[NetBehaviour] JOHNSTOWN FLOOD MATERIALS for an upcoming talk

Alan Sondheim sondheim at panix.com
Mon Mar 4 00:12:59 CET 2019


(for an upcoming talk; these were the basis of several
presentations, re-edited now)

Review of my Johnstown Presentation

October 4 at 12:38pm

Johnstown Flood (1889), the Avondale Mine fire ... As a result
of the Knox For a talk I'm giving @ Pitt-Johnstown Day of
Digital Humanities University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown in
Johnstown, Pennsylvania Enderthebridge Johnstown Thanks to: The
Inclined Plane! Johnstown, Pa. Johnstown and a new otherwise
piece called For Johnstown and thanks to Jeremy C. Justus

flutework at floodwall


freight train, stone bridge, flute, floodwall piece
shot at the base of the floodwall piece

more information and floodwall forthcoming

"The Stone Bridge, located on the edge of Johnstowns downtown,
is an arched bridge built by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1887.
On May 31, 1889, its seven arches blocked tons of debris,
including miles of barbed wire twisted through it from the
destruction of a plant; all were carried by the waters of the
Johnstown Flood, but the bridge withstood its force. An enormous
fire broke out in the debris at the bridge, killing scores of
people trapped within it, and burning for three days."

the floodwall project is located at the bridge


(floodwall still)
(floodwall video)
(floodwall video x10 speed)

Description of the piece; Background;
Commentary - The light display; Culled debris text --

Description of the piece:

The light display uses 'modern' Morse to code three tiers of
distress calls: SOS, QRRR, and MAYDAY. These flash slowly, at a
close to unreadable pace, playing off of timing and memory among
the tiers. Morse is already close to obsolete, and I don't think
anyone is using QRRR (part of the Q-code repertoire) today.

After the calls, there is a slow light 'wash' over the bridge,
as if flames were rising (this was suggested by Shelley
Johansson); this represents the between 30 and 60 acres of
debris that slammed and burned against the structure on that
fateful day in May. (Estimates vary as to the number burned
alive, but a rough figure of 80 is likely. See David McCullough,
The Johnstown Flood, Simon and Schuster, 1968.)

Then the cycle repeats. There are black intervals between
segments and code events. There are trains running across the
bridge. The display is on one side only, the side that retained
the debris (the other side is in darkness).


"The Johnstown Flood (locally, the Great Flood of 1889) occurred
on May 31, 1889, after the catastrophic failure of the South
Fork Dam on the Little Conemaugh River 14 miles (23 km) upstream
of the town of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. The dam broke after
several days of extremely heavy rainfall, unleashing 20 million
tons of water (18 million cubic meters) from the reservoir known
as Lake Conemaugh. With a volumetric flow rate that temporarily
equaled that of the Mississippi River,[2] the flood killed
2,209 people[3] and caused US$17 million of damage (about $450
million in 2015 dollars)." (Wikipedia)

I was given the opportunity to create a light-show program for
the Stone Bridge: "The Stone Bridge spans the Conemaugh River in
Johnstown, Pennsylvania. The bridge is a seven-arch stone
railroad bridge located on the Norfolk Southern Railway
mainline, built by the Pennsylvania Railroad in 1887-88. Its
upstream face was reinforced with concrete in 1929.[1] This
bridge survived the Johnstown Flood of 1889, but the bridge
blocked debris, which subsequently caught fire and created an
inferno covering 30 acres (120,000 m2). The bridge is visible
from Point Park in downtown Johnstown." (ibid.)

And: "A bridge restoration project was developed by community
leaders, to include cleaning and physical and aesthetic
improvements, resurfacing of the south side, and new lighting
with energy-efficient LED lighting adjustable to different
colors and intensities. Estimated to cost $1.2 million, the
project was initiated in 2008 as part of flood commemorative
activities." (ibid.)

Michael Brosig, co-chair of the Stone Bridge Committee, said,

"The significance of the Stone Bridge is that it stood its
ground against the flood waters and altered the future of
Johnstown completely and forever. It created the backdrop for
the event that put Johnstown on the map. Restoring the South
facade of that structure and casting LED lighting on it will
certainly showcase the triumph of the human spirit in a
spectacular style for all to see, enjoy and be proud of their
heritage. Based on its strategic location, it is the lynchpin of
the historic district of our city." (ibid.)

