Among global environments, the undersea is unique in the challenges it poses – and the opportunities it affords – for sensation, perception, inquiry, and fantasy. The Aesthetics of the Undersea draws case studies in such potencies from the subaqueous imaginings of Western culture, and from the undersea realities that have inspired them. The chapters explore aesthetic engagements with underwater worlds, and sustain a concern with submarine "sense," in several meanings of that word: when submerged, faculties and fantasies transform, confronting human subjects with their limitations while enlarging the apparent scope of possibility and invention. Terrestrially-established categories and contours shift, metamorphose, or fail altogether to apply. As ocean health acquires an increasing share of the global environmental imaginary, the histories of submarine sense manifest ever-greater importance, and offer resources for documentation as well as creativity.

The chapters deal with the sensory, material, and formal provocations of the underwater environment, and consider the consequences of such provocations for aesthetic and epistemological paradigms. Contributors, who hail from the United States, United Kingdom and Australia, include scholars of literature, art, new media, music and history. Cases studies range from baroque and rococo fantasies to the gothic, surrealism, modernism, and contemporary installation art. By juxtaposing early modern and Enlightenment contexts with matters of more recent – and indeed contemporary – importance, The Aesthetics of the Undersea establishes crucial relations among temporally remote entities, which will resonate across the environmental humanities.

chapter |13 pages


Submarine aesthetics
ByMargaret Cohen, Killian Quigley

chapter 1|14 pages

The aesthetics of the early modern grotto and the advent of an empirical nature 1

ByLuis Rodríguez Rincón

chapter 2|14 pages

The porcellaneous ocean

Matter and meaning in the rococo undersea
ByKillian Quigley

chapter 3|12 pages

The logic of the invisible

Perceiving the submarine world in French Enlightenment geography
ByHanna Roman

chapter 4|13 pages

Understanding the loss of colour

ByJonathan Lamb

chapter 5|16 pages


The social history and literary significance of Romantic swimming
ByRobin Jarvis

chapter 6|14 pages

The great melancholy mother

Michelet’s evolutionary ocean in The Sea
ByNatalie Deam

chapter 7|14 pages

“The Forsaken Merman,” “The Little Mermaid,” and early modernism

Undersea imagery for the dissociation and dissolution of culture
BySamuel Baker

chapter 8|13 pages

Encountering living corals

A nineteenth-century scientist and artist reveals the underwater realm
ByIain McCalman

chapter 9|13 pages

Frank Hurley and the symbolic underwater

ByAnn Elias

chapter 10|18 pages

The shipwreck of reason

The Surrealist diver and modern maritime salvage
BySean Theodora O’Hanlan

chapter 11|12 pages

The shipwreck as undersea gothic

ByMargaret Cohen

chapter 12|13 pages

Deep time and myriad ecosystems

Urban imaginaries and unstable planetary aesthetics
ByLinda Williams

chapter 13|11 pages

Siren and silent song

Evolution and extinction in the submarine
ByJosh Wodak

chapter 14|18 pages

The ocean hospital – a walk around the ward

ByJanet Laurence, Prudence Gibson