Saturday, 30 April 2016

The magnificent, mysterious whale, or The moment I realise that Philip Hoare and Ishmael could be very good friends

Bad/ good news for you: I’ve finished reading Moby Dick, but I’m not done blogging about whales. 
This is a passage from Philip Hoare’s Leviathan or, The Whale
“It is difficult not to address whales in romantic terms. 
Nothing else represents life on such a scale. Seeing a whale is not like seeing a sparrow in a city tree, or a cat crossing the street. It is not even like seeing a giraffe, dawdling on the African veldt, batting its glamorous eyes in the dust. Whales exist beyond the normal, beyond what we expect to see in our daily lives. They are not so much animal as geographical; if they did not move, it would be difficult to believe they were alive at all. In their size—their very construction—they are antidotes to our lives lived in uncompromising cities. Perhaps that’s why I was so affected by seeing them at this point in my life: I was ready to witness whales to believe in them. I had come looking for something, and I had found it. 
Here was an animal close to me as a living creature—one that shared my heart and lungs, my mammalian qualities—but which at the same time was possessed of a supernatural physicality. Whales are visible markers of the ocean life we cannot see; without them, the sea might as well be empty for all we know. Yet they are entirely mutable, dreamlike because they exist in another world, because they look like we feel as we float in our dreams. Perhaps, without our projections, they would be merely another species, another of God’s creation (although, of course, some might say that’s just another projection in itself). Nevertheless, we imbue whales with the improbability of their continued existence, and ours. We are terrestrial, earthbound, dependent on our limited senses. Whales defy gravity, occupy other dimensions; they live in a medium that would overwhelm us, and which far exceeds our own earthly sway. They are Linnaean-classified aliens following invisible magnetic fields, seeing through sound and hearing through their bodies, moving through a world we know nothing about. They are animals before the Fall, innocent of sin…” 
He and Ishmael could be very good friends. 

Here is Philip Hoare’s essay on Moby Dick


1 interesting bit from the book: the 1st captain that young Herman Melville ever met was his uncle Captain John D'Wolf II. 
Now look at this line from Moby Dick, chapter 45 (the "I" is Ishmael): 
"Now, the Captain D'Wolf here alluded to as commanding the ship in question, is a New Englander, who, after a long life of unusual adventures as a sea-captain, this day resides in the village of Dorchester near Boston. I have the honour of being a nephew of his." 


  1. maybe that's why MD never was a sensational hit: he threw in everything he could think of and readers of the day got lost too easily; nowadays, with the extraordinary complex society we live in, it just seems normal....

    1. Nowadays it seems normal? I'm not so sure. Have you seen this list ?

  2. i just finished pears' new one, "Arcadia"; it was told from about six different pov's and there's an app to help one sort it out. i liked it, but it was pretty confusing, so maybe it's me and not the times...

    1. I don't know that one, but have you read As I Lay Dying and The Sound and the Fury? Now those are confusing.

    2. i've tried faulkner several times, unsuccessfully... i did read "Knight's Gambit" which had some positive characteristics, but i didn't think the writing was very good. also some things about Yoknapatapha county which were kind of funny... but overall i haven't been able to work up interest about him... maybe that says more about me than it does about W.F....

    3. Oh. Okay. Those 2 are good though, just confusing. The Sound and the Fury is 1 of my favourite novels.