Moby Dick, Self-Proclaimed Fish

Judging from the books I’m reading lately, one might think I’m some kind of a cetacean enthusiast. I’ve finished reading “At The Water’s Edge” (by Carl Zimmer) a while back, and have been plodding through Melville’s Moby Dick since. 

Moby Dick was first published in 1851, and reading it makes my English muscles stiff. It’s pretty amazing how detailed the English language can be when it comes to nautical terms. At one point, I just gave up and decided to try and enjoy the book even though I have no idea what that guy’s jabbering about when he describes the various machinations of the Pequod and the poor souls that manned it.

Seriously, though. This isn’t about the story of Moby Dick (haven’t finished it yet, anyway). The first 200 pages tell of landlubber stories – the narrative is continental-based and the sea is only mentioned. When the Pequod sails, it’s ocean, ocean, ocean thereafter. Right before we plunge into Melville’s ocean, though, there’s a chapter Melville names “Cetology”, in which he describes all he knows about the various whales and their systematics (and, of course, their value in oil. Ugh, yeah.)

And here’s the kicker.

Melville waxes on the various whales, and then at some point, makes a reference to whale taxonomy, and insists on the whale being a fish (!). Further kicker up ahead:

This is immediately followed by a reference to none other than Linneaus (!), and his detailed description of the cetacean mammalian traits (horizontal tail, friggin’ mammary glands, living young, lungs, etc.).

And then Melville goes on to say that this is ridiculous and supports this assertion with the fact that a couple of blokes from Nantucket think so, too. 



I just don’t get it. Melville really put some effort into researching the matter, citing prominent philosophers of his time, and is still able to completely miss the point – and why? Because a couple of blokes of his thought otherwise, founding this notion on bald assertions.


Creationists – I get: creationists feel awful when they contemplate a world without an intimate relationship with God and they see evolution as a direct threat to that world (never mind that it doesn’t have to be like that, but creationists make it so) –


but why would an intellectual rover who’d seen death sport a shiny grin at him time and again, who otherwise exhibits  admirable critical and reasoning skills  – would be so susceptible to deny the opinion of informed philosophers and replace them with unfounded popular opinion?


It boggles the mind.


There she blows!!!


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