• It is one thing to profess a theory of precognitive affect but quite another to put one into practice. An object that triggers the same emotion in all humans sounds like science fiction. But our testing of hydrogen bombs in the desert has given us the need for such an object. What will keep humans from digging up the radioactive waste long after our present languages and memories are dead?” (861).
  • Provides a useful history of the Team A and Team B design processes of the WIPP. Team A took an unusual tack following the work of Sylvan Tomkins on precognitive affect: i.e., that the WIPP had to target non- or prelinguistic systems to achieve its goal. Team B, by contrast, went with “speech act theory”: “If the marker had doom-laden prosaic pictograms, they thought, these would be recognized as official decrees, and future humans would interpret their urgency correctly” (864).
  • Thinking with objects and experimentation: “Team A did not have any way to know for sure that it was targeting the affect system with any precision. At best, its members could only feel themselves repelled by what they drew, and it is hardly clear that they were. But their working logic for an affective marker can be deduced and stated: the more repellent and impoverished the stimulus was, the more the DOE would believe the marker was triggering something psychologically primordial. And they repeatedly stressed that their designs would have to be tested” (871).
  • “Following this theory of affect, Team A wanted to build a surround that would trigger negative affects that the attentive processes could not bring under control. This place, the team realized, could not be a mere sculpture garden or a site for pyramids. Like the largest land art of the late 1960s and 1970s, it would have to erode the distinctions between figure and ground and object and space” (872). Linking to land art helps me perhaps bring in other kinds of figurative practices, from Nagatani’s photographs to the Nuclear Landscapes book to even other kinds of land art dealing with nature, marking, and decay, e.g. Goldsworthy.
  • “If this is the real design problem, however, then Team A’s performance needs a critique. Why did the team not recognize what we now so easily can—that their warnings were especially alluring because they were suggestive of an incredible power beneath them? Why do their attempts to model permanent negative value only spur interest and excitement?” (882)
    • “Team A had no scholars of art, religion, or literature and believed that Brill, their landscape architect, alone had the empathic genius to design the emotional equivalent of the underworld, a purposive place with negative value. When I asked Ast, the team’s materials scientist, why the panel did not have any humanists on it, he replied that any report authored by humanists, even one addressing an aesthetic problem, would have ‘no credibility’ among the physicists and engineers who run the DOE. ‘Sorry to say this,’’ he added.” (882)
  • “Guilt and pride are in one respect structurally unlike anger, fear, and joy. The former are always for something, and if we are to indulge them, other people need to know what they are for. The Marker Panel could not have both fulfilled their conscious intentions for a deterrent and indulged guilt and pride. They would have needed the ability to turn off the feelings of guilt and pride evidenced by Abidi’s drawings and the call for a visitor’s center and somehow turn on the anxiety, terror, and other ugly feelings they did not have. Their failure to do so fits Tomkins’s experimental results perfectly, results that he believed revealed the restrictions humans face when trying to control their affect system. Tomkins found, predictably, that painful affects were the most difficult to turn off, while those longed for were the most difficult to turn on. He also found that one could feel guilty about a passion that cannot be felt. Team A’s models unexpectedly fit this profile. The passions the team longed for were all negative, and the painful one, the one that elicited guilt, was pride. The team did not come up with an affective deterrent. They came up with the only kind of object that could indulge guilt and pride at the same time. Such an object is what the Greeks called an apologia, a vindication. It makes sense only if people know what it is vindicating. It only works if they find the waste” (892).