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Chapter 68: Herman Melville and the Sperm Whale

[ Edited ]
HM certainly seems to love sperm whales.


fanuzzir wrote:
It's incredible to think that Melville is all along trying to sketch out a new human potentiality that only the whale can approximate . . .

pmath wrote:
Yes: also, when I first read it, I thought that perhaps this passage is the key to the novel. HM gives us The Whale as an alternative title for his novel: what message is he trying to send? Should we emulate the whale in every way? Is this why he gives us so much detail?


Choisya wrote:
So beautiful and so true.

pmath wrote:
I love this passage:

...herein we see the rare virtue of a strong individual vitality, and the rare virtue of thick walls, and the rare virtue of interior spaciousness. Oh, man! admire and model thyself after the whale! Do thou, too, remain warm among ice. Do thou, too, live in this world without being of it. Be cool at the equator; keep thy blood fluid at the Pole. Like the great dome of St. Peter's, and like the great whale, retain, O man! in all seasons a temperature of thine own.

But how easy and how hopeless to teach these fine things! Of erections, how few are domed like St. Peter's! of creatures, how few vast as the whale!




Message Edited by pmath on 01-14-200710:52 PM

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Chapter 86: Strength

What do you think of this? Why was love not thought to be powerful?

... Real strength never impairs beauty or harmony, but it often bestows it; and in everything imposingly beautiful, strength has much to do with the magic. ... When Angelo paints even God the Father in human form, mark what robustness is there. And whatever they may reveal of the divine love in the Son, the soft, curled, hermaphroditical Italian pictures, in which his idea has been most successfully embodied; these pictures, so destitute as they are of all brawniness, hint nothing of any power, but the mere negative, feminine one of submission and endurance, which on all hands it is conceded, form the peculiar practical virtues of his teachings.
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Choisya
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Re: Chapter 68: Herman Melville and the Sperm Whale

The whale seems to represent a whole new world.




pmath wrote:
HM certainly seems to love sperm whales.


fanuzzir wrote:
It's incredible to think that Melville is all along trying to sketch out a new human potentiality that only the whale can approximate . . .

pmath wrote:
Yes: also, when I first read it, I thought that perhaps this passage is the key to the novel. HM gives us The Whale as an alternative title for his novel: what message is he trying to send? Should we emulate the whale in every way? Is this why he gives us so much detail?


Choisya wrote:
So beautiful and so true.

pmath wrote:
I love this passage:

...herein we see the rare virtue of a strong individual vitality, and the rare virtue of thick walls, and the rare virtue of interior spaciousness. Oh, man! admire and model thyself after the whale! Do thou, too, remain warm among ice. Do thou, too, live in this world without being of it. Be cool at the equator; keep thy blood fluid at the Pole. Like the great dome of St. Peter's, and like the great whale, retain, O man! in all seasons a temperature of thine own.

But how easy and how hopeless to teach these fine things! Of erections, how few are domed like St. Peter's! of creatures, how few vast as the whale!




Message Edited by pmath on 01-14-200710:52 PM




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Re: Chapter 80: Vertebrae

Is Melville referring to the fact (if it was known then) that 'The central nervous system consists of the brain and the spinal chord...'

http://www.brainsrule.com/teachers/lesson_plans/incredible/background.htm






pmath wrote:
This is fascinating: does anyone know more about this?

If you attentively regard almost any quadruped's spine, you will be struck with the resemblance of its vertebrae to a strung necklace of dwarfed skulls, all bearing rudimental resemblance to the skull proper. It is a German conceit, that the vertebrae are absolutely undeveloped skulls. ... Now, I consider that the phrenologists have omitted an important thing in not pushing their investigations from the cerebellum through the spinal canal. For I believe that much of a man's character will be found betokened in his backbone. I would rather feel your spine than your skull, whoever you are. A thin joist of a spine never yet upheld a full and noble soul. I rejoice in my spine, as in the firm audacious staff of that flag which I fling half out to the world.



