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In sexuality and relationships, take an example from sea animals

In addition to being a provocateur and a language innovator, Hugo Brandt Corstius also turned out to be home to an animal lover. In 2009, five years before his death, he joined the TV program Books to talk about what would turn out to be his penultimate book, the beautifully titled Human-poor animal kingdom. On TV, Brandt Corstius spoke, among other things, about the irony of technological progress, which would no longer make human life easier, but rather counteract it. No, then the ants. They can’t talk, and they don’t design machines either, but they can work well together. We look down on them, but we can actually learn something from them.

A similar mindset can be found in deep deep blue, the novel debut by Nikki Dekker (1989), which leans rather towards an essay. It alternates between reading about how much effort it takes people to enter into and maintain relationships with each other, and about how flexibly animals approach this. And more specifically: sea creatures. Dekker (who is not a biologist) will have studied the underwater world thoroughly and pours out countless facts about the reader: that sperm whales communicate with each other in a kind of Morse code, that the octopus is not so much ‘dumb’ (as Aristotle noted) but rather curious that not every eel is in the same hurry to get to the Sargasso Sea and that seahorses are monogamous ‘out of absolute necessity’. Dekker’s maritime portraits are without exception in favor of the described animal. How wonderful it all is. But you have to look carefully and put your prejudices aside. Just two striking sentences: ‘Every year ten people worldwide are killed by a shark. Every year 100 to 250 million sharks are killed by humans.’ That those sharks don’t retaliate more often.

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On deep deep blue is not an innocent love of animals. In the personal parts of the text, we read about a struggling I-figure who has not completely belonged to it from the very beginning and who also later – in an otherwise still very early life – never really and definitively lands with anyone. It’s a report from the heart of millennial life: international (we’re everywhere and nowhere), hedonistic (parties galore) and fluid, with traditional gender and sexuality labels taking the brunt of it. With regard to the latter, let’s take an example from the aquatic animals, because they don’t like boxes either. In part, this is a book about the naturalness of the sea.

As a novelist, Dekker is not quite mature yet. It cannot be due to her temperament and resentment, she seems to be able to draw on that for years to come, but for a text of longer length she is too predictable and the serving of that seafood will eventually become something routine. It is raw material she works with, which would have made more of an impression in a boiled-down form. Now all kinds of friends, girlfriends and relations are treated, while it is precisely the unsung, so anti-social parts that make the most impression, as in the pure description of a sensation, such as swimming. And she’s also funny when she doesn’t take the other person quite seriously. In the past, chatting via the old MSN: ‘The blue figure of MSN jumps up and down in the screen. I’m wearing my favorite sweater: a white furry one with a polar bear on it. When he asks what I’m wearing, I say: a short black dress. When he asks what I drink, white wine. There is a cup of Fristi on the desk.’

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