John Knechtel

(MIT Press)
Niagara Falls. Public Baths. Bottled Water. The Venetian Lagoon. Waterfronts. Fossils. "The Waters of Metaphysics." There are over twenty photographic studies and essays crammed into this squat little book, "printed using waterless print technology."

It can be confounding. There are thirty pages of photographs of mold spores on a journal left over from 1905. Pages 92 to 101 consist of an essay on "Ravine City" --- a project to reintroduce creeks and streams that once flowed through Toronto (a similar scheme has been proposed for Manhattan, called "The Mannahatta Project.")

Another twenty-three pages are devoted to full-page photographs of different bottled waters from around the world. There is, too, an essay on the deleterious effects of transcontinental pipelines, emphasizing the effect of several crossing Brandywine Creek, a corridor that runs from New York City to the Gulf of Mexico (its easement ranges from 70 - 100 feet in width).

There is a cryptic chapter on fossils; great shots of the tunnels once used by the Ontario Power Company near Horseshoe Falls, Canada; and something called "Psychodrama: 13 Variations for eleven instruments, tape and video --- purportedly the score of the Hitchcock movie Psycho, complete with parts for SHOWER HEAD, HAND ON TILE, MARION GRASPS SHOWER CURTAIN, and WATERBLOOD --- DRAIN, aquaculture at its noisiest.

§     §     §

God knows what it all means. Water is not so much a book as a 330-page collage. The more serious parts include a thoughtful look at various uses of Colorado River water ... not the rape-the-wild rob-the-natural-resources schemes from the past, but a gentle reworking of the endorheic Salton Sea, a large body of water, "increasingly saline," that lies in the southern Imperial Valley. (Endorheic means it has no outlet). Plans involve "Agricultural Typologies" (irrigated fields), salt-evaporating areas, and ponds for tilapia, a fish that thrives in saline waters.

There is a stunning chapter on Venice, the thrust of which is: with global warming, world seas will rise by as much as forty feet in the next century. Venice is, not unlike most of American real estate, "underwater."

    While the image of a Venice sunk beneath waves is painful to contemplate, it may be an inevitable result; the ongoing war against the sea may be one that Venetians cannot win.

What the authors suggest is a "Venice Lagoon Park," with "Prophylactic Barrier Rings" to surround the city, "a new landscape in the form of ridges, valleys, and inlets," an "ecological preserve and study area."

Barges will be used for cultivating various foods; hotels will float "at nodal points of the geomatic and informatic grid laid over the lagoon."

    Tourists will board transparent floating bubbles for one or two people in order to view the ecological zone and the submerged portions of the park. In addition to allowing unrestricted views both above and below the water line, these vessels' highly performative skin will provide information, wayfinding, and air filtration.

"The skin will also act as a hydrogen-producing membrane, using artificial photosynthesis to split water molecules, thereby making the vessels energy self-sufficient."

§     §     §

If all this threatens to drown the reader in hyperbolae, there is an appropriate conclusion, "Notes for a new campaign, WATER." Author Mei Chin suggests that world literature would be much improved if characters in novels and stories drank water. Then they could have "done away with depression, adultery, incest, violence, and pestilence."

    Literary Celebrities Who Did Not Drink Water include Emma Bovary, Gregor Samsa, Oedipus, and the Consul from Under the Volcano.

"Whereas Anne Shirley, of Anne of Green Gables, subsisted almost entirely on water drawn from the spring and the occasional glass of milk, and lived a healthy and happy existence. Aside from talking to trees and fairies, she did not exhibit any strange or morbid tendencies."

--- Lolita Lark
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