Nixon, “Scenes from the Seabed” (263-72)


Keep the following questions in mind as you read Rob Nixon’s “Scenes from the Seabed: The Future of Dissent,” 263-280. The questions are designed to guide your reading practices and our class discussions. You are not required to provide formal answers in class or online.

1.What does the epigraph mean? What’s the relationship between the epithet and the rest of the essay?

2. Why does Nixon invoke Atlantas in the first sentence, “The island of Atlantis, according to Plato, vanished into the ocean ‘in a single night and day of misfortune’” (263)? Is his opening effective, why or why not?

3. What does Nixon mean by “slow violence”? Why is the process of “slow violence” so difficult for writers to communicate?

4. Spend a minute looking at the photo of the underwater cabinet meeting, how does Nixon “read the scene” (264)? How does the president of the Maldives, Mohamad Nasheen, communicate the slow changes from climate change that his country faces? What does he want to accomplish through his “underwater cabinet meeting”? Is President Nasheen successful, why/why not?

5. What does the planting of a flag traditionally symbolize? How do the planted flags that Nixon discusses challenge older notions of the symbolic gesture (266-7)?

6. What some of intersections between human rights and environmental rights that Nixon highlights through his reading of the two “seabed scenes” in the first section of the chapter?

7. BP brands itself as “Beyond Petroleum” (268). What does BP intend for that slogan to mean? What does Nixon suggest it means?

8. What does Nixon mean by the phrase “technological sublime” (268)? What sorts of imaginative tools do people have to counter the “technological sublime”?

9. Why is it useful or important to frame the conversation about climate change as a contest over the symbols we use to represent what is happening to the world?

10.Nixon concludes the section of the reading for last week by claiming, that developed nations “sewsaw” between two risky options: domestic drilling and dependance on foreign oil. What “third option” does he suggest? Do you agree?

12. Who’s responsible for environmental devastation? How can those responsible be held accountable? Who has the moral authority to hold responsible parties accountable? Why is it so hard for transnational corporations to be called to account for their misdeeds?

13. What’s the danger of bracketing foreign disasters as “foreign”? How is the concept of “foreign” faulty as it pertains to environmental issues?

14. If we remembered spills like the 1979 Ixtoc oil explosion, would the Even Horizon spill have been avoided? According to Nixon what keeps us from holding these disasters in our memories? What can we do to remember?

15. Nixon’s book came out in 2011, which means he probably finished writing it in 2010. How does the Gross Negligence ruling and subsequent claims settlement fit into with Nixon’s assessment of power of legislation?

16. What’s lost in these disasters? What’s gained from not taking preventative measures until after the disaster have occurred? The terror of unlearned lessons…

17. What’s “Corexit” (272) and why is it so scary?

18. If, in the first half of his Epilogue, Nixon focuses on the difficulty of rendering “slow violence,” why does he turn to the impossibility of rendering “unseen violence” (273) or the terrible effects of ecological disaster that culpable parties attempt erase?

19. What accounts for the discrepancy in responses between the Event Horizon spill and the “546 million gallons of oil spilled in the Niger Delta” (274)?

20. Consider this question that Nixon asks toward the end of his book, “How will writers, photographers, video artists, podcasters, and blogger navigate the possibilities–and possible perils–opened up by a new media culture characterized both by intensive, instant connectivity and by impatient, distractive staccato rhythms?” (276).