Nanna Heidenreich

"Hunting the Key to the World's Climate". On Rising and Falling Sea Levels and its Narrative Media Formats 

The career of "Master of disaster" Irwin Allen, inventor of numerous fantasy and sci-fi film and television formats diving deep or going out into space, took off with winning the Academy Award for a documentary film, based on his adaptation of Rachel Carson's legendary debut book The Sea Around Us (1953). The film ends with dramatic speculation about melting polar caps and rising sea levels. Carson indeed wrote of rising temperatures and stated, "we live in an age of rising seas". For Carson, as for Allen, however, this constituted a natural phenomenon, independent of human influence, and one that above all provided exciting research desiderata for science. In my paper I take Natascha Adamowsky's analysis that immersion and submersion always require media enabling forms (‘mediale Erm√∂glichungsformen’) (Ozeanische Wunder, 2017) as well as Amitav Gosh's question about the narrative forms that can or cannot talk about climate change, and which are entangled in its creation (The Great Derangement, 2016) as a starting point. I will look into various (fantastic) narratives about rising and falling sea levels, such as J.G. Ballard's The Drowned World (1962) and the somewhat surprising fictional chapter "Als das Meer verschwunden war [When the Sea Had Disappeared]" in Antje and Henning Boetius' Das Dunkle Paradies (2011). By looking at media technologies role in deep-sea research and linking it to fictional narratives about the future of planet Earth, I try to grapple with current neo-colonial 'land' grabbings, such as the race for mineral mining both from the seabed and in space (today’s 'new frontiers'). Some of the questions that inform my paper include: to what extent the ‘spirit of discovery’ of the 21st resembles or differs to that of the late 19th and 20th centuries, which paved the way into the depths of the ocean, interlocking poetics, engineering and public relations and cultivating futurity (see Natalia Lettenewitsch). Is Ballard's novel a colonial fantasy or rather its critical reversal? Which political and topological imaginaries inform the mapping of the seabed since manganese nodules in the second half of the 20th century have become an object of speculation and projection? What role do (media) infrastructures and their legacy of colonial topologies play in this (Dirk van Laak, Imperiale Infrastruktur, 2004)?