Prezzy Coming-up!

Just looking through the final slides and picturing the whole performance coming out. I feel very excited, i think we really hit the nail on the head with this exploratory theme. Fiction, Mythology, Sci-fi, technology, conquest…. not so different form eachother after all…

British imperial naval power

This is a really great source into the battle for sea power in the colonial times.

Very interesting to see that the battle for sea power was not only important in order to maintain a sense of power and control over the unknown but also a valuable trading route. The intersection of colonial ambition is a theme that I am seeing constantly within my research and it’s proving to me that we cannot separate the imperial intentions from the battle to maintain power.

Sci-fi meets reality in the deep sea

More often than not, casual observers tend to sharply differentiate between sci-fi productions and the reality of technological innovation for the purpose of extreme exploration. The truth, though, is that in the extreme realms of the unknown, where humans rarely go and recurrently fail to comprehend in any form consistent with our typical reality, the boundary between sci-fi and technological reality becomes increasingly blurred. A paramount example of this fictional-factual intermeshing comes through the commercial efforts of Canadian movie producer James Cameron to construct a deep-sea exploration vessel capable of reaching sub-marine territories never explored by humans before. James Cameron’s efforts were privately motivated, and publically funded. That is to say, the entire projects was set in motion by himself, and the available technologies to build his vessel would be harnessed merely by the know-how and imagination of his personally selected team, sponsors (Rolex) and national geographic, who were documenting the entire exploratory process.

The vessel, which would eventually break all human deep-sea records by reaching the bottom of the challenger deep at 11,000 meters, was essentially a privately funded construction. Technologies for deep-diving were already available, and no more than a careful construction was required to make a vessel of such quality. However that area which had not been previously effectively tackled by men of science, was how the vessel was going to interpret the deep-blue. Of-course 10 kilometers beneath the surface of the water there is no light, and conventional methods of attaching a bright light to a standard UV light camera had always produced highly inadequate reports of life in the abyss. It was on the issue of how to interpret the inaccessible world, 10kilometers bellow, that science fiction became a vital source of inspiration.

Cameron’s deep sea challenger was considered revolutionary in the sphere of deep-sea exploration for the reason that all its recordings from its journey were made using a sensory mechanism that had been imagined through science fiction and employed only by few animals in the wild. Though the deep sea challenger was assembled in Australia, Cameron hired a California based optics team to assemble the most advanced sonar imaging technology sensor ever to be taken below the surface of the sea. This approach of sensory relativity by Cameron and his team essentially revolutionized the approach to deep sea exploration, making cameras and sound-wave technologies appear inaccurate and redundant. The decision to adapt the vessel to the deep-sea world by modifying its input approach was a technological leap made possible only through initial steps towards sensory-alteration providing by science-fiction attempts to fill the silence of the unknown. Cameron’s sonar technology ended up providing some of the most compelling account of life kilometers below the sea surface. Effective technology, it therefore appears, is not absent from the realms of imaginative interpretation.

Our Bibliography (to be updated in the comments)

  • Sasha Ingber, “Life in the Quiet Zone: West Virginia Town Avoids Electronics for Science”, The National Geographic, 2014. [accessed 25, March 2017]
  • Sumathi Ramaswamy, Fabulous Geographies, Catastrophic Histories, New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2005.
  • William Cocke, “Is This What the Big Bang Sounded Like?”, The National Geographic, 2005.
  • Jeremy Berlin, “Take a Cosmic Rorschach Test: What do you See?”, The National Geographic, 2017.
  • Three Early Modern Utopias, ed. Susan Bruce, UK: Oxford World’s Classics, 1999.
  • Galanopoulos, A & Edward Bacon, Atlantis: The Truth Behind the Legend, London: Nelson, 1969
  • Gregory Baum, “Does the World Remain Disenchanted?”, 1970
  • Gillian Beer, ‘Darwin’s Plots: Evolutionary Narrative in Darwin, George Eliot and Nineteenth-Century Fiction, Cambridge University Press, 28 Feb 2000.
  • Edward Said, Orientalism, Vintage Books edition, 1979, pg.95
  • Bridget Brown, ‘My Body Is Not My Own’, in Conspiracy Nation, ed. by Peter Knight (New York and London : New York University Press, 2002), pp. 107-129.
  • Peter Knight, ‘Body Panic’, in Conspiracy Culture: From the Kennedy Assassination to The X-Files’ (London and New York: Routledge, 2000), pp. 168-203.
  • Goldberg, R. A. ‘Conspiracy Theories in America: A Historical Overview’, in Knight, P. (ed.) (2003) Conspiracy Theories in American History: An Encyclopaedia, ABC-Clio.
  • Seth Shostak, ‘Alien life – but not as we know it’, The Guardian, 2010. 
  • Imagining Outer Space: European Astroculture in the Twentieth Century, ed. by Alexander C.T. Geppert (Great Britain: Springer, 2012)


