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Shipwreck Modernity

Ecologies of Globalization, 1550–1719

2015
Author:

Steve Mentz

Shipwreck Modernity

The familiar story of shipwreck revealed as an allegory of ecological catastrophe

Traces of shipwreck ecology appear in canonical literature from Shakespeare to Donne and also in sermons, tales of survival, and diaries of seventeenth-century English sailors. Offering the first ecocritical account of early modern shipwreck narratives, Shipwreck Modernity reveals the surprisingly modern truths to be found in these early stories of ecological collapse.

A compelling, provocative, even lyrical piece of scholarship that will undoubtedly inaugurate new critical discussions in the fields of maritime humanities, eco-criticism, early modern English literature, and shipwreck studies.

Josiah Blackmore, Harvard University

Shipwreck Modernity engages early modern representations of maritime disaster in order to describe the global experience of ecological crisis. In the wet chaos of catastrophe, sailors sought temporary security as their worlds were turned upside down. Similarly, writers, poets, and other thinkers searched for stability amid the cultural shifts that resulted from global expansion. The ancient master plot of shipwreck provided a literary language for their dislocation and uncertainty.

Steve Mentz identifies three paradigms that expose the cultural meanings of shipwreck in historical and imaginative texts from the mid-sixteenth through the early eighteenth centuries: wet globalization, blue ecology, and shipwreck modernity. The years during which the English nation and its emerging colonies began to define themselves through oceangoing expansion were also a time when maritime disaster occupied sailors, poets, playwrights, sermon makers, and many others. Through coming to terms with shipwreck, these figures adapted to disruptive change.

Traces of shipwreck ecology appear in canonical literature from Shakespeare to Donne to Defoe and also in sermons, tales of survival, amateur poetry, and the diaries of seventeenth-century English sailors. The isolated islands of Bermuda and the perils of divine anger hold central places. Modern sailor-poets including Herman Melville serve as valuable touchstones in the effort to parse the reality and understandings of global shipwreck.

Offering the first ecocritical account of early modern shipwreck narratives, Shipwreck Modernity reveals the surprisingly modern truths to be found in these early stories of ecological collapse.

Shipwreck Modernity

Steve Mentz is professor of English at St. John’s University in New York City. He is author of At the Bottom of Shakespeare’s Ocean and Romance for Sale in Early Modern England: The Rise of Prose Fiction.

Shipwreck Modernity

A compelling, provocative, even lyrical piece of scholarship that will undoubtedly inaugurate new critical discussions in the fields of maritime humanities, eco-criticism, early modern English literature, and shipwreck studies.

Josiah Blackmore, Harvard University

Mentz has shaped an account that looks poised to become a key ecocritical text in the years to come.

Glasgow Review of Books

Shipwreck Modernity

Contents

Two Prefaces
Theoretical Preface: Epochal Claims and the Age of Shipwreck
Narrative Preface: Ulysses and the Global Ecology
1. The Wet and the Dry: Shipwreck Hermeneutics
2. Angry Gods: Theologies of the Ocean
3. Isle of Tempests: Bermuda in the Early Modern Imagination
Interchapter: Pearls That Were His Eyes
4. Metis: Jeremy Roch
5. Metis: Edward Barlow
Interchapter: Philosopher at the Masthead
6. “We Split”: Sea Poetry and Maritime Crisis
7. Castaways: Surviving Disaster
Three Short Epilogues
The Bright Light of Shipwreck
The Bookfish
Seven Shipwrecked Ecological Truths
Acknowledgments
Notes
Index