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Re: Chapter 80: Vertebrae

I'm wondering whether Melville might have been poking a little fun at phrenology, a revered science of his day.



Choisya wrote:
Is Melville referring to the fact (if it was known then) that 'The central nervous system consists of the brain and the spinal chord...'

http://www.brainsrule.com/teachers/lesson_plans/incredible/background.htm






pmath wrote:
This is fascinating: does anyone know more about this?

If you attentively regard almost any quadruped's spine, you will be struck with the resemblance of its vertebrae to a strung necklace of dwarfed skulls, all bearing rudimental resemblance to the skull proper. It is a German conceit, that the vertebrae are absolutely undeveloped skulls. ... Now, I consider that the phrenologists have omitted an important thing in not pushing their investigations from the cerebellum through the spinal canal. For I believe that much of a man's character will be found betokened in his backbone. I would rather feel your spine than your skull, whoever you are. A thin joist of a spine never yet upheld a full and noble soul. I rejoice in my spine, as in the firm audacious staff of that flag which I fling half out to the world.






"Truth must of necessity be stranger than fiction, for fiction is the creation of the human mind, and therefore is congenial to it." ~~G.K. Chesterton
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Re: Chapter 80: Vertebrae

Yes, that thought crossed my mind too Laurel because, as you say, 'reading bumbps' was one of the popular 'sciences' at this time. There is an explanation and a list of authors influenced by phrenology on this website, which include both Hawthorne and Melville:-

http://pages.britishlibrary.net/phrenology/literature.html




Laurel wrote:
I'm wondering whether Melville might have been poking a little fun at phrenology, a revered science of his day.



Choisya wrote:
Is Melville referring to the fact (if it was known then) that 'The central nervous system consists of the brain and the spinal chord...'

http://www.brainsrule.com/teachers/lesson_plans/incredible/background.htm






pmath wrote:
This is fascinating: does anyone know more about this?

If you attentively regard almost any quadruped's spine, you will be struck with the resemblance of its vertebrae to a strung necklace of dwarfed skulls, all bearing rudimental resemblance to the skull proper. It is a German conceit, that the vertebrae are absolutely undeveloped skulls. ... Now, I consider that the phrenologists have omitted an important thing in not pushing their investigations from the cerebellum through the spinal canal. For I believe that much of a man's character will be found betokened in his backbone. I would rather feel your spine than your skull, whoever you are. A thin joist of a spine never yet upheld a full and noble soul. I rejoice in my spine, as in the firm audacious staff of that flag which I fling half out to the world.









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fanuzzir
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Re: Chapter 80: Vertebrae

Melville writes:
Now, I consider that the phrenologists have omitted an important thing in not pushing their investigations from the cerebellum through the spinal canal. For I believe that much of a man's character will be found betokened in his backbone. I would rather feel your spine than your skull, whoever you are. A thin joist of a spine never yet upheld a full and noble soul. I rejoice in my spine, as in the firm audacious staff of that flag which I fling half out to the world.

Here's the philosophical wit of Melville at work. Yes, he's making fun of phrenology but he's also making a political argument by saying that true character lies not in the quality of your mind but in the strength of your convictions and the power of your resistance. These are political attributes that can be found in lesser or greater numbers among crew members of a whaling ship, not among philosophers, who are all brain and no backone. So whalers are once again Melville's satirical, but more true test case for humanity; look nowhere else, he is saying, than on the crew of a ship, for the answers to the question: what does it mean to be a human being?
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Re: Chapter 80: Vertebrae

Amazing!



