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Reimagining Marine Energy: Tidal Rhythms, Language and Community in ebban an’ flowan1

Monika Szuba


This article proposes a discussion of Alec Finlay, Laura Watts and Alistair Peebles’s ebban an’ flowan (2015), employing the concept of paratexts developed by Gérard Genette.

It looks at the ways in which cultural production and renewable energy may cross-pollinate, taking into account language, experiment, tradition and local community. Focusing on the textual thresholds or fringes, the article analyses the cross-medial aspects of ebban an’ flowan, which aim to re-empower the regional culture of the Orkney Islands characterised not only by high complexity, but also technological innovation. Engaging with energy humanities, the essay seeks to demonstrate a potential of a literary work to offer a vision for integrating tidal energy into a sustainable future for maritime communities.

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  • 1 The essay was written thanks to the financial support from Narodowe Centrum Nauki, Miniatura 4 2020 (...)

1Among the physical features of the ocean, “[t]racklessness, opacity and vast scale” (Rozwadowski 2010: 521) are those which relate to human scale and which constitute a daily reality of coastal communities. Responding to its presence and adapting collective strategies become factors which shape locality. Following “an aqueous ecopolitics”, which forms part of a hydrological turn, as suggested by the editors of Thinking with Water (Chen, MacLeod, and Neimanis 2013: 6), Alec Finlay, Laura Watts and Alistair Peebles’s cross-medial work ebban an’flowan (2015) traces the possibilities of harnessing the energy of the sea in textual form and explores the multiscalar connectivity between the past and future, between tradition and experiment, between local and global.

2This essay examines the relationship between cultural production and renewable sources of energy as presented in ebban an’ flowan with its focus on language, experiment, tradition and community. Gérard Genette’s concept of paratexts will serve as a framework in the discussion of the structure of Finlay, Watts and Peebles’s publication, the disparate elements of which may be said to form an archipelago. By recognising the importance of textual thresholds, I wish to argue that ebban an’ flowan offers an appreciation of the regional culture, which, despite the post-imperial notion of “peripherality” sometimes attached to it is characterised by high complexity as well as innovative artistic, social and technological solutions. Finally, drawing on the energy humanities, the essay attempts to demonstrate the ways in which ebban an’ flowan offers a vision into integrating renewables into sustainable futures of maritime communities.

3Co-funded by “Energy Futures”, an RSPB project together with the “Alien Energy” project at the IT University of Copenhagen, ebban an’flowan is concerned with nascent renewable energy technology, inscribed in Scotland’s ambition to “establish itself as a global leader in the generation of renewable energy” (“What the ScotWind” 2022). One of Alec Finlay’s many collaborations, ebban an’ flowan seeks new forms, while exploring vocabulary to create a potential representation of energy futures. The collection is situated in and around Orkney – “Energy Islands” as Laura Watts names Orkney in her book, Energy at the End of the World (2018) – but it casts a wider net, reaching across the sea towards Scotland and the Nordic countries, re-establishing and perhaps re-enforcing older relations. The past of the maritime region around Orkney through the references to the heritage of the islands including Udal law and the kelp industry becomes connected to its possible futures in the form of renewable energy devices of the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC). The sea functions as the connecting channel, as it has always done, yet in ebban an’ flowan it additionally brings the promise of marine renewables.

4The book aims to demonstrate the potential of renewable energy developments supported by and combined with the potential of language to create change, to imagine and forge a new world in an attempt to fuse poetic devices and technical terms. Revolving around marine energy, the collection seeks to find points of contact with the language of poetry and myth with offshore technology, combining “old lore and new lore: remembering the future” (Finlay, Watts and Peebles 2015: 13). The idea is based on forging new language and establishing new myths, which imagines a possible future for the Orkney Islands and beyond, forms part of other Orkney and energy-related publications, which include the above-mentioned Laura Watts’ book Energy at the End of the World: An Orkney Island Saga (2018) and Orkney Futures: A Handbook (2009). The latter, emerging from the Alien Energy project (Social Studies of an Emerging Industry; Denmark, Iceland, the Orkney Islands), is a collaboration across arts and social sciences, edited by Laura Watts and Alistair Peebles, focusing on the potential of the Orcadian landscape, and, as the title suggests, emphasising the plurality of its possible futures. It imagines possibilities for the islands from 49 authors, including contributions by Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley, Doreen Massey, Tim Ingold and Robert Rendall.

