Currently at a fabulous conference in Paris, organized by Frank Lestringant and Alexandre Tarrête, about islands in early-modern literature, I’m thinking this evening about the Marshall Islands in the Pacific, which are sinking. There are already many climate-change refugees from these islands, many of whom are now in—or trying to get to—Arkansas. As a CNN report puts it: “Climate change is real, and people see it happening now.” If the seas continue to rise due to climate change, then the Islands will all disappear completely. And it’s happening now: “Neighbors told me they woke up floating.” As another report (see video below) notes: the Marshall Islands remind us that life is “precarious.” The conference today didn’t intend to address such questions directly, but many of the papers underlined how, in the early modern period, islands were just a fragile—the threat was generally from other peoples and nations, but in a sense that is perhaps also the case, albeit “via” climate, of climate change. (Image from Porcacchi, source here)
My own talk, on the way that Ronsard depicts the island of Crete in the Franciade, could have been written differently for a different context. I could have argued that Ronsard, who is clearly very close to the isolario tradition, creates a Crete similar to the Marshall Islands.
Q: How does Francus end up there?
A: There is a storm.
Q: And the storm is weather or climate?
A: Clearly climate, for the storm here is epic and part of long-term divine trends.
Q: A hyperobject, as Timothy Morton would put it?
A: Its manifestation, yes.
Q: What happens when Francus gets to Crete?
A: He is welcomed by a Cretan prince, but must battle a Cretan giant.
Q: And that giant is climate change?
A: Perhaps, sort of: he’s the Other, he “guards” the island with no respect for the island, for he entraps the inhabitants and threatens them.
Q: Is he, then, the climate? The rising sea?
A: One could, perhaps, say that, yes.
Q: What about the Venetians, for Crete was Venetian at this point in history?
A: Precisely. In this narrative, they create the conditions for bad climate.
Q: They are the gas-guzzlers?
A: One could say that.
Q: So really, Ronsard already imagined the fate of the Marshall Islands?
A: Of course.
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