A Poetic History of the Oceans

Literature and Maritime Modernity


What is the ocean’s role in human and planetary history? How have writers, sailors, painters, scientists, historians, and philosophers from across time and space poetically envisioned the oceans and depicted human entanglements with the sea? In order to answer these questions, Søren Frank covers an impressive range of material in A Poetic History of the Oceans: Greek, Roman and Biblical texts, an Icelandic Saga, Shakespearean drama, Jens Munk’s logbook, 19th century-writers such as James Fenimore Cooper, Herman Melville, Jules Michelet, Victor Hugo, Jules Verne, Jonas Lie, and Joseph Conrad as well as their 20th and 21st century-heirs like J. G. Ballard, Jens Bjørneboe, and Siri Ranva Hjelm Jacobsen.
A Poetic History of the Oceans promotes what Frank labels an amphibian comparative literature and mobilises recent theoretical concepts and methodological developments in Blue Humanities, Blue Ecology, and New Materialism to shed new light on well-known texts and introduce readers to important, but lesser-known Scandinavian literary engagements with the sea.
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Søren Frank is Professor of Comparative Literature at the Department for the Study of Culture, University of Southern Denmark. His publications include Migration and Literature (2008), Salman Rushdie: A Deleuzian Reading (2011), and Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: A Cultural Analysis of Manchester United (2013).
“This is a book that deserves to be read for its ambitions. Based on his comprehensive reading close to erudition within the field of maritime literary studies, Søren Frank sets out to reframe the somewhat marginalised genre of the maritime novel, yet also other forms of prose as well as visual material. With a detailed argument for the symptomatic significance of the maritime perspective in literary history the author zooms in on three dimensions […] His overall aim is to incorporate the so-called blue ecology as an integral part of the otherwise terrestrial focus that dominates today's preoccupation with ecological issues in art, culture and politics.”
- Svend Erik Larsen, Aarhus University, Aarhus C, Denmark, DK in Orbis Litterarum, 2022

"Combining a capacious vision of the long history of oceanic narratives in Western culture with incisive analysis of recent scholarship in the “blue humanities,” A Poetic History of the Oceans provides an excellent overview of oceanic literature and culture. At this book’s core lies a brilliant reading of Moby-Dick as model for four distinct historical iterations of Western imaginations of the sea. In reading Melville’s novel as simultaneously theocentric, anthropocentric, technocentric, and geocentric, Frank shows how this American classic opens onto global vistas. Beyond an innovative analysis of the English-language canon, however, this book also brings Scandinavian writers and texts forward into their rightful places as oceanic pioneers. The introduction of figures such as Jens Munk, Jonas Lie, Martin Andersen Nexø, and Siri Ranva Hjelm Jacobsen suggests how much scholars and readers can learn from this book." - Steve Mentz, Professor of English, St. John's University, New York, USA

A Poetic History of the Oceans has compelling qualities: a fascinating topic, incredible erudition, an innovative, wide-ranging approach, and a seductive, reader-friendly style. The quality of the scholarship is remarkable, both concerning the works examined and the thinkers and literary critics that are consulted and cited. Given the superb treatment of the topic, the wealth of information, and the theoretical insights, Frank’s book could very well become a classic in its field.”
- Thomas Pavel, Professor of Romance Languages, Comparative Literature, Committee on Social Thought, University of Chicago, USA
< Acknowledgements

List of Illustrations

 1 Embarking with Martin Andersen Nexø
 1.1 The Strait of Gibraltar

 1.2 Transition and Simultaneity

 1.3 Maritime World Pictures

 2 Amphibian Comparative Literature on a Terraqueous Globe
 2.1 The Forgotten Sea

 2.2 Revision, Actualization, Crisis

 2.3 Saltwater Literatures

 2.4 Geographical Scales

 2.5 Historical Timelines

 2.6 Blue Ecologies

 2.7 Method and Structure

 1 Theocentrism
 1.1 The Biblical Tradition

 1.2 The Greek-Roman Tradition

 1.3 “The Seafarer”

 2 Anthropocentrism
 2.1 “The Saga of the Greenlanders”

 2.2 Luís Vaz de Camões

 2.3 William Shakespeare

 2.4 Jens Munk

 2.5 Daniel Defoe

 2.6 James Fenimore Cooper

 3 Technocentrism
 3.1 Jules Michelet

 3.2 Jonas Lie

 3.3 Joseph Conrad

 4 Geocentrism
 4.1 Nostalgia or Dystopia

 5 The Four World Pictures in Moby-Dick
 5.1 Historical Time and Broad Present

 5.2 Theocentrism

 5.3 Anthropocentrism

 5.4 Technocentrism

 5.5 Geocentrism

 1 The Maritime between Homelessness and Homeliness

 2 Rhythmanalysis at Sea

 3 Cosmic and Cultural Rhythms at Sea

 4 External and Internal Rhythms

 5 Rituals

 6 Internal Arrhythmia

 7 Knowledge, Teaching, Writing

 1 The Shipwreck of the São João in 1552

 2 Technology, Literature, and the Ocean

 3 Martin Heidegger’s Technologies

 4 Don Ihde and Technological Forms of Experience

 5 Technology in Typhoon
 5.1 Sail and Steam

 5.2 Steamship Experiences in Typhoon

 6 Science and Technology in Vingt mille lieues sous les mers
 6.1 The Making of a New Literary Profile and a Novel

 6.2 Science Adventure Fiction

 6.3 Progress and Mastering

 6.4 Vraisemblance

 6.5 Ambiguities

 6.6 Apollonian Order, Dionysian Fertility

 1 Immersion in the Dissolve in Leviathan

 2 Forces of Sea and Abyss in Les Travailleurs de la mer
 2.1 Humans and Things

 2.2 Vital Materialism

 2.3 Endings and Narrators

 2.4 Fooling and Receiving Mercy

 2.5 Cosmography of Work

 1 Coal in Wales, Whales at the Pole

 2 The Anthropocene

 3 Anthropocene Aesthetics
 3.1 Time, Discontinuity, Probability

 3.2 Space, Discontinuity, Nation-State

 3.3 Human, Humans, Non-Humans

 4 Exceptionalism, Growth, and Stock in En hvalfangerfærd

 5 Psychohydrographies of Cataclysm in The Drowned World
 5.1 Science Fiction and the Anthropocene

 5.2 Surrealism and the Anthropocene

 6 Empire of Thalassa in Havbrevene
 6.1 Evolution, Devolution

 6.2 Icarus, Bruegel, and the Echo Chamber of Reception

 6.3 Life, but not Human

 6.4 Anthropomorphism




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