Tentacular storytelling: weird ecologies and more than human encounters in the Great South African Kelp Forest

Authors: Amber Huff*, Institute of Development Studies, Adrian Nel, University of KwaZulu-Natal
Topics: Human-Environment Geography, Cultural and Political Ecology, Environmental Perception
Keywords: weird ecology, worldmaking, embodied methodologies, storytelling, My Octopus Teacher, making kin, tentacular
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:20 PM
Room: Virtual 12
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Expressed through imaginative ecologies that play with scientific taxonomies, states of matter, and distinctions between human and other, ‘the weird’ decentres and unsettles human rational exceptionalism and individualism and opens space for both deep critique and an expanded sense of what the cosmos might contain (Regan, 2020; Haraway 2016: 30; Fischer, 2018: 2; VanderMeer and VanderMeer, 2010: 29). We use ‘weird ecology’ as a lens for exploring affective and embodied practices of Sea Change, a collective of skin-diving and breath-holding divers who have spent thousands of hours in the frigid waters of the so-called Great African Kelp Forest. The recent Netflix documentary My Octopus Teacher is an example of the group’s approach to multispecies storytelling, in which ‘multispecies players are enmeshed in partial and flawed translations across difference’, life and death, making new ‘kinships’ and forging new ways of ‘getting on together’(Haraway 2016: 10). Exploring ‘weird ecologies’ through the ‘noticings’, unveilings and encounters that underwater tracking and Sea Change’s ‘tentacular’ storytelling facilitate, has generated new feelings of familiarity and kinship with the strange or alien among the collective and many audiences, but also has had strong negative reactions, including of revulsion and accusations of perversion, from others. These reactions reflect deeper underlying politics and contestations around binary ways of thinking, human-nature relationships, and intimacy. This indicates that embodied experience and interspecies learning can be a powerful ‘re-enchanting’ vehicle to help others see nature in new and radically different ways, but also can stoke fear of the other and the unknown.

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