The Mariner and the Albatross: Belief and Meaning from Coleridge to AI

Colin Jager
Rutgers University

This paper begins with the crisis of belief inaugurated by advanced Biblical scholarship in the early nineteenth century.  I use Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner as an example of the attempt to save belief while simultaneously making it over into a thoroughly secular phenomenon, and then move to Chris Jordon’s film Albatross, interpreting it as an effort to undo some of the comforting theodicies of modern secularism in what is now the age of anthropogenic climate change.  I conclude with a brief meditation on the dangerous innocence of current models of artificial intelligence, which replicate and enhance our most naive images of humanity, images that both Coleridge and Jordan are in their different ways trying to disrupt.