Seas and Shores in Literature and Culture:

a Haunted Shores PGR/ECR seminar in conjunction with the Centre for Arts, Media, and Culture at Edinburgh Napier University

Wednesday 24 May 2023, 13.30-17.30

Room E14, Merchiston campus, and online on Teams.

To sign up, please click on the following links:

Register for in-person attendance (registration closes 17 May)

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13.20Welcome Emily Alder and Anne Schwan
13.30-14.30Panel 1: Superstition, Supernatural, and the Sea 

Chair: Sarah Artt
Madeline Potter, University of York and Edinburgh Napier University, ‘“My ghastly tale is told”: Hearing the Ancient Mariner’s Tale in Frankenstein and Dracula

Federica Mascherpa, Edinburgh Napier University, ‘Sea Superstition and the Undermining of Reason’, Science, and Technology in Moby-Dick; or The Whale’
14.30Tea/ coffee/ refreshments
15.00Panel 2: Littoral Ladies

Chair: Giulia Champion
Rachael Murray, University of Glasgow, ‘Keeping your Ghosts (and Coasts) to Yourself: telling tales of littoral spectres in Bannerman and Corelli’

Marion Troxler, University of Bern, ‘Shifting Shores and Metamorphic Merfolk: Transformability as Resistance in Mermaid and Selkie Literature of the 20th-21st centuries’
16.00Short break
16.15-17.15Panel 3:
Hydrofictions and Hydrocommons

Chair: Tara Thomson
Hannah Boast, University College Dublin, ‘Gaza Beach’

Giulia Champion, University of Southampton, ‘“Would you mine a graveyard?” Ancestrality and the Ocean in the Caribbean’
17.30-18.30Drinks and nibbles

Panel 1: abstracts and speaker biographies

Maddy Potter, ‘“My ghastly tale is told”: Hearing the Ancient Mariner’s Tale in Frankenstein and Dracula

Quoted in two of Gothic literature’s most significant texts – Frankenstein and Dracula –   Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner establishes itself as a reference point for Gothic apprehensiveness at sea. My paper explores this network of Gothic intertextuality and argues that Coleridge’s long poem offers a model of the Gothic ur-tale of oceanic confessionalism, which lends the Mariner’s voice, in its curse-compulsion to narrate his story, transcendental dimensions which resound in the epistolary form of both Frankenstein and Dracula. Considering the implications of this process, I explore the physical nature of Coleridge’s sea-haunting – rather than a classic ghost ship story, the Mariner’s terror, from the heaviness of the albatross corpse hung round his neck to the visceral image of drawing blood from his arm to quench his thirst, employs material imagery. Following Hester Blum’s conceptualisation of the sea as a ‘new epistemology’ rather than merely an ‘organizing metaphor with which to widen a landlocked perspective’, I ask how this triangulation of Gothic intertextuality can help us understand the new epistemologies of monstrous bodies at sea, and how we can employ these insights to design new critical tools in monster theory, which has hitherto tended to employ landlocked perspectives in analysing monstrosity. 

Dr Madeline Potter is an associate in the English Department at the University of York, and a research assistant at Edinburgh Napier University, on the ‘Scottish Shores’ project. Her work explores the intersections between literature and theology with a primary focus on 19th-century Gothic literature. Her first academic monograph, Theological Monsters: Religion and Irish Gothic, is forthcoming with University of Wales Press for their Gothic Literary Studies series. She has published work on Charles Robert Maturin, J. S. Le Fanu, and Bram Stoker, and is currently editing a collection on vampires and theology, forthcoming with Lexington/Fortress Academic.

Federica Mascherpa, ‘Sea Superstition and the Undermining of Reason, Science, and Technology in Moby-Dick; or The Whale’

This paper examines the place of sailor superstition in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick; or The Whale. I will first argue, following Steinberg’s and Peters’ ideas, that sea spaces are different from the ‘static, grounded ontology that is typically associated with land’ (2019, 294) and that, as such, they operate according to different rules. One crucial difference is that, where land spaces are perceived in terms of the rational and the logical, the sea invites consideration as a space of superstition and is steeped in the irrational. I will, then, demonstrate how Moby-Dick exemplifies this view of sea spaces in a narrative where scientific discourse and the presence of technology are persistently undermined by the presence and workings of the irrational. To achieve this, I will analyse Melville’s presentation of the whale, Moby Dick, as the superstitious centre of the novel, and the narrative’s inability to describe and ‘capture’ him through a scientific lens despite the emphasis upon natural history in the novel. Finally, I shall show how this failure to describe Moby Dick destabilizes the narrative: first, as Moby Dick’s irrational nature extends to other whales generally, which also elude human – rational – definition; and then, by extension, how this impacts upon sea-craft, as the technological and precise nature of the material whaling vessel is destabilized, with it eventually transcending the boundaries of rationality to become both a ghost ship and an infernal space.

