a poisonous substance that can have a therapeutic effect depending on the dose, the circumstances, or the context. Isabelle Stengers understands the pharmakon as any obstacle that presents an opportunity—with effects that can shift from one extreme to another. Bombs usually act as hidden talismans that protect wildlife from people. But sometimes the attributes of these unstable objects suddenly shift, with blasts generating violent pain and death for the animals and plants that have found a home in these abandoned lands.