This presentation delivers a first-person anthropological report on a dive to the seafloor in the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s three-person submersible, Alvin. Meditating on the sounds rather that the sights of the dive, Stefan Helmreich explores multiple meanings of immersion: as a descent into liquid, an absorption in activity, and the all-encompassing entry of an anthropologist into a cultural medium. Tuning in to the rhythms of Alvin as a submarine cyborg, he shows how interior and exterior soundscapes create a sense of immersion, and he argues that torquing media theory to include water as a medium can make explicit the technical structures and social practices of sounding, hearing, and listening that support senses — scientific, everyday, and anthropological — of embodied sonic presence.
Stefan Helmreich is an anthropologist who studies life scientists, from those who engage in the computer modeling of living things (Silicon Second Nature: Culturing Artificial Life in a Digital World, University of California Press, 1998) to those who work in deep-sea environments (Alien Ocean: Anthropological Voyages in Microbial Seas, University of California Press, 2009). He is particularly interested in the limits of “life” as an analytical category for contemporary biology.