April 2019


The Anthropocene era is one in which humans have become a major geological force on planet Earth.  This sobering reality has challenged those working in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences to alter fundamentally the ways in which they produce knowledge.  This special issue addresses one current of this work: oceanic studies.  This maritime turn, to some degree, is born of what Dipesh Chakrabarty calls the overlapping processes of globalization and global warming. In modern European history, the sea is both the “blank space” through which traders and explorers conquered and mapped the globe and a non-human actant, whose vast material presence is irreducible to human appropriation.  With the naming of the Anthropocene—and with its oceanic consequences (rising sea levels, melting ice, ocean acidification, unprecedented storms, and mass extinction events) human-centered history and the oceanic geological force have become irrevocably braided together.  The maritime turn asks us to consider the textualization of the waters—the submerged histories, aesthetics, and ontologies of “heavy waters” (DeLoughrey)—along with the altered temporal and spatial scales, geographies, and agencies of the nonhuman sea, and to imagine new ways of connecting the two.   This special issue is broadly construed as interrogating methods of “hydro-criticism,” including, but not limited to:


* Wet ontologies: how can “a world of flows, connections, liquidities, and becomings [serve as] a means by which the sea’s material and phenomenological distinctiveness can facilitate the reminagining and reenlivening of a world ever on the move”?  (Steinberg & Peters 248)  How can we rethink being and our relationality with the physical world and with other species?  How are we entangled with the sea in such as way as to alter how we understand our bodies and their porosity and fluidity?  How do we live within and among microorganisms, minerals, petro-chemicals, toxicities, radiation, and heavy metals on a continuum with the microbial sea?


* Entanglements: how do the maritime histories of the slave trade, inter-imperial empires, and illicit refugee transport allow for a hydro-criticism from below, from “in the wake” (Sharpe), or from an indigenous or marroonage perspective?  And in all of these, how can we think the fluidity of the sea as bearing directly upon the performative materialization of race, nationality, sexuality and gender (Tinsley)? 


* Provincializing Europe: how have indigenous and other non-Western peoples understood their relations to the sea?  How can their worldviews allow for alternative ways of understanding our planetary connections?  How do the various ocean regionalisms, including the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean, the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean basin and rim challenge the notion of the sea as “blank space” and “waste”? How do they challenge European universalism and nationalism?   How do the oceanic connections of these regions forge alliances that can evade and challenge neo-colonialism? 


* Long histories: how can hydro-criticism incorporate the long history of the ocean in a way that takes into account pre-historical and even pre-human histories?  How can other disciplines-- the natural sciences, speculative realist philosophy, anthropology, and the arts--guide us here? Can these disciplines help us to conceptualize deep time and shifting geo-physical forces that decenter the human?  How does deep time alter how we periodize and historicize modern and pre-modern human histories? ?


* Questions of sovereignty: The European early modern era codified the sea as extra-territorial space in which the state of exception prevails. What is the significance of the fraught history of freedom, slavery, and lawlessness that continues today through issues of piracy, illegal smuggling (of contraband, refugees, and human trafficking), and statelessness.  Conversely, what is the significance of contemporary water rights activism? (These struggles may include the recent granting of rights to the Whanganui River in New Zealand and to the Ganges and Yamuna Rivers in India, the ongoing advocacy on behalf of rivers, lakes, and oceans, and the protests against dams, oil pipelines, fracking, pesticides, and other environmental toxins that pollute waterways.)


* Shipwrecks and other sea-faring disasters: how can we read the long history of voyages, shipwrecks, storms and other meteorological events as illuminating our present crisis and ecological awareness? 


* Literary form: how does attention to the sea as an actant alter representational forms?  Rather than attending to the chronotope of the ship or the adventure to produce a legible narrative, how does an attention to the sea’s “abyss of representation,” its “space of dispersion, conjunction, distribution, contingency, heterogeneity” (Boelhower, quoted in Blum) yield new ways of reading, writing (creatively and critically) and teaching? How does attention to the ship’s hold, the canoe, the pirogue, the passengers, and the crew alter narrative form?


* Problems of scale: studying the sea demands a rethinking of our most basic understandings of cartography. The sea underscores how the geophysical is “a series of interwoven and unpredictable dynamic forces . . . assembled matter [that] is nonlinear and fluctuating [. . . ] mutable and leaky—part of a process of ongoing reformation” (Steinberg and Peters).   How does this understanding of profound mutability at multiple scales affect our critical narratives and modes of representation?  How do embodiment, affect and our critical stance change as a result of our shifting relations to the sea