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Alien Ocean: Anthropological Voyages in Microbial Seas by Stefan Helmreich

By Stefan Helmreich

Alien Ocean immerses readers in worlds being newly explored by way of marine biologists, worlds often out of sight and succeed in: the deep sea, the microscopic realm, and oceans past nationwide limitations. operating along scientists at sea and in labs in Monterey Bay, Hawai'i, the Woods gap Oceanographic establishment, and the Sargasso Sea and at undersea volcanoes within the japanese Pacific, Stefan Helmreich charts how revolutions in genomics, bioinformatics, and distant sensing have pressed marine biologists to work out the ocean as lively by means of its smallest population: marine microbes. Thriving in astonishingly severe stipulations, such microbes became key figures in clinical and public debates concerning the foundation of existence, weather switch, biotechnology, or even the potential for existence on different worlds.

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In her sociological account of deep-sea research, Chandra Mukerji argues that with such familiar techniques, benthic environments "begin to become less natural environments than areas that have characteristics of both the natural world and the social world of science. "23 In the language of flying that accompanies the operation of the ROV, we might hear a further assertion of the cultural command Mukerji describes. To be sure, this way of speaking, along with the notion that the ROV offers an extension of self, signals that people on Lobos construe their activity as exploring.

Laboratories, after all, are devices for creating significance, for separating figure from ground, for adjusting what counts as text and context. S1 Steven's irreverent one-liner about the born-again is an ironic commentary on how difficult-and sometimes facile-the making of meaning might be. Scientists' quips about methane, E. coli, and shit-important associates and associations with mud-bespeak anxieties about how meaning might be made of messy things. s2 At the same time, such comments express a wonder and confidence that even the most chaotic substance can be made to signify.

We are meant to be watching a sort of real-time documentary about extraordinary things, not, say, a high-definition version of the bizarre works of Jean Painleve and Genevieve Hamon, twentieth-century French filmmakers famous for their far-out movies of sea creatures, in which the viewer is constantly reminded of how much cinematic prodding it takes to make human eyes get their bearings in the refracting realm of the' sea. 31 Still, looking at, through, and into water requires some tangling with theory underwater, recognizing that ways of seeing, schemes of explanation, are always informed, performed, and deformed by their medium.

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