Instructions (for Oceanic New York)

Back when it was really cold out, wedged between #RisingWaters and “Cry, Trojans,” I had a great visit with Marina Zurkow to discuss our collaboration for the Oceanic New York book. I’ve been meaning to write up my notes since then. Busy times!

As treasures start rolling in from Oceanic depths, I’m thinking more about the shape of this book project. There’s no way to capture the fluid dynamism of the event itself — but formal play and poetic experiments can gesture toward that multiplicity in different media. That’s what I’m hoping for, anyway.

My notes say Marina & I were thinking about “Instructions” as a generic term — I was thinking about Marvell’s political satire “The Last Instructions to a Painter” (1657), and Marina was talking about a project she’s working on with Una Chaudhuri that will appear, in some form, at BABEL 2014. In the Oceanic New York context, I like the idea of instructions as imperatives: this is what we must do now, in our watery city. Not to save it, but to live in it.

So: a half-dozen waterlogged thoughts, based on my notes from 1/23/2014:

1. To make marshlands a pastoral space, add boats. Plus some shepherds. A few songs?

2. Look closely at asphalt borders: curbs, potholes, parking spaces, driveways. The way in is the same as the way out.

3. The best way for making soft edges on squares is friction. Lots of friction.

4. Look at Newtown Creek and see History. (Ignore the smell.)

5. If you’re floating in an inflatable raft in Buttermilk Channel during a hundred-year’s flood, and you’re blowing as hard as you can into a little plastic nozzle in order to keep the raft full and buoyant, you’re matching two fluid flows against each other. The idea is to use the flow of air from your lungs into the plastic raft to counter the flow of salt water into New York Harbor. It might be possible, for a little while.

6. Drowning, as Sebastian Junger explains in The Perfect Storm, is a form of radical experimentation, being up against the “Zero-Limit Point.” “Holding our breath is killing us,” Junger reasons the body might say to itself when underwater, “and breathing in might not kill us, so we might as well breathe in” (142). He’s describing New York City as well as George Clooney.

At some point I’ll want to think more about porousness, marshlands, that messy mid-point between Utopia Parkway and dystopian visions. There will be more instructions to come. Maybe some swimming lessons too?

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