Monday, April 04, 2005

Travel literature

I am a writer and a marine biologist

Strange combination they all say. The more diplomatic would say, unusual. I am a marine biologist looking at seashores and their life. My colleagues believe that many scientists can write good scientific papers that are objective with methods that can stand scrutiny by their peers. But essays with the human insight at hand?

Fortunately there are precedents. My favourite writer, John Steinbeck studied marine biology at Stanford and then started to write. His fiction carries a basic concept of marine biology, the nature of life and how it interacts with the environment. All these are enmeshed in the human experience. In “Grapes of Wrath” it is denunciatory and in “Cannery Row” it is celebratory. In Sea of Cortez both literature and science meet in an unusual collaboration, with another good marine biologist, Ed Ricketts.

I first encountered Steinbeck not in a high school or college literature class but in my first undergraduate course in marine biology. The professor (who is an internationally renowned marine scientist) asked me to read “Grapes of Wrath” so that

In the following pages, you a reader, holding these pages will be able to read some words I had put into paper. You may find them boring at times and hopefully you can get a facet of my experience. I will try to write from the heart and glands. In life these cannot be separated without killing the animal. Only when the animal is dead can you separate these. A dead animal is not capable of writing or of thought.

Thus at the risk of being called a dry ball, I hope you enjoy. Read on and see how boisterous can life be. Hopefully you will write and proliferate. You may not be able to visit the places I have been to, but look around you and you will see the same things I have seen.

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