Choisya wrote:
Yes, that thought crossed my mind too Laurel because, as you say, 'reading bumbps' was one of the popular 'sciences' at this time. There is an explanation and a list of authors influenced by phrenology on this website, which include both Hawthorne and Melville:-

http://pages.britishlibrary.net/phrenology/literature.html



"Truth must of necessity be stranger than fiction, for fiction is the creation of the human mind, and therefore is congenial to it." ~~G.K. Chesterton
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fanuzzir
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Re: Chapter 80: Vertebrae

Do you know you were supposed to be able to know a person's character by feeling the bumps on his or her head? That's why Melville is so entranced by the great expense of Moby Dick's brow, as he calls it (a joking comparison to Daniel Webster, this titan of the Senate revered for the height of his forehead, if you can believe it).
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fanuzzir
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My favorite gory chapters

For those of you skimming through this very long chapters on whale anatomy and dismemberment, here are the chapters that intrigue me: 65, "The Whale as a Dish," 67 and 68, "Cutting in" and "The Blanket," 70, "The Sphinx," where Ahab talks to a whale head, 77, "The Great Heidelberg Tun," 78, "Cistern and Buckets," where a sailor takes the plunge. There is a grotesque fascination in these chapters, as Melville shows every ounce of whale innards, as well as a delicate forensic examination. There are also the philosophical moments one always has knee deep in whale blubber . . .
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Gabriel (spoiler ch 71)

We have the character of Gabriel, fortified by the death of Macey.
No doubt this is a foreshadowing but is there more to that episode?

Gabriel wouldn't even go too near the Pequod (as if Pequod,not Jeroboam were smitten by sickness, evil).

And there's also the inversion of power: A Jeroboam's captain made impotent by the 'faith of the men into the words of Gabriel'. What to make out of that? Were the shipmates of Pequod sold already to devil?

In what way is Gabriel different from Ahab? Both managed to control the crew. Gabriel didn't even have an official madate to do so.
And how do you relate Gabriel to Father Mapple?

ziki
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The Monkey-Rope (ch 72)

I like this chapter because when the character of Queequeg is brought into the writing it starts to live without loosing any educational value.It also provides closeness to the ship-life and what is going on there.

Melville still teaches me about the whereabouts of whaling but it is so much more palatable. Like a kid I am willing to cooperate and chew what he presents to me rather than having my mouth stuffed by all the facts against my will, having considerable difficulty to chew them and digest them. No wonder kids have trouble with reading this book at school.

So in short: the facts eradicate the characters who instead could support the facts and make the book the greatest adventure ever. That I think is a failure of Melville's technique.

I maintain that it is a great pity that Melville didn't master his 'horses' or whales. Maybe the writing was finally dragging him around not unlike a hurt whale that was pulling the hunting boats ina circle. The critique of the book is certainly relevant on many points. It seems Melville just made his life easier by writing in whatever way his fancy took him. Was he lazy? Stupid was he not, but he just let the blubber be. He could have handled it more constructively, elegantly but it would have taken a couple of rewrites.

I don't think that it was just a bad timing that prevented the immediate success of the book. The public swallows a lot if you present it in a right way. What was left for Melveille was a kind of cult that the book managed to achieve.

The hidden meaning in this chapter is not that hidden: All is connected, all are dependent on something or somebody.

ziki
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so much whale detail



fanuzzir wrote:

pmath wrote:
Yes: also, when I first read it, I thought that perhaps this passage is the key to the novel. HM gives us The Whale as an alternative title for his novel: what message is he trying to send? Should we emulate the whale in every way? Is this why he gives us so much detail?>




It is difficult to know a lot about whales. Even today it makes for days and years on the sea to gather scientific information. In Melvilles time I would think that people actually didn't have the foggiest. Prove me wrong.

So perhaps Melville wanted to record what he knew/learned about whales and indeed construct some encyclopedia even if in poetic terms (i.e.later chapters about the head). Some scientists I heard were quite taken by the beauty they saw in whales and dedicated their lives to study them. Maybe same happened to Melville, he felt some respect,awe and he 'survived' the impact of the slaughter and was the one left to tell the truth about whales and he handled the facts in his own halfpoetic, half fictional way.

When you see it from that POV no wonder he was misunderstood by the great public.

