Le Monde du Marchand du Sel

---Peter Fend


The World of Marcel Duchamp as the Merchant of Salt (Marchand du Sel):

The Planet Organized According to its Saltwaters

A polar view of the world is commonly centered on the North Pole. This image was adopted by the United Nations, placing its Security Council members (if we align Canada with the UK) around the inner circle. Buckminster Fuller used the image in his Dymaxion world. The image became the game board for intercontinental war games: the deployment strategy of nearly all long-range missiles today, along with the attendant bomber, radar and anti-ballistic missile defense installations, is based on a world centered in the Arctic.

But if one shifts the focus to the Arctic's antipode, the Antarctic, one sees a world covered mostly by oceans. One can see the circulatory pattern of the three major oceans--the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Indian--all spinning off from the Southern Ocean, which swirls around an upheaved land mass: Antarctica.

A world centered on the North Pole, with its array of land masses, though appearing to be scientific, is more anthropocentric. No physical phenomenon unites the globe around the North Pole. But, visually, we humans can see where we live, on upheaved seafloors called Land, tending to be centered around the North Pole. The appearance is somewhat like that of a congress. One's impression, notably from images like the UN flag and symbol, is that the Earth is a Planet of Humans.

In the 21st century, with the rise of ecological crises due to our actions, we humans have come to learn that the Earth is above all a Planet of Life. This means that the Earth is a planet of creatures born in saltwater, carried about or carrying themselves about in vessels of saltwater. The Earth is planet of Oceans. Each living creature is the microcosm of an Ocean. In evolutionary terms, though human beings might come and go, the Oceans---both of the planet and as incorporated in living organisms---remain a constant.

All life occurs in a saltwater solution, or even as a saltwater solution. The solution writ large has its own patterns of circulation. These patterns rotate not around the North Pole but around the South Pole.

The Arctic Ocean spins around the North Pole, a cul-de-sac in the larger motion of salt waters north and south along the Atlantic Corridor. What flows northward up the Atlantic, ultimately as a Gulf Stream flowing past Norway, spins around the Arctic, plunges deep down and then surfaces again in the Waddell Sea at the southern end of the Atlantic: by Antarctica. The same salt waters then spin around Antarctica, veering off and entering the vast cavity of the Indian Ocean or the Pacific. They ultimately return to the spin, and then enter the corridor of the Atlantic to flow around the North Pole once again. So the South Pole, not the North, is the center of nearly all movement of the world's salt waters.

Therefore, looking at the Planet from the viewpoint of Marcel Duchamp, the Merchant of Salt or Marchand du Sel, we look at the planet as an orb full of saltwater bodies or Oceans, both large and very small. We might chart this Planet according to the circulation of saltwaters in its larger Oceans. This entails centering the globe on the other pole, the South Pole.

Around the South Pole swirl all the Oceans of the Planet. In the inner circle, instead of a "West" and "East" polarized around the Arctic, there's a colossal whalepath: the Southern Ocean. From this Southern Ocean the cold waters spin northwards into one of three basins: the Indian Ocean Basin, the Pacific Ocean Basin, or the Atlantic/Arctic Ocean Basins. Most of the world's upheaved crust, called "continents" and "islands," drains its rivers and sediments into these three basins.

Some exceptions remain. These are the lands which drain not into the World Ocean but into an isolated depression, an isolated salt sea. These smaller such lands, or interior basins, include the Great Basin of North America, the Lake Eyre Basin of Australia, the Rift Valley and Lake Chad Basin of Africa, the Andean salt-lake basins of South America, even some salt lakes near the Mediterranean. But for our cartographic purposes, to keep matters visually simple, we show these basins as connected with their larger land masses as sloping into the World Ocean, all centered on the South Pole. One very large interior basin, however, is too vast to be left unacknowledged as separate: the interior basins of Eurasia. This body of land, or continuum of basins, includes the Caspian Sea, the Aral Sea, the Gobi Desert, and the Persian and Afghan Plateaux. Here lies an historic heartland. Here lies a world unto its oceanic own.

All four ocean systems--Pacific, Atlantic/Arctic, Indian and Interior Eurasian--embody the planet Earth as it physically functions. Like a saltwater body, in pulsing circulation.