5Not only collaborative, Finlay’s works often form part of a constellation of projects. The publication of minnmouth (2016), a work which may be perceived as complementary to ebban an’flowan, was accompanied by an exhibition of artwork in “Somewhere Becoming Sea” and the release of tidesongs, or, as they were described by Finlay, “a composition for multi-layered voice and vocal processing”, composed and performed by Hanna Tuulikki and Lucy Duncombe, created from elements of words and phrases derived from poems. A “book of speculative language research”, as Finlay characterises minnmouth, it includes an introduction in what he calls “tidal poetics”. Inspired by Russian poet Velimir Khlebnikov, who, like other Futurists, called himself a wordmaker, Finlay suggests the names wavewright and windwright “for designers of energy devices” and speechwright “for makars who follow the precepts of tidalpoetics”, using neologisms and dialect, “lending it ears for sound over sense” (2016: 4). In Finlay’s own words, minnmouth contains

[t]he sequence of detached sentences [which] proposes a fluxus, from poetic devices to energy devices, sketching a history, part-lost, part-imagined, whose roots are bedded in the experimental analysis of wind by EWGolding, at Costa Head, Orkney, in the early 1950s, and which stretches forward to today’s wavewrights working at Billia Croo and Fall of Warness, Orkney, and Bluemull Sound, Shetland. (2016: 5)

  • 2 For the discussion of multifarious aspects of offshore extractivism, see Alexandra Campbell “Extrac (...)

6As he further explains, “Tidalpoetry dreams of an alliance of wavewrights and speechwrights, energy devices and poetic devices, to create comradely inter-disciplinary spaces for energised speech production, to apply poetics to problems of design land (and vice-versa), to counter petrolio, and forge post-carbon culture – or, at least, devise a poetics for a drowned world” (2016: 5). The petroleum industry in the North Sea has constituted an important part of Orkney economy since its introduction in the late 1970s with Flotta Oil Terminal processing crude oil on the island of Flotta in Scapa Flow. First staged in 1973, John McGrath’s play The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil is a prominent example of a literary representation of the “monstrous” – to use Graeme Macdonald’s description – implications of oil in its social, ecological and geopolitical dimensions (2017: 290). Similarly, George Mackay Brown’s novel Greenvoe (1972) depicts the disintegration of a small community as a result of the introduction of oil extraction in Orkney.2

  • 3 Concerned with the ways in which power operates in modern societies, the term ‘biopower’, coined by (...)

7What has been recognised as a peculiar set of relations” which was engineered between oil, violence, finance, expertise and democracy” (Mitchell 2011: 253), created a network of connections between fuel and politics, resulting in the exploitation of coastal regions. In an attempt to imagine a post-petroleum future, ebban anflowan and minnmouth consider energopower (Boyer 2011; Boyer 2014), understood as bridling fuel and electricity and affiliated to the Foucauldian concept of biopower,3 which forms part of new anthropocentric and ecocentric biopolitical imaginaries responding to climate change” (Boyer 2014: 328).

8Recognising global socio-political ramifications of reliance on petroleum, Finlay situates hope in poesis, or poetic creation for the passing of an era of fossil fuel and ushering in of a renascent energy paradigm. The era of the oil regime coming to an end requires the reimagining of energic power. In Carbon Democracy, Timothy Mitchell speculates on the future of politics post-petroleum (Mitchell 2011: 237-52), contending that the building of solutions to future energy needs…also the building of new forms of collective life” (Mitchell 2011: 238). By envisioning a world in which the paradigm of energopower can be shifted away from extractive mode, ebban anflowan expresses a sense of urgency accompanying energy production in the face of the ever-increasing demand for energy.

  • 4 Finlay’s artistic intuition is confirmed by research carried out by such scholars as Annabel Pinker (...)