  • Glyndwr Williams, ‘The Pacific: Exploration and Exploitation’, in P.K. Marshall, ed. Oxford History of the British Empire, vol. II (1998)



Orientalism- E Said

I came across this quote in Orientalism by Edward Said:

It talked about the ‘dimensionless silence of the Orient’ and the lack of agency ascribed to the orient.

When we talk about the history of our fear of the unknown, it is difficult to separate the fear of sea and space from the created fear people had for the ‘colonial people’. By denying the colonial people any sense of agency, not only did Western thought homogenise the ‘east’ but also ascribed a sense of fear and mystery to it. Almost to make up for their lack of answers about the ocean, space, and nature as a whole.

This can be seen as a post-colonial interpretation and is important when we try and philosophise the fear that we feel when encountering traditionally ‘different’ people. Where does this fear come from? Is racism and prejudice just equate to an underlying fear of the other? All interesting points to consider!

Particle Photography – moving beyond the limitations of our senses

Particle photography is something that I ended up focusing much of my research onto within the process of attempting to map-out and create a reliable understanding/image of technological attempts to ‘fill the silence’. Particle photography is a technique used in deep-space exploration, it allows us to filter light intake in a number of creative and helpful ways, and as such, illustrates a great example of the complex ontology of space exploration. Before I explain precisely what particle photography is, and why it is so important to the notion of ‘filling the silence’, I will pass a few words on the general theme of space-exploration. The central reason that deep space appears so mysterious and uncomprehendable by the individual, is that it represents and the frontier of their senses. Space is the limit, where one’s senses stop providing a reliable, or reasonable, account of what is out there. To begin with there is not all that much visible light in the universe. Human beings are evolutionarily designed to be reliant on their sight as a primary source of knowledge; an anchor to ground one’s thoughts within a reliable set of contextual boundaries. In Deep-space a reliance on objects reflecting visible light is not going to provide a highly convincing account of the depth of the universe. Auditory inputs again become wholly inadequate outside of our atmosphere. Deep-space contains a highly limited amount of particles, (almost a vacuum) and hence human ears are not capable of ‘hearing’. The notion of sound in space has to be approached differently, using radiation rather than particle movement. So much like sight, the notion of sound can also be tweaked to provide humans with a comprehendible account what’s-out-there. This text, however, will focus on particle photography as a method to maximize our visual interpretive abilities in outer-space.

The central issue of space exploration, then, is developing methods/technologies to allow humans to utilize information/inputs (light, gravity etc) in a way that these become comprehendible to us. That is to say, developing technologies capable of sensing that which our senses cannot intake themselves. Thus, an expansion of our available senses, is at the core of modern space exploration.

Traditional attempts to provide deep-space accounts where initiated by physical action – sending a probe to the outer-edges of our solar system. Such methods, which continue to rely on standard modes of human data interpretation, are considered to be redundant and out dated. Rather than asserting the ability of our senses on the unknown, the favorable method in recent technological efforts has been to re-orientate our sensory position/stance and optimize technology in such a way to mimic senses that are capable of providing accurate and acute insights into deep-space. This ‘sensory-expansion’ method means humans don’t need to spend extreme sums of time and effort to craft probes to physically explore the universe, instead we optimize our sensory inputs to as to maximize our ability to comprehend deep-space with minimal effort.

