The conversationalist: Through destruction, reform

The Shockwave and its purgative effects

I think it’s natural for people to feel an aversion to destruction and destructive forces. Let us consider the shock wave: a sudden and extreme increase in the temperature and pressure of a medium most often due to an explosion, or of an object travelling faster than the speed of sound. What’s more, the intense heat and pressure that accompanies the shock wave can feed exothermic chemical reactions between the highly reactive materials in the vicinity of the shock wave. Such chemical reactions, in turn, create a detonation wave, additional explosions that drive the shock wave further. The fear of explosives and of their subsequent effects is an understandable fear, fuelled by the natural inclination toward survival and a century or so of modern warfare.

Mechanical Engineering professor Evgeny Timofeev, who specializes in high-speed flows and shock waves at McGill University, explained that a force as destructive as a shock wave can be used constructively. Shock waves can act to clean microscopic electronic equipment by blowing out the accumulated dust that can harm its inner-workings. Shock waves also hold increasing potential for the field of Medicine. They can be used to destroy gall stones, and localized shock waves created by a small laser can even be sent through arteries to break up blood clots, thus preventing strokes.

Talking with him, I began thinking about blockages in their many forms, both physical and psychological, both literal and figurative, that I experience quite often. And I began thinking that perhaps a little destruction is good thing, although it might temporarily leave a zone of intense pressure and heat, and a chain of unpleasant chemical reactions in its wake.

Modernist poet, Mina Loy would have agreed. Although she may have had fascist affiliations, she was also a passionate feminist, believing that the only route to freedom of thought and an independent identity for women required blowing-up traditional ideas of womanhood and relationships. In her Feminist Manifesto, she expressed such an idea: “lies of centuries have got to go…. There is no half-measure – NO scratching on the surface of the rubbish heap of tradition, will bring about Reform, the only method is Absolute Demolition.”

Her ideas were radical, but not unsound. And as clots need to be destroyed by the shock wave to let the blood flow freely through the artery, so sometimes do old ideas need to be destroyed, blown out of corners, to let the new ones flow freely into our consciousness.

Rosie’s column appears every other Thursday. Send your blown-up bras to