Rather than sending the corpse away, sea burial speeds up the basic organic processes: decomposition, diffusion, reintegration into a circulating biosphere. The Arabian Sea is far from Long Island Sound, and I’ve not been into that cold water since November, but it’s all the same salt body. Into which we immerse our own salt bodies. We swim together.
Via the wonder-ocean of Facebook and Siobhan Carroll’s link, I found Rusty Foster’s comments on what the US military might be using the sea burial for: obliteration —
A corpse without a country, without ancestors or descendants. A corpse consigned to the sea, which belongs to everyone and no one. Burying bin Laden at sea was an effort to remove him, comprehensively, from the world. To obliterate him from the chain of succession of mankind.
The bottom of the sea, in a fantasy that the US military shares with Robert Pogue Harrison, is nowhere.
Surely we know better than that. Coleridge knows better, as Rusty says.
It’s true that OBL’s body is gone to a place we can’t find or memorialize it. But the terrestrial tunnel vision that always positions the sea as foreign, external, and alien only tells part of the story.
Even Genesis, with its creation of the world out of oceanic chaos, contains a wet center. As Catherine Keller writes, the phrase “face of the deep” (Gen 1.2) already encodes the inseparability of surface (face) and depth. Nothing goes away underwater.
Does putting OBL into the sea make him part of a planetary commons, a wonder-world of trash and life and global networks? Does sea burial mean that those of us who swim in and think about the sea need to engage with the desert cave-dweller now , too?
Something to think about as swimming season approaches.