Wavescapes in the Anthropocene
Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Split & Island of Vis, Croatia, 3-6 December 2018
Keynote addresses: Adeline Johns-Putra (University of Surrey), Rebecca Giggs (Macquarie University) & Joško Božanić (University of Split)
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change,
Into something rich and strange. — William Shakespeare
All sea voyages have several beginnings and several ends; they are never completed. — Pedrag Matvejević
The ocean is insurrection. — Nick Land
Ariel’s song of the sea, from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, describes the transformative force of water. A metamorphosis is worked at the depths of full fathom five – death remade into strange richness.
Element of ancient cosmologies, water has long served myth and philosophy as a mysterious or paradoxical mix of power and gentle transfiguration. As Lao Tzu observes, “Nothing is softer or more flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it.” Likewise, Ovid remarks, “Dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence.” This ceaseless persuasion is why Božanić muses that dialectical thought was surely born next to water.
Water is life, and deep cultural imaginaries follow from water’s life giving properties. Long central to Mediterranean culture (Braudel), Ancient Greek delineated five aspects of mankind’s relation with the sea: hals (salt, the essence of all the seas and oceans), pelagos (open sea), kolpos (bay, closed seas), pontos (“way,” connection to other cultures/lands) and thalassa (waves, currents and movement) (Vinja). In discourse and media, waters, seas, and wavescapes become social spaces, but also topoi of the limits to knowledge. In Carl Schmitt’s writing, the sea remains the space of the infinite unknown of Renaissance Europe, and the colonial conquest of the New World indicates a fundamental geopolitical transition. As Christina Sharpe describes, the transatlantic slave trade that eased this geopolitical transition (to plantation capitalism) exploited 15 million African victims, and continues to suck lives into its wake. It is perhaps due to this liquid dialectic that water has also long suggested a rich source of both alterity and flux, from Homer’s Sirens to the black and queer politics configured in the fluid aesthetics of Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight (2016). As Nat Wolff states, “Jazz flows like water.”
In more recent times, the sea has itself suffered a series of transfigurations. From coral bleaching, awesome hurricanes of increasing frequency across the globe (Katrina, Harvey, Maria, Irma), the difficulty many people have in obtaining potable water, to the deadly threat of rising sea levels precipitated by global warming, the Anthropocene has refigured water as both a source of uncertainty and a fearsome threat. Our era has constructed massive infrastructures with calamitous effects on the life giving powers of water, such as microplastic marine debris, the pesticide run-offs of modern farming, the cultural and material pollutions of mass tourism, deep sea drilling for oil, or declining fish stocks caused by industrial fishing. At the same time, Anthropocene transfigurations have also hastened the sheer numbers of the displaced, whose migrations have often sought to transverse oceans and seas in the quest for a new life. Between January 2016 and December 2017 nearly 10,000 refugees lost their lives while crossing the Mediterranean (UNHCR).
“The sea is history,” states Derek Walcott: repository of transformation and despair. And despite everything we remain intimately beholden to the wavescapes of the Earth. Water comprises roughly two-thirds of both the surface of the Earth and the human body alike. We live with and as water. Both our home and our being constitute modes of fluidity. As Isak Dinesen writes, with pain and hope, “The cure for everything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the sea.”
This conference seeks to explore water narratives (ecological, fictional, political) in the context of the changes that our rivers, seas, oceans, as well as other fluidities, are currently undergoing. How might the stories that we tell of water and its life-giving and transformative force guide us through the sea change of the Anthropocene?
Addressing this question perhaps requires a more liquid flow of interdisciplinary discourse between water-focused political thinkers and activists, creative practitioners and scholars of the humanities, arts and social sciences. To this end, this conference would seek to generate a platform for exchange concerning the crises and cultural heritages brought to the forefront by Anthropocene (or Capitalocene) transformations of water.
The conference will be held jointly in Split and on the island of Vis, to correspond with festivities surrounding St. Nicholas day, patron saint of sailors.
We welcome creative and scholarly interventions from a variety of forms and fields: creative practioners in writing, visual and performing arts, and the cinema, the Blue Humanities, New Thalassology, Ocean and Island Studies, Ecocriticism, Ecolinguistics, Environmental History, Anthropocene Studies, Critical Animal Studies, and the Environmental Humanities, as well as other aesthetic, philosophical, practical, activist and scientific positions.
Possible topics of panels, creative sessions and papers might include, but are not limited to:
- Aesthetics, poetics, and politics of waters, rivers and seas in literature, arts and the cinema;
- Watery discourses: Water/ seas/ wavescapes as (auto)biographical zones, or discursive and material-semiotic texts;
- Media and fluidity: Motifs, themes, topoi, metaphors, and mise-en-scenes of water in technologies of dissemination;
- Water in cli-fi, Afrofuturism and speculative fiction imaginaries: Rains, floods, droughts, inundations and “sea worlds” as reconfigurations of natural and human worlds;
- Water and otherness: Fluidity and queer, postcolonial and gender politics;
- Water and critical animal studies: Freshwater and sea animals, amphibians, fishing stocks, species loss, extinctions;
- Water histories: New Thalassology and Mediterranean studies, travel narratives, colonial histories and water heritages, non-European and indigenous wavescapes;
- Watery regions (from local relations with water to global co-existence and Heise’s eco-cosmopolitanism in relation to the “pale blue dot”): Nile Valley, Caribbean islandscapes, Amazon Basin, Mesopotamia, Danube, etc.;
- Blue Humanities and human impacts on seascapes: Climate change, acidification, rising seas, natural disasters, and access to water;
- Water and contemporary geopolitics: Cultural heritage, migration, refugees, displacement and the right to mobility;
- The agency of water: Water legislation and water rights (e.g. water/ nature treated as a subject in New Zealand and Bolivia), literary waters plotted as subjects (Gurr);
- Oceans and the Capitalocene: Sustainability, activism, tourism, deep drilling and the fishing industry;
- Containerization and “the hold” (Wilderson, Moten and Harney, Sharpe): Capital and chattel enclosure from the 15 million victims of the transatlantic slave trade to the trade revolution of global container shipping.
- Communicating water ecologies: Anthropocene aesthetics and media strategies (from mermaids in plastic soup and ocean clean-up projects to oil spills and migrant routes);
- Sublime seas and fears of the abyss: Leviathan, Sumerian Tiamat, Spielberg’s Jaws, Moby Dick and other mythic sea monsters, Sirens, maelstroms and unfathomable depths;
- Being with water: Monsoon, swimming, liquidity, porosity, dialectical thought, osmosis, and other fluid states.
Please send an abstract or creative proposal of about 250 words by 30th June 2018, as well as any enquiries, to: