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Pleasure and Precarity at the Edge: Reading the Beach and the Harbor

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Organizer: Hannah Freed-Thall

Co-Organizer: Morgane Cadieu

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Beaches and harbors are precarious borderlands: sites of prohibition and pleasure, labor and play, exposure and refuge. In these liminal spaces, interrelations among sexuality, social class, migration, geology, war, and labor come to the fore. Beaches often signify the hedonistic suspension of work, while harbors suggest sites of proletarian labor, but we aim to complicate this opposition. On beaches and in harbors, after all, dividing lines of all sorts are eroded and displaced. The northern French beach of Arromanches-les-Bains, for example, is covered with the remains of a temporary harbor built to facilitate the 1944 Normandy landings. These concrete, seaweed-draped blocks have now become the symbol of widespread nitrate pollution in the region. In northeastern Japan, a seawall built to prevent potential tsunamis and ensuing nuclear disasters keeps residents, fishermen, and tourists from accessing the shore. Coney Island has alternately been celebrated for its democratic embrace of “all the professions, and nearly all the trades” (Whitman), memorialized as the electrocution site of Topsy the Elephant, and reviled as a “Landscape of the vomiting multitudes” (Lorca). And while harbors have historically been portals for mass human migration, these days many harbors—from commercial hubs in China to UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Fiji and Venezuela—function as sanctuaries for commodities and architecture, while at maritime borders around the world, human beings in flight find themselves cast back into the sea. Works by authors and artists from Jane Austen to Derek Walcott and from John Cage to Tadashi Ono draw on the littoral as precisely such a complex and contradictory force: a space of arrivals and departures, made of liquid, granules, and cement, replete with treasure and debris.

This seminar will investigate beaches and ports as socio-political, ecological, and aesthetic phenomena. What kind of a setting is a shore or a harbor? To invoke historian Alain Corbin, what “regimes of sensibility” does each enable? What encounters and experiences, and which sensory and temporal modes become imaginable at the coastal edge?
Among our considerations:
*Aesthetic/attentional modes that beaches and harbors facilitate (anamorphosis, coenesthesis, impersonality, close vs distant reading, etc.)
*The languages of the port: translation, slang, pidgin tongues, multilingualism 
*Social movements in harbor cities
*Marine biology; creaturely life at the water's edge
*New approaches to literature & geology
*Beaches & harbors as (queer) refuges from the marriage plot
*The harbor as nexus of the Atlantic Slave Trade; neocolonialism in African port terminals
*Shipping container art & housing; art made of sea trash
*Coastal everyday life (seaside consumerism, disposable objects, seasonal food, practices of perambulation & observation)

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