Monday, August 1, 2016

Joseph Bradbury on Boully, Borges, and Biospheres

The Body and Bio 2

Biosphere 1 is Earth. Biosphere 2 was intended to be a model of Biosphere 1. What is held inside the geodesic structure of Bio2 is what defines the attributes of life—scale appears irrelevant

Eight biospherians each agreed to live in a sealed world for two years.

Bio2 is a world inside a world. Its attempt is to be an identical imprint of the space it wishes to abandon. The design, so that we might learn and study from the structure, is to be more real than reality, in that it might be controlled.

There are two lungs in the basement, two 16-ton saucers of aluminum tenuously balanced by the circulating air currents throughout structure. As sunlight glances through the triangular glass of the exterior walls, the temperature rises, plants photosynthesize light and churn out oxygen, and the discs lift, untethered by chain or hydraulics, hover like an intergalactic dish caught and condemned to a windy, subterranean life. Without the lungs the structure would explode, or implode, with the transfer of heat and oxygen.

The vertiginous balance of life at Bio2 ensures that without pristine accuracy of theory and practice, human existence is not possible.

I’m interested in perfect designs, the flawless and pristine. The weight of the lungs in Bio2, their thrumming monotonous tones gasping at the gargantuan false and real worlds above. There is something perfect in the fluidity of air, its organic transfer from life to life. Inside Bio2, this exchange of oxygen to CO2 must be perfect, symmetrical, something more round than a circle.

Bio2 is not for this world. The structure is an intergalactic hooptie on cinderblocks in the front yard of the Sonoran Desert. It is a structure of theories and potentialities of human life as alien. To live in that place is to exist as a hypothetical circumstance rendered real. The form is exactly as it should be, as close to life as it can be. It is to suggest, This is the architecture of human life. And it is humans that are of question.

I wonder what is ever equally at stake for the essay, a singularly human construction. When does it come down to life or death? Sentience and non-being?

For Jenny Boully, for her essays “The form…becomes metaphorical, a trope that can be examined within and alongside the content.” She writes this considering the form of The Body—an anti-form where the primary text is left out, is absent, and only the footnotes remain. The footnotes are alien to the text. They exist as both the body and not. What then are the footnotes augmenting? The text is narrator. Is personae. Is an apostrophic call to numerous unknown subjects. Is a hypothetical claim to a constructed nonexistence. Without the body text the footnotes, traditionally considered, fail.

What failed at Biosphere 2 was the presence of human bodies.

A rumor, a footnote to fact, is that one of the bodies was stored in a small room for months for misconduct—rules determined by another governing body deemed the person dangerous to the design of the mission of Bio2, the intention of the structure.

Boully: “They would be unable to realize it then, but later, in the other world, they would look back and realize that the monuments were attempts to create a reality that transpired at the speed of prayer.”

And later she tells us to “Consider love here.” And again, later, she tells us the same thing.


1) The intention of a text is congruent with the form the text takes.
2) A text fails when the form does not align with its intention.
3) If there is no text, there is no form.
4) If there is no form, there can be no associative intention.
5) A formless text, thus without intention, cannot fail.
6) Text always has a form.

How does the essay render the intangible in text?

Again, Boully: “I mostly keep everything. It’s how I write and how I love, and I write how I love, especially when writing about love. Everything is witness, testimony, memorabilia, souvenir-worthy, a keepsake. Somehow, I feel that even a mistake was meant to be.”

I imagine a document, similar to Borges Exactitude of Science, in every imaginable shape, of infinite length, in every known and would-be language, all at once. An essay of perfection. It would both exist and not, with pristine accuracy that cartographer and surgeon alike would inherently understand. A collective human voice. The quintessential aspiration of every, and no, intention. But what couldn’t Borges’ map cover?

Love, in some from, is every animal’s shared experience. But it is entirely unmappable, unrecordable, and can only be understood in relation to something else. Love is every metaphor, and thus none.

Bio2 attempted a perfect miniature design of the Earth and its inhabitants, what they would need to survive. The plethora of scientists and engineers involved calculated, down to the cellular and molecular level, the conditions of life. But they didn’t account for the simple fluidity of air—the basic exchange of oxygen to carbon dioxide. So when microbes in the soil metabolized at unexpected rates, the intention failed. When concrete used in the foundations of the structure absorbed ten times the amount of oxygen they calculated on paper, the design failed. And when a woman was (allegedly) locked in a room for months, the community failed. The most basic processes of survival all failed.

In the basement the lungs still hum.

Now, Bio2 is an alien structure come familiar, somehow rendered useful.

The structure failed when scientists pursued a selfish endeavor to promote only one aspect of existence: human life. In short, they failed to draw Borges’ map.

No essay is infinite, and so no essay is ever really complete. Maybe Jenny Boully came close with The Body. Maybe the expanding non-text of those pages, perpetually accumulating new meaning in the absence of language is the most ambitious and appropriate form every essay attempts. Maybe the success of an essay is the admittance of failure. So to write, invariably, is to fail.


Joseph Bradbury is an MFA​ candidate at the University of Arizona and the nonfiction editor at Sonora Review. He writes about identity and mythology in the American West. Follow him on Twitter @JDeeBrad.

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