2.0. Contamination

Spring 2021

Themes in this issue


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This issue has been printed using a monochrome risograph technique, the ink used for this issue is dark brown with the exception of Arvo Leo's visual chapter which was printed in blue. Have a look inside here.
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Alice Rougeaux

Editor in Chief 2019-2020

A year ago, we singled out contamination as the common thread coursing through the events, conversations, and studies unfolding within our networks. Contamination, it occurred to us, was already present in the metaphors we found others using, and central to some of the core concerns animating interdisciplinary research and theory in the critical humanities.

Surrogating Monsters

Susana Fabre

The city of Doha has undergone tremendous change over the past few decades. It is often described as an “artificial” city, forcefully installed upon the desert sands by the billions of pounds the oil and gas economy pour into the State of Qatar. In this place, oil—the ultimate monster of the Anthropocene—is a part of the natural environment. Dirt, understood as “matter out of place” (Douglas), needs to be redefined against a background where nothing seems to belong, especially this monstrous, underground creature. What makes oil a contaminant? What has turned prehistoric organic matter pollution anti-nature? Except, we would be wrong to think of this monster as an out-of-nature entity. This non-human creature has turned monstrous through a certain mode of rapacious energy appropriation—a specific kind of neglect which has resulted in its unrestrained expansion. Extending our notions of kinship, and surrogating this monster, might be the only way to realise it is just as much a part of nature as we are.

Becoming Unbound: A Case of Hysteria in Helen Chadwick’s Carcass and Ruin

Hannah Fagin

This paper uses fermentation as a starting point for considering Helen Chadwick’s artworks in dialogue with hysteria. Chadwick’s sculpture Carcass features fermenting organic material and the photograph Ruin figures her nude body in front of a video of Carcass. Both works place pressure on established boundaries; Carcass’ fermentation builds literal pressure on the walls of an enclosed structure, while Ruin tests cultural boundaries about appropriate representations of the body. Through the processes of fermentation, rot, and secretion, these works create modes of figuring desires as unbounded and as an act of de-repression from societal inhibitions that seek to control and contain the body.

Perpetuating the Ephemeral and “Packaged Goods”

Stepan Lipatov, Sissel V. Møller

(visual chapter)

We, Sissel and Stepan, are responsible for the design of Soapbox: Journal for Cultural Analysis, and for the third time, we have composed what we like to refer to as ‘the visual chapter.’ The intention being that we would not only produce a layout and visual design for the journal, but also contribute to it with a visual essay of our own. From the perspective of graphic design, an image is no more visual than text, or, more precisely, typography. It might even be possible to argue that typography is sometimes more visual than image. This time, the visual elements presented are based entirely on text, and the visual chapter includes no images.

A Longing for Contamination: Historiography in Hiroshima mon Amour

Felix Rössler

This essay sketches a historiographical approach to the 1945 nuclear attack on Hiroshima in a close reading of Alain Resnais and Marguerite Duras’ film Hiroshima mon Amour (1959). The paper argues that Hiroshima mediates the entangled space-time of the contaminated area of Hiroshima through the erotic encounter between the two protagonists of the film. Informed by a hauntological framework and recent discourse on posthumanism, the essay proceeds towards a theory of contaminated historiography by comparing Karen Barad’s concept of diffraction and Elizabeth Freeman’s erotohistoriographical method. This contaminated historiography emerges through the sensual and tactile collaborations between human entities and forms of nuclear energy, which manifest in the film’s erotic language and imagery.

Connecting Biological Processes, Lived Experience and The Production of Knowledge: A Biosemiotic Analysis of Allergy

Ayoub Tannaoui

This paper analyses the biological and phenomenological spheres of allergy through a biosemiotic lens. Charles Sanders Peirce’s triadic model of the sign is applied to both the immune system’s biological processes during an allergy attack and the lived experience of those who suffer from those allergy attacks. This paper explores different components of the signs produced by the immune system and by the individual, as well as the role that different types of signs play. Finally, the shared qualities of these two realms of allergy, namely their penchant for diversity and mutability, is discussed in relation to their potential contribution to perspectives on the human. The synthesis of these two separated domains of life and discipline through an analysis of semiosis aims to contribute to a holistic view of the human as both a biological assemblage and as a knowing, learning subject.

The Orchids/Had the Look of Flowers That Are Looked At

Arvo Leo

(visual chapter)

A selection of self-portraits made by various orchid plants using the cyanotype process.

