lobster bishop

The lobster, his inner parts are his embarrassment, his weak spots, the vitals he protects, his abject soul. Ball is supposed to be dressed up in a bishop’s costume, but he has always looked to me like a lobster – hard protective shell, sharp dangerous claws, soft slightly nervous green innards of incomprehensible poetry stepping out onto the stage with a kind of awkward determination. Somehow the handmade fragility of the shell highlights even more the vulnerabilities of the man, endearing him deeply to me.

A Theater Without Theater, Museu d’Art Contemporary de Barcelona, 2007.

For the last couple of weeks I have been reading about vulnerability in the context of cities, climate change, and planning. We focus on “resilience” because it is a hopeful term, it is the solution to our vulnerabilities. In this context a vulnerability is considered dangerous, susceptible, at risk. Unless some thing, place, people has somehow been identified as a “safe-to-fail” kind of vulnerability.

And then I hear people talking about “being vulnerable” as a good thing, as something to strive for, as something that is necessary for self-realization, for stronger relationships, for belonging. Is this a different kind of vulnerability? Or is it a kind of declaration that in the grand-scheme of personal resilience, some of the parts of your self that you consider delicate or abject, the parts you normally protect and shelter, should in reality be considered “safe-to-fail”?

And what happens to those sensitive parts when exposed? “Vulnerability = ƒ(Exposure; Sensitivity; Adaptive capacity).” Do you just let it depend on their own internal adaptive capacities? What does it feel like to just let parts of your self drown, starve, burn, collapse, die? Do we build them memorials, write their stories for historical archives, gawk for a news cycle, or just simply forget they were ever there, a part of our selves, a part of our cities – traceless, remnantless syllables in the rapidly diffusing air?

If they do adapt, what happens when they come back madder than hell because you declared them “safe-to-fail” and let them be exposed to the risks and hazards of the world?



Brook, Vulnerability, risk and adaptation: a conceptual framework, 2003.
Pandey & Jha, Climate vulnerability index – measure of climate change vulnerability to communities: a case of rural Lower Himalay, 2011.
Marrow, Newell & Stults, Defining urban resilience: a review, 2015