Current Research Project

“Wild Blue Media: Thinking Through Seawater” explores the ocean as an environment for thought, one that produces estrangement from our terrestrial habits of perception. I focus on how the ocean offers new perspectives on media theory and its foundational concepts through developing a theory of “milieu-specificity” that asks, how does the ocean environment produce different conditions of knowledge? Each chapter performs a milieu-specific analysis by submerging a key concept in media theory underwater—inscription, database, and interface—to understand the implications of its terrestrial bias. These three concepts evoke and resituate media theorist Friedrich Kittler’s definition of media theory in terms of transmission, storage, and processing. 

Chapter one discusses the concept of "inscription" in Vilém Flusser's science fictional fable, Vampryoteuthis Infernalis, or the vampire squid. Flusser imagines that inscription on paper or even stone tablets would eventually eroded in the abyssal environment; thus the vampire squid would communicate through the non-inscriptive media of liquid ink clouds and skin paintings, opening a conception of media based on ephemerality and processes of erasure. Chapter two discusses the assumed equivalence of ocean and “database” in visualizations like Google Ocean, addressing how the materiality of seawater erodes rather than preserves data or information. Chapter three shows how narratives of scuba diving change the way that we understand the concept of the “interface,” specifically the writings of Jacques Cousteau and Sylvia Earle, as more about vulnerability and participation than the exercise of control through a surface. For the conclusion on “underwater museums,” I conducted comparative research by scuba diving Jason de Caires Taylor’s “Underwater Museum” of sculptures in Isla Mujeres, Mexico, and the “Dos Ojos” freshwater cavern in Tulum, Mexico. The estrangement effect of visiting underwater museums leads me to articulate a new sense of the museum and media as not solely about preservation, but about the vulnerability of museum environments, material histories, and human bodies. Scholarship in media theory has long been oriented toward preservation and culture contexts of recording, but studying media in ocean contexts requires that we consider erasure and ephemerality.