Between Transformation and Contamination: Material Imitation in Laminate Tabletops

Jeppe Gregersen

This paper presents the practice of material imitation, the manipulation of a material in such a way as to make it appear like another material, as a common feature of cultural production. It asks how material imitation can improve the symbolic value of products and what happens when the imitation is recognised for what it is. These questions are discussed through an analysis of laminate tabletops and their marketing on the websites of Danish hardware stores and kitchen manufacturers. This paper argues that since imitations destabilise our systems of classification, they carry the risk of collapsing into a state of symbolic contamination whenever their incongruity is recognised. Material imitation thus always lingers somewhere between transformation and contamination.

Hybridisation, Impurity, Contamination: The Emergence of the Artist’s Novel

David Maroto

Why do artists write novels? What does the artist’s novel do to the visual arts? How should it be experienced? Since the mid-1990s there has been a proliferation of visual artists who create novels as part of their art projects. They do so not with the ambition to write a literary work, but in order to address artistic issues by means of novelistic traits, favouring a sort of art predicated on process and subjectivity. In this sense, it is possible to speak of a new medium in the visual arts, yet very little is known about it.

An Interview with Toxic Commons: All in This Toxic Mess Together

Ayushi Dhawan, Caroline Ektander, Simone Müller, Andrea Finesso, Lijuan Klassen

In the age of the Anthropocene, the contamination of our commons (such as water, air, and soil) and the inequality of exposure to toxic elements have become increasingly common. As an interdisciplinary platform that researches, writes, and organises public programmes, Toxic Commons explores tools for grappling with and scrutinizing the development of toxic reality. We spoke to three of their seven members: Ayushi Dhawan (PhD candidate, member of the Hazardous Travels Research Group, Rachel Carson Center), Caroline Ektander (architect, writer and independent researcher), and Dr. Simone Müller (project director & principal investigator of the Hazardous Travels Research Group, Rachel Carson Center) about their collective. What are the pressing issues bound to dealing with toxicity today and what would toxic politics look like in the future?


Issue launch

With Susana Fabre, David Maroto, Ayoub Tannaoui, Jeppe Dall Gregersen and Lijuan Klassen (moderator)

Other Printed Matter

Call for Papers: 5.0: SWAMPED! Muddied Environments and the Ecology of Being Bogged Down

January 17, 2023

Call for Papers: 5.0: SWAMPED! Muddied Environments and the Ecology of Being Bogged Down

For the upcoming issue of Soapbox, a graduate peer-reviewed journal for cultural analysis, we invite young researchers and established scholars alike to submit academic essays or creative works that critically engage with the theme of swamped. We are inviting extended proposals (500-1000 words) that follow consistent and complete formatting and referencing style to be submitted to submissions@soapboxjournal.net by February 21st, 2023.

While it may first be thought of as a space of stagnation, the swamp is also a transition zone. A space in which water and land merge, swamps have long represented an area in which the earth resists being controlled, and have functioned as areas of resistance in many Indigenous epistemes and folklores. Swamps, then, are areas that resist human control, and epitomise agency of the natural world, doing so too on a conceptual level (Wilson 1). At the same time, it has been co-opted semantically, as the term “swamped” has become associated with systems, both of society and signification, that are overwhelmed - whether in terms of a job market being swamped, or in the politically loaded draining of “the swamp” as a network of corruption. Where the former strand of signification uses the swamp to highlight agency, the latter points out a lack of it. As a result, swamps have become spaces of contestation and transition both as physical environments, and as linguistic ones. How do these strands of meaning diverge, and where do they come together?

Swamps as they exist in cultural imagination(s).

Swamps speak to the imagination. They feature prominently in folklore and provide fertile soil for myriad mythical creatures: from the nine-headed hydra in ancient Greek mythology, to the South-African grootslang, to the numerous global configurations of the will-o’-wisp. These narratives largely hinge on the swamp’s liminal positioning that makes it hard to traverse, inhabit, or otherwise tame. To this day, when swamps are featured in pop-culture, they are often mythologized to house the monstrous or, at the very least, the off-beat (e.g. Shrek, or the Man-Thing in Marvel comics, or the entire cast of characters in Karen Russell’s Swamplandia!). 

In addition to housing imagined creatures, the swamp is also a famously rich archeological site where we can find many well-preserved traces of past human life. Most notable are the so-called bog bodies, eerily intact corpses that date back as far as the holocene. These findings add to the swamp’s mythical appeal, but are also hypothesised to, in some cases, originate from it. A particularly large amount of bog bodies dating back to the iron age were found in Northern Europe, and the bulk of these corpses bear traces of ritualistic human sacrifice. This has led historians to believe that, at the time, the swamp was seen as a transition space, not just between land and water, but also as a gateway between different worlds (Randsborg). 

So, the swamp is charged with a rich cultural history and subject to wide-ranging meaning-making practices. We invite you to delve further into this and open it up. What stories do we tell about swamps? Which narratives are remembered? And, what does that ultimately say about us? 

