Sunday, July 1, 2007

Today my desktop, whales the world


In the future, people may be able to talk with chimpanzees and dolphins. Imagine what we may be able to learn from them. They may know about many things which we do not know about. New genetically engineered animals may roam in the forests. Wild places of the earth may be quite different from those of today.

The world of the future will be more complex than ours.


This is a ridiculous pretension. Nonetheless facts are fascinating and Melville has an insatiable curiosity. From a simple and seemingly tongue-in-cheek enumeration of the whale’s various characteristics, something of the whale will come to light. Parody at first conceals a fascination and later goes thoroughly astray. The heavily disguised mannerisms in Moby Dick are closer to mimesis than to parody.

Instinctively an allegorist, Melville creates a whale-world and imprisons us in it.


What we still don’t fully understand is how sperm whales catch their prey. There are no pictures or film of sperm whales eating. The relatively small squid they consume are bioluminescent...; but seeing is one thing, catching is another....

How, then, do the whales capture the squid? As one comes to expect with sperm whales, there are many theories but few answers. The sounds that sperm whales make might be focused into a powerful pulse of sound, or sonic boom, which stuns the squid, allowing the whales to gather them up at a leisurely pace. Perhaps the whale’s white teeth or the bright white flesh on the inside and the edges of its mouth act as beacons, luring the squid into the whale’s maw....

Among the more unusual items that have been found in a sperm whale’s stomach are shoes, rubber boots, toy cars and toy guns, bundles of insulated wire, dolls, coconuts, cosmetic jars, flesh from baleen whales, and fishing nets.

But surely the most unusual item is a man.


My other favorite design is of water lilies printed on silk. It is an iridescent fabric because of the fact that the warp and weft threads are different colors. She had the pattern of water lily blossoms and leaves printed on the warp (vertical threads) before the solid-colored weft (horizontal threads) were added. When the warp and weft were woven together, the pattern softened and fell slightly out of alignment, creating a shifting and shimmering quality, like real water lilies floating on water.

I also curate something called miscellaneous natural substances, which are all the things no one else wants to deal with in the decorative arts and have been dumped on me. There are strange bits of things on ivory, weird pieces of folk sculpture, fire buckets made of leather, plates made out of trees. We have a horrible little profile portrait of Ben Franklin in wax, now half melted, and odd bits and pieces, like scrimshaw, whale teeth that have been carved on by sailors. Apparently the boredom of being on a whaling ship was extreme, and the sailors would make decorative objects out of these things to bring home to their wives and families.

The museum is a big part of my life, but I have many other things in my life.


1 - Simon Lamblin (ill. Christian Bessiere, adaptation Howard E. Smith Jr.) . The World We Live In. New York: Larousse, 1982.

2 - Jean Jacques Mayoux (tr. John Ashbery). Melville. New York: Grove, 1960.

3 - Eric Jay Dolin. Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America. New York: Norton, 2007.

4 - Amelia Peck, as told to Danny Danzinger. from Museum: Behind the Scenes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York: Viking, 2007.

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