Publication Details

Buchanan, I. (2018). Ocean or Oubliette?. Tamkang Review: A Journal of Literary and Cultural Studies, 49 (1), 3-16.

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Tamkang University


There is now enough plastic in the world to wrap the entire planet. Plastic is now so pervasive scientists are saying that it is a new geological marker. And no part of the planet has been more affected by the spread of plastic waste than the ocean. Eventually the things we dispose of will dispose of us. We are suffocating the planet in our toxic waste. The ocean, as vast as it is, has somehow slipped from view-it is used as a dumping ground for all kinds of waste, and it is steadily dying, but no-one seems able to raise a hand to help it. In part this is a problem of sovereignty. All nations claim their piece of the ocean, but none own it outright. And now that it is in trouble we must ask who is responsible for fixing it? Global warming is a problem of rubbish-it is caused by the by-products of what we do in our daily lives. We generally expect others to change so we can stay the same, but what would get us to change everything, including ourselves? In critical theory there are essentially only two answers to this question: we either do what we know we must (Kant's categorical imperative is the sine qua non of this position); or we do what we feel we must (Bennett's vital materialism is in many ways the sine qua non of this position). Adherents to the latter view of things describe it as either embodied or material and they castigate adherents of the categorical view for being either disembodied or immaterial. The limits of the former are that it is idealist and, in being so, implicitly tyrannical because the set of things we must do are not defined or decided upon by ourselves. They are instead imposed from the outside and often without any awareness of or interest in history or indeed culture.



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