n this interactive video installation the Florida Research Ensemble (FRE), working on behalf of an online consultancy, the EmerAgency, uses Arts and Letters practices to render perceptible some of the forces at work in the Koppers Superfund site. The consultation does not offer solutions, but provides the terms of understanding that empower citizens to participate in the decisions affecting their well-being. This concern, the priority of Philosophy since its inception, resonates with one of the threats to the community – the pollution of the Murphy Wellfield that supplies the drinking water for our area (just one of several kinds of contamination associated with the site). “Murphy’s Law” states that if something can go wrong, it will, and in our case, it has. The danger is not just to the community’s well, but its well-being. Part of the lesson is that the Koppers disaster is just one of 1280 Superfund sites in the U.S., each site representing an environmental disaster compromising the well-being of our society.
- Family: the Family narrative documents stories, personal histories and memories of citizens most affected by Koppers, such as those living in the Stephen Foster neighborhood adjacent to the site, and all those who have struggled for a true remediation.
- Entertainment: Hollywood cinema has developed a genre of disaster films, specifically stories in which individual citizens confront and triumph over corporations or other institutions violating the public trust. Erin Brockovich may be the most apt, but the most recent example is Cameron’s Avatar. Such films illustrate the mythology of individual agency informing American values, but belied by events.
- History: Documentaries such as James Burke’s Connections remind us that while the production of pine tar for wood treatment in Gainesville started in 1916, the industry is as old as the Colonies themselves, since wood treatment was a necessary technology for the maintenance of ship hulls. The larger historical narrative of our dilemma includes the entire history of European colonial expansion, all the way back to the original spice trade in ancient times.
- Philosophy: Arts and Letters disciplines have developed a set of practices within the framework of modernism for transforming immediate embodied experience of pleasure/pain (attraction/repulsion) into a logic for conducting practical reason necessary for ethics and politics in a democratic society. With these devices, the Koppers site is generalizable as a microcosm for understanding the crisis posed by the Superfund phenomenon to the well-being of the macrocosm itself. The chief insight is that these dilemmas are not anomalies, but the result of a habitus, a collective way of life. The question posed is: what is to be done?