Dads in Dust

I know these skin cells are dead, like you are, but they are still here. And you are not.

I.

Half the beauty of the world would vanish with the absence of dust,” wrote British scientist Alfred Russel Wallace in 1898.

(You vanished.)

He meant it quite literally.

(As do I.)

Dust is one of the “small things,” one of the “despised things,” that is of “overwhelming importance.” It is because of dust that we have blue skies and oceans, sunrises and sunsets. Dust even, according to Wallace, helps make our world hospitable to human life. A key ingredient of condensation, dust helps form clouds and give us rain. While marvelling at this, Wallace also warned of the ways in which industrialization leads to the production of an excess of dust, and thus to more clouds and less sunshine. In other words, Wallace linked dust to climate change, although not, perhaps, in the way that we would today. “When this fact is thoroughly realized,” he optimistically stated, “we shall surely put a stop to such a reckless and wholly unnecessary production of injurious smoke and dust.” Then again, he also thought that we would manage to rid our streets of “disease-bearing dust” by replacing horses with “purely mechanical means of traction and conveyance.” In the end, manufacturing our way out of dust is not so easy. “You’re battling something,” writes media researcher Jay Owens, “so small as to be invisible which cannot be destroyed – only recirculated.”1

1 Jay Owens, “Clean Rooms,” Disturbances 3 (January 31, 2016), https://tinyletter.com/hautepop/letters/disturbances-3-clean-rooms.