Commentary - The light display:

The light display parallels miscommunication, warnings too late,
muck, murk, the bridge as signifier and vector, the intensity of
the mess at the base of the structure (which increasingly rose
into the air), the indescribable chaos, the negligence, the
violence of the water, the fury of the storm and conflagration,
animals and people caught unawares, the subsequent pawning off
of responsibility by the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club,
the mudflats, the dynamiting of the debris pile, the spread of
typhoid, the screams of those burning alive in the pile, Clara
Barton and the Red Cross, the accounting of The Reverend David
J. Beale, the tree through the house, the leveling of Woodvale,
the yellow press, the eyewitness accounts, the emendations, the
mythos, the symbols, the descent into print, the ascent into
action, the muscle, the care; the light display parallels all
and none of this, the entanglements of an event occurring over a
century and a quarter ago -

Coded by Shelley Johansson, with documentation by Jeremy Justus,
Marissa Landrigan Justus, Azure Carter, and myself

Thanks to Shelley Johannson, Jeremy Justus, Marissa Landrigan
Justus, and Azure Carter

Culled debris text:

_flooding_what_does_it_mean,_this_grey_ body...:wonder
flood-flog flooded. again. personal_ws english gertrud in the
sandgranularity of phallocentrism you say, "& soon those
memories flooding, that inert event, signs, costs, water
overruns, cracks cracks. floods, tree, 'out side,' broken, who
wouldn't. fires with which other remains or a lapse into
(floods, hurricanes, tornados, droughts, etc.) night all lips
engorged leg-hinges flooded dark waves people died susquehanna's
held back by dikes floods anyway coffins they floated down
river/ our house as fog, ... fog calls forth avatar, hungered,
making things. /*...acters*/ /*may*/ /*be displayed*/
/*incorrec*/ /*you*/ /*flood*/ /*apocalypse.*/ /*me...'t*/
/*bother*/ /*a.*/ my window /s can't stop flood, flow sorry for
looking blood toor ted a instead metaphor, literal prior, came,
still has it's gone through two one together; from hurricane
agnes devasted parents' home 1972, collections, now swallowed
basement large susquehanna rose 42.66 feet, stage, upper
supplemental held. $thing cal @sways @de "waste" @s transforms
have fly _nikuko internally coherent. an emission is sourceless,
net flood; spew towns where inhalation-exhalation perfection
begins and ends, out. thinking skin. holding absorbed debris,
war-battered enclave. gaza floods: un declares state chicken
hawk put up tail" tail four strips, then there write about him
such good style! style ground am am! does! wet straight very
happy angry jove hurls h groan'd benea fire, when s he ah,
zarathustra, words, what "they"? "are"? tears) (and world
tears). goal: to disappear inside truth said it before, flooded,
drowning, i was attacked photographing evidence, devastated
exiting, i've written about; external literally flood. kristeva,
draw peta, save manatee, environmental organizations. valley;
despair irony, nikuko-oozing, noh medieval theater; pretend
alan_s this secret. not even valleys great storms would make
once; storm becomes slow emission, widening interior, teeth. are
injured reality things!!!" prospect park paths driveways
overflowing split flood-flooding wiped v roots school, debris,
disease. bcc called _book_ it. seagulls come clutter
a-historicity etc.), neutrality. spillways occupy fields,
discursive marrow tomorrow! standby:the grit gorges, control,
formal fire, debris, oozed around marks, _things_ at, food its
awake we'll mirror, thin, nails back. long, parallel, slew names
everywhere mudra-shifting, shaped, visible. space pulses, plain.
we inhabit it, haunt dwell there. words eaten giving gagged
iridescent wings. wet-world runtime beetles flesh. rides, rides
wet, high. nimbus shallow voices, probes. t participation,
bodies _flood_ calling glacial sea-change terminal, loading
transparency, providence flooded; lost terminal. horizon; sheet
closes world; abject symbols. piepel? thrusting offer-proffer
you, circum-stantiation, circumlocution abyss: defuge/flooding,
gathering accumulations, momentarily within them stuttering
<everything acid>flooding impossibility where</everything
acid>in across semantic plateaus participants' time well, "all
adjacent mines uncanny afterimage affect flows floods. strip
after days heavy rains air, radio pulsing bodies, her voice
termites, air-conditioner, ripped-up flooring, ceiling... first.
said. alive. look chatrooms, shooting. threw question encoding,
decoding; contradicted presence language another almost got
caught flash death valley. myself already verge. pool; tragedy
flaw usually fuge upgrade among numbers numbers, fissures,
abjection identities liquid midnight, sound wood stork scabs
bites; cuts; nail parings subjectivity, consciousness
communication. travis loop chunnel dangers flooding. observed
act more liquids; skeins flood-plains > < woe desiccation
starvation;  rivers stories over century. world's record-setting
droughts enormous tornado information floodwall forthcoming
mississippi generally leads me @abort before get room,
ordinarily separates interior flotsam jetsam, debris sea selves:
who's speaking, manic tongue many times water shooting-space ::
violent milking millions killed. living bad areas against meadow
moraine! civilization thine arms legs, else {sleep(1); print
"\nfirst flooding\n";:if ($sign=fork) {print ourselves another**
negation shadowing eyes, ** news, antenna just "in case" names,
stuff; sound; apparent flood-reader simultneous texts, results
the lid of the grey sky, appearing sky, viscous fluid, coating,
flow, flux, flight, empty gone, gone

