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Shipwrecks in modern European painting and poetry: radical mobilisation of the motif as political protest

journal contribution
posted on 2019-08-01, 00:00 authored by Marion CampbellMarion Campbell
This essay probes significant renderings of the shipwreck in modern European painting and poetry: from the radical mobilisation of the motif as political protest (Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa or Turner’s Slavers throwing overboard the dead and dying – typhoon coming on), Bryon’s epic satire Don Juan, Lautréamont’s Songs of Maldoror; then, as retreat in equal measure from the domestic and the political, Mallarmé’s ‘Sea breeze’ and A throw of the dice. From the more anarchically jubilant sloughing off of the human in Rimbaud’s Drunken boat the essay segues to a consideration of Kafka’s ‘The silence of the Sirens’ as a proto-absurdist performance in the wake of any transcendent code. Beyond this moment of euphoric ‘misperception’, the exploration breaks through to the renewed ardour of political reengagement with Adrienne Rich’s Diving into the wreck. and from there to more recent works of protest by Warsan Shire, Behrooz Boocani, and Lisa Jacobson against the contemporary demonization of asylum seekers who arrive ‘illegally’ in boats. The essay asks in what parlous undertow have our souls become so paralysed. But of course we let much of the work of abstraction be done in our name. There was no one there. See they have no faces. Their names appear on no passenger lists. Or is it that we project what we know, at least since the Medusa catastrophe, about how quickly ‘first world civilised’ behaviour degenerates in such circumstances and would rather not take this knowledge on board?



Cordite poetry review




No theme VIII


Cordite Publishing Inc.


Carlton South, Vic.







Publication classification

C1.1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Copyright notice

2019, The Author