9Finlay’s interest in the potential of renewable energy is revealed already in his project entitled Skying: Art Landscape and Renewable Energy (2011-2), in which he focuses on wind turbines. Mentioned in one of the entries of the Skying blog entitled “Rousay and Billia Croo”, the construction of Oyster 2, “the prongs of the rig are more lobster than oyster” (2011). “This is the future”, Finlay pronounces, adding, “this is some of your Orcadian blue-sea thinking” (Finlay 2011). To Finlay, wind turbines may be perceived as “symbolic monumental sculptures” (Finlay 2011), which perform a significant function in producing energy while being a conspicuous reminder that “we could all take responsibility for that scarce resource” (Finlay 2011; see also Stewart Smith’s discussion of Skying [2015]). In his correspondence with John Burnside, a staunch critic of wind farms, Finlay expresses a belief in a “social community or national ownership” of renewable energy power sources, suggestive of a co-operative which is tied with place-making. Finlay would like to see the future in foregrounding the importance of locality and community ownership, combining the role of literature and art with environmental justice, which involves social and economic issues of Scottish coastal regions. Co-operative and commonality have constituted a major theme in Finlay’s work over the years, taking various forms, most recently visible for instance in Shared Writing (2005), Wild City (2018) and Manifesto for Urban Crofts (2021). As Camille Manfredi aptly notices, Finlay’s work aims to “advocate common ownership of an energy that is to be produced not out of spaces of exclusion, but of places of inclusion” (2021: 113). The communitarian aspect, which lies at the heart of ebban an’flowan, or indeed a large part of Finlay’s work, creates a strong sense of a shared dimension of renewable energy, opposing it to the exploitative capitalist practices.4

  • 5 For the conceptualisation of post-pastoralism, see Gifford 2013.

10Similarly to other Scottish writers and artists such as Kathleen Jamie, Thomas A Clark, or Hamish Fulton, Finlay creates with the awareness of the post-pastoral reality,5 where the connections between the human and nature are not undermined and the divide between them has collapsed. Among the timely themes undertaken by the Scottish artists in recent years, as enumerated by Camille Manfredi, is the technological innovation of the Highlands and Islands (2021: 109-10). The photograph on the cover of ebban an’flowan is a wraparound image of Hoy Sound, a body of water situated in the Orkney archipelago at the entrance to the port of Stromness. Photographed by Alistair Peebles, the marinescape appears calm, almost static, the strip of the steel blue sea on the front cover reflecting the bands of cloud, grey with roseate streaks and light blue sky peering from below, the island in the background. The image extends onto the back cover, but here it is divided almost evenly between the sky and the land, the darker sea wedged in-between. The calm of the sea is deceptive as this area is subject to tidal waves, which run strongly. Towards the right edge of the image, the natural seascape becomes disrupted by two human-made devices. The test area for renewable wave-energy devices is situated to the North of the entrance to Hoy Sound with infrastructure connecting the floating devices to the electricity grid. At the bottom of the back cover “a primer for marine renewable energy” printed in an earth-coloured font suggests the genre of the slim booklet. The word “primer” – referring to a small book with basic facts aimed at beginners – announces the programmed, didactic function of the work: a basic text for teaching the subject of tidal energy becomes the first layer, a preparatory coat. Combining word and image, ebban an’ flowan explores the functions of language such as play and imaginative expression forging cultural identity. Words printed over the photographs of the devices enhance the cross-over aspect of the work and nudges the reader towards considering the aesthetics of energy. In the post-natural landscape of Scotland, the photographs of the tide and energy devices at the European Marine Energy Centre test site in Orkney offer an attempt to familiarise the eye with the devices disrupting the shore, the line of the horizon and the seascape. The aestheticisation of technology arising from the age of the machine introduces a modernist sensibility, but imbues it with ecological concerns. As Sara Danius notes in The Senses of Modernism: Technology, Perception and Modernism, “Technology helps change not only the world but also the perception of that world. This is partly why the image of the machine enters modernism together with problems of intelligibility” (2002: 189). Conversely, within the projects such as ebban an’ flowan with its environmental dimension resides the belief that art changes the perception of technology.

