Independent pages Wave #3 December 2020

Het Hart in haar Mond

Ella Finer & Vibeke Mascini

A child looks at a stone crucifix and says she has seen the statue of liberty. As the child’s voice finds its language in images of life beyond human scale, her mother returns to her early years. To learn language again in sounds, to learn the world she lives in by touch, to feel the news as painful rushes of sound and vision, to see the symbols of freedom, liberty, sacrifice in the same image-collision. She makes the challenge to herself - to find the words to explain how they are distinct.

She calls the voice, in which she learns the world again, her singing voice. She is familiar with the recycling of air and knows her voice carries in the inhaled/exhaled breath of others. She knows that a singing voice severed from the vital intake of air would be very different from hers, which is always rooted in the impulse of breath. While the Humpback whale can “sing” without blowing a single bubble, her singing voice always short-circuits with the need to take in oxygen – she makes conversation in the suspension time of the natural need.

Some voices make their meaning beyond what we can hear. Would we still call these voices? These languages taking shape in energies, feelings, intuitions; or the submarine vibrations of the whale song? She thinks how to describe the distinction between the natural and artificial voices that can occupy the same frequency, “voices” that carry such differing intentions. The military sonar that met the voice of a whale in the 1940s was listening for enemy craft when it intercepted the animal’s whistles, squeals, chirps, clicks, and rasps. She can’t imagine the human voice sounding as ethereal to the whale as whale voices sound to us: when whales might perceive our voice as the sterile pings of the submarine, and the monotonous hum of the motorboats. This human voice has become the background noise to all whale communication, obstructing vital sound frequencies. At times, when this mechanical human speaks, whale ears bleed.

This is wave study - how we make returns and trust the slips. When the water rolls differently we trust the wave to carry us, but we are not the ones out at sea.

The man in the whale body lights a fire. The whale body never sleeps for fear of drowning, or not fear, but deep knowledge. A profound understanding of breath, a remembering of air as the breath that will sustain it. Is this why the fire is able to light and burn? Because the whale breathes the same air as we do, and the ‘air will never simply be mine.’ [1]

[1] Luce Irigaray, The Forgetting of Air in Martin Heidegger, London: Athlon Press, 1999, p.309.

The imagined whale-walls hold the dream hollow in which the fire burns. This mythical architecture of the insides, this need and desire for the human to take refuge inside the mystery. And how we try and make sense of the mysterious through scaling with what we can apprehend, what we can - by touch - start to form the dimensions of. The whale heart is the size of a small car. Who drives the whale heart? The blood that pumps through this giant organ is laced with heavy metals, battery elements. Who drives the whale heart? This heart that can be heard from miles away.

The mother abstracts distance for and with the child. Stories happen far-away, time is once upon. She returns to storybooks to learn to read again, about another metal giantess, an iron woman awakened from deep sleep by children, who, through her, hear the dying of the world. The Mother of exiles, liberty in pylon and steel. Imagine making the metal skin for your mothers’ likeness. Building your mother as a giant, she who is always that scale. Mother giant.

Giants of land and sea, their hugeness makes them unfathomable. And still the human searches. An underwater research vessel films its way down through green water, particles rushing upwards as the camera descends. A robot arm picks a flower of the deep; and she searches for the words to say this is not the only way to understand the world.

The vertical coral reef the researchers find – standing like a monolith, a midocean needle - is 500 metres tall. As tall, we are told, as the Empire State Building. Again, this deep-sea resident is granted human scale by comparison. As if we could climb to the top of the coral and take our picture; as if we could attach zeppelins to its pinnacle. As if we could call this extraordinary structure, of depth architecture, the Empire State. One blueprint plotted by a single architect for a tower constructed in 410 days; the other plotted in the blue by many marine architects, gradually forming across thousands of years.

The mother searches for language to make these two towers distinct and cannot: the sea bed of northern Australia and the streets of Manhattan give rise to skyscrapers/seascrapers, not so unfamiliar to each other, after all. Both their spines share an oceanic memory, a deep time material-memory of millions of years. The limestone embedded in the skyscraper was formed from shells and other biomineralized parts of the creatures inhabiting a sea once covering the state of Indiana. We live on the remains of ocean life of past geological ages. Coral builds on its dead until a limestone reef is formed. ‘Limestone, and its metamorphosed form, marble, have been important building materials since antiquity. The pyramids are man-made mountains of limestone’. [2]

[2] Bernd Heinrich, Life Everlasting: the animal way of death, Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2013, pp.166-167.

[3] John Durham Peters, The Marvelous Clouds: Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago 2015, p.79

[4] Gumbs, Alexis Pauline. “Being Ocean as Praxis: Depth Humanisms and Dark Sciences.” Qui Parle: Critical Humanities and Social Sciences, 28.2 (2019): 335-352. 340.

Whales do not inhabit a stationary environment, living in a society ‘completely without material infrastructure or record’. [3] Whatever material changes cetaceans could achieve would have to come in the shape of the only matter they can mould: their bodies. And from and through their bodies, their song. With coral ‘their dead stay with them; they live atop the skeletons of their ancestors’; building towers that may near-breach the sea surface. [4] Do whales record their ancestry in voice, gifting their stories to the currents, their slow heart beats to the waves?

In the stories she returns to, whales are immortalised, recorded on the page; while in the city she walks through, whale energy pulses. The buildings made from marine-life turned geological building blocks and the electricity that lights their offices, from the burning whale. A city underwater.

And now, she looks at buildings and sees coral spikes. And now, her burning candle is alight in the belly of the whale. And now she sees the shape of it – and still can’t find the words –

Go back to The Heart in her Mouth

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