The Sea is Not a Metaphor. Figurative Language has its Place in Analyses of the Maritime World, Certainly, But Oceanic studies could be more invested in the uses, and problems, of what is literal in the face of the sea's abyss of representation. The appeal that figures of oscillation and circulation have had is easy to understand, since the sea, in William Boelhower's formulation, “leaves no traces, and has no place names, towns or dwelling places; it cannot be possessed.” Boelhower's description of the Atlantic world is representative of characterizations of the ocean in recent critical work: it is “fundamentally a space of dispersion, conjunction, distribution, contingency, heterogeneity, and of intersecting and stratified lines and images—in short, a field of strategic possibilities in which the Oceanic order holds all together in a common but highly fluid space” (92-93). The ready availability—and undeniable utility—of fluidity as an oceanic figure means that the actual sea has often been rendered immaterial in transnational work, however usefully such work formulates the ethos of transnationalism and oceanic studies alike. In this essay I advocate a practice of oceanic studies that is attentive to the material conditions and praxis of the maritime world, one that draws from the epistemological structures provided by the lives and writings of those for whom the sea was simultaneously workplace, home, passage, penitentiary, and promise. This would allow for a galvanization of the erasure, elision, and fluidity at work in the metaphorics of the sea that would better enable us to see and to study the work of oceanic literature.