8) From Heterotopia to Hope.
(paraphrased from “Modernity at Sea” by Cesare Casarino)
In which the personal development of our young hero is hollowed out from the inside so as to be turned into the narrative device and the interstitial aperture through which the collective life aboard the ship can be brought to the fore and into focus.
It is precisely such a preoccupation with the world of the ship and the sea voyage conceived as autonomous enclosures that turns the emergent form of the modernist sea narrative into a representation-producing machine for the turbulent transitions from mercantile capitalism to industrial capitalism.
Such a dialectic of historical representation makes it necessary to test the structural limits of narrative itself by corroding many of its conventional structures and to question the very viability of narrative as a form of representation.
Since the modernist sea narrative is firmly rooted in some form of realism, it could be said to have captured precisely those marginal and protomodernist elements in realism that were going to become indispensible for the formation of the various literary aesthetics of modernism. Furthermore, it is also the case that the realism of the Bildungsroman of the sea owes a great deal to romantic idealism, often by the way of the figure of the Byronic hero. Distinct forms of the sea narrative interfere with one another and include zones of indiscernibility that make it impossible to categorise them in strict terms of either genre of literary periodisation. Ultimately, out of all such interferences, it is the sea voyage and the world of the ship that emerge as the new and peculiarly modern problematic to which we now need to turn.
In 1967, Foucault delivered a programmatic lecture titled “Of Other Spaces” in which he developed a concept that he had first introduced a year earlier in The Order of Things – heterotopia.
“There are probably in every culture, in every civilisation, real places – places that do exist and that are formed in the very founding of society – which are something like counter-sites, a kind of effectively enacted utopia in which the real sites, all the other real sites that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested and inverted. …because these places are absolutely different from all the sites that they reflect and speak about, I shall call them, by way of contrast to utopias, heterotopias.
For Foucault, the ship was the heterotopia par excellence. “In civilisations without boats, dreams dry up, espionage takes the place of adventure, and the police take the place of pirates.”
The sea narrative folds back upon itself so as to problematise and to question – in short, to think – its foundation. The sea narrative questions not only its own foundation but the foundation of a world that founded its narrative.
Deleuze says : “The inside as an operation of the outside : in all his work, Foucalt seems haunted by this theme of an inside which is merely the fold of the outside, as if the ship were a folding of the sea. On the subject of the Renaissance madman who is put to sea in his boat, Foucault wrote
: “He is put in the interior of the of the exterior, and inversely….a prisoner in the midst of what is the freest, the openest of routes, bound fast at the infinite crossroads. He is the Passenger par excellence: that is the prisoner of the passage.”
Deleuze seizes upon Foucault in order to explain the relations between thought and unthought, inside and outside. Deleuze unwittingly draws attention to the ways in which the ship is indissolubly bound to these questions; it is precisely because the space for the ship comes in being as the interference between thought and unthought and between inside and outside that Deleuze can make recourse to this space.
For Deleuze, the cinematic image of the ship is identified as a type of crystal image – that is, as a certain interferential circuit and zone of indiscernibility between the virtual and the actual – and he singles out Herman Melville for having fixed this structure for all time.
The point is for us here to understand the modernist sea narrative as an attempt to produce the space of the ship as the thought of an unthinkable unthought, as the inside of an unrepresentable outside, as the fold-effect through which the immanent cause of the outside comes into being as a form in the world and comes to disrupt the history of forms, in short, as an attempt to produce the space of the ship as heterotopia. The heterotopia of the ship produces a language that gravitates toward the nether world of the nonrepresentational and that operates at the edge of its own dissolution. The modernist sea narrative freezes the world of the ship into a fleeting image flashing onto the screen of history for one last moment before its disappearance; it captures simultaneously the apogee and the end of the ship as the heterotopia par excellence of Western civilisation.