University of Tasmania

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Blue ocean stories : climate colonialism and narrative disruption in Oceania

posted on 2024-05-28, 04:12 authored by Ferwerda, SMA
This dissertation argues that critical and creative attention to contemporary stories from Oceania opens up new ways to address the past, present and future effects of colonialism on changing oceanic environments. Colonialism is connected to climate change through issues that include rising sea levels, biodiversity loss, changing weather patterns such as floods and prolonged droughts, and ecological devastation. By examining literature, visual art and performance that go against canonical Western ways of reading the ocean, I foreground how we can unsettle climate colonialism and its effects on oceanic multispecies environments. I address how scholars of contemporary feminist materialisms and the environmental humanities can extend their study of water and the ocean to centre anticolonial perspectives via art, literature, and theory. Analysing anticolonial narrative disruption from an Oceanic perspective, this dissertation engages with work from Aboriginal, Indigenous, migrant and settler colonial scholars, writers and artists to show that the future can be oceanic and anticolonial. The increased precarity of human-ocean relationships has been particularly visible in Oceania. Rising waters and environmental degradation do not affect all equally, nor are their causes evenly distributed. How we think about the colonial pasts of Oceania informs our imagination of oceanic futures. The effects of the mining industry, of nuclear testing, tourism, aquaculture, species extinctions, and the formation of the nation state, have had lasting consequences on oceanic spaces and how they are experienced and thought of in the present. From an anticolonial feminist materialist perspective, I aim to not only expand our ocean views but also to interrogate the perspectives that guide our gaze. I draw on research from the fields of Pacific and Ocean Studies to argue against a simplistic, oppositional and colonial relationship between human and ocean. Increasingly, but building on long legacies of oceanic thought, writers and artists from Oceania hold Western colonial discourse to account. By communicating oceanic realities in text, visual art and performance that offer alternatives to Western ways of reading the ocean, Oceanic art and literature unsettles the colonial afterlives apparent in contemporary human-ocean environments. I listen to and analyse published and publicly performed work ‚ÄövÑvÆ short stories, poetry, visual and performance art, and memoir ‚ÄövÑvÆ that redefines how we should think about the ocean in the twenty-first century. This dissertation comprises two contextual chapters followed by four in-depth readings of the work of several artists and writers from Oceania. The first chapter addresses recent 'blue turns' in environmental and feminist theories to show how the implications of colonialism have remained largely underexamined or only analysed from a Western and Northern hemispherical perspective. Blue is a colour with a distinct colonial history. It appeals to the Western colonial imaginary and drew European ships across the seas to mine blue pigment from Afghan rocks and raise indigo plantations on stolen land, with stolen labour. How has this oceanic coloniality resurfaced in climate change times? Following Sylvia Wynter, Ursula Le Guin, Donna Haraway, Deborah Bird Rose and Thom van Dooren, I articulate storytelling as a foundation method to disrupt racialised power structures in settled and colonised areas of Oceania. The work of Aboriginal, Indigenous, settler and migrant writers and authors across Oceania informs my critique of the lingering coloniality of Western engagement with the seas and its associated imaginations. Mining, nuclearisation, militarisation, extinction, erasure, borders, and migration shape my discussion in four thematic chapters, which focus respectively on short stories by Gina Cole and Ellen van Neerven; poetry by Kathy JetnvÉvëil-Kijiner and Craig Santos Perez; installation and performance art by Lucienne Rickard and Mandy Quadrio; and Behrouz Boochani's memoir No Friend but the Mountains. The 'Blue Ocean Stories' in this dissertation respond to the intersection of climate change, colonialism and the ocean, and take aim at the continued and reiterated coloniality of some Western oceanic imaginaries


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