Dolphin
IMAGERY

Click here for links to dolphin web sites.


The best summary and discussion of dolphin imagery which I have read is Mette Bryld's "Dialogues with Dolphins and Other Extra-Terrestials: Displacements in Gendered Space" (in Between Monsters. Goddesses and Cyborgs: Feminist Confrontations with Science, Medicine and Cyberspace, edited by Nina Lykke & Rosi Braidotti, Zed Books, London, 1996), where she discusses in detail attempts by the defence industry to appropriate the imagery as well as dolphins themselves.

 "The dolphin of late modernity is entangled in a complex and fine-meshed net of contextual narratives where very different levels of meaning intertwine. As a fluid boundary figure between the world of humankind and others, the reinvented dolphin came to act in seemingly conflicting roles, representing, on the one hand, the displacing forces of a subject, and, on the other, the displaced position of an object. In addition, the sliding shifts in position bring various thematic clusters to the surface. But even if the dolphins may be true masters of mimicry in their mirroring of both strange and funny figures, their images nevertheless all have a common denominator. Aside from such qualities as kindness and consideration, they radiate intelligence and spirituality as well as an eagerness to communicate. . . ."

 "Prior to 1960, relatively little research had been done on these animals . . . Only a few . . . marinelands or oceanaria existed in the USA at the time . . . Occasionally stories were told of the animal's astonishing helpfulness and kindness towards humans in distress . . . Behind this domesticated dolphin, however, lies a much more powerful myth of femininity."

 "Etymologically, the dolphin's Greek name, delphis, is related to the word delphys meaning womb or vagina. It is the same root that we find in the famous temple or oracle of Delphi, the foundation of which, according to the myths, involved a dolphin. In one of these myths, Apollo is riding a dolphin to the place later known as Delphi; in another, he transforms himself into a dolphin. The famous statues and pictures of a boy on a dolphin show the young sun-god being born out of the sea. Originally the boy on a dolphin therefore had a deep religious significance. So did the even better known dolphin rider, Aphrodite, who was also a Dolphin Goddess."

 "In all of the ancient Near East, the dolphin was worshipped as the great cosmic mother, the Dolphin Goddess, who presided over fecundity and the mystery of the birth of man, beasts and all living beings. For centuries tales were told of how her representatives, the kind dolphins, accompanied and guided the souls of the dead on their journey across the cosmic sea. The goddess was thus the ruler of travelling, communication between different worlds, rebirth and immortality (Glueck 1966: 38081). But, as the mythical transformation of Apollo and the girl/boy on a dolphin may suggest, the animal was also imagined in a sexually ambiguous role. It could not only partake in the mythic, feminine forms of womb monster, boy lover or Dolphin Goddess, but could become a hermaphrodite through its bonds to Eros/Phanes. In the shape of the god Triton, it could dramatically change into an aggressive phallos which raped anyone it pleased, girl or boy. Triton's name means three or third; obviously this divine sex maniac likewise gravitates toward the third sex, embodied in the triadic hermaphrodite of ancient creation myths (Doria 1974: 44). . . ."

 "The rise of the rocket state witnessed the parallel rise of what might be called a dolphin state, a counterculture which subscribed to such anti-establishment slogans as "make love, not war". In this counterculture the dolphin's sex, androgynously betwixt and between, its non-aggressiveness, its playful and yet collectively oriented social organization and graceful harmony with the natural environment, became highly evocative, ideal objects to think with."

 "As part of an overall alternative belief system, the image of the dolphin now fused with the new yin values, found in Eastern philosophy but (allegedly) lacking in the rationalistic world-view of white man. Competing only with the gurus and yogis of India, the dolphin came to embody the soft, feminine values (a caring, nurturing, connecting, communicating, spiritualising intelligence) with which the New Age movement still identifies. Once again, the dolphin demonstrated its astonishing ability to function as fluid boundary figure between (hu)man and other."

 "The forming of an encounter zone between the two worlds of culture/science and nature already anticipates and mediates a new dolphin icon: the dolphin of the counterculture . . . the mysterious split(s) came to signify the healing and wholeness of the two sexes in the formation of a borderline sex, strong womanhood and soft manhood united into a uni-sex, which might not only swing both ways in sexual preferences but also represent the ideals and high morals of simultaneous power and impotence, of non-aggressive, phallic-non-phallic empowerment. Embodying the alternative to patriarchal and hierarchical Western dualism, the dolphin of the countercultures incorporates a reunion of body and mind, of (hu)man and nature, of society and natural law . . . In her own way, her paradoxicality also mirrors the brainy mother who mattered so much to so many of us, Western feminism itself."

 "The dramatic remappings of geographic and cosmographic political and mental borderlines that followed in the wake of the Second World War entailed new boundary figures. Few animals, if any, were better suited than the dolphin for the roles of translating and mediating in a world on the threshold of an age of communication and information. Beeping as mysteriously as a Sputnik satellite and floating as rapidly through space as the new commodities, brains, this marine animal incarnated an upcoming modernity."

 "A "creature of the interface", the porpoise watcher, Ken Norris, once aptly called it (Pryor 1975: 17). Living where air and water join, the animal meets the period's strong and still continuing quest for hybridizations, for the binding together and rematching of what used to be very odd and incompatible worlds. The worlds of communism and capitalism, rearmament and peace, science and spirituality, immortal aliens from outer space and mortal earthlings, masculinity and femininity, yin and yang, whites and non-whites, nature and intelligence, animals and humans and technology embarking on ships of new metamorphoses, all these categories break out of the old order of things and interface in the strange smile of the dolphin."

 
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