31 May 2009

Sea life (2)

Think of the beginning of “Moby Dick,” where Melville describes the “insular city of the Manhattoes belted round by wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs — commerce surrounds it with her surf.” Even here, in the entirely mercantile, commercial bustle of mid-19th-century New York, Melville observes, “Thousands upon thousands of mortal men fixed in ocean reveries.” These are what he calls the “water-gazers,” inlanders all, desperate to stand close to the water, “They must get as nigh the water as they possibly can.” Melville goes on — as only Melville can — to ponder the connection between human beings and the sea: “Why did the old Persians hold the sea holy? Why did the Greeks give it a separate deity?” He concludes that we witness something mysterious about ourselves and our origins in the contemplation of the sea, something vast, sublime and incomprehensible. He writes, “It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life.”
-- from Beyond the Sea by Simon Critchley.

Image: Liverpool Moonlight, Atkinson Grimshaw, 1887

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