Particle photography typifies this exploratory trend. The science is simple; when electrons are struck by light (from a star) they become energized, and (owing to the law of conservation of energy) when they move to low-energy levels, the energy is transferred by being emitted as a photon (a light particle). Different particles (owing to their properties) will emit a different wavelength on the light spectrum. For example, Photons being emitted from electrons of a hydrogen atom will produce red light, oxygen will produce Green and Blue light. A combination of both Oxygen and Hydrogen light will create standard visible light to the human eye (Red + Green + Blue = White light). Of course this deep-space photography method allows us not only to produce accurate portrayals of space-dust clusters, nebulae or other formations possessing primarily one type of element, but it also allows us to gather facts about the physical make-up and structure of that object which we are gathering light from. Particle photography means that we can photographically isolate systems of interest, and moreover also interpret them in a number of different wavelengths, this provides a better understanding of depth (three dimensionality) and of the physical processes going on. Ultimately though, the central lesson I want to derive from this new style of sensory exploration, is precisely the relativity of sensory inputs and the understanding that filling the silence of our senses, is best done by adapting to new ones. Exploration through technology, all of a sudden, no longer appears so dry and inhuman. Indeed, there are important lessons to be learned from the notion of forming new senses to be able to provide a helpful view of the unknown.

Thomas Hardy and Empire: The Representation of Imperial Themes in the Work of Thomas Hardy

Although this is a little out of my remit as a History major, I still think it’s important to touch on literature as it provides a humanistic commentary on history that we do not find in historiography.

This book explores the various instances of colonial and imperial themes in the works of Thomas Hardy, specifically, a section talks about how a fear of the unknown is an inherent part of colonial ambitions.

Gillian Beer in her book Darwin’s Plots further interrogates this theme in Heart of Darkness where ‘terror of that will be found at the centre of man’s emotions takes the form of a journey into the jungle and of empire over ‘primitive’ tribes, a journey of self-destruction’

Beer also talks about how this ‘fear of fear’ relates to the late nineteenth-century preoccupation with fear in the context of empire.

It is interesting to see how that the fear of the unknown translates into colonial and political ambitions. However, we mustn’t forget how important this ‘fear’ was in instrumentalising the widespread public support for colonial conquests.

A really good example of the intersections between literature and history!

Alexander C. T. Geppert’s Imagining Outer Space: European Astroculture in the Twentieth Century

Imagining Outer Space: European Astroculture in the Twentieth Century, edited by Alexander C. T. Geppert, is a thorough collection of essays on how outer space has been imagined, explored, and represented in popular culture throughout the twentieth century. 

Geppert’s introductory essay, ‘European Astrofuturism, Cosmic Provincialism: Historicizing the Space Age’ is quite broad but there is this really good quote that could be used for any of our parts really:

’Numerous ventures to ‘explore,’ ‘conquer’ and ‘colonize’ the depths of the universe in both fact and fiction must be read as attempts to counter the prevailing horror vacui, the fear of empty spaces and voids of infinity felt and explicitly formulated since the sixteenth century.’

I think this is an important aspect of how we cope with this horror vacui, and I don’t think that fear is necessarily a negative thing here – because this fear inspires other reactions than ‘exploring’, ‘conquering’ or ‘colonising’, it can also lead to wonder, imagination and creation… As we see throughout our presentation.

Geppert also mentions anthropomorphism and states that ‘historical visions of a future in outer space, imagined encounters with extraterrestrial civilizations and changing conceptions of alien life … always reveal more about their author’s societies than about ‘them’ or any ‘other’’. This is really important for my part on the presentation and relates both to sci-fi novels/films and conspiracy theories.