11Combining science, poetry and storytelling, the work traces the etymology of words across various languages and employs the generative potential of poetry. As the authors write in the foreword, Languages also have their tides: the energy of speech, as its sound rises and lulls, is always ebban anflowan” (2015: 2). The title comes from Robert Rendalls poem Cragsmans Widow”: Anthe sea keeps ebban anflowan/ As though it had never been” (2015: 3). These lines are also the first of the three epigraphs, the other including a line from Margaret Taits poem Storms” (I crave the wave beating”) and an extract from Velimir Khlebnikovs poem, Otters Children”, translated into Scots by Harry Josephine Giles. Khlebnikovs pedigree as the leading poet of the futurist movement explains the use of neologisms. The presence of the three epigraphs already proclaims a rhizomatic work, the content and form of which figure the ebb and flow of language, emphasising connections and entanglements. The concept of the paratext proposed by Genette is more than a boundary or a sealed border”, or rather, a threshold”, as he further clarifies (1997: 1-2). It is transitional a zone between text and beyond-text” (Genette 1997: 407), the place in which the reception of the text as well as its understanding may be influenced, its interpretation ensured. A peritext includes the cover, the title, the title page, chapter titles, prefaces and notes (Genette 1997: 16). Genette returns to the spatial aspect of paratexts placed between the inside and the outside”, which become a zone without any hard and fast boundary” (Genette 1997: 2) either inside or outside of the text. Paratextual devices such as the epigraphs, bibliography, other references together with formatting and typography not only form a frame for the main text but gain their own meaning: they signify, introducing a unifying principle. These fringes, as Genette calls them after Philippe Lejeune, combine to create a unified work. Instances of an edge” (Genette 1997: 2), or perhaps a shore, whereby the inside is composed of archipelagic text, are scattered throughout the booklet and connected by the principal theme and motifs of the book. In ebban anflowan, the main body of the text is followed by a bibliography, which features a number of diverse sources, including Dictionary of the Scots Language, an Old Norse dictionary, a Faroese-English dictionary, a concise dictionary of Old Icelandic, scholarly articles on Shetland and Orkney dialect, on tidal current energy, a tidal energy report on environmental impact assessment, Charles Taits Orkney Guide Book: Udal Law, poetry collections by Paul Valéry and Robert Rendall, and Harry Josephine Giless collection after Lao Tzu.

12As has been mentioned above, the underlying theme of ebban an’ flowan is connectedness of past and future across languages and maritime cultures. “What languages, words, and phrases and might endure?”, wonder the authors (2015: 29). The circular motion of tidal waters represented in the circle poem “Streams” (2015: 48), in which the eponymous word recurs not only in its English version, but in such languages and dialects as Swedish, Dutch, Icelandic, Danish, German, historical languages such as Orkney Norn, Old English, Old Norse, Old Saxon, Old Frisian, Old High German, and Proto-Indo-European. The words in block capitals which recur along the circle read “Streams flow to and fro as seas stream…”. The use of the epistrophe, or the repetition of a word or phrase at the end of a successive clause emphasises the idea, the effect further strengthened by capitalising the words. The echoes reverberating in these words demonstrate the overlapping, intertwined nature of the neighbouring languages through their geographical proximity as well as across temporal distance. Thus, both through its form and content, the poem reminds the reader of the manner in which the languages are interlinked, sharing linguistic roots and maritimity, that connectivity in the collective spirit of maritime cultures along the European shores.

13Other sources include Origins and Elements (1958) by Margaret Tait, and Katharine Mary Briggs’ book on fairies in tradition and literature (1967/2002). A further reading list contains references to websites on an e-learning tool on aquatic renewable energy technologies, Fishernet (Fishing Cultural Heritage Network, an online European resource), a book on the generation of electricity by wind power, a link to the Norn language forum, and the collected poems of George Mackay Brown. A brief look at these sources reveals numerous interconnections between the language, land and sea, which is, I would argue, singularly Scottish. By this I mean demonstrating strong attachments to the landscape and local cultures and traditions. The reference to Norse Udal law which regulated property rights, including the sea when Orkney and Shetland were part of Norway and Denmark for six hundred years suggests the relation between the sea and ownership as the word odal (the last rune in the Elder Futhark alphabet) means “property” or “wealth”.

