Thursday, July 01, 2010


National Geographics reports on the fossils of a predatory sperm whale found buried in the sand of a high desert plateau outside the Peruvian city of Ica:

Living alongside the largest sharks ever known, the raptorial—meaning actively hunting—whale measured about 60 feet (18 meters) in length, about as big as a modern male sperm whale.

But whereas modern sperm whales feed primarily on squid, Leviathan's large teeth—some of which measured more than a foot (36 centimeters) long—suggest the whale hunted more challenging prey, including perhaps its close whale relatives.

The Book of Job re leviathan:

Can you put a cord through his nose or pierce his jaw with a hook?
Will he keep begging you for mercy? Will he speak to you with gentle words?
Will he make an agreement with you for you to take him as your slave for life?
Can you make a pet of him like a bird or put him on a leash for your girls?
Will traders barter for him? Will they divide him up among the merchants?
Can you fill his hide with harpoons or his head with fishing spears?

What species of cultural imperialism allows the fossils of the most fearsome predatory whale in the world to be subsumed under the mantle of Melville when its remains were discovered far afield in Peru? What oil in the Amazon? Divided among the merchants to fuel the lights that guide.

Merchants (selling futures) do not divide. They consume (consummate), retroactively inscribing their names in bone. Melville re Ahab:

He piled upon the whale's white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his heart's hot shell upon it.
Naming is too often never more than an act of appropriation. The sum is nominal. Viz. Tzvetan Todorov on Columbus, The Conquest of America:
Things must have the names that correspond to them. On certain days this obligation plunges Columbus into a veritable naming frenzy. Thus, on January 11, 1493: "He sailed four leagues to the East, reaching a cape which he called Bel Prado. From there to the southwest rises the mountain which he called Monte de Plata, which he said was eight leagues away. At eighteen leagues to the East, a quarter southeast of the Bel Prado, is found the cape which he called del Angel ... Four leagues to the East, one quarter Southeast, there is a point which the admiral called del Hierro. Four leagues farther, in the same direction, is another point which he named Punta Seca, then six leagues farther is the cape which he called Redondo. Beyond, to the East is found Cabo Frances...." His pleasure seems to be such that on certain days he gives two successive names to the same place (thus on December 6, 1492, a harborage named Maria at dawn becomes Saint Nicholas at vespers); if, on the other hand, someone else seeks to imitate him in his name-giving action, he cancels that decision in order to impose his own names: in the course of his escapade Pinzon had named a river after himself (which the admiral never does), but Columbus is quick to rebaptize it "River of Grace." Not even the Indians escape the cascade of names: the first men brought back to Spain are rebaptized Don Juan de Castilla and Don Fernando de Aragon ...

Olson, "Places; & Names" (Human Universe):

the crucialness being that these places or names
be as parts of the body, common, & capable
therefore of having cells which can decant
total experience — no selection
other than one which is capable
of this commonness (permanently
duplicating) will work

Alien objects surgically embedded in the tissues of the body. Names become the body. Not to keep it alive but to keep it functioning in a particular way. Fishing communities in Peru never produced a whaling tale on par with Moby-Dick. This much paleontologists (never Peruvian) know. Or they bring their own utensils abroad to consume the remains of a whale-eating whale that lived time out of mind, on ground before ground. Olson, Call Me Ishmael:

It is cannibalism. Even Ishmael, the orphan who survives the destruction, cries out: "I myself am a savage, owing no allegiance but to the King of Cannibals; and ready at any moment to rebel against him."