Saturday, August 20, 2011

Alexander McKee's "Wreck of the Medusa: Mutiny, Murder and Survival on the High Seas" (Steak Knives)

McKee's "Wreck of the Medusa" is a bleak story all around.  This is what a text I read a few months back referred to as 'feral humanity', so I just *had* to read more about it.  This is all about the shittiest position you can find yourself in, with cannibalism providing the icing.

Interested yet?  Of course you are...

I don't mean to make light, but this is about as bad as bad gets.  After a fully foreseeable wreck, a panicked and inept captain decides to abandon a ship lodged on a bar that would remain intact for months and months.

All persons to escape vessels, nonetheless.  But there's no room for the masses, which the captain and crew relegate to a raft comprised of decking, the odd mast, and other buoyant materials.  The problem is, it's about 200 of them.

200 people on such a make-shift raft well out on the Atlantic sounds like bad, bad times.   There were so many people and weight on the raft that all were up to their waists in the salt sea.  Only as people commit suicide, were murdered, were killed in a skirmish, or were eaten did they start to raise out of the sea.  The final dozens (yeah, that many died needlessly), were able to exist on a raised platform that kept them from all but spray.

The text recounts the tale of the raft survivors, but also the escape ships that landed on the Africa coast.  While it is slow to the end with related and subsequent 'chapters' of the story, the extra context is well worth the additional patience.  All around, this is an amazing tale of one of the most epic (yet needless) sea disasters of the last 500 years.

We be floatin', they be hatin'....

The painting of the raft of the Medusa (pictured above) is meant to capture the moment where they see a distant ship that doesn't see or rescue them, meant to capture in snapshot the lowest point of this epic of 'feral humanity.'  Factions and delirium were rampant for several days, seeing culling for rations, mutiny and madness.

It became not only an important inspiration for a priceless portrait, but an object lesson in survival at the lowest moments and modes of humanity.  More still, contemporaries made it a metaphor for the Revolution, a moment of class warfare in tableau.

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