Ocean (Object Lessons)

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Bloomsbury’s Object Lessons series presents slim books on a variety of objects to get to the heart of “the hidden lives of ordinary things.” Each book is written by a different author whose relationship to their chosen object may be professional, artistic, or personal. In the case of Ocean, though, the author, Steve Mentz, picked an immense object, and it seems to have been too big to fit into this one-hundred-fifty page volume.

Mentz has spent his life studying and professing literature of the sea. The book, therefore, is academic in style and its approach is based more on literary theory than oceanography.

I read this book hoping to gain new insights into the sea’s history or the chemical makeup of its watery depths. Perhaps, for this reason, I was disappointed. Despite its title, Ocean is more about maritime literature than about the ocean itself. Veering off into close-reads of poetry, and even referencing Donna Haraway’s “ Cyborg Manifesto” in a very abstract effort to compare sailors to the cyborgs referenced there-in, this book is not for the casual ocean-hobbyists.

However, and I cannot stress this enough, this book is not about the science of the ocean, nor is it about the myriad creatures it contains; what this book is, is a small collection of literary criticism about books about the ocean. Mentz writes about Emily Dickinson’s ocean poetry, the Iliad and Odyssey, Herman Melville, Rachel Carson’s environmental writing, and other ocean-themed texts. Because of this, some chapters may alienate readers who have not read the work discussed.

Still, some concepts, like that of “wet globalization,” “deterritorialization,” and an obscure reference to a “general theory of autogenous vessels,” may capture the more theory-driven reader’s interest. But, even for those like myself who enjoy literary theory, the broad range (from classical to romantic, from poetry to non-fiction) means that unless the reader is already familiar with ocean literature, they will likely find Ocean too particular to access.


Reviewed By:

Author Steve Mentz
Star Count 2.5/5
Format Trade
Page Count 192 pages
Publisher Bloomsbury Academic
Publish Date 2020-03-19
ISBN 9781501348631
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Issue 9781501348631
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