Federica Mascherpa is a PhD student at Edinburgh Napier University. Her PhD project focuses on understanding the extent of the impact of superstition in nineteenth century seafaring narratives, especially in the works of Herman Melville and Joseph Conrad, and has a working title of ‘Sailors’ Superstition in Nineteenth-Century Seafaring Narratives: Melville and Conrad’.

Panel 2: Abstracts And Speaker Biographies

Rachael Murray, ‘Keeping your ghosts (and coasts) to yourself: telling tales of littoral spectres in Bannerman and Corelli’

Horrified that her rented cliff-top château has been exposed as a haunted house, a distressed hostess has plain instructions for her visiting author: “For goodness’ sake, keep your ghosts to yourself!” But, as the story continues, it becomes steadily clearer that writers cannot easily keep to themselves what their littoral landscapes prevent them from having in the first place.

            This paper will examine two understudied texts which, though penned almost a hundred years apart, both play with the struggles of narrating coastal spectres across the 19th century: Scottish poet Anne Bannerman’s ‘The Fisherman of Lapland’ (1802) and English best-seller Marie Corelli’s short story ‘The Lady with the Carnations’(1896). Through these texts revolving around bodies and tales lost to the waves, I will explore how both authors problematise the act of coastal writing via their ghosts, which seemingly cannot be extricated from the ocean long enough to be fully narrativised. The sea, whether encountered from icy clifftop or balmy beach, thereby functions as an anti-narrative space, crumbling the very tales it inspires. Across textual depths of tellings and retellings, both tales find themselves beset with disjointed time, disconcerting doubles, and dissolving selfhoods, embodying many of the ways that the sea might ultimately thwart the authors and keep its ghosts to itself.

Rachael Eleanor Murray (she/her) is a first-year Carnegie PhD Scholar at the University of Glasgow with an interest in all things dark, deathly, and disconcertingly liminal. She completed an MLitt in Romantic/Victorian Studies at the University of St Andrews in 2021, and her current research focusses on the use of watery imagery in representations of death and mortality in 18th–19th century women’s Gothic writing – with occasional digressions into seaweed and exploding Victorian fish.

Marion Troxler: Shifting Shores and Metamorphic Merfolk: Transformability as Resistance in Mermaid and Selkie Literature of the 20th-21st centuries

Long, shiny hair, a beautiful voice, a naked torso with barely covered breasts – seamlessly transitioning into an animal body, with scales, fur, feathers or claws, mixing seduction with threat, crossing seemingly clear-cut boundaries between species. Mermaids, Selkies, Sirens and other female hybrid creatures populate the seascape in literature, theatre, opera, film and music as well as science. The beach is where these merfolk bodies become visible, where the hybridity of the landscape reflects the hybridity of the body. As a place of transformation and encounter, the littoral is crucial to understanding the imagined bodies of mermaids and selkies which combine femininity, monstrosity and fluidity.  

In this paper, I will give an overview of the trajectory and aims of my dissertation in my second year of research. Drawing on the Blue Humanities and Critical Body Studies, this project hopes to contribute to understanding how hybridity and, as its effect, ambiguity are imagined as means of resistance and possible counter-narratives to the hegemonic patriarchal power structures which not only sustain narratives of dominance within relationships between humans, but also with the morethan-human. I hope to bring to light that tales of merfolk not only fire children’s imagination, but can also offer alternative visions of living together in a world where current hierarchies threaten the lives of all species. 

Marion Troxler completed her studies in English Languages and Literatures and World Literature at the University of Bern, Switzerland, and joined the SNSF-funded project “The Beach in the Long Twentieth Century” as a doctoral researcher in December 2022. In her PhD project, she explores how literary depictions of mermaids and selkies challenge categorisation of species, sex, and gender, considering the beach not only as a setting for their encounters with humans, but as a critical framework to understand the role of transformability and hybridity in creating alternative narratives. Until the end of July 2023, she is a visiting researcher at the School of Arts and Creative Industries at Edinburgh Napier University.  

