But what’s the message?
A few years ago, I co-produced a documentary for BBC Radio 3 that set out to follow the watery migrations of bits of Gospel tossed into the ocean by bottle evangelists. Like the bottles themselves, we soon found ourselves in deeper waters, and the program gradually shifted into a more global meditation on the planetary postal delivery system formed by intersecting ocean currents:
A retired oceanographer named Curt Ebbespeyer has become possibly the world’s foremost expert in reading the strange and unruly texts that wash ashore around the world each day. By tracking various categories of flotsam and jetsam, he is also able to guage the relative health of the postal conveyor belts, the sub currents that together remind us that we are all truly connected via the flows of Okeanos. Over the years, Ebbesmeyer has tracked everything from vast flotillas of Nike sneakers to potentially lethal depth charges.
Now let’s shift focus to the two large floating dump sites for discarded plastic:
Needless to say, these enormous globs severely gum up the flow of global mail, with consequences that remain unknown.
OK, so with the stage set, let us imagine that the oil gushing forth in the gulf is a sort of cosmic ink, and let us further imagine that it enters the postal delivery system via the Gulf Stream, an event that may only be a few weeks in the future. Finally let us imagine that this vast quantity of ink eventually finds a suitable surface upon which to leave its mark: the twin sheets of plastic garbage.
The resulting text creates the world’s most spectacular dead letter, an ominous message that cannot be delivered nor returned, a text as strange, violent and inscrutable as the hulking corpus of The White Whale.