‘I’m actually scared shitless of the water,’ Philip Hoare confesses to the crowd, giving us our first indication of how terrifying the sea is, especially for an author who swims in it every day. However, Hoare balances this perspective with how the ocean – in all its unknown depths – is an endless source of inspiration for writers and artists, that it is a part of our world that can never be fully comprehended therefore lending itself to a cult-worthy reverence. It is exactly this element of the ‘cult’ formed in response to the sea’s ‘culture’ that Hoare elaborates on; drawing upon the whale as a creature representative of how mistifying the sea is.
He speaks devotedly of the culture formed by whales and how, much like writers such as Elizabeth Browning, Wilfred Owen and Virgina Woolf who have expressed their tempestuous relationship with the sea and whose writing has echoed throughout history, whales echo their own language underneath the waves, through the medium of their own melodies, ‘…a song, a lament, a threnody. It has culture.’ Hoare makes a point of how this culture has been commodified by humans, his own first experience of seeing a whale in real life being an orca at Windsor Safari Park – their ‘fin flopped in captivity.’
Hoare’s love for underwater wildlife is clear in his incredibly descriptive and evocative oration, clearly impassioned; the way he talks about the water is immersive, as if he could convince even the most tentative non-swimmer to take a dive and submerge themselves in the early morning tide. This way we can begin to understand how we are not so different to the creatures who inhabit it, (biologically comprised of the same organs, constantly evolving through communication) yet the synapse that exists between us and them can never be fully closed as we can never wholly understand the complexity of these animals’ lives, just as we may never wholly understand how endless the sea is.