The Deep/Les Abysses by Adam Biles

The Deep/Les Abysses is a short work by British writer Adam Biles, currently based in Paris. Introduced with a line from the "Rime of the Ancient Mariner", it claims to explore the history and nature of deep sea research, convincingly starting with examples from coastal societies with expert deep sea divers. Delving further, the reader begins to notice interesting features in the narrator's treatment of his subject matter. We learn of "Professor Hutton", deducing impressively that the ancient Roman practice of auguring from the intestines of seagulls actually echoed a primordial method of determining whether a diver was alive when submerged by way of looking for changes "in the ducking and weaving patterns of the gulls as they reacted to the appearance of carrion." Later, we hear of the whaler Pequod and an American writer telling the tale of an old fisherman and several years later taking his life "so haunted was he by his personal visions of what lurked in the depths." It rather quickly becomes clear that we are at the deceitful threshold of fact and fiction merging. An unnamed Swiss deep sea explorer with his anachronistic bathyspheres remains at the core of the essay, delving deeper and deeper into the mysterious ocean floor and finally coming up with lucid, and to many unbelievable, descriptions of an underwater city whose quasi-spectral denizens send ripples all the way to the surface and all distant shores where unknowing inhabitants of the coasts wade. Biles is a skilled writer, giving a compelling postmodern finish to his ficto-essay. The Deep is a Borgesian document, reading like the work of an essayist in a future where Moby Dick, The Old Man and the Sea and much more are understood in the literal sense as realist depictions of events. Biles's diction is poetic, sometimes deliberately archaic, and it has the feel of a distinguished study in arm-chair anthropology. The narrator seems to be in the position of a lecturer genius, a mind so distinguished he never has to explain himself and can comfortably remain in the world of ambiguity and uncertainty - he has no need to drop names or cite sources, "The Swiss doctor", "the celebrated author" and "the American" are titles enough.

In addition to its unreliable postmodern nature, The Deep also opens up for a psychoanalytical reading. The deep sea is the unknown, the unconscious, the unattainable - but still omnipresent - where only the most brave and distinguished can dive into and return alive, and even they seldom remain unscathed or sane. The difficulties in examining fish that cannot survive in the low-pressure of the surface world, parallel the difficulty of interpreting the movements of the subconscious, even if they are somehow brought to light. The same goes for the mystical beings the Swiss sees in the underwater city: the ripples they cause touch upon everyone, upon every shore, but they're near impossible to understand without an exploration into the deep itself. Whether we stand on calm or stormy shores we only see the end results of the subconscious at work, never the prime mover itself.

The Deep is an inspiring short work, a text that begs multiple interpretations with which it breathes and equals more than the sum of its pages. It escapes literalism and invites the reader into a world of spoken narrative, of hearsay and rumor, capturing the very essence of its subject - the unexplored, terrifying and fascinating nature of the deep dark sea.

Further info: (at the time of this article, an introduction to The Deep/Les Abysses is not yet available) The Deep/Les Abysses is published by Editions de la Houle, Brussels, 2012.

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