One highlight of the West Coast swing that’s been keeping the Bookfish quiet was a swim last Wed at Stanford’s Avery Aquatic Center with the Master’s Swim Program there. I swam in the 10-lane, long course, deep water practice pool with about 25 other folks in the 1 pm practice, one of three held that day. I’ve never swum in an Olympic-caliber facility before, & it’s pretty amazing.
Coach Tim, who very kindly let me join the group as a visitor since I don’t yet have a US Masters card, ran us through a bunch of drills I’ve never done before. “Vertical flutter kick” is what it sounds like, and also combined with spins from the hips every 3 seconds to work on the long stomach muscles that cant the torso from side to side. Also a 15m “forward arm travel” kicking on my side after each turn on a 300m set.
Swimming long course — 50m rather than 25 yards — puts you in a much better rhythm, much more concentration on how you move through the water. I wonder if there’s such a pool anywhere in CT? Maybe at UConn — though part of the fun was also being outside, which of course we aren’t likely to have for east coast training.
Something else to put on my West Coast itinerary for next year, and all the years to come.
The best literature is always a take [in the musical sense]; there is an implicit risk in its execution, a margin of danger that is the pleasure of the flight, of the love, carrying with it a tangible loss but also a total engagement that, on another level, lends the theater its unparalleled imperfection faced with the perfection of film.
I don’t want to write anything but takes.
Those lines from the great Julio Cortazar have been swirling about in my mind since reading some fine meditations on writing by Jeffrey Cohen and larvalsubjects. Still swirling as I gear up for my own summer writing — metis, poetry, swimming, air, brown ecologies…
Cortazar gives us the abandon, risk, and play that fuel the manic act of writing. Listen to his words — danger, pleasure, risk, love, flight, imperfection. The joys of not knowing exactly where you’ll end up.
I think I need to re-read Cronopios and Famas.
On a very broad level I convened the Hungry Ocean to try to bring competing oceanic models into contact with each other. On the basic question, we’re in critical agreement: historicizing is a good thing. But size and continuity matters, and the physical pressure of the ocean as ocean exerts a counter-historicist and counter-cultural unifying pressure. “The great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago,” writes Melville — but surely it’s our task as critics to peek under that shroud?
Bernhard Klein’s talk, “Fish Walking on Land” (love that title), with its great analysis of a satiric maritime how-to book from the 16c, was perhaps our sharpest reminder of historical alterity in the maritime world. But several other papers also, including Hester Blum’s fascinating anatomy of printing under polar conditions, Mary K Bercaw-Edwards on “Sailor Talk in the South Pacific,” and Jennifer Schell on social whalemen and Rocky mountain isolate-trappers, brought forward the anti-ecstatic, historically unfriendly sea. Not a space for Club Med, nor Crusoe, nor happy little grommets.
It’s easy for historicist critics to value these historical exfoliations for the alien pasts they open up to us, and possible also to find in our modern ambivalence about the ocean connections to these lost places and unforded passages. But, sentimental swimmer that I am, I’m still attracted to the ocean as symbol and reality of global and historical connectedness. When the weather gets nicer I’ll go swimming in the same ocean as a certain recently buried body, and I’ll think about that physical connection. Does that make me anti-historicist? (I know it’s an imagined unity in space, not time — but so what?)
Glissant, as usual, guides my uneasy historicizing. He insists on errant particularity — “Generalization is totalitarian” (20)– but also on the unities of oceanic forms and currents. The master-metaphor is not Romantic or modernist transformation, but something messier, hidden, submarine:
We no longer reveal totality within ourselves by lightning flashes. We approach it through the accumulation of sediments. The poetics of duration… (33)
Underwater in the moving salt body, in Caribbean “defraction” rather than Mediterranean focus, on a beachy edge “between order and chaos” (121-2). In an “aesthetics of a variable continuum, of an invariant discontinuum.” (151).
We clamor for the right to opacity for everyone (194).
Glissant’s beach is a good place to be.
Just read the cluster on “Ecocriticism and Theory” in the Autumn 2010 ISLE, the journal of the ecocritical society ASLE. Some lively stuff, as usual, including a rising interest in “ecoaesthetics” that’s apparently coming from China, with some help from Scott Slovic and the European journal ecozona. It’s quite exciting to see new eco-trends emerge from the confines of nature writing, American studies, and Romanticist studies into a global space.
