Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Getting Lost (At Sea)

Currently on exhibit at the Folger Shakespeare Library is “Lost at Sea: The Ocean in the English Imagination, 1550-1750.” The exhibit not only displays a veritable trove of items – instruments, maps, paintings, and pamphlets – but also shows how these items flow around and within the oceanic imaginations of Humphrey Gilbert, John Smith, Daniel Defoe, William Shakespeare, and others. There is even a hands-on section for the more adventurous landlubber. My personal favorite is the panel describing the “hydrographic uncertainty” of life at sea; the first chapter of my dissertation thinks about how Walter Ralegh writes about water (hydrography) and the more theoretical ways in which water writes (hydrographesis) his narrative, even himself. Can water’s depths ever be fully known, its borders enlimned, or its touch avoided? What is certain about water? “We are reminded that everything is flowing,” John Muir says, when we contemplate water. What might happen when we drift with these flows? To find yourself “lost at sea,” then, might be both a condition of discovery and a desirable moment of (non)human creativity.

The curator, in fact, is someone who has recently completed an intriguing book on the subject of water and early modernity: Steve Mentz, author of At the Bottom of Shakespeare’s Ocean (Continuum, 2009). On Tuesday, July 13th he will deliver a free lecture at the Folger: “Stories from the Sea: At the Bottom of Shakespeare's Ocean.” You may also watch his interview on DC’s Let’s Talk Live from June 23rd.

Michel Serres describes the “visit” in nautical terms: “Voyaging begins when one burns one’s boats, adventures begin with a shipwreck.” Inhabiting and traveling simultaneously. That being said, a visit to the Folger this summer is highly recommended.

“Lost at Sea” runs until September 4th and is free to the public.

Kalamazoo 2011: Objects, Networks, and Materiality (A Roundtable)

The GW Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute is sponsoring a roundtable on Objects, Networks and Materiality at the International Congress on Medieval Studies in Kalamazoo, MI (May 12-15, 2011).

We welcome short papers on any aspect of medieval, early modern or contemporary theories of matter, especially those that posit materiality as something other than inert: agental, networked, catalytic, vibrant. Contact Jeffrey Cohen ( with questions or proposals.

Get Lost (at Sea)

If you are in DC this summer, don't miss the exhibit Lost at Sea at the Folger Shakespeare Library (free; no tickets required). This well curated collection of artifacts and illustrations emphasizes the uncertainties of watery horizons, and the possibilities they offer for creativity. Steve Mentz, author of At the Bottom of Shakespeare's Ocean and the curator of the exhibition, will be lecturing on Stories from the Sea: At the Bottom of Shakespeare's Ocean on Tuesday July 13. The event is free.

If you're not in DC, the digital exhibit is quite good as well. Just follow the link above. You may also be interested in this review from the Washington Post.