Do we know anything about his possible interest in whales? Did he handle them as a metaphor only? I think not.

For me this is the engine that drives my reading, some kind of respect for the whole issue. Because even today the same message just hangs around in the air: what do we really want to know about whales? The topic seems to be distant but it is not. Today I'd say the whales are a clear indicator how we are poisoning ourselves to death.

The whales could be like messengers from the depth of the unconscious (ocean) to alert us to the fact that we need to correct our actions if we as human race want to survive and wish other species to survive, too. However, it seems a majority is both deaf and blind to the environmental issues, today as then.

ziki
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Choisya
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Re: Gabriel (spoiler ch 71)

Ziki wrote: And how do you relate Gabriel to Father Mapple?

Isn't Gabriel the Avenging Angel and the Angel of Death? Father Mapple's sermon foreshadowed all that was to happen on board the Pequod and yes, the shipmates of the Pequod were already sold to the devil once they embarked with Ahab.




ziki wrote:
We have the character of Gabriel, fortified by the death of Macey.
No doubt this is a foreshadowing but is there more to that episode?

Gabriel wouldn't even go too near the Pequod (as if Pequod,not Jeroboam were smitten by sickness, evil).

And there's also the inversion of power: A Jeroboam's captain made impotent by the 'faith of the men into the words of Gabriel'. What to make out of that? Were the shipmates of Pequod sold already to devil?

In what way is Gabriel different from Ahab? Both managed to control the crew. Gabriel didn't even have an official madate to do so.
And how do you relate Gabriel to Father Mapple?

ziki
headspins


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Re: My favorite gory chapters

[ Edited ]

fanuzzir wrote:
For those of you skimming through this very long chapters on whale anatomy and dismemberment, here are the chapters that intrigue me: 65, "The Whale as a Dish," 67 and 68, "Cutting in" and "The Blanket," 70, "The Sphinx," where Ahab talks to a whale head, 77, "The Great Heidelberg Tun," 78, "Cistern and Buckets," where a sailor takes the plunge. There is a grotesque fascination in these chapters, as Melville shows every ounce of whale innards, as well as a delicate forensic examination. There are also the philosophical moments one always has knee deep in whale blubber . . .




True, at least the Locke/ Kant situation was explained briefly in my notes. I persist in reading and I am not skipping this. I needed to take a break from the book, true and now after I returned at one point I admit, I read one chapter far ahead (Queequeg's dying) just to get myself over these whale moors.

I think the trouble for me is that inspite of Melville's detailed descriptions I still have a considering difficulty to envision correctly what was really going on.

The way he handles the subject prevents me from understanding him well enough. If he i.e. managed to keep more closeness to his characters he would be more able to show rather than tell in which case there would be no doubt the book was a masterpiece.

Now it is just a monument. Monuments can be grand, with interesting details but a bit boring, standing there in their own isolated glory, sort of disconnected from life. They remind us about a person or happening but do not set us on fire. We remain the audience and never become the participants. That is a great pity, methinks because Melville had that potential as a writer but he threw it away or rather he didn't care to use it to his and the book's best.

ziki
uncompromizing

Message Edited by ziki on 01-25-200712:50 PM

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Choisya
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Re: The Monkey-Rope (ch 72)

Ziki wrote:
I maintain that it is a great pity that Melville didn't master his 'horses' or whales. Maybe the writing was finally dragging him around not unlike a hurt whale that was pulling the hunting boats ina circle.


I love this Ziki - thanks! Your criticism of Melville's writing reminds me of what has been said of Sinclair's writing about socialism (sorry to use the word!) in The Jungle. Sinclair certainly got tired and dispirited by having to write a different ending to placate publishers, perhaps Melville had the same problems? There is almost a case to be made for separating MD into two volumes, one to cover all the facts about whales and whaling to be published alongside the story of the voyage and hunt as a sort of glossary? Perhaps there is an author out there who could undertake this enormous task - Fanuzzir?:smileyvery-happy:




ziki wrote:
I like this chapter because when the character of Queequeg is brought into the writing it starts to live without loosing any educational value.It also provides closeness to the ship-life and what is going on there.

