Dec 16 2011: Starry Petals That Deal Death and Other Undersea Images (from The Modern Marvels Encyclopedia, 1939)

Well, I did say yesterday that this advent calendar thing might get a little oblique at times, so why not start as we mean to go on, with a very tenuous sequence of undersea images from a 1930s encyclopedia (the 1939 dating comes from an inscription on the flyleaf: it may have existed for a few years before it was inscribed, of course). The thing about these images is that they’re rather decorative and, minus their titles, might be mistaken for ice-patterns or abstractions, baubles instead of corals, snowflakes and tinsel streamers instead of anemones and fish-scales, hence their inclusion here. The other is the language used in their titles and captions: Starry Petals That Deal Death; A Green and Crystal Colony; The Mermaid’s Fairy Bower; Nature Does Not Confine Her Marvels To Things We Can See. Not the sort of language we now associate with factual material, but here deployed to instil a sense of awe and play around the realms of science, technology and hard evidence. True, they go overboard in their cod-poetic aspirations fairly regularly, but that’s part of the charm. Somehow, Are They Fauna or Flowerbells?: The Tube-Dwelling Rotifer has a resonance, ludicrous as it might be, that a drier technical definition can’t really match. That the image it’s attached to is so extraordinary only adds to the impact.


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