Since scuba diving for the first time, I’ve been fascinated with stories of divers. My interests in materiality, embodiment, memory, metaphor, and understandings of space and place all converge and intensify underwater. Can there be “places” underwater? How can underwater places be remembered and memorialized? To what extent can understandings of underwater space be separated from the embodied and emotional states facilitated by scuba technology? The articles, books, and videos listed below all grapple with these questions and more.
Spectral Registers from the Black Hadal
The Design Lab - UC San Diego
Dunnavant and Flewellen, both Black archaeologists and scuba divers, discuss the rarity of underwater monuments and memorials and imagine what an underwater monument dedicated to the transatlantic slave trade might look like. They discuss the relationship between monumentality and oceanic materiality, somatic monumentality, and the body as a site of memorialization. For Dunnavant and Flewellen, “the Atlantic is both metaphor and material.” They discuss several spectral registers of the ocean—spectral as haunting (as in a calling, a history) and spectral as technology (as in spectral remote sensing).
These Divers Search for Slave Shipwrecks and Discover their Ancestors
While many enjoy the escape from the human world that diving provides, and even describe the sublime, expansive underwater world as "placeless," maritime archaeologists often use diving to discover, document, and reconnect with a sense of place. In 1993, a memorial plaque was placed on the wreck of the Henrietta Marie by the National Association of Black Scuba Divers. What better register of a "place" is there than a plaque? Shipwrecks, which are often emotionally, historically, and politically charged, constitute veritable places underwater. This video features a number of Black maritime archaeologists who use and promote diving to sunken shipwrecks as a way of reconnecting with enslaved African ancestors and remember their resting place on the ocean floor.
Touched by water: The body in scuba diving
Emotion, Space, and Society
Scuba diving is, first and foremost, a positionality aided by various technologies that produce differential embodiment. Straughan argues that to understand underwater places, it is necessary to first understand the embodied and emotional states produced by scuba—the self-contained underwater breathing apparatus. In this paper, Straughan describes the aquatic world inhabited by professional dive guides and instructors. This is a place that “cannot be experienced without kinesthetic sensation.” Deep diving which involves the use of nitrogen has the further potential for “somatic alteration experienced as a sense of euphoria.”
Deep Ethnography: Witnessing the Ghosts of the SS Thistlegorm
Water Worlds: Human Geographies of the Ocean
Though they are “places,” wrecks are accidental, warped, relocated, disaster-struck, and “haunted” places. In this chapter, Merchant attends to experiences of embodiment and materiality at the highly-touristed SS Thistlegorm wreck in the Red Sea. Merchant paints a picture of wrecks as haunted, citing Bell’s (1997) “The Ghosts of Place.” She quotes Holloway and Kneale (2008): “what we are dealing with when a space becomes haunted, is the disruption or dislocation of normalized configurations and affordances of materiality, embodiment and space.”
Wet Ontologies, Fluid Spaces: Giving Depth to Volume through Oceanic Thinking
Environment and Planning D: Society and Space
As opposed to horizontal or latitudinal shifts in position, vertical and altitudinal shifts in position result in rapider changes in materiality, sovereignty, and inhabitability. (For more on this, see Stephen Graham’s (2016) “Vertical: The City from Satellites to Bunkers” and Franck Billé’s (2020) “Voluminous States: Sovereignty, Materiality, and the Territorial Imagination.”) The turn toward volume, materiality, and “wet” ontologies in geography is inspired, in part, by diving and other ventures into environments which challenge terrestrial notions of space, place, and sovereignty.
Steinberg and Peters reflect on the relationship between diving and place. The production of space can “be seen in diving. Diving involves a complex mix of, on the one hand, turning place into nothingness as one descends into the light-deprived abyssal zone, and, on the other, turning nothingness into place.”