Freezing Time, Seaweed, and the Biologic Imaginary

The ease of its elision with a narrative of global warming and climate change is apt, if belief in apocalypticism and the end of times has been cultivated and revived by Islamicists from the late 1980s, long before 9/11 and the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York, often tried to Said Ayyub’s The Anthichrist (1987), that may have encouraged the rise of apocalyptic fiction in Arabic in the Muslim World and Middle East, that were widely published for a broad readership in Damascus, Kuwait City, Beirut and Cairo.

Can one similarly stop time, and admire the seaweed while it lives, to freeze the danger of its disappearance and decline? There is an odd sense in Pamuk’s novel that the article penned by the cantankerous marginal columnist expresses deep nostalgia for an old Istanbul, and a nostalgia of one beset by a guilt of global warming. If Celâl is a bit of an alter-ego for Pamuk, a lover of old newspapers, but the journalist rather than novelist in Pamuk’s lovely novel of urban identity set around 1980, ominously wans in his final column that the Bosphorus will soon dry up.

The warning prompts, in truly apocalyptic tones, a dystopian reverie of the history that its nourishing algae rich seabed contains–waters that have seen increased salinity and pollution by heavy metals–concentrations of heavy metals present in the sea lettuce seaweeds (Ulva Lactuca) that are extremely sensitive to the environmental degradation of the shoreline, absorbing dangerously high levels of lead, zinc, cadmium, copper, magnesium, potash, and alkalines, altering the habitat by a pronounced increase of mineralogy.

–and far decreased nutrient concentration than when it held abundantfish migrating to the Black Sea from the  Sea of Marmara.

Celâl is left to indulge in the apocalyptic reverie “The Bosphorus is Drying Up.” It extends the receding waters to transform what was a marine habitat into “a pitch-black bog, glistening with muddy shipwreck baring their shiny teeth like ghosts,” as the recession of waters first revealed “the mossy masts of American transatlantic lines that ran aground” beside the skeletons of early trader visitors, Ligurians and Celts, revealing a muddy wasteland populated by a cornucopia of seamoss-covered sunken stoves, sharp-nosed wrecks of galleons, and soda bottles, long hidden from view, a return of the repressed that Pamuk’s journalist surrogate predicted could only offer a habitat for “armies of rats” bearing epidemic to remaining urban residents the government quarantines behind barbed wire.

The writing of the scene, written and set long before Erdoğan was even elected Istanbul’s mayor, taps a huge anxiety about the departure of a submerged past, but has come to circulate online in a second life, as a sort of manifesto against ocean pollution and climate change, boosted by the prestige of the author’s Nobel Prize, as its hectoring moral voice gaining new monitory value, as it has been adopted in climate change literature, where its apocalyptic tones have gained new popularity.

Can one imagine the restoration of seaweed on its banks, or the terrible danger of their disappearance, and reduction to sterile skeletons of the past? The vitality of the waters where fish once swam to feed in the rich minerals of the Black Sea is transformed to a graveyard that only the Istanbullah is ready to recognize as a history that is their own. The detailed panorama unpacks underwater perspectives on the near-coastal environments of a historical richness that may be intentionally dramatic, but its temporal scope would that while it is a bit ludic, would be useful, if not important, to integrate in our perspectives on the presence of seaweed off our shores: if the final what seems the column of Celâl is a nostalgic look at Istanbul’s past and recent history, the historical span of shorelines would offer a dynamic addition to our maps of coastal environments, if perhaps not necessarily in such darkly apocalyptic tones.

The problems were all to real in Istanbul as the old Bosphorus seemed lost:  Erdoğan himself has proposed in 2011 a projected “Canal Istanbul.” of spectacular proportions, deeper than eighty feet, longer than the manmade waterways of the Suez or Panama canals, the would isolate Istanbul’s historic center as an island,–but bring the benefit of restoring the Bosphorus “the place it was in the old days, a natural wonder” by dramatically curtailing its traffic of oil-tankers and the commercial tankers that have polluted it, which would run the narrow Bosphorus strait.

Erdogan’s own megalomaniac mega-project of modernization rebut the melancholic relation to an older Istanbul, butt fit in public projects of self-aggrandizement that was is familiar. Erdoğan, no friend of environmentalists by any means, had already planned one of the tallest bridges in the world to span the Bosphorus of eight lanes of car traffic, and one of rail, named after the Ottoman Sultan Selim I, who he seemed to style himself as a follower, and inaugurated the monumental Istanbul Airport of Stalinist proportions and scale, or at least the first runways and terminals–a public work he projected to “resemble the vertical towns similar to those imaginary towns which Italo Calvino describes in his unforgettable work Invisible Cities,” adding in ways surprising Calvino the odd compliment of casting his fiction as a set of viable architectural plans and indeed a vision of modernity..

Pamuk’s cranky columnist conveyed a deep sense of nostalgia for the Bosphorus and its fish tragically into which Erdoğan trapped in his reborn Welfare Party. Both Pamuk, Celâl, and Erdoğan echoed a deep nostalgia for the lost life of the estuary that had preceded the warming of ocean waters or climate change; Pamuk best captured the deeply dysphoric climate anxiety and dread that has filled many at the sight of the world’s changing coastal oceans.

What, exactly, would replace the lost kelp forest and its canopy?

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Filed under climate change, Global Warming, oceans, remote observation, seaweed

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