Many of the contributions to the theory cluster explore perceived tensions between green politics and theory, activism and intellectual inquiry. I’m very interested to see space being made for a more theoretical, more literary, and, in Greg Gerrard’s phrase “a great deal more difficult” ecocriticism. The global / postcolonial move promises to change eco-studies in fascinating ways.
But I worry a little about those “Earth-centric truths” that are the “undeniable heart” of the “green agenda.” It’s not that I don’t want more ecological knowledge, a wider range of interest in and responsibility toward the nonhuman environment. It’s that I don’t see the word “ocean” anywhere in this cluster. And ocean is mostly what the so-called “earth” really is.
Maybe this little conference next fall at the Island Institute in Maine, which will attempt to fill the “blue hole in environmental history,” can help on that front. Abstracts are due to John Gillis by the end of March. The Rachel Carson Center will pay all travel & lodging expenses. I’m involved in the session on literature and the arts.
And here’s the corresponding ocean temperatures at the same time, the end of last summer. The question is, will warming change this pattern, which has produced an upswell of nutrients and some of the richest fishing grounds on the planet? This area, from the Mid-Atlantic Bight to Georges Bank, is also a major carbon sink, so even if the fish aren’t as plentiful as they once were, there’s a lot to like about this stretch of ocean.
We’ve got nearly two feet of snow on the ground in Short Beach right now, with more on the way — which made conditions just perfect for Ian’s annual Birthday Bowl last Saturday. Forcing your way through knee-deep drifts was the way to help him celebrate double digits…
The Short Beach Tide (Team Daddy) had an early advantage in the untrodden snow, perhaps because we have longer legs. We surged early, rolling up a 21-14 halftime lead. As usual, our primary weapon was the deep pass.
But the Connecticut Corgis (Team Ian) kept nipping at our heels, and in the second half, after the snow had packed out a little, the game started to speed up. The Tide clung to 35-28 third quarter lead, but then the fourth quarter saw an explosion of offense.
We were all tied up at 56-56 at the 2 minute warning, when the Corgi defense herded the Tide receivers into four straight incompletions and took over on downs. We were looking at overtime after two Corgi incompletions. But then, on third down, in the face of a ferocious blitz by his Dad, Ian threw a high arching pass to rookie sensation Aaron Lake in the endzone.
Final score Corgis 63, Tide 56.
We’ll get ’em next year.
What am I, Life? A thing of watery salt
Held in cohesion by unresting cells
Which work they know not why, which never halt;
Myself unwitting where their Master dwells.
I do not bid them, yet they toil, they spin
A world which uses me as I use them.
Nor do I know which end or which begin,
Nor which to praise, which pamper, which condemn.
So like a marvel in a marvel set,
I answer to the vast, as wave by wave
The sea of air goes over, dry or wet,
Or the full moon comes swimming from her cave
Or the great sun comes north; this myriad I
Tingle, not knowing how, yet wondering why.
First published in the Atlantic in 1916. (via andrew sullivan)
Bruno Latour has a new article, or “manifesto,” out in NLH, which is something of a mash-up and extension of two of my favorites, We Have Never Been Modern and Politics of Nature. It’s called “An Attempt at a ‘Compositionist Manifesto'” & for now at least NLH is letting the pdf go for free.
The liveliest bits include his twin rejection of modern “progress” and postmodern iconoclasm in favor of what he calls “compositionism” or the construction of new things through combinations: “We need to have a much more material, much more mundane, much more immanent, much more realistic, much more embodied definition of the material world if we wish to compose a common world” (484). Some of those terms seem familiar — material, immanent, embodied — but others less so — mundane, realistic, common.
Now that the (modern) age of Nature is over, sez Bruno, “it is time to compose” (487).
Update: Chased down one of Latour’s notes to find a lively op-ed by Erle Ellis, an ecologist at UMBC, “Stop Trying to Save the Planet.” Ellis insists that climate change has been going on, caused by humans for nearly 7000 years, & it’s time to get used to a “used planet.” Ready for a “postnatural environmentalism”? I think I am…