Wednesday, May 2, 2012
The Whale and the Deep Blue Sea: Standing Ashore and Imagining OceanSpaces
As I was watching these humpbacks feed and play, it occurred to me that my reaction (indeed the reactions of everyone on board) was based upon our society's views about (and knowledge of) whales. If we had no understanding of these creatures, if we didn't grow up singing "Baby Beluga" and visiting marine parks, our little excursion would have produced a very different response. Instead of being overjoyed by the experience, we would have been terrified. Glimpses of fin and tail in the water could be easily mistaken for a sea monster. These whales, if they had wanted to, could have overturned our boat with ease. I was reminded of the Anglo-Saxon poem about the whale from the Exeter Book in which the whale is described as a fierce creature that terrifies seafarers.
here and here.) On these world maps, the further you get from the center, the stranger things become. Yet the ocean in these maps is more marginal than even the monsters, a blank ring around the edge of the world, a circle which bounds and shapes the earth and yet is separate from it. The landed realms in these maps are encyclopedic, covered in the text of biblical and classical and contemporary history. They indicate the connections between topographical features and the historical events that occurred there. The ocean, on the other hand, is a blank ring around that visual-textual landscape.
Yet the land and sea merge and overlap in unsettling and beautiful ways. The waves push and pull at the shore. Tides go in and out, marking the cycles of day and season even as they shift the boundary between land and water. And under the deepest ocean the sea floor can be found. Islands, too, indicate an uncomfortable land to sea ratio. The ocean surrounds islands as it surrounds mappae mundi, and we can only hope that we're on solid ground instead of on the back of a stealthy creature of the deep.