On the Theme of Afloat-ness
India Boxall and Shona Robin MacPherson, MUCK Co-editors
The sea reminds us.
Many of the seas’ inhabitants have adapted to share it’s fluid space. Mutualistic relations across subjects have formed over millions of years, with the ocean itself as a literal liquid log of melted glaciers and oil spills, among the other liquids that have entered into her. Sea anemones, those soft and translucent bodies who locate themselves in the powdery sediment of underwater surfaces, share their tentacular and gastronomic parts with algae in order to photosynthesise. The algae shares its oxygen and vital nutrients with the anemone, and the anemone acts as a safehouse, protecting the algae from being eaten. A story of collaboration-through-contamination, as Anna Tsing so aptly puts it*. An aqueous alliance.
To speak of alliance in this way is to hark to the way the sea is rendered functional by both humans and more-than-human-others. As a vessel in itself, our oceans contain and carry forth life to their terrestrial counterparts, overlapping power and dominance with survival and desperation. BP oil tankers cross paths with inflatable dinghies carrying refugees from the Middle East; fishermen glide above a currency of slippery beings; children forage through shallow pools of salted water in shared moments of wonder. An encounter with a mass of water is a retrieval of its narrative.
Water masses are archives.
To be afloat upon these secreted stories and complex marine landscapes can be a critical means to position ourselves epistemologically. The knowledge gathered in those waters can be mapped by the scope of our global economic enterprise and the far reaching suffering this endeavour of deep extraction has caused.
Being afloat within our current epoch could be a means to allow us to provide floating islands of support and care to those who may be adrift-in-need. Soft pockets of collaboration across differences are already flourishing, allowing future stories to amble into existence whilst making clear all the traces of the past. We can permit ourselves to bob towards collaborative encounters that exist off the shores of anthropocentric dominance, with the knowledge that we are more akin to those waters as much as we are to all the other bodies of.
Critical afloat-ness could be about becoming unanchored to overarching themes of anthropo-mastery that have desecrated both our land and sea. In a bid to invite the more-than-human into our consciousness, can theorising ourselves as floating together on storied seas be an active means to metaphorically hydrate the anthropocene? Can we submerge our linear historicising with the unheard and unseen voices of those human and more-than-human beings, who may have been left out of the overarching chronology of frontier conquering and border control? Can we encourage an ethics that leaks and permeates all bodies?
* Taken from The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, Anna Tsing, 2015, Princeton University Press
MUCK published its second open call on the theme of Afloat-ness in January 2020. Texts speaking from and with new materialistic and political approaches to this theme were sought and submissions reached to the far and wide in terms of subject and form. This writing carefully excavates the mulch that makes up our history, our present, and our foreseeable futures.
MUCK would like to thank all contributors for allowing it to be a guest to, and a host of, their submissions.
click on the names below to view texts