The Sea is History 12/16/2016
She was standing at the edges of Lago Enriquillo, a huge, hyper-salinated lake towards the west of the Dominican Republic, on the border with Haiti. The lake had been flooding the surrounding land, and in the process destroying villages, trees, farmland, and consequently the lives and habitats of the local people and animals. A plantation of dead palm trees, erect and half-submerged in brown water, leafless, lifeless, still, shimmered in its own reflection. Some people said the rise in the lake’s water level was due to climate change and the warming of the Global Ocean. Others said it was for other reasons. Some expounded tales of government-organised floods to release hidden oil under the lake’s bed, whilst others told of a corrupt local dam project that syphoned its excess water towards the channels that fed the lake. Yet Lago Enriquillo was getting saltier—perhaps the ocean was seeping in through underground torrents? Regardless of the real reasons for the water’s expansion, she looked at the lake as a present example of an apocalyptic future bound up with a certain past—a past that perhaps contained the code to a different future.
It was here on this island, she thought, that the Spaniards first arrived and were thus discovered by the indigenous of this land. A moment in which two cultures met, yet the potentially productive Relation was irretrievably lost from the beginning and the violence that ensued. It was here on this island, she thought, that the plantation system was first developed to the degree that allowed for global capitalism to take its hold on the earth. An economic system based on the domination and mass exploitation of a local labor force, and eventually, after the near-total destruction of the native population, growth in the Old World was secured through the uprooting and transportation of a faraway labor force. “Slavery, the root of modern-day capitalism,” she said, and then: “capitalism, the root of our present ecological crisis.” The island in which she found herself at that moment started to take on the shape of a circle closing in on itself—a snake eating its own tail: Ouroboros. This history had designed its own death from the very beginning, a hell-bent process of extraction at every level. Metabolic rift after metabolic rift, until nothing would be left of what was once there.
Discover the whole story in the Sea is History Publication
Where are your monuments, your battles, martyrs?
Where is your tribal memory? Sirs,
in that grey vault. The sea. The sea
has locked them up. The sea is history
Derek Walcott, “The Sea Is History” (1979)
Whilst in the Dominican Republic I plan to develop upon a long-term research project entitled “Black Code/Code Noir.” This research has so far considered the relationship of histories of slavery within the Americas in regard to the coding and necropolitical control of black bodies within the plantation capitalist system—both in North America and Haiti—in the past as in the present. As a development on this initial work, I plan to engage with the writings of Donna Haraway and Edouard Glissant—drawing Haraway’s concept of the Plantationocene (and the contemporary need for multispecies assemblages) into relation with Glissant’s work on the symbolic structure of the Caribbean Créole Garden (Jardin Créole)—as ways to live in a post-Anthropocene future.
The work is driven conceptually by an interest in the relationship between the effects and outcomes of plantation capitalism within the Americas and the current climate crisis the world is facing. Focusing on the global implementation of monoculture through European colonialism, resulting in the violent destruction of (amongst many others) indigenous language, belief systems, and ecosystems, the research seeks to uncover instances within which life has continued to resist colonial domination through alternative ways of being-with-the-world through forms of creolized multi-specied assemblages. This will be drawn into relationship with a critical analysis of the use of new technologies as forms of natural-cultural social control that hark back to imperialist strategies of domination of the European enlightenment project of colonialism. Proposing a thesis that the colonial history of the Dominican Republic and Haiti (as the island in which European colonization of the Americas and the Atlantic slave trade first began) is what has led in part to our current ecological catastrophe, I claim that in order to move forwards and away from a potential neocolonial capture, we must not only learn from the past but also reconsider it from multiple perspectives.
This work will lead towards a medium-length speculative documentary film titled Sea Is History, Unity Is Submarine, which will argue for an undoing of history in the present. The film will inquire into points of view in kinship with people, spirits, animals, rocks, and plants of the Dominican Republic, asserting the agency of all beings in forming the social fabric of our World-to-come. I shall collect audiovisual material of examples of “collective assemblages”—contemporary animist rituals, coral reefs, syncretistic carnivals, créole gardens, sound-system parties, for example. This will be also be matched with landscape studies of tobacco and sugar plantations, historical sites of slave and Taino resistance, and interviews with plantation workers from the island—who can be understood as living archives that relay testimonies of Caribbean plantation life.