The Selkie: Figuring, an Essay
- with Iain Biggs


This paper is a transcript of a hybrid between performance and presentation. It takes an
heterodox, polyvocal approach to both research and dissemination through a fusion of art
practice and academic discourse, where voices from the audience hold as implicit a role as
those of the formal speaker and performing artist.


Our central concern is an exploration of the Selkie, found principally in Scottish folklore but
present elsewhere around the British coast, and in Ireland. This creature is an integral part of
traditional seafaring culture, able to adapt to both water and land. The aim of this work is to
attend to this transformation by reconfiguring various contemporary implications of William
Blake’s notion of ‘two-fold vision’ (Keynes, 1956.), a vision that is understood as a prophylactic
against ‘single vision and Newton’s sleep’ which we equate with the eco-philosopher Val
Plumwood’s (2002) notion of ‘ratiogenic monsters’.


The resulting multi-stranded ‘figuring’ juxtaposes poetry, images and exposition to invite its
audience and readers to re-imagine notions of identity as these might relate to the emerging
Pluriverse. Signification extends from words into image and out again, creating links in
perception. The prose, is by one author (Iain Biggs), the poetry and art by the other (Erin
Kavanagh). The thinking is permeated through, within and by all three mediums to extend
beyond the confines of conventional disciplinary rhetoric (Borgdorff, 2012) in
correspondence with (Ingold, 2014: 9) the mythic ontology of a Selkie's being, for "unknown
reality works like a stereoscope" (Paz, 19190: 147) and thus no single thread can ever be
representative of such tacit dis-articulation.


Taking as one methodological starting-point, the example of Blake’s combination of poetic
text and drawn image (Songs of Innocence and of Experience, etc.), together with
Plumwood’s call for a convergence between philosophy and the arts, we tension a range of
heterogeneous sources focused by the theme of water – understood in Ivan Illich’s sense as:
“always dual" (1986:5), "the fluid that drenches the inner and outer spaces of the
imagination”(ibid, 24).

seal's black head.jpeg