23 Jun 2013
Occupy The Intertide?
[An Almanac of the Submerged]
June 18: I am reminded by the always insightful Open Democracy that today is Magna Carta Day, recognising the event that - to some extent - brought the monarchy to account in England. (Interestingly, the document was signed on a 'water meadow' - a liminal space between land and water, and a landscape very pertinent to some of my current research). At the signing, a companion document was The Charter of the Forest (Carta de Foresta). In contrast to the Magna Carta, which dealt with the rights of barons, this apparently provided some real protections for the common people against the abuses of the aristocracy.
"..the principles of the freeman's right to honey or the poor to gather wood on their backs and carry it home without tax are set down... this was an early assertion of shared access to an essential, ecological resource." www.opendemocracy.net
Whilst undertaking fieldwork and research for the Submerged (Drowned Lands) project (and especially the short film element, Transgression) thoughts of certain legacy 'powers' of the monarchy have drifted in - particularly the ownership of the intertidal zone. In England this is predominantly the 'Crown Estate' (i.e. the monarchy). Now, this may be a nominal ownership, but there is little sense that this marginal land is anything approaching 'common land'. One may think it's okay/legal to, say, forage for mussels on the foreshore - as I did yesterday in Cornwall - but is it? (some answers here). Under Roman law, it seems, the shore of the sea, as far as the waves go at their furthest point, was considered as belonging to the public (littus publicum est eatenus qua maxime fluctus exaestuat). "The shores of the sea were not considered under the ownership of the state, but simply as under its supervision or jurisdiction...Everyone had a right to build on the shore, or, by piles upon the sea, and retained the ownership of the construction so long as it lasted; but when it fell into ruins, the soil reverted to its former state as a 'res communis', which any other person might build upon. But anyone could forbid the erection of a pier or other construction that would interfere with his use of the sea or beach". Like the air, running water and the sea, the sea-shore was considered as a thing incapable of acquisition.
These ruminations on the 'intertide' were largely prompted by the recent outing/walking with Iain Biggs (on a pilgrimage of sorts?) to the Aust Jetty near Bristol - scene of a famous 1966 photo of Bob Dylan, and a special moment in time for (hydro-)social relationships to the Severn Estuary environment. This photo is one of three that I will use as the lynchpins of a Severn Estuary Geopoetics presentation for the conference on 'Emotional Geographies' in a few weeks time. My second still-image is from the Satyagraha 'salt march' of Gandhi in 1930, undertaken in symbolic opposition to the salt-tax which was operated in India by the ruling British establishment. This march was a mass-trespass, and mass civil disobedience. In this vein, it has echoes of The Levellers and The Diggers - the latter who occupied lands in the 1600s, in an attempt to make a stand against the private enclosing of common land (Levellers wore sprigs of rosemary in their hats and sea-green ribbons on their clothing as a sign of identification). These political ripples are still alive today, e.g. with the more nebulous global Occupy movement.
Occupy the Intertide?
Food, play, habitation?
There will be more on this soon, and talk of battures, stilt-houses, 'stilt lives' etc, but first deep-time is occupying me. On my walks and talks with Iain Biggs, there were some memorable geological 'upwellings' and reflections. One of these related to a special quartz crystal that Iain was once shown in the studio of the artist, David Walker-Barker...and also relates to some quartz crystals I collected recently whilst carrying out fieldwork on a sacred mountain in Portugal. Another geo-topic concerned the old street gutters of Bristol which are paved with the dark fossiliferous Kilkenny Limestone from my homeland, also to be found in the old sea-wall of Weston-super-Mare. These deep-time references were further amplified in the course of our second walk, where our Transgression theme encountered the 'drowned desert' of the Triassic cliff-face exposure at Aust.
Now, a few days later, I am in the presence of truly deep time - here on The Lizard Peninsula in Cornwall - with its alluring Precambrian Serpentine rocks.
And today, just as I begin to read the JG Ballard classic The Drowned World, it also emerges via the BBC as a new radio dramatisation. A pacy narrative perhaps, but one that has poetic style, mood and hallucinatory themes that remind me somewhat of Lem's Solaris (whith which I am familiar via Tarkovsky). Inner and outer landscapes are deeply explored in both novels.
Some pertinent, and topical, comments on The Drowned World from geographer Matthew Gandy:
"In the wake of the city’s inundation, New Orleans was effectively abandoned and then trans- formed into a militarized zone through the colonization of inner urban areas once inhabited by the poor, while wealthy suburbs were quickly cordoned off by a plethora of private security firms to produce social exclusion zones...The remnants of a technocratic modernity in the 21st century are no match for a capitalist risk society divided between the insured and the uninsured, where to live outside the market is to become invisible: mere flesh and blood of no economic consequence...If London really were to be flooded as Ballard describes, it would be the poor and ethnic minority communities in the east of the city that would first be inundated by rising water levels rather than middle-class neighborhoods historically constructed on higher ground to escape the pollution of the 19th-century city."
'J. G. Ballard and the Politics of Catastrophe', Matthew Gandy: Space and Culture Vol. 9 No. 1, February 2006