wandering among the dead
[ placeholder, Jeremy Justus photograph ]
[ unknown stones of the grand view ]
[ http://www.alansondheim.org/among.jpg ]

from there i was born
[ placeholder, bridge and city view from incline ]
[ http://www.alansondheim.org/bctrip3109.jpg ]

i won't die this way
[ placeholder, gravestone ]
[ http://www.alansondheim.org/bctrip3079.jpg ]

no teeth for me
[ placeholder gravestone ]
[ http://www.alansondheim.org/bctrip3041.jpg ]

i'm already there
[ placeholder, bridge and city view from incline ]
[ http://www.alansondheim.org/bctrip3096.jpg ]

"out of so much promise, and so quickly, this man has not
laid by even a grave stone wherewith to quieten his soul.

"just look out, you, who take your life and limb for granted."

[ placeholder ]
[ http://www.alansondheim.org/bctrip2930.jpg ]


Talk at Brown, state of the world (reworked for UPJ)

The steering:

1. Broken, petrified, grand narratives: modernism is always with
us as the phenomenology of coherence.

2. Broken texts, the world of the future anterior:

Broken World: Steerage and Steering Mechanisms

We are steerage. We do not arrive.

*/Properly, the space in the after part of a vessel, under the
cabin, but used generally to indicate any part of a vessel
having the poorest accommodations and occupied by passengers
paying the lowest rate of fare. [1913 Webster]/*

The ship is steered. The ship wanders. The world's broken. Don't
misunderstand: nothing will save us; there is no land or: the
land is damaged, or: the land is exhausted: blank, the land is
blank: anguish. Anguish on our part. We're the ship. Our world.

Or: We're all marooned. It is no longer a question of hope, of
the human project, of plans or structures, of capital or
capitalism, of late capitalism, of neo-liberalism, of inerrancy
or the absolute. It is no longer a question of ideologies, of
common language, of the commons: it's over.

It's steered, and it's steered over, the steering's over.

The mechanisms at work are simple and fundamental. They are
abject; they grind the rest, whatever was tottering through
modernism - they grind the rest down. The world's a world of
dust and radiations. The world does not crack. Our project's

Some of them:

The first intractable mechanism: Overpopulation. The planet is
close to its carrying capacity, and there's no end to population
increase. The demographics are skewed towards young reproducers;
exponential growth lumbers on. The result is more mouths to
feed, more strains on the environment, more slash and burn, more
hillside slums, more bush-meat, more overcrowding, less jobs,
more local war.

