Boom. February 13-20, 2012

by Francesco De Salvatore

              Much of this week has been devoted to research. On Wednesday Mike, Jessica, and I met with Kevin to finalize our research topics. Mike is interested in evolutionary theory and script analysis, while Jessica will be looking into natural disasters throughout history and conducting some research on general biology. I will be researching survivalism. After some thought I decided that in order to have an understanding of the play I needed to plunge into the biology of the play.

                 Watching some interviews with the playwright, Peter Nachtrieb, has shown me that the play is directly influenced by evolutionary theory. A second read through and a bit of supplemental research has directed my attention to the correlation between art and science. I think Nachtrieb is hitting upon a question that is expressed in Jules’ monologue:

               “Is there a purpose to our form and substance? Or are we simply the random

                result of billions of years of chemical reactions and accidents influenced by

                pressures from the environment?”

                   Or in simpler terms: what the hell are we doing here? This is a question that has been and still is on everyone’s mind. People feel that they have a purpose or else why would anyone do anything? Even getting up from bed would seem pointless. Art and science have allowed people to become critical of their environment and themselves. They inspire society to question everything and allow people to transcend their current states. They give us purpose. That is the real power of art and science.

                       My research in evolutionary theory has shown me that there are many possible answers to why we have evolved the way we have. In the play, Jules explains to Jo that we are “sprigs, the beginning of a new branch on the great bush.” As poetic as these lines may seem there is science behind them. According to Stephen J. Gould (much of my research has been centered on his work), evolution usually proceeds by speciation–the splitting of one lineage from a parental stock. Until recently, many evolutionary scientists had concluded that evolution was a slow transformation of large parental stocks. Gould’s discovery revolutionized evolutionary biology by bringing about the idea that evolution is not some clear-cut, ladder-like process. Rather it is spontaneous and much more complex than we think.

             There’s a quote from Richard Dawkins that has been in the back of my mind ever since I read it a couple days ago:

                       The Universe could so easily have remained lifeless and simple

                       -just physics and chemistry, just the scattered dust of the cosmic

                       explosion that gave birth to time and space. The fact that it did not-the

                        fact that life evolved out of nearly nothing, some ten billion years after

                        the universe evolved out of literally nothing-is a fact so staggering

                        that I would be mad to attempt words to do it justice.

                         – The Ancestor’s Tale

           In boom, an asteroid comes crashing into the world, ending all types of life—and this is just in the first ten pages. No one else knew about the catastrophe that was about to consume the earth and Jules planned on mending society with the aid of Jo. Rather than agreeing, Jo refused to become a part of Jules’ science experiment. What’s fascinating about this is play is precisely what Dawkins was discussing when he said that the “earth evolved literally out of nothing.” The evolution of life does consist of some master game plan, or a checklist of sorts (according to science), rather the evolution of life is just as spontaneous as the creation of earth. According to Dawkins, the Universe could have easily remained lifeless, but something extraordinary happened-certain elements came together, without reason and something was born.

                 At the end of the play, just before Jules and Jo are engulfed by water, they kiss. What’s odd about this moment is that it is not a part of the script that Barbara is supposed to present to audiences. It’s a moment of impulse and what results is something transformative. Until this point, both of these characters have resisted each other. Just as like poles of magnets repel each other, Jules and Jo seemed to be destined to never create a loving relationship. As Jo yells out, “I want to live for the last few moments of our—”, Jules reaches out and kisses her. With doom on the horizon, these characters, these forces, come together just as matter collides without any reason. But what results is life—Jo and Jules for the first time in the play actually life.

                  What I have taken away from my second read through is the mystery and beauty of life. While scientists still cannot provide a clear answer as to why life has evolved in the way that it has, boom has shown me that humans can yearn and inspire for more life. The kiss at the end of the play exemplifies this fact. I will use this theme to carry me through my research on survivalism. From the research that I have done so far on survivalism, it is clear that these people have a fascination of not only living outside the norm, but are exalted by the notion of reforming the totality of social life-not through the transformation of institutions but through discovery and reinterpretation of the cultural assumptions and intrinsic practices that undergird the institutional order. Survivalists yearn and admire life in ways that the rest of society can only imagine.

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