Panel 3: Abstracts And Speaker Biographies

Hannah Boast, ‘Gaza Beach’

This paper gives an overview of some meanings of the sea in contemporary Palestinian literature and culture through drawing on unpublished work from my monograph Hydrofictions: Water, Power and Politics in Israeli and Palestinian Literature (Edinburgh University Press, 2020) and a new chapter for the Routledge Companion to Environmental Humanities, ed. by Oloff, Deckard, Westall and De Loughry. I focus particularly on representations of the Gaza shore, a site which is simultaneously a popular leisure destination for families trapped in one of the most densely populated areas on Earth; an area of important economic activity, fishing, which is curtailed by arbitrary Israeli restrictions on maritime mobility; an ecologically threatened site as a result of the underdevelopment and repeated Israeli bombing of Gaza’s sewage infrastructure; and a militarised space in which Palestinians have been subjected to shocking spectacles of Israeli violence, notably the killing of four children during Israel’s assault on Gaza of 2014. I discuss the photographs of Tanya Habjouqa, in which representations of the sea serve to contest stereotyped representations of Gazan life, and Saleem Haddad’s short story ‘Song of the Birds’, from Palestine+100 (ed. Basma Ghalayini, 2019), which addresses the beach as a site of Israeli political and ecological violence in a sci-fi mode. I also bring in other examples of the sea from Palestinian literature and culture, including Raja Shehadeh, Adania Shibli, and graffiti by Alaa Albaba.

Dr Hannah Boast is Ad Astra Fellow and Assistant Professor at University College Dublin and from June will be Chancellor’s Fellow at University of Edinburgh. Hannah was previously Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at University of Warwick. Their first book, Hydrofictions: Water, Power and Politics in Israeli and Palestinian Literature (Edinburgh University Press, 2020), was shortlisted for the ASLE-UKI 2021 Book Prize. Hannah has published on environmental politics and culture in journals including Green LettersEnvironmental Humanities, Textual Practice and Journal of Commonwealth Literature.

Giulia Champion, ‘Would you mine a graveyard?: Ancestrality and the Ocean in the Caribbean’

In June 2021 the president of the Pacific island-nation Nauru, Lionel Aingimea, notified the International Seabed Authority (ISA) of their intention to begin mining the seabed in two years, setting a deadline for the ISA’s current work on creating a regulatory framework for Deep-Sea Mining (DSM). The ISA is thus currently meeting to draft the Mining Code to regulate the exploitation of the seabed. With a two-year deadline, the issues it must consider are multiple and complex. Mining the deep-sea could provide a source of key metals necessary for electric car batteries and other “green” technologies vital to the decarbonisation movement; However, many other stakeholders note the significantly under-determined risk of DSM. The ISA’s establishment of the Mining Code bears in mind legal and economic issues concerning the exploitation of waters beyond national jurisdiction (“The Area”), which the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea “designates […] as the common heritage of mankind” (Miller et al. 2018, 6). 

Given these conceptual, legal and economic challenges, this paper engages with difficult questions pertaining to how one can possibly commodify a “resource” labelled as “common heritage” and who is “mankind” in this context? Additionally, given that the concept of hydrocommons imply a relationship of responsibility toward bodies of water, this paper will discuss how the representation of Afro-descendant beliefs of ocean deities and the presence of ancestors on the seabed in contemporary Caribbean cultural productions emphasise this relation of custodian- and kinship, in a time where petro-extractivism offshore and discussions about the legalisation of Deep-Sea Mining continue to threaten the ocean and coasts. These extractive practices are deeply connected to a long history of colonial extractivism, itself also entangled with transatlantic identities. 

Dr Giulia Champion is a Research Fellow at the University of Southampton. Her project focuses on the legalisation of Deep-Sea Mining and engagement with and representations of the seabed. In 2022, she was a Green Transition Fellow at the University of Stavanger. She co-edited collections and journal issues including “Intersections of Activism and Academia” with Bulletin of Latin American Research, “Animal Futurity” with Green Letters and “From Antropofagia to Global Lusophone Studies” with Portuguese Studies. Her work has been published in The Routledge Handbook of Ecofeminism and Literature, Contemporary French and Francophone Studies and Gothic Studies (2022) and The Journal of Energy History (2023, forthcoming).