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Date: 10/09/22

"Civilizational Droppings"

Many years ago, at the time of his death, I remarked upon the work of the great Polish writer Stanisław Lem.

Having recently - thanks to my purchase of Jasper Rees' excellent biography of Victoria Wood - re-adopted the habit of reading in bed of a night, something which had been in abeyance for a couple of years or more, I chose to re-read those books by Lem that I have on my overpacked bookshelves.

I won't repeat what I said in 2006; it isn't necessary, except to say that I am once again reminded of his talents as a fablist and fabulist, his satirical humour and his insight.

Re-reading his collection A Perfect Vacuum - a collection of 'reviews' of books which haven't yet been written - I came across this terrifyingly prophetic passage in his review of the fictional work Pericalypse by the equally non-existent Joachim Fersengeld (a book written by a German in Dutch, of which language he - that is, Fersengeld - knew little or nothing). Bear in mind it (Lem's 'review', that is) was written over fifty years ago:

"Our mighty civilization, he says, strives for the production of commodities as impermanent as possible in packaging as permanent as possible. The impermanent product must soon be replaced by a new one, and this is good for the economy; the permanence of the packaging, on the other hand, makes its disposal difficult, and this promotes the further development of technology and organization. Thus the consumer copes with each consecutive article of junk on an individual basis, whereas for the removal of the packagings special antipollution programs are required, sanitary engineering , the coordination of efforts, planning, purification and decontamination plants, and so on. Formerly, one could depend on it that the accumulation of garbage would be kept at a reasonable level by the forces of nature, such as the rains, the winds, rivers and earthquakes. But at the present time what once washed and flushed away the garbage has itself become the excrement of civilization: the rivers poison us, the atmosphere burns our lungs and eyes, the winds strew industrial ashes on our heads, and as for plastic containers, since they are elastic, even earthquakes cannot deal with them. Thus the normal scenery today is civilizational droppings, and the natural reserves are a momentary exception to the rule."