The swamp as it appears in political rhetoric.

Since its first use in 1881 by Helen Hunt Jackson in her polemical text, A Century of Dishonor, the concept of the swamp as an area to be overcome has resurfaced repeatedly as a powerful metaphor in the arena of political discussion and rhetoric (most often in the context of US federal politics). Arguing against the so-called ‘Indian Appropriations Act’ of 1871, which rendered Indigenous peoples as wards of the state and, therefore, eligible for forcible relocation, Jackson argued that such panacean responses were immoral and did not address the needs and concerns, of Native peoples, nor did it strive towards the reparations that Indigenous nations deserved. Rather than debate the specifics of individual policy decisions, Jackson argued that ceasing to cheat, rob, break promises, and extending ‘the protection of the law to the Indian's rights of property’ (342) would be the most appropriate first course of action. To illustrate this, Jackson presented the following scenario:

When pioneers in a new country find a tract of poisonous and swampy wilderness to be reclaimed, they do not withhold their hands from fire and axe till they see clearly which way roads should run, where good water will spring, and what crops will best grow on the redeemed land. They first clear the swamp. So with this poisonous and baffling part of the domain of our national affairs — let us first "clear the swamp”. (341).

This metaphorical call to clear, or to drain, the swamp was then exercised by socialist and left-leaning politicians and political commentators such as Winfield R. Gaylord and Victor L. Berger who petitioned for draining the swamp of capitalism (Gaylord 8, Berger 107). In 1966, civil rights activists A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin employed the phrase in A Freedom Budget for All Americans, a policy proposal that, among other things, sought to eradicate poverty (14-15). Ronald Reagan’s use of the phrase in 1982 when authorising the Grace Commision (which investigated inefficiency within the Federal Government), dragged the phrase across the political aisle. Where it had once illustrated a progressive politics, it henceforth became tethered to conceptions of government waste, cronyism and distrust in Capitol Hill, a claim bolstered by the fact of Washington, D.C.,’s construction on supposed marshlands between the Potomac and the Anacostia rivers. From Reagan’s usage  onwards, calls to drain the swamp were almost exclusively directed towards Washington, D.C., as a locus of political venality. The phrase’s most recent, and perhaps most memorable, usage was by former President Donald Trump, who repeatedly uttered the phrase at rallies, during interviews, and in countless tweets. 

The invocation and the power of this phrase can be seen across various areas of cultural and political discourse and analysis; its intent and meaning wavering from progressive to reactionary throughout its history. So begs the question, what does it mean to drain a swamp? Metaphorically speaking, what is the impact of identifying spaces as swamps to be drained? Who does the draining, or the promise of draining, serve? In reality, what are the implications of identifying and draining a swamp? Who does the draining itself? Think of the thousands of people displaced by Benito Mussolini’s draining of the Pontine Marshes, and the many more thousands of workers who were subject to backbreaking manual labour and exposure to malaria and disease (Snowden 155-6). What bubbles to the surface when we delve into the history, use, and the real-world implications of this charged phrase?

The affective experience of being swamped.

But to be swamped is also to feel swamped; to be overwhelmed with work, a sensory overload, stress and clutter. Infrastructures can be swamped; systems too; and spaces can swamp you with stimuli. How does one endure a state of swampedness, feel one’s way through it, resist it or find rest in it? Can objects or texts be swamped? To disconnect, go offline, turn to self-help books, and take time off work – all these are responses to feeling swamped. But then: who can afford to respond like this, and who is unable to withdraw? Or can information overload – to stay with the swamp – be creatively productive or critical? This is the muddy matrix that feeling swamped opens in theory; a space of excessive encounter between ecologies and affects, where swamps become metaphors, and metaphors swamp. 

Thought on the feeling of being swamped and its social-political relationalities are everywhere: from Jonathan Crary’s 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep to Byung-Chul Han’s The Burnout Society to Lauren Berlant’s Cruel Optimism. So too the desire to escape overwhelm has recently been re-conceptualized in edited volumes like Politics of Withdrawal. But “swamp” as a metaphor has not yet passed the floodgates. We invite you to think with this swamp, feel through its conceptual implication. 

We encourage submissions relating to the themes above, as well as, but not limited to, the following: 

  • Critical engagements with/investigations into environments that could be described as marshlands, wetlands, fens, bogs, moors, etc. 
  • Practices of re-wilding and re-swamping.
  • Cultural ethnographies of muddied environments.
  • Environmental humanities and ecocritical approaches to swamps.
  • Investigations into swamps as liminal, transitional, or mutable sites.
  • Swamps as sites of decay (e.g. die-off and algal bloom) and repair (e.g. as fertile sites of regeneration).
  • Socio-cultural explorations of what it means to feel swamped, its implications, and who this affect can belong to.
  • Socio-economic approaches investigating issues such as: 
  • Who is relegated to the swamp?
  • Who has access to the swamp?
  • What are the social impacts of swamped environments on individuals and groups?
  • Investigations of the function of swamps in political rhetoric.
  • Pieces that investigate swamps as veiled, uncharted, or otherred locales or those that approach swamps as spaces to be traversed.