Melville still teaches me about the whereabouts of whaling but it is so much more palatable. Like a kid I am willing to cooperate and chew what he presents to me rather than having my mouth stuffed by all the facts against my will, having considerable difficulty to chew them and digest them. No wonder kids have trouble with reading this book at school.

So in short: the facts eradicate the characters who instead could support the facts and make the book the greatest adventure ever. That I think is a failure of Melville's technique.

I maintain that it is a great pity that Melville didn't master his 'horses' or whales. Maybe the writing was finally dragging him around not unlike a hurt whale that was pulling the hunting boats ina circle. The critique of the book is certainly relevant on many points. It seems Melville just made his life easier by writing in whatever way his fancy took him. Was he lazy? Stupid was he not, but he just let the blubber be. He could have handled it more constructively, elegantly but it would have taken a couple of rewrites.

I don't think that it was just a bad timing that prevented the immediate success of the book. The public swallows a lot if you present it in a right way. What was left for Melveille was a kind of cult that the book managed to achieve.

The hidden meaning in this chapter is not that hidden: All is connected, all are dependent on something or somebody.

ziki


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Choisya
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Re: so much whale detail

I very much agree with you here Ziki - there is still so much to know about every aspect of the ocean, which has been far less studied that the earth. People of Melville's day, and presumably Melville himself, would have had respect for animals because they were supposedly God's creation but the Bible also taught them that they had 'dominion' over them:-

Genesis i:

26 ¶ And God said, Let us make man in our image after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him: male and female image, created he them.

28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.


Nowadays we are more inclined to query that we have a Biblical right to hunt or kill anything, which is what 'dominion over' has been interpreted to mean. It could therefore be argued that we are more respectful today of 'God's creatures' than our ancestors were. Perhaps Melville was in advance of his time in this and was seeking to give whales a place in the world where they would not be hunted or even, fancifully, a place where they, intelligent as he thought they were, would have dominion over man?

It is also instructive that many aboriginal peoples, including Native Americans, had far more respect for animals and the earth than the 'civilised' people who conquered them. Melville, in Ishmael, with his respect for Queequeg and other cultures, was probably commenting on this too.

But I agree that the majority are as blind now as then to the overall damage we are doing to the planet, let alone whales, which were nearly hunted to extinction:smileysad:




ziki wrote:


fanuzzir wrote:

pmath wrote:
Yes: also, when I first read it, I thought that perhaps this passage is the key to the novel. HM gives us The Whale as an alternative title for his novel: what message is he trying to send? Should we emulate the whale in every way? Is this why he gives us so much detail?>




It is difficult to know a lot about whales. Even today it makes for days and years on the sea to gather scientific information. In Melvilles time I would think that people actually didn't have the foggiest. Prove me wrong.

So perhaps Melville wanted to record what he knew/learned about whales and indeed construct some encyclopedia even if in poetic terms (i.e.later chapters about the head). Some scientists I heard were quite taken by the beauty they saw in whales and dedicated their lives to study them. Maybe same happened to Melville, he felt some respect,awe and he 'survived' the impact of the slaughter and was the one left to tell the truth about whales and he handled the facts in his own halfpoetic, half fictional way.

When you see it from that POV no wonder he was misunderstood by the great public.

Do we know anything about his possible interest in whales? Did he handle them as a metaphor only? I think not.

For me this is the engine that drives my reading, some kind of respect for the whole issue. Because even today the same message just hangs around in the air: what do we really want to know about whales? The topic seems to be distant but it is not. Today I'd say the whales are a clear indicator how we are poisoning ourselves to death.

