The ocean as quasi-object, or ecocriticism and the doll from the deep
On the North Sea, when fishermen from the Garefowl haul up their nets, the catch is decorated with detritus left by fishing boats and oil rig workers, who jettison soda cans, plastic bags, and paint drums filled with toxic sludge. Once the Garefowl fishes up this garbage, the crew throws it right back – slurp – into the drink. But one night the ship’s arc lights capture an unexpected guest:
every man aboard froze where he stood. Crushed into the meshes was the face of a girl looking at them, her mouth open in a yell, her eyes wide. Partially lost among the plaice and whiting and dogfish were her twisted limbs. When the catch was released nobody wanted to wade into the bin to dig her out beneath the bottles and squid and halibut , not least because there was movement everywhere as if things were trying to struggle up from the bottom of the heap. Eventually some brave soul pulled her out from beneath a heaving monkfish: a torn and deflated life-sized sex doll. Inside her mouth, molded into a red-rimmed O of insatiable accommodation, were hermit crabs. 1
Floppy fish surround the inanimate doll, a bit of by-catch invented to capture a seaman’s semen in orifices brimming with helmeted crustaceans. And then she, too, goes “back over the side, a twentieth-century mermaid . . . probably made from the by-products of the very same North Sea oil her roustabout lover had been helping to extract.” 2 Crafted out of the ancestors of the sea creatures around her, this doll suggests the ways the sea and its denizens turn into money; the doll becomes a semiotic switchboard pushing the predatory effects of producing oil into the foreground of this hardworking world; she reminds us that state and free-market capitalism have created a tawdry techno-ocean pillaged by men and machinery – entities constantly subtracting oil and sea creatures and turning them into trash. This sexualized commodity suggests that we need to expand our theoretical perspective to include the poetics of trash and the strange poetry that the uncanny return of this object creates. The doll from the deep mixes capitalist excess and oceanic circulation in ways that require new ways of thinking.