While listening to the last lecture at the Hungry Ocean a few weeks ago, I was flooded with anticipatory nostalgia: soon the weekend would be over, and would the rush of ideas and implications be salvageable? Would the intensity last? The short answer, almost always, is not quite — but as I said then, Patsy Yeager’s final keynote on Latourian networks as a counter-love — wonderfully personalized — to Marxist dialectic created a framework in which to think ocean-sized thoughts.
Latour’s ANT-filled landscape of human and nonhuman actants isn’t quite a vision of the world ocean — Latour in fact writes relatively little about oceanic things, even if he claims to be tempted to substitute “fluid” for “network” sometimes. There are two revealing maritime turns of phrase in We Haven Never Been Modern. First, Latour compares the end of modernist linear time to “a great ocean liner that slows down and then comes to a standstill in the Sargasso Sea” (77). Next, he diagnoses conservative “antimoderns” as attempting “to save something from what looks to them like a shipwreck” (123). In both cases, as Patsy’s talk reminded me, Latour gestures toward his no-long-post-or-not-post modern vision as metaphorically maritime. Serres, of course, has more along this current.
For Patsy’s talk, however, and perhaps for us Hungry Ocean-ers, the payoff of the Marx-to-Latour move is a renewed sense of poetic possibility, a hope that poetry can represent (“capture” seems wrong) the fluidity and interconnectedness that the ocean constructs in physical and metaphorical ways.
This networked fluidity drew together (“assembled” might be Latour’s term, maybe in-gathered, to borrow a phrase from Jorie Graham’s Sea Change, is better) many of the conference’s talks: Jake Mattox’s literary vision of Maury’s Physical Geography, Dan Brayton’s world-spanning whales swimming alongside the Doty lyric, Bryan Since’s wonderful evocation of “The Man without a Country,” a story I don’t know. I also think about the “peculiar” nature of sea literature, borrowing the phrase Siobhan invoked, and I wonder if the connection to Latour makes oceanic materials less “wet” and distinctive — Latour’s examples are as often as not desks and rocks and television sets, rather than waves and currents.
There was also a fine moment in the Q&A in which Patsy suggested that, after moving into Latourian freedom, to finish the analysis — talking here about Kona Blue? I’m not sure — she needed to return to Marx, to the force of his critique of labor & value. There might be a land-sea shifting & exchange model at work here, reminding us — as Sara Crosby’s paper also did, in a different way — that there’s really no “line” in any coastline.