The whales could be like messengers from the depth of the unconscious (ocean) to alert us to the fact that we need to correct our actions if we as human race want to survive and wish other species to survive, too. However, it seems a majority is both deaf and blind to the environmental issues, today as then.

ziki



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Choisya
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Re: My favorite gory chapters

[ Edited ]
Ziki wrote:
Monuments can be grand, with interesting details but a bit boring, standing there in their own isolated glory, sort of disconnected from life. They remind us about a person or happening but do not set us on fire. We remain the audience and never become the participants. That is a great pity, methinks because Melville had that potential as a writer but he threw it away or rather he didn't care to use it to his and the book's best. [Choisya's italics.]

ziki
uncompromizing




Again, this reminds me of Upton Sinclair. The problem is with such authors that they get utterly discouraged by the many 'brickbats' they receive from publishers and readers. Not only brickbats about their style of writing, but about the controversial nature of what they wish to say. We are used to the concept of 'free speech' and 'letting it all hang out' and there is little that cannot find its place on bookshelves today. But when Melville and Sinclair (Gaskell) were writing there was much censorship - religious, cultural, political. They had to think about every line of controversy they wrote, particularly if writing was their bread and butter, as was the case with Melville. This must have been very inhibiting and could account in large degree for certain weaknesses which we perceive in our more enlightened times. In the discussion on The Jungle I think it was Danielle who wisely wrote, about Sinclair's polemical weak ending, 'But I forgive him'. I think we also need to forgive Melville:smileyhappy:

(I am not as brave as you Ziki and have foregone all the gory chapters. I also closed my eyes through those bits of the DVD:smileysad:)




ziki wrote:

fanuzzir wrote:
For those of you skimming through this very long chapters on whale anatomy and dismemberment, here are the chapters that intrigue me: 65, "The Whale as a Dish," 67 and 68, "Cutting in" and "The Blanket," 70, "The Sphinx," where Ahab talks to a whale head, 77, "The Great Heidelberg Tun," 78, "Cistern and Buckets," where a sailor takes the plunge. There is a grotesque fascination in these chapters, as Melville shows every ounce of whale innards, as well as a delicate forensic examination. There are also the philosophical moments one always has knee deep in whale blubber . . .




True, at least the Locke/ Kant situation was explained briefly in my notes. I persist in reading and I am not skipping this. I needed to take a break from the book, true and now after I returned at one point I admit, I read one chapter far ahead (Queequeg's dying) just to get myself over these whale moors.

I think the trouble for me is that inspite of Melville's detailed descriptions I still have a considering difficulty to envision correctly what was really going on.

The way he handles the subject prevents me from understanding him well enough. If he i.e. managed to keep more closeness to his characters he would be more able to show rather than tell in which case there would be no doubt the book was a masterpiece.

Now it is just a monument. Monuments can be grand, with interesting details but a bit boring, standing there in their own isolated glory, sort of disconnected from life. They remind us about a person or happening but do not set us on fire. We remain the audience and never become the participants. That is a great pity, methinks because Melville had that potential as a writer but he threw it away or rather he didn't care to use it to his and the book's best.

ziki
uncompromizing

Message Edited by Choisya on 01-25-200707:27 AM

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Re: so much whale detail

[ Edited ]
I am not sure if we have more respect for animals today (we no longer have much respect for humans either; now I am being pessimistic). The long transports, routines in meat industry, the exploitation...see B. Bardot who made that into her life's mission to protect animals' rights.
We project onto animals but we steel from wild animals (rain forests), we indirectly drown polar bears, we poison fish and whales and ourselves..and it was not Bush's priority concern exactly when he entred into his office. Al Gore picked up on that thread.

ziki
let's go to Tennessee:

article

Message Edited by ziki on 01-25-200701:40 PM

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Re: My favorite gory chapters

That is a good point, Choisya, I am selfish enough here just to look with my 'reader requirements' of today and that is an artificial construction in itself.
However, when we talk about the book it can open some doors.

ziki
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