I’ve been mulling recently about wet globalism, as I get ready to draft an intro for an essay collection drawing on the Hungry Ocean conference. I’m hoping to use an oceanic focus to get our increasingly central ideas about global culture wetter, to bring them down into the watery element, splash them around, and see what happens to some of our grand illusions.
Partly here I’m thinking about Ursula Heise’s shrewd observation that in the works of theorists like Appadurai, Beck, Giddens, et al, globalism has become the term of choice, to some extent replacing postmodernism while also doing some of the same work as that more theoretical / philosophical term. That’s a useful move, and it could liberate some aspects of postmodern thinking from its “end of history” habits. But I can’t help thinking that 20/21c visions of the global fly in airplanes, when they should, even today, be ploughing the waves.
To shift from an airy or plane’s-eye vision to a wetter, bluer globalism would require a sharper focus on the difficulties and disorientations of the sea, an element, after all, in which we’d each drown if left too long. It’s a hard place for humans to be, even today. I was thinking again about the sea’s inhumanity as I went for my afternoon swim and had to fight just about a foot of gentle, rolling, implacable swell, there to greet me and threaten me every time I turned my head to breathe.
What might a wet globalism do? Put a focus back on seamanship, on errancy, disorientation, shipwreck as the price of culture? Re-figure humanity in the world in less pastoral and more dire terms? Emphasize that Heise’s “deterritorialization” has already been the condition of the tiny maritime slice of humans? Ask us to re-read Moby-Dick in the global terms that Wai-Chi Dimock has already asked for (and that I’ve not yet read)?
As usual, Glissant is already there, using slightly different words —
For centuries ‘generalization,’ as operated by the West, brought different community tempos into an equivalency in which it attempted to give a hierarchical order to the times they flowered. Now that the panorama has been determined and equidistances described, is it not, perhaps, time to return to a no less necessary ‘degeneralization”? Not to a replenished outrageous excess of specificities but to a total (dreamed-of) freedom of the connections among them, cleared out of the very chaos of their confrontations. (Poetics of Relation, 62)
This chaos and connection, a return to degeneralized freedom from generalization, is what Glissant calls Relation. I’d like wet globalism to work something like this, plus a turn toward the historically specific and physically connecting. Swimming in the blue ocean models this impossibility —
If you tasted it, it would first taste bitter,then briny, then surely burn your tongue.It is like what we imagine knowledge to be:dark, salt, clear, moving, utterly free,drawn from the cold hard mouthof the world, derived from the rocky breastsforever, flowing and drawn, and sinceour knowledge is historical, flowing, and flown.(Elizabeth Bishop, “At the Fishhouses”)