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Chapter 5 Flooding History Geographies of Loss It is in the history of the seas that we discover the history of the continents.1 137 OCEAN FANTASIES, OCEAN FEARS2 The many labors of loss around Lemuria are fundamentally place-making acts in which the ocean is accorded a creative and destructive role. The ocean is a source of both fantasy and fear to Lemuria’s place-makers, although the density of these varies across the different labors of loss I have been considering here. It is also the principal (and in some cases, the only) agent in their labors, and even if the potency of its agency varies, it is the ocean’s work that ultimately causes disappearance and loss. The centrality accorded to the ocean is perhaps not surprising when we recall that Lemuria Wrst surfaced in European place-making when the science of oceanography was virtually nonexistent. In the later half of the nineteenth century, the oceans that cover much of the earth’s surface were still the last great frontier for metropolitan men of science, and there was much speculation about what went on in their unfathomed depths. The laying down of submarine telegraphic cables beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, and HMS Challenger’s survey of the Atlantic floor between 1872 and 1876, revealed a fascinating underwater world of submerged ridges and hidden valleys whose very existence seemed to scientiWcally conWrm lost lands like Plato’s Atlantis.3 It is no coincidence that Ignatius Donnelly’s 1882 bestseller on Atlantis was published a few years later. In a chapter evocatively entitled “The Testimony of the Sea,” he wrote of “the revelation” of a great underwater elevation and concluded that “here, then, we have the backbone of the ancient continent which once occupied the whole of the Atlantic Ocean. . . .”4 Soon on his heels, Blavatsky boasted in her Mahatma letters that the Challenger’s Wndings had only conWrmed what ancient legends had known all along of drowned continents which were catastrophically destroyed by Earth’s waters. “Science has Wnally accepted . . . and thus vindicated the truth of one more ‘fable.’”5 And science, indeed, made some room for Atlantis, for even a leading journal like Nature associated the remarkable discoveries of the Challenger with the lost continent,6 and Suess’s masterly synthesis Das Antlitz der Erde (1885) as well included an extensive discussion.7 Ultimately, however, the progressive taming of the world’s ocean floors from the 1930s have put to rest any lingering doubts about drowned continents in the professional scientiWc community in the metropole. In the words of Kenneth J. Hsu, “by 1950, only a few aging biologists . . . continued to talk about ‘landbridges’ or sunken continents.”8 Yet among Euro-American occultists, novelists specializing in the “lost races” fantasy genre, and Tamil’s devotees, the ocean and its mysterious depths continue to be the source of enchanted fantasies. As Lewis Spence wrote breathlessly at the beginning of his The Problem of Lost Lemuria in 1933: “No episode, perhaps, in the endless narrative of human romance exercises a spell so enthralling as that which tells of lands ancient and cultured submerged by catastrophe in the deep gulfs of ocean. The sentiments aroused by the glowing Wctions of the East, the glamour cast by the chronicles of magic and the supernatural, pale before the curiosity which the mere mention of sunken Atlantis or Lemuria invariably excites.”9 And on the other side of the world from Spence, the underwater mapping of the Indian Ocean by an international team of scientists between 1959 and 1965 only further encouraged Tamil place-makers in their quest for their precious Kumarikkantam.10 In this regard as in others, modern science has been both the doing and the undoing of labors of loss around Lemuria. For those paleo-scientists interested in submerged continents before continental drift theory became the new orthodoxy from the 1960s, the ocean is an eternal but impersonal force of nature whose unceasing work causes transformations in the relation between land and water on Earth’s surface. They would have agreed with Ernst Haeckel that “during the course of many millions of years, ever since organic life existed on the earth, land and water have perpetually struggled for supremacy.”11 Some interpreted this struggle catastrophically, providing graphic descriptions of the turbulent oceans, the earth movements that originated in their depths, and the tidal floods that caused subsidence of vast stretches of land and the disappearance of whole species. Others...


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