The second intractable mechanism: Environmental degradation
which has reached the point of no return. Consider the
plasticization of the oceans, the post-tipping point of animal
and plant extinctions, the increasing desertification
world-wide, the loss of biological diversity. The anthropocene
is not the usual planetary rise and fall; it's the greatest, the
fastest, the most violent, extinction. The world is already
destroyed; Gaia or its equivalent, is over. Something will
remain, future adaptive radiations, but it won't be us: every
species will be invasive, and the world, for the foreseeable
future, will swarm.

The third intractable mechanism: Global warming which is also
global redistribution of currents and weather flow. This is also
irreversible, past the tipping-point. The results are harrowing:
record-setting droughts and floods, enormous hurricanes, tornado
swarms, irreversible sea-level rises, and so forth. This is the
classical catastrophe (Rene Thom): the fragility of the good
descends to chaotic phenomena, and practical measures, theory,
containment, is always after the fact.

The fourth intractable mechanism: Increased violence and local/
global warfare: again, with limited resources, this will only
grow worse. Territories split and compete; the lines are
religious, ethnic, geographic, historic etc.; brutality
increases as humans turn more and more to the rigidity of
absolute/inerrant ideologies, and fortified binary oppositions -
classical logics - gain strength as ideological instrumentality.
This turn to the right, where the free press, women's rights,
science and self-critique etc., are all viewed with suspicion;
the left (if these binaries still exist at all) is an endangered

The fifth intractable mechanism: The vast sea of weaponry and
the nuclear arsenal available to all; it is only a matter of
time before a dirty bomb or nuclear device is detonated, the
equivalent of over-fishing, trawling, the sea bottom. Scorched
earth returns to scorched earth; there are no longer resources
for rebuilding as poverty and social chaos increase in the
world. History, archaeological sites, villages, nations,
records, are erased; history is no longer visible, readable;
reading itself becomes suspect.

The sixth intractable mechanism: Enclaving of the rich and
income disparity exponentially increasing; the result is
hoarding of resources and increased poverty as noted. This
enclaving extends, crudely, to nations; the U.S. for example
uses far more resources per capital than almost any other
country; the U.S. prison system is itself a flux of pure
capital, privatization, the largest in the world. Prisons are
less efficient than pure disappearance; even so, population
growth more than makes up for the violent loss of life around
the planet. Think as well of local militias, including police
forces that, first and foremost, look after their own, by any
means possible.

The seventh intractable mechanism: Antibiotics and spread of
disease across varying species; as sludge and clutter increase
world-wide, the opportunity for endemic disease increases.
Disease vectors are driven by population vectors, by poor health
practices, by hunger and poverty. Understand that overpopulation
is behind all of this, a developing horizon, just like hacking
and criminal gangs are a developing horizon of violence and
seizure. There's no more living off the grid; off the grid is on
the grid, within mechanisms and horizons. We're all in the ship,
we're all marooned.

The eighth intractable mechanism: Global communication networks
granting power and encrypted communication among activist
groups, including local militias and extremists. populations.
These networks are temporary, because the Net and its cousins
are subject to hacking on a inconceivable scale; security simply
can't keep up without infringing on the rights of others -
without replacing one ideology by another, far harsher. The Net
and privacy are porous, and subject to the seven mechanisms
above. With so much data and control in the cloud/s, with so
much control and personal information in the hands of
monopolistic corporations, gangs and governments, there's no
doubt that we're seeing the tip of a cyberwar iceberg that will
do violent damage far beyond the Sony fiasco - damage that will
extend to (for example) power, health, military, and financial
grids as well.

We must begin to think of these mechanisms as both interlocked
and environmental - i.e. constituents of a global and
catastrophic horizon: much as the Club of Rome developed a model
of interrelated flows in their relatively doomsday scenarios, we
have to see this horizon as a holarchy of entangled mechanisms.
The difference is that the mechanisms today are chaotic and
unpredictable: there are events (primate extinctions, violent
storms, the rise of violent fundamentalism, hacking of financial
institutions, etc.) that are both destructive and fissured into
any (ideological or instrumental) coherency that might have
appeared as "explanatory" in the heady days of modernism which
still inform us.

