Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Mediterranean Thinking: From Netizen to Medizen [*]

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Mediterranean Thinking: From Netizen to Medizen [*]

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT. The Mediterranean has traditionally been approached from a geographical and historical perspective that has collapsed the material and political differences between water and land. This conflation has been instrumental in homogenizing the diversity of this interregional arena and turning it into a geopolitical area. Aquacentric thinking brings such approaches to the Mediterranean into question. Cybertheory, which despatializes interaction and helps us think of water as place, is applied to the Mediterranean to bring its multiplicity into dialogue and to explore the possibility of creating a new epistemology of place. Mediterraneanizing cybertheory introduces diachronicity into theories of simultaneity. Keywords: aquacentrism, cyberepistemology, diachronicity, fixity/fluidity, place.

What is the "Mediterranean" in "Mediterranean thinking"? It is the geopolitical reality of a stretch of water between the lands of three continents, the material culture of this "interregional arena" (Bose 1998), and an imaginary that links this region to itself and also to others through metaphor or comparison.

The Mediterranean is physically unique. Large enough to constitute a transnational site that links widely separated peoples and cultures, it is also small enough to connect these same peoples and cultures. Unlike the Pacific and Indian Oceans, or the Black and Caspian Seas, the Mediterranean is both open and enclosed, with characteristics of both ocean and sea. In this basin and throughout recorded history, specific kinds of knowledge and art have been, and continue to be, produced and circulated through the medium of travelers, conquerors, pirates, refugees, merchants, scholars, and slaves from all the shores and islands. A site of political, economic, and cultural contestation, it has often occupied the center stage of world history. The networks and connections in the Mediterranean predate history and are alive and well today in the numerous conferences, both real and virtual, held by its hundreds of governmental and nongovernmental associations.

Beyond its physical vitality and complexity, the Mediterranean serves as a metaphor to describe behaviors and cultures with which it bears comparison: It is the cradle of global religions; the battlefront of competing spiritualities; the special earth that has produced and circulated around its far-flung shores the grape, the olive, and the fragrance of thyme. When the adjective "Mediterranean" is used to describe an architecture, a temperament, or a food, we instinctively know, or think we know, what is meant. The processes that have shaped the Mediterranean as a specific kind of place with a particular imaginary can then be transposed by analogy elsewhere to serve as analytical tools. For example, the discovery of the Geniza documents in Cairo in the late nineteenth century revealed that the animosity dividing Jews and Muslims had been interrupted by long periods of harmonious coexistence. This model of peaceful symbiosis, which may turn into a hotbed of xenophobia, can be applied elsewhere in order to hel p us understand comparable "interregional arenas," to use the term coined by Sugata Bose (1998). This is the thinking that lies behind Yves Lacoste's American (Gulf of Mexico) and Southeast Asian Mediterraneans (Belghazi 1999).

In this article I argue that the Mediterranean can be thought of at any one of these levels or all of them simultaneously and that this possibility today allows for a new way to think of place. I write "today" because I believe that the information revolution of the past twenty years and the spread of the Internet have created a paradigm shift that provides new vocabulary and new optics for ancient processes. Although the conditions for what I call "Mediterranean thinking" predate cybertheory, it is arguable that the Internet has played a role in the emergence of a new epistemology, which allows us to think of the Mediterranean beyond its geographically and historically determined limits. …

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