Steinbeck’s Log from the Sea of Cortez – On Sea-Monsters and Sea-Thought

I am reading this and find it so full of life and wisdom. It’s the log of John Steinbeck and marine biologist Ed Rickett’s from their boat trip to the Gulf of California (a.k.a the Sea of Cortez), to study marine life. I wrote about my discovery of Rickett’s in an earlier post after I read Stienbeck’s “Cannery Row” and liked it.

There are so many little brilliant pieces of writing in this I could do a whole series on them but I wouldn’t want to spoil it! I just have to share a passage with you of Steinbeck on the Old Man of the Sea:

" The Great Serpent" Hans Egede, 1734. Image via Wikipedia

There is some quality in man which makes him people the ocean with monsters and one  wonders whether they are there or not. In one sense they are, for we continue to see them.  [ Here he describes the excitement upon hearing news that a dead sea-serpent had washed up on the beach at Moss Landing, half-way around the Bay, and the disappointment upon the finding of it and and the discovery of a note pinned to its head which said, “Don’t worry about it, it’s a basking shark. [Signed] Dr. Rolph Bolin of the Hopkins Marine Station.” ] Dr. Bolin’s.. kindness was a blow to the people of Monterey. They so wanted it to be a sea-serpent. Even we hoped it would be. When sometimes a true sea-serpent, complete and undecayed, is found and caught, a shout of triumph will go through the world. “There, you see, ” men will say, “I knew they were there all the time. I just had a feeling they were there.”

"The Oceanic Elephant" illustration by: Wayne Anderson in The Enchanted World: Water Spirits by: Time-Life Books, 1985

Men really need sea-monsters in their personal oceans. And the Old Man of the Sea is one of these… For the ocean deep and black in the depths, is like the low dark levels of our minds in which the dream symbols incubate and sometimes rise up to sight like The Old Man of the Sea. And even if the symbol vision is horrible, it is there and it is ours. an ocean without its unnamed monsters would be like a completely dreamless sleep..

"The Moon and the Waves" George Dmitiriev, oil on canvas, 2007

We have thought often of this mass of sea-memory or sea-thought, which lives deep in the mind. If one asks for a description of the unconscious, even the answer-symbol will usually be in terms of a dark water into which the light descends only a short distance. And we have thought how the human fetus has, at one stage of its development, vestigial gill-slits. If the gills are a component of the developing human, it is not unreasonable to suppose a parallel or concurrent mind in psyche development. If there be a life-memory strong enough to leave its symbol in vestigial gills, the preponderantly aquatic symbols in the individual unconscious might well be indications of a group psyche-memory which is the foundation of the whole unconscious.*  And what things must be there, what monsters, what enemies, what fear of dark and pressure, and of prey!


About Beauty and Dreams

I'm just a lady in Portland, OR. Check out my blog! Drawings, collage and more!
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2 Responses to Steinbeck’s Log from the Sea of Cortez – On Sea-Monsters and Sea-Thought

  1. orples says:

    I love the painting of the water and the sky. Anyone that has ever tried to paint moving waves will no doubt tell you, it is a lot harder than it looks. Nice post overall. Thanks for sharing.

    • That artist specializes in paintings of the ocean. He has done some of my favorite ocean pictures. He has pages and pages of art on the art russia website. I first discovered him when I was looking up moon images. He has many paintings of the moon and the sea.

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