books etc

Published pieces are on this page. Walk this way for details of live appearances. Spin the dial for radio and the audio-visual.

“a beautiful art object, petite and strange,” says Bookforum magazine.

On the shelves: Sharks, Death, Surfers: An Illustrated Companion is published by Sternberg Press. Available through all good book purveyors and in the art-book sections at Tate Modern, Camden Arts Centre, Modern Art Edinburgh, etc. In the US, the MIT Press are the distributors, and in France, Les presses du réel. Beautifully designed by A Practice for Everyday Life, who liken it to “a pocket guide or journal that might be taken on voyages round the world”.

Earl of Cumberland’s voyage to the Azores, 1589, map by Edward Wright, in Hakluyt, Principal Navigations, printed 1903. Image from Biodiversity Heritage Library.

For a bit of historical background on my interest in these topics: an interview, at the Austrian Cultural Institute, from 2001, which is also included in The Mattering of Matter: Documents from the Archive of the International Necronautical Society (Berlin: Sternberg, 2012). And a deposition from 2000, explaining how I became Chief Obituary Reviewer. In 2007, there’s this piece in the LRB (not by me) that purports to be a review of Steven Hall’s The Raw Shark Texts.

A sea-serpent, making its way out of a 16th century version of Zakariya al-Qazwini’s Wonders of Creation. From the US National Library of Medicine.

March 2020, I wrote a piece called Sharks; Circling for full-of-curiosity Full Stop Magazine (“We believe books exist in a supercollider,” they say). It’s about the painter Giotto, fighter planes, and the potential for trouble in the circular, liquid surface of a pint of beer. Extract:

In addition to the bibliography, there are many other pleasing details in Gruber’s biography. Alongside a lifelong dedication to sharks, he had an enthusiasm for other fast vehicles, such as fancy sports cars and World War Two planes. These are not similar, you might protest: cars aren’t sharks. Well. They do, on investigation, share a space, and a quality. They lurk, just near the boundary, not clearly visible, and often containing bodies. And however much we fondly imagine that the shark will remain on its side of the water, and we humans in our vehicles will stay over here, beyond a boundary, there are many times when this separation does not hold. There’s a crossing, by means of the long, sleek vehicle, of the two zones. An engagement or entanglement with the surface.

S.H. Gruber and J.L. Cohen, 1978, in Sensory Biology of Sharks, Skates and Rays

December 2020, here’s a long-gestating interview over on Glasgow’s Map Magazine, about writing slowly.

I found that even the most hardcore biology papers have a morality, a poetry to them. I was reading one about the social mobility habits of great white sharks, which explained that all other shark populations have a main, breeding population, and then some outcasts who don’t do what is considered normal—they are ‘lost, and usually permanently lost.’ But for great whites, the scientist found that they are a society entirely composed of outcasts. And I was just reading it and weeping, thinking aren’t we all, aren’t we all outcasts. But also laughing, because it’s like Groucho Marx not wanting to join any club that would have him as a member.

Carcharias glaucus, or blue shark, from Francis Day’s The Fishes of Great Britain and Ireland, 1880-1884. From the Smithsonian Libraries, via Biodiversity Heritage Library.

May 2021, in the Conjectures series of the Public Domain Review, I have this piece, An Archaeology of Surf, about a west-coast surf legend who finds himself in Wells Cathedral pondering stone, impending death, and the ambassadorial wooing missions sent out by Henry VI in the fifteenth century.

1494, from the Biblioteca Nacional de Espana

In Sept 2021 the Art Writing crew at the Glasgow School of Art bring out The Yellow Paper, which contains my piece on Queequeg, skin, and writing, Epidermal Epistemology aboard the Pequod – it’s about Moby-Dick.

(Also summer 2021, The Cartography of Coffins, in Cartographies of the Imagination. It’s about Moby-Dick.)

This illustration of Queequeg, an original ink drawing, from the instagram of the excellent Rockwell Kent Forum.