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136 ‘Aquacities of Thought and Language’: The Political Ecology of Water in Ulysses GREG WINSTON The availability of water is the symbol of a civilized society. Charles Fishman, The Big Thirst Water does not divide; it connects. With simplicity it links all aspects of our existence. David Rothenberg, Writing on Water What in water did Bloom, waterlover, drawer of water, watercarrier , returning to the range, admire? Its universality: its democratic equality and constancy to its nature in seeking its own level . . . James Joyce, Ulysses Anoticeable dearth of contemporary ecocritical writing about water belies the significant presence and role of the substance in our daily lives. Water covers more than two-thirds of the surface of the globe and comprises more than half the human body.1 The vast majority of people live in communities set in close proximity to rivers, lakes or oceans and those bodies of water have long been essential for drinking, bathing, agriculture, transportation and industry. For most citizens of contemporary, industrialised nations, water has become so ubiquitous and varied enough in its uses as to become invisible in more than just a literal sense. Most do not recognise how, directly or indirectly, water is deeply intertwined in not only the biological , but also most of the industrial and technological processes taking place at any given moment, to such an extent that even the most mundane water usage, as Alex Prud’homme aptly describes, ‘sets off a ripple effect with wide and deep consequences’.2 Simple acts like taking a drink or washing hands have far-reaching and sometimes complicated environmental impact. This is increasingly the case given the rapid, parallel shifts into a global economic climate and a global climate change, both of which cast uncertain shadows over future water access and availability in many places. ‘AQUACITIES OF THOUGHT AND LANGUAGE’ 137 Water has become a major topic in current environmental reporting and long-form journalism. Several recent studies consider the fundamental role of water throughout history and how it will be particularly instrumental in shaping social, political and economic circumstances in the coming decades.3 These works generally suggest that as water moves from being an abundant resource to a scarce commodity, it could exert the same level of geopolitical influence on this century as oil did in the last. Nevertheless, water has received less attention from the branch of literary and cultural studies that has emerged to address humans’ relationships to their surroundings and natural resources. Despite its position at the root of many hotly debated environmental issues, it remains mostly unseen or largely taken for granted by contemporary environmental scholarship. The burgeoning subfield known as ‘blue ecology’ could eventually fill the gap, but to date this promising direction remains relatively underdeveloped .4 Where it has taken shape, the aquatic dimension of ecocriticism tends to focus on maritime issues and environments rather than the decidedly less exotic issue of urban water supply.5 To be sure, the oceans and their resources merit attention for being, as Lawrence Buell observes in Writing for an Endangered World, ‘the closest thing on earth to a landscape of global scope. They are also incomparably the largest commons; if there is to be “tragedy of the commons”, this will be the biggest.’6 At the bioregional level, however, the notion of the watershed has emerged as a primary identifier of local ecology and human community, and, in a true ecological sense, the interdependence of the two. All watersheds are, of course, always inextricably linked to the greater marine commons by the global water cycle. Nearly all (97%) of the 1.4 billion cubic kilometres of the hydrosphere is salt water in the oceans, of which about half a million cubic kilometres annually evaporate , desalinate and precipitate back to earth as rain and snow.7 Joseph Conrad asserts such hydrological global interconnectedness when he has the narrator of Heart of Darkness ultimately characterise the Thames as ‘the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth’.8 In his critical analysis of riparian fiction and nonfiction writings, Buell emphasises a key role that creative literary imagination plays in ‘making watershed consciousness a potent force’.9 While his focus is mostly on twentieth-century American regional nature writing, Buell concludes his readings of ‘Watershed Aesthetics’ with notable reference to one modernist Irish writer, concluding the ultimate goal for all bioregional, river writing is to honour the environmentalist’s wish and ‘Make the whole watershed cry out, as Joyce makes Dublin...


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