Among global environments, the undersea is unique in the challenges it poses – and the opportunities it affords – for sensation, perception, inquiry, and fantasy. The Aesthetics of the Undersea draws case studies in such potencies from the subaqueous imaginings of Western culture, and from the undersea realities that have inspired them. The chapters explore aesthetic engagements with underwater worlds, and sustain a concern with submarine "sense," in several meanings of that word: when submerged, faculties and fantasies transform, confronting human subjects with their limitations while enlarging the apparent scope of possibility and invention. Terrestrially-established categories and contours shift, metamorphose, or fail altogether to apply. As ocean health acquires an increasing share of the global environmental imaginary, the histories of submarine sense manifest ever-greater importance, and offer resources for documentation as well as creativity.
The chapters deal with the sensory, material, and formal provocations of the underwater environment, and consider the consequences of such provocations for aesthetic and epistemological paradigms. Contributors, who hail from the United States, United Kingdom and Australia, include scholars of literature, art, new media, music and history. Cases studies range from baroque and rococo fantasies to the gothic, surrealism, modernism, and contemporary installation art. By juxtaposing early modern and Enlightenment contexts with matters of more recent – and indeed contemporary – importance, The Aesthetics of the Undersea establishes crucial relations among temporally remote entities, which will resonate across the environmental humanities.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Submarine Aesthetics 1. The Aesthetics of the Early Modern Grotto and the Advent of an Empirical Nature 2. The Porcellaneous Ocean: Matter and Meaning in the Rococo Undersea 3. The Logic of the Invisible: Perceiving the Submarine World in French Enlightenment Geography 4. Understanding the Loss of Colour 5. Hydromania: The Social History and Literary Significance of Romantic Swimming 6. The Great Melancholy Mother: Michelet’s Evolutionary Ocean in The Sea 7. "The Forsaken Merman," "The Little Mermaid," and Early Modernism: Undersea Imagery for the Dissociation and Dissolution of Culture 8. Encountering Living Corals: A Nineteenth-Century Scientist and Artist Reveals the Underwater Realm 9. Frank Hurley and the Symbolic Underwater 10. The Shipwreck of Reason: The Surrealist Diver and Modern Maritime Salvage 11. The Shipwreck as Undersea Gothic 12. Deep Time & Myriad Ecosystems: Urban Biotic Imaginaries and Unstable Planetary Aesthetics 13. Siren and Silent Song: Evolution and Extinction in the Submarine 14.The Ocean Hospital – a Walk around the Ward
Margaret Cohen is Andrew B. Hammond Professor of French Language, Literature, and Civilization at Stanford University, where she teaches in the Departments of Comparative Literature and English.
Killian Quigley is Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Sydney Environment Institute at the University of Sydney