Stowaways on Noah’s Ark
Professor Jeffrey J Cohen
The Book of Genesis has gifted western cultures with an enduring myth for scripting the contours of life within cataclysmic climate change. Noah builds a box-like vessel to sail the rising waters with a cargo of humans and animals, bequeathing to the Earth a chance to start over, to be populated anew. In the wake of this narrative we still build arks against the weather, filling them with seeds and endangered animals and all kinds of stories we want to preserve against catastrophe. Yet every act of preservation comes at cost, not only to the saved but to what has been abandoned to the storm. This talk examines a counter-history within the Noah myth, in which the ark becomes filled with all kinds of stowaways: demons, devils, unicorns, giants, and other monsters who do not conform to clean and unclean division — as well as tales of those who steal away from the ark, those who drown themselves rather than endure such transport. Living with monsters, these stories show, is complicated: demanding expansion of the refuges we build, hospitality towards the unknown and the challenging, the opening up of our definition of what it means to be human, and a more capacious vision of what is worth transporting into the uncertain future for survival together.