Wednesday, June 9, 2010

oil rambling

I've been relatively quiet about the Gulf oil leak. For one thing, it is such an enormity that it's hard for me to get my head round, hard to even find the words. I recognize the need for outrage and accusation. For getting to the bottom of it, so to speak. Especially since 11 lives were lost, owing to careless, criminal oversight and operation.

Yet...for me, it has taken on an almost metaphysical dimension. It is awe-ful. I'm not really moving toward that other word -- "apocalyptic" -- but maybe brushing up against it.

It's almost as if we have blundered collectively into an vital planetary stratum, into the arterial blood of Earth. And the wound is gushing. Before this, the blooding has been controlled and pressure applied to the wound, more or less. Now, the planet is bleeding out, sort of.

I still wonder about the nature of oil, how it got there and what it is. The consensus view is that it formed from ancient deposits of zooplankton and algae mixed with hydrocarbons. That's because it's molecular profile is similar to chlorophyll. Some cool Russian scientists in the fifties challenged this theory, and I'm on their side ('cause I like Russian scientists and I like weird hypotheses). They put forward the idea that oil formations occur from abiogenic processes, strictly inorganic compounds. Two things I like about this: 1) oil becomes an essential planetary property, like Earth's blood or like a subsurface lubricant; 2) it makes my head stop spinning wondering how much biomass (algae, what-not) went to make up the billions and billions of barrels of oil we have pumped for over 100 years. Blimey!...seems like it would take 10 Earths to produce enough zooplankton to produce all that oil!

When you see all that oil on TV washing up on beaches and into marshlands...when you smell and handle oil in its various forms: doesn't something about it all strike you as not quite right? I mean, essentially not quite right. Oil in itself. To me, it seems like a substance that we should have left alone from the beginning. It doesn't belong here, up on the surface. Well...that's the weird sense I get about it.

And petroleum fed into the nightmares of my youth, so that adds another layer of metaphysical anguish for me.

I grew up in El Dorado, Arkansas. In the thirties, oil was discovered in the vicinity, and El Do became a boom town. Practically overnight, it went from a strange cultural oasis in the boondocks to a wild and woolly crazy place -- drunken revels, gambling, prostitution, shoot-outs. The population exploded as wild catters, workers, and investors streamed in to make their wages or fortunes.

We lived half a mile from an American Oil refinery. My father was one of the plant managers. Every now and then, one of the workers would get incinerated inside the refinery. Little Tim would get freaked out hearing about that shit. And once, a major fire broke out in the plant and escaped to the wooded area beyond (not far from our house). For Little Tim, that event took on an apocalyptic coloration. His dreams expanded that fire into something that would have scared the shit out of gods and devils.

I used to go with Mother to pick Daddy up in the late afternoons. Back then, before the separate managers' building was put on the hill, we'd pick him up at the main plant gate. It was like staring into the 10th circle of Hell. Walls of belching fire, steam screaming from vents, miles and miles of pipes twisting and turning through the impenetrable edifice. It was an unholy vision, and it sank very deeply into the negative-zones of my consciousness. It screwed with my soul and my mind, and I'm glad it did, in a way. Must be that Freudian death-wish thing. There is a certain relish that comes from having your brain metaphysically scorched.

In the early eighties, I did an acrylic-on-paper painting about that wonderfully horrible image of the refinery. I titled it "Molech -- refining unspeakable elixirs." The whole ghastly thing was like a great pagan god, devouring souls and turning them into black liquids. So...oil has always had a dire alien quality to it for me.

We humans have morphed into petrol-people. We're always going mobile, to fetch beer or to bomb some enemy. Most of our junk, from low to high tech, depends on some aspect of refined oil in its manufacture. We have struck a Faustian bargain. And that dark substance has turned our general culture into Bizarro-World. It is also choking the clouds. Hell...absorbing all that pollution might someday turn us into mutant gummy people, with our blood turning sort of black and smelling sort of oily. Leaving a sticky slime trail wherever we walk. Damn!

I do sometimes wonder what the world would look like now and how relations between peoples would have manifested had oil never been discovered and processed. If it had been left untouched down in the secret arteries of Earth...brooding and oozing through the rocky fissures...dreaming its inhuman dreams.

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