14Several centuries later, the sea continues to play a significant role in the life of the inhabitants of the Orkney Islands. As the poet, conchologist and lay preacher Robert Rendall, referenced in ebban anflowan writes, the connection to the shore has left a profound influence on the subconscious habits of Orkney people. They gravitate towards the shore, even when without any immediate object in doing so (1973: 86). In his book Orkney Shore, Rendall lists activities that made the shore a “permanent feature” in Orkney life: Sea-fishing, taking of lobsters, gathering dulse and whelks and mussels, bait gathering for cod-fishing, carting sand and seaweed for the land, or shingle for road-making, the bleaching of flax, kelp-making, quarrying flagstone for house roofs or for paving, beachcombing for driftwood” (1973: 86). The material connectedness to the sea – fish, sand, shingle, kelp, driftwood – which characterises the traditional elements of Orkney life in ebban anflowan offers a visual reminder in the form of the reversed photogram in the frontispiece by Orcadian artist, Rebecca Marr, representing Ascophyllum nodosum, known as knotted wrack, a seaweed that grows only in the northern Atlantic Ocean. This image becomes a visual reminder of the social history of the region, evoking the past of the kelp industry. Photographs, an important element of the book, not only open up a visual aspect but create additional meanings. In the image of the wave test site at Billia Croo, the caption and description which accompany it create a link with Gunnie Moberg, a Swedish photographer connected with the Orkney Islands, and the garden at Don, Outertown, Stromness, which overlooks Billia Croo, and which was created and tended by her in the final years of her life (2015: 33).

15Unlike wind energy turbines on land, marine energy designs are all different because, as Gareth Davies, environmental consultant and managing director of Aquatera, cited by Laura Watts puts it, “Air is similar the world over. Not so, water” (Watts 2018: 332). That is why the devices tested at EMEC (European Marine Energy Centre) have such diverse shapes, reflected in their innovative names: “the Pelamis ‘sea snake’ whose jointed sections undulate with the waves: the giant Oyster with its flap moving back and forth; the Penguin from Wello Oy that floats with a gyroscope mechanism within; the OpenHydro white underwater turbine akin to a jet engine” (Watts 2018: 332). What characterises WEC (Wave energy converting) technology is the variety of examples which give “the impression of plurality” in the category of Wave Activated Bodies (WABs), encompassing hundreds of concepts (Kofoed 2017: 27). The playful use of language in coining the names of the devices demonstrates the ways in which the cultural, linguistic creative impulse nourishes technological innovation. As the names of the devices demonstrate, the language of EMEC is technical but playful, often offering punning acronyms, such catchy names explored by the authors of ebban an’ flowan. There are also linguistic riddles, or one-word poems, which Finlay employs in his other works (2015: 28; 2015: 49). Through the unconventional employment of orthography, Finlay creates meanings that expand the boundaries of language, ushering in new uses. Linguistic experiments in sound symbolism using maritime dialect echo futurist experiments and what Khlebnikov calls “beyonsense” (or “transreason”, “transration”). A quotation from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland: “Take care of the sense, and the sound will take care of themselves” reinforces the playfulness of the text (2015: 36). By employing various typographical effects, these devices also enhance the visual aspects of the text, transforming it in the tradition of concrete poetry where a typeface creates a visual image of the topic (see, for instance 2015: 46) to achieve visual art constructed from words. Moving away from the verbal concept of poetry results in the fusion of word and image whereby language undergoes the process of transformation, caught on the cusp of change in its nonrational phase.

16By drawing from collective memory and appreciating the function of lore, the authors recognise the necessity to forge myths and employ strategies of storytelling in order to re-imagine possible futures. Laura Watts’s contribution, “The Draukie’s Tale: Origin Myth for Wave Energy” (Finlay, Watts and Peebles 2015: 18-23; reprinted in Imre Szeman and Dominic Boyer’s Energy Humanities: An Anthology) is a poem inspired by the energy centre near Orkney. Draukie is a half-Selkie, half-Draugr, a Trow, of “Trickster folk” (Finlay, Watts and Peebles 2015: 18) who is caught by scientists on an Icelandic fishing boat, then “prodded and probed”, and, as a result, loses its “wave power” (Finlay, Watts and Peebles 2015: 20). Among them there is one young scientist who listens to Draukie and she reveals her “deepest, true name” to her: “Överflöd,/ Overflowing, Generosity” (Finlay, Watts, and Peebles 2015: 21). Draukie is released and the young scientist persuades other scientists to construct machines that will call to Draukie, “big devices:/wings in the waves, that/ beat sounds under sea”, which “turn Generosity/into electricity” (Finlay, Watts and Peebles 2015: 22). By foregrounding material interconnections, Watts’ poem introduces an aspect of trans-corporeality into the book, which may be perceived to be proposing a statement that environmental justice must encompass ecological thinking across bodies (Alaimo 2010; Alaimo 2012). Referring to the idea that all living beings are not isolated individuals but are interconnected with other entities and the environment, trans-corporeality challenges traditional dualistic views that separate human beings from the natural world and suggests a more integrated understanding of our relationships with the environment. These ethical perspectives emphasise the need for a just and sustainable relationship with the environment, taking into account the rights and interests of all life forms. Recognising trans-corporeality may thus incite a sense of responsibility for the natural world, which will in turn lead to initiating an action which will address environmental inequalities and protect vulnerable living beings.

