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Monday, 4 February 2002

Graeme Wend-Walker 2002


There was a week of nature films on the South Bank and I went to see one about sharks. The film was made by a man of apparently unlimited wealth who fitted himself out with a large ship and any amount of special underwater gear for shark photography. He and his companions all agreed that diving among sharks was for them the ultimate challenge. They were particularly keen to encounter a great white shark, a rare species and the one most feared as a man-eater. They went from ocean to ocean looking for the great white shark and I couldn’t help wondering all the time how much it was costing. I think the money spent on even one of the special diving cages would keep me in high style for half a year at least.

For a large part of the time they followed whaling ships, photographing sharks feeding on whale carcasses. Sometimes they took their pictures from inside a cage but often they swam fearlessly among the sharks. They swam among blue sharks, dusky sharks, oceanic white-tipped sharks and several other kinds but they were continually frustrated by the absence of great white sharks.

Eventually they found a great white shark which they attracted with whale oil, blood and horsemeat. It was a truly terrifying creature and they very wisely stayed in their cage while the shark took the bars in his teeth and shook it about. The wealthy man said it had been fantastic, incredible, beyond his expectations. His friends congratulated him on the success of the expedition and the film came to an end.

I found myself resenting that man, however unreasonable it might be of me. All the money in the world does not give him the right to muck about with a direful secret creature and shame the mystery of it with words like ‘fantastic’ and ‘incredible’. The divers were not the ultimate challenge for the shark, I’m certain of that. Socially they were out of their class, the sharks would not have swum from ocean to ocean seeking them. It would have gone its mute and deadly way mindlessly being its awful self, innocent and murderous. It was the people who lusted for the fierce attention of the shark, like monkeys they had to make him notice them.

Money can do many things, even the great white shark can be played with by wealthy frotteurs in posh diving gear. But they have not really seen him or touched him because what he is to man is what he is to naked man alone-swimming. They have not found the great white shark, they have acted out some brothel fantasy with black rubber clothing and steel bars. Aluminium they were actually.

It was raining outside so I took Yellow Paper to the supermarket. Everyone goes to the supermarket and it’s a place where a lot of decisions are made but we don’t expect to be confronted with existential literature there. In Bi-Lo they have these rectangular frames for putting pieces of card in with the prices on them: ‘Helga’s Bread, 700g. $2.95’. I slid Yellow Paper into one. The thing is, the card they use for the prices is yellow A4 too. It might take ages for anyone to notice.

I thought the frozen food section seemed right for a piece about sharks, so I put Yellow Paper on the shelf with the pre-crumbed, pre-lemoned fish fillets. I did that at Coles too. I put one in a display box for recipe books. I put one in a ‘WHO’ magazine. I went to the video shop, found Turtle Diary and put Yellow Paper in the box. That was probably the most sensible thing I did. I was going to put one on the noticeboard in the lobby of my building, in front of the lift, but I didn’t. Instead I put one in each of the stairwells, at the landings between floors. I don’t think many people use the stairs.

At the top of the stairs there is a door that doesn’t go anywhere, it just looks out over the rooftops. I put one there.

The piece sums up the spiritual/imaginative void in modern society. The interesting thing is, the speaker (Neaera H.) technically has ‘not really seen him or touched’ the shark either. The difference is that she is faithful to the idea of the shark, which is where the shark really lives; she finds more shark in ordinary existence than the divers do in the ocean. You don’t need to go anywhere or spend any money to do that, because ‘naked alone-swimming’ is what we already are, which we would see if we could drop our ‘brothel fantasies’. I like the Kierkegaardian echoes in this. The most important thing in the world may be something that doesn’t (in the dull, conventional sense) ‘exist,’ but which we must nonetheless reach for in fear and trembling.

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