Starting a new subject in a new semester makes a good excuse to go through my parents’ old books… again.
“That sounds like a nice activity”, my friend from Finland said, and I told him that sure, as long as you ignore the dust flying all around you. Go through old things on a cloudy day, not in bright sunshine like today, at least you won’t notice what will stuff your nose and tear your eyes up. (Apparently an average home collects 40 pounds of dust per year? I don’t know if it’d be true for us, our flat is only 48 sqm, though given our hoarding habits it might still be this high despite the size).
The subject revolves around the ‘blue humanities’, a way of studying the sea from a humanities perspective. It’s “a movement in literary and cultural studies that, drawing on critical practices and theoretical approaches from new historicism and new materialism, focuses on the presence of the ocean in cultural texts” (Buchanan 2018, Oxford Reference).
My dad has always been an avid water-goer and sportsperson. What hasn’t he done? He’s gone canoeing, swimming, yachting, sailing, windsurfing, paragliding, skiing, and got a black belt in karate. Most of these things revolve around water. A year ago he bought a boat house to store his two sailing boats.
We have very, very many books about random stuff. That’s because in the past you had to read books in order to learn something. We also have a large collection of fiction, some of the books falling apart and some seeming like they have never been read before.
First of all, going through these books is fascinating because they don’t make book covers like that anymore. Today, book covers are too clean, their colours too bright, their stamping too 3D. Just look at that cat cover (the cat’s name’s “Myszołów”, Buzzard in English, by the way – isn’t that a great cat name?) – isn’t it wonderfully minimalist without trying to be? At least not the 2020-type-of-minimalism, you know, the uber-Instagrammable type.
My dad’s got a great collection of sailing fiction, mainly open sea and around-the-world-ocean kind of sailing. I’ll never get to read it all, it’s a bit too dull for me. But I’m looking for something to nail down my interest in blue humanities, some sort of pivot that’s closer to me than surfing in Hawaii or the Polynesian Islands. I think of myself as a water spirit, too, but I have to find my own way of thinking about the sea.
May I mention before the end that stepping into the ocean was always among my greatest dreams. I sort of fulfilled that in the Acadia National Park, but I don’t think it was fully realised. It was in an inland bay, it wasn’t the full-fledged ocean. I keep on working towards it, although of course covid’s not helping with moving around. I hope to go to Ireland one day and have a proper oceanic experience.
I recommend this article about the blue humanities on the National Endowment of the Humanities website (Gillis 2013). Also this one (Bakker 2019) on the Counterpoint Navigating Knowledge blog.