5 Intriguing Things: Submergence Special Edition

An homage to the novel Submergence in five links.

Last week, I read a stunning novel called Submergence by J.M. LedgardIt is so good that I'm devoting today's 5 Intriguing Things to links about the themes of the book. It's an experiment.

But first, a passage from the book:

"You will be in Hades, the staying place of the spirits of the dead. You will be drowned in oblivion, the River Lethe, swallowing water to erase all memory. It will not be the nourishing womb you began your life in. It will be a submergence. You will take your place in the boiling-hot fissures, among the teeming hordes of nameless microorganisms that mimic no forms, because they are the foundation of all forms. In your reanimation you will be aware only that you are a fragment of what once was, and are no longer dead. Sometimes this will be an electric feeling, sometimes a sensation of the acid you eat, or the furnace under you. You will burgle and rape other cells in the dark for a seeming eternity, but nothing will come of it. Hades is evolved to the highest state of simplicity. It is stable. Whereas you are a tottering tower, so young in evolutionary terms, and addicted to consciousness."

Found 9316 meters down (HADES Project)

1. The hadal zone is what scientists call the region 6,000 to 11,000 meters down, which is the deepest 45 percent of the ocean

"Much of our knowledge of hadal biology is derived from two sampling campaigns in the 1950s (the Danish Galathea and the Soviet Vitjaz expeditions). These exploratory campaigns culminated in an initial catalogue of hadal species but they did not strategically sample at comparable depths or with sufficient replication to permit intra- or inter-trench comparisons upon which to draw ecological conclusions regarding demography or spatial population dynamics. Far from being devoid of life as originally perceived (Forbes & Austen 1859), additional opportunistic observations have since stimulated the hypotheses that the hadal zone hosts a substantial diversity and abundance of fauna with a high degree of endemism (Wolff 1960; 1970). However, as a result of historical factors and severe technical challenges associated with the extremes of hydrostatic pressure and distance from the sea surface, hadal systems remain among the most poorly investigated habitats on Earth."

2. A spy was held by Somalian jihadists for three years.

"A French hostage and two French soldiers have been killed during a failed secret service rescue mission in Somalia.

The failure of the overnight helicopter raid in the southern town of Bulo Marer, about 70 miles south of Mogadishu, came as the French military continued a separate African operation in Mali.

The French defence ministry said the hostage was a member of the secret service, the General Directorate for External Security (DGSE), which directed the operation.

The ministry said the agent, known by his pseudonym Denis Allex, was killed by his captors, members of the Islamist group al-Shabaab, who mounted stiff resistance to the French forces' operation. Seventeen fighters from the group, which had held Allex hostage for three years, were also killed."

3. An outlier scientist named Thomas Gold believed that deep in the Earth, there are lifeforms feeding on what we (in his estimation) incorrectly call fossil fuels. This is a wild theory.

"In the depths of the Earth's crust, he believes, is a second realm, a bacterial 'deep hot biosphere' that is greater in mass than all the creatures living on land and swimming in the seas. Most biologists will tell you that life is something that happens on the Earth's surface, powered by sunlight. Gold counters that most living beings reside deep in the Earth's crust at temperatures well above 100 degrees Celsius, living off methane and other hydrocarbons.

Presented in full in his 1999 book, The Deep Hot Biosphere, Gold's theory of life below the Earth's surface is an outgrowth of his heretical theories about the origins of oil, coal, and natural gas."


4. The Kaaba is a cube-shaped building in Mecca.  It is what Muslims are facing during their daily prayers. Pilgrimage-makers circle it counterclockwise in a ritual known as making tawaf

"The first entry in the Holy Mosque, and the first sight of the Kaaba was extremely moving. I was fascinated and impressed, the cube caught all my attention and my eyes were filled up with tears as I endlessly said 'dua' without stopping and trying to remember from the most important to the least important matter in descending order, trying not to forget anyone close to me or related to me in some way, including those who were making the pilgrimage with us and finally all Muslims in the world.

Najwa was not feeling very well, her liver was giving sings of weakness before our departure from Granada and the journey has been overwhelming for her. She needed to rest a couple of days. Thus, we were three who started the Umra the very same day we arrived at night. We formed a compact block and we managed to get through the crowd quickly in order to touch with our hands the grey stone of the Kaaba. However, we could not reach the black stone, and since it is a stone that neither benefits nor harms and we did not really mind, although of course we would like to do it. I hope I can do it later when most of the pilgrims have returned to their places of origin.

That first tawaf was very purifying, I cried, sweated, asked for mercy and forgiveness, I asked for help until I felt that I could no longer ask for anything more. On the last lap while trying to do two more rakats at Ibrahim’s site, where we saw his footprints, the crowd stopped us and so we went to drink the water of zamzam and then to make the sai. We did not realize we had to make another two rakats in another place, behind Ibrahim’s site. We missed this part of the ritual, so we are now fasting. Khadija did not leave the state of Ihram, and she did not cut her hair, she had the intention of repeating the Umra with Najwa one she feels better.

The tawaf is very rewarding, perhaps the close proximity to the Kaaba in addition to the rotation movement --after the initial impulse-- seems to continue by pure inertia. For these and other reasons that Allah knows the tawaf, walking around the Kaaba seven times, pass with ease and leaves the spirit full of joy, humility, strength and contentment."

Getty Open Content

5. A daguerreotype showing a celebration of the end of slavery on Martinique

"Markings: Plate mark, at lower right corner: '* [pascal lamb] 30 [all sideways]'. Label: Inscribed on label affixed to backing, at upper center, in ink: 'Martinique', and in pencil: 'OWOEIO.'"

Today's 1957 American English Usage Tip:

à l'outrance. ('To the utmost,' to death.) The French phrase is à outrance or à toute outrance, not à l'outrance. Those who use French phrases to suggest that they are at home with French should accordingly be careful to write à outrance. For those who use them merely as the handiest way of expressing themselves, the form that is commoner in English is as good as the other, & does not lay them open to the charge of pedantry.

Thank yous to: Robin Sloan for handing me Submergence and telling me I had to read it, Teju Cole for blurbing the book, ensuring that I would actually read it, and to Kathryn Schulz for this sparkling review.

Always Open to the Charge of Pedantry

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