The second essay in this book, Steven J. Dick’s ‘Space, Time and Aliens: The Role of Imagination in Outer Space’, deals with our changing conceptions of space and aliens throughout the twentieth century. It mentions the link between science and fiction, how each discipline draws elements from and inspires each other in order to grasp the unknown in different ways. It also talks about the rise of astro-culture and the increasing presence of science in popular culture since the rise of science fiction in the mid 20th century.

The fourth essay, ‘Imagining Inorganic Life: Crystalline Aliens in Science and Fiction’ by Thomas Brandstetter, approaches the question of anthropomorphic aliens through a scientific lens, rather than a socio-political and cultural lens which is the approach I have taken in the presentation. This extra knowledge was really interesting although I am afraid I won’t have time to make much use of it during the presentation.

He too mentions the blurred limit between science and fiction and I really appreciated these two quotes:

‘Imagination becomes the main tool of scientists and literary writers alike. By constructing alien life forms, literary texts can pose scientific questions and scientific texts can indulge in flights of fancy.’

‘The invention of scientific romance and science fiction as a literary genre has provided a cultural place for appropriating and probing the limits of scientific theories, a place that was often also used by scientists. Cases such as the concept of extraterrestrial life show that science and fiction sometimes blended, exchanging knowledge and techniques to create hypothetical forms of alien life’

[Jason, I know you speak about this during your part of the presentation – I won’t have much time to talk about it, perhaps this might help you?]

The fifth essay, Rainer Eisfeld’s ‘Projecting Landscapes of the Human Mind onto Another World: Changing Faces of an Imaginary Mars’ was really interesting too, although too historical for my literary presentation. It looks at cultural traditions in our popular consciousness in relation to  Mars and America’s myth of the ‘final frontier’, the Cold War and the US space program, in terms of conquest and colonisation. This wish to explore the red planet was also used by sci-fi authors, using their writing to mold the planet according to their own fantasies.

Some of the academic articles were very helpful for my research and the interdisciplinarity of the book really helped me deepen my understanding of our presentation as a whole. Though all this additional knowledge made it even more difficult to condense my ideas in a less-than-five-minute-long presentation. I know we’re all having the same problem but I’m sure it will be fine after an intense day of rehearsing tomorrow! I hope this was an interesting read and that some of it resonated with your parts of the presentation, see you tomorrow x

Defining the Unknown

For Part 1: our definition of the Unknown from Silence

Silence represents a void which we fill with sound; it can also be a void of knowledge induced by censorship, a lack of understanding or a lack of access. We will focus on the latter two. As the two polar extremities of our world, Space and the Oceans are realms of which we know and understand shockingly little. We have interpreted silence in this project as the Unknown, a void which we fear, speculate over, find mystery in, are curious for, and seek power from. Human nature cannot cope with that which we cannot perceive as existing through sensory knowledge, therefore we invest in ‘fillers’ of the unknown. These coping mechanisms are infinite but we are focusing on 4 particular aspects: Projection and speculative fiction, mythology, technology, and mapping. All of these countering acts involve imagination and the manipulation, navigation and reduction of space.

Focused Structure and Sunken Champagne

I fell on this article in the National Geographic that has a lot to with our theme but I realise we probably won’t use it. It’s quite funny actually: they found a case of 170 year old champagne in a shipwreck and found out the conditions in the deep ocean are ideal for storing and ageing wines. I guess this has to do with the possibilities opened up by shipwrecks as they bring to light old relics of history, forgotten in the water’s depths. It also refers to the ocean’s ‘preserving’ qualities, how the ocean freezes time, can cover or uncover existence. This links back the Uwe Johnson text and our relation to sunken history.

I realised that, like Ines, that I have too much material and so I have decided to narrow down my research to 3 case studies within Ocean Myth:

– Monster Stories (Jules Vernes – Vingt Mille lieues sous les mers)

– Haunting history and Dormancy (Uwe Johnson)

– Sunken cities and Natural Disaster (versions of Atlantis)

I will post more detail about each section before and during our meeting tomorrow.