We invite extended proposals (500-1000 words) to be submitted to submissions@soapboxjournal.net by February 21st 2023. Following conditional acceptance, an initial draft version (3000 words) will be due two weeks after receiving the acceptance email. The editing process will take place throughout Spring/Summer 2023. If you have any questions regarding your submission, do not hesitate to contact us at info@soapboxjournal.net. Editing and peer review guidelines will be sent to authors individually upon acceptance of their submission. For full submission guidelines, see our website.

Guidelines for creative submissions are more flexible and can be finished works, but please keep in mind spatial limitations: there is usually room for one longer or two shorter pieces in the print version. A sense of the formatting possibilities can be garnered from previous issues (open-access pdf versions are available on our website).

We also accept submissions for our website all year round. We encourage a variety of styles and formats, including short-form essays (around 2000 words), reviews, experimental writing and multimedia. These can engage with the theme of the upcoming issue but are not limited to it. Please get in touch to pitch new ideas or existing projects that you would like to have published by reading our submission guidelines and filling in the form.

Works cited.

Berger, Victor L. Berger’s Broadsides, Social-Democratic Publishing Company, 1912.

Berlant, Lauren. Cruel Optimism. Duke University Press 2011.

Crary, Jonathan. 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep. Verso, 2014. 

Gaylord, Winfield R. “Gaylord Makes a Statement.” Daily Northwestern [Oshkosh: WI], 10 Oct. 1903, p. 8.

Han, Byung-Chul. The Burnout Society. Stanford University Press, 2015.

Hesselberth, Pepita., and Joost de Bloois, editors. Politics of Withdrawal: Media, Arts, Theory. Rowman and Littlefield, 2020.

Jackson, Helen Hunt. A Century of Dishonor: A Sketch of the United State’s Government’s Dealings with Some of the Indian Tribes. New York, Harper & Brothers, 1881.

Randolph, A. Philip, and Bayard Rustin. A Freedom Budget for All Americans: A Summary. A Philip Randolph Institute, 1967.

Randsborg, Klavs. Roman Reflections: Iron Age to Viking Age in Northern Europe. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015.

Snowden, Frank M. The Conquest of Malaria: Italy, 1900-1962. Yale University Press, 2006.

Wilson, Anthony. Swamp: Nature and Culture. Reaktion Books Ltd, 2018.

Call for Creative Work - 5.0: SWAMPED!

October 2, 2023

For the upcoming issue of Soapbox, a graduate peer-reviewed journal for cultural analysis, we invite young artists to submit creative works that critically engage with the theme of swamped. We are inviting proposals or finished works to be submitted to submissions@soapboxjournal.net by October 10th, 2023.

Swamps speak to the imagination. While it may first be thought of as a space of stagnation, the swamp is also a transition zone: an area in which water and land merge, a space where the earth resists being controlled. In addition to its geographical referent, the swamp also covers less tangible—though equally murky—semantic ground. It has become associated with systems, both of society and signification, that are overwhelmed—whether in terms of a job market being swamped, or in the politically loaded draining of “the swamp” as a network of corruption. Where the former strand of signification uses the swamp to highlight agency, the latter points out a lack of it. How do these strands of meaning diverge, and where do they come together?

Guidelines for creative submissions are flexible: poems, short-stories (up to 5000 words), visual art pieces, collages, drawings, comics, anything as long as it's printable! Feel free to take a look at our previous issues for inspiration.

Open Board Positions 2023

We are currently looking to expand our team. Soapbox is a student-run journal focused on promoting voices that creatively engage with concepts and cultural objects in the broadest sense, through publishing academic, artistic, and interdisciplinary works. Soapbox is a collaborative effort in gaining experience and experimenting with running a small publishing platform. All members take part in actively shaping what Soapbox is by weighing in on editorial decisions and take part in any aspects of publishing (both online and in print). 

In general, the time commitment expected is between four and six hrs/week, including a weekly two-hour meeting. The journal is run on a voluntary basis. For all roles, applicants should be based in the Amsterdam area and available for weekly meetings for at least the remaining academic year (until June 2024).

If you're interested, please email info@soapboxjournal.net with the particular role(s) you are interested in and a few words of motivation.

Deadline: Sunday, October 15th


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