In the Doldrums: Plastic, Haunting and the Sea


The 87,000 metric tons of non-biodegradable plastic bits gathering in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch occupy the very zones known in the Age of Sail as the doldrums—the “dead calm,” where ships would be stranded for weeks at a time, as famously described in Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner, some of Melville’s writings and Lévi-Strauss’s Tristes Tropiques. To re-read these texts today is to have the haunting experience of seeing petrochemical debris collect silently, as if retroactively, in the very doldrums that fossil-fuel-powered speed was believed to have transcended.

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