Sunday, February 07, 2010

Another Book to Read

Phillip Hoare's book, The Whale, sounds absolutely fascinating...

Hoare muses on "Moby-Dick's" abject failure to stir the collective imagination during Melville's lifetime and the classic status it has since achieved. "Each time I read it, it is as if I am reading it for the first time ...; Every day I am reminded that it is part of our collective imagination; from newspaper leaders that evoke Ahab in the pursuit of the war on terror, to the ubiquitous chain of coffee shops named after the Pequod's first mate, Starbuck ...;"


"The Whale" does not disappoint. First, there are the simple, shocking facts about whales. A fin whale off the coast of Nantucket can be heard by its counterpart off the coast of England, more than 6,000 miles away. Inuit harpoons dating back 235 years have been found in the belly of hunted bowhead whales — one of the world's longest-living mammals. The right whale is the owner of the largest testes in the animal kingdom (around 1,100 pounds each), and, after foreplay sessions involving sensuous flipper stroking, the female may let more than one partner enter her at the same time.

and last but not least...

"At the end of the book, you finally jump into the water with a giant sperm whale. What was that like?

Normally you see the whale from the surface of the ocean, or dead, or mediated. So going into the world of the whale was a complete mindfuck. I felt slightly insane, partly because of its sonar echo-locating my skeleton. It’s a powerful electrical charge going through your body; you feel this 3-D image of yourself being relayed back to the whale, much as you might see your reflection in the mirror. And yet it’s entirely silent.

This female whale eyeballed me and then jack-knifed through the blue into the black. It was just so improbable. It’s like a CGI re-creation of a whale. It’s almost laughable. For three days afterward I’d close my eyes and this whale would swim through my head. At that range, you can just tell they’re sentient, intelligent animals. I felt like I ought to apologize to it for the weight I’d brought with me into the water.

This kind of writing reminds me of Arthur C Clarke's 1957 prescient novel, The Deep Range, a book describing how man mines the sea, including whales, with increasingly dire results.

"But as soon as such killing is no longer essential, it should cease. We believe that this point has now arrived s far as many of the higher animals are concerned. The production of all types of synthetic protein from purely vegetable sources is now an economic possibility-or it will be if the effort is made to achieve it. "

Unfortunately, we're not there yet.
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