Simoin Yuill: Slime Mold and Political Constitution

Simoin Yuill: Slime Mold and Political Constitution

“Stand up and look around you. Every inch of land in all directions demonstrates as much intervention by humanity as every inch of city-space. Every inch of city-space demonstrates as much the presence of nature as the hills and fields you see around you. What differs are the forms, varieties and dynamics in each context. This does not mean that we should absolve or blindly accept all forms of materiality that we have created or intervened within but it does ask that not make assumptions about what is authentic and what is not. There are many contexts and conditions of ‘nature’ each with specific histories and politics, and each at a particular moment in a longer evolution. When we oppose the urban and the rural, and project opposing moral values onto them, we fail to understand the histories and conditions of what we call nature and our relation to this. Nor should we assume that we are dominant in all these. Humanity may have become ubiquitous but this is not our era. For some lifeforms humanity is intrusive and destructive whilst for others perhaps the only care they know. For many lifeforms, however, humanity is simply a pervasive background condition like viruses, bacteria or worms.

Looking back the way you came you will see an empty farm house over to the left. Evidence, in some small way, of the decline in populations previously required for and sustained by agricultural work. Other empty farm houses dot the land to the west of the Clova Estate. Over to the right, to the northwest of Rhynie, in the distance, you will see a large conical peak, the Tap o’North. The remains of an Iron-Age fort sits upon its summit. Below you will see that Lumsden lies within a gentle valley. This was once an area of boggy moorland between the watersheds of the Bogie and Don rivers. The town of Lumsden dates from around 1825 but as the Iron Age fort to the north and the souterrains to the south demonstrate, the area has been inhabited far longer. 

Lumsden forms part of a larger geological area known as the Dalradian Assemblage, a complex mix of land and rock types created through the folding and metamorphoses of structures and sediments laid down in the Pre-Cambrian to Lower Cambrian period. The Cambrian period dates from around 541 million years ago during which the single supercontinent of Pannotia began to break up into smaller land masses. This was a process accompanied by, and possibly catalyzing, the rapid evolution of oceanic lifeforms from simple cellular structures to those which form the basis of most animal types today. The northern boundary of the Assemblage lies along the Great Glen Fault, running through Appin and Inverness in the north, and southern boundary along the Highland Boundary Fault, running through Aberfoyle, Dunkeld and Edzell. To the east of Lumsden, around Inverurie, is a highly arable area, known as the Garioch, that has been farmed since Neolithic times.

The soils of the Garioch are fed with calcium, phosphorous and iron minerals from the gabbroid rocks (formed from molten magma) which are less acidic than the granite that dominates the land around Bennachie and between Alford and the Highland Boundary Fault. The acidic, boggy nature of this granite bedded area meant that for a long time it lay less developed. With the expansion of quarrying and rail systems in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the rich limestone deposits of Banffshire in the north were transported down and mixed into the ground to neutralize the soil. A network of drainage systems reclaimed land around the marches. Areas of bog and moorland became agriculture. This soil is an industrial soil, its condition dependent as much upon human labour and various industrially produced supplements as upon existing environmental factors. We might also say, extending Richard Lowentin’s analysis of the economics of agriculture, that it is a proletarian soil, positioned as much within circuits of capital as within the cycles of precipitation that regularly drench the land. The low-lying crofts and farms of Lumsden, Chapeltown and Clova are all typical of such arrangements. A crisis in the markets or a rise in the water table may one day claim them back. The unpredictability of markets does not make them analogous to weather systems or other ‘natural’ phenomena, but neither are they entirely distinct from one another. The weather is increasingly subject to market forces. Through insurance, housing and speculative finance, the flow of water becomes confluent with the liquidity of capital.”

Extract from Slime Mold and Political Constitution, an essay based on my walks in Lumsden. The essay is the second in a set of three texts, each written as a self-contained work in a different style and published sequentially in the form of a fascicle (a publishers off-print used as a way of serialising novels in the 17th century). The other titles in the series are The Uncommonality of the Commons, a transcript of a talk on conflicting political claims made upon the idea of the commons addressed through a discussion of existing and historical forms of commoning in Scotland, and The Biconditionality of Craft and Kraft, exploring how the divergent evolution of a single word in English and German reconnects to the emergence of contemporary understandings of creativity, labour and nature.

- Simon Yuill