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  • Eminent Visiting Scholar Seminar: Paul Virilio Goes to the Beach: an Archaeology of Coastal Reclamations

Eminent Visiting Scholar Seminar: Paul Virilio Goes to the Beach: an Archaeology of Coastal Reclamations

Presented by Associate Professor Denis Byrne, Western Sydney University

Date: 13 June 2019
Time: 4:00 PM - 5:30 PM
Venue: Toowoomba - Q501, or via Zoom
Contact: For more information, please contact Celmara Pocock.
Booking: Please register via HR UConnect.
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Denis Byrne is an Associate Professor at the Institute for Culture and Society, Western Sydney University. An archaeologist by background, he has worked both in the public and academic sphere of heritage conservation. Among others things, his work blends contemporary archaeology, fictocritical writing, a concern with the ruins of modernity and a taste for loitering in marginal spaces. His publications include Surface Collection (Rowman & Littlefield 2007) and Counterheritage (Routledge 2014).

In 1945, when the young Paul Virilio stepped onto his first beach on the Normandy coast, he began a long term fascination with the sea, the littoral zone, and the system of WWII coastal bunkers that formed German’s Atlantikwall. Collapsed bunkers became the inspiration for an attempt, through his ‘oblique’ architecture, to make us conscious of the way our lives are ruled by the conventional architecture of horizontality and to provide us with a way of escaping it. I argue that coastal reclamations, which are proliferating at an alarming rate in parts of Asia, destroying coastal ecosystems, are as much about the production of flat land as they are about creating new land.

Coastal reclamations can seem like a tide of land pushing out into the sea, as if we were experiencing a period of marine contraction rather than its opposite. The seawalls of our reclamations, like those WWII bunkers, draw an optimistic line in the sand against incursion from/of the sea. In presenting several different ways of viewing coastal reclamations, using examples from different times and places, my objective is to work against the taken-for-grantedness of reclamations, to help us know these entities better and to identify lines of escape. Archaeologically, coastal reclamations might be through as part of the heritage footprint of the Anthropocene. Inspired by Virilio, the paper contributes to the task of defining and mapping that footprint.