Several Ways To Die In Mexico City

by Kurt Hollander

Central Question: Are we killing our environment, or is it killing us?
Visibility in Mexico City in the 1950s: ten kilometers; Visibility in Mexico City today: two kilometers, though it can often be measured in blocks; Approximate percentage of Mexico City residents infected with Giardia: 40; Amount of excrement produced daily by Mexico City’s estimated three million dogs: three hundred tons; Average daily bouts of diarrhea author suffered after contracting colitis: twenty; Approximate amount, in tons per year, of hazardous waste produced by chemical and petrochemical industries within Mexico City: 2.5 million; Estimated percentage of alcohol sold in Mexico that is pirated: 40; Ratio of Mexico City police officers who are obese: one in three; Mexico’s rank in terms of obesity worldwide: first; Year in which the last grave was dug in Mexico City’s largest cemetery before it ran out of space: 1975

It’s a well-known fact that, at some point in the 2000s, the number of humans living in urban areas eclipsed the number living in rural areas. Meanwhile, those machinations of industry and recreation that enable humans to exploit and enjoy natural resources leave fewer and fewer places on earth undisturbed. Philosophers such as Timothy Morton argue for abandoning the concept of “nature” altogether, in order to reach a more realistic understanding of ecology—one in which “the environment” does not stop at city limits or recede in the presence of architecture, but proceeds to encompass the messy mesh of organic and inorganic, living and nonliving, animal and vegetable and mineral and chemical realms in which everything in the world exists.

In this context, Several Ways to Die in Mexico City: An Autobiography is environmentalist literature. Refreshingly, though, Kurt Hollander’s brand of environmentalism disregards the typical hallmarks of that tradition, its bucolic ideals, and calls for grassroots organizing and, crucially, environmentalism’s focus on the more sparsely populated places on the planet. Instead of unquestioningly celebrating nature and bemoaning man’s impact on its life-giving agents, Hollander, a native New Yorker who has lived in the Mexican capital for more than two decades, examines our relationship with our surroundings through a darker prism—a paranoid stream of facts and figures, descriptions of Aztec cannibalism and cosmopolitan gut flora, reflections on his own unsentimental march toward death.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Nathan C. Martin

Nathan C. Martin is the editor of Room 220: New Orleans Book and Literary News. He is currently at work on a book about Wyoming, his home state.

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