The sea and the land: biopower and visuality from slavery to Katrina

Mirzoeff, Nicholas (2009) The sea and the land: biopower and visuality from slavery to Katrina. Culture, Theory and Critique, 50 (2-3) . pp. 289-305. ISSN 1473-5784 [Article] (doi:10.1080/14735780903240331)


This essay proposes that biopower needs to be understood as a relation between discourses of ‘life’ and the ‘natural’, engendered in the Atlantic world by slavery and its assemblages of life. Absolutism legislated the sea as a zone of both monarchical power and free circulation, a regime placed into crisis by the abolition of slavery. I interpret this crisis in terms of a secularised form of the Kongo cosmogram that defines the spaces of the living and the dead as being linked and divided by the sea. Immersion, and its crises of seeing and subjectivity, is the suspension of circulation that leaves the subject in the sea between regimes of power. In this essay, I examine two such immersive crises, first by means of the intersection between John Ruskin’s criticism and Joseph Turner’s marine painting; then and its present moment of ‘intensification’ via Spike Lee’s film‐document of Hurricane Katrina, When the Levees Broke (2006). Finally, I examine how the current crisis of neoliberal circulation has become interactive with the climate crisis in a set of exchanges between ‘real’ and ‘metaphorical’ floods, whether of water or debt.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: Special Issue: The Pictorial Turn
Research Areas: A. > School of Art and Design
Item ID: 12706
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Depositing User: Users 3197 not found.
Date Deposited: 21 Nov 2013 11:03
Last Modified: 13 Oct 2016 14:29

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