Rapture of the Deep

Denotation in Alien Environments: The Underwater Je Ne Sais Quoi
by Margaret Cohen

This article by Stanford professor Margaret Cohen examines nonfiction documentary forms where distinctly poetic practices have served as a communicative, if not denotative, tool. Accounts of the first extended underwater observation by pioneering divers like William Beebe, Hans Hass, Philippe Tailliez, and Philippe Diolé used literary allusions and fanciful rhetoric to express the implausible conditions of this alien environment, in a practice that reached its height before the flowering of underwater color and documentary cinema in the mid-1950s.


“Denotation in Alien Environments” is from Representations’ special issue Denotatively, Technically, LiterallyThe introduction to the issue by Elaine Freedgood and Cannon Schmitt is available online free of charge.