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“Transoceanic Imaginaries:  Our Seas of  Plastic”

Elizabeth DeLoughrey
Professor of English, Institute for the Environment and Sustainability

Recent scholarship focusing on the transoceanic imaginary has turned to the ways in which the sea has shaped histories of migration, particularly in island spaces of the Caribbean and Pacific. Turning to the immensity of the world’s ocean, and connecting it to our history, proximity, and saline blood, these works have made claims about “peoples of the sea” (Benítez-Rojo) or that the ocean “is in our blood” (Teaiwa). This paper will review the major claims of oceanic studies in the past decade and turn to the work of Dominican installation artist, Tony Capellán, whose work for the past two decades has been examining the flotsam and jetsam of the Caribbean Sea, making politicized commentaries on the water’s power over the poor, as well as the Caribbean’s susceptibility to waste imperialism and the economies of disposability. His installations, made out of discarded (or lost) flip flops, plastic bottles, dolls’ heads, children’s baseball bats, baby bottles and teething rings, bring the material, environmental, and metaphoric dimensions of oceanic waste together. Turning in particular to his installation “Mar Caribe” (of flip-flopsam) and his installation of plastic bottles and containers in “Mar Invadido” (Invaded Sea), this paper examines the ways in which Capellán depicts the cultural regimes and plastic afterlives of sanitizing the body, foregrounding as he does a sea of plastic laundry detergent bottles, shampoo bottles, buckets, and laundry baskets. The conclusion of my paper examines the ways in which, rather than claiming the sea in our blood, we might follow the more political claims of Capellán who suggests that, reciprocally speaking, the sea is humanized—and industrialized-- by the way it absorbs our waste.

Professor Elizabeth DeLoughrey has appointments in the UCLA English Department and in the Institute for the Environment and Sustainability. She is co-editor of the online open access journal Environmental Humanities. Her scholarship has been supported by institutions such as the ACLS, NEH, Rockefeller, Mellon Foundation, UCLA Global Studies Program, Fulbright, UC Humanities Research Institute, and the Cornell Society for the Humanities. She is the author of Routes and Roots: Navigating Caribbean and Pacific Literatures (2007), and co-editor of Caribbean Literature and the Environment: Between Nature and Culture (2005); Postcolonial Ecologies: Literatures of the Environment(2011); and Global Ecologies and theEnvironmental Humanities: Postcolonial Approaches (2015), Her forthcoming book, Allegories of the Anthropocene (2018), examines climate change and empire in the literary and visual arts and is forthcoming from Duke University Press.

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