The temporality of post-disaster landscapes

Authored by: Hayley Saul

The Routledge Companion to Landscape Studies

Print publication date:  August  2018
Online publication date:  September  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138720312
eBook ISBN: 9781315195063
Adobe ISBN:


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The pivotal scene of the 1980s BAFTA award-winning film Threads has been described as ‘something on screen [that] could make me break out in a cold, shivering sweat and keep me in that condition for 20 minutes, followed by weeks of depression and anxiety’ (Bradshaw 2014). It is director Mick Jackson’s visceral apocalyptic masterpiece, depicting the obliteration of the city of Sheffield during fictional nuclear cross-fire. The destruction scene is a splicing of film fragments, a chaos of narratives woven together to elicit a sense of the disorientation of disaster: electricity pylons explode, military jets deploy, a family tries to guide a wailing grandmother into the cellar before it’s too late. And then, a bright light, a silent pause followed by the explosive singularity. All other sound is muted as we watch people melt as easily as milk bottles, and blocks of flats eviscerate, to be sucked from their foundations by the vacuum of air in the bomb’s wake. Nuclear winter, a dark and cold landscape, descends. During each fragment that follows of the unravelling disaster we, as witnesses, are never static enough to hear conversations but are caught instead in a maelstrom of extinction moments. This filmic effect recalls Shaw’s (2006: 3) evocation of the sublime: ‘The moment when the ability to apprehend, to know, and to express a thought or sensation is defeated’. This, arguably, is the quintessence of disaster experiences.

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