Letter from the Editor (1)

Nate Eastman

It takes only a little looking around to see that we - students, professors, Americans, Westerners - are nearly drowning in waste. Maybe not drowning like PB Shelley or Leonardo DiCaprio's character in Titanic were drowning, and maybe not waste as in sewage or even waste like everyone sees (in different places) when they scan university and government budgets for the Golden Fleece, but in a different way - in that brainy brainy brain food kind of way you might jump on if you're the kind of person who sees the world as a loosely connected web of nearly autonomous signs.

If you're not that kind of person, there's still hope. Waste is not a thing you can point to, or, more specifically, is the kind of thing that you can point to but leaves any group of people each pointing in different directions and wondering how every other person got to pointing somewhere else. That is, waste is partly a matter of perspective. To a certain type of Lehigh student, the Bethlehem police waste time and money breaking up parties instead of dealing with "real crime" - a definition that conveniently includes any violation of the law other than those that students habitually commit. Of course the police - accustomed to Saturday night BMW 3-series hit and runs, petty vandalism, and the occasional bouts of effeminate Eminem-style posturing that pass for street fights on the East side of campus - have their own ideas about where time and money are being wasted.

And perspectives on waste inform other maters of civic contention: should Bethlehem Steel's old waterfront buildings be razed, renovated, or restored (perhaps as a matter of historical preservation)? Any answer assumes not only a perspective on whether the buildings themselves can be profitably rehabilitated, (whether it would be a waste to invest in them or a waste to slow their collapse,) but on which histories are disposable.

But in a broader and more academically responsible sense, waste is not so much practices, perspectives, or things as the imaginary product of social machines - "fabricated" like a factory stamps out license plates or a like a drunk tells war stories, the result of twin processes of mechanical and imaginary production. And why not? Identity in the collective sense is built on shared ideas about what gets kept and what gets thrown away, and thrives on continual exclusion - so unwanted food and unwanted people both end up as "trash." The label is imaginary. Its effects are as real as the stink of a landfill or a check out line at Wal-Mart.

In this issue of VERB, our writers approach waste as the pervasive product of collective imagination and the material of our culture - Giles Goodland, for instance, reads waste into linguistic evolution, and Jeff Shantz reads dumpster diving as an expression of anarchist and freegan ideals. And other writers offer different perspectives, both in this print issue of VERB and our online supplement at verb.lib.lehigh.edu.