Moon Trash-Tech Duty
Rubbish collectors are the unsung heroes of modernity. Day in, day out, they refresh and make salient again the borderline between normality and pathology, health and illness, the desirable and the repulsive, the accepted and the rejected, the comme il faut and comme il ne faut pas, the inside and the outside of the human universe. That borderline needs their constant vigilance and diligence because it is anything but a “natural frontier” . . . And it is not the difference between useful products and waste that begs and plies the boundary.
Quite the contrary, it is the boundary that divines, literally conjures up, the difference between them—the difference between the admitted and the rejected, the included and the excluded.
That boundary is drawn afresh with every round of garbage collection and removal. Its sole existential mode is the incessant activity of separation. No wonder that it cannot be left unattended; it requires constant servicing, lest the border posts and control booths disintegrate and indescribable turmoil follows. No wonder that the boundary oozes anxiety and strains the nerves. All boundaries beget ambivalence, but this one is exceptionally fertile. However hard one tries, the frontier separating the “useful product” from “waste” is a grey zone: a kingdom of underdefinition, uncertainty—and danger.
—Zygmunt Bauman, Wasted Lives
What happens when you take away the remainder? What happens when segregation becomes fully implemented? Metropolitan areas, Lydia explains to Pedro, became clean and artificially sterile once devoid of street people or trash. The reservations immobilize the layer of surplus population; sublunar dumping sites on the moon contain the surplus waste that does not have a place on Earth. Thus sites on Earth parallel sites on the moon. Like the inhabitants of Leonia, one of the invisible cities in Calvino’s oeuvre, Cali- Texas wakes up every day to see the effects of the cleanup, totally oblivious to the sites or bunkers where expendable people and trash are immobilized. Street cleaners are welcomed like angels because, as Bauman claims, they are the heroes of modernity. In Sanchez and Pita’s novella it is lunar braceros like Lydia who are the new heroes of postmodernity in charge of maintaining the borderline between normality and pathology, health and illness, the domestic and the alien, the admitted and the rejected on the new frontier, the moon. It is not a geopolitical line that they need to patrol. National borderlines have been redrawn and seem unimportant. It is, rather, the line of separation between the chosen and the disposable that needs to be carefully watched and maintained, as Bauman notices, for it is not a natural frontier. It is maintained with razor wire and a new version of Big Brother surveillance. Just like every time a border is crossed, the geopolitical line is activated and, in the process, legitimized by the crosser, the boundary is redrawn afresh with every round of garbage storage. Like Reslifers on Earth, lunar tecos build an invisible fence as they carry out their duty.
The open and smooth space of the moon turns out to be a mere replica of Earth, a striated and abstract space mapped out according to the same power structure that divides the lab directors on top, having the power over life and death, and the grunts, with no say-so in any matter, on the bottom (83). The moon turns out to be another Panopticon, and tecos are implanted with transmitters and communicators or “nano-nubs” able to convey everything they see or hear to the central station. Through their lunar duty, tecos carry out the incessant activity of separation, demarcation, and segregation that contributes to a sterile society. No wonder all their movements are carefully watched. Tecos are in charge of a boundary that oozes anxiety and strains the nerves. It requires constant servicing, lest the border posts and control booths disintegrate and indescribable turmoil follows. However hard one tries, the frontier separating the “useful product” from “waste” is a gray zone (cf. Bauman 2004, 28). For Lydia and her partner, the gray zone of the borderline emerges when they find out that it is not only trash that is stored away in sublunar bunkers, but also the tecos who refuse to continue their lunar duty. Tecos, like the waste they are hired to manipulate, are fully expendable and not worth the cost of transport back to Earth once the replacements appear. None of these braceros return to Earth. Once executed, they are stored in a container placed in a bunker marked “Full.” It is the ultimate containment that reveals the new final solution that awaits surplus population. For those in charge of the lunar site, the elimination of the tecos is only logical: “it was necessary for the few to die for the good of the many” (90). Execution appears as the only logical option until the new society is ready to establish reservations on the moon. The establishment of moon reservations would conclude the perfect symmetrical order of the Earth. Suspended between the two, as the revealing cover of Lunar Braceros suggests, the teco or lunar bracero appears as the new and unaware border patroller in charge of an invisible border he or she contributes to maintaining.