Thu, 19 May

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Bodega Bay

‘Earth, Sea, Sky’ Network SEA symposium at Bodega Bay Marie Lab

I will be presenting my research on medieval deluge and drownings at this interdisciplinary research event.

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‘Earth, Sea, Sky’ Network SEA symposium at Bodega Bay Marie Lab

Time & Location

19 May, 04:00 – 20 May, 12:00

Bodega Bay, 2099 Westshore Rd, Bodega Bay, CA 94923, USA

About the Event

Talk title: Medieval Deluge and Drownings: Ovid and the Bestiary

Abstract: Flood and drowning are evocative themes that occur in medieval retellings of Creation in the Ovide moralisé and in the key chapters on the siren and the whale in a highly influential corpus: the medieval bestiary. Reading these allegorical interpretations of the world side-by-side, the flooding of the world at once sets down a teleological purpose for watery spaces even as the notion of drowning introduces an aversion to such spaces.

Drawing on tools from science studies and theology (Bruno Latour; Catherine Keller), I argue that depictions of flood in the medieval retelling of Ovid’s Metamorphoses reinforce the standard Christian divide between nature and culture, and between God and believers. However, the medieval bestiary navigates a less direct course by showing that the face of the deep introduces a key unknown into the story of medieval oceans—eco-phobia. The fear of the unknown and the loss of agency, particularly when reinforced through interspecies entanglements, comes hand in hand with depictions of oceanic spaces in bestiaries, emphasising rather the naturalcultural. In terms diametric to those used in modern science, what is far away becomes radically proximate, and transformation, even involving death, is asserted in positive and negative allegorical terms.

This paper addresses the key themes of the nature/culture divide, religion and teleological purpose, and interspecies worldings to demonstrate how thinking through medieval intermedial sources challenges the key interfaces of what has become known as the environmental humanities. I suggest that these terms do us an injustice when applied to pre-modern oceanic spaces through overly narrow conceptions of ecological consciousness. Our literary and cultural histories from before modernism show that the element of water forges a complex web of relation between human and nonhuman or nature and culture, in which God, and ultimately salvation, is always at play.

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