17The inextricable connection between tide and time underlined by Finlay reminds the reader of the returns and rhythms inscribed in the tidal movement, which becomes a metaphor for cultural continuities. As Owain Jones notices, the time-space rhythms of tides around the UK shore are bound into ecologies of place in many ways and that this produces affective relationships with place and landscape which inevitably dance to this fundamental, cyclical, but complex rhythm” (Jones 2010: 202). Europes largest natural harbour, Orkney prides itself on innovation in renewable energy, seizing the opportunity which lies in the potential of tidal current energy to increase the energy technologies. A wave energy test site of a currently small-scale tech industry – the nursery tidal test site – the Orkney Islands make good use of the natural resources such as wind and tide (using waves up to eighteen metres high and tides rolling in as fast as four metres per second). The phrase the energy islands” is employed by Orkney Renewable Energy Forum (OREF), which is concerned with such diverse energy sources as wind, biomass, solar, wind and tide energy. Currently at the forefront of decarbonisation and transition to zero carbon fuels such as hydrogen, Orkney may be considered renewable energy pioneers, as it has been the test site for energies for decades, the laboratory for testing experimental sustainable energy devices” (Watts 2018: 107), producing energy from that resource which covers almost three fourths of the earths surface. The pioneering renewable energy test site, Costa Head was UKs first experimental wind turbine, built and installed” (Watts 2018: 107) as the first grid-connected device in 1951. While it did not endure the Orkney wind – the 200km/h gusts – and collapsed after a short period of functioning, it paved the way for the mainlands Burgar Hill wind farm, established in 1983. As Hayley Bennett argues, the Orkney Islands are at the heart of the energy revolution”, generating about one hundred per cent of their energy needs. The hydrogen refuelling station located in Kirkwall supplies the councils five hydrogen fuel cell vans. The hydrogen is produced by electrolysers on the islands of Eday and Shapinsay, which use electricity from tidal and wind sources to split water into hydrogen and oxygen (Bennett 2020).

18The European Marine Energy Centre (or EMEC) featuring in the images in ebban an’ flowan was established in 2003; Billia Croo wave test site opened a year later. The site is advertised as producing “clean energy”, promising “a clean future”. Yet, it should be noted that with the extensive use of rare earth metals extracted from the Earth’s crust in renewable energy technologies, the question remains how green so-called “clean energy” is, or, to put this differently, how “green” is “blue” energy? Given the as-yet inefficient recycling process, one may wonder about sustainability and ecological viability. “Extraction and mining of rare earth metals involves similar land-use exploitation, environmental damage and ecological burden as any other mining operation”, points out Watts, adding that “They are mined using extremely energy-intensive processes, spewing carbon emissions into the atmosphere and toxins into the ground” (2018: 108). Another problem, pointed out by James Meek in an article on wind power, green jobs and global capitalism entitled “Who holds the welding rod” is the exploitative nature of “green” energy (Meek 2021). From the EMEC website, we learn that in 2011 it began collaborative project working with twenty-six wave, tide and wind testing facilities around Europe in the Marine Renewables Infrastructure Network (MARINET) project; and in 2013, the International WaTERS (Wave and Tidal Research Sites) Network was founded. The EMEC website includes reports of progress, for instance the information that in 2018 Wello Penguin “survives one-year of continuous operation at Billia Croo, surviving waves of over 18 metres”. The choice of the verb – ‘survives’ –signifies anthropomorphism, attributing characteristics of a living being to an inanimate object, a machine. By highlighting that Wello carries wildlife observations, its ecological function further legitimised its presence in the marine ecosystem.

