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Cold War LegaciesSystems, Theory, Aesthetics$
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John Beck and Ryan Bishop

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781474409483

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474409483.001.0001

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Alchemical Transformations? Fictions of the Nuclear State after 1989

Alchemical Transformations? Fictions of the Nuclear State after 1989

Chapter:
(p.134) Chapter 7 Alchemical Transformations? Fictions of the Nuclear State after 1989
Source:
Cold War Legacies
Author(s):

Daniel Grausam

Publisher:
Edinburgh University Press
DOI:10.3366/edinburgh/9781474409483.003.0008

James Flint’s novel The Book of Ash (2004) is a book concerned with the toxic legacy of the Cold War and the literary challenge of representing the security state inherited from Thomas Pynchon. The plot concerns Cooper James, a computer programmer employed by the US military at Featherbrooks, an RAF outpost in North Yorkshire, and his search for the truth about his father. The figure of the father is inspired by the real-life American sculptor James Acord (1944–2011), the only private citizen in the world licensed to own and handle high-level radioactive materials. In 1989 Acord moved close to Hanford, site of US plutonium production and the most polluted nuclear site in the US, where he sought to create something like a nuclear Stonehenge as a long-term memorial to the nuclear age, and to develop artistic practices for transmuting radioactive waste into less harmful substances. Acord imagined his own aesthetic practice to be a kind of alchemy, and The Book of Ash is precisely in this same style, making alchemical transformation a literary subject but also a literary technique: it is a radioactive novel in its subject matter and the way it transmutes novelistic style and content over time.

Keywords:   cold war, radioactivity, nuclear waste, James Flint, Nuclear fiction

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