Sunday, February 14, 2010

Romanticism, mortality and the sea

I started reading "Moby Dick" this weekend. I read the damned thing cover to cover in the third grade but obviously almost all of it went over my head and I forgot everything.

I am trying to restrict myself to reading it only on trains, or it will be over too quickly and I'll have nothing else to look forward to (well, that's never true is it?). That whole bit in the beginning about how humankind is inexplicably yet without question drawn to the sea is so true. Coupled with the perfect soundtrack, I think "reading Moby Dick" may make an appearance on a census questionnaire enquiring my personal hobbies and interests.

Did anyone else dream of being a 19th century whaler or sailor when they were a kid? Even after staring at color pictures from the 1990s-2000s of dead whales being processed on Japanese whaling ships with their modern luxuries and rubber boots, I always thought it would be the COOLEST thing to just hop on a ship and go on an "Old Thunder"-esque quest for humanity and whales and sit in a crows' nest (we spoiled young things would require such comforts versus standard mast-heads) contemplating the complexity of human nature and livelihood. In particular, old-school sperm whalers were most especially badasses, going out in those tiny harpoon boats to poke the damned things to death.

The same morbid curiosity that wonders if rigor mortis extends to the male genitalia inspires a similarly taboo ponderance and interest; what horrific sounds and unnatural motions do whales make when they are in their death throes? How do pods collapse and implode when they are threatened by starvation, violence, insanity? I've been reading about the Essex, the whaling ship that was destroyed by an angry sperm whale in 1820, and how the crew resorted to cannibalism and piss drinking for survival. Same on the raft of the Medusa, the inspiration for that famous oil painting. Driven to utter desperation, humans revert to bestial natures which always float in the subconscious. So what do the Leviathans do?