Ever Given

Posted Feb. 21, 2023 by Paul Graham Raven


Remember how back in the first act of the Covid pandemic, a big ship went and got itself stuck in the Suez Canal?

In the midst of an absurd, enervating and difficult time, it seemed like the whole world—or at least the part of the world’s population that we might describe as “extremely online”—was relishing a sort of collective schadenfreude over what seemed to be a rather spectacular example of Someone Else’s Problem. The memes all but wrote themselves; a glorious and consequence-free catastrophe, packed with pathos and absurdity. What was a thing that size doing in a canal that narrow, anyway? And how could the best antidote to such an eventuality be a couple of backhoes and diggers, dwarfed by the ship itself? How delightfully ridiculous!

In literary theory, the device of metonymy occurs when the a small thing comes to signify and express the greater whole to which it belongs. Metonymy is not well known outside of literary scholarship. Irony is rather better known, if not—ironically enough—properly understood.

The particular supply-chain disruptions caused by the Ever Given accident were for most people lost among all the other supply-chain disruptions ongoing during the pandemic. The ship’s name is a glorious irony, if we see it as a metonym for a system which, for most of us, has been exactly ever-giving, existing only to fulfil the desires which other parts of the same system have worked so hard to encourage us to have.

That was a convoluted sentence. Perhaps its convolution can be seen as a metonym for its subject? How ironic!

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