19Functioning as the “living laboratory for a sustainable energy system” (Watts 2018: 109), the Orkney encounters several problems. As Laura Watts points out, there is a tension between the undeniable significance of Orkney test sites and the “failure of the national government and the energy industry to address the crippling transmission charge and the constrained grid” (2018: 108). A further problem may be the ephemerality of the endeavour. In the review of ebban an’ flowan, Amy Liptrot doubts “[t]he longevity of this culture and lexicon”, as she notices that the wave energy firm Aquamarine ceased trading after running out of funding for its research, after another company, Pelamis, in 2015. Liptrot writes, “It is unclear how far the new industry will develop. Planned huge wave farms off the Scottish northern and western isles may not materialise, a new connection to the National Grid has not yet been funded. Orkney may end up being no more than a test site” (Liptrot 2016). Three years after the publication of ebban an’ flowan another company, OpenHydro, which tested turbines was liquidated (Bennett 2020). Doubtless, the future of local innovations still depend to a large extent on central political decision and funding. The collaborative nature of the efforts to create the new tidal technology marks a shift in sourcing and production of energy yet these are still early days. The question posed by Laura Watts appears pertinent in this context, “Will the energy underdog, wave and tide power, win out over the incumbent, centralised fossil fuel energy system?” (2018: 254). In an attempt to meet decarbonisation targets, imagining a carbon-free future aids the transition away from fossil fuels. Transcending the fossil-fuel era, ebban an’flowan is inscribed in the global debate of energy transition, reflecting an ambition for Scotland to be at the forefront of the ongoing change. In many ways, the book is far more radical than any of the tried, and often failing practices. By combining the poetic function of language with the functional use of the energy devices, ebban an’ flowan points to and highlights the zones of contact between art and technology, local and global, human and ocean. In search for versions of sustainable futures, Finlay, Watts and Peebles delineate the forms of socio-technical life which people perhaps would like to inhabit. By employing extensive paratextuality, their collective work creates no-boundary zones, to recall Genette, emphasising the interconnectedness of dispersed literary and cultural references. There is though, despite such pessimistic signs, always the renewing and renewable power of language which remains in its collaborative, cross-medial manner of this speculative work. Yet the book itself seems held hostage to technological success or failure, and thus in its retrospectively modernist poetics, is more ambitious, more far seeing than any of the projects. Some could perceive it as a disconnect between the consideration of the book and of the practices put in place. The imagination can always envisage more than technological praxis, which seems always contingent, pragmatic and, if not haphazard, then certainly atomistic.

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1 The essay was written thanks to the financial support from Narodowe Centrum Nauki, Miniatura 4 2020/04/X/HS2/00929 (“Poetyka krajobrazu: praktyka eksperymentalna we współczesnej literaturze szkockiej”).

2 For the discussion of multifarious aspects of offshore extractivism, see Alexandra Campbell “Extractive Poetics: Marine Energies in Scottish Literature” (2019) and Fiona Polack and Danine Farquharson’s edited collection, Cold Water Oil: Offshore Petroleum Cultures (2022).

3 Concerned with the ways in which power operates in modern societies, the term ‘biopower’, coined by Michel Foucault refers to a form of power that focuses on the control and regulation of life in its biological aspects. It represents a shift in the strategies and mechanisms of power from the traditional sovereign power to a more diffuse and pervasive form of power that governs entire populations.

4 Finlay’s artistic intuition is confirmed by research carried out by such scholars as Annabel Pinker, who analyses energy decentralization and larger local involvement (2018, passim).

5 For the conceptualisation of post-pastoralism, see Gifford 2013.

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Electronic reference

Monika Szuba, Reimagining Marine Energy: Tidal Rhythms, Language and Community in ebban an’ flowanAngles [Online], 17 | 2024, Online since 28 May 2024, connection on 13 July 2024. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Monika Szuba

Monika Szuba is Associate Professor at the University of Gdańsk. She is the author of Contemporary Scottish Poetry and the Natural World: Burnside, Jamie, Robertson and White (Edinburgh University Press 2019), co-editor of Literary Invention and the Cartographic Imagination: Early Modern to Late Modern (Brill 2022), The Poetics of Space and Place in Scottish Literature (Palgrave 2019), and editor of Boundless Scotland: Space in Scottish Fiction (Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Gdańskiego 2015). In 2023 she published her second monograph Landscape Poetics: Scottish Textual Practice 1928-Present (Edinburgh University Press) which extends her previous work in new ways.


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The text only may be used under licence CC BY 4.0. All other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

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