What fascinates me is the global appearance of these mechanisms
in the large: there's a kind of simplicity in their
phenomenology that dissolves quickly upon closer inspection. But
the simplicity isn't contradicted by the details; global
warming, for example, doesn't reverse because the north-east
United States is having record cold spells. The overall
configuration of the world is based on strange attractors, which
proceed, literally, in any case; we're steerage, not steering.
(The technophilic ideology of progress, paradigm shifting, and
cleverness does a disservice here, promising techno-utopias just
around the corner - or already here - while in reality the
beheadings and bush-meat continue to ravage.)

(I think, at the least, of a curriculum focused on these
mechanisms - but to what end? Past the tipping-point, things
will continue to deteriorate until the anthropocene extinction
does final damage. I can imagine the very rich escaping at some
point, but to where, with what rockets, with what supplies? We
are living in the ruin of a total institution called the global;
we go down with the ship, in steerage. And steerage is now the
corrosion of the dream of the West at the very least, as Plato's
cave becomes the hold of a ship floundering on polluted waters.)


(Floodwall still)

*/I'm putting up Floodwall again; someone was discussing bridges
on Facebook and I ended up revisiting the piece. It seems
prescient at this point; the SOS, MAYDAY, and QRRR now call out
uselessly in Pennsylvania, a state that voted for the coming
regime. Two days ago I wrote a piece about avoiding suicide,
about death underlying whatever we consider our work to be at
this point. I feel bankrupt. Today news came from Arizona about
a home-made menorah transformed by vandals in the middle of the
night into a swastika, as well as a release of letters between
Heidegger and his brother revealing deep anti-semitism and
vituperation against the Jews. The news is nowhere good.

Floodwall isn't a wall, but an opening; its coded light reached
maybe a kilometer up, no more. Everything crushes everything.
The axis is turning towards Putin/regime, the EU bypassed,
already weakened by Brexit. The bridgelight dissipates, spends
itself into the void like the rest of us. I fear 2017 presages a
networked 1939; is there anything we can do in the face of this,
short of suicide or murder?/* (first version)
onslaught?/* (second version)

(floodwall video)
(floodwall video x10 speed)

*/Additional commentary: The flood was the result of a dam
failure; the dam and reservoir behind it were owned by a club of
very very rich men who paid no attention to the environment, and
recklessly lowered the dam (without repairing it) in order to
build a carriage road across. It was a catastrophe waiting to
happen. The men got off of course; the devastation was horrible.
The enclaving that was in place, the collusion with power, is
repeated today. There was no recompense, no recourse, no due
process. The very very rich men moved on. Carnegie was one of
them. He built libraries./*

Michael Brosig, co-chair of the Stone Bridge Committee, said,

"The significance of the Stone Bridge is that it stood its
ground against the flood waters and altered the future of
Johnstown completely and forever. It created the backdrop for
the event that put Johnstown on the map. Restoring the South
facade of that structure and casting LED lighting on it will
certainly showcase the triumph of the human spirit in a
spectacular style for all to see, enjoy and be proud of their
heritage. Based on its strategic location, it is the lynchpin of
the historic district of our city." (ibid.)

Coded by Shelley Johansson, with documentation by Jeremy Justus,
Marissa Landrigan Justus, Azure Carter, and myself.

Again Thanks to Shelley Johannson, Jeremy Justus, Marissa
Landrigan Justus, and Azure Carter.


Hey Alan,

I wanted to update you that today I finally got your work on the
My Idea of Fun website!


Thanks again!

Wordflood Johnstown and The Flood

2825	Pennsylvania, on the way on local roads to Johnstown
2844	entering Johnstown
2855	first sight of Stone Bridge, Penna. RR, Johnstown
2856	Johnstown
2865	Moxham, Johnstown, their home
2872	MAYDAY is spelled 'LAYDAY' by mistake! evening, Johnstown,
2911	dam from overlook on Johnstown Incline Plane
3025	hill above Johnstown
3086	On the Green above Johnstown near sunset
3087	looking down from the hill at Johnstown
3256	model of Johnstown from the Flood Museum
3268	Hospital Cafeteria, downtown Johnstown, where we ate twice
3280	going back, hilly road in Johnstown
3285	downtown Johnstown
3357	downtown Johnstown, from Sheetz?
3358	leaving Johnstown, local roads
3464	You Are Here image from Johnstown Memorial

http://www.alansondheim.org/flutework.jpg +++

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