Hawking Up Hairballs

Wednesday, January 03, 2007


I was watching a movie the other night in which one of the characters said something like this, "You and I are alike. We're both survivors." That made me grit my teeth. Why in the hell should one be proud of being a survivor? There's nothing admirable about that. Survival is a virtue to two kinds of people, slaves and prisoners. Those who live their own lives on their own terms attempt to prevail. Sometimes they fail but, when they do, they pick themselves and try again. Mere survival has nothing to do with it. Mere survival is a life that isn't worth living.

Speaking of survival, I would like to recommend 2182 kHz by David Masiel. It is one helluva a sea tale. The protagonist, Henry Seine, works on the ocean-going tugs that move barges around for the oil companies in Alaska. Those who work up there are rugged and violent people, but the hard life of the tug crewman is the only life they know. However, about halfway through the novel, the oil company closes down the camp that Seine and his fellows have been servicing, so they are faced with the prospect of going south to Seattle and taking positions as ordinary merchant seamen. It's a prospect that none of them are looking forward to, but then Seine hears a distress call on the wavelength reserved for that purpose. He reports it to the Coast Guard, but they can't pick it up, so Seine and a handful of co-workers decided to take a tug and an ice-breaking barge up into the Arctic Circle to rescue the stranded research scientist who made the call.

Some of the characters survive this rescue attempt, and others don't, but 2182 kHz isn't about survival. It's about redemption. Every one of the characters have much to regret. Seine himself was responsible for seriously injuring a man when a practical joke went wrong, and the guilt of it nags at him. Others have worse that they are trying to live down, and all are trying to expunge their guilt by embarking onto the journey into the Arctic Circle. In that sense, the North of Masiel's novel is a purgatory, and he does a wonderful job of rendering it. He apparently worked as a merchant seaman for ten years and it shows. He seems to get the details right.

I've been working up a review of Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, but I'm having trouble with it. Hopefully I'll finish and post it soon.


Blogger julianza said...

I disagree about the survival thing. Ungrit the teeth. People in the Nazi death camps could have lain down and been beaten to death. They chose to -- well, to use your word -- prevail -- but only BY surviving; it was the only option. Surviving looked at as an end may not seem admirable, but there are harrowing tales of survival, which at least becomes a beginning to then go on and actualize, flourish etc. Perhaps you've never met a survivor, have not acquainted with seemingly unlimited darkness of the human heart and mind. SOmetimes survival is pure luck, not so impressive. But sometimes it is more and it is exactly what you describe later, prevailing and all that stuff. But you can't do that dead. And I think, if you outwit the odds in any way, over and again, then pride in surviving is justified and not to be mocked.

9:15 PM  

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