Evil is Always Human
This investigation began a long time ago. I have a distinct memory: it was in the middle of a nighttime and parallel reading of two books: 24/7 by Jonathan Crary and Whale by Joe Roman when I began to glimpse at a thin but powerful thread connecting both. If in one of them there was a painting from the end of the 18th century about artificial lighting, in the other, meanwhile, there was a discussion about how whale oil was used to light up cities and factories at the time.
In this fashion, ever since that crossing of references I have developed an exhaustive exploration not only of the entrance of whale oil in Europe or its use for illumination purposes since the 16th century, but, in general, about the role of cetaceans in the construction of contemporary audio-visual culture: mammals regarded as often as beautiful and amiable, as they are bone-chilling and wild. Mammals whose sounds were recorded in that Golden Record sent by NASA out into space in 1977, and were worthy of taking the cover of the magazine Science some years later, and whose “culture” is still something scholars such as the musicologist David Rothenberg obsess over.
And so, Evil is always human is a personal and academic journey through the history of whales, their sounds, their influence within and for societies—their connection to trade routes and movements of wealth, to the archeology of artificial illumination, to submarine listening and to the powerful crevices of history and their legend which still permeates.
A research in progress which is capable of also adopting the role of a double conference: geared towards explaining and listening. In doing so, I have been able to present these ideas in places such as the pages of the Zarata Fest Book in 2016, the Festival Curtocircuito of Santiago de Compostela in 2018, the Medialab Prado in Madrid and the TEA of Tenerife in 2021, and the CentroCentro Cibeles in Madrid and the Consulado del Mar in Burgos in 2022. I will also be in the Tabakalera of Donosti, though I am hoping I will pay a visit to a number of other destinations.
Moreover, I am trying to shape it into a PhD thesis. The need to write this thesis materialized in a journey to the Valle del Lozoya, in the Sierra de Guadarrama of Madrid, in July 2020. In a small reservoir on the way to the waterfall of Purgatorio, I took off my clothes and dived head first into the deepest part of the dam. That act of “taking the plunge,” as we colloquially refer to any daring endeavor, somehow made up my mind about writing this thesis. It was thanks to that jump, and the countless swimming lessons in public pools in Madrid, that I managed to overcome the mental health issues that, for years on end, had kept me in fear of writing a thesis. It scared the shit out of me. So I could say that this thesis was born in the water, or thanks to the water, or thanks to the fact that one day I jumped without thinking twice into the water just as millions of years ago a mammal learnt to swim and gave me something to research.