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Swimming Into the Blue Humanities

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Seminar Room 650, Level 6, Social Sciences Building (off Science Road

University of Sydney

Camperdown, NSW 2006

Australia

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Join the Sydney Environment Institute in welcoming visiting scholar Professor Steve Mentz for his keynote lecture, Swimming Into the Blue Humanities.

Ocean swimming can serve as embodied ecological meditation for the Anthropocene. In touching the great waters, we feel something. Immersion works through feeling – both the ‘feel for the water’ emphasised by swim coaches and the ‘oceanic feeling’ rhapsodised by poets and psychologists. That feel and that feeling lure us into the water, and sometimes frighten us away.

Swimming is only a semi-natural practice for terrestrial humans. At best, we engage the water slowly, awkwardly, and at considerable personal risk. Western literary culture confines swimming to super-heroes such as Beowulf or Odysseus, whose exceptional prowess emphasises the inability of most humans to survive in water. The rise of ocean swimming as popular recreation in the second half of the twentieth century changes the relationship between human and ocean. In plunging our bodies into an inhospitable environment, we encounter an alien presence, soothing and dangerous at the same time.

From the shipwrecked swims of Odysseus and Robinson Crusoe to the immersive poetry of Byron and Whitman, swimming captures the human experience of environmental alienation. The swimmer’s entrance into the great waters embraces ecological uncertainty. The ocean swimmer captures environmental risk and human vulnerability in to the Anthropocene.

This event will be followed by a performance from Baptism in Courtyard Bar.

Keynote

Steve Mentz is a Professor of English at St John’s University, New York. He has directly engaged with port and harbour studies in New York and Bristol, and has authored numerous publications including Shipwreck Modernity: Ecologies of Globalization 1550-1719, (2015) and At the Bottom of Shakespeare’s Ocean (2009). A forthcoming book in the Bloomsbury’s Object Lessons series is titled Ocean.

Speakers

David Schlosberg (Introduction), Sydney Environment Institute

Ann Elias (Q&A Moderator), Department of Art History

Performers

Baptism, a collaboration between Charlie Sundborn and Solomon Frank, mythologises the ocean to construct ritualistic performances.

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Seminar Room 650, Level 6, Social Sciences Building (off Science Road

University of Sydney

Camperdown, NSW 2006

Australia

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